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§ 5. Classification of Creeds.
The Creeds of Christendom may be divided into four classes, corresponding to the three main divisions of the Church, the Greek, Latin, and Evangelical, and their common parent. A progressive growth of theology in different directions can be traced in them.
1. The Œcumenical Symbols of the Ancient Catholic Church. They contain chiefly the orthodox doctrine of God and of Christ, or the fundamental dogmas of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation. They are the common property of all churches, and the common stock from which the later symbolical books have grown.
2. The Symbols of the Greek or Oriental Church, in which the Greek faith is set forth in distinction from that of the Roman Catholic and the evangelical Protestant Churches. They were called forth by the fruitless attempts of the Jesuits to Romanize the Greek Church, and by the opposite efforts of the crypto-Calvinistic Patriarch Cyrillus Lucaris to evangelize the same. They differ from the Roman Creeds mainly in the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit, and the more important doctrine of the Papacy; but in the controversies on the rule of faith, justification by faith, the church and the sacraments, the worship of saints and relics, the hierarchy and the monastic system, they are much more in harmony with Romanism than with Protestantism.
3. The Symbols of the Roman Church, from the Council of Trent to the Council of the Vatican (1563 to 1870). They sanction the distinctive doctrines of Romanism, which were opposed by the Reformers, and condemn the leading principles of evangelical Protestantism, especially the supreme authority of the Scriptures as a sufficient rule of faith and practice, and justification by faith alone. The last dogma, proclaimed by the Vatican Council in 1870, completes the system by making the official infallibility of the Pope an article of the Catholic faith (which it never was before).
4. The Symbols of the Evangelical Protestant Churches. Most of them date from the period of the Reformation (some from the seventeenth century), and thus precede, in part, the specifically Greek and Latin confessions. They agree with the primitive Catholic Symbols, but they ingraft upon them the Augustinian theory of sin and grace, and several doctrines in anthropology and soteriology (e.g., the doctrine of atonement and justification), which had not been previously settled by the Church in a conclusive way. They represent the progress in the development of Christian theology among the Teutonic nations, a profounder understanding of the Holy Scriptures (especially the Pauline Epistles), and of the personal application of Christ's mediatorial work.
The Protestant Symbols, again, are either Lutheran or Reformed. The former were all made in Germany from A.D. 1530 to 1577; the latter arose in different countries—Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland, Hungary, Poland, England, Scotland, wherever the influence of Zwingli and Calvin extended. The Lutheran and Reformed confessions agree almost entirely in their theology, christology, anthropology, soteriology, and eschatology, but they differ in the doctrines of divine decrees and of the nature and efficacy of the sacraments, especially the mode of Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper.
The later evangelical denominations, as the Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers, Arminians, Methodists, Moravians, acknowledge the leading doctrines of the Reformation, but differ from Lutheranism and Calvinism in a number of articles touching anthropology, the Church, and the sacraments, and especially on Church polity and discipline. Their creeds are modifications and abridgments rather than enlargements of the old Protestant symbols.
The heretical sects connected with Protestantism mostly reject symbolical books altogether, as a yoke of human authority and a new kind of popery. Some of them set aside even the Scriptures, and make their own reason or the spirit of the age the supreme judge and guide in matters of faith; but such loose undenominational denominations have generally no cohesive power, and seldom outlast their founders.
The denominational creed-making period closed with the middle of the seventeenth century, except in the Roman Church, which has quite recently added two dogmas to her creed, viz., the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary (1854), and the Infallibility of the Bishop of Rome (1870).
If we are to look for any new creed, it will be, we trust, a creed, not of disunion and discord, but of union and concord among the different branches of Christ's kingdom.
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