Lecture II. The Creeds
BELIEF in the Creeds, as containing the great dogmas of the Catholic Church, is a fundamental principle of our Communion. The Athanasian Creed opens with the declaration: "Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith," and as the preface of the Prayer Book solemnly insists, "that this Church is very far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline or worship," we may assume, that the preface of the Athanasian Creed accurately represents the Mind of the Church concerning the Creeds.
In the Eighth Article of Religion, the same truth is put in another form: "The Nicene Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received, and believed; for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture." The last clause makes the Article consistent with that other fundamental principle, that '"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to Salvation, so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an Article of the Faith, or be thought requisite, or necessary to salvation."
The Church in its care for the souls of men, closely follows the principle, that to believe God's Word, is to believe the Creed, and that faith in the Creed is necessary to Salvation.
In Holy Baptism, when about to receive into the Church those who have been conceived and born in sin, and who must be regenerate and born anew of water, and the Holy Ghost, if they would enter into the Kingdom of God, it makes belief in God's Holy Word, that is to say belief in the Creed, an absolute pre-requisite, before administering the Sacrament. The baptized is warned either personally, or if an infant, by his sureties, that he must faithfully promise that he will constantly believe God's Holy Word, and therefore is required to answer the question, "Dost thou believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith as contained in the Apostles' Creed?"
In the closing exhortation, provision is expressly made, that the child shall be taught the Creed, as part of his "solemn vow, promise, and profession." In the Catechism he is taught, that part of his bounden duty is to believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith, and heartily to thank his Heavenly Father who has brought him to this state of Salvation; and to pray that by His grace he may continue in the same, to his life's end. In Confirmation, before God and the congregation, he vows to believe the Faith of Baptism.
And the Faith which the Church so carefully teaches its children they are never permitted to forget. The Confession of this Faith is made a duty in every act of worship, and the plain command is given: "Then shall be said the Apostles' Creed by the minister and people, standing." At the Sacrament of the Altar, the Creed is to be confessed after the Gospel, and on certain days of the year, the confession must be made in the more exact terminology of the Nicene Symbol.
And when in God's Providence we are laid on the bed of sickness, the Church sends to us its message by the hand of its minister, and part of his discipline, and medicine for our soul, is the solemn confession of our faith, under circumstances of the most affecting nature.
"Forasmuch as after this life there is an account to be given unto the Righteous Judge, by whom all must be judged without respect of persons, I require you to examine yourself, and your estate, both toward God and man, so that accusing and condemning yourself for your own fault, you may find mercy at our Heavenly Father's hand for Christ's sake, and not be accursed and condemned in that fearful judgment. Therefore I shall rehearse to you the Articles of our Faith, that you may know whether you do believe, as a Christian man should, or no." And after the recitation of the Creed, the sick person confesses, "All this I steadfastly believe."
Thus, from the cradle to the grave, does the Church seek, that the petition of the thanksgiving of the baptismal service may be fulfilled, "Increase this knowledge, and confirm this faith in us evermore." We are taught to pray, that we may depart this life in the confidence of a certain faith; and at the grave we give God thanks for all His servants who have finished their course in faith, and beg that we may have our portion in the blessed company of them who are departed in the true faith of God's Holy Name.
Thus does the Church bear its unequivocal testimony to the preface of the Athanasian Creed: "Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith."
We may say of the Creeds what the Church says of the Holy Sacraments, that they are means of grace. We must never lose sight of the end while thinking of the means. The Church of the Living God; the Holy Scripture, the Creeds, the Sacraments, are means employed by the Son of God to attain a certain result.
When He ascended upon high He gave gifts to men, apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors, and teachers, "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man; unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."
This is the end to be achieved; the formation of a royal generation, in the likeness of the great King, whom He will not be ashamed to call His brethren. The preaching of the Gospel is intended to make men like our Blessed Master, and that preaching is successful in proportion as it forms the reflection of Christ's image, in the character and habits of those who hear it.
In its essence, Christianity consists of the Life, the Character and the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. It delineates the true relations of man to his God, and to his fellow man, and displays a Life in which those relations were perfectly realized. This blessed Life is set before us for imitation. The Saviour Himself calls to us to follow Him. Necessarily with the delineation of the Saviour's life, there followed some explanation of the Nature of His Being; and so, along with the picture of His pure and holy life, instructions were added, concerning His relations to the Eternal Father and to the sons of men.
This teaching was plain, and simple, and adapted by the resources of infinite wisdom to the feeble faculties of man, yet necessarily it dealt with the most profound mysteries in the universe, and hence arose the main difficulties of the early ages of Christianity. The human mind found in the gospel message the deep things of God, which at one moment fascinated and baffled the human intellect, as it vainly strove with its fitful speculations to measure the Infinite with the hand-breadths of human understanding.
Hence arose the innumerable heresies that troubled the souls of men in the early ages of Christianity. And during the first five centuries, the Church was compelled to face the burning questions of the hour, and to state the principal doctrines of the Christian Faith in distinct, dogmatic form. The false, or inadequate, statement of the heretical teacher, had to be met by a clear and true statement of the mysteries of the Faith. The work was necessary, inevitable, although it was not congenial to the Christian temper; nor destitute of danger to the spiritual life of the Church.
The Creed of the Church has ever been the same, although not expressed at first with that exactness which heresy compelled the Church presently to employ. The philosophical gnostics compelled Churchmen to revise their position, and to state with accuracy the mind of the Church on the Articles of the Faith. The struggle with error might be protracted, but the victory of the truth was never doubtful; and at length the completed Nicene symbol declared against every adversary the verities of the Catholic Faith.
We know it has been asserted that as time went on the Church greatly modified the Faith; that the earliest form of the Creed contained articles of belief in excess of the Apostolic teaching, and that interpretations were put on the primitive faith by later generations of Christians that did not exist in the early ages of the Church's history.
The local Creed of the early Christians at Rome is at least as old as the middle of the second century. From that primitive document the Apostles' Creed has been gradually evolved; other churches, feeling themselves under no obligation to adhere to the letter of the Roman Creed, and modifying, and adding to its clauses, some of these additions being as late as the seventh century. But none of those additions modified in any degree the Faith once delivered to the Saints, or can be regarded as a departure from primitive belief.
It has been asserted that the Trinity of the second century was essentially unequal; that it included a Father, whose paternal relation was that of the Creator of Nature; a Son whose filial relation began with His human life; and an impersonal Spirit, the Energy of the Father, and of the Son.
But in reality these false conceptions were creations of the third and fourth centuries, which were denounced by the Catholic Church as soon as their nature was clearly seen. The theology of the Church is indebted to Christian teachers of the fourth century for much of its philosophical form and literary dress, but its substance has always been the teaching of the Lord Jesus and His Apostles, jealously preserved, and gradually assimilated by successive generations of the Faithful.
The Fatherhood of God expressed in the Creed was not a mere fatherly relation to Mature, but a special relation to Jesus Christ, and the members of His Church. Clement speaks of Him as "our loving and compassionate Father (ad Cor. C. 29). Ignatius dwells almost exclusively on the relation of the Divine Father to our Lord (ad Magn. 1. 3. 7. 8.); and the Epistle to Diognetus is emphatic in its statement of the mission of the only Son of God. "As a King sends His Son, who is also a King, so sent He Him, as God He sent Him (the word "God" is in the accusative, and refers to the person sent); as to men He sent Him, as a Saviour He sent Him (Ep. ad Diog. C. 7). Justin Martyr says that Jesus is "the Word of God, born of God in a peculiar manner, differing from ordinary generation."
Expressions like these from Christian writers of the period anterior to the date when the Creed is supposed to have been formulated, sufficiently attest the belief in the Divine Fatherhood, as specially relating to Jesus Christ and the members of His Church. Nor is it true that, when the Creed was formulated in the middle of the second century, Christians had not begun to claim for Jesus Christ a Sonship anterior to His human life.
Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho, comments on the twenty-second Psalm as relating the suffering and death of Christ, and goes on to say: "I have already proved that He was the Only-begotten of the Father, of all things, being begotten in a peculiar manner Word and Power by Him, and having afterwards become man, through the Virgin." Aristides, writing his apology some twenty-five years earlier, says that "Christians trace their origin to Jesus Christ, and He is acknowledged by the Holy Spirit to be the Son of the Most High God, who came down from heaven for the salvation of men."
Lightfoot has shown that Ignatius held substantially the same views as the Nicene Fathers concerning the Person of Christ. One quotation must suffice, but that is sufficient for our purpose.
"We have a physician, the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ the only begotten Son and Word before time began, but who afterwards became Man through the Virgin" (Ep ad Eph. C. 7).
The early Christian, writers were not profound theologians, and the Divine generation, involved in the fact of the Divine Sonship, may not have been clear in their minds, but it is plain they believed in the "Only-begotten Son before time began," who afterwards took our nature upon Him.
It has also been asserted that the Christians of the second century regarded the Holy Ghost, not as a Person, but as a Gift, or Power. "No proof," says one writer, "can be shown that about the middle of the second century the Holy Ghost was believed in, as a Person." The terminology of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was by no means fixed and uniform, even in the fourth century; and when we interrogate writers of the age following the Apostles, all we expect to find, is consciousness of a distinction between the Father and the Spirit, like that between the Father and the Son.
And does not Clement, writing fifty years before the middle of the second century, betray the consciousness of this declaration when he says, "Have we not one Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ, and one Spirit of Grace" (Ep ad Cor. C. 46), or when he exclaims "As God lives, and the Lord Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Spirit" (Ad Cor. C. 58). (Vid. Lightfoot, Ap. Fathers, Pt. I., ii, 169)? Had not the Personality of the Spirit been part of the Christian doctrine for a long period when the Christians of Lyons, A.D. 177, said of one of their martyred brethren, "He was called the Christian's advocate, and he had the Advocate in himself"?
When the heresy of Praxeas arises a little later, and calls for an accurate expression of the Faith that the Christians had always held regarding the Holy Spirit, Tertullian instantly asserts that "the Father is one, the Son is one, and the Spirit is one, and that they are distinct from Each Other." It was no new doctrine, but the same Faith which Clement had held a century earlier, only restated, against a new heresy, in sharp and decisive terms.
It has also been asserted that the Virgin birth of our Saviour, did not have a place in the earliest Gospel preaching, although it became a tradition among Christians at, an early date. There is no question about the early date of the tradition. Justin Martyr asserts again and again that our Lord was born of a Virgin, and denounces "those of our race" (the Ebionites) for asserting that He is "a man born of men."
The Apology of Aristides was presented to the Emperor Hadrian at Athens, A.D. 125. In it we read: "The Christians trace their origin from the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is acknowledged by the Holy Spirit to be the Son of the Most High God, who came down from heaven for the salvation of men, and being born of a pure virgin, unbegotten and immaculate, He assumed flesh, and revealed Himself among men" (C. 15).
Ignatius says: "Jesus Christ was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb of Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost." "Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world" (Ad Eph. C 18. 19.). The heretics against whom he wrote did not deny the fact, but explained it away as they explained away our Lord's Passion. It would have been a controversial advantage to Ignatius, if he could have asserted that our Lord was born as other men are; but he knew nothing of any such doctrine, and the Churches of Western Asia Minor to which he wrote, were evidently involved in the same ignorance.
Even the Jews, in their bitter persecution of the Christians, made no serious attempt to show that Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary. Their libel was, that He was the son of a Roman soldier named Pantheras; and they called Him, "Ben Pandera," an evidently intentional misreading of the name in vogue among the early Christians: "Ben Parthena," the Virgin's son.
When Ignatius wrote, the Virgin birth was already accepted without question, from Antioch to Ephesus; in the Churches which had received the Faith from St. Paul, and which were fresh from the teaching of St. John.
At the election of Matthias, St. Peter stated his understanding of the duty laid upon him and his follow Apostles. They were to bear witness of the things they had seen and heard since the Baptism of John (Acts I. 21. 22). They confined themselves to their personal testimony, that they might be able to say, "We are witness of these things."
St. Mark's Gospel is said to be the substance of the preaching of Peter, and it begins with the baptism of John. It does not relate the circumstances of the Childhood of our Lord, for Peter was not a witness of that portion of our Lord's Life. St. John passes at once to the events of the Saviour's Ministry with the single sentence, "The Word was made Flesh." But to suppose that these Evangelists were ignorant of the facts relating to our Lord's Childhood, because they confined their narratives to the events of His Ministry which they witnessed, is absurd. Christians of the Apostolic age, St. Luke tells us, were carefully instructed in the events of our Lord's Childhood; and he and St. Matthew have given us independent narratives of the facts relating to the Saviour's birth.
St. Matthew relates the story of Joseph, and, no doubt, gives us the tradition which had been handed down from him at his home in Galilee. The narrative of St. Luke comes from the Mother of our Lord, a tradition which, with the hymns of Zacharias, and Symeon, would naturally be treasured in the Church of Jerusalem, where Mary found a home, and which for many years was presided over by James, the brother of the Lord.
We are reminded that St. Paul does not mention the Virgin birth, in his epistles, but he is equally silent on many other matters which formed part of the Apostolic teaching. The purpose of his epistles was not to restate the historic basis of the Christian Faith, but to teach the religion and ethics of the Creed.
We may know what the substance of his teaching was, however, from the gospel written by his pupil and friend, St. Luke; and we can see how prominent the Virgin birth was in his mind when he insists on the sinlessness of the Saviour, designates Him "the Man from heaven," and speaks of Him as "made of a woman," when he would naturally have called Him the Son of Joseph if any such belief had ever influenced him.
In one place, St. Paul speaks of the Saviour as of the seed of David, but so also does Ignatius, in the same sentence in which he declares the Virginity of the Saviour's Mother.
There is no evidence whatever that either St. Paul, or any other apostolic writer, had any doubt whatever regarding the Virgin birth of Jesus. It was reserved for Jewish blasphemers and Corinthian and Ebionite heretics to invent the libel in their vain endeavor to deprave and destroy the Faith of the Catholic Church. It was a long and bitter struggle that the Church had to wage with the enemies of the truth, but the victory was never doubtful. The Faith, once delivered to the Saints, was loyally preserved and handed on; and at length the completed Nicene symbol declared against every adversary, the verities of the Creed. But the victory of truth had its dangers. In the stress of conflict, when earnestly contending for the Faith, men seemed to forget that it was a means for the purpose of securing a certain end.
The Creed must be translated into a life, or it has failed its purpose. It is intended to be the mainspring and motive of action, and the index of character, or it is not our Creed; for a man must, in the nature of things, live his real belief. Therefore St. James brings this test to a man's creed: "I will show thee my faith by my works," "for as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
The purpose of the Creed was the perfecting of the saints; the formation of a generation of Christ-like men, "till we all come in the unity of the Faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." This fact was obscured while men were earnestly contending for the Faith. Having thrown all their energy into one special branch of spiritual activity, they were tempted to exaggerate its importance, and to lose their interest in other pursuits. It is always the danger of the specialist. The penalty of his keen perception in his own department, is a bat-like blindness, whenever he looks in any other direction.
And so the utter absorption in theological speculation to which circumstances condemned many of the keenest minds in the Eastern Church, had the effect of obscuring the true relations between doctrine and life. Antioch might loyally contend against those who denied our Lord's Humanity, it might be so thoroughly redeemed from paganism, that when Julian, the apostate, restored the temple of Daphne on the ruins of the church of St. Babylas, and visited his gorgeous temple, expecting a splendid ceremonial, and a great throng of worshippers, he found, to his astonishment, and dismay, only one individual, a poor old heathen priest, with no better sacrifice than a goose, which the officiating minister had provided at his own cost. Antioch was a Christian city. There were no heathen left. And Antioch was intensely orthodox.
But, alas, these Christians were frivolous, luxurious, and licentious, and they were ready at any moment to turn a religious dispute into a sanguinary fray. It is needless to point out how true this was also of Constantinople, and of Alexandria, and other great centers of the Orthodox Christians of the East. They were zealous for the true Faith, but they were as unlike the Divine Master as the heathen themselves.
In their pursuit of speculative truth, they had overlooked the fact, that, except as a means to attain a certain end, doctrine has no abiding value. Of what avail was it, that their creed was accurately orthodox, if it had lost its power to touch the heart, and to sanctify the life?
In such a case the Faith was dead.
There was a great contrast in the conditions attending the development of the Church in Eastern and Western Europe. In some respects Western Europe was a new country. It possessed only one great city, famous not only because of its size, its wealth, and its antiquity, but because for ages it had been the seat of power, and of authority.
The local church at Rome inherited from the city a prestige and dignity far above the merits of the obscure and uninfluential Bishops who in the first and second centuries occupied the Episcopal chair in the imperial city; and the spirit of pagan Home insensibly and inevitably leavened the Church, and shaped its policy. It became Roman in its methods and aims, and when it was suddenly called from danger and ignominy, to occupy the seat of power, with a vast and varied scene of action opening up to it, more than ever was it constrained to frame itself on the model of secular administration, and to imitate the polity and the philosophy of the civil rulers of the Western world.
The secular idea of government was a centralized despotism, and the Roman mind, with its governing instinct, and its tendency to mould under one central authority all the varied forces it could control, powerfully influenced the trend of Christian effort. The Western Church gradually became a great ecclesiastical organization, with central unity to secure practical efficiency, and to assimilate all available forces wherever they might be found. It faithfully moulded itself on the imperial model, of the old pagan empire, and in the course of time presented the aspect of a powerful machine, moved by one central authority.
The system had its advantages, but there were faults also in the process of construction. The builders of the Western Church, intent on practical efficiency, seized the elements of their age, and combined them to subserve the purposes of utility. They thought more of the work these forces could be made to do, than of the quality of that work. Purity of doctrine was a secondary consideration. And the result they attained was a compromise between truth and error. Customs and beliefs were pressed into service which could add energy to the Church. If a superstition had a stronger hold on backward minds than a true Christian belief, the superstition was utilized. If a semi-pagan custom was dearer to the heart of a rude people than the pure worship of a spiritual age, the custom was adopted.
And so, with their hearts set on the practical effectiveness of the machine they were building up, those Roman organizers framed an ecclesiastical structure in which much clay was mingled with the iron. Captivated with the dream of an imperial Church, the counterpart in its despotic unity of the secular empire, they forgot that this external organization was only valuable as a means to secure a certain end; for unity and energy were worthless unless they served to reproduce in the children of the Church, the Character and the Life of Christ. They were so busy in forming a strong united Church, that they neglected the duty of imparting to the children of the Church, the Faith once delivered to the Saints, for the edifying of the Body of Christ; so that all might come in the unity of the Faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man.
And at length the results were so pitifully unlike those which the Gospel required, that it became apparent to all that something was needed to supplement the work which the Church was doing. The life of the ordinary mediaeval Churchman was so unchristian, that it was felt something must be done to supply the ideal of Christian life. It was considered hopeless to expect this from men living amid the circumstances of ordinary life.
To become real Christians, disciples of Christ-like character, it was felt that men must be separated from the world, and guarded in some quiet retreat where the violence, the sensuality and the sordid selfishness of the world could not reach them. There, in the inner court of the temple, separated from all vain and unhallowed associations, it was thought that the Christian character, cleansed by penitence, and adorned with the fruits of the Spirit, might grow up to a perfect man.
I do not wish to under-estimate the part played by the monk in the up-building of the nations of Western Europe. In the Providence of God he was of inestimable value, in those savage days when learning, and art, peace, and love, science and manufacture had scarcely a lodgement anywhere, save within monastic walls.
When the world was filled with violence, it was a good thing that somewhere the ideal of the Christian life was in a measure preserved. Lawless violence and lustful rapacity were rebuked by the quiet, peaceful monastery, and savage spirits were reminded of an eternal judgment-seat, and of the repentance that must anticipate the meeting with a righteous God.
But the monk, also, bore witness that the Church had failed in its mission. With all its appearance of unity, strength and efficiency, it had, in the very plenitude of its power, abandoned the purpose of its Master, to be the conqueror of the world; and, despairing of bringing humanity to His feet, had retreated within monastic walls, as the only refuge, where it might be hoped the prince of this world would not prevail. If to save themselves from corruption, the more spiritually minded members of the Church must withdraw from, the rest, how hopelessly degraded and secular would not the residue become, and how complete a reversal was this of the parable of the gospel, which compared the kingdom of heaven to leaven, abiding in the midst of the unquickened mass until all was leavened!
It was found, also, that the monastic cell was by no means free from the assault of temptation. A life of formal restraint was not the equivalent of a life of free service, and when in the round of daily duty the redemption of the degraded and sinful found no place, save through alms or intercessions, good men were apt to grow selfish in feeling, mechanical in devotion, and self-indulgent in practice.
Along side of the corruptions of the world, there arose the corruption of the monastery, demanding with equal urgency the most radical reformation. If the theological speculation of the East, in its anxiety to repeat an accurately orthodox creed had failed to fulfil the purpose for which the Faith was delivered to the Saints, the policy of the West to subordinate other considerations for the sake of securing outward unity, and energetic efficiency in organization, had been equally unsuccessful. Both were useful as means to an end, but both had forgotten the purpose of the Master of the Church, in their earnest attention to the means.
When the light of more peaceful days began to break in, on the darkness of those ages of violence, in which the nations of Europe were struggling upward, to some realization of law and liberty, many earnest souls could be observed, straining their vision to discern a more excellent way, by which the children of men could be brought to the feet of the Saviour.
They felt that religion was more than the verbal confession of an orthodox faith, that it was more than a mere matter of organization, that it was more than collective acts of piety, more than an attendance on religious functions, and complying with specified religious rules. They were convinced that religion was a personal matter, and that its essence consisted, not in external acts, but in a purified state of the affections, constituting a mystical union between the Spirit of Christ and the soul. They attached great importance to the act of faith, by which the individual soul was supposed to connect itself with Christ, and enter into a heavenly life which they called conversion.
It was a salutary thing to call attention to the personal element in religion. The individualism which the reformers preached, reminded men that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was for the whole world, and not for a favored few, who had separated themselves, and retired to the cloisters; it proclaimed that for the men digging in the field, or serving in the shops, there was the same calling to a life of conscious communion with God, that the monk was supposed to enjoy!
The field was the world, and everywhere the Prince of Peace asked for worship, service and obedience. The danger of the reformer was his tendency to substitute feeling for fact, and to guage the strength and purity of his faith by the intensity of his emotions. Absorbed in seeking mystical communion with Christ, or in describing the blessedness of personal intercourse with Him, he was disposed to undervalue the active life of Christian self-denial, and service. And of what value was emotional exaltation of the spirit, unless it served as a motive power, constraining a man to be like Christ, in conduct, and in action, and leading him in everyday duty to imitate His example?
In mediaeval Christianity there was a tendency to divide the Church into classes, the religious, and the secular, and among the reformers there was a tendency to reproduce that separation in the individual life. Life, with them, had its Sunday aspect, and its week-day appearance, its religious side and its secular side. The same man would be fervently pious, and intensely worldly, fanatically religious, and yet practically immoral. The religious life was confined to the place of prayer and seemed to exercise little influence over the relations of ordinary life.
The man who in his religious life was fervent and sincere, might yet be harsh, unlovable, and even dishonest in his secular life. He might rejoice in the intensity of his religious feeling, and yet he was no true Christian, he was not like Christ.
It is our duty, and our privilege, to profit by the errors of the past, and to heed the warnings that the teaching of experience sounds in our ears. We are conscious of the imperfections of those different forms of Christian activity, the theological speculation of the Eastern Church, the desire in the Western Church to imitate the methods of secular empire, in outward organization, and the religious emotionalism of a subsequent age, and we can see the cause of their failure to accomplish the purpose for which the Church exists.
In each case the failure was caused by forgetfulness of the purpose of the means of grace, and a substitution of the means for the end, which alone gives them value. We have awakened to some realization of the fact that the Faith is dead unless it does its work, by making men like Christ, in thought, in feeling, in character, and in action.
Testimony is reaching us from many quarters, from widening streams of thought, from enlarged ideas of charity, from the pressure of social and economic problems, from the complex necessities of human life, that the Christian counsels of perfection, are after all practical counsels, and that, whatever may be the remonstrances of worldly wisdom, and the protests of human selfishness, the true code of ethics is the Sermon on the Mount, and the model of action the example of Jesus Christ.
No doubt, there are many, who, like the Churchmen of the middle ages despair of reproducing the Mind of Christ in this evil generation; and ages of effort may be required before the example of our Saviour will be freely exemplified among men; but, nevertheless, it is true that the Faith can only edify the Saints in proportion as it brings them into conformity with the image of Christ.
The world is apprehending this truth. It is conscious that it is the duty of the Church to make men like unto Christ. That is the meaning of the taunt of the scorner who pronounces Christianity a failure. That is the real significance of the defiance of the infidel. That is the explanation of the indifference of multitudes who should be strenuous supporters of the Faith. That is the interpretation of many a strange social and ethical movement fermenting in the midst of modern society.
They all are bearing witness to the character of Jesus the Christ. They may be, and probably are, blind to the significance of their own testimony; but one by one they testify to the true Light that lighteth every man that Cometh into the world. They recognize that the vocation of the Church, is to reproduce the Life of Jesus Christ in the world, and to lead men to know that Life, and to love it, and copy it.
So far as it falls short of this, the Church fails to accomplish its mission. For this purpose the Faith exists. And the apprehension of the dogmatic truths of the Creed; or the marshalling of the spiritual forces of the Church in effective organization, or the mystic communion of the Spirit with the Christ that we confess in the Creed, are nothing else than means to attain this end; and, so far as they fail of their appointed purpose and fruition, so far are they like the body from which the spirit has departed. The hostile voices that we hear, have been raised because the Church has failed in its purpose. We may be thankful that it has awakened to a sense of its true vocation. For now it seems to see with undimmed vision that the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be the rule of the disciple's life.
But, like the Christians of other ages, we have our dangers which threaten to bring to naught the work our Lord has committed into our hands. Seeing the end plainly, we are prone to be impatient of the conditions of success in attaining to it. At one time men exhausted their energy so completely in defining the Faith, that they seemed too feeble to follow definition by practice. And now we would overlook the means, or impatiently thrust it aside, and attain at once to the end, forgetting that there is a ladder let down from heaven to earth, and that the way upward must be traversed step by step before we can sit down in heavenly places.
During the present century it has not unfrequently been assumed that Christian liberty, equality, and fraternity would pervade every heart, and adorn every life in a community, if a group of people would only meet together and vote to follow this rule. T3ut efforts to realize this ideal have been hopelessly disappointing. The necessary preliminary means had not been used to attain the desired end. The ground had not been cultivated, the seed had not been sown, and yet, a harvest was expected.
In vain will we gather together a community of men who have resolved to form a Christian republic of love, unless we first endow these men with the spiritual qualifications which will make liberty safe, equality orderly, and fraternity just. And these qualities are not made to order. It is a slow process to create them and bring them to maturity. Before they can become the basis of practical endeavor, a generation which has imbibed the evangelical spirit must bequeath its development to others, and these generations must enlarge and intensify this spirit until it becomes the ethos of the race, and thus the ground may be prepared where the ideal of a Christian community can nourish.
Of what avail is law without public sentiment behind it? The law regarding murder is the same in two communities. But in one the murderer is promptly hanged, and in the other his life is reasonably safe unless he is lynched. So powerless is law without public opinion behind it.
Only after long ages of faithful preaching of the Word of God did the Church so impress on our race the law of liberty, that personal freedom, righteousness, and justice have become a passion among the English-speaking people. Contrast that love of liberty, and that scornful hatred of injustice, with the ideas pervading the great French nation, as exemplified in a famous case now agitating that whole people, but with no certainty whatever that even the tardiest justice will be meted out to the victim of evident conspiracy and forgery. What a conception this tragic event gives us of the debt we owe as a people to the Church!
If, in the long ages of its stewardship, the Gallican Church had given to the people the Word of God "in the language understood by them" with that unwearied faithfulness, with which the Church has given to us the English Bible; freedom, and right, and law would be as precious there as they are with us. The first step in progress, therefore, is the formation of a character that can bear improvement, and it is a fatal mistake to think we can dispense with the means, by which alone that character can be formed. Behind the realm of things visible is another kingdom, the domain of spirit. In the spirit is the seat of the habitual thoughts, and impulses and desires, and only Spirit can contend with spirit and overcome it. It alone can enter into that realm of the invisible, and meet and subdue that intangible but most potent energy, the spirit or character.
For this purpose the Son of God was manifested. For this purpose He has promised His Spirit, to convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. And only when that conquest is achieved, can the formative work follow, the edifying of the saint, till he comes in the unity of the Faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man.
My brethren, we are ministers of the Church and we must settle firmly in our minds what it is we are depending on, for the work of the ministry.
What is the power behind us? On what does the Church depend for its victories? Is it simply a certain temper, and character transmitted from one generation of believers to another? Can we speak of the spirit of the Church, as we would of the spirit of a race? If so, then it is only a human thing subject to the laws of decay. It may be a formidable force, like the spirit of the Saracen, or of the pagan Roman; its reign may be long, but its doom is sure.
If the spirit of the Church is only the consistent purpose of a body of men who have caught the enthusiasm of a great prophet, and have embodied the principles of his teaching in their thought and life, then we may be sure the triumphant anticipations of the New Testament will never be realized, and the prophecy of the Saviour, that He would draw all men unto Him, will come to naught. For if the Spirit, that power which moves the Church, is only a human thing, subject to waste and decay, the fate of the old faiths of the past will be the fate of the religion of Jesus.
But the Founder of the Church was not merely the greatest Man that ever lived, who has communicated His character and aspirations to His followers, He is God made manifest in the Flesh, and His Spirit is not a mere influence or energy, but a Living Person. If the Spirit of Christ had only been an influence, or impulse, caught from Him, how absurd would be His saying: "It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away the Spirit will not come to you;" for, in that case, how could it be better that the personal source of this influence should be removed? But when with the Apostles we comprehend that the Spirit of Christ is a Living Person, moving over the darkness of the soul and infusing the Light and the Life of Christ, and for this purpose abiding in the Church from generation to generation, then are we certain that the power behind our ministry, the Spirit of the Church, the weapon of our warfare, will forevermore be found mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.
In our eagerness to make men like Christ, we must not forget that the result can only be produced by the Holy Ghost. He is the secret Power which has won all the notable victories of the Church in its long warfare with the world. To Him is due those successive victories of love, the abolition of slavery, the elevation of woman, the modification of the ferocity of war, the recognition of human rights, the supremacy of law, the service of the sick, the outcast, the feeble, and the poor, and He is the abundant justification of the optimistic hope that there shall be a restitution of all things, and that the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of God and of His Christ.
We know that the Spirit of the Church is a Divine Person, and that the loving Will of our Redeemer is Omnipotent. Whatever may be the aspect of the world, however hostile its intellect, however antagonistic its ambitions, and lusts, the vision of a redeemed world will surely come. The future does not belong to the power of wealth, vast as its resources may be, nor to the rulers who command the armaments that seem to rule the earth and the sea; it belongs to an unseen Spiritual Power, and the heir of the ages is He who sends that Power on its mission, the meek and lowly Jesus.
Since He set up His throne on Calvary, and reigned from the tree, great empires have come and gone; the Roman, the Turk, and the Spaniard, in succession, have dominated the world, and after a little space, their day has set in darkness. 'But through all these mutations of the kingdoms of this world, the Church of Christ has grown and strengthened, until it has taken as its possession the utmost parts of the earth. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts." The only power that can bring about the great change in life and character, and renew men in the spirit of their mind, and lead them to put on the new man which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness is the Holy Ghost.
In seeking the end for which the Church exists, the formation of a generation of Christ-like men, whom the King will not be ashamed to call His brethren, let us not forget the means by which the result alone can be attained. The transformation is the work of the Holy Ghost; and His method, we are told, is to take of the things of Christ and show them unto us; He is the great Teacher who can bring us one by one in the unity of the Faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect Man. "He shall teach you all things."
The Creed sums up this teaching. Its author is the Holy Spirit. Like Him it changes not; it is the Faith once delivered to the saints. "Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith." He must listen to the Divine Teacher who alone can make him wise unto salvation; he must submit his mind to receive truths that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, and which have not entered into the heart of man; but which God hath revealed unto us by His Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
Hence, my brethren, in our life and in our ministry, we must with devout steadfastness hold the Creeds of the Church in their fulness.
Every assault against the verities of the Catholic Faith, veiled though it be behind the apology of seeking to accommodate the Faith to the needs of a modern world, or justified by the assertion that the assailant is seeking after truth, and must be fearless in his investigations, or excused because the individual is impatient of creeds and dogmas, and pleads that they fetter his spirit, and prevent the free and willing service his soul longs to offer to the Saviour; every assault, I say, sets back in some degree the victory of Jesus over the world; for it is a resistance of the Spirit who takes of the things of Christ, and, in the Creed, shows them unto us.
While holding fast the truth, that the purpose for which the Church was created, and for which the Faith was delivered to it, is to make men Christ-like, and that, no matter how earnest for an orthodox faith the Church may be, no matter how complete and efficient in organization, no matter how eager to realize an exalted spiritual condition, it has failed in its purpose if it is not making men Christ-like, we must hold with equal tenacity the complementary truth, that the Holy Spirit alone can produce this result, and that His method is to take of the things of Christ, and show them unto us. It is His testimony we repeat when we stand and say, "I believe." It is to Him the Christian owes the solemn confession, "I know in whom I have believed."
Our religion is supernatural. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not the history of a remarkable man of blameless life. It is the proclamation of the love of God for perishing sinners, to save whom He sent His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him might not perish, but have everlasting life. It proclaims that for us men and our salvation, He who counted it no prize to be on an equality with God, emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, and was made Man, and became obedient unto death. It declares that through His Blood we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. It solemnly warns us that God commands all men everywhere to repent, because He "hath appointed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness, by that Man whom He hath ordained, whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead." It declares the glorious purpose of God in exalting His only Son Jesus Christ to be a Prince and Saviour, and in conferring on Him all power, both in heaven and in earth. It reveals that our Saviour is the heir of all things, the Conqueror who will subdue all things unto Himself, so that to Him every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that He is Lord.
This mighty conquest is "not by might nor by power" (although the Christ is omnipotent), "but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts."
The pressure compelling the conquered to bow the knee and to confess that Christ is Lord, is the constraint of the Spirit of Love. It was to accomplish this Mighty Conquest that the risen Lord formed His Church, and endowed it with a commission to run to the end of time; and placed within it the abiding Presence of the Holy Ghost, the Lord, and Giver of Life, and sent it forth to accomplish its mission. Our Creed is the solemn confession, taught by the Holy Ghost, of that undying truth, by which the Church in its corporate capacity, and we, as its individual members, must live, and work, and grow in the knowledge of the Son of God towards perfection.
No portion of the Spirit's testimony can we surrender. Nay, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ, that we may all come in the unity of the Faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, we need the whole creed confessed by the intellect, apprehended by the heart, and translated into a life of service and of sacrifice, which, however imperfectly, will reflect the Mind of Christ.
In conclusion, my brethren, we will not forget how wide is the difference in the capacity of men. Having gifts differing one from another, there will always be occasion for charity in our judgment of other men; and this attitude becomes those who are warned not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think, but, to think soberly.
Remember always that your brethren may be as loyal to the Faith as yourself, although they look at it from another point of view. The Faith is larger than the capacity of the human mind. And we are one-sided, as well as finite. We do not prophesy according to the proportion of the Faith.
When we recite the Creed, we do not all put the emphasis in the same place. The doctrine of Holy Baptism, or the Doctrine of the Sacramental Grace of the Holy Communion, or the Doctrine of the Fatherhood of God, or the Doctrine of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, may be most in the thought of a disciple, or one man may adore Christ crucified, while another rejoices in Him as the King with many crowns. And yet they all hold the Faith in a pure conscience.
One type of Christian character, dwelling on the truth that God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit, may see only a form of unbelief in the temper which finds its highest spiritual uplift in the adoration of our Lord's presence in the Sacrament under the veils of bread and wine--it may seem that this craving after something material and tangible in worship, is really the faithlessness which refuses to worship God in spirit.
And, on the other hand, the disciple whose highest privilege is sacramental worship, may see in the attitude of his brother the faithlessness that does not discern our Lord's Body.
But in reality both are loyal in their full acceptance of the Faith once delivered to the Saints; but, as they have received gifts differing one from another, these qualifications for service necessarily cause them to behold the vision of the City of God from different points of view, and affect the nature of the service they render, and the confession of the true Faith to which they all loyally bear witness.
But if we will keep before our eyes continually the end for which the Church exists, viz, to make men like Christ, and that our confession of the Faith has been true and vital in proportion as it has formed the reflection of Christ's image in our character and habits, it will help us to think of ourselves as we ought to think; and it will help us to a wide charity in judging our brethren in the Church who differ from us in their apprehension of the proportion of the Faith; because of the consciousness of our need of charity when judgment is passed on the meagre and imperfect service that we have been able to render.
Let us never forget that the confession of the Faith is a privilege. The last sign of the abandoned, St. Paul tells us, is that they are reprobate concerning the Faith.
The most terrible of judgments that came on the dark heathen world, when it abused the light of natural religion, was that God gave them over to a reprobate mind.
The Faith is not man's invention, it is God's gift, committed to the Church which He has commissioned and endowed to be the keeper and witness of the truth.
It speaks with the voice of Divine Wisdom, when it teaches us the Faith, and we must will to believe the truth which the Church delivers.
There may be mysteries which our feeble understanding cannot adequately grasp; depths in the Infinite opened up to us that our vision cannot penetrate, and we may often need to repeat the disciples' prayer, "Lord, increase our faith."
But, using faithfully the means of grace given us, and striving to realize in a life of active self-denial, and service, the end for which the Faith is given, the clear vision of faith will at last be ours. "If any man will do His will, he shall know the doctrine."
Sacraments, and Creeds, Holy Scripture itself, and whatever other gifts the Redeemer hath given to men, have but one purpose; they are for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ. They are the means of grace. Through their appointed use, not otherwise, have we any reason to hope that we will attain this end.
And your defense of the Creed, your clear intellectual apprehension of its verities, your reverence for the Sacraments, and frequent use of them, your loyalty to the Church, your erudition in Holy Scripture are as nothing, unless this result is steadily being attained; the approximation in the unity of the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.