Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter (@BrianGMattson), and read his blog (www.brianmattson.squarespace.com).
Greetings! I want to begin by thanking Aaron for the opportunity to hold down the fort on his blog this month. I hope he has a wonderful, restful, and energizing vacation from blogging, and I will do my best to continue his tradition of producing excellent content on Blogging Theologically.
My plan is a fairly simple one. I am going to write fifteen blog posts this month as a discrete series. Taken together, they form what I am calling 15 Meditations on the Apostles’ Creed. Following two introductory posts on the nature of Christian tradition, each subsequent post will be a simple meditation on an article of the creed.
But allow me to begin by addressing the question: Why Tradition? The Apostles’ Creed represents for the entire world of orthodox Christianity a tradition passed down from the early church to us as an articulation of the basics of Christian belief. The questions are: Do we need it and why?
I believe the answer to the former is yes, and the latter question will be taken up in the next post. But there are two basic pitfalls that we must endeavor to avoid, both to the right and to the left. Let me illustrate these pitfalls by telling a “Tale of Two Fictions.”
The first comes to us from the early 5th century. In A.D. 404, a church leader by the name of Tyrannius Rufinus wrote this account of what happened after Pentecost and the Twelve Apostles prepared to embark on their respective ministries:
As they were therefore on the point of taking leave of each other, they first settled an agreed norm for their future preaching, so that they might not find themselves, widely separated as they would be, giving out different doctrines to the people they invited to believe in Christ. So they met together in one spot and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, compiled this brief token, as I have said, of their future preaching, each making the contribution he thought fit; and they decreed that it should be handed out as standard teaching to believers.
This brief description purports to tell us the origins of the Apostles’ Creed, and the account became the near universally-held view of the church in the Middle Ages. It was taken for granted that the Creed was written by the Apostles themselves, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. A more detailed account comes to us from a 6th century sermon:
On the tenth day after the Ascension, when the disciples were gathered together for fear of the Jews, the Lord sent the promised Paraclete upon them. At His coming they were inflamed like red-hot iron and, being filled with the knowledge of all languages, they composed the creed. Peter said, “I believe in God the Father almighty…maker of heaven and earth”… Andrew said “and in Jesus Christ His Son…our Lord” … and James said “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit… born from the Virgin Mary” … John said, “suffered under Pontius Pilate … was crucified, dead and buried”… [et cetera].
This story, as I said, won almost universal acceptance in the Middle Ages. The thought that the Apostles themselves were directly responsible for the Creed named after them is warming and enticing. Alas, it is, as renowned scholar J.N.D. Kelly puts it, a “pious fiction.” It is a story invented at some time or another in an attempt to vindicate the authenticity and theological purity of the creed. It is an attempt to read a more fully developed theology right back into the pages of the New Testament itself, indeed, to put its content directly onto the lips of Christ’s appointed spokesmen. Its intent is, indeed, pious, but fiction it remains, nonetheless. [Read more...]