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§ 3. Authority of Creeds.99    On the authority and use of Symbols there are a number of Latin and German treatises by C. U. Hahn (1833), Hoefling (1835), Sartorius (1845), Harless (1846), A. Hahn 1847), Köllner (1847), Genzken (1851), Bretschneider (1830), Johannsen (1833), and others, all with special reference to the Lutheran State Churches in Germany. See the literature in Müller, Die symb. Bücher der evang. luth. Kirche, p. xv., and older works in Winer's Handbuch der theol. Literatur, 3d ed. Vol. I. p. 334. Comp. also Dunlop and Chaponnière (Part II.), cited in § 1.

1. In the Protestant system, the authority of symbols, as of all human compositions, is relative and limited. It is not co-ordinate with, but always subordinate to, the Bible, as the only infallible rule of the Christian faith and practice. The value of creeds depends upon the measure of their agreement with the Scriptures. In the best case a human creed is only an approximate and relatively correct exposition of revealed truth, and may be improved by the progressive knowledge of the Church, while the Bible remains perfect and infallible. The Bible is of God; the Confession is man's answer to God's word.1010    For this reason a creed ought to use language different from that of the Bible. A string of Scripture passages would be no creed at all, as little as it would be a prayer or a hymn. A creed is, as it were, a doctrinal poem written under the inspiration of divine truth. This may be said at least of the œcumenical creeds. The Bible is the norma normans; the Confession the norma normata. The Bible is the rule of faith (regula fidei); the Confession the rule of doctrine (regula doctrinæ). The Bible has, therefore, a divine and absolute, the Confession only an ecclesiastical and relative authority. The Bible regulates the general religious belief and practice of the laity as well as the clergy; the symbols regulate the public teaching of the officers of the Church, as Constitutions and Canons regulate the government, Liturgies and Hymn-books the worship, of the Church.

Any higher view of the authority of symbols is unprotestant and essentially Romanizing. Symbololatry is a species of idolatry, and substitutes the tyranny of a printed book for that of a living pope. It is 8apt to produce the opposite extreme of a rejection of all creeds, and to promote rationalism and infidelity.

2. The Greek Church, and still more the Roman Church, regarding the Bible and tradition as two co-ordinate sources of truth and rules of faith, claim absolute and infallible authority for their confessions of faith.1111    Tertullian already speaks of the regula fidei immobilis et irreformabilis (De virg. vel. c. 1); but he applied it only to the simple form which is substantially retained in the Apostles' Creed.

The Greek Church confines the claim of infallibility to the seven œcumenical Councils, from the first Council of Nicæa, 325, to the second of Nicæa, 787.

The Roman Church extends the same claim to the Council of Trent and all the subsequent official Papal decisions on questions of faith down to the decree of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, and the dogma of Papal Infallibility proclaimed by the Vatican Council in 1870. Since that time the Pope is regarded by orthodox Romanists as the organ of infallibility, and all his official decisions on matters of faith and morals must be accepted as final, without needing the sanction of an œcumenical council.

It is clear that either the Greek or the Roman Church, or both, must be wrong in this claim of infallibility, since they contradict each other on some important points, especially the authority of the pope, which in the Roman Church is an articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiæ, and is expressly taught in the Creed of Pius V. and the Vatican Decrees.


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