Category Archives: Church History

doctrine and theology

This comes from a discussion over the weekend. Thought I’d share and expand it a bit.

Doctrine: lex orandi lex credendi

Theology: fides quaerens intellectum

1.) The doctrine of the Church, sans fundamentalist conspiratorial notions and colonialist revisionist history, is the product of the lack of full understanding by the early church but one we were led into because of our limited revelation of the full revelation of God, Jesus Christ (the unique Son of God). Thus, we prayed and we worked and we lived and we thought — and through this our understanding was open to God’s will which became manifest in creeds and canon.

Once this doctrine was settled – and it is – then we sought to understand it. This is theology. Theology is the meditation upon the mystery of the doctrine of the Church. This is where we get such notions as justification, eschatology, Arminianism.

English: Icon of Jesus Christ
English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Further, having these understandings right within us prevents from legalism, or the notion we can be saved or we can save via our own works. This heretical notion, only prescribed via the cute but sad phrase of “orthopraxy over orthodoxy” is found in many forms of fundamentalism where the historic doctrines and mysteries of the church have been related with subjective trends. Indeed, I see only a matter of difference of believe systems between progressive Christianity and my previous oneness-holiness cult. Both rejected orthodoxy, the authority of Tradition, the instead focused on their own subjective understanding and formulation of God, history, and reality while enforcing the “salvation by works.”

In Jude, the system of beliefs given to the Apostles is called “the faith once delivered.” Christians should understand that while it was “once delivered” it was not “fully delivered.”  In other words, we have license within Scripture to see Tradition as the work of the Church, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.” (Ephesians 4.13–16) Likewise, Tradition maintains that maturity once it is attained. 

This is where theology comes into play. Theology is the reflection of doctrine. Theology is taking statements like “Jesus is Lord” and seeking to understand what that means now. Jesus is Lord, against Caesar. Against Empire. Jesus is Lord against ourselves. None of these things countermands the original and developed notions of “Jesus is Lord” (i.e., the unique Son of God), but makes it applicable to us. Likewise, we take the notion of “forgiveness of sins” and dig deep into that to understand better what sin is. Is sin a legal and moral code? Is it our unjust actions against ourselves and our neighbors? Or, perhaps, it is simply counteracting God’s will so that we are sinners when we are opposed to God’s desire for us and the kingdom.

Simply, theology changes, sometimes radically, while doctrine is polished.

Here are the words of St. Vincent of Lerins

Chapter XXIII, “On the Development of Doctrine in the Church”

[54] “But some one will say perhaps, ‘Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church?’  Certainly; all possible progress.  For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it?  Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith.  For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself, alternation, that it be transformed into something else.  The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning.

[55] The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same.  There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same.  An infant’s limbs are small, a young man’s large, yet the infant and the young man are the same.  Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if there be any to which mature age has given birth, these were already present in embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children.  This, then, is undoubtedly a true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant.  Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or, at the least, would be impaired and enfeebled.

[56] In like manner, it behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterated, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits.

[57]   For example: Our forefathers in the old time sowed wheat in the Church’s field.  It would be most unmeet and iniquitous if we, their descendants, instead of the genuine truth of wheat, should reap the counterfeit error of tares.  This rather should be the result, there should be no discrepancy between the first and the last.  From doctrine which was sown as wheat, we should reap, in the increase, doctrine of the same kind-wheat also; so that when in process of time any of the original seed is developed, and now flourishes under cultivation, no change may ensure in the character of the plant.  There may supervene shape, form, variation in outward appearance, but the nature of each kind must remain the same.  God forbid that those rose-beds of Catholic interpretation should be converted into thorns and thistles.  God forbid that in that spiritual paradise from plants of cinnamon and balsam darnel and wolfsbane should of a sudden shoot forth.

Therefore, whatever has been sown by the fidelity of the Fathers in this husbandry of God’s Church, the same ought to be cultivated and taken care of by the industry of their children, the same ought to flourish and ripen, the same ought to advance an go forth to perfection.  For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes one, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but no that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated.  They may receive proof, illustration, definiteness; but they must retain withal their completeness, their integrity, their characteristic properties.

[59] But the Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does not lose her own, does not appropriate what is another’s, but while dealing faithfully and judiciously with ancient doctrine, keeps this one object carefully in view, if  there be anything which antiquity has left shapeless and rudimentary, to fashion and polish it, if anything already reduced to shape and developed, to consolidate and strengthen it, if any already ratified and defined to keep and guard it.  Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practiced negligently should thenceforward be practiced with double solicitude?  This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of heretics, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils this, and nothing else, she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those of olden times only by Tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name.


Another #QOTD – orthodox is… Freedom

After all, orthodoxy, just as much as the biblical stories it derives from, tells the wild story of the God-man in all its messiness. In fact, orthodoxy is a protection against the all too neat rationalizations of heresy, which take what they deem to be the palatable parts of either the Bible or doctrine and blow them out of proportion to the exclusion of everything else. We all too frequently ignore how much orthodoxy’s function is to remove these fences so that theologians with different temperaments—Aquinas and Bonventure, Rahner and von Balthasar, Anscombe and Day—can run the fields freely;

you can find it Here

Marius Victorinus on Christ as Liberator

Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pan...
Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pantocrator; Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is from the first Latin commentary on Paul’s works, specifically at Galatians 2.20–21:

But as I now live in the flesh, I live in the faith of God and Christ. This is truly to live spiritually: that although one lives in the flesh, one does not live on account of the flesh or based on the flesh. Rather, one lives to God and to Christ by faith in them. This is what it means to live spiritually: to meditate on Christ, to speak of him, to believe him, to direct one’s desires toward him; to flee the world, to expel from one’s mind all things which are in the world. This is what it means to live by faith: to hope for no other good than what is from Christ and from God. This is what it means to live in the faith of God and Christ, who loved me and handed himself over for my sake. Let us keep this worthy act in mind, so that we live in him through faith—in him, who to hand over so great a gift to us would give himself to death and the cross for our sake, and in so doing liberate us from our sins.

Next he adds in this manner:

I am not ungrateful to God’s grace (2: 21), so that, God having redeemed me through Christ and Christ having handed himself over for my sake, I would return to the hope of the Law—all the hope I have in Christ being disregarded—and would believe myself to be justified based on the works of the Law. That would be ungrateful to the one who did so much for me, who for my sake would put himself in the line of fire in order to liberate me from my sins by taking their penalties upon himself.

That last line is a killer.

John and Charles Wesley lived by the Creeds

English: Charles Wesley
I don’t always quote doctrine, but when I do, it is Creedal // English: Charles Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is this constant rumor John Wesley thought the creed a weak source or somehow unnecessary. I cannot find this in Wesley’s works (via Logos). Charles, John’s forgotten brother but very much one of our founders, cannot be said to be foreign to the creeds.  What follows is a brief synopsis of the Wesleys’ view on the Creeds — usually three in number, those being the Apostles’, the Nicene (381), and one attributed to St. Athanasius.

An aged gentlewoman here testified that she had long denied that article of her creed, “forgiveness of sins,” but was yesterday experimentally convinced of it, under Mr. Hall’s ministry. Others I meet with, who have passed from death unto life, in hearing our brother Whitefield. Our brethren of Fetter-lane deny the fact, that any soul has been justified by our ministry, since “no one gives what he has not himself.” – Charles Wesley, 12 May 17401

How many today would believe in the Creeds if they but listen to a proper ministry?

In a poem styled an epistle, Charles counsels his brother,

…The Church whose cause I serve, whose faith approve,
Whose altars reverence, and whose name I love.

But does she still exist in more than sound?
The Church—alas! where is she to be found?
Not in the men, however dignified,
Who would her creeds repeal, her laws deride,
Her Prayers expunge, her Articles disown,
And thrust the Filial Godhead from His throne…

He goes on,

Then let the zealous orthodox appear,
And challenge the contested character:
Those, who renounce the whole Dissenting tribe,
Creeds, Articles, and Liturgy subscribe;
Their parish church who never once have miss’d,
At schism rail, and hate a Methodist;
“The company of faithful souls” are these,
Who strive to ’stablish their own righteousness,
But count the faith Divine a madman’s dream?
Howe’er they to themselves may pillars seem,
Of Christ, and of His church they make no part;
They never knew the Saviour in their heart.

I dare say, many of those who have already passed their BOOM should feel unjustified in doing so. To dare to denounce the creeds, the articles — those things as the bedrock of orthodoxy (and yes, it is real) — is to separate oneself from Christianity.

Stop using our name!

Wait! I have found something to extinguish my hope in a creedal Wesley!

They both say, “Creeds and books can nothing do!”

Except, there is more:

1 FATHER, Son, and Spirit, hear
Thy apostate creature’s groan,
Languishing to find Thee near,
Worshipping a God unknown,
Light till in Thy light I see,
Know eternal life in Thee.

2 Creeds and books can nothing do,
Unaccompanied by grace;
Grace must form my soul anew,
Give me to discern Thy face,
Bring my faithful heart the power
God in persons three to’ adore. – From the Hymns to the Trinity, IV

Let us now move forward to John alone. In several letters, he recommends besides the bible, Bishop Pearson’s Exposition of the Creed.

In order to be well acquainted with the doctrines of Christianity, you need but one book, (besides the Bible,)—Bishop Pearson on the Creed. This I advise you to read and master throughly: It is a library in one volume. But above all be much in prayer, and God will withhold no manner of thing that is good. — J. Wesley, 1767

For Wesley, believing in Christ is the same as assenting to the Creed:

To believe in Christ was the very thing (Whitefield) supposed wanting; as understanding that term believing to imply, not only an assent to the Articles of our Creed, but also ‘a true trust and confidence of the mercy of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ – J. Wesley, 1738

And then, later in life,

“You now heap together ten paragraphs more, most of which require very little answer. In the first you say, ‘Your foolishness is become the wonder and admiration of the public.’ In the second, ‘The public blushes for you, till you give a better solution to the articles demanded of you.’ In the third, you cite my words, I still maintain ‘the Bible, with the Liturgy, and Homilies of our Church; and do not espouse any other principles but what are consonant to the Book of Common-Prayer.’ You keenly answer, ‘Granted, Mr. Methodist; but whether or no you would not espouse other principles, if you durst, is evident enough from some innovations you have already introduced, which I shall attempt to prove in the subsequent part of my answer.’ Indeed you will not. You neither prove, nor attempt to prove, that I would espouse other principles if I durst. However, you give me a deadly thrust: ‘You falsify the first Article of the Athanasian Creed.’ But how so? Why, I said, ‘The fundamental doctrine of the people called Methodists is, Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the true faith.’ Sir, shall I tell you a secret?—It was for the readers of your class that I changed the hard word Catholic into an easier. — J. Wesley, 1760

Note what he said.

‘The fundamental doctrine of the people called Methodists is, “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the true faith.”’

That repeated line is from the Creed commonly attributed to St. Athanasius. We cannot separate “true faith” from the Creeds, because Wesley never did.

Granted, none of that matters, at least to the United Methodist Church. Our Book of Discipline says that Wesley’s Sermons (not his letters and journals) are part of our doctrinal standards. I didn’t understand this, but then while reading Wesley I kept seeing that the Homilies of the Anglican Church could not be denied either.

These are quotes from his sermons.

In Sermon 7, Wesley says that one can have all of the orthodoxy there is available, but in denying the requirement of good works is nothing before God. I agree. And, this is where I would differ with the Reformed. Faith is not an intellectual only assent, but must be assented through our actions – actions based on that intellectual assent. This is the same concept in Sermon 18. These actions is what Wesley calls “religion.”

Wesley goes on in Sermon 55 to clarify his stance on that dastardly line in the Athanasian Creed:

It was in an evil hour that these explainers began their fruitless work I insist upon no explication at all; no, not even on the best I ever saw; I mean, that which is given us in the creed commonly ascribed to Athanasius. I am far from saying, he who does not assent to this shall without doubt perish everlastingly.” For the sake of that and another clause, I, for some time, scrupled subscribing to that creed; till I considered (1.) That these sentences only relate to wilful, not involuntary, unbelievers; to those who, having all the means of knowing the truth, nevertheless obstinately reject it: (2.) that they relate only to the substance of the doctrine there delivered; not the philosophical illustrations of it.

Returning to the notion of “religion?”

The foundation of true religion stands upon the oracles of God. It is built upon the Prophets and Apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone. Now, of what excellent use is reason, if we would either understand ourselves, or explain to others, those living oracles! And how is it possible without it to understand the essential truths contained therein? a beautiful summary of which we have in that which is called the Apostles’ Creed. – Sermon 70

Reason, then, is to properly understand… including the Apostles’ Creed.

And finally, in Sermon 132, Wesley gives you the foundation of Methodism,

In the four or five years following, another and another were added to the number, till, in the year 1735, there were fourteen of them who constantly met together. Three of these were Tutors in their several Colleges; the rest, Bachelors of Arts or Under-graduates. They were all precisely of one judgment, as well as of one soul; all tenacious of order to the last degree, and observant, for conscience’ sake, of every rule of the Church, and every statute both of the University and of their respective Colleges. They were all orthodox in every point; firmly believing, not only the Three Creeds, but whatsoever they judged to be the doctrine of the Church of England, as contained in her Articles and Homilies. As to that practice of the Apostolic Church, (which continued till the time of Tertullian, at least in many Churches,) the having all things in common, they had no rule, nor any formed design concerning it; but it was so in effect. and it could not be otherwise; for none could want anything that another could spare. This was the infancy of the work. They had no conception of anything that would follow. Indeed, they took “no thought for the morrow,” desiring only to live today.

At some time in the future, I would like to go and dig through Wesley’s works and see what he says about various lines of the Creed(s). For now, however, we can see the Wesleys — from beginning to end — held high the Creeds and orthodoxy. Indeed, “true religion” is rooted to the “true faith.”

Be sure to read Dr. David Watson’s piece as well. Andrew Thompson has chimed in as well. I have a follow-up sort of too. Drew McIntyre has a post up on this, suggesting that we look closer at Wesley’s “Letter to a Roman Catholic.” Dr Rankin has a post on pietism and the creeds. Dr. Kevin Watson has one up on “John Wesley and the Creeds.”

  1. Interesting enough, these one lines can be found throughout the Wesleys works — I may do a search later — and in their immediate ecclesiastical descendents. Bishop Thomas Coke uses a line as a life guide.

St. Basil and the vileness that is Oneness Pentecostalism

Icon of Basil of Caesarea. Василий Великий, икона
Icon of Basil of Caesarea. Василий Великий, икона (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A subversion of faith is being contemplated among you, hostile to both apostolic and evangelical doctrines, and hostile to the tradition of the truly great Gregory and of those who followed after him up to the blessed Musonius, whose teachings are of course still fresh in your minds even now. For the evil of Sabellius, long ago stirred up, but extinguished by the tradition of that great man, these men are attempting to revive, who from fear of exposure are now fashioning those dreams against us. But do you, bidding farewell to those heads heavy with wine, which the vapour rising and swirling from their drunken debauch reveals, hear of the harm being done to you from us who have awakened and who cannot be quiet because of the fear of God.

Sabellianism is…imported under the appearance of Christianity into the preaching of the Gospel. For he who calls Father, Son, and Holy Spirit one thing under many appearances, and makes one person out of three, what else does he do but deny the existence from eternity of the Only-begotten? And he denies also His dispensatory sojourn among men, His descent into hell, His resurrection, the judgment; and he denies also the special activities of the Spirit. — Letter CCX1

For I have been delivered from such a stance…

Also, I usually don’t like St. Basil.

Rosemary is more my flavor.

  1. Basil of Caesarea, Saint Basil: The Letters (ed. E. Capps et al.; trans. Roy J. Deferrari and Martin R. P. McGuire; vol. 3; The Loeb Classical Library; London; New York; Cambridge, MA: William Heinemann; G. P. Putnam’s Sons; Harvard University Press, 1926–1934), 201–203.