Friday, April 16, 2010

19Sep1872, The Athanasian Creed Controversy

HOLKER, Thursday, September 19th, 1872.
—The Guardian full of the Athanasian Creed controversy, which rages as hot as ever. Pusey, Liddon, Malcolm MacColl, and, I believe, a large following of clergy, intend to give up their ministry in the Church if either the creed or the rubric attached to it are touched. Now I have come to the conviction that no one section of the Church is at liberty to alter or omit anything in the text of the Creed (except by way of re-translating) : that must wait for a General Council. But all the mass I have read on the subject impresses me more and more with the belief that for the ignorant, untheologic, ordinary run of people, it is quite unsuitable. The awful clauses are thoroughly misunderstood by them ; they firmly believe that the words mean, explicitly and unavoidably, "everyone, however ignorant, heathen as well as Christian, who does not believe every expression in this creed, will without doubt perish everlastingly."
This interpretation everybody who has at all learnt theology may perfectly see is absurd ; and to all such the Creed may ever be a precious and sacred heritage. But no one pretends that it is a creed in the same sense and of the same authority as the other two. Why, then —with this notorious fact of its being an acknowledged stumbling-block to so many—insist on its retention as a substitute for the 2 great Creeds? All the extreme non-possumites beg the question in assuming that it is proposed "to degrade" the Athan. Creed. I do maintain that to keep this solemn and profound exposition of the Faith for recital on great occasions by those whose duty it is to subscribe, to teach, and therefore to understand it—is the very reverse of a "degradation" of it. I would have it sung at all Ordinations and Consecrations, and perhaps also as a Canticle after the Apostles' Creed on Trinity Sunday only ; and instead of having it 13 times a year in the mouths of "plain men," I wd have the Clergy catechize upon it, teach and explain it as one of the bulwarks of the Faith. It is not adapted for these same "plain men" who misunderstand it : it is theology and theology is a science. The English laity, educated or not, are as a rule absolutely ignorant of theology. Let them be taught better. But till they are, the repetition of this Creed by ordinary congregations can only do them harm. If I am told that the Nicene Creed is also theology, I quite allow it ; but then it is a Creed —a Credo—of the highest authority, and as such to be recited by all Churchpeople. Moreover, no one can pretend it presents the same difficulties and stumbling-blocks.

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