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Nature and Grace: Selections from the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas
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Article Nine

Whether the Articles of Faith are appropriately Set Forth in a Symbol

We proceed to the ninth article thus:

1. It seems that the articles of faith are not appropriately set forth in a symbol. For sacred Scripture is the rule of faith, and nothing should be added to it or taken from it. As it is said in Deut. 4:2, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it.” It was therefore unlawful to draw up any symbol as a rule of faith, once sacred Scripture had been written.

2. Again, in Eph. 4:5 the apostle says “one faith.” Now a symbol is a profession of the faith. It is therefore inappropriate that there should be many symbols.

3. Again, the confession of faith contained in the symbol is for all the faithful. Now the faithful are not all capable of believing in God, but only those whose faith is formed. It is therefore inappropriate that the symbol of the faith should be expressed in such words as “I believe in one God.”

4. Again, it was said in the preceding article that the descent into hell is one of the articles of faith. But there is no mention of the descent into hell in the symbol of the Fathers, which therefore seems to be incomplete.

5. Again, in his exposition of John 14:1, “ye believe in God, believe also in me,” Augustine says: “we believe Peter or Paul, but we say that we believe ‘in’ God only.” Now the catholic Church is merely something that is created. It seems inappropriate, therefore, to say “in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

6. Again, a symbol is drawn up as a rule of faith. Now a rule of faith ought to be set before everyone, publicly. Every symbol should accordingly be sung at mass, like the symbol of the Fathers. It seems inappropriate, therefore, to edit the articles of faith in the form of a symbol.

On the other hand: the universal Church cannot err, since it is governed by the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of truth. For this was the promise which our Lord gave to the disciples when he said: “when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). Now the symbol is published by the universal Church. It therefore contains nothing inappropriate.

I answer: as the apostle says in Heb. 11:6: “he that cometh to God must believe.” Now no one can believe, unless the truth which he may believe is proposed to him. It was therefore necessary that the truth of faith should be collected into one, that it might the more easily be proposed to all, lest any should default from the truth through ignorance of the faith. It is as such a collection of pronouncements of the faith that the “symbol” is so named.

On the first point: the truth of faith is contained in sacred Scripture diffusely and in various modes, in some of which it is obscure. To elicit the truth from sacred Scripture consequently requires prolonged study and training. This is not possible for all of those who must know the truth of faith, many of whom are busy with other matters, and cannot find the time for study. It was therefore necessary to put together a clear summary of the pronouncements of sacred Scripture, and to propose this for the belief of all. This is not an addition to sacred Scripture, but rather an extract from it.

On the second point: it is the same truth of faith that is taught by every symbol. But it is necessary to explain the truth of faith more thoroughly whenever errors arise, lest the faith of the simple minded should be corrupted by heretics, and several symbols have had to be devised for this reason. But they differ only in that what is implicit in one is made more explicit in another, in order to counter the menace of heresies.

On the third point: the confession of faith is expressed in the symbol on behalf of the whole Church, which is united by the faith. Now the faith of the Church is formed faith, for such is the faith of all who belong to the Church worthily, and not as numbers. Hence the confession of faith is expressed in the symbol in a manner befitting faith which is formed, while it also enables those whose faith is unformed to study to conform to it.

On the fourth point: there was no need to make the descent into hell more explicit, since no error concerning it had arisen among heretics. Hence it is not reaffirmed in the symbol of the Fathers, but assumed as settled by the earlier symbol of the apostles. A later symbol does not however cancel an earlier one, but makes it explicit, as we said in reply to the second point.

On the fifth point: if we say “in the holy catholic Church,” it is to be understood that our faith refers to the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the Church, so that we mean “I believe in the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the Church.” It is better, however, and also customary, to omit the word “in,” and to say simply “the holy catholic Church,” as did Pope Leo (according to Rufinus in his exposition of the symbol, among the works of Cyprian).

On the sixth point: the symbol of the Fathers is sung publicly at mass because it is a declaration of the symbol of the apostles, and because it was formulated at a time when the faith had already been manifested, and when the Church had peace. The symbol of the apostles, on the other hand, is said secretly at Prime and Compline as if it were a protection against the shadows of past and future errors, because it was formulated in time of persecution, when the faith had not yet been made public.

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