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§ 13. What are Articles of Faith?

THE whole subject matter of revelation naturally divides itself into single propositions, which we call articles of faith. “An article of faith is a part of the doctrine, revealed in the written Word of God, concerning God and divine things, proposed to the sinner to be believed in order to his salvation.” HOLL. (43) [1] Taken together, these articles form the sum of what the Christian is to believe, [2] and they are closely connected together, standing in the same relation to the general contents of revelation as the members of a body to the body itself. The articles of faith have their origin solely in the Holy Scriptures; [3] but, inasmuch as their contents embrace some truths which could not be known in any other way, and others of which some knowledge may be gained by the light of nature; and, inasmuch as all the truths contained in them are not of equal importance for our salvation, and do not stand in equally intimate connection with it, the articles of faith may be divided into,

I. The pure articles (which are known only by divine revelation), and the mixed (which are manifest not merely from revelation, but also from the light of nature. BR. (43). [4]

II. The fundamental and non-fundamental.

HOLL. (46): “The fundamental articles are parts of the Christian doctrine so necessary to be known that, when they are not known, the foundation of the faith is not savingly apprehended or retained by man; and when they are denied by him, to that same extent it is overturned.” [5]

(53): “The non-fundamental articles are parts of the Christian doctrine which one may be ignorant of or deny, and yet be saved.” [6] But the fundamental articles are again divided into “primary, without the knowledge of which no one can attain unto eternal salvation, or which must be known in 93order for any one to hold the foundation of the faith and secure salvation;” [7] and “the secondary, which one may be ignorant of, but dare not deny, much less oppose, without injury to the foundation of the faith.” QUEN. (I, 243). [8]

The whole of the articles of faith the Church has collected in the Symbols. These contain the confession of faith which the Church has put forth at different times, and are therefore divided into the symbols of earlier and later times. [9]

[1] HOLL. (43): “The term, article, is derived from artus, and this from arcto. It properly signifies members of the body closely joined together, as the joints of the fingers closely cohere. Metaphorically, the word article is applied to the parts of the doctrine of faith, which are most intimately joined together.” QUEN. (I, 241): “So that articles of faith are parts of the doctrine of faith, divinely revealed for our salvation, which are most intimately united to each other and to the whole, as the parts or joints of a finger, and into which the whole structure of the Christian religion may be resolved, as a finger into its joints. And their connection is so intimate that, when one is removed, the rest cannot continue sound and whole.” The word is sometimes taken in a wider, and sometimes in a narrower sense. HOLL. (44): “Collectively, it signifies a whole head of doctrine; distributively, any assertion or enunciation which constitutes a part of Christian doctrine. The Christian doctrine is divided into heads or theological loci, and these again into certain theses. The heads of doctrine are called articles of faith, as well as the theses under the separate heads; e. g., the theological locus [general topic] concerning Christ is called an article of faith, and the proposition, ‘Christ, in the flesh, sitteth at the right hand of God,’ is also called an article of faith.” Sometimes, merely the mysteries of the faith are meant by the articles of faith. BR. (42): “It is certain that the term, article of faith, is sometimes used in a stricter sense, as accurately denoting the mysteries of faith necessary to be believed in order to salvation, namely, the pure articles, and of these the fundamental alone.”

[2] QUEN. (I, 241): “The subjects with which the articles of faith are occupied are τα πιστα, the credenda, the things to be believed as such. For a distinction must here be made between the historical and the dogmatical, and between the moral doctrines, which teach what is to be done or avoided, and the doctrines of faith, which treat of what is to be believed or not believed. For although faith, generally viewed, may have respect to all that is contained in the 94Word of God, whether it be of an historical or moral or dogmatical character; yet it has nevertheless a special reference to the doctrines of faith or to the things to be believed, as such.”

GRH. (VII, 165): “Since those things which are propounded in the Scriptures as matters of faith, are not of one kind, but some pertain to the faith directly and per se, and other in certain respects and remotely, such as historical descriptions of deeds performed by the saints, so not all the matters contained in the Scriptures can be regarded as articles of faith, strictly and accurately speaking, but only those doctrines the knowledge of which is necessary to salvation.”. . . . And, after an appeal to Thomas Aquinas: “If the Jesuits in the Ratisbon Colloquium had observed this principle of the teacher, they never would have blurted forth the assertion: ‘It is an article of faith, that the dog of Tobias wagged his tail.’”

If the Dogmaticians found it necessary, over against the Romanists, to guard against too wide a use of the term, “articles of faith,” they found it equally necessary, at a later day, in opposition to Calixtus, to guard against a too narrow use of the same expression. After the example of Bonaventura, he divided the doctrines into antecedent, constituent, and consequent. In the first class he included everything that man can know by means of his reason, without the aid of revelation; in the second, all in the strict constituting the faith, and standing in special relation to the salvation provided by Christ, and that cannot remain unknown without peril to salvation. In the third class he included all those doctrines which are derived only by inference from the special doctrines of the faith. The term “articles of faith” he applied only to those of the second class. “The constituent articles of faith are those which, in themselves and their substance, so to speak, and as divinely declared, must be known and believed, from the necessity both of means and of the command. . . . The knowledge of the antecedents and consequents is not a matter for every one, but only for the more advanced.”. . . . In opposition to him, therefore, the distinction was made, that everything contained in the Scriptures that refers to the faith is an article of faith. As Calixtus further maintained: “That the Apostles’ Creed sufficiently comprehended all the articles of faith, so that the ignorance of other doctrines might be regarded as by no means harmful to salvation;” and: “That the Apostles’ Creed was a mark for distinguishing not only Christians from the heathen, but also the orthodox or Catholics from heretics; so that whoever received the Apostles’ Creed should be considered members of the Catholic Church and subjects of the kingdom of Christ, and were by no means to be condemned as heretics, 95whatever errors they might entertain,” — he is answered by the statement (QUEN. I, 30): “The Apostles’ Creed is not an adequate test of the doctrines that must be believed in order to salvation, for many articles especially necessary are omitted, as: Of Original Sin, Redemption, the Personal Union, the Universality of the Grace and Merit of Christ, Justification by Faith, the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness, etc.”

[3] HOLL. (44): “A true article of faith must be (a) revealed in the written Word of God; (b) have reference to the salvation of man; (c) be intimately connected with the remaining doctrines of the faith; and (d) be not apparent to unaided reason.” QUEN. (I, 242): “For it is possible for doctrines to be perspicuously and plainly propounded in Scripture, while their subjects, peculiar to faith, may not be clearly apprehended, as the mystery of the Trinity, etc., etc., since by the light of nature they would never have been known; whence faith is said to be occupied with such things as are not seen. Heb. 11:1.”

In opposition to the assertion of the Socinians: “Whatever is absolutely necessary to salvation, must necessarily be with simple and entire literalness written in the Scriptures,” we have the statement of CAL. (I, 804): “Although we acknowledge that those things which must be believed in order to salvation ought to be clearly taught and exhibited in the Holy Scriptures, so that they may be drawn thence by all, yet we do not admit that they are there expressed precisely, or literally, so that those things which are deduced by easy, ready, and obvious inference from the Holy Scriptures, are not to be considered as articles of faith and necessary to be believed.”

[4] QUEN. (I, 242): “There are some doctrines in Scripture which are simply pista (matters of faith), and cannot be at all learned from reason, but are infinitely above it; there are also some things to be believed which, although they are revealed in Scripture and necessary to be known, are nevertheless of such a nature that even reason by the use of her own principles could attain some sort of knowledge of them; hence arise the pure and mixed articles. The former are derived from the Word of God alone and are simply matters of faith, as the article concerning the Trinity, etc., etc.; the latter, although they may be known n some degree from the light of nature, are nevertheless purely matters of faith, in so far as they are known by divine revelation; e.g., that God is, etc., is known from evident proofs, and is believed on the authority of the divine revelation. Yet all such things as may be known to some extent by the light of nature, are not matters of faith so far as they are apprehended 96by the aid of the light of nature, but in as far as they are apprehended by the aid of divine revelation.” In like manner, HOLL. (45): “No article of faith formally considered, so far as it is an article of faith, is mixed; inasmuch as all articles of faith are dependent on divine revelation, and therefore, with respect to their formal object, are not naturally apprehended.”

Of the pure articles of faith HOLL. (45) remarks: “They treat of the mysteries of faith that transcend the comprehension of unaided human reason. Μυεισθαι (mystery) is derived from μυειν, which signifies to have closed eyes, to compress the mouth, and consequently to be silent. From μυειν is formed μυεειν, which signifies to imbue any one with honest doctrine. Μυεισθαι is the same as to be initiated into sacred things. Ο μυστης is a man initiated into sacred things, or who is imbued with such knowledge of sacred things, that he may teach them, and is to be heard with reverential silence. To μυστηριον, in profane authors, signifies every secret matter that dare not be rashly mentioned, but especially the sacred Eleusinian mysteries of Ceres, guarded by the strictest silence. In sacred literature, mysteries are divine and supernatural matters, unknown to unaided reason, not intuitively perceived, but divinely revealed for the sake of our salvation.”

[5] QUEN. (I, 242): “The fundamental articles, or those that cannot be unknown, or at least not denied, consistently with faith and salvation, are those which are intimately connected with the foundation of the faith. A foundation, generally speaking is, as N. Hunnius defines it, ‘that which is the first in any structure, which lies beneath the whole structure, and is not sustained by anything else.’” Thus the foundation of the faith is that upon which the faith, and, indeed, the whole of Christianity, as a house that is to be built and upheld, is based. And, inasmuch as a foundation is sometimes the same as a cause, a fundamental article is such a doctrine as serves to produce and establish faith and eternal salvation, or which explains some cause of faith and salvation. QUEN., according to the method of Hunnius, distinguishes a threefold foundation. “1. Substantial, the object upon which man rests his confidence, from the beneficial effect of which he expects eternal salvation; or, it is the proper object of faith, which is the triune God, to be embraced by faith in Christ, the Mediator. 2. Organic, the Word of God, which is as a seed, out of which Christians are born again; thus it is also called a foundation, inasmuch as it is a means of generating faith, and a source of doctrine which lies underneath faith, and thus is a foundation of faith. 3. Dogmatic, that first part of the 97heavenly doctrine which is not referable to any other doctrine, but revealed for its own sake, and to which all other doctrines, as if revealed for its sake, are referred, and from which, as a sufficient and immediate cause, faith results. Hence heresy is not any and every error, contrary to the Word of God, but one that undermines or overturns the foundation of the faith.” HOLL. (46): “A foundation of the faith is either real, i.e. substantial, or dogmatic, i.e., doctrinal. The substantial foundation of the faith and salvation is Christ, since He is the meritorious cause of obtaining from God forgiveness of sins and eternal life. In 1 Cor. 3:11, Paul calls Christ the foundation of the building; for the whole Church rest upon Christ. . . . But since the Church is the assembly of all who believe and are to be saved, it may be legitimately concluded that Christ is the foundation of faith and salvation. The dogmatic foundation of the faith is the collection of doctrines divinely revealed, by which Christ, the substantial foundation of the faith, and the sources and means of salvation necessarily connected therewith, are set forth. By the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Paul means, in Eph. 2:20, the doctrine taught by them. Moreover, the apostle teaches that Christ is the cornerstone, indicating that the doctrine of the prophets and apostles is in such a sense the foundation, that it rests upon Christ Jesus, as the ultimate cornerstone and foundation. . . . The substantial and the dogmatic foundation of the faith are not two foundations essentially contradistinguished from each other, nor do they differ as to their subject-matter, but as to our method of conceiving of them, in consequence of their different connotation. For Christ is the foundation, as to the subject-matter; the doctrine concerning Christ is the foundation, as to our knowledge. But the doctrine concerning Christ is the foundation, as to our knowledge. But the doctrine concerning Christ is nothing else than Christ, known by the intellect, and exhibited in a written or preached form, that others may know Him.”

[6] BR. (56): “E.g., concerning the sin and eternal ruin of certain angels, concerning the immortality of the first man before the Fall, concerning Antichrist, concerning the origin of the soul, whether by creation or traduction.” But he adds to this: “At the same time, moreover, we are to be careful in regard to this matter, lest by embracing or professing error we rashly sin against divine revelation and God Himself; especially, lest something be maintained, through the persuasion of others, contrary to conscience, whereby the foundation and the truth of one or more of the fundamental articles of the faith are overturned. For thus, as by a mortal sin, faith and the Holy Spirit may be and are entirely driven away.”


[7] QUEN. (I, 243): “Among these fundamental article of faith a certain order has been established in regard to the relation which they sustain to each other, and to an intermediate as well an ultimate end; so that some are called primary and others secondary fundamental articles, some are said to be of the first, others of the second rank.”

The primary articles are subdivided. 1. By some into constituitive and conservative articles. QUEN. (I, 243): “Constitutive fundamental articles, according to N. Hunnius, are those which constitute the very foundation of the faith, or are the immediate cause of faith, as ‘God will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” The conservative are those which do not, indeed, immediately cause faith itself, but which are necessarily implied in the immediate cause faith itself, but which are necessarily implied in the immediate cause of faith; e.g., that God is true and omnipotent, etc.; where he further observes that, “for any doctrine to constitute a foundation of the faith, it is necessary to the production of faith, that none of them be wanting, nor any other doctrine admitted which may militate, directly or indirectly, against the doctrine in question, or render it in any wise inefficient in producing faith.” 2. Others divide them “into (a) antecedent articles of faith, which do not, indeed, cause justifying and saving faith, nor are absolutely and immediately necessary to its existence, but which are, nevertheless, necessary to the complete and permanent establishment of those doctrines which produce and constitute the faith, which cannot be done when these are not taught or are unknown or denied (the doctrine of the existence of a divine revelation, of the existence of God, His power, etc., etc., of the divinity of the Mediator, the sinfulness of man, the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment); (b), into constituent articles of faith, which immediately and most nearly relate to our salvation, and intrinsically constitute and cause faith (the Christian doctrines of the love which God bears to man, of the merit and universal atonement of Christ, and its application to individual cases); (c), into consequent articles of faith, which so necessarily follow established faith that, if they be not held, faith itself again is lost (the eternal duration of God, the executive justice of God, the efficacious sanctification of God, the intercommunication of attributes and operation in the person of Christ, the regal office of Christ, etc., etc.).” HULSEMAN (in QUEN. I, 243).

[8] HOLL. (51): “The secondary fundamental articles are those, a simple want of acquaintance with which does not prevent our salvation, but the pertinacious denial of, and hostility to, which overturn 99the foundation of the faith. Such are the parts of the Christian doctrine in regard to the characteristic peculiarities of the Divine Persons, of the intercommunication of attributes in Christ, of original sin, of the decree of election in view of final faith, of the justification of the sinner by faith alone, meritorious good works being excluded.” (The latter sentence is thus further illustrated (p. 52): “The justification of the converted sinner by faith in Christ, is a constitutive fundamental article of faith. But it may happen that a sinner, acknowledging and hating his sins, may repose entire confidence in Christ as a Mediator, and yet know nothing about the exclusion of good works. Who would condemn him? But he who denies that the sinner is justified alone by faith in Christ, violates the primary fundamental articles concerning the grace of God and the merits of Christ.”) The comparison of Notes 7 and 8 shows, moreover, that the Dogmaticians do not similarly divide the single doctrines of the same class. From the distinctions made in the fundamental articles there results what HOLL. (53) remarks: “All the fundamental articles of faith must necessarily be known, but the grades of this necessity are different. For those articles of faith which not only enter into the very definition of saving faith, but are immediately operative in the production of faith, are the most necessary for man to believe in order to his salvation. Of the remaining articles, some are positively and directly, others negatively and indirectly, necessary to be believed. And, in reference to those who believe, the same measure of knowledge will not be required of all.”

The distinction between the articles of faith, as fundamental principal and less principal, is met with already in Gerhard, who took it from the Scholastics; but in the fully developed form above cited, it first appears in N. Hunnius. Reformed theologians, in order to bring about a union of the two confessions, had denied the existence of a fundamental difference between them, and for this purpose had generalized the definition of the term fundamental as much as possible. To guard against falsely irenic attempts, Hunnius then wrote his “Careful Examination of the Fundamental Doctrinal Difference between the Lutherans and the Calvinists. Wittenberg, 1626.”

[9] QUEN. (I, 21): “A summary of true religion (and of the articles of faith) is contained in the Symbols, embracing the Christian faith; these are either ancient, or oecumenical, received throughout all Christendom” (Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene, Constantinopolitan, Ephesian, Chalcedonic, and Athanasian Creeds), or more recent and, by reason of their less solemn sanction, particular (the 100Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology, the Smalcald Articles, the Catechisms of Luther, and the Formula of Concord).

In regard to the relation of the earlier to the later symbols, HOLL. remarks (Comp. 7): “Those which were approved by the unanimous consent of the whole Catholic Church, viz., the three oecumenical symbols, possess far greater authority than those which have received the sanction and approbation of only a few particular churches.”

As to the meaning of the word Symbol. — CAL. (I, 101): “They are called symbols because they were the tokens of the ancient Church, by which the orthodox could be distinguished from the heterodox.” HOLL. (54): “They are public confessions, drawn up after much deliberation and consultation, in the name of the Church, by orthodox men, with reference to certain articles of faith, so that the members of the orthodox Church might be removed from the ignorance and heretical wickedness of infidels, and be preserved in the proper profession of the faith.” As there are a number of them, HUTT. (Comp. 6) remarks: “Our churches recognize many symbolical books, but only as the same kind of evidence for the doctrine of their day.”

In reference to the relation sustained by the Symbolical Books to the Scriptures, cf. the FORM CONC. (Of the Compendious Rule and Guide, 7): “There is thus a very clear distinction made between the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and all other writings; and the Holy Scriptures are acknowledged as the only judge, rule, and guide by which, as by a Lydian stone, all doctrines are to be tried and adjudged, whether they be godly or ungodly, true or false. But the other symbols and other writings. . . . do not possess decisive authority,. . . . but merely furnish testimony for our religion and explain it, and show in what manner at particular times the Holy Scriptures were understood and explained, in regard to controverted points, by the learned men who then lived in the Church.” This relation was not discussed, however, in the works of the Dogmaticians until the time of Hutter; and the same was the case with the question as to the importance and necessity of the symbols. The relation, as it was regarded at the end of the orthodox period, is thus expressed by HOLL. (56): “The Holy Scriptures and the Symbolical Books differ; because: (1) The Holy Scriptures were communicated by immediate inspiration from God to holy men of God, led by the Holy Spirit. The Symbolical Books are sacred writings, composed by orthodox men, divinely endowed with the privilege of mediate illumination (in a strict sense no symbol of the church can be called inspired). For although 101these orthodox men conceived the symbol mentally and committed it to writing, by illumination of the Holy Spirit, yet they did not write by a special, extraordinary, and immediate inspiration of God, but were endowed and instructed by God through an ordinary and mediate illumination. Nor were the single words of the Symbolical Books actually dictated to them by the Holy Spirit, but by the assistance and direction of God they themselves discovered suitable words and applied them to the divine doctrines. (2) The Holy Scriptures are worthy of belief on their own account, and, to establish their authority, need no earlier source by which they may be proved. The Symbolical Books are worthy of belief because of their harmony with the revealed Word of God. (3) The Holy Scriptures, by virtue of their divine, canonical authority, constitute an infallible rule whereby true doctrines are distinguished from false. The Symbolical Books have ecclesiastical authority, and by virtue of this are called a rule, namely, with regard to the public profession of faith, by which we declare the unanimous consent of the Church in doctrine. (4) The Holy Scriptures adequately contain all that is to be believed and practiced; no Symbolical Book embraces fully all the doctrines and moral precepts (but, by reason of the time and occasion when and on account of which the Symbolical Books were written, those particular doctrines were discussed which were then controverted and chiefly assailed).” And, inasmuch as the Symbolical Books are called inspired by some theologians. HOLL. further remarks (58): “The Symbolical Books are, it is true, called by some authors inspired, (a) by virtue of their object, since they contain and expound the Word of God, formerly communicated by immediate inspiration to the prophets and apostles, and elicit something by legitimate inference from the Word of God; (b) in view of their mediate illumination, for we do not doubt that God exerted a special influence upon the minds of the godly, learned men who wrote the Symbols of the Church, illuminated their minds and inclined their wills, so that they conceived and wrote most true and wholesome doctrines.”

Of the necessity of the Symbolical Books (Id. 59): “The Symbolical Books are necessary, not absolutely but hypothetically, for the condition of the Church, which was induced by weighty reasons to their publication, (a) to establish solid, permanent, and firm concord in the Church of God, so that there may be a certain compendious form or type approved by universal consent, in which the common doctrine, which the churches of the purer doctrine profess, collected from the Word of God, may be contained; (b) to furnish an account of the Christian religion, if it be demanded by the civil 102authority; (c) to distinguish the true members of the Church from her enemies, the heretics, and schismatics.” In regard to obligation to the Symbolical Books, HOLL. remarks (59): “He who is a living member of the Church, and designs to fill the office of public teacher in it, may be bound by the superior magistrate to subscribe under oath, the Symbolical Books; in order that, as he is publicly to teach in the Church, he may be required to adhere to the universally acknowledged profession, exposition and defence of the common doctrine.”

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