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§ 6. General Character of the Œcumenical Creeds.

By œcumenical or general symbols (symbola œcumenica, s. catholica)1313   The term οἰκουμενικός (from οἰκουμένη, sc. γῆ, orbis terrarum, the inhabited earth; in a restricted sense, the old Roman Empire, as embracing the civilized world) was first used in its ecclesiastical application of the general synods of Nicæa (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451), also of patriarchs, bishops, and emperors, and, at a later period, of the ancient general symbols, to distinguish them from the confessions of particular churches. In the Protestant Church the term so used occurs first in the Lutheran Book of Concord (œcumenica seu catholica). we understand the doctrinal confessions of ancient Christianity, which are to this day either formally or tacitly acknowledged in the Greek, the Latin, and the Evangelical Protestant Churches, and form a bond of union between them.

They are three in number: the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creed. The first is the simplest; the other two are fuller developments and interpretations of the same. The Apostles' Creed is the most popular in the Western, the Nicene in the Eastern Churches.

To them may be added the christological statement of the œcumenical Council of Chalcedon (451). It has a more undisputed authority than 13the Athanasian Creed (to which the term œcumenical applies only in a qualified sense), but, as it is seldom used, it is generally omitted from the collections.

These three or four creeds contain, in brief popular outline, the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, as necessary and sufficient for salvation. They embody the results of the great doctrinal controversies of the Nicene and post-Nicene ages. They are a profession of faith in the only true and living God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who made us, redeemed us, and sanctifies us. They follow the order of God's own revelation, beginning with God and the creation, and ending with the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. They set forth the articles of faith in the form of facts rather than dogmas, and are well suited, especially the Apostles' Creed, for catechetical and liturgical use.

The Lutheran and Anglican Churches have formally recognized and embodied the three œcumenical symbols in their doctrinal and liturgical standards.1414   The Lutheran Form of Concord (p. 569) calls them 'catholica et generalia summæ auctoritatis symbola.' The various editions of the Book of Concord give them the first place among the Lutheran symbols. Luther himself emphasized his agreement with them. The Church of England, in the 8th of her 39 Articles, declares, 'The three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius's 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 American editions of the Articles and of the Book of Common Prayer omit the Athanasian Creed, and the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States excludes it from her service. The omission by the Convention of 1789 arose chiefly from opposition to the damnatory clauses, which even Dr. Waterland thought might be left out. But the doctrine of the Athanasian Creed is clearly taught in the first five Articles. The other Reformed Churches have, in their confessions, adopted the trinitarian and christological doctrines of these creeds, but in practice they confine themselves mostly to the use of the Apostles' Creed.1515   The Second Helvetic Confession, art. 11, the Gallican Confession, art. 5, and the Belgic Confession, art. 9, expressly approve the three Creeds, 'as agreeing with the written Word of God.' In 'The Constitution and Liturgy' of the (Dutch) Reformed Church in the United States the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed are printed at the end. The Apostles' Creed is embodied in the Heidelberg Catechism, as containing 'the articles of our catholic undoubted Christian faith.' The Shorter Westminster Catechism gives it merely in an Appendix, as 'a brief sum of the Christian faith, agreeable to the Word of God, and anciently received in the churches of Christ.' This, together with the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments, was incorporated in the Lutheran, the Genevan, the Heidelberg, and other standard Catechisms.

 


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