The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, January 19, 2024

The Foundation of the Creed


The Creed is Christianity’s most important statement of faith.   By contrast with Confessions like the Lutheran Augsburg Confession, the Reformed Belgic Confession, or our Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion which are lengthy statements of how the Christian faith is understood and taught by particular communions or denominations within Christianity, the Creed is Catholic, which means that it is the statement of the basic faith of all Christians everywhere in all times.   In the earliest centuries of Christianity multiple different versions of it could be found in different regions of the Church.   In the fourth century an Eastern version of the Creed was modified in the First Councils of Nicaea (325 AD) and Constantinople (381 AD) into the Creed that remains the most truly ecumenical (belonging to the whole Church) to this day.  What we call the Apostles’ Creed is a shorter and simpler version that also dates from the earliest centuries.   The name Apostles’ Creed comes from the traditional account of its origin – that it was drawn up on the first Whitsunday, the Christian Pentecost the account of which is given in Acts 2, by the Apostles (including Matthias) themselves with each contributing one of the twelve articles.   This account is ancient – St. Ambrose and Rufinus of Aquileia both made mention of it at the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth centuries.   The Apostles’ Creed as we know it today is slightly modified from the version these men knew which is the Creed that was used in baptism by the Church in Rome at least as early as the second century in which it was quoted by St. Irenaeus and Tertullian.   The early attestation to the traditional account indicates that there is likely truth to it, although such truth as there is to it must apply either to the Roman Creed as St. Irenaeus and Tertullian knew it or perhaps more likely to an earlier version that became the template of both the Roman Creed and the Eastern version that was adapted into the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.  


Religious liberals in their efforts to purge Christianity of all that is essentially Christian have made much out of the fact that none of the articles in the Creed is an affirmation of the “fundamentalist” view of the Bible.   It is true, of course, that nothing like “and I believe in one Holy Bible, verbally inspired by God, infallible and inerrant in every way” can be found in the Creed.   It is also true, however, that it was never thought necessary to include such an article because it is assumed as underlying every single article that is confessed in the Creed.   What liberals dismiss as the “fundamentalist” view of the Bible is more accurately described as the Catholic view of the Bible – that which has been held by Christians, throughout the whole Church, in all regions and ages, since the Apostles. 


Some liberals disparage the “fundamentalist” view of the Bible as being too literalist.   What is excessive literalism to a liberal is not necessarily excessive literalism to a normal, intelligent, Christian, however.   When Psalm 91:4 says “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust” nobody takes this as proof of God literally having avian characteristics.   If anybody were to interpret this verse that way this would be regarded as excessive literalism or hyper-literalism by every “fundamentalist”.   When, however, the final chapters of each of the Gospels give an account of the tomb of Jesus being found empty on the Sunday after His Crucifixion and of His followers encountering Him in His restored-to-life body, liberals think it excessive literalism to understand these as historical accounts of Jesus having actually come back to life.   To a liberal, any reading of these accounts as meaning anything more than that His disciples felt Him present with them after His Crucifixion is excessively literal.   The reality, of course, is not that the “fundamentalist” interpretation is excessively literal but that the liberal interpretation is insufficiently literal.   The Catholic view of Biblical truth is that it is more than literal, not that it is less than literal.   In addition to the literal sense of the Bible, there is also the typological sense (for example, Moses led Israel up to the border of the Promised Land but could not lead them in, it was Joshua, who had the same name as our Lord and Saviour, who brought them into the Promised Land, illustrating that the Law cannot bring anyone to salvation, only the grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can do that), the tropological sense (when a practical moral for everyday living is illustrated from the text), and the anagogical sense (in which truth about the eternal and the beyond is gleaned from texts that literally pertain to the temporal and to this world, somewhat the opposite of “immanentizing the eschaton”).   In traditional hermeneutics and exegesis, however, each of these senses rests upon the foundation that is the literal sense.   Get rid of the literal sense and each other sense collapses.   Therefore, when you hear someone explain these other senses in such a way as to disparage the literal sense, you are not hearing the Catholic understanding of the Bible but rather liberalism trying to pass itself off as Catholicism.


Other liberals disparage the “fundamentalist” view of the Bible for its conviction that the Bible is inerrant.   James Barr, for example, a Scottish liberal “Biblical scholar” who a few decades back wrote several anti-fundamentalist diatribes, maintained that the problem with “fundamentalism” was not its literalism but its commitment to inerrancy which led it to adopt interpretations that in his opinion were less literal than the text warranted.     Biblical inerrancy, however, is not just a “fundamentalist” view but the Catholic view of Christianity.   The Christian faith has always rested upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, i.e., the Old and New Testaments.   The books of the New Testament have been regarded since the earliest days of the Church as belonging in the same category into which the Apostolic writers of the New Testament place the books of the Old Testament, books in which God is the Author speaking through the human writers.   God does not make mistakes, the Bible as His written Word is infallible and therefore inerrant.    Those who like Barr claim to find mistakes in the Bible can only do so by elevating some other source of information and making it out to be a more reliable source than the Bible by which the reliability of the Bible can be measured.    They purport, by measuring the Bible against these other standards, to prove it to be less than infallible and therefore merely a collection of human writings.    Their conclusion, however, is the necessary premise for measuring the Bible against some other standard to begin with.   If the Bible is not merely a collection of human writings but what the Church has always maintained it to be, the written Word of God, there can be no more reliable standard against which to weigh it.   Indeed, all other standards against which Modern critics of the Bible purport to measure the Bible, are of admitted human origin and fallibility.   Modern man’s attempt to debunk the infallible truth of God’s Word is just one big ultimate example of the petitio principia fallacy.  


The Catholic view of the Bible is that God spoke through the human writers of the Old and New Testaments in such a way that the Bible is one book with a single Author and that since that Author can make no mistakes His book is infallible and inerrant.   This is what Jesus Christ Himself claimed for the Scriptures when He declared that “scripture cannot be broken” (Jn. 10:35) and that “till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18), when He answered the devil’s temptations with “it is written”, and when He rebuked people like the Sadducees for their ignorance of the Scriptures (Matthew 22:29).   This is what the Apostles claimed for the Scriptures, (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Pet. 1:21) including their own writings (1 Cor. 14:37, 1 Thess. 2:13-15).   This is what the Church Fathers claimed for the Scriptures beginning at the very beginning with Clement of Rome (1 Clement 45:2-3).   While the Fathers’ belief in the Bible as the inspired and infallible Word of God is more often displayed in their usage of the Bible as the authority for proving doctrine than in discussion of it as a doctrine in its own right notable examples of explicit statement of this faith include St. Irenaeus’s affirmation of the inspiration and perfection of the Bible, (Against Heresies, 2.28:2), St. Justin Marty’s statement of his conviction that no Scripture contradicts another (Dialogue with Trypho, 65), Origen’s comparison of those who think there are such contradictions to those who cannot detect the harmony in music (Commentary on Matthew, 2), and St. Augustine’s running defense of the truth of the Scriptures in his letters to St. Jerome include the statement with regards to the canonical books of Scripture “Of these alone do I most firmly believe that their authors were completely free from error” (Letters, 82).


While the Catholic (or “fundamentalist”) view of the Bible is not explicitly affirmed as an article in the Creed this is because it is implicit in all of the articles, each of which affirms a basic truth of the faith that we know to be the faith the Apostles received from Christ because it is recorded as such in the Bible.   It was not left without direct allusion in the ecumenical and conciliar version of the Creed which follows St. Paul’s declaration of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 in affirming of Christ’s resurrection that it was “according to the Scriptures” and which affirms of the Holy Ghost that He “spake by the prophets”.   The verbal, plenary, inspiration, authority, and infallibility of the Bible as God’s written Word, therefore, is the unspoken, unwritten, article that is the very foundation of the Creed.  


Earlier we discussed how some liberals use the accusation of excessive literalism in order to evade the truths of orthodox Christianity.    Both excessive and insufficient literalism can lead to serious error or heresy, although in the case of liberalism its insufficient literalism is merely a mask to hide its essential nature which is rank infidelity or unbelief.   The articles of the Creed are helpful in demonstrating the proper limits of literalism.   Each of the articles is a literal truth the denial of the literal truth of which amounts to unbelief in the Christian faith.   The passages which speak these truths are the clearest in the Scriptures.   These are the passages to which the perspicuity of the Scriptures, that is to say their plain clarity so that laymen can understand them, so emphasized by the Reformers and ironically illustrated by the absence of words like perspicuity from the Bible, refer.   Any attempt to use the allegorical, tropological or anagogical senses to explain away the literal meaning of the passages in which the truths of the articles of the Creed are found is a serious abuse of these hermeneutics for these truths are also the truths to which these other senses of Scripture generally point in passages that are less clear.


Affirmation of the literal truth of each and all of the articles of the Creed, in both the Apostles’ and Nicene-Constantinopolitan versions, including the unspoken foundational article of the inspiration and infallibility of God’s written Word, remains the best safeguard of orthodox Christian truth against heresy.

1 comment:

  1. It is unfortunately necessary that we are forced to defend and explain the most basic and essential facts of the Faith to supposed fellow Christians, as exasperating as it can be to defend the most common sense truths.

    It's not so much necessary to point out these basic realities to the liberals themselves, for reasons that you pointed out so well here: ("although in the case of liberalism its insufficient literalism is merely a mask to hide its essential nature which is rank infidelity or unbelief.") They are willfully blind, or they deliberately lie.

    It is for the sake of any confused regular people hungering for Truth that we help them to unravel these rather pathetic and destructive lies. Lies must be challenged just as weeds must be plucked from the fields. Your site is a great weed remover!