Greetings in the name of the Christ who is revealed to us through Word and Sacrament!
So far in our review of the teachings of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism we have looked at the Ten Commandments and what they mean for our lives. When we look at our lives through the lens of the Ten Commandments we find only that we are sinful beings. We have a sickness that we cannot escape. This brings us to a concept that does not get talked about too much in the church; the concept of the terrified conscience. What I mean by this is that when we look at our lives through the lens of the Ten Commandments we find that we do not live up to God’s standards; we are sinful beings and as the Apostle Paul reminds us “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NRSV). Because of our sins we deserve death, hell, God’s wrath, eternal separation from God, or whatever else you want to call it, and that quite frankly, is terrifying.
But that is not where the Apostle Paul stopped in his letter to the church in Rome, and so it was not where Luther stopped in his catechism either. The second part of verse twenty-three of Romans chapter six states, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Despite the fact that we have sinned and that we deserve God’s punishment, God instead has freely given us love and grace through Christ Jesus. But who is this Jesus whom we call the Christ, the Messiah? This is where Luther continues in his catechism to talk about the Creed; a confession of faith about who God is.
The basic thought behind the creation of the Creeds, the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian, was to be clear about who God is specifically in regard to the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; a relationship we know as the Trinity. Now the doctrine of the Trinity is that there are not three gods but instead there is One God in whom there are three distinct persons or expressions. These creeds set out to examine those persons or expressions, making clear who God is in contrast to some heretical beliefs spreading at the time they were written.
The Apostles’ Creed, which was formed in the eighth century, is a creed that was widely understood to have been written by the Apostles themselves. However, this was widely disputed throughout the centuries and so we now believe that the Creed takes its name from the Apostles because the creed represents the basic teachings the Apostles gave to the early church. The main focus of this creed was to respond to two heretical teachings: one that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God reveal in Jesus Christ in the New Testament, and two that Jesus could not have been both fully human and fully divine, more specifically that just was fully divine but not fully human.
The Nicene Creed on the other hand, which began being developed by church leaders at the Council of Nicea in the 4th century, was in response to the false teaching that while Jesus was OF the divine, Jesus was not fully divine because he had human flesh. Thus this creed speaks more about Jesus’ full relationship with God the Creator, or Father, as being one that is fully divine and fully human.
Finally the Athanasian Creed, once thought to have been written by church scholar Athanasius, finds its origins in the Western church following the teachings of Augustine and Ambrose sometime in the late 8th century. This creed focuses more fully than the other two on the unique relationship between the three parts of the Trinitarian God, giving more focus to the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit.
When Luther set out to teach the Creed he focused on the Apostles Creed for use in the Small Catechism for that was the common creed of his time period and Luther’s intent with the catechism was to teach the common or simple faith to the common people. Luther clearly divides the Creed into three sections which Luther called Articles, each one focusing on the three persons or expressions of God that the church understood to be true.
Since I could write pages upon pages for each one of these articles I will wait until next month to dive into the individual articles.