I was recently invited to write an early review of Dr. Scott Hahn’s new book The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages. I received a proof copy last month and I have found it to be both interesting and educational concerning the significance of the creed in the life of the Church.
Early Christians knew that the bible is not self-interpreting (cf. 2 Pet 3:16) and that it is necessary to be guided by more than just scripture alone. Creeds eventually sprung from this necessity and quickly became not only tools for teaching the faith but also personal testimonies to God’s covenant with his unified people. In his new book, Dr. Hahn takes us through the early centuries of the Church explaining how creeds developed as well as their significance in the life of the individual Christian and to the Church as a whole. Focusing primarily on the Nicene Creed, he draws on “history, theology, catechesis, the Fathers, the Doctors, the Popes, and the ordinary Magisterium of the Church” (p. 12) as he explores the doctrinally formative era of early Christianity.
Dr. Hahn begins by identifying the Judaic foundation for Christian creeds: “The Shema [ancient Israel’s confession of faith; a proto-creed (p. 20)] was foundational to the religious vocabulary of Jesus’ times—and to that of Jews before and afterward” (p. 18). As such, the Shema foreshadowed later Christian confessions of faith which held substantial significance in the lives of those who embraced them. Dr. Hahn notes, “The early confessions were declarations of covenant commitment, given individually, but belonging to the whole assembly of the Church. The confessions shape the lives of the individuals, conforming them to the life of Jesus Christ… To confess the faith of Christians was a matter of enormous consequences… Every confession was a pledge, too, to live by Jesus’ truly revolutionary doctrine” (p. 28-33).
Dr. Hahn goes on to describe how confessions of faith eventually gave way to the formulations of creeds: “As the faith endured challenges and dissension—from persecutors and from heretics—the churches found it necessary to spell out the rule of faith in greater detail and with greater precision” (p. 43). He later eloquently explains how significant this was to a Christianity faced with heresies: “The Marcionites edited out the inconvenient parts of the Gospels, and they faded away from the impotence of their message. The Gnostics rationalized every seeming paradox, and they perished of irrelevance. The Docetists, Arians, and countless others died off—not from persecution, but from the anemia of their creedless counsels. The Church of the creeds, on the other hand, was persecuted and put to death, and yet it has persevered, endured, and triumphed” (p. 125).
Delving deeper into the Nicene Creed, Dr. Hahn points out that, “Every Christian creed, without exception, treats Jesus most extensively of the three divine persons… Jesus is the complete and perfect revelation of God… The creed is like a very clean, very clear, tightly focused lens through which we are sure to see him with accuracy—no filters, no tints, no distortions” (p. 109-110). Of course, the reason for the incarnation is formulated in the creed as well. Dr. Hahn explains that, “Jesus ‘came down’ ‘for our salvation,’ and that salvation was far more than a rescue mission. The creed reminds us… that our faith has a future tense… We look to the future with hope because ‘he will come again in glory’ as judge and will establish a never-ending kingdom.” (p. 121-124). Finally, the concluding words of the Nicene Creed serve as “identifying marks—of the covenant People of God” (p. 142). These four marks, of course, are one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
Dr. Hahn includes two valuable appendices at the end of his new book containing both “Important Later creeds” (Appendix A, p. 163-181) and “A Biblical Creed” (Appendix B, p. 183-185).
As you can surely tell, The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages truly underscores the significance of the creed in Christian life. Much more than a profession of faith (which it certainly also is), it serves as an exclamation of our past, of our covenant with the living God, and of our future hope in Christ. It really is crucial to who we are as God’s children. Dr. Hahn sums it up well in his own words: “If we don’t get the creed right, we don’t get Jesus right. And if we don’t get him right, we don’t get anything right” (p. 158).