A CREED may be nothing more than a doctrinal rut,
serving to channel the mental activities of those upon whom the creed is
imposed into certain desired directions. Whether it be a rut or a
river-bed in either case the result is identical, viz., limitation.
Perhaps a better simile would be that of a dam, for a channel, or rut,
does not hinder the motion, it merely directs it, whereas a dam is
altogether repressive, forbidding motion. The theological dams of
Christendom have always acted thus, until at times the flood-tides of
thought, or reason, have burst through the barriers.
A creed becomes an evil thing when it is the symbol of
an idea that it contains the last word upon or all truth. When creedal
statements acquire a fixed finality we may gravely question whether such
fixity is the immutability of immortal perfection or simply the rigor
mortis associated with mental or doctrinal death. Creeds, like their
makers, are mortal, and some of them are corrupt. A creed may be the
Bethlehem of important truth; but alas! most of them are but the
graveyards of Christian thought, in which the faith of millions has
interred the questions and doubts of a thousand years.
A creed is mortal, and so liable to death. Let us add,
it is also human, and so liable to err. It may be the label of truth. It
may be the libel, too. It may possibly be the telescope which brings to my
vision facts and truths which, without it, would forever lie unseen on the
further horizons of my faith. Again, it may be an unfocused, or mis-focused
glass which but blurs into blindness the nearest objects to my sight.
The danger of a creed lies not so much in itself as in
myself; that is to say in my attitude towards it. It is this that
determines whether the creed I favor is to be swaddling-clothes or shroud.
If my creed to me is but a tentative attempt to formulate consistently and
intelligibly the articles of my faith, then it can never represent more
than the letter A of future endeavors to formulate them more intelligibly
and with greater consistency. If, however, my creed is the "last word"
referred to before, then it represents the Z of all past attempts at
formulation beyond which all further attempts were needless effort.
And we have all of us, and each of us, a creed. The
difference is not in having, or not having, but in how we have it. To some
of us our creeds are beginnings, to others they are ends. To the one class
they are incentives of effort, to the other of indolence. A large section
of the Church is but lazily intelligent on account of its creedal opiates.
A parrot can talk, but it cannot think; that is it can talk like a man but
it cannot think like one. A man that repeats a formula that he does not
understand should have been born a parrot instead of a human. Nature, they
say, at times can make mistakes.
But let us come back to the point that we have each one a creed. They
exist, though maybe not on paper. For, after all, our creeds are but our
doctrinal inventories, more or less consistent tabulations of the
certainties of truth, as we see them. So long as my creed is an instrument
of expression it fulfills an important function; when it becomes an
instrument of repression-that is, the repression of another's
self-expression-then it becomes a breeding-center of doctrinal disease.
The great creeds of the centuries, so far as they have been expressions of
the formulators views were not, perhaps, without their uses. As
instruments of repression, in the dragooning of individual opinion, they
not merely dammed but they also damned the activities of Christian
Any man that writes an article upon any subject is but
writing his creed concerning it. Any man that tells you what his opinions
are on any matter is but telling you his creed. The article you are
reading is the writer's creed about creeds. It is subject to amendments.
The only kind of men who are really without a creed are either dead or
crazy. The African native has a creed about his pet fetish, as much though
not so long as that recited in the Anglican jungle. Even the Atheist has
his creed of negations, and his cousin the Agnostic a creed of his
A creed is crystallized thought. It is the suggestion
of rigor mortis again. Petrified wood has ceased growing long since.
Petrified thought is static, immovable and fixed. Neither fruit nor
flowers can be picked from the boughs of a petrified tree. All it has is
form, and we can say but little more of some of the creeds. But the
corpses of today are the living men of yesterday, and the creeds which at
present repress, in times gone by expressed the beliefs and misbeliefs of
But we must have creeds, and each of us must have his
own. We must believe, and the sum total of our beliefs is our creed. But
my creed is my creed, not yours; and yours is peculiarly your own. The
facts of our creeds will never change, facts don't. Our interpretations of
those facts are ever changing, interpretations do. We must be careful to
revise our interpretations into greater consonance with facts. Our creed
will then be a living thing. Adapting itself to the new-found truth; as
changeable as life, perhaps, but life-like ever reaching upwards to the
Creed-makers and breakers have cause to imitate the
mills of God. Grind slow. The road of Time is littered with the fragments
of by-gone dogma. And we who add to the refuse-heap should hesitate before
replacing the thing destroyed. Our children may have to scrap their
fathers' follies with the rest.
We must have creeds even as we must have beliefs. But
let these creeds be fluid and susceptible to truth. Let them be known as
attempts rather than attainments, and as indications of truth's direction,
rather than statements of its precise location. Modesty is not a dangerous
disease-most creedmakers seem immune.