Session 4: Development of the Canon and Creeds
Session 4: Development of the Canon and Creeds
The Church developed an understanding of what constituted God’s written Word. The canon included Those books that had been used in the churches with blessing and profitable instruction. The writings the church accepted as canonical were attached to the authority of an apostle.
We will look at the “School of Alexandria,” which Articulated Christian faith using Greek philosophy.
The first five ecumenical councils are still considered Normative by most Christians. They formed the basis for the Articles of Faith. What was decided at these councils defined and preserved the faith of the New Testament. However, the language in which it
expressed this faith was not altogether clear and needed to be refined.
At the end of this lesson, participants should
• understand the formation of the official canon in the Early Church
• explore the connection between the formation of The canon and the development of
Christian orthodox thought
• understand the unique challenges involved in formulating the canon
• explore ways we ought to affirm, highlight, and perpetuate the canon of Scripture in
• review the common arguments of the apologists and show their importance in the
development of Christianity
•show how Greek philosophy influenced Christian thinking
• show the historical developments leading toward the Nicea-Constantinople (381) and
Chalcedon (451) creeds
• understand historically the human and divine nature of Christ in the doctrine of the
• note the origins of the Articles of Faith of many denominations in early council decision
Prepare Before Class
Email your response paragraphs to firstname.lastname@example.org by the Sunday before the class session.
A. Read: Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, chapters 6, 10, and 11
Write a Big Idea paragraph from your reading.
B. Read the following articles and give a one paragraph answer to the question asked.
1 Development of the Canon
How can we help people to distinguish between the inspired nature of the
Word of God and other “inspirational” writings?
2.Reason and Revelation: Early Church Apologetics
What are the ways in which the Christian church in your culture today has
used contemporary thought
3. The First Five Councils and Early Creed
What role does an understanding of tradition have within the Wesleyan-holiness and broader evangelical heritage?
C. Write in your journal. Reflect on and respond to the following:
AUGUSTINE’S CONFESSIONS, READING 4
1. Development of the Canon
Refer to Resource 4-1 in the Student Guide.
In classical Greek the word “canon” signified “a straight rod” or “a carpenter’s rule.” Those books are canonical that Christians have regarded as authentic, genuine, and of divine authority and inspiration.
Why was a canon of the Bible necessary? As long as the apostles were alive, there was no pressing need for a canon of Scripture. But following the deaths of these apostles it became necessary that their writings be gathered together, in order to preserve their messages
to the churches from corruption.
Another reason a canon was necessary was to preclude the possibility of additions to the number of inspired works. Numerous writings were extant and purporting to be inspired. But which of these were really inspired?
Development of the Old Testament Canon
About 200 B.C. rabbis translated the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek, a translation called the Septuagint (abbreviation: LXX). The LXX ultimately included 46 books. The early Christians used the LXX as their Scriptures. About A.D. 100, Jewish rabbis met at the Council of Jamniah and decided to limit their canon to 39 books, since only these could be found in
About A.D. 400, Jerome translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin—called the Vulgate. He knew the Jews had only 39 books, and he wanted to limit the Old Testament to these, so he left out seven books: Tobit, Judith, First Maccabees, Second Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus), and Baruch. He called these books apocrypha, that is, “hidden books.” But Pope Damasus wanted all 46 traditionally used books included in the Old Testament. So the Vulgate had 46 books. Martin Luther translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek to German. He assumed that since Jews wrote the Old Testament, their list of 39 books was the correct canon. He put the extra seven books in an appendix that he called, like Jerome, the Apocrypha. In 1546 the Roman Catholic Council of Trent affirmed the
canonicity of all 46 books.
Development of the New Testament Canon
Refer to Resource 4-2 in the Student Guide
It was some time after Christ before any of the books contained in the New Testament were actually written. Founders of churches such as Paul, often unable to visit them personally,desired to communicate with their converts for purposes of counsel, reproof, and instruction. Thus arose the Epistles.
Within a short time books related to other apostles began to appear. The first and most important work of the apostles was to deliver a personal testimony to the chief facts of the life of Christ. Their teaching was oral at first, and it was not their intention to create a permanent record. Several committed this oral gospel to writing (Lk 1:1-4). Thus the Gospels came into existence, two by apostles themselves (Matthew and John), and two by friends and close companions of the apostles (Mark, a protégé of Peter, and Luke, the companion of Paul).
During the first century after the Resurrection many other Christian books were being written. For example, the Didache was written about A.D. 70, First Clement about 96, the Epistle of Barnabas about 100, and the seven letters of Ignatius of Antioch about 110.
In about 140, Marcion eliminated the Old Testament as Christian scriptures and included only 10 letters of Paul and two-thirds of Luke’s Gospel—deleting references to Jesus’ Jewishness—in his canon.
Marcion’s “New Testament”—the first to be compiled—forced the Church to decide on a core canon. The Church’s first core canon included the four Gospels andthe letters of Paul. Twenty books were readily and universally accepted as genuine, and therefore called
homologoumena (acknowledged). These 20 books were:
• the four Gospels
• the Acts
• the Epistles of Paul—not including Hebrews, which was later widely attributed to him
• the first Epistle of John
According to one list, compiled at Rome about 200, the Muratorian Canon, the New Testament consisted of:
• the four Gospels
• the 13 letters of Paul—Hebrews not included
• First and Second John
• the “Apocalypse of Peter”—not included in the eventual canon
For a time particular churches disputed the other seven books: Hebrews, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, James, and Revelation. Therefore these books were called antilegomena (disputed). The question at issue with regard to the antilegomena was whether they were really written by the men who were called their authors.
Hebrews bore no name of its author and differed in style from the acknowledged letters of Paul. Second Peter differed in style from First Peter. James and Jude called themselves “servants” and not “apostles.” The writer of Second and Third John called himself an “elder” or “presbyter” and not an “apostle.” Jude mentioned apocryphal stories. For these reasons these books were not immediately allowed their place in the canon. Eventually, however, they were accepted as
genuine. During the reign of Diocletian (302), persecutors of the church demanded that Scripture
should be given up. The question became urgent: what did constitute “Scripture” for the Christians?
The earliest existing list of the 27 books of the New Testament in exactly the number and order the Church presently has them was written by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in his Easter letter of 367. By the end of the fourth century virtually all the churches accepted
these as authoritative. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 56-60.
The Council of Florence in 1442 recognized the 27 books, though it did not declare them unalterable. At the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church reaffirmed the full list of 27 books as traditionally accepted.
In his translation of the Bible from Greek into German, Luther removed Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation from their normal order and placed them at the end, stating that they are less than canonical. But universally, Protestants agreed with the conclusions of the Councils of Florence and Trent, as well as the Early Church, in considering the present 27 books of the New Testament, along with the 39 books of the Old Testament, as the inspired and authoritative Word of God.
The Apocryphal Books
Jews carefully distinguished the apocryphal writings from the canonical Scriptures. The full Apocrypha contains 14 books: First and Second Esdras, Tobit, Judith, the rest of Esther, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the Song of the Three Children, the Story of Susannah, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasses, and First and Second Maccabees.
Some of the Fathers of the Christian church quoted from a few of these books, but their titles were not included in any list of canonical writings during the first four centuries after the birth of Jesus. Divine authority is claimed by none of the writers, and by some it is virtually disowned—Second Maccabees 2:23; 15:38. The books contain statements at variance with other
parts of Old Testament history—Baruch 1:2, compared with Jeremiah 43:6-7.
These books were placed between the Old and New Testaments in Roman Catholic Bibles. In the Church of England some parts of the Apocrypha were read “for example of life and instruction” but not to “establish any doctrine.” No Protestant churches accepted these writings as a rule of faith. From a historical point of view they are of value in showing the condition of the
Jewish people, and relating certain events that intervene between the closing of the Old Testament and the opening of the Christian era.
The canon of the Bible was established by the church. Christians understand that it was established with the guidance of the Holy Spirit based on which scriptures were used as authoritative guides to moral and doctrinal issues the church faced. Three centuries of
church history sealed the selection.
Both Irenaeus and Tertullian contributed to the view that the appeal to the Bible alone was not enough, since the Scriptures could be interpreted differently. This, they feared, could lead to heretical teachings. Rather, they argued for the need to interpret the Bible within the living tradition of the church, which they and early Christians believed had actually preceded and
given birth to the canonical scriptures. This living tradition or “rule of faith” came to be known as the “consensus fidelium”—the consensus of the faithful— with the understanding that a belief or way of interpreting Scripture must have been accepted everywhere, always, and by all people.
The Church of the Nazarene is indebted to John Wesley and the Church of England for its understanding of the canon and its appreciation of the continuity of the Old and New Testaments. The Church of the Nazarene affirms the salvation-centeredness of the 66 canonical books of Scripture. Nazarenes confess that the Scriptures are given by divine inspiration and inerrantly
reveal “the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation, so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith.” That is to say, all doctrines are to be judged by Scripture.
2. Reason and Revelation: Early Church Apologetics
Refer to Resource 4-4 in the Student Guide.
Throughout its history the church has expressed the gospel in ways that secular culture might understand. Evangelism begins with that which is common in language and thought, bringing the message of redemption through Christ to bear on present human conditions. Without some way of speaking to culture, the gospel is “veiled,” and the church stands isolated within its own walls, unable to address human needs with the gospel of Christ. It loses its dynamic mission if it cannot speak intelligibly. The task of mediating and speaking the gospel in ways that culture can stand is “apologetics.”
The aim of the apologists was to find prophecies or anticipations of Christ in Gentile writers. The apologists sought to find in history and literature persons and events that were “types” of Christ.
The Hellenistic worldview, shaped by Greek philosophers such as Plato, flourished in the Roman
Empire—especially in Alexandria. This northern African city was a key intellectual center in the empire. One key concept was Logos, which Greek philosophers described as both reason and the creative force of the world. Christian theologians attached their own understandings of Christ as the Logos of God to the philosophers’ understandings.
Justin Martyr (100-165)
Refer to Resource 4-5 in the Student Guide.
Justin Martyr was born in Samaria to pagan parents. Early in life, Justin traveled widely, searching for the true philosophy. He pursued Stoicism, Pythagoreanism,
Aristotelianism, and Platonism.
Finding Christian philosophically and intellectually persuasive, he was converted about the age of 30. After about 135 he taught in Ephesus and then, after 155, in Rome. He considered himself a philosopher and wore the robe of a philosopher. He found in Christianity the highest philosophical truth, but sought to establish a relationship between Christianity and pagan
philosophy, between the Son of God and the cosmos. Three of his works remain. Dialogue with Trypho the Jew defended the Christian faith based upon Scripture. Justin’s first and second Apologies, addressed to the Roman Senate, defended the Christian faith against persecution.
Wherever truth appeared, Justin believed, it belonged to Christians. “Whatever things are rightly said among all men are the property of us Christians.” There was an all-embracing truth in the meaning of existence that transcended not only culture but also religion. Likewise, wherever truth was found it was in principle included in Christianity. Wherever men and women
lived according to the Logos, or reason, they were Christians—whether they called themselves that or not. Thus, pagan philosophers, though apart from God’s manifestation in Christ, participated within the Logos. To Platonism, Christianity added the truth that the Logos was the Son.
In his First and Second Apology, Justin talked about truth in Socrates, and about how that indicated the prevenient work of the Logos. Socrates had knowledge, for the Logos was “in every person” even before becoming incarnate in Christ. Plato, Justin said, taught rightly about God creating the world through the Logos. Those who lived by reason, as these philosophers did, must be considered Christians since reason was the Logos, and the Logos was Christ. Likewise, any who lived not by reason, whether before or after Christ, were enemies of Christ. Plato, the
Stoics, pagan poets, and historians all saw truth very well through their “participation of the seminal Divine Logos.”
Justin described how useful the concept of the Logos was, since the Greeks themselves saw the Logos working throughout and within the cosmos. However, Justin found it impossible, given Greek understandings of the Logos, to identify it with the redemptive work of
God in Christ. Justin gave a higher power, authority, and divinity to the Father than to the Son. “The first power after God the Father and Lord of all things is the Word, who is also his Son, who assumed human flesh and became man.” The Logos was the first “work” or generation of God as Father, and as such could not be thought of as identical with God. Christians worshiped
the Son after God the Father, said Justin. The Logos was of one essence with God, but was not the God. The Logos became human in order to share human suffering, that human beings might be healed.
Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, aimed more to Jewish than to Hellenistic concerns, describes nevertheless in Greek terms how God had begotten of himself a certain rational power as a beginning before all other creatures. This power had various titles, including Glory of the Lord, Son, Wisdom, Angel, God, Lord, and Logos. It was called the Logos because it revealed to
men and women the discourses of the Father. The Logos was distinct from the Father, Justin said, as it was generated from the Father according to His power and will. The metaphor Justin used was fire. He showed that in substance and in number the Father
remains the same and undivided.
Justin sometimes described God in personal ways as the Creator, and at other times in less personal ways as Being. This reflected the Hebrew and Hellenistic tension in his thought. The Logos was the principle of the self-manifestation of God and became incarnate only in Jesus as the Christ. Because of this, Christianity is the supreme religion. Christianity embraced all the
best and highest cultural expressions of reason. The Logos incarnated was the culmination not only of the yearnings of Hebrew prophets but of Greek philosophers. Wherever it existed, the Logos was the self-manifestation of God. In becoming Christ—flesh— the Logos itself is transformed, not “adopted.” Justin realized the Greek mind had difficulty understanding how an eternal principle such as the Logos could become flesh. Their polytheistic and mythological orientation gave them no trouble seeing God as human, but the issue was how Christ could
claim supremacy. Greeks could accept that the Christ could contain some element or characteristic of God, but not deity itself. Justin’s answer to these problems, centered in his Logos Christology, attempted to provide reasons for Christ’s supremacy. In Christ, Justin
affirmed that God himself, who had always been partially revealed to human beings through the eternal Logos, became human.
Yet, in his attempt to identify Jesus with the eternal Logos of the Greeks, Justin fell short of affirming his full divinity. The Father, for Justin, retained precedence above the Logos. Justin was “subordinationist,” thus, in his Christology. Justin’s apologetics did not spare him the wrath of pagans. In particular, he was opposed by Junius Rusticus, a prominent Roman politician in the time of Marcus Aurelius. The state required that Justin sacrifice to the gods. When Justin refused, and confessed his faith, he was condemned by Rusticus, scourged, and beheaded.
Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 211/216)
Refer to Resource 4-6 in the Student Guide.
To Clement, philosophy was a preparation, “paving the way for the one who is perfected in Christ.” God was in everything good, and in everything good one could find God. Philosophy was a schoolmaster or “tutor to bring the Hellenic mind to Christ.” Greek philosophy was similar to the Old Testament. Both were “tributaries” leading into the “river” of Christianity. To the Gentiles, Socrates played the same function as Moses. One could see the “unknown Jesus,” Clement believed, in Plato’s Republic.
The Logos was the unifying principle of Clement’s theology. In it he tried to reconcile not only Hebrew and Hellenist thought, but also grace and nature. He drew sources from Platonism, Philo (the Jewish philosopher who had, in turn, been influenced by the Stoics), and the New Testament. Clement defined the deity of Christ in keeping with the Logos Christology. He strove after a life lived perfectly according to the Logos: a logikan life. His emphasis was on a state of
being rather than a state of accomplishment.
The Logos brought order to the universe. God himself remained remote. God is defined in Clement more by what He is not than by what He is. The only positive statement regarding God was that He existed. Only through the Logos did God emerge into relationship. The Logos was the bond between God and the cosmos. The Logos existed before the creation and before the
Incarnation. Its existence allowed the Greeks and other ancients to understand the world. Yet the Logos stood independent of the world processes
The Logos is God, to Clement, and deserving of humanity’s love and praise. Yet the Logos’s mediatory position involved subordination. Clement sometimes suggested two Logoi, one in the Father and the other distinct from Him. The Logos/Christ, to Clement, was impersonal. It could be described as power, wisdom, or the activity of God. Though impersonal, these qualities were not altogether metaphysical. They related to how God communicated to the cosmos. Only through the Logos did God’s solitude and absoluteness become related to the world.
The Logos was the basis for education in the world. The Logos gave rise to both the philosophy of the Greeks and the Law of the Hebrews, the intelligence of the Greeks and the will and love of the Hebrews. The Logos continued to reprove, reward, draw, and harmonize creation in the direction of God. In the Logos there was both light and joy, the Savior and the Physician.
In the Logos the incomprehensible God is made comprehensible. This is the ongoing, eternal, and preexisting work of the Logos. The begetting of the Son is the first step by which God willed to limit His own infinity.
In his Exhortation to the Greeks, Clement interacted with the philosophers. Greek understandings about God, Clement believed, must have come in part from some unrecorded historical connections with the Hebrews long before the coming of Christ. In Plato he found the highest conceptualization of God. God was, as Plato described, Infinite or the Mind above the Infinite. Plato was correct, said Clement, in saying that God was indescribable. Clement also appreciated the Greek and Stoic ideal of the contemplative life. “There is a certain divine effluence instilled into all men without exception,” Clement wrote, “but especially into those who spend their lives in thought.” Only the Logos or reason, which is the “Sun of the soul,” can show human beings the true God.
Since Christ has come, there is no need to maintain Greek philosophy, Clement said. Through the Logos Incarnate the whole world has become as if it were an Athens or a Greece. That which the philosophers had only dimly perceived had become light in Christ. In Christ the divisions between Jews and Greeks and barbarians were obliterated. In Christ humanity is united into one. The Logos gave light to all men and women, spread truth around the world, and brought love. In the souls of men and women the “spark of true nobility is kindled afresh by the divine Logos.”
Clement accepted the truth of much of Hellenist philosophy, since to him, all truth was an act of God. Philosophy in Greek culture was analogous to the Hebrew’s Law. Thus it was a “handmaiden” leading people to Christ. This made faith less important in
Clement possessed an allegorical interpretation of Scripture. The deeper meanings were uncovered through allegorical interpretation, though he pointed out that the primary meaning must not be discarded, and meanings must also be interpreted in the light of the rest of Scripture.
After his death, the church accused Clement of Arianism for reducing the Son to a creature. Sometimes, indeed, Clement was subordinationist, but at other times he declared the full divinity of Christ. Clement’s theology suggested a kind of absenteeism of the sovereign God from the world. To Clement, the immanence of God was associated with emanation. Clement lacked a strong sense of the person of Christ and the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Refer to Resource 4-7 in the Student Guide.
Origen, a student of Clement, was also an apologist from Alexandria. Origen was born in Egypt of Christian parents. His father was killed during persecutions in 202. The same year, Origen became head of the Catechetical School in Alexandria. Like Clement, Origen was a faithful participant within the church. Origen lived an ascetic life of celibacy, fasting, vigils, and voluntary poverty. Origen’s On First Principles (220) was the first systematic theology of Christianity. After many years of teaching, he was ordained a priest in 230. He underwent persecution and torture under Emperor Decius in 250.
Origen’s commentaries covered almost the whole Bible. Origen believed there were three levels in Scripture that needed to be unfolded: the somatic or literal interpretation, the psychic or moral interpretation, and the pneumatic or spiritual interpretation. Like Clement, Origen used allegorical methods of interpretation.
Origen described the Logos as the inner Word and selfmanifestation of God. The Son revealed the image of God. The Logos was the creative power of being, in which the whole spiritual world was united, and the unmoved universal principle effecting creation. The Logos implanted its form in all things it created. The Logos radiated eternally the divine “abyss.” The Logos was generated out of divine substance and was of divine substance. However, for Origen, the Logos was less than the Father, who was autotheos, or God in itself.
The Logos was the highest of all generated realities, but Origen believed in contrast to his predecessors, the Son as the Logos was eternally generated and was truly and completely divine. The Logos had a substantial reality in the Godhead, Origen said, and was not merely the mode by which humans understood God. The Logos was the perpetual intermediary
between God and creation, between the One and the many.
Origen clearly said the Logos of God was not a mere attribute, nor an “entity,” but a separate “person.” The Logos takes away all in human beings that is irrational and replaces it with that which is truly reasonable. The Logos is the source of all that is reasonable, and dwelled in every reasonable creature. The Logos was within every seeker. To them, the Logos reported the secrets of the Father. He was the Messenger of the Father’s intellect.
The Logos united itself with the soul of Jesus who, like all of humanity, in Origen’s thought, possessed an eternal spirit. Only in Jesus was the Logos united with the human. The soul was the locus between the Logos of God and the body. The human soul was the “bride” of the Logos. Though incarnated, the Logos never ceased to exist also outside of Jesus, since it existed in the form of all created things. Likewise, the Logos had spiritual being after the Incarnation. When men and women followed the example of the Logos they became logikoi—ones guided by meaning, reason, and creative power. The ones who participate in the Logos are in a full state of grace. To such human beings came, in union with Christ, a kind of “deification.”
Christological problems remained in Origen’s formulations. The Father and Son, in his thought,
remained dissimilar. His idea that the Father remained above the Son was subordinationist.
Origen’s descriptions of God are nearer to the passive and transcendent God of Greek philosophy than the involved and immanent God of the Old Testament. Origen finds affinities between his thought and the Greeks’ contemplative ideals of life removed from the world. The assumption is that the ultimate deity of God could not stand to enter into the world. There is a realm of the ideal where God keeps himself distant from humanity. Thus the Logos, which Origen affirms
is eternal, serves as the Mediator. Christ alone represents the “with-ness” of God to creation.
Adolph von Harnack, a prominent German historian at the turn of the twentieth century, remarked that syncretism was an accomplished fact in Origen. In Origen, von Harnack says, one sees the church accommodating to the pagan tendencies of the Gentile
Ronald Nash, Jaroslav Pelikan, and other more recent historians, however, do not look at this part of the history of the church as one of compromise with the world. Unlike von Harnack, they do not see the church surrendering to Platonism or Hellenism. Christian theology, as it developed as a discipline, simply employed the intellectual curiosity of the Greeks.
While Tertullian was asking, rhetorically, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”—when it was suitable for him to do so—Tertullian used Stoic philosophy and cited various philosophers. The principle allowed missionaries to affirm whatever could be affirmed in the cultures and religions prevailing around them, and to see Christianity as perfecting and fulfilling indigenous expectations.
The apologists had a noble intention, to interpret and explain the gospel to the Greeks. However, their reinterpretation of the Christ event, using Logos terminology, inadequately expressed the affirmations of the church, that God himself was the Creator, that God was in Christ reconciling the world, and that Jesus was both fully divine and fully human. The apologists saw the need to express Christology so as to preserve the transcendent impassibility of God, so as not to offend Greek minds. Yet the immanence of God himselfwas central to Old and New Testament revelation.
Wesleyanism helps on several of the issues over which the apologists were concerned. There is a prior work of God in the world related to the work of the Holy Spirit, who woos and lures men and women to faith in Christ, and who works at all times and places in all people. As the apologists considered the Logos to be within every human being, Wesleyans would say that the Holy Spirit is striving with every man and woman to bring them to
Any theology runs into the same challenges as faced the apologists. The Christian gospel must not be compromised. Yet the gospel must be spoken in ways relevant and recognizable to the people.
3. The First Five Councils and Early Creeds
Early in the church’s history, followers summarized what they believed in short statements of faith. The church held councils to decide questions that arose over theological and practical issues. The apostles themselves held the first council. Almost always, later
councils were called for in response to heresies, or supposed heresies, and schismatic movements in the church.
One cannot understand the councils and creeds apart from understanding the heresies facing the church. The councils and creeds were attempts to define the boundaries of orthodox Christian faith. Their concise statements of faith were based on the Bible, but new theological concepts and categories were used to explain what the Bible meant.
The councils chose particular words very carefully. Each word was filled with nuances of meaning related to heretical movements and confusions in the church. Neither the councils nor creeds were “inspired” in the same way as the Bible. Nonetheless, they proved helpful to believers. Their decrees gained wide acceptance. The church believed that whatever the social and political background of the councils, their decisions were guided by the Holy Spirit.
The Western and Eastern Churches, including most Protestants, accept at least the first five councils as being authoritative in their interpretations of scriptural doctrines. They cover the period between 325 and 553.
Eight councils convened before the breakup of the Eastern and Western branches of the church, the last one taking place in Constantinople 869-870. After 869- 870 there were other councils that various sectors of the church believe equally authoritative.
The last three councils Roman Catholics consider as binding upon the church are the Council of Trent that met 1545-63, the First Vatican Council that met more than three hundred years later, 1869-70, and the Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962 to 1965.
The Apostles’ Creed
Refer to Resource 4-8 in the Student Guide.
One ancient statement of faith is called the Apostles’ Creed, though the apostles themselves did not write it. What became known as the Apostle’s Creed came into church history only sometime after the first Council of Nicea, in the late fourth century, when it was referred
to by Ambrose. At the time, there was already the legend that the apostles had composed it. Its origins may have been in Iberia or Gaul.
The Apostles’ Creed is based on the shorter Old Roman Creed used in baptismal services in the church of Rome since the second century. The origins of this creed, however, are uncertain. The Christological section may have come first and may have been intended to counteract the heresies of adoptionism, monarchianism, and docetism.
Churches from various ancient cities had forms of Trinitarian creeds that were similar in composition. The Old Roman Creed may have been developed first as a catechism, answering certain basic questions regarding the faith.
The minister would have begun by asking the person desiring to be baptized, “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?” to which the catechumen responded, “I believe in God the Father Almighty.”
The next question may have been, “Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God?” to which the answer would have been, “I believe in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord, who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who under Pontius Pilate was crucified, and buried, on the third day rose again from the dead, ascended to heaven, sits on the right hand of the Father, whence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”
The last question would have had to do with the Holy Spirit and the church, to which the catechumen responded, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy church, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the flesh.”
Like the Old Roman Creed, often the Apostles’ Creed was used when adults were baptized. New followers of Jesus said “I believe” to these basic Christian beliefs. The Apostles’ Creed affirms:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hades; on the third day he arose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Apostles’ Creed tells about the work of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The Father, the Creed affirms, is the Creator.
The Son is he divine-human Savior. Jesus’ divine nature is affirmed in how He was conceived—by the Holy Spirit rather than by a human. His divine nature is further affirmed in His rising into heaven. It is maintained in how He now lives as God in heaven, and in how He will return to earth as Judge.
Jesus’ humanity is shown in His being born to Mary. His humanity also is shown in His suffering, and in His dying. The Creed mentions that He suffered when Pontius Pilate was governor. This makes it clear that He lived and died at a particular time and place.
Like Him, the Creed says, one day Christians also will be raised from the dead. The Creed affirms the resurrection of bodies—“spiritual bodies” (1 Cor 15:44)—when He comes again.
Christ was born in history. He redeems in history. He will come again in history.
The things mentioned in the Creed’s last sentences are about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives life to the Church. The Church is the fellowship of believers or “saints”—true followers of Jesus. Within the Church, through the Holy Spirit, among the believers, one finds forgiveness for sins. If they remain faithful, forgiving parts of His Church, the meaning is, Christians will
have fellowship with Him and with fellow believers forever.
The Creed guarded the Church from mistaken beliefs. It offered no ideas that were not in the Bible. But it did not answer all questions. Such as, how was the Son related to the Father and the Holy Spirit?
The Apostles’ Creed was simpler and shorter than the Nicene Creed, but there were similarities. Like the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed was organized into three sections dealing with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The present form used by Western churches—it is not used among Eastern churches— dates to the early eighth century. Charlemagne popularized its use later in the same century. It became the most widely affirmed creed used at baptisms in the Middle Ages and made its way into regular liturgical use.
Tradition and Heritage
The church’s historic understanding of the Trinity—a word that is not in the Bible—was crucial for the church. It guarded it from errors. The doctrine of the Trinity affirmed that the One God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Some followers had made it seem that there were three Gods. They separated the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from each other. Others mistakenly taught that the Son and the Holy Spirit were created beings and not fully God.
But the church always worshiped Jesus as Lord. If Jesus were not God, it would be wrong to worship Him. The Bible spoke of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each as being God. Each was involved in salvation. An angel told Mary the Holy Spirit—the “power of the Most High”—would come upon her. The angel told her the “Holy One” to be born would be called the “Son of God” (Lk 1:35). In this, with Jesus the Son conceived in Mary, the church saw the work of the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The Bible also described the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism. The Holy Spirit descended like a dove. A voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3:22). After His baptism Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” and
remained in the “power of the Spirit” even after His temptations (4:1, 14).
After His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised.” But, He told them, “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49). Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit, whom the disciples
received on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). Again, the church saw combined work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The church learned how to define and describe carefully the union of the deity and humanity in the person of the Son and the Trinity. It learned how neither to divide the person of Christ, nor confound or confuse the human and divine natures. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shared the divine nature. Only Christ shared the human nature. Christ acted through both His human and divine natures. In one sense He was omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, while, at the same time, He was localized and limited. The church learned how to avoid both modalistic dispensationalism and tritheism. The orthodox doctrine accepted by the church affirmed that Jesus was one person, fully God and fully human. But the church’s wisest theologians realized that human beings could not fully comprehend the Trinity. It remained a mystery. What is clear is that both the Bible and Christian experience make these doctrines necessary.
While the church draws us back to Scripture, and aims for every belief to be Bible-based, decisions the church made long ago about what the Bible means continue to guide and instruct us. A right understanding of Jesus Christ and the Trinity remain crucial for the church. The conclusions of the councils set the basis for the affirmations of faith made by many Christians in their disciplines and Articles of Faith or religion.
The Church of the Nazarene, in language still in debtedto the early councils, affirms the “Triune God” in the first article of faith:
We believe in one eternally existent, infinite God, sovereign of the universe; that He only is God, creative and administrative, holy in nature, attributes, and purpose; that He, as God is Triune in essential being, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In support of this theology, the church finds these scriptures helpful: Genesis 1; Leviticus 19:2;
Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Isaiah 5:16; 6:1-7; 40:18-31; Matthew 3:16-17; 28:19-20; John 14:6-27; 1
Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Galatians 4:4-6; and Ephesians 2:13-18.
The origins of this statement were in John Wesley’s Methodist Articles of Religion, based upon the Church of England’s article which reads:
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.
The Church of the Nazarene affirms, regarding Jesus Christ:
We believe in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Triune Godhead; that He was eternally one with the Father; that He became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary, so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say the Godhead and manhood, are thus united in one Person very God and very man, the God-man. We believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that He truly arose from the dead and took again His body, together with all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature, wherewith He ascended into heaven and is there engaged in intercession for us.
The church finds these scriptures helpful in understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ:
Matthew 1:20-25; 16:15-16; John 1:1-18; Acts 2:22-36; Romans 8:3, 32-34; Galatians 4:4-5; Philippians2:5-11; Colossians 1:12-22; 1 Timothy 6:6-14,16;Hebrews 1:1-5; 7:22-28; 9:24-28; 1 John 1:1-3; 4:2-3, 15.
And the Church of the Nazarene affirms, regarding theHoly Spirit:
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Triune Godhead, that He is ever present and efficiently active in and with the Church of Christ, convincing the world of sin, regenerating those who repent and believe, sanctifying believers, and guiding into all truth as it is in Jesus.
The scriptures that the church finds supportive of this understanding of the Holy Spirit include John 7:39;14:15-18, 26; 16:7-15; Acts 2:33; 15:8-9; Romans8:1-27; Galatians 3:1-14; 4:6; Ephesians 3:14-21; 1Thessalonians 4:7-8; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter1:2; and 1 John 3:24; 4:13.
AUGUSTINE’S CONFESSIONS, READING 4
The story of his student days in Carthage, his discovery of Cicero’s Hortensius, the enkindling of his philosophical interest, his infatuation with the Manichean heresy, and his mother’s dream which foretold his eventual return to the true faith and to God.
1. I came to Carthage, where a caldron of unholy loves was seething and bubbling all around me. I was not in love as yet, but I was in love with love; and, from a hidden hunger, I hated myself for not feeling more intensely a sense of hunger. I was looking for something to love, for I was in love with loving, and I hated security and a smooth way, free from snares. Within me I had a dearth of that inner food that is yourself, my God—although that dearth caused me no hunger. And I remained without any appetite for incorruptible food—not because I was already filled with it, but because the emptier I became the more I loathed it. Because of this my soul was unhealthy; and, full of sores, it exuded itself forth, itching to be scratched by scraping on the things of the senses. Yet, had these things no soul, they would certainly not inspire our love. To love and to be loved was sweet to me, and all the more when I gained the enjoyment of
the body of the person I loved. Thus I polluted the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence and I dimmed its luster with the slime of lust. Yet, foul and unclean as I was, I still craved, in excessive vanity, to be thought elegant and urbane. And I did fall precipitately into the love I was longing for. My God, my mercy, with how much bitterness didst you, out of
your infinite goodness, flavor that sweetness for me! For I was not only beloved but also I secretly reached the climax of enjoyment; and yet I was joyfully bound with troublesome tics, so that I could be scourged with the burning iron rods of jealousy, suspicion, fear, anger, and strife.
Preparation for Session 5
Email your paragraph responses to email@example.com the Sunday before class session.
A. Read: Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, chapters 12 and 16
Write a Big Idea paragraph from your reading.
B. Read the following articles and give a one paragraph answer to the question asked.
1 Ministry in the Early Church
How does ministry today compare with ministry in the Early Church?
2.Monasticism in the Early Church
What is the ideal of holiness expressed through monasticism?
3. The Expansion of the Church in Western Europe
What methods or strategies were used to expand the Church is Western Europe?
C. Write in your journal. Reflect on and respond to the following:
AUGUSTINE’S CONFESSIONS, READING 5