Monday, August 08, 2016

Identifying the Creeds

Who is Tom?

Carol says that Tom is 5’ 9” tall, is a bit tubby, is blond and has blue eyes. She says that he limps a little on his left foot after he shattered his leg in a quad biking accident. She says that he enjoys Bon Jovi, can finish a hard Su Doku in 5 minutes, and his favourite food is Sweet and Sour Pork. She also says that Tom loves animals especially dogs, loves children and is a passionate supporter of humanitarian causes.

Denise says that Tom is 5’ 9” tall, is quite slim, is a bit mousy blond and has dark blue eyes. She says that he limps a little, but can’t remember on which leg: she doesn’t know why, either. She says that he enjoys Def Leppard and does puzzles quickly. Denise says that Tom’s favourite food is Dim Sum. She also says that Tom is finds her dog intensely irritating, and keeps away her 5 month old son. To her chagrin, she finds Tom rather ambivalent to charities.

Will the real Tom please stand up?

There are a few glaring discrepancies here, and it leads to a few possibilities as to what’s going on here.

1)      There are two distinct, but physically similar people called Tom.
2)      Tom is being inconsistent with Denise and Carol.
3)      One woman may know Tom better than the other.

Are there other possibilities? Which is the most likely?

If both Carol and Denise swear to their testimony about Tom, then we might be led to rule out (3) and look to (1) or (2). In all probability, (1) seems most likely otherwise Tom seems to be a bit of a pathological liar. We might reasonably conclude that Carol and Denise know two different people called Tom who share some characteristics and yet differ markedly in other.

We might be better persuaded that there was only one Tom if Carol and Denise agreed more about how Tom shows his character. It’s hard to see how a dog lover finds a dog irritating, but I suppose it could happen.

When it comes to different religions, we have the same problem with God.
Two religions may believe that God exists. They might agree on some of His attributes, but they clearly disagree about other things, otherwise they would be the same religion. They may agree on God being the Omnipotent Creator, but differ in the way He issues His commandments. Do they worship the same God?

That’s a very difficult question to answer. If we were to examine the God of the Hebrew Bible in comparison with the God of Christianity, there would be a lot of agreement on God’s character even down to the existence of the Messiah who, for the Hebrew Faith, has not yet appeared. We might reasonably conclude that, because Christians and Jews have the same Testament in common, it is likely that they do worship the same God.

The same can’t be said for Islam where the Bible is rejected in favour of the Q’ran. If Christians and Muslims do indeed worship the same god, then that god is capricious and contradictory. Muslims have practices that Christians do not. Christians have the Mass which the Muslims do not. There is marked disagreement about the person that both seem to refer to as Jesus. Again, we can reasonably conclude that Christians and Muslims are not likely to be worshipping the same god. I do stress the word "unlikely" - only God truly knows the hearts of men.

The same is also true with Christians and the Christian Heretics of the Primitive Church. In denying Christ’s divinity, the Arian Jesus is not the same as the Orthodox Jesus. These cannot be the same Jesus. Neither can the Apollinarian, Nestorian, or Ebionite Jesus be the Orthodox Jesus.

This is why Orthodox Christians take the Creed so seriously as indeed we must. In it, we have some way of pointing to the One we can never comprehend, and yet must be careful not to give ourselves to idolatry – the worship of gods who aren’t. While we cannot have complete knowledge of God, it is His will that we worship Him so that we can be with Him. Thus we have His revelation to us in the Bible, in the Faith of the Early Church and in the Creeds. They are vital to knowing that we are truly continually engaging ourselves in conversatio mores – constantly engaged in repentance and the search for God. We have to worship the same God as St Peter, Abraham, Judas Maccabeus, and Our Lady, as well as Linus, Cletus, Xystus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, and Chrysogonus, for that is God.

Personally, I have seen Parishes remove the Nicene Creed from their liturgy and then wonder why the congregation starts going a bit Arian. Often the creed is replaced with a statement of faith such as a simple baptismal formula. That is not enough, and many of these formulae teeter the precipice of Modalism and reduce the three persons of the Trinity to roles fulfilled by God.

If we truly want to bring Christ back into Society, then we need to have the Creeds as central to our life. Our Bible Study will point to them, our prayer life will use them to focus our attention on the God Who Is, and we will live our lives in the reality of the Faith to which we hold. Anglican Catholics live their lives by lex orandi, lex credendi. The two are inseparable because prayer recognises the truth of God and reacts to that truth. 

Of course the Creeds are not inclusive! It is not always a sin to exclude! An arbitrary exclusion is sinful, but to exclude a cat from a dogs’ show is just plain common sense. Likewise, the Creeds exclude non-Christians from Christian worship. That is no sin. The modern deification of Inclusivity is another idolatry which cannot be supported by the Creeds.

If anyone says that the creeds are out of date and don’t matter, that one is wrong and in serious error.

When next you say the Creed at Mass, be glad and know that there are Christians around you throughout Time and Space who hold to the same Faith that you do and seek to draw you to the One True God Who is also drawing you by the Light He shines upon you. Be thankful for the Creeds: they exist to help you begin to love God.

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