A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles
of the Church of England
by E. J. Bicknell; Third Edition revised by H. J. Carpenter
[Footnotes have been moved into or near the places of their citation.
Bible citations have been converted to all Arabic numerals.]
Consult Contents ranges below on this page
1. Through The Being of God – below on this page
2. Incarnation through Holy Spirit
3. Scripture through Salvation
5. Sacraments, Bibliography
Preface to the Third Edition
Since it was first published in 1919 Dr. Bicknell’s book has been widely used as a guide to the study of the doctrine of the Church of England. Its qualities are too well known to need description here. Frequent new impressions have now made it necessary to reset the type, and the opportunity has been taken to carry out a revision of the work.
The first aim of the revision has been to construct a new list of books for further reading. The references to theological literature have been found a useful and important feature of the book. If it is to continue to fulfill its author’s purpose of acting as a stimulus to wider study its book list must now take account of theological works published in the last thirty years. The new general list has been placed in a form which it is hoped will be found convenient at the end of the volume, and not interspersed, as were the original lists, at the end of sections or paragraphs. On points of detail a number of references will be found in footnotes to the passages concerned. Since the purpose of the general list is to refer the student to books likely to be of most use in the next stage of study it is deliberately selective in character. Room has been made for the newer works in a list of limited scale by the omission of some, but by no means all, of the older authorities. With rare exceptions only books in English (including some translations of foreign works) have been mentioned. A † in the text directs the reader to a section in the list. It is perhaps a sign of the times that more works by non-anglican writers are included than appeared in the original lists. Current doctrinal thinking in the Church of England can hardly be understood and studied without some attention to works coming from outside its borders.
The text itself has been revised on conservative lines. The clear arrangement of the book could not be improved and remains unaltered, but at some points Dr. Bicknell’s expositions and discussions have called for reconsideration. In the period since the end of the First Great War new currents of theological thinking have begun to flow strongly and new emphases have appeared at vital points in the system of Christian doctrine. In illustration of this point it is sufficient to mention the revival of interest in the classical theologies of the Reformation period, the powerful neo-Calvinist Movement in dogmatic theology represented by K. Barth and his circle, the new phase of biblical study which is associated with the title “Biblical Theology”, and the increasing interest in problems concerning reunion. Dr Bicknell would certainly not have proceeded on the assumption that the latest work in theology must supersede all that has gone before. His mind was too catholic and independent to be swayed uncritically by the most recent fashion in theological thought. If, however, he had lived to revise his book at the present time he would certainly have taken some account of the new trends. In attempting to revise his work I have not engaged in inconclusive speculation about what he would have said. A few paragraphs and sections have been entirely re-written, some paragraphs or notes have been added, and in a number of places the phrasing has been modified. It has usually been a question of restating or further emphasizing a point already contained in the original exposition. On some topics the progress of historical research (as in the history of the Creeds) or the march of contemporary events (as in the section on Church and State) have made revision or additions necessary. The general aim has been to make the book more useful to those who are embarking on theological study in the middle of the twentieth century, without obscuring those qualities of accuracy, clarity, fair balance, and loyalty to the Church of England which have recommended the book to so many for over thirty years.
My thanks are due to the Rev. H. E. J. Cowdrey, Tutor of S. Stephen’s House, Oxford, for compiling the index and for assistance in the final reading of the proofs.
H. J. Carpenter
Keble College, Oxford
Preface to the First Edition
A new book upon the Thirty-nine Articles by an author entirely unknown requires an apology. I can only plead that it is an attempt to meet a need openly expressed on all sides by those engaged in the teaching of theology, for a book on new and broad lines. My excuse for undertaking the task is that no one is likely to do so who has not been engaged in lecturing on the Articles, and the number of such is small. The book is intended in the first instance for students, but it is hoped that large portions of it may be found useful by ordinary men and women who are prepared to make an effort to understand Christian doctrine. It makes no claim to originality of thought, but contains a large amount of material collected from various sources into a single volume for the first time.
Proposals have recently been made that the teaching of doctrine in our Theological Colleges should no longer be centered in the Articles. They would then be treated presumably only as a historical document, illustrative of the course of the Reformation in England. However desirable such a reform may be in itself, there are grave difficulties in the way. Not only are all candidates for ordination required to give a general assent to the Articles, but the course at Theological Colleges is of necessity guided by Bishops’ examinations. At present these proposals would hardly win acceptance in all dioceses. Moreover, though certain Articles deal with questions that in their old form have no interest for the modern mind, the majority deal with those fundamental problems of theology that are debated anew in every age. Since in certain instances such Articles represent the typical attitude of the Church of England towards such problems, their statements have more than a bare historical interest. These considerations have shaped the arrangement of the book. Like the Articles themselves, it is a compromise. The general scheme of treatment is based on the Articles, but the Articles themselves are grouped quite freely according to subject matter. The reader is asked to study the analysis in order to grasp the principles of this grouping. I would suggest that by this arrangement a minimum of attention need be devoted to obsolete or unimportant details.
Any teacher of theology today is faced with a multitude of perplexities due to the increase of modern knowledge. In treating of any subject, it is difficult to know where to make a beginning. All statements of doctrine involve a host of assumptions, philosophical and critical. In a book of this kind these assumptions cannot always be indicated, still less defended. If, for instance, I do not mention “pluralism”, it is not because the theory is unimportant or unknown, but because I have deliberately rejected it alike on philosophical and Christian grounds. Again, on critical grounds, I accept the authenticity of all the Pauline Epistles, including the Pastorals. Those who disagree with me on this point will need to modify, let us say, the conclusions that are drawn from the Pastoral Epistles in regard to the early ministry of the Church. The old method of “proof-texts” is gone for ever. It is no longer enough to quote a sentence of Scripture in order to prove the truth of a dogmatic statement. We have rightly come to see that not only is the context all important, but that we must look behind the letter of the text to the mind of the author. We must strive to reconstruct his mental outlook and to test his sources of information. The existence of the Synoptic problem makes it hazardous to lay undue stress on the precise form in which our Lord’s words are recorded in any particular Gospel. The evidence of S. John’s Gospel is more complex. Personally I have come to believe that on the historical side it gives a more accurate chronological account of certain details of our Lord’s life than the Synoptists. Even in the discourses, however much they may be coloured by the lifelong meditation of the Evangelist, I would maintain that we have far more of our Lord’s words in their original form than many critics have supposed. At least I would plead that they represent an essential element in His teaching that cannot be minimized or ignored without a serious loss of proportion in our estimate of His teaching and claims. A long list of such presuppositions might be compiled. It is sufficient to ask those who dissent from my conclusions to believe, of their charity, that if philosophical or literary problems are rarely discussed, it is not that they have been rarely considered.
Perhaps the hardest task of a tutor at a theological college is to stir up in a large proportion of his pupils the will to think for themselves. Partly this reluctance to think is due to the English temperament, partly to faulty education received before arrival at the theological college, partly also to the fear of approaching examinations. It cannot be denied that our too short system of theological training encourages intellectual sloth. The ordinary student is almost invited to regard what will help him to pass examinations as more important than the study of the Christian faith for its own sake. It is not the fault of the colleges: it is the fault of the system. I have tried as far as possible to write this book in such a way as to stimulate further study and to discourage cramming. If at times I have been provocative, it is because in too many cases thought needs to be provoked. I hope it may be found useful to lecturers as the basis of a wider discussion.
The book consists in the main of lectures delivered at Bishop’s Hostel, Lincoln, rewritten and expanded. I am conscious throughout of the great debt that I owe to the doctrine lectures given to students at Wells by Dr. Goudge. If certain phrases and expressions from these lectures have become so part of my own thought and expression that I have failed to acknowledge them, I hope that this general acknowledgement may be accepted. Of living writers I am most conscious of the influence of the Bishop of Oxford and Dr. Du Bose. My debt to the books of the late Dr. Moberly will be apparent. I must thank many kind friends for sympathy and help, especially the Rev. J. C. Du Buisson, Warden of S. Deiniol’s Library, Hawarden, and the Rev. G. H. Dix, who have given most valuable assistance in revising the proofs, and to the former of whom I have owed many valuable suggestions from the moment that I first contemplated the book. For the opinions expressed I am alone responsible. For any small inaccuracies of reference or fact which have escaped my notice, my only excuse can be the stress of parish work and separation from my books during the revision of the proofs. Finally, I would gladly take for my model the tone and temper of a former lecturer on the Articles and “claim a right to retract any opinion which improvement in reasoning and knowledge may at any time show me is groundless”. [Hey’s Lectures on the Articles quoted by Lightfoot, Commentary on Galatians, p. ix.]
E. J. Bicknell
S. Mary’s Clergy House, Wimbledon, S.W.
1. The relation of Theology to Religion
2. The place of Theology in the Christian Religion
3. Theology, a practical necessity
(a) Religious truth must have an intellectual element; (b) Religious truth must be transmissible; (c) Conduct rests on belief.
4. The prejudice against Theology
(a) Partly due to unworthy reasons; (b) Partly to the faults of theologians; (c) Partly to its divorce from Religion.
The Place Of The Thirty-Nine Articles In Christian Theology
1. The circumstances of the time
2. Formularies of the English Church under Henry VIII
(a) The 10 Articles and the Bishops’ Book; (b) The King’s Book.
3. The 42 Articles
4. The 39 Articles
(a) History of their formation; (b) Their chief differences from the 42 Articles; (c) An estimate of their value.
5. The contrast between Articles and Creeds
6. The history of Subscription to the Articles
The Being of God – Article I
1. The Unity of God, as against Polytheism
2. Human attempts to conceive of God
(a) His Personality; (b) Anthropomorphism; (c) His Attributes.
3. God and the World
(a) Creation; (b) Preservation. God both transcendent and immanent as against (i) Deism; (ii) Pantheism.
4. The Doctrine of the Trinity
(a) The facts that have to be explained
(b) The beginnings of theological reflection
(i) In the New. Testament; (ii) In the sub-apostolic age.
(c) The language and ideas of the time
(i) Pagan philosophy and religion; (ii) Jewish theology.
(a) The Word; (b) The Spirit.
(d) The Church’s aim in constructing her theology
(e) Rejected attempts to explain the facts
(i) Ebionism; (ii) Docetism; (iii) Monarchianism, Dynamic and Modalist;
(f) The language finally selected by the Church
(i) The history of the terms employed; (ii) The qualifications of its use.
(g) The doctrine illuminates our thought.
Note on Natural and Revealed Knowledge of God
The Incarnation and Atonement – Article II
1. The Incarnation
(a) The facts to be explained in regard to the. Person of Christ
(b) Rejected attempts to explain the facts
(i) Apollinarianism; (ii) Nestorianism; (iii) Monophysitism.
(c) The Formula of Chalcedon, its history and value
(d) How can we conceive of the Incarnation?
(e) Special difficulties about (i) Knowledge; (ii) Temptation
(f) The Virgin Birth
(i) Its place in Christian doctrine; (ii) The evidence for it;
(iii) Alleged parallels; (iv) Its historical truth; (v) Its spiritual value.
2. The Atonement
(a) The fact and explanations of the fact
(b) The meaning of “sacrifice”
(c) The language of Scripture
(d) The contrast with Old Testament sacrifices
(e) The wrath of God
(f) Is the Atonement subjective or objective?
Note on the “victory” theory
The Resurrection, The Ascension and The Judgment – Articles III and IV
1. The Descent into Hades
2. The Resurrection
(a) The Apostolic preaching
(b) The evidence
(i) The appearances; (ii) The empty tomb; (iii) The experience of Christians.
(c) The nature of the Risen Body
(i) The evidence of Scripture; (ii) The language of the Article.
(d) Alternative attempts to explain the facts
3. The Ascension
(a) The evidence of Scripture
(b) The outward fact and the inward meaning
(c) The Ascended Christ (i) as Man; (ii) as Priest; (iii) as King
4. The return to Judgment
(i) Current Jewish ideas; (ii) The claim of Christ; (iii) Primitive Christian belief;
(iv) Its meaning for us; (v) The last day.
The Holy Spirit – Article V
1. The teaching of the New Testament
2. The teaching of the early Church
3. The conflict with Macedonianism
4. The Double Procession
(i) The temporal mission; (ii) The eternal procession; (iii) The conflict between East and West.
The Scriptures – Articles VI and VII
1. The sufficiency of Scripture
(a) The Church and the Bible
(b) The Bible and the living Christ
(c) The witness of the early Church
(d) The place of tradition
2. The Canon of Scripture
(i) The correlative of Revelation; (ii) Its purpose; (iii) The inspired men of the Bible.
(b) Is Scripture uniquely inspired?
(i) Comparison with other religious literature; (ii) Its unique witness to Christ; (iii) The divine Word to the Church; (iv) Inspiration and criticism.
(c) The formation of the Canon
(i) The meaning of Canonical; (ii) The growth of the Old Testament Canon; (iii) The Apocrypha; (iv) The growth of the New Testament Canon.
(d) The permanent value of the Old Testament
(i) A preparatory stage; (ii) The Messianic hope; (iii) The Jewish Law.
The Creeds – Article VIII
1. The origin of Creeds
(a) Baptismal; (i) The evidence of Scripture; (ii) The custom of the Church;
(iii) Eastern and Western Creeds; (b) Conciliar.
2. The “Apostles’” Creed
(i) Its origin; (ii) Its development; (iii) Its title; (iv) Its use
3. The “Nicene” Creed
(i) The Creed of Nicaea; (ii) The Creed of Constantinople and its use.
4. “Athanasius’” Creed
(i) Its date and authorship; (ii) Its meaning and value;
(iii) Its authority and use.
The Nature of Man – Articles IX–X and XV–XVI
1. The true nature of Man (Article IX)
(a) The teaching of the Old Testament
(b) The revelation in Christ
(c) The contrast with other views
2. Man’s present condition
(a) The meaning of “sin”
(b) The story of the “Fall”
(c) “Original sin”
(d) The sinlessness of Christ (Article XV)
(e) The causes of “original sin”
(f) Modern explanations of “original sin”
3. Grace and free-will (Article X)
(a) The meaning of “grace”
(i) Prevenient; (ii) Cooperating.
(b) The meaning of “free-will”
(c) The relation of grace to free-will
(i) Calvinism; (ii) Pelagianism; (iii) Repentance after falling into sin (Article XVI).
Salvation – Articles XI–XIV and XVII–XVIII
1. Justification by faith (Article XI)
(a) The origin of the language
(i) S. Paul’s experience; (ii) The meaning of “justify”;
(iii) The meaning of “faith”.
(b) The spiritual value of the doctrine
(c) Its perversions
2. Sanctification (Article XII)
(a) The need of actual holiness
(i) A death to sin; (ii) A rising to new life.
(b) The need of good works
(c) The idea of merit
(i) Its origin; (ii) Merit de congruo and de condigno – Article XIII;
(iii) Works of supererogation – Article XIV.
3. Predestination and Election (Article XVII)
(a) The question at issue
The answers given by (i) S. Augustine; (ii) Calvin; (iii) Arminius.
(b) The teaching of Scripture on (i) God’s purpose; (ii) Election in Christ;
(iii) Personal responsibility
(c) The language of the Articles
(d) God’s omniscience and Man’s free will
(e) The moral effect of the doctrine of Predestination
(f) The position of the heathen (Article XVIII)
The Church – Article XIX
1. The Church in the New Testament
(a) A visible society; (b) A divine-human society; (c) Its characteristic institutions.
2. The notes of the Church
(i) The Roman view; (ii) Protestant views; (iii) The position of
the Church of England ; (iv) Movements for reunion.
The Church’s Authority In Doctrine – Articles XX–XXII
1. The meaning of “authority”
2. The distinction between discipline and doctrine (Article XX)
3. The interpretation of the faith
(a) The Church’s function as judge
(b) Development of doctrine
(c) The test of true development
(a) Romanism ; (b) Modernism.
4. The place of General Councils (Article XXI)
(a) The growth of synods
(b) The first General Council
(c) The test of a General Council
5. The “Infallibility” of the Church and “Private Judgment”
(a) The guidance of the Holy Spirit
(b) The duty of the individual
(c) Roman exaggeration of authority
(d) Protestant neglect of it
6. Instances of the limitations of the Church’s authority in doctrine (Article XXII)
(d) Invocation of Saints
The Church’s Authority In Discipline – Articles XXIV and XXXII–XXXV
1. The position of “National” Churches (Article XXXIV)
(a) What is a national Church?
(b) The growth of customs
(c) The change of customs
2. Two examples of this use of authority
(a) The use of the vulgar tongue (Article XXIV)
(b) The marriage of the clergy (Article XXXII)
3. Excommunication (Article XXXIII)
(a) In Scripture
(b) In the Primitive Church
(c) The Church of England
4. Homilies (Article XXXV)
The Ministry Of The Church – Articles XXIII and XXXVI
1. The need of a ministry (Article XXIII)
(a) The inward call
(b) The outward call
2. “Apostolic succession”
(a) The historic facts
(b) The interpretation of the facts
(c) The historic ministry
(d) The Nonconformist position
3. The Roman denial of our orders (Article XXXVI)
(a) Insufficiency of form
(b) Lack of intention
4. The Papal Claims
(a) The historical growth of the Papal power
(b) The arguments used to defend it
The Sacraments – Articles XXV and XXVI
1. History of the word “Sacrament”
2. The value of Sacraments
3. Their place in the Christian life (Article XXV)
(a) Badges and Tokens
(b) Means of grace
(c) Pledges of God’s goodwill
(d) Aids to faith
4. The number of Sacraments
5. Special difficulties connected with (a) Penance, (b) Unction
6. The cooperation of Man (Article XXVI)
Holy Baptism – Article XXVII
1. The history of Baptism
(a) Jewish Baptism
(b) The institution of Christ
2. Its meaning
(a) The language of Scripture
(b) Membership of Christ
3. Infant Baptism
(a) Its history
(b) Its value
4. Baptism and Confirmation
Holy Communion – Articles XXVIII–XXXI
1. Its history
(a) The Institution
(b) Primitive practice
2. Its meaning
(a) A sign of fellowship
(b) A sacrament of redemption
(c) A feeding on the Body and Blood of Christ
3. The relation of the Gift to the Elements
(b) The Real Presence
4. Two difficulties
(a) The reception by the wicked (Article XXIX)
5. Communion in both kinds (Article XXX)
6. The Eucharistic Sacrifice (Article XXXI)
(a) The language of Scripture
(b) In what sense a “Sacrifice”?
(c) The teaching repudiated in the Article
Church And State – Articles XXXVII–XXXIX
1. The relations between Church and State
(a) In Scripture
(b) Under Christian Emperors
(c) In mediaeval times
2. The teaching of the Article (Article XXXVII)
(a) The “Royal Supremacy”
(b) The changes made at the Reformation
(c) The claims of Elizabeth
3. The position today
(a) The transference of authority from Crown to Parliament
(b) The appointment of Bishops
(c) Ecclesiastical Laws
(d) Ecclesiastical Courts
(e) The nature and consequences of Establishment
(f) Some fundamental principles
4. The right of the State to employ force
(a) Police action
(c) Capital punishment
5. The recognition of property (Article XXVIII)
6. The use of oaths (Article XXXIX)
List of Books for further Study
Index (omitted for web)
The following abbreviations are employed throughout the book:
C.H.S. – Church Historical Society.
D.C.G. – Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels
E.R.E. – Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.
H.D.B. – Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible.
J.Th.S. – Journal of Theological Studies.
C.Q.R. – Church Quarterly Review.
N.B. – The references to Scripture should in all cases be looked up in the Revised Version. Where R.V. occurs, special attention is drawn to the difference between the Revised and Authorized translations.
§ 1. The relation of Theology to Religion. – Theology arises from man’s effort to understand his own life. Whether we study the individual or the race, we discover everywhere that ‘Man lives first and thinks afterwards. [Cp. Illingworth, Personality, Human and Divine, c. i. “Man lives first and thinks afterwards. ... He makes history by his actions, before he can reflect upon it and write it ... thought is always in arrear of life: for life is in perpetual progress.”] If we select any department of human experience we can find more or less sharply defined, three stages. In the earliest stage men act with little or no reflection. They are impelled by a blind instinct or custom. They have little desire to explain why or how they act. There are as yet no laws or rules formulated to direct action. In the second stage men begin to reflect on what they have been doing. Man is by nature a rational being, disposed to ask “Why?” So by reflection and self-questioning men gradually draw out into the light the principles by which they have long been acting. They frame general statements and rules. They attain to science. Science is “systematized or ordered knowledge” [We must not limit the term “science” to physical science. The great advance made in all branches of physical science during the last few years, and its visible results, as shown in everyday life, have encouraged a popular use of the word “science” as limited to them. Strictly speaking there is a “science” of painting or music just as much as of chemistry.] In the third stage the science thus gained is found most valuable for guiding and correcting future practice. Not only are more certain results obtained by its aid, but the principles that have been discovered can be applied to fresh material. So the field of action is extended, and wider experience is gained, which in turn the mind is called on to analyze and explain. Thenceforward science and action go hand in hand. Science directs practice and practice affords new material for science.
We may apply these thoughts to religion. In whatever way it may be, religion arose. That is, men came to worship a God or gods. They experienced feelings of religious awe and reverence. They desired to please their God by doing His will and to turn away His wrath when He was angry. By sacrifice and prayer they sought to attain His help and to hold communion with Him. In the earliest stage such religion was based primarily upon instinct and custom. But because men were rational beings, they were bound to ask questions about their religion. They wished to make clear to themselves the grounds of their worship and obedience. The service of any God must in the last resort imply certain beliefs about Him, His character and His relation to His worshippers. These beliefs men drew out and stated and formed into a system. So we reach the second stage – the formation of a primitive theology. Theology is the science of religion. In the third stage theology begins to react upon religion. The Hebrew prophets, for example, perceived and enunciated certain fundamental truths about the activity and purpose of Jehovah. Hence they demanded that conduct and worship that were inconsistent with such truths should be reformed. As the religion of Israel deepened out of further historical experience its beliefs became more clearly formulated, and this in. turn helped to shape the religious practice and observance of post-prophetic Judaism. So in the final stage, theology and religion coexist side by side, theology explaining the principles of religion and setting them forth in an orderly system, and religion striving to realize those principles in a living experience. †
§ 2. The place of Theology in the Christian Religion. – The Christian religion is primarily a way of life. In its earliest stages it was known quite simply as “the Way” (cp. Acts 9:2, 19:9 and 23, and also 16:17, 18:26 and 24:14). But it was never an easy or an obvious way; it was in glaring contrast to the prevalent way of life in the world around it. From the first it always involved certain beliefs about the nature and character of God, the life and claims of Jesus Christ, His Death and Resurrection, the Church and the Sacraments. The Christian lived as he did because he based his life on certain convictions. The Church gradually made clear to itself what these were. Within the New Testament we see a theology growing up. The doctrines of the Christian faith are stated and drawn out, and practical consequences are deduced from them. The purpose of Christian theology is to set forth clearly the truth about God and God’s dealings with mankind, as it has been made known. Christian “Doctrine” is simply Christian teaching. “Dogmas” are simply fundamental points of doctrine, the primary assumptions that are implicit in all Christian life and experience. No logical proof of them can be offered. Just as, e.g. all geometry rests upon certain assumptions about the nature of space, and if these are not granted, geometry is impossible, so Christian life and experience, if it is accepted as true, and not a mere delusion or fancy, involves certain presuppositions. If these are denied, then all that we can say is that without them the Christian experience could not exist. We may not find universal agreement as to what these “dogmas” are, but all Christians would agree that there must be some, e.g. the existence and the Fatherhood of God. Christian theology is the attempt to state them in a connected and orderly system.
Theology begins like any other science. It strives to collect and verify the facts, to sift and compare them, to classify them and discover their mutual relations. Then it tries to find language that will express the facts as clearly as possible, and to set them out as parts of one coherent system. All knowledge must be based upon experience. The facts upon which Christian theology is based are found in the revelation of God to Israel, the whole life and witness of the Jewish Church, then in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and the whole witness and experience of the Christian Church throughout all ages. Christian theology grows naturally within the Christian religion and has a necessary place in it. But while religion is possible without any formal knowledge of theology, the pursuit of theological enquiry has no meaning apart from the practice of religion. The professional theologian can properly exercise his powers of discrimination, explanation and construction only as a living member of Christ’s Body. A full understanding of the great doctrines of the Christian faith can only be based upon some firsthand experience of the Christian life.
We should probably do well to draw a further distinction between theology and religious philosophy. The intellect has a two-fold work. First, to draw out and state those fundamental truths that underlie the Christian revelation, i.e. to construct a theology in the strict sense of the word. Secondly, to bring these truths into connection with the rest of our ideas derived from other sources, i.e. to construct a religious philosophy. As rational beings we are bound to wish not only to understand our religion, but to bring our knowledge of it into relation with the rest of our knowledge, to clothe the Christian revelation in the current terms of science and philosophy. This is a right and necessary desire, but it brings its own dangers. Science and philosophy change. Hence the religious philosophy of yesterday, expressed in the scientific and philosophical categories of yesterday, grows obsolete. It demands revision and correction so that it may be brought into harmony with the knowledge of today. The work of the intellect must be done over again. Too often men have identified religious philosophy with theology proper. Because the former has needed restatement they have supposed that the latter needed restatement too. Or it has been supposed that the truth of Christianity itself was bound up with the satisfactoriness of a particular religious philosophy. We need to point out that Christianity is not committed to any one philosophy. Christianity does stand or fall with the truth of certain doctrines, but these are independent of any local or particular science or philosophy. They spring out of the Christian revelation itself. Much unsettlement would have been avoided if men had made the distinction between “theology” proper, i.e. the statement of fundamental Christian doctrines, and “religious philosophy”, i.e. the attempt to fit these doctrines into a general scheme of thought.
§ 3. Theology as a practical necessity. – On practical grounds theology is indispensable: (a) Some desire to understand his own activity and environment is inherent in man’s nature, and religion cannot without grave loss be left outside the scope of this desire. If, while men come to understand more of the meaning of the rest of life, its religious side is left unexamined by the mind and no effort is made to reflect upon it, it will grow weak. In the competition of many interests it will be crowded out. Being intellectually unorganized, it will lack strength to hold its ground in man’s attention. The deepest type of Christian conviction requires and includes some measure of intellectual assent. In an age of increasing knowledge and intellectual ferment such conviction is not likely to be maintained unless a man can give some considered account of the grounds and content of his faith. Moreover, that faith itself, if not embodied in some form of intelligible and coherent statement, may lose its integrity and ultimately its identity. The mind which has not been strengthened by definite Christian teaching according to its capacity will be most exposed to the danger of being “carried about with every wind of doctrine”. To put the point more religiously, the use of the mind to grasp, so far as may be, the meaning of God’s revelation of Himself is part of the total devotion of his powers which is demanded of the Christian. A partial unreflective devotion will stand strain less easily.
(b) Further, the need of some theology is obvious as soon as we consider the social nature of man. Religion is essentially social. The child that is born into the world inherits the religion as he inherits the knowledge and the experience of the society into which he is born. In any society that has risen above the mental level of savages, if there is to be any continuity of religious custom and belief, some intellectual expression of religion is necessary. The moment that any teaching about religion begins, the rudiments of theology are to be found. We cannot teach what we do not in part understand. A religion that possessed no theology, even in the form of myths, would be either purely individualistic or a mere barren ritual coupled with a blind obedience to rules that were out of all relation to the higher elements of life. Christian theology has a necessary place in the furniture of the Christian home. Christian dogma begins at the mother’s knee.
(c) From another point of view we must face the fact that Christian morality is the product of certain definite beliefs accepted and acted upon. The Christian type of character is no casual growth. It has been wrought out of a reluctant human nature by centuries of effort.* Christian doctrines influence conduct through the medium of the emotions. Where these doctrines are discarded, Christian feeling and standards may last for a while, but in the end they disappear. This has already occurred in certain circles. A generation ago the opponents of Christian doctrine professed themselves anxious to preserve Christian morality as the one thing needful. Their descendants today criticize with equal freedom Christian dogma and Christian ethics.**†
[*“Men are living on a moral sense transmitted and inherited while they are restive under the discipline and claims of the systems which generated that moral sense. They are living on the fruits of a tree of which they are anxious to cut away the roots.... A popular audience will always cheer a reference to ‘true religion stripped of the bonds of theology’, i.e. the results of the Christian conscience without the faith that formed it.” – Creighton, Life and Letters, vol. ii. p. 191, cp. pp. 245–247.]
[**“Christian ethics are bound up inseparably with Christian mysteries. Clear away these and, in default of some substituted construction of the over-natural world, what remains is an ethics without foundation, without end, without character; neither Christian nor anything else; and that love which is the substance of the inward immanent life of the Christian soul, as opposed to the life of outward conduct, gives place to a vague amiability whose roots are nowhere and its branches anywhere.” – Tyrrell, Through Scylla and Charybdis, p. 190.]
§ 4. But the fact remains that there exists a not entirely unreasonable prejudice against all dogmatic theology. This is due to many causes.
(a) Partly it arises from the intellectual indolence of the English race. The Englishman hates the trouble of exact thinking. Truth for truth’s sake has at all times few attractions for him. He is bored by philosophy. In the case of religion his mental sloth is reinforced by a new motive. A vague religion is a comfortable religion. It makes fewer demands upon his conscience and will. By keeping his Christianity hazy he hopes to escape the moral and spiritual obligations that a definite belief must carry with it. So he has a natural dislike of Christian doctrine.
(b) But he has more worthy reasons than that. The responsibility for the dislike of dogma must largely rest with the theologians themselves. They have confused religious philosophy with theology. Many have claimed to have a much more complete and definite knowledge of God and the world than they really possess. They have yielded to the temptation to stretch God’s revelation so as to cover whole tracts of knowledge that it was never intended to cover, as, for instance, when the Bible was made a textbook of science. Again, they have failed to respect the limits of human knowledge. Not only is all our knowledge of real things imperfect, and therefore our knowledge of God, the highest reality, must be the most imperfect of all, but also human words and ideas were formed primarily to deal with objects of this material world. We are compelled to use them in speaking of spiritual things, since we possess no others. But all doctrinal statements must partake of the nature of metaphor. They are true as far as they go, but they cannot represent the whole truth. A metaphor must never be pressed beyond the limits of the truth that it was formed to express. Some theologians have argued from doctrinal statements as if they were a final and adequate expression of divine truth. They have ventured to lay down as a necessary part of the Christian faith the precarious deductions of human logic. The result has been that assertions that rested on purely human authority have been disproved, and Christian theology as a whole has had to share the discredit. Men have failed to distinguish between the primary doctrines of the Christian faith and the fallible speculations of certain individuals or schools of thought.*
[*Tyrrell, External Religion, pp. 125–126. He speaks of men “who carry cut and dried answers to all difficulties, wrapped up in pellets to shoot out on occasion; to whom everything is clear and common-sense and obvious; who can define a mystery but have never felt one. That the human words and ideas in which eternal truths are clad cannot, even through divine skill, convey to us more than a shadow of the realities they stand for; that they cannot, like numbers, be added, subtracted and multiplied together so as to deduce new conclusions with arithmetical simplicity and accuracy, never occurs to them....”
(c) Again, a protest against theology is often made in the name of religion. “A living faith” is contrasted with “dead formulas”. In part this opposition arises from the mortality of human language. Words and phrases grow old and lose their edge. Ideas and expressions change and decay. Every advance in knowledge carries with it a new vocabulary and a new stock of ideas. It revolutionizes the point of view. Each generation acquires its peculiar temper of mind. Evolution, for instance, has changed our whole mental outlook. Accordingly, language that expressed the deepest aspirations and the highest ideas of one generation becomes to the next a string of catchwords from which the life has departed. The phrases of one age are always in danger of becoming formal and unreal to the next. They are felt no longer to protect but rather to stifle religion. Further, at certain periods theology has been allowed to usurp the place of religion. A mere intellectual assent to certain theological statements has been substituted for moral effort as the test of true Christian faith. Orthodoxy, not holiness, has been regarded as the distinguishing mark of the Christian. The gulf between theology and religion has been allowed to widen. We can hardly wonder that in the ardour of a spiritual revival men have been impatient of the pious phrases of their forefathers, or have hastily cast aside doctrines that seemed to have the faintest possible connection with practical Christianity. The only preventive of this disaster is to insist that theology shall always be in the closest contact with life. The New Testament invariably keeps its theological teaching closely related to the practical duties of worship and conduct. Frequently its most profound statements of doctrine emerge in passages primarily concerned with Christian morals or the Christian character.
To sum up. Those who wish to be both Christians and thinking persons must have a theology. If the individual is left to himself he will probably have a bad theology, a child of his limitations and caprices. To establish the best possible theology will involve the study of the history of Christian Doctrine, the record of the process of thought by which the Church has attempted to make plain to herself the meaning of her own faith and life. But the Church can never cease to reflect on her doctrines. Standing on the foundation of the Scriptures and guided by her own theological tradition, the Church will in every age discover the necessity for renewed theological thought, in order both to maintain her own life and to propagate her faith in the contemporary world.†
The Thirty-Nine Articles
Their History and Place in Theology
§ 1. Our present 39 Articles are only one out of a large crop of formularies produced in Europe by the general unrest of the Reformation. Even as regards the Church of England, they are only the last of a series of doctrinal statements put forth as occasion demanded. The Reformation was not a single act but a long process, not always in a uniform direction: it was not concluded until far into the seventeenth century. The history of our Articles can only be understood if it is studied in the light of the history of the Reformation in England. Changes in the formularies of the Church in the main run parallel with changes in its worship and order. Either side illustrates the other. In this present chapter the outstanding incidents of the Reformation are alluded to but not explained. They are intended to serve as landmarks by which to estimate the tendency of the various theological statements put forth from time to time. The surest way to understand the account of the Articles given here is to read it side by side with a history of the Reformation.
The actual movement for reform in England may be said to start with the repudiation of Papal authority in 1534. The breach with Rome was complete. In itself a quarrel with the Pope was nothing new. In the past it had not involved any change of religion. But the English desire for independence, the disgust at the greed and exactions of the Popes, the character of Henry himself, and the doctrinal unsettlement both at home and abroad formed a new combination of circumstances about whose issue few could venture to predict. Lutheran ideas had reached England as early as 1521, when a bonfire of Lutheran books was made in front of S. Paul’s. Since 1526 the influence of Zwingli had spread through Tyndale’s English version of the Scriptures. Anabaptists were propagating tenets subversive of all order in Church and State alike. Abroad, Luther and Zwingli, with a large part of Europe behind them, had broken with the historic faith and discipline of the Catholic Church. Amid the general confusion the Church of England was compelled to raise its voice. The authority of the Pope had been repudiated. In all ranks of life some centre of unity was needed. Within the Church itself there were two main parties, the party of the Old Learning, who desired little more than independence of the Pope, headed by Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and the party of the New Learning, who aimed at considerable reforms both of doctrine and discipline, headed by Archbishop Cranmer. The Lutherans in Germany had already set the example of putting forward a public statement of their position. Their object in this was partly, no doubt, to repudiate “Romish errors”, but also to make clear their divergence from the Zwinglians and Swiss reformers. Accordingly, in 1529 the Schwabach Articles were drawn up: the acceptance of these was to be the indispensable condition of membership in a reforming league. On these were based the first great Lutheran confession, the Confession of Augsburg, drawn up in 1530 by Melanchthon and approved by Luther. Originally it was simply “Mr Philip’s” (i.e. Melanchthon’s) “Apology”, but it became the official statement of Lutheranism, and as such was signed by the Elector of Saxony and others and presented to the Emperor. It contained 21 articles on matters of faith and 7 on matters of discipline. [A survey of it may be found in Hardwick, A History of the Articles of Religion, pp. 17 ff.] In the same year, 1530, Zwingli himself presented a Confession of his own to the Diet of Augsburg. After his death in 1531, the Zwinglian party put forth their views in the Confession of Basel, 1534, and the First Helvetic Confession, 1536. These last had no influence on our Articles. They are interesting only as signs of the times and as examples of the type of formulary that was happily avoided in England.
§ 2. (a) The first attempt of the English Church to state its position was the Ten Articles of 1536. Their object is made clear in the title: “To establish Christian quietness and unity among us and to avoid contentious opinions.” They “bore the character of a compromise between the Old and the New Learning. The Catholic nation was satisfied that the Catholic faith still remained [Dixon, History of the Church of England, vol. i. p. 415.] reforming party “was conciliated by a secret infusion of Lutheranism”. They succeeded in quenching the suspicion that the kingdom had been brought into schism, and helped to reconcile men’s minds to the impending dissolution of the monasteries. Politically they served to show foreign powers that England was still a Catholic country. The King had a large share in their composition. But their final form was due to Convocation, with whose authority they were issued. They fell into two parts.[The text of the Ten Articles is printed in Hardwick, Appendix.] The first five deal with questions of doctrine. The chief points to be noticed are:
(i) The rule of faith is based not only on “the whole body and canon of the Bible” but also on the three Creeds. The authority of the Four Great Councils is recognized and all opinions condemned by them are declared erroneous.
(ii) Three Sacraments only are expounded, Baptism, the Eucharist and Penance. This last is said to be “institute of Christ in the New Testament as a thing necessary for man’s salvation”. The other four of the “Seven Sacraments” are neither affirmed nor rejected.
(iii) The Real Presence is strongly asserted, but the manner of the Presence is left open. There is no mention of Transubstantiation.
(iv) The definition of justification was borrowed from words of the Lutheran, Melanchthon, but the characteristic Lutheran formulas were avoided. It is to be attained by “inward contrition, perfect faith and charity, certain hope and confidence”.
The second five concern “the laudable ceremonies used in the Church”.
(i) Images are retained to be “the kindlers and stirrers of men’s minds”, but idolatry is to be avoided.
(ii) Saints are to be honoured and invoked as intercessors to pray with us and for us, “so that it be done without any vain superstition as to think that any saint is more merciful or will hear us sooner than Christ ... or doth serve for one thing more than another or is patron of the same.”
(iii) Certain mediaeval rites and ceremonies are to be kept as “good and laudable”, but have not “power to remit sin”, but only to stir and lift up our minds unto God.
(iv) Prayers for the dead are encouraged, and the book of Maccabees is quoted to support them. Our ignorance of the details of the next life is asserted. Abuses connected with Purgatory, and especially the Pope’s pardons, are denounced.
We can see how such a formula met the needs of the moment. No final settlement was as yet possible. The Ten Articles remained the authoritative expression of the mind of the Church of England down to 1543.
But meanwhile, in 1537, there appeared The Institution of a Christian Man, commonly called the Bishops’ Book. This was a popular and practical handbook of instruction in faith and morals, based on the Ten Articles and incorporating parts of them. It was drawn up by a committee under Cranmer. It contained explanations of the Common Creed, the Seven Sacraments, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ave Maria, Justification and Purgatory. The articles on the last two were taken bodily from the Ten Articles. All Seven Sacraments appear, but the three, Baptism, the Eucharist and Penance, are placed on a higher level than the rest. Its lapses from accurate theology, due to haste in composition, offended the refined taste of the King. Hence it never gained his authority, though printed at the King’s Press. It rested only on the authority of those who signed it, including all the Bishops.
(b) In 1543 there was published The Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for any Christian Man, commonly known as the King’s Book. It was substantially a revised edition of the Bishops’ Book, being based upon the King’s own criticisms of the former work. The language was more precise and theological. It was issued on the authority of Convocation, Parliament and the King, who himself wrote the preface. As compared with the Ten Articles, it shows a reaction. This may be explained by the political circumstances of the time. In 1538 the conference between Anglican and Lutheran divines had broken down. The influence of Cranmer had for the moment declined. The character of this new formulary is in keeping with the anti-Protestant legislation of the close of Henry’s reign, especially the Statute of the Six Articles. Transubstantiation is taught, though the actual use of the word is avoided. The silence of its articles suggests that all “Seven Sacraments” are on a level. Clerical celibacy is maintained, and a loftier view is taken of Orders. Taken as a whole it marked the triumph of the Old Learning. Probably this was designed to be the last and final statement of England’s theological position. Such it remained till the death of Henry in 1547.
§ 3. After the accession of Edward VI rapid changes were made in the services of the Church, but no definitely doctrinal statement was issued till 1553. However, as early as 1549 a letter from Bishop Hooper states that Cranmer “has some Articles of Religion to which all preachers and lecturers in divinity are required to subscribe”. [Quoted by Hardwick, p. 72.] This was probably an early draft of the later Articles, framed as a test of orthodoxy. These Articles were submitted to the Bishops, and, after revision, submitted to the Council in 1552. At this time they were 45 in number. After they had passed the scrutiny of the Council, the King and the Royal Chaplains they were returned to Cranmer and reduced to 42 – the famous 42 Articles. An English edition appeared in May, 1553. The official edition signed by the King followed a week later, and in June a royal mandate commanded subscription from all clergy, schoolmasters and members of a university on taking their degree, in the province of Canterbury. In two later editions, published shortly afterwards, a catechism was added. The exact authority on which they were published is uncertain. It is clear that the catechism issued with them had no authority from Convocation. The titles of all the editions, but not the royal mandate, claim for the Articles the authority of Convocation. Is this true? The records of Convocation perished in the great fire of London. In any case, they were badly kept, “but one degree above blanks,” and their evidence would have been of little value. Convocation had appointed a commission in 1551 to reform the Canons of the Church. That commission probably produced the Articles and claimed the authority of Convocation for them. In any case the question is primarily interesting as a historical problem. [For a statement of the evidence on both sides, see Gibson, pp. 15–20.] Even if the Church was committed to them, it was only for a few weeks. Edward VI died in the following July. On the accession of Queen Mary they were dropped. As they had never been enjoined by Act of Parliament, there was no need to repeal them.
The 42 Articles are not, as it were, the natural descendants of the previous official formularies, but represent a different line of development that can be traced back as far as 1538. At that time Henry VIII, for political reasons, desired an alliance with the Protestant Princes of Germany. Accordingly, a small body of Lutheran divines was invited over to England to confer with a committee of English Churchmen, headed by Cranmer, with a view to drawing up a joint confession of faith. By the deliberate use of ambiguous language agreement was reached on certain points of doctrine. But on questions of discipline the conference broke down and the Lutherans returned home. Among Cranmer’s papers has been found a draft of 13 Articles of doctrine agreed upon by this committee. These are known as the 13 Articles. They were never published, and hence possessed no authority. But they were used by Cranmer as the basis of certain of the 42 Articles. Being themselves based upon the Confession of Augsburg, they form the link between the Confession of Augsburg and our own 42 Articles. At first sight the similarities suggest direct borrowing, but it has been proved that all the borrowed portions came through the medium of these 13 Articles.
In reading the 42 Articles it may easily be seen that they are a double-edged weapon, designed to smite two opposite enemies. On the one hand they attack mediaeval teaching and abuses, on the other hand they attack Anabaptist tenets. First they deal with the doctrine of “School-authors”. This needs some explanation. The doctrines attacked were not necessarily official Roman teaching as revised by the Council of Trent, but popular mediaeval teaching. The Reformation compelled even the Church of Rome to restate her teaching. The Pope called together a “General Council” at Trent. In actual fact the Council proved to consist only of Bishops in allegiance to Rome. The Reformers refused to acknowledge it. [See below on Art. 21.] It held its first meeting in December, 1545, and continued to sit, though with long breaks, until 1563. It was from its own point of view a reforming Council, and did much to purge away mediaeval abuses. In some cases its decrees are prior in time to the Articles of our own Church, in other cases they are later. It is most important to know which is the earlier. Very often the teaching condemned in our Articles cannot be the formal statements of the Council of Trent, because such did not yet exist, but is simply current mediaeval teaching. Upon this the Council of Trent is in many cases as severe as our own Articles. The Reformers kept a keen eye on all the doings of the Council. When the 42 Articles appeared the Council of Trent had only begun its work. Secondly, they oppose even more keenly the teaching of the Anabaptists. These were the extreme Protestants, in no way a single organized sect, but rather an undefined class embracing men of every variety of opinion. The name Anabaptist was given to them from their denial of infant baptism and their custom of rebaptizing converts. There is hardly any error of doctrine or morality that was not proclaimed by some of them. They were a very real danger to all order in Church and State alike. No party had a good word for them. The Reformers feared the discredit that they brought upon the whole reforming movement.
The chief instances in which Roman errors were attacked in the 42 Articles may be summed up thus:
1. The claims of the Pope are denied (Art. 36).
2. The Church of Rome is declared to have erred in the past and therefore to be liable to err again. So, too, “General Councils” so called have not always shown themselves infallible (Arts. 20 and 22).
3. The use of the vulgar tongue in Church and the marriage of the clergy are defended (Arts. 25 and 31).
4. Errors about merit, works of supererogation, purgatory and pardons, grace ex opere operato, transubstantiation and the “sacrifices of Masses” are denounced (Arts. 12, 13, 23, 29 and 30).
5. The sufficiency of Scripture is maintained (Art. 5).
The Anabaptists are only mentioned by name twice, but the errors maintained by them and attacked in these Articles include the following:
1. They had revived all the ancient heresies about the Holy Trinity and the Person of Christ. Against these the Catholic position is asserted (Arts. 1–4 and 7).
2. Many of them were Pelagians (Arts. 8–10).
3. Others claimed that being regenerate they were unable to commit sin (Arts. 14–15).
4. Some depreciated all Scripture and placed themselves above even the moral law. Others assigned equal importance to all the Old Testament (Arts. 5–6 and 19).
5. Some denied any need of ordination for ministers, and claimed that the efficacy of all ministrations depended on the personal holiness of the minister (Arts. 24, 27).
6. Infant Baptism was denied (Art. 28).
7. All Church discipline was repudiated (Art. 20 and 32).
8. Many held strange views about the Descent into Hell (Art. 3), the nature of the Resurrection and the future life (Arts. 39–40), the ultimate salvation of all men (Art. 42) and Millenarianism (Art. 41).
9. The authority of the State was impugned and communism demanded (Arts. 36–38).
Taken as a whole, the 42 Articles “showed a surprisingly comprehensive and moderate spirit. The broad soft touch of Cranmer lay upon them, when they came from the furnace.” [Dixon, vol. iii. p. 520.] Their tone is conciliatory. They aim rather at concord than at accurate definition. Cranmer had a great desire to form a united Protestant Church as against Rome. Such Articles might well be a basis of union. They exclude extremists of all kinds. Again, these Articles make no pretension to set forth a complete system of belief. There is, for instance, no Article on the Holy Spirit. Unlike many continental formularies they do not attempt to embrace all theology, but are content to meet the needs of a particular crisis. They do, indeed, bear unmistakable evidence of Lutheran influence and language. Certain Articles embody whole paragraphs and phrases of the Confession of Augsburg, taken from the 13 Articles. But on the doctrine of justification by faith they avoid Lutheran extravagances. Further, at this time there was violent controversy among the Reformers on the subject of the Sacraments. The Lutherans held that they conferred grace. The Swiss reformers regarded them rather as signs or seals of grace independently received, since only the elect could receive grace. The delay in the publication of these Articles was, according to one account, due to the violent controversy on this point. Cranmer and Ridley on the one side maintained the Lutheran view, Hooper the Swiss view. In the end Cranmer won the day. Both sides agreed to discard the language of the Schoolmen, that the Sacraments “contain grace”, since this failed to emphasize the need of a right disposition in the recipient. But though the actual term “confer grace” does not occur, the truth that it contained was clearly stated. In Art. 26 Sacraments are said to be “effectual signs of grace”. [The phrase “signs of grace” comes from the Confession of Augsburg, and was deliberately strengthened by the addition of “effectual”.] In Art. 28 “Baptism ... is a sign and seal of our new birth, whereby as by an instrument they that receive Baptism rightly, are grafted into the Church”. Only on one point these Articles do fall short of their general spirit of comprehensiveness. In their teaching on the Holy Communion, not only transubstantiation but any doctrine of the Real Presence is denied. This was held by Lutherans no less than Romanists. The explanation of this fall below the Lutheran standard is that Cranmer’s views on the Eucharist had been steadily falling. Owing to the influence of the Swiss, and particularly one John à Lasco, he had abandoned any belief in the Real Presence, and adopted the Calvinist view that the presence of Christ is to be found only in the individual soul of the faithful recipient. Any other view was excluded by the language of Art. 26 (with this we must compare the Prayer Book of 1552, into which, before publication, was intruded the famous “Black Rubric”). So, too, in Art. 26, all use of the phrase ex opere operato is condemned, and the title sacrament is practically refused to any rites except Baptism and Holy Communion. On all these points considerable changes were made in 1563. We may also notice that the objectionable title “Supreme Head of the Church” is employed in Art. 36. In the reign of Edward VI this was inevitable.
Some mention must be made here of a work probably by the same persons as the 42 Articles. We have seen that Convocation sanctioned the appointment of a committee to revise the Canons. Their labours resulted in a document entitled The Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum. This work was completed in 1553, but never obtained the sanction of Parliament. Its chief importance is to be found in the light that it sheds on the meaning and purpose of the 42 Articles. Which of the two in its treatment of any subject is the earlier, we cannot now ascertain.
§ 4. When Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558, she had a hard task before her. Her aim must be to secure religious unity at home in the face of many active and powerful enemies abroad. She began not with questions of doctrine, but of worship and discipline. She recovered from Parliament the restoration of the Royal Supremacy: enforced by Act of Parliament the new Prayer-book: filled up the vacant sees: took strong measures to enforce a modicum of decency in worship. It was not till 1563 that Convocation began to undertake the revision of the 42 Articles. Till then the Prayer-book was the standard of doctrine. However, in the interval, Archbishop Parker put forth on his own authority the Eleven Articles. These were to be read in church by all ministers at their first entry into their cures and twice a year afterwards. Though sanctioned by the Archbishop of York and all the Bishops, they were a temporary expedient, lacking official authority.
(a) In January, 1563, Convocation met to draw up a new formulary. The Archbishop had been using the interval in preparing with Bishop Guest of Rochester a revised edition of the 42 Articles. These were to form the basis of the new formulary. A revival of Lutheran influence can be found in this revision. The Archbishop had drawn upon the Confession of Würtemburg, a Lutheran formulary presented to the Council of Trent in 1552 by the ambassadors of Würtemburg as an official statement of Lutheran views. Thus a Lutheran confession influenced the English Articles for a second time. The influence of the Confession of Augsburg was indirect, through the 13 Articles. Here the borrowing from the Confession of Würtemburg was direct.
When first presented to Convocation the new Articles still numbered 42. Four of the old had been removed and four new ones added. Three were struck out by Convocation, reducing them to the familiar 39. These were passed by Convocation and were then sent on to the Queen. The Queen herself made two important alterations in the draft sent up by Convocation: (i) She struck out our present Art. 29 in order to avoid giving offence to the Romanist party, whom she wished to retain within the Church; (ii) She added the opening clause to Art. 20, drawn from the Confession of Würtemburg. This asserted the authority of the Church to decree rites and ceremonies, as against the Puritans, who denied the Church’s authority to enforce any rite or ceremony that was not explicitly commanded in Scripture. At the time these two changes rested solely on the Queen’s authority: they had no authority either from Convocation or Parliament.
The 38 Articles remained in this condition till the final revision of the Articles in 1571. As the result of the Pope’s bull any hope of reconciliation with Rome was destroyed. In obedience to his injunction the Papists had separated themselves from the English Church. Hence there was no longer any need to respect their feelings. Accordingly, Art. 29 was restored. At the same time a number of small changes were made, of which the chief was the completion of the list of the Apocrypha in Art. 6. In their revised form the Articles were passed by Convocation, and so the opening clause of Art. 20 gained synodical authority.
(b) We may now consider the main changes that are to be found if we compare our present 39 Articles with the 42 Articles of 1553.
1. Certain new articles were added and old articles expanded, apparently for the sake of greater completeness. Thus the statement in Art. 2 of the “Eternal Generation” and “Consubstantiality” of the Son and the whole of Art. 5, “on the Holy Ghost” were added, both practically verbatim from the Confession of Würtemburg. In Art. 6 canonical books are stated to be those “of whose authority there has never been any doubt in the church”. So, too, Art. 11, on Justification, was enlarged and made more definite. Art. 10 was enlarged to fit on better to Art. 9, and a new Art., No. 12, on “Good Works”, was added. All these changes were based on the Confession of Würtemburg.
2. Certain articles and statements were omitted, either because the errors attacked in them had now ceased to be formidable, or because it was seen that a greater latitude of opinion might be allowed. Thus four whole articles on Anabaptist errors, such as “Millenarianism”, “the resurrection being past”, “universalism”, “unconscious existence after death”, were removed. The article on “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”, the interpretation of S. Peter’s word about “the descent into Hell”, the condemnation of the phrase ex opere operato, were likewise withdrawn. So, too, the reference by name to the Anabaptists as reviving Pelagianism.
3. A great advance was made in sacramental teaching, parallel to that made in the Prayer-book of 1559 as compared with that of 1552. The language of Art. 28 is at least consistent with a belief in the Real Presence, though the relation of the gift bestowed in the Holy Communion to the visible elements is left undiscussed. The language on Infant Baptism in Art. 27 is strengthened. Also the five “commonly called Sacraments” reappear in Art. 25, though not placed on a level with the two “Sacraments of the Gospel”. The withdrawal of any condemnation of the phrase ex opere operato in Art. 25 emphasized the objective value of sacramental grace.
4. Art. 37 on the Royal Supremacy was largely rewritten. The title “supreme Head of the church” was dropped. The character of the supremacy claimed for the Crown is explained.
5. On the other hand the independence of the Church of England as against Rome was asserted and strengthened in certain quite definite ways. The Council of Trent had as early as 1546 issued a somewhat ambiguous decree placing Scripture and tradition side by side as the sources of truth and discipline, including within the canon a large number of apocryphal books. These last it put on a level with the rest as a source of doctrine. In Art. 6 the Church of England deliberately dissented from this view, distinguishing between the Old Testament and the Apocrypha, and placing them on different levels. A list of canonical books was given, and the list of apocryphal books completed in 1571. Again, in 1547 the Council of Trent laid down that all Seven Sacraments were instituted by Christ. In the revised form of Art. 25 this is practically denied. So, too, in Art. 24, the Church of England was no longer content to commend the use of the vulgar tongue in public worship. It condemned the use of any other as unscriptural and unprimitive. A new Article (Art. 30) was added to condemn Communion in one kind. Art. 32 on the Celibacy of the Clergy was rewritten and strengthened. Art. 36 was rewritten to defend Anglican ordinations against Romanist objections. A new clause to Art. 34 was added to assert the rights of “particular or national” churches. On all these points the revision showed itself anti-Roman.
6. In the opposite direction the revision can hardly have been entirely acceptable to the Puritan party. They must have disliked the changes in Sacramental teaching and still more the Queen’s addition to Art. 20. Many of them did not love Art. 34. The authorship of the saying that “the Church of England has a Popish Liturgy and a Calvinistic set of Articles” is ascribed to Pitt. It has been widely repeated by those who know little of the Articles and neglect the Prayer-book. No doubt the general tone of the Articles is not quite that of the Prayer-book. They reflect the troubled atmosphere of the times in which they were composed. The Prayer-book, being based largely on earlier models, breathes more of the spirit of serene and undisturbed devotion. Its tone is more positive. Further, while the Church of England deliberately aimed at excluding Pelagians, it did not aim at excluding Calvinists. Hence there is much in the Articles which, though it need not be taken in a Calvinistic sense, may be taken in that sense. There was much, too, that was good in Calvinism: if the Articles would never have existed in their present form without the influence of Calvin, that does not mean that they are Calvinistic in the sense that they accept all his teaching. There are several statements in them that Calvinists have always found it hard to accept. Art. 16 says that a man who has received the Holy Ghost and fallen into sin, “may rise again.” The Calvinist would say “must rise again”. Art. 2 lays down that “Christ died for all actual sins of men”: Calvinists would say “Christ died only for the elect”. In Art. 17 the clause “although the decrees of predestination are unknown to us” was dropped and the phrase “in Christ” added, both changes tending to soften the language. Further, the same article speaks of God’s promises as “generally” (i.e. for all men) “set forth in Holy Scripture”. So, too, in Art. 9, Man is only “very far gone from original righteousness”, not entirely corrupt, as Calvin taught. But the clearest evidence that the Articles are not Calvinistic is the repeated attempts made by the Puritans to alter or supplement them. In 1572 the Puritans addressed certain admonitions to Parliament complaining of the inadequacy of the Articles and their dangerous speaking about falling from grace. Further, in 1595, as a result of controversy at Cambridge, a committee, meeting under Archbishop Whitgift at Lambeth, compiled the “Lambeth Articles”, setting out the full Calvinistic system in all its stringency. Fortunately the Queen at once intervened and repressed any attempt to force these on the Church. They never possessed any authority but that of their authors. At the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 the Puritan party again tried to amend the Articles. The Royal declaration prefixed to the Articles, and dating from 1628, is a relic of the controversy that raged during the reign of Charles I, largely round the interpretation of the Articles. When in 1643 the Puritans were triumphant, the Westminster Assembly appointed a committee to amend the Articles. Art. 16 fared badly at their hands. Again, at the Restoration, similar objections were raised by the Puritans, but without success. This bare statement of fact is the best answer to any assertion that our Articles are Calvinistic.
(c) Such, then, is the history of our present 39 Articles. They express the mind of the Church of England on the questions under dispute during the Reformation. They do not claim to be a final and complete system of theology. As Bishop Pearson wrote: [Quoted by Hardwick, p. 158.] the book “is not, nor is pretended to be, a complete body of divinity, or a comprehension and explication of all Christian doctrines necessary to be taught: but an enumeration of some truths, which upon and since the Reformation have been denied by some persons: who upon denial are thought unfit to have any cure of souls in this Church or realm; because they might by their opinions either infect their flock with error or else disturb the Church with schism or the realm with sedition.” On this point they present a strong contrast with many continental formularies which are “controversial, diffuse, and long-some”. [Dixon, vol. v. p. 396.] Our English Articles avoid the sweeping anathemas of the Council of Trent or the “endless arguings and chidings” of contemporary confessions. They move on a higher level. If we compare them with other performances of the age, we must see in them an example of the special Providence that has watched over the Church of England. Dr Moberly has put very clearly the grounds on which we may be grateful for their tone of moderation and comprehensiveness. [Moberly, Problems and Principles, pp. 386–387.] “It might so easily have happened that statements drawn up amid the stress and strain of the vehement passions which were raging in the struggle of the Reformation, would have been just in the form which we, in the sober thought of the nineteenth century, could not have endorsed. But this is just what has not happened. Condemnation of Roman theory or practice, failing to make any necessary distinction or allowances, might so easily have had just the irremediable traces of exaggeration upon them. Approximations to Calvinism or Lutheranism might so easily have gone just beyond the line of what was in the long run rationally defensible. It may even be admitted that, prima facia, there is a certain aspect of ambiguity in some of these directions. And yet, on examination, after all, in one article after another, the almost expected overstatement has not been made. You may say that the 17th Article comes very near to Calvinism, or the 11th to the characteristic formula of Lutheran solifidianism. But, on the other hand, as the mind begins to recognize that the lengthy and apparently Calvinistic phraseology of the Article about Predestination just stops short of all that is really offensive in connection with that theory, remaining after all within those aspects of it which are edifying and true; and again, that the apparent embrace of the cardinal Lutheran principles of justification by faith only is not in the paradoxical terms in which Luther loved to overstate it; there begins to be a certain definite and growing sense that, though the articles may carry us into forgotten controversies, and make some statements which have but little relevance to our modern difficulties, at all events there was, amongst those who drew them, too much of genuine conservatism, of reverence for what was good in old ways, of self-restraint and moderating wisdom, to allow of their committing themselves or us to the extremer and more unguarded statements even of those with whom they greatly sympathized.”
§ 5. Creeds and Articles. – The significance of our Articles may best be learnt by a comparison between them and Creeds. Both alike are theological statements of belief. Both alike have been employed as tests. Both are attempts to preserve the truth in all its fullness. But while Creeds are a necessity, “in a world where all expression of spirit is through body,” Articles are a consequence “not of the Church’s existence but of the Church’s failure”. “The Church, without a Creed, would not in human life on earth, however ideally perfect, have been a Church at all. But if the Church on earth had been ideally perfect, or anything even remotely like it, there would never have been any 39 Articles. The one is a necessary feature of spiritual reality. The other is an unfortunate consequence of spiritual failure.” [op. cit. pp. 378–379]
(i) Creeds are in origin far more than controversial statements. No doubt particular clauses in them have been added or altered at particular times to rule out certain errors, as when “of one substance with the Father” was added to refute Arianism. But in their essential nature Creeds grew up out of the positive statement of belief required of every Christian at his baptism. The threefold division recalls the baptismal formula. They rose spontaneously out of the life of the Church to meet such a need as this. Though they conform to a common type their origin is veiled in obscurity. Their growth in the main has been hidden and spontaneous. Even their developments were largely unconscious. On the other hand, Articles were composed at a definite time for the express purpose of meeting a particular crisis. Their authors are known.
(ii) Creeds have behind them the authority of the universal and undivided Church. Articles have behind them at most the authority of particular or national Churches. In most cases they assume the truth of the Creeds and start from that. Further, creeds are based upon a wide and universal experience. The formularies of the Reformation – though this applies very much less to our own Articles than to others – are the product of a group of men, or in some cases a single individual mind. Hence, Creeds have a permanent value, Articles only a temporary value. We do not condemn, say, the Churches of the East, because they do not possess the 39 Articles. We should condemn a Church that rejected the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed. We may reasonably doubt if the Churches of the mission field need become acquainted with the 39 Articles. But they certainly are bound to receive the Creeds. It is possible even to look forward to a day when the Church of England may exchange or discard our present Articles, though that day is not yet in sight. That would not involve any breach of continuity or catholicity. But to reject the Creeds would be to part company with the life of the Universal Church.
(iii) The Creeds consist in the main of short and simple statements without explanation or argument. They assert simple facts of history and theology. Their field is very narrow. Their theology rarely goes beyond explaining the significance of the historic facts that they record. The whole Creed is grouped round the historical Person of Jesus Christ. The Articles, on the other hand, cover a wider field. They deal not only with the nature and being of God and His great acts of redemption, but with man’s inner religious life. Questions about the meaning of sin, the relation of faith to works, grace, freewill and the like are all discussed. The Creeds are positive, Articles are often negative and controversial. The Articles also touch upon an entirely new department, the relation of the Christian to the State. This can be explained by the condition of society in the sixteenth century.
(iv) Lastly, as has already been pointed out, Articles are primarily “tests for teachers”. They set a limit to official teaching. Creeds are for teachers and learners alike. Belief in the Apostles’ Creed is demanded of every candidate for Baptism. A Creed rightly finds a place in public worship. In the service for the visitation of the sick and the dying the Christian is called upon to repeat his baptismal creed as a last act of faith. The Creeds belong to the laymen not less than the clergy. But a loyal churchman may go through his whole life without necessarily coming into contact with the 39 Articles.
To sum up, though both Creeds and Articles have arisen out of the necessity imposed upon the Church to interpret to itself the meaning of its own life: though both have been shaped by that discussion, which alone can sift out error and bring to light the truth: yet in origin, value and aim they differ. Creeds belong to the life of the Church and Articles to its life in a sinful world.
§ 6. A history of Subscription to the Articles. – Up to 1571 subscription was required only of members of Convocation. The Queen had not allowed the Articles to be submitted to Parliament. But the open breach with Rome in 1570 and the Pope’s excommunication of the Queen obliged her to turn to Parliament in order to strengthen her hands. In 1571 an Act was passed requiring that everyone under the degree of a Bishop who had been ordained by any form other than that set forth by Parliament in the reign of Edward VI, or the form in use under Elizabeth, should subscribe “to all Articles of Religion, which only concern the confession of the true Christian faith and the doctrine of the Sacraments.” This was aimed at men ordained under Mary. Further, in future no one was to be admitted to a benefice “except he ... shall first have subscribed the said Articles”. The Act was ingeniously drawn up in the interests of the Puritans. By the insertion of the word “only” subscription was made to include no more than the doctrinal Articles: the Articles on discipline were evaded. However, in 1571, after the final revision by Convocation, Convocation on its own authority required subscription to all the Articles in their final form. This was enforced by the Court of High Commission, though at times with less strictness. In 1583, Archbishop Whitgift provided a form of subscription included in the Three Articles. All the clergy were to subscribe to these. The first asserted the Royal Supremacy. The second contains an assertion of the Scripturalness of the whole Prayer-book and a promise to use the said book and no other in public worship. The third runs “That I allow the Book of Articles of Religion agreed upon by the Archbishops and Bishops of both provinces and the whole Clergy in Convocation holden at London in the year of our Lord God 1562 and set forth by Her Majesty’s authority and do believe all the Articles therein contained to be agreeable to the Word of God.” In this way subscription was once more strictly enforced. In 1604 the Three Articles received the authority of Convocation, being embodied after small alteration in the Canons of 1604 and ratified by the King. The actual form ran: “I ... do willingly and ex animo subscribe to these three articles above mentioned and to all things that are contained in them.” This form remained in force in spite of various attempts to relax the stringency of it. In practice the form usually employed ran: “I ... do willingly and from my heart subscribe to the 39 Articles of Religion of the United Church of England and Ireland, and to the three Articles in the 30th Canon, and to all things therein contained.” In 1865, as the result of a Royal Commission, Convocation obtained leave from the Crown to revise the Canons. A new and simpler declaration of Assent was drawn up by the Convocations of Canterbury and York and confirmed by royal letters patent. Today the candidate for ordination is required to subscribe to the following: “I ... do solemnly make the following declaration, I assent to the 39 Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer and of ordering of Bishops Priests and Deacons. I believe the doctrine of the Church of England therein set forth to be agreeable to the Word of God and in public prayer and administration of the Sacraments I will use the form in the said book prescribed and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority.” Two points need to be noted.
(i) The Church has demanded subscription to the Articles from the clergy and the clergy only. The fifth Canon of 1604 at most demands from the laity that they shall not attack them. If other bodies such as the Universities have in earlier days required subscription from their members, they were responsible for the requirement, and not the Church.
(ii) The change of language in the form of subscription was deliberate. We are asked to affirm today, not that the Articles are all agreeable to the Word of God, but that the doctrine of the Church of England as set forth in the Articles is agreeable to the Word of God. That is, we are not called to assent to every phrase or detail of the Articles but only to their general sense. This alteration was made of set purpose to afford relief to scrupulous consciences.†
The Being of God – Article I
Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
De fide in sacro-sanctam Trinitatem
There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the Maker and Preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Unus est vivus et verus Deus, aeternus, incorporeus, impartibilis, impassibilis, immensae potentiae, sapientiae ac bonitatis, creator et conservator omnium, tum visibilium, tum invisibilium. Et in unitate hujus divinae naturae tres sunt personae, ejus dem essentiae, potentiae, ac aeternitatis, Pater, Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus.
One of the original Articles of 1553. Its language is very close to that of the Confession of Augsburg.
It was called forth by the teaching of the Anabaptists, who were reviving all the ancient heresies. It deals with:
1. The Unity of God.
2. The attributes of God.
3. God’s relation to the universe.
4. The manner of God’s existence – the doctrine of the Trinity.
§ 1. There is but one living and true God. – The Articles, like the Bible itself, assume and do not attempt to prove the existence of God. By God we mean the one self-existent Being, the Author and Sustainer of all that is, upon whom all things depend and in whom they find their goal. All thinkers agree that God is one. The ancient Greek philosophers attained to this truth primarily by the road of reason. Every attempt to understand the world assumes that the world is intelligible, and therefore one. All philosophy presupposes that behind phenomena is a single ultimate reality. A world that is capable of being explained must be a single and coherent system. It must be one in origin and in purpose. Philosophy and science rest ultimately upon the same assumption. They presuppose the ultimate unity of all existence. This “Absolute” or ultimate reality whose existence behind the world of change and appearance philosophy and science are compelled implicitly to assume, need not be a very interesting God. He need not be, as far as their requirements go, a God who loves men and can be loved by them. We could not sing hymns to the “Absolute”. But He must be one. The very idea of God excludes the possibility of more than one God. All the so-called arguments for the existence of God are arguments for the existence of one God. Thus the unity of God is a truth of reason, though reason by itself can tell us little or nothing about His character. (See note at end of this chapter.)†
The nation of Israel attained to the truth of the unity of God, not by speculation and abstract thought, but through historical revelation and prophetic insight. We can trace out in the history of Israel a growth in the knowledge of the one true God. At first Jehovah was a tribal God, the God of the Jewish nation. To use technical language the Jews were “monolatrous” rather than “monotheists”. They worshipped one God, but were not concerned to deny the existence of others. Even the First Commandment allows the possibility of the existence of other Gods. Slowly, through the religious insight and experience of the prophets, the spiritual leaders of the nation, at least, came to grasp the truth that Jehovah was the one and only God of the whole world. [This truth is implied as early as Amos. It is Jehovah who directs and overrules the movements of all the nations.] Through the exile Israel was purged of idolatry. By suffering and persecution the conviction of the Unity of God was branded for ever upon the consciousness of the nation. The Creed of the Jewish Church was the words of Deut 6:4, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD.” As such it was solemnly reaffirmed by our Lord Himself (Mk 12:29, etc.). This truth had been attained, not by any process of reason, but by a special revelation of God Himself. The Jew could go on to say what the Greek could not, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” The God who revealed Himself to Israel was above all a God of grace and righteousness, a Redeemer, who manifested His love and care for His people in a practical way through the events of history. In this aspect, too, God must be one. There is but One God, not because it happens to be so, but because it cannot be otherwise. Philosophy and religion alike make the same demand. To have more than one God is, as the early Christians maintained, to have no true God at all. To be a polytheist is to be an atheist.†
So the way was prepared for a further revelation of the nature of God. The truth of the Unity of God “had to be completely established first as a broad element of thought, indispensable, unalterable, before there could really begin the disclosure to man of the reality of eternal relations within the one indivisible Being of God. And when the disclosure came, it came, not as modifying – far less denying – but as further interpreting and illumining that unity which it absolutely presupposed.” [Moberly, Atonement and Personality, p. 85.] When it is rightly presented, the doctrine of the Trinity does not destroy but safeguards the Unity of God. The highest type of unity is not a mere barren numerical unity, but one that embraces within itself a wealth of diversity.
Opposed to this truth of the unity of God stands polytheism. In the Bible this is always represented as intimately connected with spiritual blindness and moral evil. Whether, as a matter of simple history, all forms of polytheism are in origin corruptions of a single older and purer belief in One God, is a question for the science of Comparative Religion to decide. At present very different answers are given. But the standpoint of Scripture is amply justified. From the point of view of Jewish and Christian revelation polytheism is a degraded and degrading form of religion. The Jews were always being tempted to lapse into idolatry because the faith and worship of Jehovah made too great demands upon them. The contest between Baal and Jehovah was not only a contest between two forms of religion, but between two standards of morality. Jehovah demanded personal righteousness in His worshippers. “Be ye holy: for I am holy.” Baal did not. The prophets are always protesting against those who degraded Jehovah by putting Him on a moral level with the gods of the heathen. Throughout Old Testament history polytheism stood for a religion that corrupted the very springs of the spiritual life. It met men’s desire for worship without demanding moral effort or reformation in the worshipper. Religion was regarded not as doing the will of God, but as bribing or cajoling God to do man’s will. A firm belief in one Almighty God was shown to be the only basis of a moral and righteous life.
So, too, S. Paul’s denunciation of heathenism in Rom 1:18 ff. was amply justified. He “looks at things with the insight of a religious teacher: he describes facts which he sees around him, and he connects these facts with permanent tendencies of human nature and with principles which are apparent in the Providential government of the world.” [Sanday and Headlam, Romans, p. 49.] The Gods of pagan mythology were attractive to the multitude largely because they were on a moral level with themselves. Religion had become the enemy of morality. How far the particular individuals of any one generation were personally responsible for this may be questioned. But the multitude “loved to have it so”, and made little or no effort to follow up the truth which was offered to them in reason and conscience. “It was in the strict sense due to supernatural influence that the religion of the Jew and of the Christian was kept clear of these corrupt and corrupting features. The state of the Pagan world betokened the absence, the suspension, or withholding, of such supernatural influence; and there was reason enough for the belief that it was judicially inflicted.” [Op. cit. p. 49.]
The words “living and true” are in Scripture applied to God in opposition to the false gods of heathenism. God is living (“vivus”, not “vivens”): not merely alive, but the source of all life (Ps 42:2, Jn 5:26, etc.). He is opposed to dead idols (Jer 10:10, Acts 14:15, 1 Thess 1:9, etc.). So, too, God is true (“verus”): not only faithful to His word (verax), but genuine (αληθινός). He is contrasted with the sham gods of heathenism as alone fulfilling the true conception of God (Is 44:8 ff.); “The only true God” (in 17:3). The two ideas of living and true are combined (1 Thess 1:9, 1 Jn 5:20).
Polytheism may appear at first sight to have lost its dangers. But its spirit is always threatening to corrupt the purity of Christian faith. Human nature desires a satisfaction for its instinct of worship. Fallen human nature desires to satisfy its instinct with the least possible moral effort. Hence men are always tempted to seek a refuge from the intense holiness of God in some object of worship that will be more indulgent towards sin and sloth. Accordingly we find in the Roman and Greek Churches a Saint-worship that in popular practice tends towards polytheism. Elsewhere we find what Dr. Hort called “Jesus-worship”, [Hort, Life and Letters, vol. ii. pp. 49–51.] i.e. a perverted and sentimental devotion to our Lord, not as the revelation of the Father and one with Him, but as a tender and not too exacting Saviour who will be a refuge from the Father’s holiness and justice. In each case the One God is set on one side as too strict in His moral demands. A less exacting object of worship is invented or procured. The pleasures of religion are retained at the cost of its truth and purity. For practical purposes the result is polytheism. Its fruits today are the same as they were in the days of the prophets or of S. Paul, a relaxing of the moral life and the lowering of the moral standard. Today as of old the Unity of God is the one safeguard of moral and spiritual progress.
§ 2. (a) How can we conceive of God? In Scripture, from first to last, God is represented as a “Personal” God. He is said to possess will (Mt 7:21, Jn 6:39, Eph 1:11, 1 Jn 5:14, etc.): to know, to have a mind and purpose (2 Sam 14:14, Jer 32:35, Mt 6:8 and 32, Jn 10:15, Acts 4:28, Rom 11:34, etc.): to love (Hos 11:1, Is 43:4, Jn 15:9, 1 Jn 4:8 and 10, etc.). So, too, God is said to be jealous (Exod 20:5, Deut 32:16, etc.), and grieved (Gen 6:8, Is 63:10, etc.), to be pitiful and show mercy (Is 60:10, Jas 5:11, etc.), to feel anger (Jn 3:36, Rev 14:10, etc.). Further, in the teaching of Christ a wide range of images borrowed from human relationships is employed to depict the character of God. Not only is He above all “the Father”, but His acts are compared to those of a king, an unjust judge, an owner of sheep, a woman keeping house, etc. In all such images the life and character of God are represented in terms of human life. It could not be otherwise. Human personality is the highest form of existence within our own experience, and we are obliged to think of God in terms of the highest that we know. However far God’s life may excel our own, it cannot fall below it. The God who created human personality cannot Himself be less than personal. We do not claim that in describing God in terms of human personality we are giving a complete or adequate description of Him. All that we say is that this is the least inadequate language that we can use. The criticism has often been made that man in speaking of God as personal is really making God in his own image.* It is suggested that it would be more reverent to think of God only as the “great unknowable”. Since all definition implies negation, we should only speak of Him in negative terms, as not like anything within our finite experience.** Such agnosticism is not quite so reverent as it appears at first sight. It involves the assumption not only that man is unable to know God, but that God is unable to reveal Himself to man. If religion is to exist as a living force, and if God wishes men to have fellowship with Himself, men must make some effort, however inadequate, to picture to themselves the God whom they are bidden to serve and worship. We cannot love or pray to an “unknowable”. The criticism forces us to remember that our idea of God, even at its highest, is incomplete and inadequate. We are necessarily limited by the capacities of our finite human personalities. As man’s knowledge of his own personality has deepened, so his conception of God has deepened too and become less partial and inadequate. Further, to a Christian the Incarnation has proved that human personality is in its measure a mirror of the Divine Personality. In Jesus Christ God gave us the fullest revelation of Himself that we at present can receive, through the medium of a perfect human life and character. Jesus Christ has demonstrated what we may call the “humanity” of God. However much more there may be in the nature and being of God that cannot be expressed in terms of human life and personality or embodied in a perfect human character, and that transcends human experience altogether, still all the elements of man’s life and personality are to be found at their highest and best within the divine life and personality. If man is made “in the image of God”, the original cannot be wholly unlike the image. So, then, we speak of God as “personal” because that is the loftiest conception of Him that we are able to form. We believe that, though it is inadequate, yet it is not in its measure untrue. Further, our human personalities are all of them imperfect and fragmentary. They hint at capacities that are only partly realized in our present life. No man taken by himself discloses even the full capacity of human nature as we know it here. We do not know what a perfect and complete human personality may mean. “We are not so much complete persons as on the road to personality.” When we think of the Personality of God we think of Him as possessing in alt their completeness all those attributes which we perceive ourselves to possess tentatively and incompletely. He alone realizes the full meaning of personality.†
[*The German philosopher Fichte sums up the argument thus: – “You insist that God has personality and consciousness. What do you call personality and consciousness? No doubt that which you find in yourselves. But the least attention will satisfy you that you cannot think this without limitation and finitude. Therefore you make the divine Being a limited being like yourselves by ascribing to Him that attribute, and you have not thought God as you wished but only multiplied yourself in thought” (Quoted by Bruce, Apologetics, p. 81).]
[**In substance this objection is as old as Xenophanes, who argued: “If the lions could have pictured a god, they would have pictured him in fashion like a lion; the horses like a horse: the oxen like an ox.” Supposing that lions can reflect, and that “lion-hood” is the highest kind of existence known to them, the lions who conceive of God as an unlimited lion, would seem to be more intelligent than their human critics.]
(b) The perversion of the truth of the personality of God is known as “anthropomorphism”. We fall into this error when we ascribe to God the limitations and imperfections of our own finite human personalities. Anthropomorphism degrades the idea of God by ascribing to Him human infirmities. [Cp. Browning’s Calibon on Setebos.] It arises from the forgetfulness that our highest conceptions of Him are inadequate. We are tempted to argue from them as if they were unreservedly true. It is largely against this danger that the next words of this Article are directed. “God is everlasting, without body, parts or passions, of infinite power, wisdom and goodness.”
We may take these in order. By speaking of God as “everlasting” (aeternus) and “without body”, we mean that God is raised above the limitations of both time and space. We ourselves live in time and space. We cannot get outside them. All our experience is necessarily presented under the forms of time and space. When we say that God is above them, we do not attempt to picture God’s consciousness or to describe what they mean to Him: all that we affirm is that they impose no limitations upon His knowledge and activity as they do upon ours. If we consider our own mental pictures of either time or space, we can easily see that they are really self-contradictory. However far distant we travel in imagination to the beginning of time or space, there is always more time and more space beyond them. The beginning of either is to us unthinkable. This in itself suggests that our knowledge about them is only relative and imperfect. To take the thought of time first: God is eternal. We do not pretend to say what time means to God. We can only picture to ourselves eternity as an endless succession of moments. By our imaginations “eternal” can only be viewed as “everlasting”. But the eternal God is not limited by time as we are. There was no moment of time when He first came into being. Again, with us time is associated with change and decay. But God never grows old or weary (Is 40:28). Time does not hamper His knowledge or His power as it does our own. In some sense the future is as present to Him as the past. He lives “in an eternal present”. It is as being eternal that He is “the only wise God” (Rom 16:27); “one day is to the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet 3:8).
So, too, with space. God is without body, for He is Spirit (Jn 4:24, R.V. marg.). Not only does He not possess bodily needs and appetites; He does not need to be fed or to be awakened (cp. the protests of Ps 50:12–13), as the primitive mind supposed; but His activity is not limited by any considerations of space. We can only imagine God as “ubiquitous” or “omnipresent”, i.e. as present in all places at the same time. But God’s presence is not in space at all: it is not on a level with that of even the most subtle of material substances. God does not occupy space like a created object. He can act always and everywhere. Nothing is hidden from His sight or His control. “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him, saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jer 23:24, cp. Ps 139). In early parts of the Bible we find traces of a primitive anthropomorphism that puts God away in some distant place or confines Him to one place at a time. Thus He needs to come and see for Himself the tower of Babel (Gen 11:5 and the real truth about Sodom (Gen 18:21). Again, His power was regarded as limited to the territory of Israel (1 Sam 26:19). But such ideas were transcended as the Jewish religion progressed. In Ezek 1:4 ff., for instance, the elaborate symbolism is an attempt to picture God’s omnipresence in Babylon no less than at Jerusalem.
Any view of God that regards Him as limited by time or space detracts from His claim to our unconditional trust and obedience. We are not likely to regard God’s dominion as confined to any one country. But we are tempted to limit His dominion to certain spheres of our own life. This is a practical denial of His unlimited supremacy.
God is without parts (Latin impartibilis = unable to be divided). – If God does not occupy space He is indivisible, since division implies space. But the word means more than this. We think of God as possessing certain faculties. In ourselves these may be divided one against another. We may be distracted by competing interests or desires. Our reason may be opposed to our inclination. Or again, we are forced to acquire our knowledge piecemeal. Our consciousness cannot retain all that we know. We are subject to lapses of memory. But God’s being is not thus divisible. All that He is, He is essentially and not accidentally. What we from our human standpoint regard as separate attributes, His mercy, wrath, love, remembrance, etc., are really aspects of one consistent and unchanging Being. There can be in Him no conflict of purpose or desire. His knowledge can never fall short of full attainment. He can never forget. He can deal with all things at once. We do not need to attract His attention. His interest is not divided. “Before they call, I will answer” (Is 65:24. Contrast the taunts of Elijah in 1 Kings 18:26–27.
God is without passions (Latin impassibilis, a word which originally meant “incapable of suffering”). – This is closely connected with the foregoing statement and is intended to rule out anthropomorphic ideas about the changeableness of God. The Bible does not hesitate to speak of God’s wrath, jealousy, sorrow and love. But these are not passing emotions, passions that for a time overcome God and turn Him aside from His purpose. They are rather aspects of God’s one and unchanging character. God’s purpose and character are ever one and the same. But as God deals with the manifold material of our inconsistent and variable lives, His attitude in relation to us appears to change. God’s wrath is not a transitory feeling: it is rather one aspect of His love as it deals with human sin. God’s action seems to us to change, as it meets the varying needs of His government. God is now merciful, now punishes, now restores (e.g. Is 60:10 and Mt 18:27 and 34). But the change is never arbitrary. Behind it all lies the one immutable purpose and character of God, giving consistency and unity to all that He does. “God’s immutability is not due to carelessness or indifference. It is rather a mark of intense moral activity. It may be defined as that moral changelessness by which all the powers of God’s nature are brought under the dominion of a single consistent purpose.’ [W. A. Brown, Christian Theology in Outline, p. 118.] This moral constancy of God is the ground of faith and hope in Him. “I the Lord change not: therefore ye, O Sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (Mal 3:6). “God is not a man that he should lie” or “repent” (Num 23:19). We cannot help using human language in speaking of God’s actions. There is a certain necessary “anthropomorphism”. The only danger is that we may argue from our imperfect human conceptions as if they were complete and adequate (cp. Is 55:8–9). For instance, certain theories about the atonement have been constructed out of very crude and literal ideas of the wrath of God. God’s mercy does not incline Him to forgive and His justice to punish: His justice is the ground of forgiveness (1 Jn 1:9). God not only loves but is love (1 Jn 4:8). He is “the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning” (Jas 1:17). There is no contradiction within the Divine Being. Each of the divine qualities involves all the rest (1 Jn 1:5.
We can hardly deny that since God is love, He is in some sense capable of suffering. The life and Passion of Christ are the manifestation in space and time of “an element which is essential and eternal in the life of God”. [Cp. D. White, Forgiveness and Suffering, pp. 82-91.] This idea of the sympathy of God with human sorrow and suffering underlies much of, e.g. Hosea, the later chapters of Isaiah, “In all their affliction he was afflicted” [But the actual rendering of the verse is doubtful.] (Is 63:9, cp. Judges 10:16), and the teaching of our Lord. God rejoices over the return of sinners (e.g. Lk 15:7, 20). He can sympathize with human sorrows and sufferings. But such suffering is one aspect of His perfection.†
(c) God is of infinite power. – “With God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26). God’s omnipotence is the perfection of His will. He is almighty, i.e. all-sovereign: unfettered by any limitations in His actions, unbounded in His resources. All the power that exists in the universe, of body, mind or will, is in origin His. He is pleased to lend it to beings whose wills are free. As such, they may pervert or misuse it. But its source is all the time in Him and its exercise is never withdrawn from His control. “Precisely in this way above all others, that He is omnipotent over a free world, does God reveal the greatness of His power most clearly.” [Martensen, Dogmatics, p. 81.] Thus God is not hindered in His activity by any foreign or independent power in the world. Nor yet is God limited by creation in the sense that He has exhausted His resources in it. He has inexhaustible power and wisdom in reserve. On all such points God’s infinite power is contrasted with man’s finite power.
But God’s infinite power does not mean that God can do anything whatever. He cannot lie or contradict Himself (2 Tim 2:13). He cannot do wrong or undo the past or make men holy apart from their own efforts. For all these things are contrary to His own laws. These laws are not imposed upon Him by any external necessity, but are the free expression of His own character and purpose. As Hooker writes: “The Being of God is a kind of law to His working.” “God is a law both to Himself and to all other things besides.” “Nor is the freedom of the will of God any whit abated, let or hindered by means of this, because the imposition of this law upon Himself is His own free and voluntary act.” [Eccl Pol. I. c. ii. § 2 and § 3.]
He is of infinite wisdom. – “Omniscience is the perfection of God’s mind as omnipotence is the perfection of God’s will.” He is “the only wise God” (Rom 16:27). Not only has God an immediate and perfect knowledge of the smallest detail of every event that happens upon this earth (Mt 10:29–30, etc.), but He knows all the manifold intricacies of His universe. Every piece of truth gained, of whatever kind, is so far an entering into the mind of God. Science has been defined as “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”. Further, God knows all the possibilities that lie before the world. Nothing that happens can ever take Him unawares (Heb 4:13). In what way God views the future we cannot say. All that we can affirm is that no contingency is unforeseen by Him or outside His control.
He is of infinite goodness.—The Latin bonitatis shows that goodness here means “kindness” rather than holiness. It refers to God’s infinite blessings to mankind, “the riches of his goodness” (Rom 2:4, cp. Tit 3:4) as shown in creation, preservation and redemption.
§ 3. “God is the maker and preserver of all things visible and invisible.” – These words sum up the Christian view of God’s relation to the world. (a) When we say God “created” the world, i.e. made it out of nothing, we are of necessity using metaphorical language. There is nothing in our own experience to correspond to such a process. We can only modify or rearrange within certain limits what already exists. We are driven to say that God “created the world out of nothing” in order to express the truth that there was nothing already existing in its own right, independently of God, out of which He made it (cp. Heb 11:3, Rom 4:17). This rules out two other views of creation.
(i) Plato taught that God made the world out of an independently existing matter. This has never been completely subdued to the divine will. Accordingly all material things, our own bodies included, possess an inherent taint of evil, a certain rebelliousness against the good.
This theory has the advantage of explaining the universal existence of evil. But it contradicts the very idea of God, and leaves us in “dualism”. No such dualism – the assumption of two ultimate realities – can satisfy the needs of our mind. Our intellect demands a single ultimate and all inclusive reality. Christianity holds that the world as made by God is “very good” (Gen 1:31). Everything in it has a purpose. The evil in the world is due to the misuse or perversion from its true purpose, by beings possessed of free will, of what is intrinsically good.
(ii) Others again holding the view that matter is intrinsically evil, and being oppressed by the pain and wickedness of the world, taught that the world was not made by God Himself but by some inferior Being – a Demiurge or Creator. Thus they imagined a series of Emanations from God. “Imagine a long chain of divine creatures, each weaker than its parent, and we come at last to one who, while powerful enough to create, is silly enough not to see that creation is wrong.” [Bigg, Origins of Christianity, p. 135, on the Gnostics.] Such a view at bottom is not far removed from that of certain modern pessimists.
Against all such views Christianity maintains that God Himself made the world, and that nothing exists in the universe, whether matter or spirit, that is independent of God or beyond His control and His care.
(b) Further, God has not only created but preserves the world from moment to moment. He is the sustaining force behind all life and all existence. Accordingly we need to hold fast to two counter-truths. The first is the “transcendence” of God. God is above the world. He is the Master whose will all created things serve (Ps 29:10), the Potter in whose hands men are as clay (Is 64:8, 45:9). He does not depend upon the world for His existence or His consciousness (Ps 90:2). Creation was an act of His own free love. The second and complementary truth is God’s “immanence”. God dwells in his own world as the sustainer of all life. We find the signs of His presence in the beauty, order and movement of nature, and we can discern something of His providential ordering of history. “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Every part of His creation is present to Him at every moment, and every part is in its measure a revelation of His presence. In the apprehension of truth and the voice of conscience we are in the highest degree aware of His operation through the natural powers of our own minds and wills.†
Each of these truths has been exaggerated to the practical exclusion of the other. Thus we get:
(i) Deism. [We must distinguish between “Deism” and “Theism”. Deism is the view here described. Theism is simply belief in a God.] —This view of the world exaggerated the idea of God’s transcendence. The Deists practically taught that God made the world, started it and left it to run by itself like a machine. God was regarded as living afar off, apart from the life of the world, with little or no interest in its concerns. The world pursued its course in accordance with certain fixed laws. God was an absentee God, at most returning occasionally to visit the world, when His visits were marked by strange and violent catastrophes. God’s active sovereignty was practically denied. His presence was recognized only in the abnormal. This view of God’s relation to the world is impossible for the mind of today. Modern science is always bringing before us the complex and unceasing energy of God in the world of nature and in the processes of evolution. The world is seen to be not a piece of mechanism but a living organism. God is recognized as present no less in the orderly progress of life than in startling and unusual events.
(ii) Pantheism.—This isolates and exaggerates the truth of the Divine Immanence. It views all that exists as equally the manifestation of the one divine life. God is conceived as having no existence above and apart from His own self-realization in the world. He has no conscious life except where the one great universal world-life rises to self-consciousness in creation. At death the individual life falls back into that universal life from whence it came.
“The one remains, the many change and pass; ...
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments.”
Accordingly all things must be as they are. “Whatever is, is right.” This universe is only an eternal process which must go on along its course. Man may be conscious of his own life, but he cannot alter or amend it. The universal life realizes itself equally in all that exists, pleasure and pain, false and true, good and bad.
Pantheism has a great fascination for many minds. It appeals to man’s love of consistency. The man whose interest in science or philosophy usurps a disproportionate place in his life, is readily attracted by a view of the world that gives him the unity for which he seeks. Pantheism appeals to man’s intellectual and contemplative faculties at the cost of his moral and social faculties. It is found in the religions of the East and in some modern philosophy. In a slightly different form it underlies certain forms of “scientific monism”, in which the idea of one universal matter underlying all existence is substituted for the idea of one universal life or spirit. But pantheism fails to give an account of the whole of experience. It cannot explain certain facts of life. Man’s indignation at wrongdoing; his conviction of the eternal difference between right and wrong; his sense of responsibility; the efforts and struggles of the moral life; all these contradict pantheism. If all things are equally a manifestation of the divine life, then the ultimate value of all moral distinctions must be denied. But our sense of right and wrong is a fact that demands explanation. Pantheism does not explain it so much as explain it away. Unless we are prepared to throw overboard the whole of the moral life of mankind as an illusion, we cannot accept pantheism. The God of pantheism is no God at all. “The immanence of God becomes ... a polite expression for the beauty and fruitfulness of nature, human and otherwise.”†
§ 4. And in unity of this Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power and eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. – (a) This formal statement of the doctrine of the Trinity did not come readymade into the world. It is the result of the Church’s efforts to express in the simplest possible terms the new truths about God that she had come to know through the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. The doctrine was not the result of abstract speculation. The Person and claims of Christ raised new problems about the nature of God and demanded new explanations. There were certain very definite concrete facts of history and experience, of which Christians were compelled to give some account.
(i) The first disciples of Jesus Christ were Jews. As such they worshipped and served the One God. Their knowledge of God was confirmed and deepened by intimacy with their Master. He Himself reaffirmed the Unity of God. He employed the Jewish Scriptures. He joined in the worship of the Synagogue and Temple. He prayed and taught others to pray to the Father, identifying Him with the God of the Old Covenant.
(ii) Through their prolonged intercourse with Him the disciples became convinced that our Lord too was divine. He spoke of Himself as “Son of Man”,* and Himself interpreted the meaning of that title in the light of Dan 7:13 (e.g. Mk 14:62). They were compelled to ask “what manner of man is this?” (Mt 8:27, etc.). By His question He encouraged them to think out for themselves who He was. He commended S. Peter who could find no word short of “Messiah” able to contain all that He had shown Himself to be. He claimed a unique intimacy with the Father (Mt 11:22–27). In His own name He revised and deepened the law of Moses (Mt 5:2, etc.). He taught His disciples to repose in Him an unlimited confidence that no mere man had the right to demand of his fellowmen (Mt 7:24, etc.). He died for His claim to be the Christ and the Son of God (Mk 14:61). The whole impression made upon them by His life and works was crowned and brought to consciousness by His Resurrection (e.g. Rom 1:4). He was indeed the Son of God. No language short of this could express the place that He had come to take in their knowledge of God.†
*The title seems to come from Dan 7:12. There it denotes not an individual but a figure in human form, which is interpreted as “the saints of the most high”, v. 27. That is, it stands for Israel, in contrast with the beasts, which stand for heathen nations. But very soon “One like unto a son of man” came to be interpreted as an individual, the Messiah. In the Book of Enoch this interpretation is made explicit. “The Son of Man” is a superhuman being, who executes God’s judgment. How far it was a recognized Messianic title in our Lord’s day, is disputed. He would hardly have assumed it if it was popularly regarded as synonymous with Messiah. For discussion of this title, see A. E. J. Rawlinson, The New Testament Doctrine of the Christ, pp. 242 ff.; C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, pp, 241 ff.; A. M. Farrer, A Study in S. Mark pp. 247 ff.]
(iii) He had spoken to the disciples of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, as divine yet distinct from Himself [It is not easy to distinguish in the fourth Gospel between our Lord’s actual words and the Evangelist’s own meditation upon them, but on such a point we can hardly suppose that the teaching of Christ was misapprehended.] (Jn 14:16 and 15:26). They were to expect the Spirit’s coming when He was gone (Acts 1:4–5. In that coming He Himself would come too (Jn 14:18). At Pentecost they had a personal experience of the Holy Spirit: A new and lasting power entered into their lives. They knew that He too could be no less than God. Further, in the Baptismal formula the teaching of Christ is summed up. [The genuineness of this will be discussed later.] Converts are to be baptized “into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mt 28:19). The name is one. It belongs equally to the three Persons, who are associated on an equality and distinguished from one another by the use of the definite article.
(iv) We turn to the witness of the early Church as presented in Scripture. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles and the Apocalypse we find evidence of a new life and experience shared by men and women of very diverse types and races. They worshipped the Father. But they placed Jesus the Messiah side by side with Him and applied to Him the divine name Κύριος, [Either 1 Thessalonians or Galatians is the earliest extant epistle of S. Paul. See the opening words of each, 1 Thess 1:1 and Gal 1:2.] familiar to Jews as the translation of Jehovah in the Septuagint, and to Gentiles as a title of heathen gods. The disciples’ experience of the power of Christ was not ended by the Ascension. He was still a living Saviour. The life that flowed from Him was divine. [We need to remember that the “Christ” of the Epistles is earlier than the “Jesus” of the Gospels. The Gospels were written by and for men who believed in the glorified Christ.] In the hour of death S. Stephen prayed to Him (Acts 7:59). The cures wrought in His name were proclaimed to be His work as really as those wrought during His earthly ministry (Acts 3:16, 9:34). “Jesus is Lord” was the earliest profession of faith (1 Cor 12:3). He was worshipped (1 Tim 3:16). The Church was His body, filled with His life (1 Cor 12:12, Eph 4:12, etc.). He was daily expected to return as judge in glory (Acts 3:21, 1 Thess 4:15, etc.). So, too, the Holy Spirit revealed His own divine power in many ways. Not only did He bestow supernatural gifts, such as prophecy and speaking with tongues, but He shed abroad in men’s hearts new peace and light and strength (Rom 8:15–16). Christians witnessed by their changed lives to His indwelling presence (Gal 5:22–24, Rom 8:2, 15:13; Eph 3:16, etc.).
A practical belief in the Father, the Son and the Spirit underlies such passages as these:
“If any man hath not the Spirit of God, he is none of his. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus shall quicken also your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom 8:9–11).
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect ... according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:2).
“Hereby we know that we abide in him, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him and he in God” (1 Jn 4:13–14).
A long list of similar passages might be given. [E.g. Rom 5:1–8, 8:14–17, 15:16–19 and 30; 1 Cor 2:6–16, 12:3–7; 2 Cor 1:21–23; Phil 3:3; Eph 4:5–7, 1 Thess 1:2–7; Tit 3:4–6; Heb 9:14, 10:29–31; 1 Jn 5:1–12.] They all spring out of a fresh and vivid spiritual experience. In every case the writer is not consciously repeating the teaching of Christ. He is giving firsthand evidence out of his own life. Nor again are such statements consciously theological. Christians knew that since Jesus Christ had come into their lives they had passed from darkness into light. Their hearts were aglow with a newfound joy and peace. S. Paul, for instance, expected his converts to understand the meaning of his phrases from their own spiritual experiences. He is confident that a share in this new life is open to all who will believe in Christ. In speaking almost casually of “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Ghost” (2 Cor 13:14)* he simply sums up the working faith of the Christian community.
[*These words were written not more than thirty years after our Lord’s Ascension. It is obvious that S. Paul is not employing new or unfamiliar language. He expects the Corinthians at once to grasp his meaning. “S. Paul and the Church of his day thought of the supreme source of spiritual blessing as not single but threefold – threefold in essence and not merely in manner of speech” (Sanday, H.D.B. vol. ii. p. 213). The form of speech suggests at once teaching on the lines of the baptismal formula of Mt 28:19. See Plummer on 2 Cor 13:14.]
(b) (i) In the first reception of the good news Christians were hardly aware that there was an intellectual problem to be solved. They were not conscious that their faith was inconsistent with monotheism. S. Paul can still write: “To us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things”, though he proceeds to add immediately “and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things” (1 Cor 8:6, cp. 1 Tim 2:5, Acts 14:15 and 17:24). ο θεός is in the New Testament applied to the Father alone, but, on the most natural interpretation, θεός is applied to our Lord in Rom 9:5 and Tit 2:13. [So, too, the most probable reading in Jn 1:16 is μονογενης θεός (instead of υιός). Cp. “My Lord and my God” in Jn 20:23, which forms the climax of the Gospel.] Divine names, titles and functions that in the Old Testament belong to God, are freely ascribed to Him (Heb 1:10–12, Rev 1:17, etc.). So, too, language is employed about the Holy Spirit that implies His divinity. We may sum up their attitude thus, “In the first flush of their new hope Christians rather felt than reasoned out the conviction that their master was divine. It was a certainty of heart and mind – but the mind could hardly subject the conception to the processes of reason – the soul leapt to the great conclusion, even though the mind might lag behind. They did not stay to reason: they knew?” [Bethune Baker, Christian Doctrines; how they arose, p. 16.]
But even from the first it was necessary in preaching the Gospel to express in words something of what the Saviour had proved Himself to be to His disciples. In the opening chapters of the Acts we find a very rudimentary theology. Jesus is the Messiah. At least in the earlier books of the New Testament, “Christ” is no proper name, but a title of almost incomparable dignity and honour (Acts 2:36, etc.). He had fulfilled all Old Testament prophecy (Acts 3::18, etc.). He was the suffering servant of Jehovah (Acts 3:13, 26, etc.). Through His death redemption had been won (cp. 1 Pet 1:21). A crucified Messiah was a scandal to the Jews, and already through controversy Christians were forced to explain the meaning of His death. He was the Son of God, whose sonship had been vindicated by the Resurrection (Acts 9:20, 13:33, etc.). The Resurrection made clear before men that the Death was not defeat but triumph.
Elsewhere we find a further exercise of reflection. S. Paul bids his converts at Philippi meditate upon the divine self-sacrifice involved in the Incarnation. “Have this mind in you which was also in Messiah Jesus, who existing (υπάρχων) in the form of God (μορφη implying more than outward resemblance, essential being) counted it not a prize (a thing to be clutched hold of) to be on an equality with God (το είναι ίσα), but emptied himself (i.e. of His divine glory), taking the form of a servant (μορφήν, again. His humanity and divinity were both equally real. He shared truly both the nature of God and ourselves), being made (γενόμενος in contrast to υπάρχων and το είναι) in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:5–7). This is not primarily a lesson in doctrine but in humility: its theology is all the more valuable because it is incidental. The illustration is meaningless unless S. Paul and his converts shared a common belief that Jesus of Nazareth had in some sense existed as God, before He came down to earth. This same belief is implied no less clearly in 2 Cor 8:9.
Again at Colossae S. Paul had to deal with false teaching about angels. This he meets by asserting the “cosmic significance” of Jesus Christ, i.e. His supremacy in the universe. “He is the image of the invisible God,” “the first-born (i.e. the heir) of all creation” (or possibly “begotten before all creation”). “In him all things were created,” including the angels themselves. He is the agent and goal of creation. “All things have been created through him and unto him.” He is the power behind the world. “In him all things hold together” (Col 1:15–17). In this passage S. Paul does not call Him the Logos, but he assigns to Him the functions of the Logos. He holds the central place in the history and meaning of the universe.
Similarly, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews insists upon the unique relation of Christ to God, in contrast with that of the angels. “God hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son (εν υιω, literally in “one who is Son”, as opposed to the prophets who are servants), whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds: who being the effulgence of his glory and the very image of his substance and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high’ (Heb 1:1–4).
In Jn 1:1–14 (cp. Rev 19:13) we find the explicit use of a technical theological term. The historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth is identified with the “Logos” or “Word” or “Reason” of God. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The contrast between Jesus Christ and all men who had gone before is between those who bore witness to the Light and the Light Himself. Jesus Christ is asserted to be the eternal author of all the life and truth and goodness of the created world. But the term Logos can only be understood by a reference to contemporary thought. [See below.]
Passages such as these contain a large amount of theological reflection. Their aim is primarily practical, but they mark the lines along which theology was bound to develop, if it was to be faithful to the revelation given to Christians in Christ.†
(ii) In the writings of the sub-apostolic times we find a like belief in God as revealed in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The Church’s faith is shown more decisively in her hymns, doxologies and worship, or in her Baptisms and Eucharists than in formal theological statement. The heathen Pliny, for instance, speaks of Christians singing hymns to Christ ‘as to a God’. [Pliny, Ep. 10, § 96, Carmen Christo quasi deo dicere.] In the letters of S. Ignatius and S. Clement* of Rome passages are to be found similar to those already quoted from the New Testament. But this condition of devotion uninterrogated by reason could not be final. Human nature, and not least Greek human nature, was as inquisitive and argumentative then as it is today. Even in the pages of the New Testament we find traces of false teaching that raised deep theological problems. Questions were asked and could not be checked. “Why is it right to worship Jesus as Lord and yet refuse to burn incense to the Emperor?” “If Jesus Christ is God’s Son, is he truly God? If so, are there two Gods or one?” Even a child could ask such questions. It was not unreasonable for men who might be called upon to die for their faith at any moment, to wish to be able to give some account of it. Further, not only were such questions as these asked, but explanations were given by individual teachers that the Church felt to be false or inadequate. The Church did not wish to speculate, but in the presence of teaching that denied or explained away the truth that she was commissioned to teach and by whose fullness she lived, she could no longer be silent. Not only the enquiries of religious men but the assertions of “heretics” compelled the Church to think out her belief and find words in which to express it. Her aim was, in the first instance, practical and religious, not theological. She wished to safeguard her own worship and vitality. So she was always saying “no” to various explanations which, though plausible and attractive, gained their simplicity at the cost of ignoring or explaining away some of the facts. The human mind naturally dislikes mystery [Cp. Hooker, v. “The strength of our faith is tried by those things wherein our wits and capacities are not strong. Howbeit because this divine mystery is more true than plain, divers having framed the same to their own conceits and fancies, are found in their expositions thereof more plain than true.”] and is attracted to what is simple. But the Church, out of loyalty to the whole truth, had the courage to set aside all such inadequate explanations. Her aim throughout was that the Christian faith in all its mysterious fullness might be handed on undiminished to future generations.
[*E.g. Clement, ad Cor. c. 46, “Have we not one God and one Christ and one Spirit of grace, that was poured upon us.” c. 58, “As God liveth and the Lord Jesus Christ liveth and the Holy Spirit, who are both the faith and hope of the elect.” Ignatius, ad Eph. c. 9, “As being stones prepared beforehand unto a building of God the Father, being carried up to the heights through the engine of Jesus Christ, which is the Cross, using the rope of the Holy Spirit.” Ad Magn. c. 13, “that ye may be prospered ... in the Son and the Father and the Spirit.” So also ad Rom. c. 6, he speaks of “the passion of my God.”]
(c) Christianity was born into a world that was full of religion. (i) There was, of course, Judaism, not only the Judaism of Palestine but the more liberal Judaism of the dispersion, which had gathered around itself in all lands a circle of “God-fearing” Gentiles, attracted by its strict monotheism and its lofty moral teaching. In this way Jewish ideas of God were spread abroad far more widely than we might have supposed. Outside Jewish influences in the heathen world we may draw a sharp distinction between the religion of the philosophers and the religion of the plain man. Philosophers had attained to the idea of the unity of God, though their God was often regarded as a being unknown and unknowable, far removed from the world of common things. Popular religion interposed between the God of the philosophers and the needs of the ordinary man an indefinite number of divine beings of uncertain status, gods, demi-gods, heroes, spirits and the like, to whom worship was offered and who were supposed to have great influence on worldly affairs. These were real objects of pagan devotion. Further, Greek thought had become largely orientalized. Ideas such as that of the impossibility of a good God having contact with an evil matter, dominated the theological speculation of the more thoughtful pagans. Yet again the mystery religions of the East had won their way to popular favour. They offered the hope of immortality and salvation from death to the initiated. This salvation was too often conceived in physical rather than moral terms. Such religions encouraged vague religious emotions divorced from practical holiness. There was no orthodox pagan creed. The various cults lived, on the whole, in friendly terms with one another. The result was a medley of vague and shifting popular theology, with a background of serious and more or less consistent philosophical theory. There were plenty of ideas about God in the air, even if those ideas were not always defined.†
Accordingly the Christian Church had the greatest difficulty in framing a vocabulary in which to express her meaning. She was driven to borrow words and phrases from Jewish and heathen thought, to separate them from vague or popular or pagan senses, and to stamp upon them a new and technical limitation which they were very far from possessing in popular usage. Then she had to bring her teachers to a common agreement to employ them only in this limited sense, at least in all formal definitions of the faith. “If the church was compelled to devote an infinitely minute and subtle attention to the adaptation and definition of words it was because it had new and high and infinitely important things to express, and had to create, although out of existing materials, a language in which truly and adequately to express them.” [Du Bose. Ecumenical Councils, p. 95. The whole passage pp. 94–95 should be read.] This was the source of infinite danger. Christianity had opened a new world of ideas and truths. But the familiarity and associations of the old language tended to disguise the novelty of the ideas and truths that it was being used to convey. Men were tempted to endeavour to make Christ and Christianity fit in with their own current conceptions of religion, not to expand and reform those conceptions in the light of a fuller disclosure of truth. Human nature is always conservative, and in all doctrinal controversy there was the disposition to water down the Christian faith so as to accommodate the facts to the words and not to expand the words so as to embrace the facts. This building up of a Christian terminology by conflict with false teaching was a slow process. We must be prepared to find in earlier writers tentative expressions that a later age would condemn as ambiguous or even heretical. Terms that came in time to be employed only in a limited and technical sense, were at first used with a certain ambiguity. As we follow out the course of controversy through which the formulas of the Church took shape, we shall find abundant illustrations of these difficulties and dangers.
(ii) We can now turn to contemporary Jewish ideas about God. Few today would undertake to prove the doctrine of the Trinity from the Old Testament. Since, however, the Jews received a special revelation of God we are not surprised to find that Jewish faith could not rest content in a bare Unitarianism. We find in the Old Testament and in later Jewish theology several lines of thought which pointed towards the recognition of distinctions within the Divine Being. (a) In opposition to surrounding polytheism, the Jews laid stress on the Unity and transcendence of God. Hence the need was felt of some link between God and the created world. The idea of God’s “word”, as the creative or self-revealing utterance of God, started from such passages as “By the word of the Lord were the Heavens made” (Ps 33:6) and “God sent his word and healed them” (Ps 107:20, cp. 147:15). Again, the special revelation given to the prophets is called God’s “word”. “The word of the Lord came” (Joel 1:1, etc.). “The word which Isaiah saw” (Is 2:1). God’s word came to be regarded as a manifestation of God, yet distinct from Him. It is His effective utterance by which He creates the world, directs history, and reveals Himself; it is the active expression of His mind and will in and to His creation. A kindred idea is found in the mention of “the Angel of Jehovah” and the “Angel of the Covenant”, who appear to be both identified with and distinguished from Jehovah (e.g. Gen 16 compared with 16:13, Hos 12:4–5, Jos 5:14–15 compared with 6:2, Mal 3:1). [Up to the time of S. Augustine the Fathers universally identified the Angel of the Lord with the Second Person of the Trinity.] So, too, God’s “Name”, i.e. God’s self-revelation, is almost personified (e.g. Ex 23:21, Is 30:27). God’s “Presence” (Deut 4:37, cp. Is 63:9) and God’s “Glory” (Ex 33:18 compared with v. 20, 1 K 8:11, cp. Jas 2:1, where Jesus Christ is called “the Glory”) are all in some way viewed as manifestations of God, yet distinct from Him. In such ways as these Hebrew thinkers strove to combine the transcendence of God with His activity in the created world. They represented His self-revelation as mediated by an Agent, who was viewed as more or less personal and yet divine.
In the Wisdom Literature the ‘Word’, though still in evidence (Wisdom 9:1–2, 18:15 ff.) tends to give place to the conception of the divine “wisdom”. In Prov 8:22 wisdom is pictured as dwelling with God from eternity (cp. Wisdom 8:3–5, 9:9 ff., and Ecclus 24:1 ff. where wisdom is identified with the Law). The idea is of God’s thought or plan. As the plan of a work of art exists in the artist’s mind before he realizes it in his work, so the rational principle of the world existed in the thought of God before it proceeded forth to be actualized in creation. Similarly, in Alexandrian Judaism the “Word” acquires something of the meaning of the Greek term logos, which connotes not only “significant utterance” but also “reason”, “principle”, “thought”. In Philo, the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, in the first century A.D., the Logos is the Divine Reason issuing forth from God for purposes of creation. The Logos is not strictly personal, but on the way to becoming so. Through the Logos God comes into contact with the world: its presence is to be seen in the order and system of creation and in the moral and religious life of mankind. [In Philo the Logos is styled “the image of God”, “the elder son of God” (the universe being God’s younger son), “the high priest of the universe,” etc. Philo would have agreed with the prologue to S. John’s Gospel, as far as the statement “the Word was made flesh”.]
At this point Jewish and Gentile thought meet. Alexandrian Judaism was strongly influenced by Greek philosophy. The idea of the Logos or reason of God permeating all things and constituting the rational unity of all life, was common to much of the higher thought of the day. In the Stoic philosophy, which came to be the religion of most educated men, the life and unity of the world was derived from the σπερματικος λόγος, the “generative reason”, whence all things came and in virtue of which they lived. Stoicism was pantheistic. God and man were akin because they both shared the divine Reason and in so far as men conformed their conduct to the divine Reason they shared the life of God Himself. The Stoics in reality had no personal God. If they tolerated the belief in the many gods of the traditional faith, they viewed them as like themselves, manifestations of the “generative reason”.
(b) We find also in the Old Testament the idea of the “Spirit of God”. The Hebrew word like the Greek πνευμα embraces many shades of meaning, “breath,” “wind,” “life,” “spirit”. Its exact shade of meaning in any particular instance is not always easy to discover. As in man “breath” is the proof of life, so the “breath” or the “spirit” came to stand for the “life”. By a natural analogy any unusual exhibition of power from the strength of Samson (Judg 14:19) or the skill of Bezaleel (Ex 36:1) to the insight of the prophets came to be attributed to the presence of the Spirit of God. It is an almost physical conception. “The Spirit of God is the vital energy of the divine nature, corresponding to the higher vitality of man.” “The breath of God vitalizes what the Word creates” [Swete, H.D.B. vol. ii. p. 403.] (e.g. Gen 1). To a limited extent personal qualities and acts are attributed to the Spirit, since the Spirit is God (Is 63:9–10, 48:16). “It is the living energy of a Personal God.” In Wisdom 1:5 it is identified with the divine Wisdom. We cannot say more than that the conception of the Spirit of God paved the way for the thought of personal distinctions within the Being of God. [It is usually agreed that apart from the historical facts of the Incarnation, we could not distinguish between the activity of the Word and the Spirit.] †
(d) In stating her faith the Church tried as far as possible to employ the language of Scripture. The language and thought of the New Testament is dominated throughout by the historical facts of the human life of Jesus Christ. He lived above all as the “Son” of God. He spoke of the “Father” who sent Him, and revealed the Father through a perfect life of sonship. He also spoke of the “Spirit” of God whom He would send. Thus the terms “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” refer primarily to the manifestation of God through the life of Jesus Christ. [This explains the mention of only two Persons in almost all apostolic salutations. They are not maimed Trinitarian formulas. Rather the writers have in mind not the doctrine of the Trinity as such, but the revelation of God as Incarnate. See Moberly, Atonement and Personality, pp. 188–193.] So, too, the Church came to speak of the Son as “begotten” of the Father, and the Holy Spirit as “proceeding from” the Father, because that is the language of Scripture, shaped by the outward events and consequences of the Incarnation. To use a technical phrase, all such expressions refer in the first instance to the “Economic Trinity”, i.e. the Trinity as revealed by God’s threefold dealing with men. God had made Himself known through the life of Christ and the coming of the Spirit as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.
But even within the New Testament Christians had begun to think out the relation of Jesus of Nazareth to all history and all existence. To call Him the “Christ” was to find a place for Him within the eternal purposes of God. To some extent, at least, Jewish thought had come to regard the Messiah as existing from all eternity with God, waiting to be revealed in His own time. [Cp. 1 Enoch 48:2–7 and 62:5–9.] But for the Gentile world the title Christ had no interest. Its value needed to be translated into other terms. As the missions of the Church extended, one wider and more universal designation had to be found to express all that Jesus Christ was felt to be not only for the Jews but for the whole world. Accordingly by S. John He is identified with the Logos, the Word or Reason of God. He had revealed to those who knew Him the meaning of all life and all existence. And this identification had been anticipated by S. Paul. In a passage such as Col 1:15–16, though he does not use the term Logos, he attributes to Christ just that central position in the divine economy that Jewish and Gentile thought assigned to the Logos. By this identification the supreme claims of Christ were made intelligible to the educated world. But even so the Christian Church never allowed herself to lose sight of the living Personality of the Saviour. The centre of her devotion and her penitence was always the historic figure of Christ crucified.
So, even within the New Testament the Church was advancing in her belief from the “Economic” to the “Essential” Trinity. That is, she was coming to see that the threefold revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit rested upon and pointed back to a threefold distinction within the very being of God. About the “Essential” Trinity, the relations of the Three Persons as they are to one another in the eternal life of God, Scripture says very little. Human language and thought can deal only in a limited way with such a subject. The terms Father and Son, for instance, which were borrowed from temporal and human relationships, must clearly be used with caution. We need great care in applying any words spoken by our Lord in His earthly life, through human lips, to the Essential Trinity. The Essential Trinity, however, is clearly implied in Jn 1:1. (Cp. also Jn 17:5.) It is also hinted at in Mt 11:27 and Lk 10:22, where the Son’s knowledge of the Father depends on a previously existing Sonship, not the Sonship on the knowledge.
As we shall see, the very ambiguity of these terms “Son”, “Word”, “Spirit”, was the cause of much confusion of thought. The Church in using them gave them a special sense. But Jewish and Gentile Christians were in danger of continuing to use them in their old sense and carrying with them ideas of God which fell short of Christian truth.
(e) We may now turn to the attempts made to explain the fact of Christ, which the Church rejected as inadequate or untrue.
(i) First in time comes the tendency known as “Ebionism”. [The name is probably derived from a word meaning “poor”. The Ebionites identified themselves with the “poor” and meek who were persecuted by the wicked rich. Others, less probably, derive the name from one Ebion, the reputed founder of the heresy. Others suppose it to have originated as a title of contempt bestowed on the first Jewish Christians.] The term is vague and covers many shades of belief. Ebionites were those who endeavoured. to interpret Jesus Christ in the light of previous Jewish ideas about God and redemption. The Jewish mind was dominated by two great conceptions, first the transcendence of God, secondly the final and unchangeable character of the Law, given by God Himself, through obedience to which salvation could be obtained. Starting from the former conception the Ebionites regarded the idea of a real Incarnation as blasphemous. It was unthinkable that the high and holy God could degrade Himself by appearing in human form on earth. Further, to suppose that Jesus Christ was God endangered the unity of God. No, Jesus of Nazareth must be a man pre-eminent for holiness, who was chosen to be Messiah because of his faithful observance of the Law and was raised from the dead. [As we might expect, some, but not all, Ebionites denied the Virgin-birth.] Again, if salvation could be gained by the observance of the Law, there was no need of a Saviour. Jesus Christ could be at most a new prophet or law-giver, a second Moses, sent not to supersede but to fulfill and elucidate the Law. Christians were to obtain salvation by a right observance of the Law as interpreted by Him. For this purpose a uniquely inspired prophet was all that was required. Enough has been said to show that Ebionism was an attempt to explain the facts in the light of a priori Jewish ideas. Ebionites refused to enlarge their ideas of God and redemption in the light of a fuller revelation. They desired to reduce Christ and the Christian revelation to terms acceptable to the Jewish mind, and to interpret Christianity by Judaism, not Judaism by Christianity. This tendency underlay the controversy about the keeping of the Law and the admission of Gentiles. The infant Church at Jerusalem began as a sect within Judaism. The full import of the claims and work of Christ was realized only by degrees. Through controversy the distinction between Judaism and Christianity was made apparent,* and it became clear that Jesus Christ was too great to be confined within Jewish categories.†
[*Attempts have been made to represent Ebionism as the original Christianity unspoilt by the teaching of S. Paul. It is rather a degenerate form of primitive Christianity. The Ebionites refused to advance to the full Catholic view of our Lord’s Person and so they tended to sink below the primitive conception of Christ. We must not suppose, however, that all Jewish Christians were unorthodox. Many went no further than to combine Christianity with the keeping of the Jewish Law. Such a compromise could not last, though Jewish Christians of this kind are mentioned as late as the fourth century. Others combined Ebionite with Gnostic and Docetic teaching.]
(ii) Docetism. – If Ebionism stands for the attempt to find a place for Jesus Christ within Judaism, Docetism stands for the attempt to find a place for Him within the circle of current Gentile ideas about God, the world and redemption. Its root is to be found in the dualism that characterized so much of the Greek and Oriental thought of the day. In the attempt to explain the pain and suffering of the world, men had come to find the origin of evil in matter, which was imperfectly subdued to the will of God. Hence, all that was material possessed an inherent taint of evil. Now, if God is good and matter evil, a real Incarnation is unthinkable. The good God could never pollute Himself by entering into union with matter. Men needed rather a Saviour who would free them from bondage to matter. So the physical side of our Lord’s life, His birth, His eating and drinking, His passion, death and Resurrection must all be only an “appearance” (δοκειν – hence “Docetism”). His Body itself must be only a phantom, like the bodies of angels when they appeared to men (e.g. Tobit 12:19). Again, the Greek mind always tended to identify salvation with enlightenment. If men only need one who will enlighten them by revealing the truth about God and themselves, a Docetic Christ would answer all requirements. Docetism can supply a picture of God and redemption. if Christianity is only a religion of ideas, an apparent Incarnation would serve to disclose them to men, as well as a real Incarnation. Docetism was a tendency rather than a system. Docetists varied in the extent to which they allowed their ideas to dominate their teaching. Within the New Testament we find evidence for the existence of Docetism. 1 Jn 1:1–4, 4:1–3 and 2 Jn 7 are aimed at those who denied that Jesus Christ had “come in the flesh”. The letters of Ignatius are full of denunciations of this heresy. [See e.g. ad Smyrn. c. ii–iii, ad Trall. c. ix–x., with Lightfoot’s notes.] The Church felt that it undermined the historical character of her Saviour.
Both Ebionism and Docetism spring from ideas about the nature of God. Hence their place is in any discussion about the doctrine of the Trinity rather than that of the Person of Christ. If they were accepted, the need of any restatement of the doctrine of God disappeared. The question before the Church was this, Are we to take existing ideas about God and God’s relation to the world and make the new facts square with them as best they may? Or are we to accept and face the new facts and, if necessary, enlarge our ideas about God in the light of this wider knowledge?*†
[*We may pass over the strange speculations, many of them akin to Ebionism or Docetism or both, which are grouped under the name of Gnosticism. They were for the most part Oriental speculations, antecedent in time to Christianity, which did not profess to start from the Christian revelation so much as to find room for it within their own schemes of the world. For an account of Gnosticism see Tixeront, History of Dogmas, I, c. iv, and K. E. Kirk, The Vision of God (full edition), Lect. iv.]
(iii) The tendencies of thought disclosed in Ebionism and Docetism underlay all the many false explanations, in conflict with which the doctrine of the Trinity was developed. In opposition to Gnosticism which interposed a large number of Emanations between God and the world, Christians were compelled to insist on the unity or “Monarchia” of God, the Creator and sustainer of all things. The question then arose: What position is to be given to Jesus Christ? Under the influence of a conception of the Unity of God that was borrowed from Judaism or Gentile philosophy attempts were made to safeguard the unity of God either by denying the full divinity of Christ or by identifying Him with the Father. So we find two types of answer (a) “Dynamic” Monarchianism, (b) “Modal” Monarchianism. (a) Dynamic or Ebionite Monarchianism gave practically the answer of the Ebionites. Jesus Christ was a mere man (ψιλος άνθρωπος). From His birth or baptism a divine Logos, i.e. influence or power, resided in Him. As a reward of His moral excellence and unity of will with God, He was raised to divine honour. This was taught at Rome by two teachers of the name of Theodotus, by Artemon and above all by Paul of Samosata. Such views had few attractions for Christians. They destroyed any real Incarnation and were hardly consistent with the power of Christ in their own lives.
(b) “Modal” Monarchianism (sometimes known as Sabellianism*) made a different approach. It originated in Asia Minor and appeared in Rome at the end of the second century. Taking as its fundamental principles the unity of God and the deity of Christ, it refused to allow any personal distinction between the Father and the Son. God is one and Christ is God. God when He so willed became the incarnate Son and suffered and died. Christ is the Father incarnate. The doctrine in this form appealed to deep Christian instincts and was welcomed by many simple Christians. In opposition to some contemporary tendencies to think of Christ as a second and subordinate God, Modalism asserted His unqualified deity. Its emphasis on the unity of God was fully justified by Scripture and by the constant teaching of the Church in conflict with paganism. The doctrine in fact represented certain profound Christian convictions and a refusal to think about them. [The evidence of Tertullian, Adv. Praxean, and Hippolytus, Refutatio (Bks. 9 and 10 on Callistus) shows that Modalism under the pressure of controversy developed a slightly more elaborate theory, viz., that in the historical Christ the deity is the Father and the humanity is the Son.] It was rightly felt to be inconsistent with the evidence of the Gospels, for it left no room for the mutual love of Christ and the Father as exhibited in His earthly life, nor for that dependence of the Son upon the Father which is the constant theme of S. John’s Gospel. [It was this Gospel which supplied some of the Modalist proof-texts, “I and my Father are one”, “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father”. See Tertullian op. cit.] Moreover, Modalism suggested that the Incarnation was a passing mode of the divine life. The one solitary God whose being was without personal distinctions had no permanent principle of self-communication in Himself. The Incarnation as Son was a phase, and could hardly on the Modalist view be a permanent phase, of the Father’s existence. Modalism was the statement of a problem rather than a theologically tolerable doctrine. [In the West Modalists were often known as “Patripassians” because they “made the Father suffer”.] †
[*Sabellius was one of the Modalist teachers in Rome about A.D. 220 and was the only one to be excommunicated by the Roman Bishop. Contemporary evidence suggests that, like the other Modalists of that time, he taught the personal identity of the Father and the Son. Perhaps it was because he had been excommunicated at Rome that in the fourth century more elaborate forms of Trinitarian doctrine, which it was desired to brand as heresies denying the distinction of the Persons, were attached to his name. There is no evidence that Sabellius himself made a special use of the term prosopon.]
(iv) But the most powerful heresy in conflict with which the doctrine of the Trinity received its final expression was Arianism. Arius started from a philosophical idea of God that ruled out in advance the possibility of a real incarnation. In common with Judaism and current Greek philosophy he regarded the unity of God in such a way as to exclude all contact between God and the world and all distinctions within the divine unity. [Arius belonged to the school of Lucian of Antioch, which may have been affected by the “dynamic Monarchianism” of Paul of Samosata, who in turn was influenced by the Jewish idea of a “baldly transcendent God”. But the main root of Arianism seems to have been in the “subordinationist” tendencies of Origen’s theology.] Accordingly, he endeavoured to find a place for Christ outside the being of God, yet above creation. God, he taught, was alone eternal. He could not communicate His own being or substance to any created thing. When He willed to make the world, He begat (i.e. created) by an act of will an independent substance (ουσία or υπόστασις) to be His agent in creation, who is called in Scripture the “Son” or the “Word”. As the very name “Son” suggests, God had not always been a Father, but became such by creating the Son. The Son is not of the same substance as the Father, else there would be two Gods. He is only “the first of created beings”. As such He can only know the Father relatively, not absolutely. Still, He is not a creature like other creatures. As a rational being He possessed free will. By the grace of God and His own moral effort He so used it as to become divine. We can speak of Him as “God only begotten”. At the Incarnation He took a human body but not a human soul. The Holy Spirit bears the same relation to the Son as the Son does to the Father. Arius’ method throughout is based on the teaching of pagan philosophy. His object was to present Christianity in such a way as to make it acceptable to men who retained pagan ideas about God and life. The Arian Christ was a heathen demi-god bridging the gulf between the unknowable God of heathen philosophy and the world.
Arianism never really commended itself to the conscience of the Church. If Arian views won a temporary acceptance, it was because they were not understood. Arianism was essentially a novel exposition unknown to Scripture and tradition. It might be buttressed up by texts of Scripture isolated from their context, but its true origin lay outside Christianity altogether. It was an attempt to find a place for Christ in pagan philosophy. Arianism contradicts the elementary facts of Christian life and experience.
The Church has always worshipped Christ. If He is not truly God, that is idolatry. The distinction between God and the loftiest of created beings is infinite. Arianism is really polytheism. To yield to the Arian Christ that faith and worship that are due to God alone is blasphemy. Further, if Christ is not divine, to offer Him worship is not to honour Him but to act contrary to His own teaching. He always rejected unreal devotion. Again, as S. Athanasius saw, Arianism destroys the basis of redemption: The Arian Christ can be no true mediator between God and man, because He Himself is neither. Since He is unable to know the Father Himself, He cannot reveal Him to others. As a creature, He cannot be a source of divine light or life.* God remains unknown and man unredeemed. The opposition to Arianism was not due to love of argument nor even to a desire for theological accuracy. Its opponents saw that Arius sacrificed the revelation .of the self-imparting love of God that met the needs of the human soul, to an un-Christian notion of God carried over from heathenism. The chief value of Arianism was that it compelled the Church to become conscious of her real belief and so to frame the doctrine of the Trinity as to find a place for Jesus Christ within the eternal being of God.**†
[*Contrast the saying of Athanasius, “He was God and then was made man that we might be made God” (Or. c. Ar. i. § 39). His idea always is that to partake of the Son is to partake of God Himself. Athanasius’ God, unlike Arius’, did not hold Himself aloof from a perishing world. For his own view of salvation see his earlier tract “On the Incarnation of the Word of God”.]
[**Arianism reappeared in the eighteenth century. Then, as in former days, it could not maintain itself. Arians were compelled by the irresistible logic of facts either to advance to a full belief in our Lord’s Divinity or to descend to a purely human Christ. The point at issue between the Arian and Catholic view of Christ is well expressed in the famous question put to the Arian Dr Clarke “Could God the Father annihilate God the Son?”]
(f) We can now turn to the language in which the Church came to express the doctrine of the Trinity.
(i) The earliest technical term to appear is “Trinity”. Theophilus of Antioch (180) used τριάς in speaking of God, His Word and His Wisdom. The Latin Trinitas is found a few years later in Tertullian and was commonly employed afterwards. Tertullian also was the first to use the terms Una substantia and Tres Personae. He employed the term “substance” in a sense based on its philosophical use. [See Bethune Baker, The Meaning of Homoousios (Cambridge Texts and Studies), p. 15 ff.] It meant for him a distinct existence, a real entity. It was that which underlies things and makes them what they are. It goes deeper than “natura” which denotes only the sum-total of a thing’s properties. Thus Una Substantia asserts in uncompromising fashion the unity of God. The term “persona” was borrowed primarily from its grammatical use. He employed it in the sense in which we speak of first, second and third persons in the conjugation of a verb. This use was based on texts where he regarded the Persons of the Trinity as holding converse with one another or speaking in reference to one another. While he freely used the singular persona, he preferred the vaguer “tres” where possible but in opposing Modalism was driven to say Tres Personae.* These terms commended themselves to the Western Church. During the Arian controversy the West was strongly Nicene, largely because it had already been provided with language in which to express the relations of the “One” and the “Three”.**
[*He speaks of our Lord as one “persona”, combining in Himself two “substantiae”, i.e. Godhood and manhood (Adv. Praxeam, c. 29). He writes, e.g. “The mystery of the providential order which arranges the Unity in a Trinity, setting in their order three – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three, however, not in condition but in relation, and not in substance but in mode of existence, and not in power, but in special characteristics” (c. 2). But in c. 26 he is compelled to write, “Ter ad singula nomina in personas singulas tinguimur.”]
[**See Adv. Praxeam, cc. 11–12. Some have argued that this use of these terms is primarily legal. Substantia in Roman law meant a property which could be shared by several parties. Persona meant a “party” whose existence was recognized at law. The legal sense of these terms may have assisted their use but was hardly primary. Tertullian does indeed, speak of the Father as the “whole substance” and the Son as “the portion” (portio) of the whole. This is the result of his materialism. He is laying stress on the distinction between the Persons and the full Godhead of the Son. In his writings first appear the physical illustrations of the Trinity. The Father is to the Son and the Spirit like the sun to its rays that issue from it and the light that falls upon us. Or again, the three are like the spring, the pool, and the river that issues from it.]
In the East agreement was less quickly reached. Only at the close of the Arian controversy was the use and meaning of μία ουσία for the One, and τρεις υποστάσεις for the “Three” fixed by general consent. When the Church rejected Arianism at the Council of Nicaea, in order to rule out all Arian attempts whatever to find a place for Christ outside the essential being of God, the word ομοούσιος was introduced into the Creed. The Son was said to be ομοούσιος τω πατρί and εκ της ουσίας του πατρός. The opposition to ομοούσιος was due partly to reluctance to go outside the words of Scripture, partly to the fact that the word had already been used in a bad sense by heretics. [Its opponents at Nicaea failed to see that a philosophical question can only be met by a philosophical answer. ‘Consubstantial is but the assertion of the real deity of Christ in terms of the philosophy by which it had been denied’ (Mackintosh, Person of Christ, p. 188).] But in time even the most conservative theologians came to see that error could be ruled out in no other way. The Arians evaded the meaning of all phrases from Scripture. At the same time it was made clear that the Council added no new fact to the Creed: this new term did but compress the true meaning of Scripture into a single decisive word. In the long controversy that followed Nicaea, the two terms (ουσία and υπόστασις came to be adopted in a technical sense by the Church to formulate her teaching.
In current language ουσία meant one of two things. Either it meant a common essence of being, shared by a class of things: a universal, by ceasing to share in which they would cease to be the thing at all. In this sense the ουσία of God is Godhead. Or it meant a particular or individual existence, “a being”, as in the phrase “a human being”. Thus its use was not free from ambiguity. [Origen clearly used it in both senses. He spoke of the Son as κατ’ ουσίαν θεός (perhaps he even used the word ομοούσιος). But elsewhere he speaks of Him as έτερος κατ’ ουσίαν του πατρός, using ουσία almost in the sense of “individuality”. It was partly this second meaning of ουσία that laid ομοούσιος open to the charge of “Sabellianism”.]
υπόστασις was a less common word and originally was a synonym for ουσία, the underlying essence of a class of things. As such, it was the exact equivalent of the Latin substantia, but it could also mean the abiding reality of a thing that persisted in spite of the variety of actions that the thing might perform or the various experiences it might undergo. Thus in the case of a person it fairly corresponded to the individuality that lasts through and holds together all our experiences. It was used in the earlier sense by Arius, Athanasius in his earlier writings, and even by one of the anathemas appended to the Creed of Nicaea. But it was the second sense that came to prevail in the formulas of the Church.
This ambiguity of language led to confusion. Those who used υπόστασις as a synonym for ουσία and spoke of μία υπόστασις seemed Sabellians to those who distinguished between the two terms. Conversely, those who distinguished between them and spoke of τρεις υποστάσεις seemed tritheists or Arians to those who regarded the two terms as synonymous. But at the Council of Alexandria (362) under the leadership of Athanasius a reconciliation between the two usages was initiated. The orthodoxy of τρεις υποστάσεις was recognized, but the older use of υπόστασις (= ουσία) was also approved. Gradually, owing largely to the influence of the Cappadocian Fathers, Basil, and the two Gregories, the usage of the Church settled down to the formula, μία ουσία, τρεις υποστάσεις. The West retained Una substantia, Tres Personae. [Certain Western writers did attempt to speak of Una Essentia, Tres Substantiae, but the attempt entirely failed.]
So it comes that in English we speak about “Three Persons in One Substance”, a literal translation of the Latin. The English terms are not altogether happy. They convey false associations that are absent from the Greek. In Greek both ουσία and υπόστασις define as little as possible where the minimum of definition is desirable. The Latin personae, especially in its legal usage, and still more the English “Persons”, convey an idea of separateness that is happily absent from υποστάσεις. Owing to the fact that human persons walk about in bodies divided by space, it is hard to free our imagination from the idea of separation in connection with “Person”. So, too, “substance” [Because “substance” is a familiar English word, the man in the street thinks he knows what it means when it is used in theology. It is perhaps a pity that some long and obviously technical term is not used.] to our ears suggests the occupation of space. The terms need explanation. The Church uses them in her own sense, and before they can reasonably be criticized it is necessary to find out what that sense is.†
(ii) In thinking of the Trinity we must bear in mind three great considerations.
(1) All theologians confess that the best language that can be found is inadequate. The Church only uses these words, because she cannot escape. “When it is asked what are the three, human speech labours indeed under great poverty of expression. However, we speak of Three Persons not that that might be spoken, but lest nothing should be said.” [S. Augustine, De Trin. v. 9.] The Fathers are full of similar confessions of the inadequacy of human language. The Church does not claim to be able to define or explain all that Godhead means. All that is taught is that whatever Godhead means, all three Persons equally possess it. For instance, in the Athanasian creed this truth is illustrated by applying various epithets to all three Persons and insisting that they belong to all three alike.
(2) There is what is called the “Monarchia” of the Father. The Father is not more divine than the Son, but He is the Father. The Father depends on Himself alone for His Godhead. He is ο θεός. The Son eternally derives His Godhead from the Father (cp. θεός εκ θεου). He is the Word or self-expression of the Father, and therefore eternally dependent upon Him. So, too, the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. Thus the distinction between the Three Persons rests upon the different manner in which they possess the one Godhead. From the time of Tertullian various illustrations have been drawn to explain the Trinity. It was left to S. Augustine to introduce psychological analogies and find images for the complexity of the Being of God in the complexity of the life of our own being, e.g. memory, reason and will, or “I exist, I am conscious that I exist, I love the existence and the consciousness.” Such illustrations must not be pressed, but they serve to show that the unity even of the human personality is not a bare unity but one embracing distinctions.
(3) There is the doctrine of the περιχώρησις or “coinherence” of the Three Persons. This corrects the excessive idea of separation involved by the term “Person”. The Three so indwell in one another (cp. Jn 14:10–11, 17:21; 1 Cor 2:11) that where One is, All are, where One works, All work, where One wills, All will. They are distinct but not separate. A right observance of this truth saves us from falling into Tritheism.
(g) The doctrine of the Trinity is based on fact and experience, not on speculation. But we shall expect that if it is based on a real self-revelation of God, it will recommend itself to our minds. We cannot say that reason could discover it or even prove it. But the Christian doctrine of the Unity in Trinity is really far more illuminating to our thought than a barren Unitarianism.
(i) It is almost impossible to conceive of God as personal at all if He is a bare Unity. In ourselves personality involves thought, will and love. Thought implies an object. A mind without an object of thought would be a mere blank. It is hard to see how the Unitarian God could possess consciousness apart from the world. The difficulty is no new one. Aristotle, for instance, raises the question “what does God contemplate?” and concludes that in His eternal life God is His own object of contemplation (νοει εαυτόν). Does not this involve something like distinctions within the Being of God? The highest type of knowledge is the knowledge of a Person.
(ii) When we turn to will, the force of the argument is increased. Will necessitates an object on which it can act. At its highest will is realized in its influence on another will. How then could God realize His will apart from some eternal object on which to realize it?
(iii) When we come to love, the idea of a unipersonal God is seen to be even less tenable. If “God is love”, not simply “God is able to love”, then from all eternity God must have had an object of love. Love in any true sense of the word can only exist where there is an object able to receive and return the love. The doctrine of the Trinity renders conceivable the existence of what corresponds in human experience to knowledge, will and love within the eternal Being of God. Otherwise it is hard to see how we can avoid the conclusion that God is dependent upon the created world for the realization of His Personality.
Once again the doctrine of the Trinity makes the thought of creation easier. God from all eternity possessed within Himself a real activity. The Word from all eternity responds to the Father’s love. As the indwelling source of the order and unity of the world (Col 1:16–17) He leads the world to respond to the Father also. “The world”, it has been said, “is the poem of the Word to the glory of the Father.” Unless we recognize real distinctions within the divine life, it is almost impossible to avoid falling into either Deism or Pantheism. The Doctrine of the Trinity combines and harmonizes the truth that is expressed one-sidedly in each of these two theories. “It can explain how God became a Creator in time because it knows how creation had its analogies in the uncreated nature; it was God’s nature eternally to produce, to communicate itself, to live. It can explain how God can be eternally alive and yet in complete independence of the world which He created, because God’s unique eternal being is no solitary and monotonous existence; it includes in itself the fullness of fellowship, the society of Father, Son and Spirit? [Gore, Bampton Lect. V. end.]
Lastly, we must always remember that the Being of God is a mystery. We are bidden to “worship”, not to understand “the Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity”. Whenever the mind comes into contact with reality, it is baffled by a sense of mystery. Much more must it be so when it comes into contact with God, the ultimate reality.* We are learning ever more the mysterious depths of our own personalities. Far more wonderful must be the Tri-personality of God.†
[*What is real is always mysterious, just because what is real is always imperfectly known. What is clear and simple is not reality, but the conceptions of our minds. Take, for example, a straight line as Euclid defines it. The straight line is simply a mental conception – there are no straight lines in nature – and therefore it presents no difficulty. Define it as Euclid does and you can know about it all that there is to be known. Now contrast with that straight line the very smallest beetle. The beetle is a humble portion of reality; the beetle is really there; and therefore you can spend a lifetime in the scientific study of the beetle and know him but imperfectly at the end of it. Take another example. How comparatively easy it is to understand the characters in fiction and how difficult it is to understand the people whom we meet every day.... That is because the characters in fiction are creations of the mind, while our relatives are real – (Goudge. Cathedral Sermons, pp. 72–73).]
Note on Natural and Revealed Knowledge of God. – During the present century a revival of classical Reformation theology, associated particularly with the name of Karl Barth, has brought into prominence the question of the nature of revelation. Is anything which the Christian can recognize as knowledge of God derivable from any source but the specific action of God in Christ and the preparatory divine action in the history of Israel which preceded it? Or can the existence of God, and perhaps something of His attributes and mode of operation in the world, be discerned by rational reflection upon what is given in the natural order, apart from the Biblical revelation? The Barthian school would argue (1) that apart from the free grace of revelation fallen man cannot either reach or anticipate a true knowledge of God, (2) that the conclusions of rational or natural theology are either based on invalid reasoning or else are irrelevant to Christian faith, (3) that to admit a natural knowledge of God as a foundation or supplement to revealed knowledge deposes Christ from His supreme place as Redeemer and Revealing Word of God to sinful and self-reliant man. On the other side it is argued (1) that man’s intellect, admittedly able to reach truth in some spheres, cannot be denied a priori the possibility of discovering some knowledge of the Creator through His creation, (2) that only the attempt to construct rational theology can show what valid results it can reach, and that any such results cannot be ignored by the Christian theologian, (3) that the Biblical revelation did in fact pre-suppose some knowledge of God, could not have been communicated unless such knowledge had been present, and cannot be expounded theologically without the use of some of the “rational” principles (e.g. that of analogy) which form part of the method of natural theology.
Three brief comments only can be made on this controversy here. First, the discussion has drawn fresh attention to the supernatural character of revelation in all its aspects. Thus it has challenged views which too easily minimize the distinction between truths of natural reason and truths of revelation (“All knowledge of God is in some sense revealed, and revealed truth is rational”). The “particularity” of the Gospel, e.g. the Incarnation of God at a particular time and place, in a particular historical person, takes it out of the realm of rational speculation. It must be the object of faith, and this corresponds to its character as given by the divine action. Secondly, natural theology has in some of its exponents in the past claimed a power of demonstrative proof and an extent in the range of its conclusions which the arguments employed did not warrant. The present intellectual and moral confusion of man both emphasizes the need for “revelation”, and also puts special difficulties in the way of the construction of a natural theology. Thirdly, the conviction that the natural reason is one source (though limited) of our knowledge of God is deeply rooted in our tradition and will not easily be abandoned by Anglican theologians generally. The Bible itself (e.g. Rom 1:20, Acts 14:17) suggests that the creation bears intelligible witness to its Creator apart from historical revelation. Much that is characteristic of our tradition is summarized in the following words of a modern Anglican theologian. “Faith and reason, theology and divine revelation are organically continuous with each other. Just as natural religion requires faith in reason as a God-given guide and instrument, if it is to have the courage and confidence to affirm its conclusions, so faith in revealed religion requires the aid and cooperation of reason if it is to understand and communicate itself.’ (J. V. Langmead Casserley, The Retreat from Christianity, p. 43.)†
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