( Originally Published Early 1900's )
MIRACLES, and, above all, the crowning miracles of the Resurrection and Ascension to be followed by the second Advent, were from the first firmly fixed as parts of the disciples' belief. ' Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him ! As time went on, and Christianity spread wider and wider among the multitudes, and with less and less of control from the personal influence of Jesus, Christianity developed more and more its side of miracle and legend ; until to believe Jesus to be the Son of God meant to believe the points of the legend,—his preternatural conception and birth, his miracles, his descent into hell, his bodily resurrection, his ascent into heaven, and his future triumphant return to judgment. And these and like matters are what popular religion drew forth from the records of Jesus as the essentials of belief. These essentials got embodied in a short formulary ; and so the creed which is called the Apostles' Creed came together.
It is not the apostles' creed, for it took more than five hundred years to grow to maturity. It was not the creed of any single doctor or body of doctors, but it was a sort of summary of Christianity which the people, the Church at large, would naturally develope; it is the popular science of Christianity. Given the alleged charge : ` Go ye and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,' and the candidate for baptism would naturally come to have a profession of faith to make respecting that whereinto he was baptized; this profession of faith would naturally become just such a summary as the Apostles' Creed. It contains no mention of either the ' method' or the ` secret,' it is occupied entirely with external facts; and it may be safely said, not only that such a summary of religious faith could never have been delivered by Jesus, but it could never have been adopted as adequate by any of his principal apostles, by Peter, or Paul, or John. But it is, as we have said, the popular science of Christianity.
Years proceeded. The world came in to Christianity ; the world, and the world's educated people, and the educated people's Aryan genius with its turn for making religion a metaphysical conception; and all this in a time of declining criticism, a time when the possibility of true scientific criticism, in any direction whatever, was lessening rather than increasing. The popular science was found not elaborate enough to satisfy. Ingenious men took its terms and its data, and applied to them, not an historical criticism showing how they arose, but abstruse metaphysical conceptions. And so we have the so-called Nicene Creed, which is the learned science of Christianity, as the Apostles' Creed is the popular science.
Now, how this sort of learned science is related to the Bible we shall feel, if we compare the religious utterances of its doctors with the religious utterances of the Bible. Suppose, for instance, we compare with the Psalms the Soliloquies of St. Augustine, a truly great and religious man ; and of St. Augustine, not in school and controversy, but in religious soliloquy. St. Augustine prays : `Come to my help, thou one God, one eternal true substance, where is no discrepancy, no confusion, no transience, no indigency, no death ; where is supreme concord, supreme evidence, supreme constancy, supreme plenitude, supreme life ; where nothing is lacking, nothing is over and above ; where he who begets and he who is begotten of him are one ; God, above whom is nothing, outside whom is nothing, with-out whom is nothing; God, beneath whom is the whole, in whom is the whole, with whom is the whole !' And a further Book of Soliloquies, popularly ascribed to St. Augustine and printed with his works, but probably of a later date and author, shows the full-blown development of all this, shows the inevitable results of bringing to the idea of God this play of intellectual fancy so alien to the Bible. The passages we will quote take evidently their inspiration from the words of St. Augustine just given, and even retain in some degree his forms of expression ' Holy Trinity, superadmirable Trinity, and superinenarrable, and superinscrutable, and superinaccessible, superincomprehensible, superintelligible, superessential, sùperessentially surpassing all sense, all reason, all intellect, all intelligence, all essence of supercelestial minds ; which can neither be said, nor thought, nor understood, nor known even by the eyes of angels !' And again, more practically, but still in the same style ' O three co-equal and co-eternal Persons, one and true God, Father and Son and Holy Ghost, who by thyself inhabitest eternity and light inaccessible, who hast founded the earth in thy power, and rulest the world by thy prudence, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, terrible and strong, just and merciful, admirable, laudable, amiable, one God, three persons, one essence, power, wisdom, goodness, one and undivided Trinity, open unto me that cry unto Thee the gates of righteousness !'
And now compare this with the Bible :—Teach me to do the thing that pleaseth thee, for thou art my God! let thy loving spirit lead me forth into the land of righteousness!
That is Israel's way of praying ! that is how a poor ill-endowed Semite, belonging to the occipital races, unhelped by the Aryan genius and ignorant that religion is a meta-physical conception, talks religion ! and we see what a different thing he makes of it.
But, finally, the original Semite fell more and more into the shade. The Aryans came to the front, the notion of religion being a metaphysical conception prevailed. But the doctors differed in their metaphysics ; and the doctors who conquered enshrined their victorious form of metaphysics in a creed, the so-called Creed of St. Athanasius, which is learned science like the Nicene Creed, but learned science which has fought and got ruffled by fighting, and is fiercely dictatorial now that it has won ; learned science with a strong dash of violent and vindictive temper. Thus we have the three creeds : the so-called Apostles' Creed, popular science; the Nicene Creed, learned science ; the Athanasian Creed, learned science with a strong dash of temper. And the two latter are founded on the first, taking its data just as they stand, but dressing them metaphysically.
Now this first Creed is founded on a supposed final charge from Jesus to his apostles : 'Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost !'1 It explains and expands what Jesus here told his apostles to baptize the world into. But we have already remarked the difference in character between the narrative, in the Gospels, of what happened before Christ's death, and the narrative of what happened after it. For all words of Jesus placed after his death, the internal evidence becomes pre-eminently important. He may well nave said words attributed to him, but not then. So the speech to Thomas, 'Because thou hast seen me thou hast believed ; blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed !' may quite well have been a speech of Jesus uttered on some occasion during his life, and then transferred to the story of the days after his resurrection and made the centre of this incident of the doubt of Thomas. On the other hand, again, the prophecy of the details of Peter's death i is almost certainly an addition after the event, because it is not at all in the manner of Jesus. What is in his manner, and what he had probably at some time said, are the words given else-where : `Whither I go thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards.' So, too, it is extremely improbable that Jesus should have ever charged his apostles to `baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.' There is no improbability in his investing them with a very high commission. He may perfectly well have said : 'Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted; whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.' But it is almost impossible he can have given this charge to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost ; it is by far too systematic and what people are fond of calling an anachronism. It is not the least like what Jesus was in the habit of saying, and it is just like what would be attributed to him as baptism and its formula grew in importance. The genuine charge of Jesus to his apostles was, almost certainly : ' As my Father sent me, even so send I you,' and not this. So that our three creeds, and with them the whole of our so-called orthodox theology, are founded upon words which Jesus in all probability never uttered.