The Christian's ABC: Catechisms and Catechizing in England C.1530-1740

By Ian Green | Go to book overview

7
The Apostles' Creed

As we saw in the previous chapter, one of the most common sequences in which the staple items of catechizing were handled, if not the most common of all, was that of Creed, Decalogue, Lord's Prayer, and sacraments. Even the tripartite catechisms which eschewed an article-by-article exposition of the Creed mostly began with credal material such as the nature of God, the role of Christ, and the function of the Holy Ghost. Let us therefore begin our survey of the doctrinal norms in our sample of catechisms with the Creed, and keep in mind two questions: how far there was agreement or disagreement between authors who were on what have been thought of as an ecclesiastical 'left' and 'right'; and how far there was any difference between catechisms designed for the simplest catechumens as opposed to those destined for the more advanced.

In the simpler forms in the sample the word 'creed' was explained as meaning 'belief'; more advanced forms spoke of a Creed as 'a compendious and brief gathering of the articles' of the Christian faith, or as the 'symbol' of a Christian--a badge, mark, watchword, or token such as soldiers used in battle.1 The Creed used in the sample works was always the Apostles' rather than the Nicene or Athanasian.2 In many of the forms in which the Creed was taught, it was presented to catechumens as an ex cathedra summary of the faith; but in a few instances authors, aware of the grounds for thinking that the Creed might not have been the work of the apostles themselves, made a point of discussing its authenticity. Calvin, for example, in his catechism asserted that the Creed was 'taken out of the pure doctrine of the apostles', and Nowell stated that 'it was first received from the apostles' own mouth, or most faithfully gathered out of their writings', while Boughen in his 1646 exposition of the Prayer Book catechism went even further in saying that although not written down until the fourth century the Apostles' Creed had definitely been composed by the apostles.3 Others struck a more cautious note. Martin Nicholes in his 1631 exposition of the Prayer Book catechism, the authors of the Westminster catechisms, and a number of

____________________
1
Prayer Book catechism, 780-1; Sherlock, Principles, 17; Wake, Principles, 24; Lewis, Catechism, 15; Calvin, Catechisme, 6; Nowell, Catechisme, 141-2; Nicholson, Exposition, 22-3.
2
Some authors who used the Apostles' Creed referred briefly to other creeds, e.g. Boughen, Exposition, 73, and Nicholson, Exposition, 20.
3
Calvin, Catechisme, 6; Nowell, Catechisme, 142, 155-6; Boughen, Exposition, 5-6: Boughen cited Calvin as support for the idea that this creed had been in use before the Epistle to the Hebrews was written.

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