Project Canterbury

The Pastoral Letter Issued by the House of Bishops Assembled Dallas, Texas, November 12-17, 1960.

New York: no publisher, [1960]

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2009

CANON 45 SEC. 2f

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.

Additional copies of this Pastoral Letter may be secured from the National Council, 281 Park Avenue South, New York 10, N. Y.
Price Ten Cents


As we, your bishops, are assembled in Dallas, Texas, in the year of our Lord 1960, we, like you, are keenly conscious of the way "bad news" captures the headlines in our day. The daily press and weekly news publications, lead articles in magazines, books pouring forth from ever-rolling presses, radio, television, even the oratory of those who sought election to public office, assail our eyes and ears with dire warnings and prophecies of doom. Everywhere and always we see and hear diagnoses of this world's ills, the sickness of our civilization, the deterioration of our culture. It is an age of anxiety, of uncertainty, of fear, because it is an age of constant tension, conflict, struggle between nations, races, cultures, societies, classes; between philosophies, ideologies, religions.


BECAUSE all this is true we who are Christian need to remind ourselves that we are the bearers, like the angels of Bethlehem, of glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. Preeminently the Church always is the herald of "good news." This is its mission: to proclaim the Gospel. Hence, with the [3/4] psalmist we would cry, 0 come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. We would recall and re-emphasize the Rock of our faith.


ANGLICAN Churches are clearly and unequivocally committed to the Apostles and Nicene Creeds as the symbols of that faith. When the first proposal for an American Prayer Book in 1786 was reviewed by the bishops of our mother Church of England, they insisted that these two Creeds should be kept in their integrity. Our Church not only accepted the English bishops' proposals but made the Nicene Creed a possible alternative for the Apostles' Creed in the Daily Offices, a unique and useful usage. By continuous Prayer Book worship, by teaching, by preaching, and by our position in all church-unity discussions, the Episcopal Church has shown its loyalty to the historic Creeds. As expressed in the Lambeth Quadrilateral, we hold the Nicene Creed as part of the essential core of the continuous, historic tradition of the Church and therefore an element in the life of any united Church. The Apostles' Creed is likewise held to be the minimal baptismal confession. Thus our Church is irrevocably committed to the historic Creeds and regards the Nicene Creed as it was affirmed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., as an indispensable norm for the Christian faith.

The position is held because the Creeds are rooted in the Biblical record of God's acts in Christ. It is the purpose of the Creeds to preserve the meaning of the historical revelation of God in Christ and to witness to the revelatory facts in their historicity and givenness. In the face of God's revelation in events, man's primary function is to testify to what has been given to him. When something is truly given to man, testimony is the only way in which he can describe the gift. The Creeds summarize the Good News proclaimed by the Primitive [4/5] Church, as recorded in the New Testament. The Creeds are a proclamation of a gift, a gift whose kind and nature does not in itself change from generation to generation. Under the guidance of the Spirit, however, man can grow in appreciation and understanding of this gift.

The recitation of the Creeds as normative for our faith is, at the least, a way of certifying that we are Christians because we accept what God did for all men in Christ once and with finality. To say that Christ is God's final gift to man means that no gift can be as great or greater, not that God's giving ceases. To say less than this is to deny the uniqueness and completeness of the self-disclosure and the redeeming work of God in Christ.

The faith of the Apostolic Church as gathered up in the literature chosen as the canonical New Testament is the final authority for Anglicanism. The Creeds are the skeleton of the Bible, and the Bible is the flesh and blood of the Creeds. The Bible and the Creeds are seen together, each interpreting the other, with the Bible as the ultimate norm.


CHRISTIANITY is primarily an affirmation of what God has done, is doing, and will do, and of our participation in these mighty acts of God by our penitent and thankful response. Its native language, therefore, is narrative rather than abstract and propositional language. The Christian story proclaims that God created all that is. The doctrine of creation rightly understood is the gateway to the understanding of the Christian life and Christian theology. The Good News is primarily a message of the creation and of the new creation which redeems and fulfills what was implicit from the beginning.

The doctrine of creation is not a description of how the universe was made but a statement of the complete dependence [5/6] of the universe in its total being upon God. The first article of the Creeds is the context for the other articles. It affirms the totality of God's actual power as Creator and is the indispensable basis for all the other creedal affirmations. If God is not the only Creator of all that is, something other than God can, then, in the end frustrate the completion of His purpose.

God is Lord of the physical as well as the spiritual aspects of the universe. The term Father Almighty in its ancient use especially refers to God as all-ruling in the world, and intimately working in the world. God is the Creator and Governor of the universe. He uses the physical world and adapts it to his special supranatural purposes. As St. Augustine said, the original creation is a greater miracle even than the resurrection of the body.

The scriptural story goes on to say that man, made in the image of God, sinned, and disordered the goodness and harmony of God's creation, that God chose unto Himself a special people revealing Himself to them, as to no others, in the vicissitudes of their history until they were prepared to receive His complete revelation in Himself in Christ. These acts of God for and in His chosen people are recorded in the Old Testament and are a preparation for the coming of Christ. Old Testament history is the original Advent Season in which God reveals Himself as demand, seen in the Law, and as promise of salvation, as proclaimed by the prophets.

When the preparation was finished the promise was kept; and God in the person of His Son "came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man." Man's sin and God's love came to dramatic encounter on Calvary. For the moment, Evil seemed triumphant as the Incarnate One was crucified, died, was buried. But the eternal righteousness of God cannot finally be defeated, and "The third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended [6/7] into Heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty."


THESE mighty acts of God in Christ are celebrated in the church year from Christmastide through Ascensiontide and we participate in them in our worship and our Christian living. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself" and we are sharers in that reconciling action of God. In Christ, God gives us the meaning and goal of all existence. For the Eternal Son who was made visible, tangible, and audible as Jesus of Nazareth, is He "By whom all things were made" and the Final Victor who "shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end."

To say, therefore, "I believe ... in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God ... Whose kingdom shall have no end" is to make the ultimate decision. "I believe" means "I trust absolutely," "I commit myself to," and "I shall obey." So to believe is to join the community of believers. God in Christ has come inside our manhood Himself as a man, made Himself accessible in Human terms, acted in and through our humanity. For all men and for our reunion with Him, God has come down from the level of deity to our human level, revealing in the common language of a human life what He is like, and what man is meant to be. Christ is God's idea of what it is to be a man. By His life, focussed in Christ's death for us, He has grasped us through our answering love and lifted us into love of Him.

To believe in Christ is to be caught up by His Holy Spirit and to belong to the community of His Spirit which is the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. The third paragraph of the Creed testifies to the continuing work in the world of God [7/8] the Holy Ghost. He binds together those who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, the family of God. In this mystical Body of Christ, the Lord and Giver of life, the Holy Spirit is working with, among, and in us and confirming the word of God. This common life with its worship of God, its new quality of living, its mission to draw all men to Christ, and its duty to work to fulfill and to transform human society is the first fruit of such life with God. Its final consummation is stated in the last, great hope of such a life with God. "I look for the Resurrection of the dead; and the Life of the world to come." Whitsuntide and Trinity Season issue in Advent Season as the certain expectancy of Christ's complete victory in His final Advent.


THE Biblical story, the historic Creeds, the church year are three different ways of saying what God has done, what He is doing, what He will do and that we have entered into and are participants in that divine action. Everywhere the story is the same. In our prayer of General Thanksgiving, for instance, we recite the story of the Creeds and the Bible eucharistically: "We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory." Above all, this story is the living structure of our Prayer Book worship. Particularly and explicitly it is the living structure of the Holy Communion service.

The Nicene Creed is not only a recital of the Biblical story of "the mighty acts of God" but it is a carefully reasoned protection of that story from interpretations which would deform the story and even destroy it. Christ is the center of this story as the Western, and now universal, calendar testify by dividing [8/9] time into Before Christ and Anno Domini, in the Year of Our Lord. Everything, therefore, depends upon a true understanding of Christ.

The first six Ecumenical Councils of the Church were concerned to express the true understanding of Christ against typical misunderstandings. Simply put, in the words of William Temple, the Church says two things about Christ. In Him it was truly God who came. In Him God truly came. Christ was fully God and fully man, the perfect unity of God and man. Yet He was that in such a way that the union of the two natures did not change the divine nature. God, and no other, acts in Christ and He acts in and through a completely human historical manhood. He was born of a woman whose name we know and bless. He suffered in history under a Procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. He was crucified, dead, and buried and went to the realm of the dead. It was this complete historical manhood who came from God and was kept in unity with deity from conception through death, and remains in unity with deity eternally. He is and shall be Victor and Lord of all Creation.

If it were not truly God who came, then the revelation and work of God in Christ is only one revelation and work among many others. Then the true God is still unknown behind partially conflicting revelations. If God did not truly come in our fully human situation, then He has not fully grasped us and lifted us into union with Himself. This is what the bishops saw clearly at Chalcedon; and this is why they promulgated officially the augmented statement of the Nicene faith together with the statement which interprets it. With them we, your bishops, are in complete accord.

So also if the Spirit whom we Christians receive is not God Himself, one with the Father and the Son, we are estranged from God and lost in the relativities of the history of religions. [9/10] This is not to say, however, that the Church should not seek in every way to interpret its historic faith intelligibly to the cultures and religions which it confronts. Both Bible and Creeds must be constantly interpreted in terms of the language and thought forms of successive times. This living interpretation is a necessary although a dangerous work. It is a dangerous work because the rephrasing of the Gospel may bring the restatement under the power of the culture in which it is rephrased. Contemporary interpreters are in danger of becoming heretics even as champions of orthodoxy are in danger of becoming unintelligible. From this dilemma spring some of the tensions and the controversies in the Church.

When the Creeds speak of the "descent" of the Eternal Son to take our manhood into union with Himself, or of the "ascension" of the risen Incarnate Son, we know that "descent" and "ascent" are movements between God and man and not in interstellar space.

The Creeds, like the Bible, are conditioned by the outlook of the culture and the historical period in which they were written. Christianity does not demand that we believe in an outmoded scientific hypothesis against a more demonstrable one. The Church does not serve Christ by asking a Galileo to believe in Aristotle's astronomical theories in the name of Christ. It understands that the Christian meaning of the stars and their movement does not pretend to give a scientific description of their nature. St. Augustine once deplored the effect on non-Christians who have "knowledge derived from most certain reasoning or observation" when they hear a Christian "talking such nonsense that the unbeliever ... can hardly restrain himself from laughing." He warned those Christians who identified Christianity with their own astronomical hypotheses by saying: "The Gospels do not tell us that our Lord said, 'I will send you the Holy Ghost to teach you the [10/11] course of the sun and the moon'; we should endeavor to become Christians and not astronomers."

So also it is with the findings of the historians. Historians may correct the Biblical and so the creedal description of an historical event as to its date and its photographable details without impugning the revelation of God which breaks through and out of that event. The Biblical authors were primarily concerned with witness to God's revelation in and through historical events, not with being archivists of the events themselves. St. Luke, for instance, was an evangelist more than a historiographer. In regard to the problem of affirming the divine revelation in its reality as an event, without identifying that affirmation with every detail of the record of the event, Anglicanism can give us a good principle derived from its affirmation of the Real Presence of Christ in eucharistic worship. Our Church holds to the dogma of Christ's Real Presence without identifying the fact with any particular theory of the mode of the Real Presence. The historic Creeds of our Church affirm the indispensable dogmas of the Christian faith. They do not intend to do otherwise than that.


IT IS one of the tragedies in Christian history that large sections of Christendom have abandoned the Creeds partially because they were not listened to for what they were really saying. Our Church has not done that, principally because it is unafraid of truth, come whence it may. That God's truth will not contradict itself is self-evident. The Anglican acceptance of that principle permits us to hold to the great Creeds as religious and theological dogmatic statements without denying or dominating new ways of finding truth on other than religious and theological levels.

But we are not concerned merely to seem to defend the [11/12] Creeds. In our agonized world, our first duty is to preach the Good News of God's action: what He has done, is doing, and will unfailingly do. This is the only imperative and relevant mission of the Church. And in this task, the Creeds play a central part. Without them to keep steadily before our minds and hearts the truth on which alone the Church is built, we should run the danger of bringing only our own wisdom to meet mankind's need. Without them to hold in thoughtful balance the whole of God's revelation in Holy Scripture, we should be in constant peril of hearing and saying only those things which, for the moment, seem to us important to say. But with them at the heart of our corporate life, we are gathered and held by God's revelation, controlled by His action, strengthened in our corporate witness by His guidance through the whole life of the Church, so that we may assuredly know that what we do and say is obedient to His truth.


HENCE, we can go forward unafraid. As the people of Israel did long ago, we stand in a wilderness. But, please God, we also may stand at the borders of the promised land. The call comes clear, "Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, He it is that doth go with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee."

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