AN INTRODUCTION TO THE CREEDS AND TO THE TE DEUM - BY A. E. BURN, B.D. Trinity College, Cambridge - Rector of Kynnersley, Wellington, Salop - Examining Chaplain to the Lord Bishop of Lichfield. - First published Methuen & Co 1899. - This Edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.
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THE following Introduction to the Creeds and to the Early History of the Te Deum has been designed, in the first instance, for the use of students reading for the Cambridge Theological Tripos. I have edited all the Creed-forms set for that examination, with the exception of three lengthy formularies, which belong rather to a history of doctrine than to my present subject. These are the letter of Cyril to Nestorius, the letter of Leo to Flavian, and the Definition of the Council of Chalcedon.

At the same time, I hope that the book may be useful to a wider circle of readers to clergy and candidates for Holy Orders. The subject is of supreme importance to all teachers of Church doctrine; and the only excuse for adding to the number of books which already deal with it, is the desire to enable others to gather the first-fruits of many writers and of recent researches in England and abroad.

During the past three years I have had the privilege, with the aid of the Managers of the Hort Memorial Fund at Cambridge, of visiting many libraries to collate MSS, and have endeavoured to make good use of the opportunities so kindly offered. In 1896 I visited Leiden, Cologne, Wurzburg, Munich, S. Gallen, Karlsruhe, Heidelberg, Wolfenbuttel; in 1897, Amiens, Rouen, Chartres, Orleans, Paris (Bibliotheque Nationale), Troyes (the Town Library and the Treasury of the Cathedral), Rheims; in 1898, Rome (the Vatican Library and the Library of Prince Chigi), the Ambrosian Library at Milan, and the Chapter Library at Vercelli.  I desire to express my gratitude for the unfailing courtesy and frequent personal kindness of the Librarians in all these towns.

I have published some of my collations in The Guardian, and I beg to thank the proprietors for permission to use articles contributed to their paper on the Athanasian Creed and the Te Deum. I have published some "Sermons on the Apostles' Creed" and other notes on creed-forms in the Zeitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte, xix. Band, 2 Heft, July 1898. I desire to thank Prof. F. Kattenbusch of Giessen for his kind help in translating my English notes into German, as for much information at various times.

The net results of such journeys are not to be measured by the mere storage of new collations in notebooks.  So many new avenues of thought are opened out, the imagination is stimulated by the sight of historic buildings and the everlasting hills, knowledge is increased by opportunities of conversation with distinguished scholars.

I must also express my indebtedness to Prof. J. A. Robinson as editor of the Texts and Studies, and to the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press for leave to reprint certain pages from my book.
The Athanasian Creed and its Early Commentaries,
on pp. 191 seq., 298-307. My thanks are also due to the Rev. Dr. Robertson, editor of this series; to the Revs. E. Burn, S. C. Freer, J. A. Kempthorne, and J. E. Pyle, for help with the MS or proofs; and in particular to the Rev. W. G. dark Maxwell, who has read the proofs throughout. My Chapter on the Te Deum is mainly founded on the learned articles of Dom. G. Morin, O.S.B., to whom I am indebted for much information and some valuable collations. I have also acknowledged some interesting suggestions from the Revs. Dr. Gibson and F. E. Brightman.

A kindly French critic (Review Critique, 18th Oct. 1897.) of my former book took me to task for "somewhat rash hypotheses."  I must plead guilty to the charge of repeating some of those hypotheses, and even of adding to them.   Surely it is not possible to make any progress without new hypotheses.   The one thing needful is to state the evidence fully enough to serve the critic, who has a better hypothesis to suggest. Such criticism may succeed in altering the historical point of view from which we regard a particular creed; it may change our opinion as to its date or authorship.  But it cannot claim to control our conviction as to the truth of the teaching recorded in the Creed, which must rest upon the better foundation of faith. "Eadem tamen quae didicisti ita doce ut cum dicas none non dicas noua."
(Vincentius, Commoniforium, xxvii.)




Of Method. | Of Faith.

I. Of Method

IT is a question whether the time has yet come when a complete history of the Apostles' Creed can be written. A standard work on the subject is much needed by our generation. But, in the opinion of some thoughtful writers, the time is not yet ripe.  There is much conflicting evidence with respect to the early years of its eventful existence that has to be weighed in the balance. During the past few years, great progress has been made. A mass of new material has been collected, and to some extent sifted. We may hope that there is more to come. The third edition of Hahn's Bibliothek der Symbole, (Breslau, 1897.) to name one book only, is a standing monument to the fruitfulness of the labours of Caspari, Heurtley, Kattenbusch, and Swainson. The notes include references to the work of Baumer and Zahn, while Harnack contributes a valuable appendix in the shape of a revised edition of his treatise on the materials for the history and exposition of the Old Roman Creed from the literature of the two first centuries.  Thus this single volume is in itself a vast storehouse of information, tabulated and ready to the hand of the future historian. The task will not be easy, for the mere physical labour of reading the literature on the subject will be appalling. In this respect future students will owe a debt of gratitude to Kattenbusch, whose history of the creed will be, when completed, a full introduction to the literature, in addition to its merits as the most elaborate and learned work on the subject. While the main propositions of that book are still sub iudice, there is room left for work of a lighter kind.  In the following history of the creeds I propose to take a brief survey of the subject.   I hope it may be useful to theological students both as a companion to larger works and as a supplement in regard of some sections in which I am able to publish new materials.

Hitherto writers on the Apostles' Creed may have been well advised to begin from the period of its final development, and trace its history backwards from a clearly defined outline to a shadowy image. This method is eminently scientific. We do not want to imagine our facts. But since facts are sometimes stranger than fiction, we ought not to distrust facts merely because they are strange. It is to be feared that some students have an almost unconscious bias against the acknowledging of anything strange, which verges on the supernatural. Either miracles are possible or they are not. If not, all vain imaginings to the contrary must be explained away as fast as we find them, picking our way back through the tangled web of Church history.  In that case, is it worthwhile to pursue the study of any creed that contains mention of the resurrection of our Lord? It is well to be candid in these matters. As soon as one begins to thread the mazes of speculation on this subject, it becomes evident that all investigations into the origins of Christian doctrine are motived either by a secret hope or a secret despair.

Neutrality on a matter of such moment to all human souls seems to be impossible.  One cannot help being thankful for this.   Stormy seas under a darkened sky are better to face than the uncertain perils of calmer waters in a fog. Only in the thick haze of uncertainty is it possible to call darkness light and light darkness, when out of simple confusion of mind we may be led to call all men liars, and find our hope of a credible history vanish like an empty dream. Let us at all costs, if we cannot determine our course, disclose our destination.

As professed scholars of the Eternal Word, incarnate, risen, ascended, it will not be less our duty to present evidence plainly and honestly, nor will it be less obvious if that duty is shirked. While we are collecting our facts, the more scientific method is, doubtless, to proceed from the known to the unknown. But when we come to explain them a theory is necessary, and with any theory an element of uncertainty is introduced. Why then should we not, in presenting our theory, retrace our steps, from the obscure to the obvious, from the days when the currents of Christian life and thought lay unseen beneath the surface of social life, to the days when the persecuted Church of the Catacombs, preserved through that mighty upheaval of ideas which has made our religion dominant in the world's history, found kings to be her nursing fathers and their queens her nursing mothers? I will therefore venture to begin from the beginning, passing from the evidence of the New Testament down to the final and polished forms of our Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, hoping by resolved restraint of language and imagination to commend my theory of their growth. To borrow an illustration from photography. In a clear light the exposure of a plate need only last a moment.  In a dull light exposure must be prolonged, and we must be content with less definite outlines. Yet with patience we may hope to reproduce both distance and foreground. By patience we may hope to obtain in our study of "the faith" in apostolic times what above all we need, a sense of perspective, a standard of the relatively great and little thoughts which stirred in the minds of the first Christians. What was the secret of their persistency? What enabled an apostle to write:

This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith!


II. Of Faith

Faith, according to a modern definition, is "thought illuminated by emotion and concentrated by will." (Bishop Westcott, The Historic Faith, p. 7.)  It is pre-eminently a personal act, and its proper object is a person. Heroes of faith "endure as seeing Him who is invisible." It is an amazing paradox, but it may be illustrated from many records of human friendships. "Seeing is believing" in the sense that to see a friend arrive to our rescue in the moment of peril is the fulfilment of our hope and the justification of our trust in him. But "not seeing is believing" too, if that friend is deemed worthy of our affection. We are ready to say with the Hebrew poet, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Unforeseen delays, inexperience, overwhelming opposition may combine to frustrate his efforts to bring succour and comfort, yet will we carry our confidence, our love - in one word, our faith in him - down into the grave.

This may seem an extreme test of faith, yet common sense will tell us that it is not unreasonable. And we are concerned to make reasoning an element in the whole act of faith.  Without reason, faith degenerates into superstition or credulity; nor are we constrained to contend for it except in its purest type.

The Christian religion differs from all others in this characteristic; that it stands or falls solely according to the measure of faith in its Founder.  Buddhism, Confucianism, Mohammedanism, derive their initial influence from the teaching of a man whose whole energy was concentrated upon a form of teaching which he wished to impress on the minds of others.   Principles of self-discipline, a code of laws, a burden of prophecy, were the legacies left by the founders of these other religions to their followers.   In the religion of Christ all these elements of teaching are indeed combined, but as superstructure, not as the foundation, which is faith in His person.

To support this statement it is not necessary to refer to documents that may be considered of doubtful authenticity. In the admitted epistles of S. Paul, faith in the Christ of the gospel is the starting-point of all his teaching.

"Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Cor.iii.11.)

The argument may be confirmed by study of the Gospels, but is independent of them, as it is independent of changes in criticism of their dates and authorship. Yet the following expression of opinion is welcome, in witness to the substantial accuracy of the history that their authors relate.

There was a time?
the great mass of the public is still living in such a time?
in which people felt obliged to regard the oldest Christian literature, including the New Testament, as a tissue of deceptions and falsifications. That time is passed.


A time will come, and it is already drawing near, in which men will not trouble themselves much more about the working out of problems of literary history in the region of primitive Christianity, because whatever can be made out about them will have acquired general assent, namely, the essential accuracy of tradition, with but few important exceptions.
(Harnack, Die Chronologie der altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius, i. p. viii.)

It will be readily admitted that our Lord is represented in the Gospel history as concentrating His attention upon a method not, as we might have expected, of reaching the many, but of training the few.  Conversations, sermons, parables, the working of signs, the very journeys which they undertook for Him and with Him, were all made use of for the training of the apostles, till at last they could make the supreme venture of faith and confess Him as the Christ. From the lower level of human friendship they were raised to the plane of worship. Thus it may be truly said that Christ came not so much to preach the gospel, as that there might be a gospel to preach, a gospel of faith in Him.

From these reflections follows an important conclusion. Faith founded on experience must always precede faith formulated. We live first and think afterwards.  Christian life must be organized before Christian theology can be thought out.   This alone can save theology from becoming a barren system of dogmatic teaching, which, appealing only to the intellectual faculties, would increase knowledge at the expense of faith and love.

This is not a mere axiom of an antiquated type of historical student. We may follow the method of those anthropologists who study the implements of the Stone Age, and when they find themselves baffled by the question how some of these shaped stones were used, seek until in some obscure corner of the globe they find a tribe using such implements to this day, preserving the last relics of a living tradition. We have the records of Christian tradition gathering fulness as the centuries pass; we have the experience of living Christians at our doors. It has been well said that,

the Christian religion is one phenomenon - a totality, a whole, of which the New Testament is only a part. We of to-day are in actual contact with a living Christianity, which has persisted through nineteen centuries of human chance and change; and though hindered, now as ever, by schism, treachery, hate, flattery, contempt, presents the same essential features which it presented nineteen centuries ago?
miracles of penitence, miracles of purity, miracles of spiritual power; weakness strengthened, fierceness chastened, passion calmed and pride subdued; plain men and philosophers, cottagers and courtiers, living a new life through the faith that Jesus Christ is God. (Illingworth, Personality Human and Divine, pp. 196 f.)

From this point of view the position of creeds in the scheme of Christian teaching is easily defined.  Some sort of an historic faith, a summary of the Lord's life and teaching, must be included in the training of every catechumen. The ripened believer will ask more.
questions must be raised about the relation of the Lord Jesus to the Father and the Holy Spirit.  This is the province of reverent theology using metaphysical or psychological terms to aid accurate thinking. Its definitions are useful as a means to detect mistakes, to distinguish, as it were, artificial from natural flowers of Christian thought.  That any heresy is an artificial product is only proved by analysis, by argument, not by mere assertion.   Christian metaphysic is no more an end in itself than the analysis of good drinking water.   It supports our conviction, that if we drink of the stream when it reaches us, we shall find it not less pure than at the fountainhead.  
By itself it leaves us thirsty.

It is a mistake to contrast the Sermon on the Mount with the Nicene Creed, to say that the pure Christianity of the one has been overlaid with human inventions in the other. They ought rather to be compared as the description and analysis of the same river of the water of life, flowing on from age to age, an inexhaustible, refreshing stream, freely offered to the thirsty souls of men.

My aim, therefore, is to trace the progress in Christian thought from the simple confession of Jesus as the Lord in the New Testament, to its necessary expansion in the Apostles' Creed and its justification in creeds of the fourth and fifth centuries.

There is great truth in these words of Kattenbusch:

He who brings no questions to the subject will often scarcely mark how fertile it is; he who asks too much easily believes that he receives an answer where in reality silence reigns.
(Das ap. Symbol. ii. p. 25.)

I venture to apply them with a somewhat different reference, because I do not believe that we can approach this question from a purely literary standpoint. And what is true of the discussion of a literary question taken alone is equally true of a question in which literary and theological interests are combined. There is some danger lest we should invent explanations of events in past history to correspond to the facts of modern life. But there is far more danger in an attempt to reconstruct the beliefs of the early Christian Church without reference to the fact that the Church exists to-day, and believes that the life of her ascended Lord is still brought near to her in creeds and communicated in sacraments.

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