Project Canterbury

Unity and the Lambeth Declaration
Lectures under the Auspices of the Minnesota Church Club, 1896.

Together with the Sermon by the Rt. Rev. H. B. Whipple, D.D., LL.D.,
Bishop of Minnesota, at the First Session of the Lambeth Conference, July 3, 1888.

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1896.

III. The Creed.

By the Rev. John Wright, Rector of St. Paul's Church, St. Paul

(B). "The Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith."--Lambeth Quadrilateral.

ALL great movements are preceded by agitation and discussion. Church unity must follow the same course, for no subject demands a more careful consideration, and deliberate investigation. No one expects to see this consummated in the near future, and any haste without due reflection would end in failure. A unity based upon mere sentiment with essentials ignored could sustain only a brief existence. Strongly seated prejudices, the love for party lines, and the memory of the animosities and the bitterness that accompanied past separations, must be educated out of many minds. [89/90] Even some views that are popular, and that are taught with enthusiasm must be swept away. The spirit that applauds denominational differences and regards division as wise, and as conducive to growth certainly presents a fallacious argument. What thoughtful man can possibly justify the existence of nine kinds of Methodists, twelve kinds of Presbyterians, and fourteen varieties of Baptists? It has been computed that the divisions and the subdivisions of Christendom number over twelve hundred. Who can for a moment hold that twelve hundred armies only partially equipped can do as effective service as one splendidly organized army tinder one leadership and presenting a solid front against sin? Consider also how the missionary forces of Christianity are dissipated and weakened by the unwarranted divisions that exist among the friends of Christ. Bishop Gailor in comparing the corporate unity that once existed in the Church, with its present divided state very truly says that "it is a significant fact that no great people has been converted to Christianity since [90/91] that original unity of the Church was lost." [New York Church Club Lectures for 1895; p. 9.] Another of our Communion has justly said that "schism is worse than wasteful, it is wastefully destructive." [Rev. Dr. John Fulton in Introduction to Christian Unity and Christian Faith.]

President Andrews of Brown University, recently delivered a lecture before the Union Theological Seminary, New York City, on Church Unity. His subject was the "Sin of Schism." Throughout the lecture he held the position that "denominationalism is a modern conception and is not supported by the New Testament."

An additional fallacy that must be uprooted, is the one frequently advanced that if a man belong to the invisible Church, it is of little account where and what the visible Church is. This is one of the most decided obstructions to Church unity. Christ clearly said, "The Kingdom of God is within you;" indicating the necessity of a spiritual reception of Divine things. But this was not all, for He spent much of His time [91/92] before His Ascension in instructing His disciples about an outward kingdom, with its ministry and Sacramental rites. The visible Church here in the world is therefore by Christ's own appointment. It is not a man-made but a Divine institution.

Associated with the thought of the visible Church, is the thought of a Creed, for a Church without a Creed is like an army without a banner, or a State without a constitution. Moreover, a Creed gets its suggestion from Holy Scripture. Martha at the grave of Lazarus said to our Blessed Lord, "I believe that Thouartthe Christ, the Son of God;" the declaration of St. Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God;" and the words of the eunuch to St. Philip, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God," are expressions of personal belief. And what is a Creed but this? Our Divine Lord repeatedly referred to His death, His Resurrection and Ascension, events that were noted by the early Church in Creed form. What is still more in the shape of a rule of Faith, is found in the [92/93] Sixth Chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where we read, "Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment." There is an intimation of the same kind in the injunction of St. Paul to St. Timothy, "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." With these warrants from Scripture it is not surprising that there came into existence at an early day the symbol commonly called the Apostles' Creed. When it originated and just where, cannot be determined. It grew with the life of the Church, and supplied for personal belief a simple and concrete expression of what Christianity stood for. It certainly belongs to the days of the Apostles if not directly formulated by them. This is claimed for it by early writers. Irenaeus, in 180, says it was "received from the Apostles." 200, dates it "from the commencement of the Gospel." Basil, in 329 says, "Of the institutes and doctrines preserved in the Church, we possess some from [93/94] the teaching of Scripture, but others that have been transmitted to us we have received by the mystery of Apostolical tradition." Rufinus, in 390 writes of the Creed, that it was "handed down by the Apostles.'' Other writers of a later date speak in the same strain. Calvin in his Institutes, adds his opinion when he writes, "I name it the Apostles' Creed although I care little about the authorship. Certainly it is assigned to the Apostles by the general consent of ancient writers, either because they thought it was written and published by the Apostles in a body, or because they considered that a compendium of the doctrine delivered by their agency, and faithfully compiled, ought to be distinguished by this title. I cannot entertain a doubt, however, but that its authority, as a public and universally received Confession of Faith, dates from the first origin of the Church, and, therefore, from the very days of the Apostles, from whatever source it may have eminated. And it is not likely that it should have been written by any private individual, since it is manifest that from the date of [94/95] our earliest records, it has always enjoyed a sacred authority among the faithful." [Institutes, vol. 2 p. 16.] This surely is high praise from a Presbyterian source.

Enshrined as the Creed has been in the ages of Church history it is interesting to follow this symbol through the stages of its use.

At first it was connected with the baptismal rite. The candidate for Baptism was asked, "Dost thou believe? "The answer came, "I believe in God the Father," etc., through the Creed. The symbol was not committed to writing, but to memory, for it was a sign or mystery known only to the initiated. According to early writers the candidate was cautioned to recite it in a low tone lest the mysteries of the Faith be communicated to those whose education in preparation for Baptism was not yet complete. As the Creed was a personal testimony of belief it was in the singular number, "I believe." So we see that its first use was catechetical.

The next step in its use was in the way of [89/90] emphasizing discipleship. In days of persecution Christians made themselves known to each other by the Creed. The heathen world was in ignorance of the sacred form and it was revealed only to the baptized. It was also the way by which disciples not personally known to their brethren were admitted to the Holy Communion.

The Rev. E. Burbridge writes: "The Creed which was entrusted to Christian people with so much solemnity at the time of their baptism was stored up in their memories for continual use. But for many centuries the ordinary daily use of the Creed seems to have been confined to private repetition. For instance in the Mozarabic Missal in the service for Palm Sunday on which day the Creed was delivered in the Spanish Church to those about to be baptized, an address was provided, taken from a sermon to catechumens by St. Augustine in which the people were exhorted to use it daily before going to sleep and before starting to their work, with a caution expressing the objection which was felt [96/97] to its being committed to writing. After which it was solemnly repeated by all three times." [Liturgies and Offices of the Church, p. 343.]

Its third use was in the way of testing loyalty to the Church. When heresies multiplied the Creed was the token of allegiance to the truth. If men were in league with error, they could not consistently recite the Creed.

The fourth stage was reached when the Creed passed from an oral to a written form. When persecutions ceased the necessity of retaining it in the memory only was no longer required. The date of its appearance in writing we may conjecture from ancient manuscripts. It is found for the first time in the writings of Rufinus, 390, in Latin. It is also found in full in the Utrecht Psalter, whose date Archbishop Usher placed at 597. It is seen in the copy of King Athelstan's Psalter, preserved in the British Museum. Its probable date is the year 700. It is likewise found in the Psalter of Charlemagne preserved in a Church at Bremen. The date, according to scholars, ranges from [97/98] 780 to 880. It is quite evident that the complete text of the Apostles' Creed was in written form throughout the Christian world by the Eighth Century.

The last stage in the use of the Creed was attained when it ceased to be a private formula, used only by the baptized, and was introduced into liturgical services. In 816 the Synod of Aix la Chapelle directed that the Creed be used in the daily offices. How early it was used in the Anglican Church in her liturgical forms cannot be exactly stated, though some scholars give the year 758 as the date when it was introduced into the Salisbury use by St. Osmund. While known and used in the Latin Church, it was not formally placed in the Canon of the Mass until 1014, when it was so ordered by Benedict VIII. In the early English Church the Creed was recited alone by the minister until the words "life everlasting" were reached, when the congregation joined him. In the Second Prayer Book of Edward VI, 1552, a rubric directed that the Creed be said both by "minister and people."

[99] I have spoken of these stages in the history of the Creed for the purpose of showing how wonderfully it has adapted itself to the diversified needs of humanity. What a splendid and invaluable service it has rendered as a baptismal form, a confession of discipleship, a test of loyalty, a pledge of orthodoxy, and a liturgical and devotional symbol! What a glorious climax of blessedness would that be if in the providence of God it became the instrument by which the dissevered ranks of Christendom should be brought together in one fold under one Shepherd!

Considering what the Apostles' Creed stands for, the tributes paid it by the Fathers of the Church are true in every word. Irenaeus speaks of it as "the proclamation of the truth;" Tertullian and Cyprian as the "Sacrament of the Faith; "Novatian as the "rule of the truth;" Rufinus as the "standard of preaching," and the "citadel of the Faith;" and Ambrose as the "watchword of the Apostles." And down all the ages since these words of the Fathers were uttered, they have been re-echoed by the lips of thousands and [99/100] tens of thousands of holy men and women, wherever the blessed Cross has been uplifted. Dr. Schaff says of the Apostles' Creed: "It is not a logical statement of abstract doctrines, but a profession of living facts and saving truths. It is a liturgical poem and an act of worship. Like the Lord's Prayer it loses none of its charm and effect by frequent use. It is intelligible and edifying to a child and fresh and rich to the profoundest Christian scholar who, as he advances in age, delights to go back to primitive foundations and first principles. It has the fragrance of antiquity and the inestimable weight of universal consent."

The Nicene Creed was born under circumstances very different from those that surrounded the Apostles' Creed. The symbol of Nicaea anciently read, "We believe," and this was quite in keeping with its history, for it was the gift of the Church in her collective capacity, being brought into existence by the action of the General Councils. Its early acceptance was emphatic, for it was confirmed by the Council of Ephesus [100/101] in 431, and in its expanded form by the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Its liturgical use followed quickly for the most part, as compared with the Apostles' Creed, as in 471, Peter, the patriarch of Antioch, directed it to be used in every Church in his jurisdiction, and in 511, Timotheus, the patriarch of Constantinople, also endorsed it as a liturgical form. In 589, the Council of Toledo ordered its public recital, and in 814, it was in the same way placed in the ritual of the Gallican Church, and probably about the same date in that of the early English Church. Lastly it was by the authority of Benedict VIII., introduced into the service of the Mass of the Latin Church at the same time with the Apostles' Creed, in 1014.

The Council that gathered at Nice was most remarkable and unique in its composition. "Never since the death of the Apostles," says Bishop Forbes, "did the Christian world behold a Synod with higher claims to be considered universal and free, or an assembly of Bishops more august and holy. For at that Council as [101/102] Eusebius says, there were assembled out of all the Churches which had filled the whole of Europe, Asia and Africa, the very choicest from the ministers of God, and one sacred building expanded as it were by the divine command, embraced at once within its compass both Syrians and Cilicians, Phoenicians and Arabians, and Christians of Palestine, Egyptians too, Thebans and Lybiaus and some who came out of Mesopotamia. A Bishop also from Persia was present at the Council, and even Scythia was not wanting to that company. Pontusalso and Galatia, Pamphilia and Cappadocia with Asia and Phrygia, contributed their choicest Prelates. Moreover, Thracians, Macedonians, Achaians, and Epirotes, and inhabitants of still more remote districts were, notwithstanding their distance, present. Even from Spain, that most celebrated man--Hosius--took his seat among the rest. The prelate of the imperial city of Rome was indeed absent on account of his advanced age, but presbyters of his were present to supply his place." [A Short Explanation of the Nicene Creed, p. 4.]

[103] It was an assemblage of men of splendid mental equipment, of undaunted courage and unwavering faith. There was the youthful Athanasius, not strictly a member of the Council, but one who was present as an attendant of his Bishop, drawn into the debate by permission and springing to the front by his acuteness of reasoning and the fire of his eloquence, and doing more than any other speaker to mould the decisions of the Council. Gregory of Naziansus says of Athanasius, that he had a face as radiant as that of an angel, and that he was "accessible to all, slow to anger, quick in sympathy, pleasant in conversation, and still more pleasant in temper, effective alike in discourse and action, assiduous in devotions, helpful to Christians of every class and age, a theologian with the speculative, a comforter of the afflicted. a staff to the aged, a guide to the young."

Another prominent figure in that Council was the aged Hosius, the Bishop of Cordova, who honored the Episcopate for 70 years. As a keen theologian and profound scholar he exercised a [103/104] commanding influence. And there, too, was Eusebius Pamphilus, the Bishop of Caesarea, noted for his forceful pen, his oratorical ability and his stores of historic knowledge. Another sublime hero, undaunted in his advocacy of truth, was Eustathius, the Bishop of Berasa, who, for his service against the Arians, was promoted in 325 to the patriarchate of Antioch. And there, too, was Alexander, the Bishop of Alexandria, whose clear and outspoken words brought heresy face to face with truth, and made the Council of Nicaea a necessity. There were scores of others whose names have, not come down to us, who were mighty men of valor. The\r were all serious men who had come together for a serious purpose. They were not servants of the Church who had been living an easy, self-indulgent life. The remarkable statement has come down to us through history that of the three hundred and eighteen Bishops gathered together at the Nicene Council, only fifteen of the number had not been called upon to endure persecution. Most of the members of that vast [104/105] concourse could say with St. Paul, "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Through the privations of the dungeon, forms were bowed down, the cruel spear had made that eye sightless, or yonder face scarred, and the sword had parted limbs from the body. These were the men baptized in the fires of persecution, who met and defeated heresy, and who gave us that glorious formula that affirms in trumpet tones the blessedness of the Incarnation, the Divinity of our dear Lord and the truth of the undivided Trinity. In 381, when the Council of Constantinople supplemented the Nicene Creed by asserting the Divinity of the Holy Spirit, Christendom was in the possession of a complete body of Divinity bearing the seal of authority. It is a source of regret that there should be any difference in the rendering of this grand old symbol among the great historic Churches in reference to the double procession of the Holy Spirit. It is to be regretted that even a single word has been dropped out of our English version of the Creed. In the Latin and Greek rendering the word ''holy" is [104/105] placed before "Catholic," but for some reason, perhaps from inadvertency, the "holy" is omitted from our English version of the Nicene symbol.

When the time shall come for the realization of the Saviour's prayer for unity, is it not reasonable to expect that around the two Creeds will gather the hosts that seek that unity? There are potent and convincing arguments why this should be so. The Creeds are pre-eminently Scriptural. In decided language without the shadow of a doubt, they affirm the great doctrines that Holy Writ contains. In nearby all the primitive liturgies the Creed was placed after the Gospel, thus re-affirming in the words of man what had already been said in the words of inspiration. A proficient liturgical writer says, "In the Roman and old English rites the Creed follows the Gospel. In the Ambrosian it is deferred till after the Offertory. The Mozarabic is peculiar in substituting it for the brief Hymn or Confession of Faith at the elevation of the consecrated gifts. In the East, [106/107] it keeps its place after the Gospel in the Armenian rite, and only a few intercessory prayers intervene in the Ethiopic. But under the Catechumenical system it was usually thought necessary to defer it until the Catechumens had been dismissed. Thus it occurs after the Great Entrance in the Liturgy of St. James, and in the Syriac, Coptic and Nestorian Liturgies. In the Liturgy of St. Mark, and in that of Constantinople it is put off a step further, until after the Kiss of Peace. The facts, therefore, point distinctly to the position after the Gospel as primitive." [Rev. John E. Field in The Apostolic Liturgy and the Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 446-447.]

Again, the Creeds should be the rallying points of unity, because they represent the mind of the Church before she was broken up into dissenting elements. The Creeds do not represent a party, a system or a theory, but they are the consensus of an undivided Church. Certainly no one would for a moment think of unity on the basis of later confessions of Faith, formularies or Articles. You would not associate it with [107/108] the Confessions of Augsburg, Westminster, Dort, Heidelberg and Saybrook. Nor would you identify unity with the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. The latter have been tinkered and repaired in the most ruthless manner. Originally formed in 1552 they consisted of forty-two articles. Then they were repealed in the reign of Queen Mary. In 1562 they were revised and accepted, as now found in English Prayer Books. When the American Church separated from the Mother Church of England the Articles as they appeared in the Proposed Prayer Rook of 1786, were reduced to twenty in number, and those that were left were in most cases changed. But the Proposed Prayer Book was rejected and with it the Articles. The Church seriously considered the expediency of doing without the Articles and they did not appear in the first Standard Prayer Book of 1790. Then the matter was reconsidered and the construction or reconstruction of the Articles set in afresh, until they appeared as they were established by the General Convention of 1801 [108/109] Bishop White tells us that during the early Conventions the most acrimonious debates took place over the wording of the Articles. The Seventeenth Article, on Predestination, was so battered and bruised that the poor thing could hardly be recognized when it reappeared in 1801. The repairs put upon the Articles should have lasted for all time, but the end was not yet, for in 1875 the Reformed Episcopalians renewed the attack, and they have their version of the Articles thirty-five in number. How very plain then it must seem to us that Confessions of faith, formularies and Articles brought into existence after the Creeds, cannot enter into the movement for unity. They are modern and local. They are purely theological, while the Creeds are both doctrinal and devotional. The Creeds are the reminders of the Unity the Church once enjoyed, while the later Confessions and Articles are the signs of diversity and separation. There is nothing fragrant nor ancient in their history.

Neither can unity be accomplished on any fancied liturgical adaptation. Individualism [109/110] has been busy over this matter for years, and it has left the wreckage of its efforts all along the line.

In 1797, Nathan Davies of Boston, had a dream of Church unity and that year he issued a service book bearing the title, "A Catholic Liturgy, for Christians, of all denominations." The title was a, misnomer, for the volume did not contain a single sacramental rite. Mr. Davies also projected a series of lectures to explain his mission. There was to be an entrance fee and all sums over and above expenses were to be given to the poor of Boston. But the lectures were never delivered, the poor never received their money, and after nearly a hundred years all that is left of the movement, is a single copy of the book, preserved in the library of the New York Historical Society, among rare Americana.

Another effort in a different country was made in 1815. A Book of Common Prayer for the use of all Christians, appeared at Birmingham, England, in that year. It was edited by [110/11] the Rev. Peter Gandolphy, a learned Priest of the Roman Catholic Church. The book was compiled from various sources, but chiefly from the services of the Mass of the Latin Church. Gandolphy had high hopes that this composite liturgy would lead to Church unity. But he was disappointed. At the start he incurred the displeasure of his Bishop, who suspended him. The book to-day is a rare one and is found only in the library of the bibliophile.

In 1821, the Rev. George Dashiel, of the diocese of Maryland, with a few deacons withdrew from the American Episcopal Church and formed what was called "The Evangelical Episcopal Church." It lasted for about three months and then vanished forever. Its exponent was a Prayer Book, patterned for the most part after the Proposed Prayer Book of 1786. The book is now classed among the curiosities of early American literature.

The most singular attempt at ritual adjustment on record was made in 1847 by David Sears, of Boston. The book he compiled is called [111/112] "The Christian Liturgy of the Apostolic Catholic or Universal Church of Christ." It draws from three sources, namely: Unitarian forms and the ritual of the Roman Catholic and American Episcopal Churches. To carry out the special features of this book the compiler thought it necessary to have a new form of Church government. This he explains as consisting of what was called "The Holy Council," made up of not less than forty and not more than eighty priests. This was to be presided over by one who was denominated "The Chief Priest," who was a sort of pope or primate.

Boston is a tolerant city, and rejoices in a large variety of religious views, but even Boston did not appreciate this attempt at Church unity, and the Prayer Book of the "Apostolic Catholic Church" never travelled beyond the bounds of the little congregation where it was first used.

The Rev. W. D. Haley, in 1859, prepared a service book for the use of what he called "The Broad Church," so "broad" that it was to take [112/113] in everybody, with a creed or without a creed. That book saw but one edition, that is, its first edition was also its last.

Numerous other cases might be cited of attempts toward Church unity made through individually prepared liturgies, but they have all failed, and deservedly so, for there can be no modern substitutes for the Creeds of Christendom.

One of the hopeful signs of modern days is that nearly all Christian peoples are in touch concerning the acceptance of the Apostles' Creed-Those bodies that have desired a more complete statement of Christian doctrine and that have given any attention to primitive practice and claims, have also endorsed the Nicene Creed. The liturgy of the Reformed Dutch Church, translated into English in New York City, in 1767, contained not only the Apostles' Creed, and the Nicene, but also the Athanasian. The liturgies that are in use by Lutheran congregations in this country contain the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, and, in some cases, the Athanasian. [113/114] The first Moravian Prayer Book published in Philadelphia in 1813, contains the Apostles' Creed, rendered in an enlarged or paraphrased form. The Unitarian Prayer Book of King's Chapel, Boston, of 1785, dispensed with the Nicene Creed. The Apostles' Creed, however, was retained, but the sentences, "He descended into hell," "the holy Catholic Church," and "the communion of Saints," were omitted. About fifty years ago a book appeared bearing the title "Eutaxia." It was a plea for the use of liturgies among Presbyterians. It was written by the Rev. Mr. Baird, but he was not courageous enough to attach his name to the book, as the subject in his day was not popular with the denomination he represented. But in after years that prejudice against liturgies was in some measure removed.

St. Peter's Presbyterian Church of Rochester, N. Y., was organized in 1853. The pastor, the Rev. Dr. Bacon, prepared a Book of Worship that contains the Apostles' Creed and most of the musical service of the Book of Common [114/115] Prayer. The congregation has never wholly parted with these devotional forms. The present pastor, the Rev. Alfred J. Button, D.D., writes: "It is perhaps ten years since the Evening Service was modified. Nothing could induce the people, however, to give up or change their morning order. Forty years ago this Church was singular in this respect and widely deemed semi-Episcopal. But Presbyterians are coming to know much better than that. We are now-only singular in the excellency of our order as compared with the mongrel affairs that have been extemporized for so many of our Churches." In this tribute to a liturgy the Rev. Dr. Hutton does not stand alone among Presbyterians. The Rev. Dr. Shields, of Princeton, a most ardent friend of Church unity, prepared a Book of Common Prayer for Presbyterians that was published in 1864 in a thick volume of 825 pages, of which 637 pages are given to the pre-composed forms. It contains both the Creeds and borrows liberally from our own ritual. The book closes with elaborately prepared tables showing the [115/116] origin of liturgical forms--a piece of scholarship that would do credit to any Churchman in the land.

Additional argument is not needed to show that already many Christian peoples are in touch with each other in the acceptance of the Creeds. This feature of Church Unity is worthy of our most enthusiastic encouragement. If we get nearer to each other in the Creeds, may it not lead to a closer union on the other essentials of the Primitive Church!

The Creeds are our safeguards. They do not deal in negations, but in sublime affirmations, for they are designed to build up our faith and to dispel our doubts. The Creeds are the synonyms of symplicity, for their language is so plain, that a child can understand, and they do not employ the technicalities of theology. The Creeds are adapted to every human want. Science has changed its deductions many times over, but the Creeds have stood in all their majesty unchanged, and have adapted themselves to [116/117] modern thought as well as to the thought of every age. The Creeds may be said or sung, for they are devotional forms capable of lifting up our wearied hearts towards God, and heaven and immortality.

Project Canterbury