ORIGIN OF THE CREEDS
Abel Leighton Allen
The Message of New Thought
“No! such a God my worship may not win,
Who lets the world about his finger spin,
A thing externe; my God must rule within,
And whom I own for Father, God, Creator,
Hold nature in Himself, Himself in nature;
And in his kindly arms embraced, the whole,
Doth live and move by his pervading soul.”
THAT there may be a better understanding and clearer comprehension of the fundamental principles of New Thought, and wherein it differs from the recognized systems of orthodox theology, I shall undertake to institute a comparison between some of its teachings and the doctrines of orthodox religions. This plan of statement is adopted, because in no other manner can the distinctions and divergencies between the principles of New Thought and those of the recognized theologies be so accurately measured and determined.
At this time there seems to be an imperfect and mystified conception and understanding, in the minds of many persons, adherents both of New Thought and the orthodox religions, of the real message of New Thought and what it represents and teaches. This is not surprising since the Christian religion, although its followers claim for it a different origin, and to be founded on different ideas and conceptions, adopted in a more or less modified form many of the ceremonials and rituals and some of the teachings of the ancient pagan religions, and persistently adhere to them and treat them as essential, even to the present day. It is not, therefore, anomalous that there should be a tendency among the followers of both New Thought and the orthodox adherents to combine some of the philosophy of New Thought with the dogmas and creeds of the orthodox religions.
The plan of comparing the principles of the philosophy of New Thought with those of the orthodox religions is adopted not for a critical purpose, but with a view to finding the initial and important points of difference between the two and clearly differentiating them, so that they can be more readily and clearly comprehended.
Ecclesiastical authorities both in the past and present have not encouraged a critical or careful research and study of the foundations upon which theological structures are built. The theologian has been able to vault over great gaps in history with the nimbleness of an athlete, but the inquiring and careful layman might not be able to accomplish the same feat. In the Catholic Church the adherents have been told, in unmistakable language, that they must accept the dicta and authority of the Church as conclusive and final.
In the orthodox branches of the Protestant churches a critical review of the origin of the creeds is not encouraged, and particular beliefs and dogmas are enjoined as paramount and absolutely necessary to salvation, and that any doubts thereof would unmistakenly incur the Divine displeasure. With them the search for truth is of less importance than the acceptance of certain beliefs.
This may be called an incredulous age, but it is nevertheless a reasoning, thinking, and investigating age. Mind is at last becoming free. It is asserting itself as never before. It is refusing to be bound by the edicts and commands of authority, which we shall discover in a later page was invented for the sole purpose of silencing the reasoning and investigations of man.
In this twentieth century, too, men are asking why they must be bound by fixed beliefs, which the reason rejects, and why it is wrong to question them. Man finds himself endowed with reason and is conscious of his reasoning faculties, the one quality and divine gift that raises him above the animal, and asks why he may not exercise those powers in the investigation of religious questions as well as all others. Men are asking this question, why are the exponents of the creeds so persistent in enforcing their beliefs upon others? Why are they so uncharitable to those who differ, when the mind cannot accept their beliefs? Why the manifestation of so much displeasure at what are called unbelievers?
Many worthy persons are deeply grieved at what seems to be a growth of independent thought. They look upon modern progressive thought as an evidence of a decline in religion. They worship creeds in the name of religion. They reject truth in the name of creeds. They see in ceremonials and forms the highest expression of religion. They worship the old and distrust the new. They assume that a change of thought cannot be productive of any good, but must result in the subversion of all religious thought. They assume that it will lead man from all true considerations of a religious life.
All religion is based on man’s conception of God. Because my conception differs from yours, is it fair to quarrel with me because of that? That our views of an infinite God differ should cause no surprise. It does not follow, because men question existing beliefs, that they are not deeply religious themselves, that they are thinking at all about religion is evidence that they are in fact religious. That they are not satisfied with the old is evidence that they are trying to find a better and more satisfying religion. Man ought not to be blamed for seeking the religion that best satisfies the wants of his own soul. Carlyle said: “We will understand that destruction of old forms is not destruction of everlasting substances; that skepticism is not an end, but a beginning.”
It has been well said that man never really understands a truth until he has contended against it. In this age of intellectual and religious liberty we ought to be able to discuss in a dispassionate manner all subjects to which the mind is directed, whether religious or secular. In that spirit let us proceed to a study of New Thought and the orthodox religions and find the important lines of divergence: “He who will not reason is a bigot, He who dares not reason is a stave.”
The theology of all so-called orthodox churches, the Roman Catholic, the Greek Catholic, and the various branches of the Protestant Church, is fundamentally and in all essential points the same. Their basic principles are the same, and they draw their life and inspiration from the one identical source. The Reformation was not caused by any important differences between the fundamental creeds and doctrines of the Church. When Protestantism broke away from the Catholic Church, it was not because it disputed the underlying principles of the Church, but mainly and essentially because of certain abuses and practices it was claimed had grown up in the Catholic Church. The sale of indulgences and like practices contributed largely to the separation.
When Luther separated from the Catholic Church, he still clung to the theological ideas of the separation of God and man, original sin, the vicarious atonement, that none outside the Church could be saved, the doctrine of transubstantiation in reference to the sacraments, the denial of the freedom of the will, all of which, as we shall hereafter find, were first promulgated by the Church while under the dominion of the Latin bishops. He announced the doctrine of justification by faith and greatly magnified the functions and importance of Satan, so much so that we are told that he once hurled an inkstand at the phantom he called the devil.
John Calvin declared that God was outside the framework of the universe and denounced the idea of an immanent God. He adopted from the Catholic Church all the doctrines of a vicarious atonement, including that of election, which was first announced by Augustine in the fifth century A.D.
The creeds of both the older and newer churches after the Reformation continued substantially the same, and they remain the same today. The creeds of the Roman Catholic, the Greek Catholic, and the several branches of the Protestant Church are based on the following fundamental ideas and declarations: First, that man was estranged from God and became a fallen being by reason of Adam’s sin in partaking of the forbidden fruit, when the serpent said to Eve: “Your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil;” second, that by reason thereof man became by nature sinful and lost; third, that because of his lost condition, it became necessary to have a vicarious atonement to reconcile God to man; fourth, that God brought forth Jesus for that purpose; that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, and became the vicarious atonement for man’s redemption; fifth, that Jesus was crucified, was buried, and resurrected and ascended into Heaven, and there sits on the right hand of God, to judge the quick and the dead; sixth, that a belief in all this is necessary and essential for man’s salvation and a life of happiness in a future world; that if man will repent of his sins and believe this, his offenses will all be blotted out and he will be saved in heaven.
The three basic ideas are the fall of man, the vicarious atonement, and an absolute belief in these propositions. This statement might be enlarged and amplified, but in the end we should come back to the same propositions. This will no doubt be accepted by theologians as a fair and impartial statement of the underlying principles of the creeds of all the so-called Orthodox denominations. It is true the Catholic Church, in addition to the dogmas above expressed, still holds to the doctrines of the authority of the Church, Apostolic succession, priestly intervention, etc., which some of the Protestant churches have omitted from their creeds. But in substance the theologies of the Orthodox Protestant and Catholic churches are the same.
The adherents of New Thought cannot accept these views of orthodox theologians, for two reasons: First, because they do not rest upon any adequate or sufficient historical basis. Secondly, because these dogmas find their only support in the theory and supposition of the separation of God from man, which the advocates of New Thought cannot admit or concede. How many modern Christians know anything of the origin and history of the creeds and dogmas to which they yield implicit faith and obedience? They have been unqualifiedly accepted, without inquiry, doubt, or investigation. For fifteen centuries every doubt and inquiry about their origin, their reasonableness and truth have persistently been frowned upon by priest and theologian alike. They have held up doubt as a deadly offense and investigation as treason to the authority of the Church, that is, divine authority. They said, “Believe what we tell you or we will burn you as a heretic at the stake.” Such superstitions still grip the minds of millions who call themselves free.
Many illusions vanish when we take a survey of history and look into the origin of beliefs and the dogmas upon which they are based. We hear much even in the twentieth century about the early history of the Church, its beliefs, its doctrines, and revelations, with the plain inference, if not with the positive statements, that they were all given to the early Fathers of the Church by the Apostles themselves. To support that claim the theory of apostolic succession was invented as a valuable and necessary expedient.
As a starting-point in this inquiry it is well to remember that there is a vast hiatus in the early history of the Church, and no historical data of any value exist to bridge it over. Between the Apostles and the first of the so-called Fathers of the Church there is an interval upon which no historical light is shed. From the fall of Jerusalem, A.D. 70, to the middle of the second century, more than two generations lived and passed from the stage of existence, and yet that whole period furnishes no authentic history of the early Church. During that interval there is not a word of Church history that can be drawn from writers who have been designated as Apostolic Fathers. The first mention of the doctrine of apostolic succession was by Cyprian, about the middle of the third century.
It is proper to keep in mind that St. Augustine in the fifth century first formulated the modern doctrines of the Church, invented many of its creeds and dogmas, and adopted the Latin idea of establishing a church to govern and rule the world. From that date Roman theology governed the Church and gave to the West its creeds and dogmas.
Greek thought prevailed in the first centuries of the Church–Clement, Origen, and Athanasius being among its most able exponents. It was mainly their thought that shaped the theology of the early Church. They lived nearer the age of the Apostles than the Latin theologians, and it is a reasonable inference that if the creeds and dogmas later announced by the latter had had any existence in their day, they would have heard of them and given them to the world.
It is interesting to modern progressive thinkers, who teach the immanency of God, that God is a universal intelligence, expressing Himself in all nature, indwelling in man, that the early Fathers of the Church taught the same great truths. Like the Stoic philosophy which on the very eve of its decline produced such men as Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, they taught that God is indwelling in Nature, that the world was directed and controlled by an immanent life, of “whose beauty and glory outward Nature is the direct manifestation,” and that the spirit of man expressed the highest revelation of the actual presence of the divine. They said man was created in the spiritual image of God; that because he was made in the spiritual image of God, it is the law of his being that he may rise into the likeness of God and respond to the divine call; that the law of God is not found in external commandments, but is written in the consciousness of man himself. Nowhere did they teach the fall of man or that he was separated from God, or that God was displeased with his conduct. They saw in Jesus the normal man, the master idealist of the race, the exemplar set before man as a pattern toward whose perfection he should strive and aspire in the experience of life.
The theology of St. Augustine reversed all this and made Adam and not Jesus the normal man, and this is the view of the Orthodox theologies, even to this day, Protestant and Catholic alike.
The Greek Fathers also taught that the mission of Jesus was to reveal man to himself and illuminate his soul with a consciousness of man’s own divine nature. They did not speculate on the origin of evil and knew nothing of the doctrine of total depravity, of a vicarious atonement, endless punishment, infant damnation, election, Purgatory, and many other beliefs and dogmas that are still clung to by both Catholic and Protestant and regarded by them as essential to salvation. To them the resurrection was the immediate standing up again in the greater fullness of life,–a spiritual resurrection, not a resurrection of the body. They said the only revelation is within human consciousness, and not in anything external to man’s nature; that the kingdom of God, as Jesus taught, was within; that it is not through grace coming from without but by a voluntary preparation of the soul in the discipline and education of life, that man comes into a harmonious and conscious relationship with God.
These views were presented with substantial unanimity by Clement, Origen, and Athanasius, and reflected the prevailing theological sentiments from the latter part of the second century until the latter part of the fourth. Although Clement proclaimed the immanent and universal God indwelling in man, and knew nothing of the fall of man and a vicarious atonement, yet the Catholic Church saw fit to canonize him as a saint and revered him as such until the close of the fourteenth century, when his name was stricken from the calendar of saints under the pontificate of Clement VIII. It would be interesting to know in which instance the Catholic Church manifested its infallible wisdom, when it placed a halo around his name as a saint, or when it discovered his teachings were contrary to the doctrines of the Church and on that account struck his name from the calendar of saints.
Soon after the passing of the Greek theologians, the Church came under the influence of Latin theology. The Greek loved philosophy, the Roman loved power. The Greek revered truth and saw in the visible objects of Nature God’s symbols and gave their meaning to man. The Roman cared little for philosophy, but loved to exercise his genius for purposes of dominion, conquest, splendor, power, and obedience. It took as its prototype the Roman government, whose genius was conquest, power, and slavery. Roman theology was formulated to that end.
It found its champion in Augustine, the so-called St. Augustine who flourished and wrote in the fifth century A.D. It is to him that both the modern Catholic and Protestant churches of the orthodox faith owe the origin, existence, and establishment of their present dogmas and creeds. He taught that man is wholly separated from God. He was the author of the doctrine of original sin and the total depravity of man, the only basis upon which a vicarious atonement could be sustained. He also invented the doctrine of predestination. His fertile mind also formulated the dogma of eternal punishment, as well as the idea of Purgatory after death. He promulgated the doctrine of apostolic succession, which was first invented, as we have seen, by Cyprian.
Tertullian, the Roman lawyer, who lived in the early part of the third century, in his “Prescription of Heresy” first proclaimed the idea of the absolute authority of the Church. The following language is ascribed to Tertullian at a later date: “It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of Nature, that every man should worship according to his own conviction. It is no part of religion to coerce religion. It should be embraced freely and not forced.” Nevertheless, his original argument was so valuable that the Church adopted it bodily and made use of it even down to the present.
Augustine found the idea of absolute authority convenient to silence questioners he could not satisfy and to dispose of inquiries he could not answer; hence he proclaimed the authority as supreme over the wills and consciences of men. With him, none outside the Church could be saved, and unbaptized infants and heathen were eternally lost. The necessity of baptism, sacraments, inspiration of the Bible, priestly mediation, and other dogmas originated with Augustine; in other words, they were invented by him as conveniences in making the Church a dominating power in the world.
It might be of interest to the orthodox Protestant to stop and contemplate the point that all the important tenets of his creeds had their origin with Augustine; that he also promulgated the doctrine of the authority of the Church, which subordinates the wills and consciences of men to its control, as well as priestly mediation and other cherished doctrines of the Catholic Church.
But, someone says, what authority have you for these bold assertions? What proof have you of these startling statements? In good faith it may be answered that all these statements are supported by historic data of the highest order. If our orthodox friends wish to read them in concrete form, they can find them in a volume written by a man orthodox in every respect, a professor in an orthodox theological institution. In a volume entitled “The Continuity of Christian Thought,” written by Alexander V. G. Allen, professor at the Episcopal Theological School of Cambridge, all the foregoing statements and many interesting facts relating to the early Church may be found. Let us read from the volume some of the thoughts of Athanasius, who lived from 296 to 373 A.D.: “The revelation of God is written in the human consciousness; the ground of all certitude is within man, not in any authority external to his nature. In order to know the way that leads to God and to take it with certainty, we have no need of foreign aid, but of ourselves alone. As God is above all, the way which leads to him is neither distant nor outside of us, nor difficult to find. Since we have in us the kingdom of God, we are able easily to contemplate and conceive the King of the Universe, the salutary reason of the universal Father. If anyone asks of me what is the way, I answer that it is the soul of each and the intelligence which it encloses.” The sublimity of these thoughts cannot be harmonized with the dogmatic utterances of an Augustine. They leave no room for the dogma of the separation of God from man, a necessary premise for the hypothesis of a vicarious atonement. The teachings of Athanasius would find ready response with the most advanced of modern, progressive thinkers.
Let us quote further from the same volume: “None of the individual doctrines or tenets which have so long been the objects of dislike and an imadversion to the modern theological mind formed any constituent part of Greek theology. The tenets of original sin and total depravity, as expounded by Augustine and received by the Protestant churches from the Latin Church; the guilt of infants, the absolute necessity of baptism in order to salvation, the denial of the freedom of the will, the doctrine of election, the idea of a schism in the divine nature, which required a satisfaction to retributive justice before love could grant forgiveness, the atonement as a principle of equivalence by which the sufferings of Christ were weighed in a balance against the endless sufferings of the race, the notion that revelation is confined within the book, guaranteed by the inspiration of the letter or by a line of priestly curators, in apostolic descent, the necessity of miracles as the strongest evidence of the truth of a revealed religion, the doctrine of a sacramental grace and priestly mediation, the idea of a church as identical with some particular form of ecclesiastical organization, these and other tenets which have formed the gist of modern religious controversy find no place in the Greek theology and are irreconcilable with its spirit.”
Again, the same authority says: “Clement does not speculate on the nature or origin of evil. He knows nothing of the later dogma of the fall of man in Adam, nor of Adam as the federal representative of mankind.” The Same author further observes that the Rev. J. M, Neale, in the preface of his translation of the Eastern Liturgies, remarks that he finds no trace in them of the modern theory of the atonement as it has been held in Latin and Protestant churches, according to which the sufferings of Christ were an equivalent for human punishment.
To show that Grecian theological thought was predominant in the Christian Church until the Augustine era, it is interesting to note that St. Augustine himself once advocated the doctrine of the immanent, the omnipresent, universal God–ideas, directly at variance with those he afterward proclaimed when he conceived the idea of establishing an ecclesiastical hierarchy to rule the world.
At one time in his career, apparently without difficulty he wrote as follows: “For God is diffused through all things. He said Himself by the prophet, ‘I fill heaven and earth,’ and it is said unto Him in a certain psalm, ‘Whither shall I go from thy spirit or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there,’ because God is substantially diffused everywhere.” At a later date Augustine without difficulty could separate God from man and supply priestly intermediaries without number, as ecclesiastical middlemen between man and God.
In the same volume we read: “For a thousand years those who came after him [Augustine] did little more than reaffirm his teaching, and so deep is the hold which his long supremacy has left upon the Church, that his opinions have become identified with divine revelation and are all that the majority of the Christian world yet know of the religion of Christ.”
It is evident that these creeds and beliefs could not have been perpetuated through fifteen centuries save for that convenient dogma that the wills and consciences of men must be subordinated to ecclesiastical authority, and that other doctrine, observed and fostered by orthodox Protestantism, that a belief in certain formulas is necessary to salvation and that all reasoning and inquiry about their truth must be effectually and forever stilled.
A historical review of the creeds and a religion professedly based upon the teachings of the Gentle Master reveals many strange situations and anomalies. The creeds of the Christian Church originated among dissensions, and they have bred contentions, strifes and quarrels from their beginning to the present. We read in Galatians, that all was not peace and harmony between Paul and Peter. Their unseemly quarrel was presumably due to a profound jealousy on the part of Peter, over the fact that circumstances had not brought Paul into the company and society of Jesus during his sojourn in Palestine.
Perhaps one of the serious faults of humanity has been unduly to value and emphasize the lives and characters of those who lived in the distant past. We find Tertullian in the early part of the third century condemning heretics and asserting the authority of the Church. At the great council of the Church at Ephesus, A.D. 431, violent quarrels ensued over the question whether Christ had two natures or one, and similar questions. Let a modern historian tell the result: “A bishop was kicked to death by another bishop in the course of their arguments, and one hundred and thirty-seven corpses were left in a church, to attest the convincing reasons by which the most ruffianly side proved its orthodoxy. At the fifth general council, by a decree the Church expressed its gentleness as follows: “Whoever says that the torments of the demons and impious men will at length come to an end, let him be damned. Anathema to Origen, Adamantius, who taught these things.” Even the former head of the Church did not escape their fury.
The various creeds are as widely separated and no nearer a union than at any period since the first creed was promulgated. Their peace is outward only. Their love and respect for each other are no greater than when the Roundheads contended against the Cavaliers. My orthodox friend, is it a pleasant picture to contemplate? Are these contentions, strifes, and differences to continue forever? Why this tenacity over the shading of creeds and beliefs? Why this jealousy over speculative theories? The philosopher looking for a cause for every effect is prompted to make this inquiry: Does any part of the entire structure stand on a foundation of truth?
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The Message of New Thought
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