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§ 2. Origin of Creeds.

Faith, like all strong conviction, has a desire to utter itself before others—'Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh;' 'I believe, therefore I confess' (Credo, ergo confiteor). There is also an express duty, when we are received into the membership of the Christian Church, and on every proper occasion, to profess the faith within us, to make ourselves known as followers of Christ, and to lead others to him by the influence of our testimony.66    Comp. (Matt. x. 32, 33: 'Every one who shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven.' Rom. x. 9, 10: 'If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus [Jesus as Lord], and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, then shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto [so as to obtain] righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.'


This is the origin of Christian symbols or creeds. They never precede faith, but presuppose it. They emanate from the inner life of the Church, independently of external occasion. There would have been creeds even if there had been no doctrinal controversies.77    Semisch, Das apostolische Glaubensbekenntniss (Berlin, 1872, p. 7): ' Bekenntnisse, an welchen sich das geistige Leben ganzer Völker auferbaut, welche langen Jahrhunderten die höchsten Ziele und bestimmenden Kräfte ihres Handelns vorzeichnen, sind nicht Noth- und Flickwerke des Augenblicks . . . es sind Thaten des Lebens, Pulsschläge der sich selbst bezeugenden Kirche. ' In a certain sense it may be said that the Christian Church has never been without a creed (Ecclesia, sine symbolis nulla). The baptismal formula and the words of institution of the Lord's Supper are creeds; these and the confession of Peter antedate even the birth of the Christian Church on the day of Pentecost. The Church is, indeed, not founded on symbols, but on Christ; not on any words of man, but on the word of God; yet it is founded on Christ as confessed by men, and a creed is man's answer to Christ's question, man's acceptance and interpretation of God's word. Hence it is after the memorable confession of Peter that Christ said, 'Thou art Rock, and upon this rock I shall build my Church,' as if to say, 'Thou art the Confessor of Christ, and on this Confession, as an immovable rock, I shall build my Church.' Where there is faith, there is also profession of faith. As 'faith without works is dead,' so it may be said also that faith without confession is dead.

But this confession need not always be written, much less reduced to a logical formula. If a man can say from his heart, 'I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,' it is sufficient for his salvation (Acts xvi. 31). The word of God, apprehended by a living faith, which founded the Christian Church, was at first orally preached and transmitted by the apostles, then laid down in the New Testament Scriptures, as a pure and unerring record for all time to come. So the confession of faith, or the creed, was orally taught and transmitted to the catechumens, and professed by them at baptism, long before it was committed to writing. As long as the Disciplina arcani prevailed, the summary of the apostolic doctrine, called 'the rule of faith,' was kept confidential among Christians, and withheld even from the catechumens till the last stage of instruction; and hence we have only fragmentary 6accounts of it in the writings of the ante-Nicene fathers. When controversies arose concerning the true meaning of the Scriptures, it became necessary to give formal expression of their true sense, to regulate the public teaching of the Church, and to guard it against error. In this way the creeds were gradually enlarged and multiplied, even to the improper extent of theological treatises and systems of divinity.

The first Christian confession or creed is that of Peter, when Christ asked the apostles, 'Who say ye that I am?' and Peter, in the name of all the rest, exclaimed, as by divine inspiration, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God' (Matt. xvi. 16).88    The similar confession, John vi. 69, is of a previous date. It reads, according to the early authorities, 'Thou art the Holy One of God' (σὺ εἶ ὁ ἅγιος θεοῦ). A designation of the Messiah. This text coincides with the testimony of the demoniacs, Marc. I. 26, who, with ghostlike intuition, perceived the supernatural character of Jesus. This became naturally the substance of the baptismal confession, since Christ is the chief object of the Christian faith. Philip required the eunuch simply to profess the belief that 'Jesus was the Son of God.' In conformity with the baptismal formula, however, it soon took a Trinitarian shape, probably in some such simple form as 'I believe in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.' Gradually it was expanded, by the addition of other articles, into the various rules of faith, of which the Roman form under the title 'the Apostles' Creed' became the prevailing one, after the fourth century, in the West, and the Nicene Creed in the East. The Protestant Church, as a separate organization, dates from 1517, but it was not till 1530 that its faith was properly formularized in the Augsburg Confession.

A symbol may proceed from the general life of the Church in a particular age without any individual authorship (as the Apostles' Creed); or from an œcumenical Council (the Nicene Creed; the Creed of Chalcedon); or from the Synod of a particular Church (the Decrees of the Council of Trent; the Articles of Dort; the Westminster Confession and Catechisms); or from a number of divines commissioned for such work by ecclesiastical authority (the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England; the Heidelberg Catechism; the Form of Concord); or from one individual, who acts in this case as the organ of his church or sect (the Augsburg Confession, and Apology, composed by Melancthon; the Articles of Smalkald, and the Catechisms of Luther; the second Helvetic 7Confession by Bullinger). What gives them symbolical or authoritative character is the formal sanction or tacit acquiescence of the church or sect which they represent. In Congregational and Baptist churches the custom prevails for each local church to have its own confession of faith or 'covenant,' generally composed by the pastor, and derived from the Westminster Confession, or some other authoritative symbol, or drawn up independently.

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