The Attitude Of The Historic Creeds Toward Heresy -- By: Herbert W. Lathe

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 042:165 (Jan 1885)
Article: The Attitude Of The Historic Creeds Toward Heresy
Author: Herbert W. Lathe


The Attitude Of The Historic Creeds Toward Heresy

Rev. Herbert W. Lathe

Are the great historic creeds of the Christian church polemic? Are they definite and positive in affirmation? Do any of them evade contemporary heresies?

Undoubtedly the chief object of creeds has been to provide a home for Christian belief. A home is not primarily a fortress. One would not choose to dwell behind battlements all his life. A confession of faith is not first of all a menace to the enemy. But is it necessary to the security of a home that its foundations should be solid, that it should be so constructed as effectually to exclude wind and rain, that it should even afford some protection against the assault of a possible foe? If creeds be constructed chiefly for the comfort of their friends, and not for the confusion of their enemies, is it still indispensable to the comfortable estate of the former that the latter should be unable to molest and to make afraid?

It is proposed to take, in this article, a rapid survey of the chief symbols of the Christian church, with a view to answering the questions advanced. Only the most important credenda can be noticed, and these but briefly, yet with sufficient care for our purpose1

Christianity, being for the first two centuries of its existence on the defensive,— against Judaism, on the one side, and Paganism, on the other,— was, of course, little able to construct positive systems of Scripture truth. With the triumph of apologetic science, under Origen’s lead, came the dawn of the polemic age, in which the contents of the Christian faith were formulated in precise and dogmatic statements. Religion ceased to exist mainly in the form of feeling, and took on the form of scientific cognition. When this age had done its splendid work, the barren period of scholasticism set in, and for eight centuries — from the first part of the eighth to the beginning of the sixteenth — ruled the church, adding little to the definition or the defence of the Christian system. Then came the Reformation, intensely aggressive in its restatements of the truths of revelation, and vastly increasing the already extensive literature of symbolics.

With the age of apologetics this article has nothing to do,— and nothing with the mediaeval philosophizing. The periods of constructive theology — that from the Council of Nice to the age of Gregory, and that from the Reformation to the Westminster Assembly — will engage our attention.

Not because it was first formulated, but because it is popularly supposed to be the earliest of confessions, and because it is the sim...

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