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One thing that bureaucrats hate is ambiguity.  Their driving compulsion is to draw clear lines and remove any and all unknowns.  The bureaucracy of the Church was (and is) no different.  As the earliest, small, household churches grew into community churches and combined into larger and larger levels of organization, the mysteries and ambiguities of religious life became problematic.  There was no problem with the Church in Ephesus believing that Jesus only seemed to be human, while in Jerusalem the prevailing view was that Jesus was fully human.  But when these two churches claimed to share the title, “Christian,” arguments and divisions began.

We encountered one of these divisive issues in our last entry when exploring what writings were to be referred to as “Scripture.”  Today we move on from the Scriptures to an even more contentious issue, how to describe the nature of God.

Without getting into details around first millennial Christian theology, let me just say that statements of faith, formally known as “creeds” (from the Latin credo – I believe), started simply enough, but as the church (and number of bureaucrats) grew, creeds got longer and longer.  In the earliest Church we find creedal statements such as, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”  With the theologian Tertullian’s development and popularization of a theology of the Trinity in the second century, the official creed of the Church had to start addressing the persons of the God - the Father, God – the Son, and God - Holy Spirit.  To address this and other theological issues, the Councils of the early Church eventually produced what we know today as the “Apostles’ Creed.”  This creed is also called the “Baptismal Creed” since it is traditionally used in churches at Baptisms so that new Christians might more easily understand what they are promising to believe.

After the adoption of this Creed, the Church’s theology continued to develop, and more divisions arose.  In the fourth century, multiple councils were convened to add more clarification to the Apostles’ Creed. As a result, the Nicene Creed was created and became the ‘definitive’ creed of the Church.

It is the Nicene Creed that we find in our Communion Service today. Traditionally used at Masses - the main events of the Church week - Cranmer continued to use it as part of the English Communion service.  Other reformers were not so kind, arguing that parts of the Nicene Creed were not based completely on Scripture, and some adopted the Apostles’ Creed as the official creed of their church.

One part of the Nicene Creed that became problematic within the life of the church was a word added in the 6th century (in some Latin/Western Churches) to the description of the Holy Spirit.  In the third section of the Nicene Creed of the Western Church we find the phrase, “Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son.”  In Latin, the phrase ‘and the Son’ is expressed in one Latin word, filioque.  The majority of Churches in the Eastern part of Christendom objected to this addition and official adoption by Western Churches.  The Eastern churches objections were based on two arguments: first, this word was not part of the original Nicene Creed and therefore was in violation of the conventions of the Church’s councils, second, they claimed that this one word allowed for an interpretation that the Holy Spirit was like a grandchild of God, descended from the Father, and (then) the Son.  The Western Church argued that this was not the intent of the phrase but that instead it affirmed the equal nature of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This argument and many other irreconcilable differences finally led to the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Churches around the year 1054.

In more recent years, conversations between the Anglican Communion and the Eastern Orthodox Churches has led to a common understanding that we both hold to the same theology, despite our continued use of the filioque.  This discussion culminated in the 1978 Lambeth Conference where the delegates formally requested that “all member Churches of the Anglican Communion should consider omitting the Filioque from the Nicene Creed.”  No official publication of the Nicene Creed in the Anglican Church of Canada liturgies since 1978 normally includes the filioque…except the Book of Common Prayer, which predates the decision by over a decade.

One final word concerning creeds.  There is actually a third creed contained in our Book of Common Prayer.  If you ever want to know what happens when you allow bureaucrats to rule the Church, look on page 695 and the sixth century Creed of St. Athanasius.  It is a great cure for insomnia.

In good Anglican tradition, the next thing we expect in our service of Holy Communion is a sermon or homily.  We need to remember that modern preaching is very much a product of the Reformation.  Roman Catholic Masses seldom had sermons other than the reading out of letters, declarations, and other announcements.  In either case, what was the point of preaching a Latin sermon to an English audience?  With the Reformation’s emphasis on Sola Scriptura, a new type of congregation appeared, one that was now reading the Bible and had lots of questions!  The problem was that training for Priesthood before the Reformation did not cover how to explain the parable of the Prodigal Son to the fisherfolk of Dover.  Can you imagine!?  For this reason, the church of England carefully differentiated (for some time) between those priests who did and did not have the license to preach.  For the second group, however, a solution was offered.  In 1547 and 1571 two books of homilies (short sermons on how to live the Christian Life) were published for use.  The list of all these homilies can be found listed on page 712 and are easily found online if St. Athanasius hasn’t already put you to sleep.

Note: The image above is of a modern collection of the two Books of Homilies (1547 and 1570).  These homilies offer great insight into the theological musings of the earliest English Reformers.