Confession of Faith
Confession Of Faith, a collection of the articles of belief of any Church. SEE CREED.
I. Their Use in the Church. —
(1.) The Protestant Confessions were the result of efforts, at the dawn of reviving toleration, to separate the Christian doctrines from the mass of corruption which ignorance, negligence, or artifice had conduced to accumulate around them, under an implicit obedience to the authority and domination of the Church of Rome.
(2.) Many persons altogether object to Creeds and Confessions of Faith on the ground that they infringe Christian liberty, supersede the Scriptures, exclude topics which ought not to be excluded, and 'admit such as ought not to be admitted; are often too particular and long; are liable to be abused; tempt men to hypocrisy; preclude improvement; and have been employed as means of persecution. It is said further "that confessional formularies, if they do not supersede the Word of God, are placed on a parity with it, and, to a wide extent, are of greater practical authority. Two consequences follow: the first is, that spiritual life is either altogether extinguished, or, where it exists, is so dwarfed and imprisoned that it has neither scope nor power of manifestation; and the second, that fellow- Christians who occupy a domain on the outside of the confessional pale are condemned as schismatics, and at the same time feared as if they were foes."
(3.) On the other hand, the arguments in favor of them are such as the following. All arts and sciences have been reduced to system, and why should not the truths of religion, which are of greater importance? A compendious view of the principal points of the Christian religion must be useful to inform the mind, as well as to hold forth to the world. which are the sentiments of particular churches. They tend to discover the common friends of the same faith to each other, and to unite them together. The Scriptures countenance them. We have the moral law, the Lord's prayer, "the form of doctrine," mentioned by St. Paul (Ro 6:17), and "the form of sound words" (2Ti 1:13). Their becoming the occasion of hypocrisy is not the fault of the Confessions, but of those who subscribe them. If all Creeds and Confessions were expressed in the words of Scripture, this would set aside all exposition and interpretation, and would destroy all means of distinguishing the sentiments of one man from those of another (Farrar, s.v.). And to say that each individual is to interpret the Creeds by the Bible, and to hold and publish his own interpretation, without reference to that of the Church to which he may belong, "is not to exalt the Scriptures, but only to confound the uses of the Word of God and the word of the Church. The one is at all times the ultimate appeal of every believer's conscience; the other is the interpretation of that appeal by the collective body of the Church. The Church does not first make a minister, and then tie him down to her articles; but the minister, professing to have been moved by the Holy Ghost, and demanding to exercise his office and to be intrusted with the cure of souls in the community to which he applies, is asked by the Church whether his individual interpretation of the Scripture accords with that of the collective mind of his brethren. If he cannot answer in the affirmative, it is evident that he must exercise his ministry elsewhere. A particular Church may be in the wrong, and an individual may be in the right; in which case there will arise controversy, and the Church, by the secession and opposition of individuals, may be led to modify and improve its theology. But this must be done by a collective act, and not by the insubordination of private clergymen filling the Church with various doctrines, and giving to its proclamation of the Gospel an uncertain sound. For, if it were otherwise, what heresy could be excluded?"
(4.) In the interpretation of Confessions there are some distinctions perpetually overlooked, some most important principles of interpretation but little attended to. For instance, sometimes the private opinions of the framers of formularies confessedly go beyond them; now these private opinions are sometimes appealed to as a proof that the formularies ought to be understood in that extended sense, whereas they prove the direct contrary. (See Archbishop Whately's Kingdom of Christ, sec. 24.) If, indeed, the writings of these framers contain indications of the design with which they were framed, this ought to be considered. For instance, articles, etc., framed manifestly on purpose to exclude certain Romish doctrines, as being so utterly unscriptural as to justify and enforce that separation from Rome which the Reformers deliberately resolved on, ought not to be interpreted so as to be consistent with these doctrines; not, however, because this would have been at variance with the private opinions of each Reformer separately, but because it would be at variance with their deliberate public declaration as a body. Again, there is a distinction to be observed between the interpretation (i) of anything put forth by an individual for the purpose of instructing others or explaining his own views, and (ii) of anything emanating from an assembly, the members of which could not be expected exactly to agree, not only in every shade of opinion, and the relative importance also of every point, but also in the degree of concession to be made to those before whom their declarations were to be put; e.g. an individual (unless a blunderer) will never make one part of his statement so far neutralize the other, that the whole effects no object which might not have been equally well obtained by omitting the whole, yet some public declarations drawn up by assemblies of sensible men may be expected to be such; the XVIIth 'Article' of the Church of England, for instance, is by many considered to contain nothing which might not have been attained by omitting it. In any such case, it may have been that a strong majority think it will be requisite to say something on the point; many may think that so and so ought to be said; and many others may object to this, unless some qualification be added, such as nearly to neutralize it. These principles of interpretation are incalculably important, and should be constantly remembered" (Eden, s.v.). SEE CREEDS.
II. Confessions of different Churches. —
1. That of the Greek Church, entitled "The Confessions of the True and Genuine Faith," which was presented to Mohammed II in 1453, but which gave place to the "Orthodox Confession of the Catholic and Apostolic Greek Church," composed by Mogila, metropolitan of Kiev, in Russia, and approved in 1643 by the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. It contains the standard of the principles of the Russian- Greek Church. For the originals, see Libri `Symbolici ecclesioe Orientalis, ed. Eo J. Kimmel (Jena, 1843, 8vo); Neale, Hist. of the Eastern Church (Lond. 1850, 2 vols.). SEE GREEK CHURCH.
2. The Church of Rome, though she has always received the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian creeds, had no fixed, public, and authoritative symbol till the Council of Trent. A summary of the doctrines contained in the canons of that council is given in the creed published by Pius IV (1564) in the form of a bull. It is introduced by the Nicene Creed, to which it adds twelve articles, comprising those doctrines which the Church of Rome finally adopted after her controversies with the Reformers. SEE CREED OF PIUS IV. Besides this creed, and the "Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent," the Church of Rome acknowledges no symbolical books as authoritative. SEE TRENT, COUNCIL OF. The best editions are Canon. et Decret. Concil. Trid. (Lips. 1853, 8vo); Buckley, Canons and Decrees of Trent (Lond. 1851, 12mo); Donovan, Catechism of the Council of Trent (Balt. 8vo). See also Streitwolf, Lib. Symb. Eccl. Cath. (Gott. 1844), and the article TRENT SEE TRENT .
3. The Lutheran books of faith and discipline are called Libri Symbolici Ecclesiae Evangelicae. They contain the three creeds — Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian, SEE CREEDS, the Augsburg Confession, SEE AUGSBURG, the "Apology" for that Confession by Melancthon, the Articles of Smalcald (q.v.) drawn up by Luther, the Catechisms of Luther, and in many churches the Form of Concord, or Book of Berg. SEE CONCORD. The Saxon, Wirtemburg, Suabian, Pomeranian, Mansfeldtian, and Copenhagen Confessions agree in general with the symbolical books of the Lutherans, but are authoritative only in the countries after which they are respectively called. There are many editions of the Libri Symbolici; the best-and most convenient are those of Hase (3d edit. Leip. 1846, 12mo) and of Francke (edit. stereot. Leips. 1846, 12mo). SEE LUTHERAN CHURCH.
4. Of the Calvinistic Confessions the following are the principal:
(1.) The four Helvetic Confessions that of Basle, 1530; the Summary and Confession of the Helvetic churches, 1536; the Expositio Simplex, etc., 1566, ascribed to Bullinger; and the Formula Consensus Helvetici. 1675. SEE HELVETIC.
(2.) The Tetrapolitan Confession, 1531, which derives its name from four cities, Strasburg, Constance, Memmingen, and Lindau, by the deputies of which it was signed: it is attributed to Bucer.
(3.) The Palatine or Heidelberg Catechism, framed by Ursinus and Olevianus, first published in 1563. SEE HEIDELBERG.
(4.) The Confession of the Gallic churches, accepted at the first synod of the Reformed, held at Paris, 1559. SEE GALLICAN CONFESSION.
(5.) The Confession of the Reformed churches in Belgium, drawn up in 1559, and approved in 1561. SEE BELGIC.
(6.) The Confession of Faith of Scotland, allowed by the Estates in 1560, and subscribed by king James in 1561.
(7.) The Westminster Confession. SEE WESTMINSTER.
(8.) The Canons of the Synod of Dort. SEE DORT. See Corpus Librorum Symbolicorum, ed. J. C. G. Augusti (Elberfeld, 1827, 8vo); Collectio Confessionum in Eccles. reformatis, edit. H. A. Niemeyer (Lipsiae, 1840, 8vo, the most complete and convenient manual); Bockel, Die Bekenntnissschriften der evangelisch-reformirten, Kirche (Leipz. 1847). The last-named work contains, besides all the Reformed Confessions of Faith (of Germany, Switzerland, France, Great Britain, Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, and the Netherlands), brief introductions and notes to each of them.
5. The Anglican Confession, or "Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England," agreed on in the Convocation held in London, 1552. They were drawn up: in Latin, but in 1571 they were revised, and subscribed both in Latin and English. SEE ARTICLES, 39; SEE ENGLAND, CHURCH OF. They were adopted by the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1801, with some alterations, and the rejection of the Athanasian Creed. A selection from these forms the "Articles of the Methodist Episcopal Church." SEE ARTICLES, 25; SEE METHODIST EPISCOPAL.
The subject of "Confessions of Faith" is treated in Systematic Theology under the head of Symbolism, or Symbolics. The best special collections and textbooks, besides those already named, are: Marheineke, Institutiones symbolicae doct. Cath., Prot., Socin., ecclesiae Greece Minorumque Societ. Christian. (Berlin, 1830, 3d ed. 8vo); Guericke, Allgemeine chr. Symbolik (Leips. 1846, 8vo); Winer, Comparative Darstellung des Lehrbegrifs der verschiedenen christlichen Kirchenpartheien (Lips. 1837, 4to); Mohler, . A. (Romanist), Symbolism, or Exposition of the Doctrinal Differences betw. Cath. and Prot. (New York, 1844, 8vo); Corpus et Syntagma Confessionum fidei (Genev. 1654, 4to); Hall, Harmony of Protestant Confessions (London, 1844,. 8vo); Sylloge Confessionum, edit. auct. (Oxon. 1827, 8vo). Very convenient manuals are Hahn, Das Bekenntniss der evangelischen Kirche, in seinemn Verhaltniss zu d. romischen u. griechischen (Lips. 1853, 12mo); Hofmann, Symbolik (1856, 8vo); Heurtley, Harmonia Symbolica (Oxford, 1858, 8vo). — Winer, Theol. Lit. 11; Hend. Buck, s.v.; Pelt, Theol. Encyclopedie, § 67; Hagenbach, Theol. Encyclop. § 76; Hill, Divinity, Am. ed., p. 751.
The general harmony of the Protestant Confessions has been shown in various publications. Bossuet's Histoire des Variations des Eglises Protestantes (1688) was written to show that the Protestant churches were wide asunder in points of faith; and Basnage's Histoire de la Religion des Eglises Reformees (Rott. 1725, 2 vols. 4to) affords a thorough refutation of Bossuet. The Assembly of Frankfort, 1577, entertained the question of a new Confession, which should be adopted by all, or nearly all, the Protestant bodies. A number of divines (among whom Beza, Salvart, and Dalean are named) accordingly drew up a Harmonia Confessionum Fidei Orthodoxarum et Rebormatarum Ecclesiarum, etc. (Geneva, 1581, 4to). It embodies, under heads of doctrine, the following eleven Confessions: Augsburg, the Tetrapolitana, Basle, Helvetian, Saxony, Wartemberg, France, England, Helvetica posterior, Belgium, and Bohemia (see Niemeyer, Prof. ad Coll. Confess. 5-9). An English translation was immediately made, and published under the title, An Harmony of the Confessions of Faith of Christian and Reformed Churches, etc. (Camb. 1586, 12mo; London, 1643, 4to). A new edition of this very valuable work was published in 1842 by the Rev. P. Hall, with important prolegomena and additions (Lond. 1842; again 1844, 8vo). This edition gives also in an appendix, in English, the 39 Articles; the Westminster Confession of 1647; Usher's Articles adopted by the Convocation of the Episcopal Church in Ireland, 1615; and the Articles of the Synod of Dort.
Among minor works of this class we name Stuart, The Scriptural Unity of Protestant Churches, exhibited in their published Confessions (Dublin, 1835, 12mo); contains the 39 Articles, the Irish Articles, the Confession of the Church of Scotland, and a Declaration of Faith of the Congregational dissenters. Also Cumming, Unity of Protestantism, being Articles of Religion from the Creeds of the Reformed Churches (Lond. 1837, 8vo), which contains extracts from nine Confessions, arranged under heads. See Hall, Harmony of Protestant Confessions (Lond. 1842, 8vo). For the three ecumenical Confessions, SEE CREED, APOSTLES; SEE CREED, ATHANASIAN; SEE CREED, NICENE.