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Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition

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Jaroslav Pelikan has been translating, editing and studying the Christian creeds and confessions of faith for 60 years. This book is the historical and theological distillation of that work. In Credo, Pelikan addresses essential questions about the Christian tradition: the origins of creeds; their function; their political role; how they relate to Christian institutions, Jaroslav Pelikan has been translating, editing and studying the Christian creeds and confessions of faith for 60 years. This book is the historical and theological distillation of that work. In Credo, Pelikan addresses essential questions about the Christian tradition: the origins of creeds; their function; their political role; how they relate to Christian institutions, worship and service; and how they help to explain the major divisions of the Christian church and of Christian history. Credo stands as an independent reference work devoted to the subject of what creeds and confessions are and what their role in history has been.


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Jaroslav Pelikan has been translating, editing and studying the Christian creeds and confessions of faith for 60 years. This book is the historical and theological distillation of that work. In Credo, Pelikan addresses essential questions about the Christian tradition: the origins of creeds; their function; their political role; how they relate to Christian institutions, Jaroslav Pelikan has been translating, editing and studying the Christian creeds and confessions of faith for 60 years. This book is the historical and theological distillation of that work. In Credo, Pelikan addresses essential questions about the Christian tradition: the origins of creeds; their function; their political role; how they relate to Christian institutions, worship and service; and how they help to explain the major divisions of the Christian church and of Christian history. Credo stands as an independent reference work devoted to the subject of what creeds and confessions are and what their role in history has been.

30 review for Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition

  1. 4 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review title: I Believe Credo is the Latin which translates "I believe" and underlies the numerous creeds of the Christian faith documented, agreed, and recited over the last 2000 years. Credo is Jaroslav Pelikan's monumental study of these creeds. And in case you think that monumental is too big an adjective to attach to a 600-page book, consider this: Credo, while it is a stand-alone history in its own right, is also just the introductory volume and summary of the five additional volumes that Review title: I Believe Credo is the Latin which translates "I believe" and underlies the numerous creeds of the Christian faith documented, agreed, and recited over the last 2000 years. Credo is Jaroslav Pelikan's monumental study of these creeds. And in case you think that monumental is too big an adjective to attach to a 600-page book, consider this: Credo, while it is a stand-alone history in its own right, is also just the introductory volume and summary of the five additional volumes that cover creeds from the early church (volume 1), Eastern Orthodox church (volume 2), the Medieval West (volume 3), the Reformation (v. 4} and modern Christianity (volume 5). So, a review of just this summary will be sufficient evil for today. Ah, how we must love the one true faith to have so many statements to define what that one true faith really is! Seven ecumenical councils of the ancient church, starting with Nicea in 325, focused on the Trinity and the divine and human nature of Jesus, and all attempted to establish continuity to the original apostolic statements from the New Testament, each declaring their continuity to the previous council (thus maintaining an unbroken chain of provenance to the Apostles) even if there were small additions or clarifications to the creed. Establishing that continuity is the key to orthodoxy, although Pelikan points out that because most of these legendary councils were convened to defend the faith against heresy, we often have better documentation of the heretical statements under debate than we do of the orthodoxy that was assumed and undebated (and undebateable, if you wanted to keep your head safely affixed to your neck). Almost all creeds follow the Apostle Paul in Roman's 10:9-10 to begin their creed with wording that differentiates between believing (the creed with the heart) and confessing (the creed with the mouth). The creeds are confessions of faith--but what is faith? "Faith" is a noun, for which there is no noun form in English, "believe" corresponding most closely, but the noun form of believe is "belief" which does not convey the same meaning as "faith"! (p. 43). Theologians have resolved the matter by distinguishing among "three closely interrelated senses of the word: faith as knowledge, as assent, and as trust" (p. 46), creeds corresponding with the first and confessions of faith with the second. The third is the personal and spiritual saving faith which has been the source of much Christian conflict with both words and weapons over the last two thousand years, a source which no amount of definition and restatements of creeds and confessions can seem to touch. Pelikan titles a chapter on faith vs works "Deeds, not Creeds?", a simple rhyming title that belies the complexity of the issues discussed within. But why did the Christian church develop creeds in the first place?, Pelikan asks in a question that took me by surprise for its hidden-in-plain-sight simplicity. As he notes, the polytheisms of the Greek and Roman worlds in the time of the New Testament and after had no creedal traditions, nor did any of the cultures to which the apostles and early church missionaries carried the Gospel. Pelikan looks for roots in the Judaism of the Hebrew scriptures (Deut. 6:4, for example, quoted by Jesus in Mark 12:29) and the simple statement from Islam "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his messenger." (p. 124-125). I would add that verbal creeds and confessions of faith might have been inevitable in a system of worship of a God who declared himself to his creation through verbal inspiration beginning with Moses and then implemented a plan to save his sin-wrecked creation by sending his son as the Logos (Word) of God. That there are so many different creeds and confessions that sometimes war with each other says more about us as imperfect humans than about the God the creeds claim to define. Creeds were not only probably inevitable but certainly present from the very beginning of the church, as in the words of Jesus in the Mark reference above and the creed-like statements in 1 Timothy 2:5 and 3:16. But as this volume is an introduction to the five volumes of historical creeds as I described above, Pelikan begins with sections and chapters summarizing the definition of a creed and a confession of faith, the genesis by which they are created and formed, and the sources and scope of their authority before his concluding section with a chapter summarizing the five separate historical volumes. Note that these chapters, while quoting and summarizing the various creeds, do not contain the complete texts of the creeds in either original or translation form; for those you need the full set of volumes. This is one of the most extensively and imaginatively indexed books I have ever read. There is first in the introductory material a list of the abbreviations and sources (27 pages) which are used for references to the creeds and confessions throughout this summary volume and the five volumes of creeds, followed by an index (9 pages) of editions and collections of creeds. In the back are a bibliography (19 pages) of material used by Pelikan in preparing the series. Then follows a 32-page index of creeds that Pelikan calls "A Comparative Creedal Syndogmaticon", the later a neologism meaning the "syndication" (the act of bringing together under one control) of dogmas from all the creeds in the five volumes following the wording of the 12 articles of faith from the Nicene Creed. This is essentially a subject index arranged in the order most familiar to those who study creeds, since the 12 articles of the Nicene Creed are either repeated or referenced in the majority of the creeds since. It is followed by a five-page alphabetical subject index to the syndogmaticon, an alphabetical index (10 pages) to the creeds, confessions, churchs , councils, and heresies included in the five volumes, and finally indexes to scripture and creed references (17 pages) and name references (5 pages) in just this summary volume. In total that's over 140 pages, about 25% of the total in Credo! From Pelikan's introduction, without reading the full set of volumes, the reader will understand the creeds in summary: --The seven foundational creeds of the early period are called "ecumenical" because even after the split of Christianity between Rome (the western "Roman Catholic" church) and Constantinople (the "Eastern Orthodox" church) the creeds and the councils that were called to agree on them were called and accepted by all (broadly speaking) Christian churches. "Ecumenical" is from a Latin word meaning "belonging to the universal church", from a Greek word meaning "the inhabited earth"; ironically, Pelikan points out that the sites of these seven councils are all now in primarily Muslim countries. (p. 400) --Speaking of the "Eastern Orthodox" as a single church is a linguistic shortcut, for there was no central church organization equivalent to the papacy, and during the period covered by Volume 2 there were no "ecumenical" councils called by the churches in that branch of Christianity. They instead followed and adapted the foundational creeds to their purpose. --Volume 4, containing the Reformation era creeds, by itself has nearly as many pages as the other volumes combined. Pelikan attributes this explosion to the availability of the printing press, that technology's symbiotic relationship with the Protestant emphasis on personal study of the Bible and its doctrines, and the proliferation of different interpretations of doctrine recorded in creeds "intended simultaneously as a united front against Roman Catholicism and as a definition against other forms of Protestantism." (p. 465) --Modern creeds (covered in Volume 5) face the modern times' "discomfort with creed" (p. 488), shifting emphasis from the "faith that one believes" (doctrinal statements) to the "faith with which one believes" (exposing the modern fallacy that to just "have faith"--in anything--is sufficient), rejecting or criticizing creeds for their historical contexts perceived to be no longer valid in modern times, and shifting the balance of Christian ethics to social justice instead of creedal purity. At the same time, the separation of church from state in rising democracies like the United States and the encroachment of science on Biblical accounts of creation and miracles forced--and freed--churches to "reaffirm their confession without the burden of having to act as apologists for an established order of society that had in various ways, both obvious and subtle, distorted the Christian gospel by adopting it." (p. 500) The happy result, in contrast to the negative assessment of the 21st century as a "post-Christian" world, Pelikan concludes, has been a renewed emphasis on deep study of the language and meaning of the Bible in ways that will reshape not just the faith with which we believe but the faith that we believe (as the invisible catholic church and as individuals) back to its original source. Who will read this book? As the summary and index volume for the five volumes of creeds that follow it is obviously perfect for the scholar of history and theology who will continue with the whole set. Like most non-professional clergy, I probably won't follow through with the complete set, but I did and I think most will find this volume a useful and fascinating if at times heavy-going history and summary of the faith we profess or hope to understand. One of the great mysteries of Christianity to me, in light of the mess we've made of the mission in the last 2,000 years, has always been that Jesus Christ trusted the care and growth of his church to us most imperfect humans. This volume helps us to understand how we got here, why we believe what we believe, and why it matters so much and never more so than today.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kent

    Absolutely fantastic.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Quite the time, and yet it's really an intro to his longer works on the creeds. A very informative read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lu Tsun

    A great methodological guide to the research of creeds and confessions in the Christian tradition. A must-read before engaging into research on the subjects in this area.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Gregory

    Essential for students of church history.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    When I was in seminary at Yale I was told "If you ever want to feel really stupid, go to the Graduate School and enroll in one of Jaroslav Pelikan's courses. Every time I read any of his work I am amazed that anyone can know so much and present it so clearly. This exploration of the development of Christian Creeds throughout the centuries was no exception, and now, instead of feeling stupid, I understand a little more.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    Heard a fascinating interview with Pelikan about this book on Speaking of Faith.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    This is an amazing encyclopedic overview of creeds. Not an easy read but good for an overview of historical theology and the development of creeds. Glad I read it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sean Durkee

  10. 5 out of 5

    William Hurst

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dirk Russell

  12. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  13. 4 out of 5

    Grammy6699

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rad

  15. 5 out of 5

    James

  16. 5 out of 5

    Wing

  17. 4 out of 5

    Fran Szpylczyn

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ted Morgan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joe Dunnwald

  20. 5 out of 5

    James W. Fogal

  21. 4 out of 5

    Robinson

  22. 4 out of 5

    Chris Enstad

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eric Ryniker

  24. 5 out of 5

    Wes

  25. 4 out of 5

    Casa Cărţii

  26. 4 out of 5

    Carissa

  27. 5 out of 5

    დოროთე

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chip

  29. 5 out of 5

    Riaan Boer

  30. 5 out of 5

    Timberly Eckelmann

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