Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Creeds and Credos

Though I have a Unitarian background, I am not against creeds as such - basic statements that offer some historical where-from and give basic definitions. I was opposed to the Unitarians adopting an Object to "uphold the liberal Christian tradition" on the basis that this was credal and a fundamental change, and involved double-speak when people said it was not.

The last service I took was in 2002, which was an adapted Eucharist (it was too divisive - it was a reflection of my own movement and a demonstration of my increasing marginal position in the Unitarians). During the service I produced a credo - a statement of sorts:

In this church
We the people, its congregation, have many interpretations
Of matters spiritual and religious

The creative spirit is behind life, within life, and makes us artists of meaning

We hail those gifted with clearest sight
Like Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Gandhi
We remember the liberal Christian tradition, evolving and changing in continuous revelation
We recall the Humanist tradition, with its appeal to rational thinking
We import the Eastern traditions, with their timeless philosophies
And we live again the home Pagan rebirths, with their natural insights and their spiritual sensualities
All of religions' stories are an endless resource
Who give basis for our redirections
Means to continuously learn and self-correct
To be artists of meaning
And be saved into the good life.

The "clearest sight" reference is to a Unitarian hymn which then refers to Buddha, Krishna and Jesus. There is no upholding in my credo at all, just points of reference. I see creeds as points of reference.

Yet there is no creed in scripture itself, and the nearest is in two of those letters Paul did not write: 1 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 2:11-13.

He appeared in human form,
Was shown to be right by the Spirit,
And was seen by the angels.
He was preached among the nations,
Was believed in throughout the world,
And was taken up to heaven.

If we have died with him,
We shall also live with him.
If we continue to endure,
We shall also rule with him.
If we deny him,
He also will deny us.
If we are not faithful,
He remains faithful,
ecause he cannot be false to himself.

El Hassan Bin Talal (1998), Christianity in the Arab World, London: SCM Press, 19.

I don't have any real problem with the Apostles' Creed. As it happens, it is not quite fully trinitarian, and is constructed from several biblical passages (no one passage contains it all, of course). Incarnation of a kind is in John but has to be built up elsewhere, and there is no virgin birth in Mark or John. John does not mention the ascension and downplays the power of resurrection in the sense that the job it does is already given in incarnation, and nowhere is there a doctrine of the Trinity. This (in so far as the Apostles' Creed promotes such) has to be elaborated from a late baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19 and Paul's second epistle to the Corinthians. Church universal concepts come out of Matthew 16: 18-19.

The Nicene Creed is clearly extra-biblical. It goes further and makes assumptions not in the Bible. When evangelicals assume it is supported in the Bible, it is not - not quite. There is the argument that one can lead to the other, but there were several directions doctrine could have travelled, including most notably the Arian - as it did. The gospel of John is entirely consistent with Arian views, and the gospel was resisting the gnostic but going in that direction. And so was that included as Pauline. How else might these lines be interpreted:

He appeared in human form,
Was shown to be right by the Spirit,

And was seen by the angels.

The resurrection of the body was later enforced as important, and it mattered to do this against the Gnostic tendency. The tomb stories thus became significant, not just as explanations of the absence of tomb worship but as emphasis on the body and the material.

Well the Nicene Creed is a definer of the central tradition, but with contemporary theology it and indeed the Apostles Creed is looking a bit creaky for some. Of course the big get out for the Nicene Creed is the "We believe" - the origin of this being Constantine and bishops in council, so it might even be more accurate, I've heard it quipped, for the statement to begin, "You believe."

The Creed was revised in 381 under Emperor Theodosius and elucidated in 451 when Christ was declared fully man and fully God. This was the ever continuing effort against Arianism. The Latin version had added the Filoque clause - and the Son - of course to the Nicene Creed. When the Normans achieved control over southern Italy, and thus Catholic power by Pope Leo IX (1043-1059) was asserted over what had been a Byzantine diocese with the Greek population there, the Patriarch Michael Kerullariaus retaliated by closing Latin churches in Constantinople. He ignored the Pope's protests and the Pope then chose the Filoque clause, the marriage of Greek priests and the Greek use of leavened bread in the Eucharist as theological excuses to excommunicate the East, whilst from the East's point of view the Pope by this action of separation had taken Catholicism away from Orthodoxy.

The Arianism that emerged in the left wing of the Reformation was not the same as the one about a divine being that was the first born of all creation. The Arianism of the Reformation emphasised the humanity of Jesus and that therefore his divinity was subordinate in amount, and then Unitarianism held it as potentially no more than anyone else could achieve. The Socinians were pre-rational biblical literalists who could see no doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible (they set up the Minor Reformed Church in Poland - to be squashed by the Jesuits); the first British Unitarians from about 1780 were rational and materialist biblical literalists.

The point I am making here is that the argument has never been settled by the Bible alone, and cannot be so. My own view is that it is not the Bible's job to settle the argument anyway, nor is the Church particularly restricted in its own interpretations. Each and every Christian Church has the right to decide its own doctrine - from how many councils before and from changes in understanding since.

This brings me to the changes recently in a tiny Church body whose own history has been maintained one its surviving leader and Deaconess died in January 2008. The Ancient Catholic Church (a Church begun in 1950) recognises the Apostles' Creed, does not use the Nicene Creed and has its own statements.

The Act of Faith

We believe that God is Love and Power and Truth and Light; that perfect justice rules the world; that all His children shall one day reach His feet, however far they stray. We hold the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of man; we know that we do serve Him best when best we serve our brother man. So shall His blessing rest on us + and peace for evermore. Amen.

The Seven Principles governing Divine-Human Relations

The Fatherhood of God
The Brotherhood of Man
The Communion of Saints and the Ministry of Angels
The continual existence of the human soul
Personal responsibility
Compensation and retribution hereafter for all the good and evil done on earth
Eternal progress open to every human soul

The latter struck me as being similar to some of the tablets seen on the walls of older Unitarian chapels and churches, but this (in keeping with H. P. Nicholson) is more soul and spirit orientated. this Church is part of the Liberal Catholic family, where there is recognition of the historical Creeds but, arguably, some reluctance to use them and a preference for simpler and more liberal statements of faith.

I mention all this because of a potential after recent developments for perhaps some Anglican Churches to move in a more relaxed direction regarding doctrinal inheritances: something that a number of Anglicans might welcome.


Bishop Alistair sent this via email by way of information:

You may be interested to know that The Act of Faith of the ACC, is actually from the Liberal Catholic Church, and our Seven Principles governing Divine Human Relations are actually the Seven Principles of Spiritualism and the official statement of faith of the Spiritualists' National Union among others:

The seven principles were given in 1871 through the mediumship of Emma Hardinge Britten (1823 - 1899) in a message from the spirit of social activist Robert Owen (1771 - 1858) and are generally used by the spiritualist movement throughout the world.

No comments: