The Formulation of Dogma: The Christ of the Creeds

We have examined some of the factors which led to the formulation of dogma in the early centuries of the Christian era and we have seen that the controversies and questions centred pre-eminently on the person of Jesus Christ. To review in any detail the steps by which formal definitions on these questions came to be laid down would require far more space than we have available and might prove tedious. It is proposed, however, to indicate in very broad outline the main periods in the development, so that the dogmas which were formed then and still remain part of the orthodox creed of the Established Church may be seen against their proper background.

The first period belongs to the first part of the second century and is characterised by the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers, among whom we find the well-known names of Clement, Ignatius and Barnabas. Their writings do not consist of anything in the nature of formal, systematic statements, but rather represent the product of these men’s own individual reflections on the nature and content of their faith. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that they have this feature in common that they select for particular comment those passages of scripture which associate Christ with the work of God in creation or emphasise that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” They are concerned especially with the atonement and closely related topics, and in this connection they use language which goes beyond that of the New Testament. So Ignatius writes both of the passion and of the blood of God, not merely of Jesus Christ. As yet, however, there is no marked trace of the influence of pagan philosophy in either the language or the thought. That comes with the second period.

This period, later in the second century, is distinguished by the writings of the Apologists, of whom Justin Martyr is probably the best known. As their name suggests, the writings of these men were defences of the Christian faith and were addressed to certain specific Roman emperors of the time. Their object was twofold: to refute the calumnies to which the church was exposed and to convince the authorities that their policy of persecution was wrong and ill-conceived; and secondly to demonstrate to all that the Christian faith was true and reasonable. These objects were conciliatory and, as the writers were educated men trained in the schools of philosophical thought of their day, it is not surprising to find that, in their efforts to appeal to pagans similarly trained, they draw on those schools of thought and introduce into their writings ways of thought and expression derived from Greek philosophy. In the prologue to John’s gospel they found a useful medium for their task. The idea of the Logos, the Greek noun which is rendered “Word” in our versions, as used by John is firmly based in the Old Testament conceptions of the Word of God. But the idea of the Logos, carrying not so much the meaning of “word” as that of “reason,” was familiar in Greek philosophical thought as signifying the reason lying behind all things. It was not, therefore, difficult by the use of this idea to forge a link between Christian teaching and pagan philosophy, so that with the Apologists the influence of that philosophy is first clearly discerned.

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Author: E. J. Newman

Keywords: son of God, Christology, Trinity, Triunity, Three in one, God the Son, three persons, one god three persons, Preexistence, Pre-existence, Christ's preexistence, Christ's pre-existence, Christ preexisted, Christ pre-existed, Jesus preexisted, Jesus' preexistence, Jesus' pre-existence, Jesus pre-existed, Preexistence of Jesus, Preexist, Pre exist, Jesus was the Word, The Word was Jesus, Word was God, Messiah, Deity of Christ, Deity of Jesus, Jesus's preexistence, Jesus preexisted before he was born, Eternal sonship, Eternal son, Eternal sonship of Jesus, god incarnate, incarnation, god manifest in the flesh, logos, Nicene Creed, Nicean Creed, Divinity of Jesus, Creed, Church Creeds, Nicea, Nicaea, Council of Nicaea, 325 AD, Council of Nicea, First council of Nicea, First council of Nicaea, Homoousios, homoiousios, Homoiousian, Athanasius, Arius, Arian, Arian heresy, Arian controversy, Arianism, Athanasian, Athanasian Creed

Bible reference(s): Mat 16:13-16, Mat 14:33, Mat 28:18, Mar 8:29-29, Mar 13:32, Luk 9:18-20, John 1:1-4, Joh 1:14-15, Joh 1:18, Joh 1:34, Joh 1:36, Joh 1:45, Joh 1:49, Joh 5:18-23, Joh 6:38, Joh 6:69, Joh 8:58, Joh 10:30, Joh 10:34, Joh 10:36, Joh 11:27, Joh 17:5, Joh 17:24, Joh 20:28, Joh 20:31, 1Co 8:6, 1Co 15:27-28, Phi 2:6, Phi 2:8-11, 1Ti 2:5, Heb 1:2-5, Heb 1:8-9, Heb 2:9-10, Heb 2:14, 1Jo 5:7

Source: “The Person of Jesus,” The Testimony, Vol. 17, Nos. 202-3, October & November 1947, pp. 329-32, 376-8. Used with permission.

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