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Pastoral Letter of the House of Bishops

Adopted November 14, 1923 at a Special Meeting of the House at Dallas, Texas

New York, November 26, 1923.

I hereby certify that the following Pastoral Letter has been set forth by the unanimous action of the House of Bishops and in accordance with Canon 21. § II. [v.] of the Digest of Canons.


Secretary of the House of Bishops.

Canon 21. § IL [v.] "Whenever the House of Bishops shall put forth a Pastoral Letter, it shall be the duty of every Minister having a pastoral charge to read it to his Congregation on some occasion of public worship on a Lord's Day, not later than one month after the receipt of the same."


Brethren of the Clergy and Laity:

Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are aware of the widespread distress and disturbance of mind among many earnest church people, both clerical and lay, caused by several recent utterances concerning the Creeds. Moreover, as the Chief Pastors of the Church solemnly pledged to uphold its Faith, we have been formally appealed to by eminent laymen for advice and guidance with regard to the questions thus raised.

We, your Bishops, put forth these words of explanation and, we trust, of re-assurance.

1. A distinction is to be recognized (as in the Catechism) between the profession of our belief in, i. e., of entire surrender to, the Triune God, and the declaration that we believe certain facts about the operations of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. The former is far more important as expressing our relation and attitude towards the Personal God. But the affirmation of the facts, declared by Holy Scripture and a part of the belief of the Christian Church from the beginning, is of vital importance to faith and life. The Christian faith may be distinguished from the forms in which it is expressed as something deeper and higher, and more personal, but not by contradicting the terms in which it has always been expressed.

2. The Creeds give and require no theories or explanations of the facts which they rehearse. No explanation is given of the Trinity, how God is at the same time absolutely One in His Spiritual Being, and yet exists in a three-fold manner; nor concerning the Incarnation, of the manner in which the Divine and Human natures are linked together in the One Person of our Lord Jesus Christ; nor of the nature of the resurrection body, Christ's or ours.

3. The shorter Apostles' Creed is to be interpreted in the light of the fuller Nicene Creed. The more elaborate statements of the latter safeguard the sense in which the simpler language of the former is to be understood, for instance with reference to the term, "The Son of God."

4. Some test of earnest and sincere purpose of discipleship, for belief and for life, is reasonably required for admission to the Christian Society. Accordingly profession of the Apostles' Creed, as a summary of Christian belief, stands and has stood from early days, along with Renunciation of evil and the promise of Obedience to God's Commandments, as a condition of Baptism.

5. A clergyman, whether Deacon, Priest or Bishop, is required as a condition of receiving his ministerial commission, to promise conformity to the doctrine, discipline and worship of this Church. Among the offences for which he is liable to be presented for trial is the holding and teaching publicly or privately, and advisedly, doctrine contrary to that of this Church. Individual aberrations, in teaching or practice, are regrettable and censurable; but they ought not to be taken as superseding the deliberate and written standards of the Church. It is irreconcilable with the vows voluntarily made at ordination for a minister of this Church to deny, or to suggest doubt as to the facts and truths declared in the Apostles' Creed.

6. To deny, or to treat as immaterial belief in the Creed in which at every regular Service of the Church both Minister and people profess to believe, is to trifle with words and cannot but expose us to the suspicion and the danger of dishonesty and unreality. Honesty in the use of language--to say what we mean and to mean what we say--is not least important with regard to religious language (and especially in our approach to Almighty God), however imperfect to express divine realities we may recognize human words to be. To explain away the statement, "Conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary", as if it referred to a birth in the ordinary way, of two human parents, under perhaps exceptionally holy conditions, is plainly an abuse of language. An ordinary birth could not have been so described, nor can the words of the Creed fairly be so understood.

7. Objections to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, or to the bodily Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, are not only contrary to the Christian tradition, but have been abundantly dealt with by the best scholarship of the day.

8. It is not the fact of the Virgin Birth that makes us believe in our Lord as God; but our belief in Him as God makes reasonable and natural our acceptance of the fact of the Virgin Birth as declared in the Scriptures and as confessed in the Creed from the earliest times.

9. The Creed witnesses to the deliberate and determined purpose of the Church not to explain but to proclaim the fact that the Jesus of history is none other than God and Saviour, on Whom and on faith in Whom depends the whole world's hope of redemption and salvation.

10. So far from imposing fetters on our thought, the Creeds, with their simple statement of great truths and facts without elaborate philosophical disquisitions, give us a point of departure for free thought and speculation on the meaning and consequences of the facts revealed by God. The Truth is never a barrier to thought. In belief, as in life, it is the Truth that makes us free.

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