Symbolical Books This title designates the public confessions of faith of the different Christian churches or denominations; in other words, the writings in which an ecclesiastical communion publishes to the world the tenets that bind together its members and distinguish it from other communions of believers or unbelievers. For the idea of a symbol we refer to the article SYMBOLICS SEE SYMBOLICS .
The only symbol which finds universal acceptance in the Church is the Apostles Creed. As the Church creed κατ᾿ ἐξοχήν, it is distinguished from the Scriptures upon which it is based, but also, on the other hand, from the private writings and confessions of the teachers of the Church,-however greatly the latter may be esteemed. The later symbolical books differ from the briefer symbolical formulas, which alone served the purposes of the Church before the Reformation, in being more extensive and detailed, and in constituting the confessions of particular churches only (symbola particularia), while the great creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian) have ecumenical value. The phrase Libri Symbolici originated in the Lutheran Church, and was-first applied to its own confessional writings when they appeared in. the Book of Concord; but its use extended, and has long been current in all the churches and sects of Christendom.
Considerable diversity of opinion has existed with reference to the importance and value of symbolical writings. The Church of Rome regards the symbol as the immovable and unchangeable rule of faith, and therefore as the binding norm of doctrine. This does not, according to Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theol. 2, 2, 1, 9), detract from the supreme authority of the Scriptures, because the symbol is merely an extract from Scripture. In substance there is but one symbol; each additional formula is simply an exposition and closer determination of the original creed. Variations are to be understood as different aspects of the truth, assumed in view of the varying oppositions it has to encounter. The Church is accordingly competent to formulate a new symbol for the exposition of the truth, though not to set aside, or even to alter, the traditional creed (Thom. Aquinas, ut sup.).
The Church of the Reformation asserted the sole authority of Holy Scripture in matters of doctrine; and although it received the ecumenical symbols, it determined their character as being testimonia fidei simply, i.e. testimonies certifying the understanding of the Word of God current in the Church at a given time. The worth of confessions is accordingly made to depend on their agreement with the Scriptures, and they may be altered and improved. The author of the Augustana repeatedly undertook a thorough revision of his work; Luther did the same with the Smalcald Articles; and the evangelical estates not only approved of Melancthon's Variata, but in 1537 directed their theologians at the Convention of Smalcald to revise the confession. The beginnings of an obligatory support of the confession are, however, apparent at an early day. Subscription to the Augsburg
Confession was occasionally required during the fourth decade of the 16th century, and in 1533 the theological faculty of Wittenberg were required by statute to teach sound doctrine as contained in the ancient creeds and the Augsburg Confession. A growing disposition to insist on uniformity of teaching became manifest, and it was this which gave rise to the Osiandrian Controversies (q.v.). In the middle of the 16th century the various corpora doctrinae began to appear in 1560 the Corpus Doctr. Philippicun; in 1561 the C. D. Pomeranicum; in 1567 the C. D. Pruthenicum, etc. The conclusion was made in 1576 with the Formula of Concord (q.v.), and this names the writings to which symbolical authority is given by reason of a unanimous approval of their teachings, and is itself included among them. A rigid subscription was demanded in the countries where these writings were received by the civil government. The dispute with Calixtus (q.v.) led the Lutheran theologians to postulate a mediate inspiration, and consequently a divine authority, for the symbolical books; but the distinction between the canon of Scripture and such standards is nevertheless constantly preserved in word, if not always in fact. In reality, the symbolical books were regarded as a κανὼν τῆς πίστεως throughout the 17th century side by side with the Scriptures, inasmuch as the faith was grounded directly on the symbol rather than on the Bible.
The Reformed churches have produced no written symbol which has formal authority over them all; but they have cherished a very definite conviction of confessional unity among them, as may appear from the fact that the different Reformed confessions, and particularly the more important of them, the Helvetica, Gallicana, Scotica, Belgica, etc., are received in all such churches as embodiments of the pure type of doctrine, and from the further fact that the members of a Church holding to one of these confessions may pass beyond the territory within which such confession has authority, but cannot pass from one confession to another by joining a Church which adheres to another of the Reformed confessions. All such persons are regarded simply as members of the Reformed Church. The number of Reformed symbols was influential also in directing attention upon their substance rather than upon the formulated letter, it being conceded that with respect to the latter the confession is not infallible and incapable of further improvement. Such changes, however, are not to be needlessly undertaken, nor may individuals subject the confessional standards at will to experiments in the interests of novelty. Great care has ever been exercised to preserve the purity of the confessional symbols, in some instances carried to the extent of requiring the subscription of the clergy and the officers of state to doctrinal standards settled by law. (Basle and Geneva even required such subscription of the body of their citizens. The Reformed Church of East Friesland alone never required subscription to its symbol.) The 17th century produced symbols in this body also, e.g. the Canons of Dort and the Helvetic Consensus, both of which go beyond even the Formula of Concord in scholastic rigidness. The beginning of the 18th century saw a reaction, however; Spener already ventured to doubt the necessity of symbols, since the Church had so long existed without them, and expressed his dissent from the doctrine of their inspiration and infallibility. A century afterwards it was conceded that obligation to, adhere to the symbol holds only with reference to essentials; and a majority of critics asserted that the unessential, not directly religious and merely theological, which deserves no place at all in a creed, was greatly ini excess over that which is really essential. The conflict with rationalism caused many modifications in the views; of the churches; but subscription to the creed was generally insisted on, though the obligation thus assumed was often but lightly felt. In the present period, the reaction against rationalism has occasioned a revival of 17th-century confessionalism in many quarters; and, on the other hand, a liberal tendency requires a breaking away from the authority of symbols as being simply monuments of the faith of our fathers and evidences of former conquests, and also as being adverse to the genius of Protestantism. SEE CONFESSION OF FAITH.
The abstract right of the Church to require submission to its standards is evident, but it is a question which must be answered, May the Protestant Church" assert that right, and, if it may, then to what extent?' It is evident that the more recent symbols, as being more restrictive and separative in character than the older confessions and creeds; are of inferior authority.. It is also clear that the spirit and substance of a confession have greater importance than attaches to the form, or letter. Neither the Augsburg Confession nor the Heidelberg Catechism constitutes the Protestant Confession of Faith, and must be regarded simply as essays; towards formulating the body of Protestant doctrine, which may be tested by criticism and revised. Doctrinal purity in the concrete is, after all, a relative thing, and the Church is under the necessity of persisting in the work of grounding its teachings more solidly on the Word of God and of developing them further towards their ultimate consummation. A distinction must accordingly be admitted between heterodoxy of a more or less serious type, which consists in departing in some points from the accepted standards of a Church, and heresy, which removes the foundations and destroys the faith itself. It is none the less certain, however, that Protestantism requires an inner unity and a durable basis of character. Every step of its progress must be in harmony with its fundamental principles, which are laid down in the confessions formulated by its founders. Those symbols attest a faith, which belongs equally to our fathers and to us. The liberty of teaching, moreover, needs to be guarded, lest it degenerate into license and anarchy contrary to the Word of God and the order of the Church. Protestantism certainly has the right to protect its truth against neologizing antichristianity, and also against un-Protestant Romanism in a word, against manifest perversion. The subscription to symbols required of its accredited teachers can hardly, however, be without conditions. Perhaps the utmost extent to which such requirement should be pressed is a cordial acceptance of principles upon which the confessions are based, leaving particulars to be determined by the conscience of the subscriber. In any case, the symbols are entitled to respect so far as to make them the subject of earnest and loving study, and to protect them against abuse from professed adherents.
Literature. — Early Protestant writers have no separate locus for symbolical books, and but few treat of them even incidentally (see Hase, Hutterus Rediviv. p. 115, note 1). Among later doctrinal writers, see Twesten (1826), 1, 50 sq.; Hase (3rd ed. 1842), p. 498 sq.; Martensen, p. 74 sq. Controversial writings are partially given in Hase, ut sup. A comprehensive monograph is Johannsen's Wissenschaftl. u. hist. Unters. ib. d. Rechtmdissigkeit d. Verpflicht. auf symb. Bücher, etc. (Altona, 1833). See also id. Anfinge des Symbolzwangs, etc. (Leips. 1847); Matthes, Vergleichende Symbolik (ibid. 1843), p. 2 sq.; Schenkel, Urspriingl. Verhaltn. d. Kirche zumn Staat, in the Stud. u. Krit. 1850, 2, 454 sq.; Hilingi De Symb. Natura, Necessitate, Auctoritate, et Usu (Erl. 1835); Bretschneider, Unzuldssigkeit — d. Symbolzwangs, etc. (Leips. 1841); Rudelbach, Einl. in d. Augsb. Confession, etc. (Dresd. 1841); Sartorius, Nothw. u. Verbindl. d. kirchl. Glaubensbekenntnisse (Stuttg.' 1845); Schleiermacher, Eigentl. Wrth d. symb. Bücher, in Ref. A Im. (Frankf. 1819), p. 335 sq.; id. Sendschr. an v. Colln u. Schulz, in the Stud. u. Krit. 1831, 1, 3 sq.; id. Prakt. Theologie, p. 622 sq.; De Wette, Lehreinheit d. evan. Kirche, in the Stud Krit. 1831, 2, 221 sq.; Ullmann, Altenb. kirchl. Angel. etc., in the Stud. u. Krit. 1840, 2; Scherrer, Die
Princip. u. fakt. Stellung d. schweiz. —ref Kirche, etc., in the Verhandl. d. schweiz. Predigergesellsch. zu St. Gallen, 1844; Die gegenw. Krisis d. kirchl. Lebens, etc. (Gött. 1854); Petri, Beleucht. d. gott. Denkschrift, etc. (Hanov. 1854); Erkldrung der Denkschr. (Gott. 1854); Nitzsch, Prakt. Theol.1.
Among editions of Lutheran symbolical writings, those of Rechenberg, Concordia, etc. (Lips. 1678, 8vo, and often; last ed. 1756), and of Hase, fibri Symb. Eccl. Ev. etc. (ibid. 1837), deserve mention. The Reformed confessions have not been gathered into a single collection, the best and most complete collection being that of Niemeyer, Collect. Conf. in Eccl. Ref. Publicat. (ibid. 1840), cum Append. Other collections are by Augusti (Elberfeld, 1827), German by Mess (Neuwied, 1828, 1830, 2 pts.; comp. Schweizer, Ref. Glaubensl. 1, 122), and Heppe, Bekenntnissschriften d.ref. Kirchen Deutschl. (Elberfeld, 1860). The Libri Symbolici Eccl. Romano Catholicae were edited by Danz (Vimar. 1836) and Streitwolf et Klener (Gott. 1837 sq.); the Libri Symb. Eccl. Orientalis by Kimmel (Jena, 1843; cum Append. ibid. 1850). For the symbolical books and writings of particular churches and denominations, see the respective articles. —Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.