Fourth Noble Lecture
Dr. Fremantle gave the fourth of the William Belden Noble lectures last night on the subject. "The Bearing of Creeds and Confessions of Faith on Social Progress" He said in part:-
The older Church bodies repeat the ancient Creeds; the more modern are held together by certain forms of doctrine, expressed or tacit or embodied in a name.
In the beginning, as at Pentecost, no form of adherence was required: Afterwards some simple form like, "I believe that Jesus is the Son of God," was the condition of baptism. Then the words of our Lord about baptizing in the Name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost became a baptismal confession; and these were drawn out into the creeds which lasted through the Middle Ages. At the Reformation and since, many confessions have been framed, though we all feel, with Harnack, that the time for fresh ones is passed. We have to consider; the value of creeds and confessions, their danger, and by examining some of the prominent doctrines to show their bearing on life and progress.
Most men feel a need, when they have some deep feeling, of expressing it. Goethe said that all his poetry was due to this need. The social spirit makes us wish to find some expression which embodies our agreement and union. The Gospel promises are made not to belief only, but to confession of belief. The Greeks called the creeds symbols, that is, signs or watchwords. A single word, like Amen, Hallelujah, or the Dervishes' cry "La illah 'llah" (no God but God) kindles enthusiasm when pronounced by many together with conviction. So the Christian creeds, believed and outspoken produce mutual confidence and strengthen faith and zeal.
The dangers are in men being convinced of what is not true; or of binding themselves to what they but half believe, or in the imposition of doubtful propositions, which becomes a tyranny. The dogmatic tendency, first growing among the Greeks, and then enforced by the Roman Law, was open to all these dangers, though there is a certain grandeur and reticence in the creeds it produced, especially when contrasted with the dogmatic speculations, often imposed as necessary truth, after the Reformation in Germany. Our age claims not an extension of dogmas, but their simplification and interpretation.
The Aposties' Creed is praised because it is a statement of facts; but the facts need to be shown as having a spiritual import. The Father must not mean Creator merely, but the Righteous Friend and Lover of men, the source of all beneficence. The position we claim for the Son must not be so much a metaphysical as a moral supremacy. The old creeds, if moral interpretation be given them, even the Athanasian Creed may be used for the support of a moral and social faith. Coming to the Confessions of the Reformation period, we must understand their watchword, "Faith" like St. Paul, as "Faith which worketh by love," and election as a call to service on behalf of mankind. Even the doctrines of the Council of Trent may be purified by this moralization: the Papacy becomes the assertion of the need of unity: Trans substantiation the change of the 'idea' which makes us feel the presence of Christ: Purgatory the hope of restoration for imperfect souls. So, in the dominant belief of a later time, inspiration becomes the association not only of Prophets and Apostles but of all Christ like men and writings in the redemptive, uplifting work of the Saviour. The Atonement in a reconciliation in mind and deed to God through the self-offering of Christ which begets self-sacrifice in us. The Judgment is going on wherever truth is set forth, and issues in a constant call to men to take the side of Christ and labor for the raising of mankind to the true life