Okay, so let me be clear:
‘I believe in God the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord……I believe in one baptism……….I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Communion of Saints, The Resurrection of the dead and the Life Everlasting.’
My reading of the creed is both orthodox and conservative. Orthodox because I believe in the creed unequivocally, I feel no need to add to it, detract from it, or to reinterpret the ‘back end’ of it, in order to satisfy contemporary sensibilities. All very orthodox!
I am conservative because I am happy to accept that which has been passed on through Christian tradition. Paradoxically the tradition frees me from the necessity to work doctrine out anew, to struggle with the most important characteristics of Christian belief. An orthodox and conservative stance towards the creeds, where I accept the grand meta-doctrines, is the catalyst for taking a more liberal perspective in respect of the subsidiary`-deutro doctrines, for it is interesting what is excluded by the creeds: no mention of specifics of doctrines of creation, atonement, salvation, the sacraments, gender, sexuality and so on. Just the core Meta-Doctrines of creation, incarnation,trinity, the church, baptism and resurrection. Fantastic!
One final omission: the way we engage with Scripture. Did the early Church Fathers get it wrong, by failing to say whether ‘the word’ was to be taken literally, metaphorically or in some combination of the two? I don’t think so. So why do some Christians feel compelled to go beyond the conservative-orthodoxy of the creeds? Is it about power and control? Perhaps, the perceived requirement for certainty? What about the modern preference for homogeneity, not only in practice, but also in belief? Is it fear? Who knows.
So beyond an orthodox-conservative acceptance of the creeds I am pleased to count myself a liberal. Liberalism in this form maybe feeds the possibility for progressive forms of revelation. Sources of such revelation include myth and mystery. Nick wrote eloquently on myth last week, and I largely agree with him. My own view is that a church that fails to take ‘the Holy Mysteries’ seriously will ultimately fail to serve humankind. In entering into the mystery we are provided with the opportunity to deepen and expand our faith. Our minds maybe renewed (very St. Paul) and our spirits strengthened. We may encounter new horizons. But what on earth is mystery, how can we define it in such a way as to be useful, or perhaps better still, meaningful?
Gerard Manley Hopkins, writing to his friend, Robert Bridges, said: ‘What you mean by mystery is an interesting uncertainty. What I mean is an incomprehensible certainty.’ I like Hopkins’ approach.
What if the creed represents Christian certainty (hope) which is brought into life through the use of, yes literal truths, but also myths and metaphors? Would this lead to a richer experience of God? St. Paul was, in fact, happy with the idea of mystery. He stressed that it is through the person of Christ that we enter into ‘the glory of this mystery,’ (Colossians 1, 27). In 1 Corinthians 2 Paul is keen to point out that in the words of Scripture we find meaning which ‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him,’ (verse 9). St. Paul invites us to go way beyond simple words, into something far deeper: the mystery of communion with Christ.
To enter into the mystery of Christ is made possible through the very ‘things’ provided by Christ for our use in worship and devotion. Words, water, bread, wine are all given special, supernatural, significance when used lovingly and liturgically. Mysticism, again paradoxically, is enacted through the ‘ordinary things of life,’ those things given by our Lord and retained through the tradition. So in addition to myth, mystery and metaphor I would add symbolism to my list of artifacts given to the Church so it may bring about the ‘kingdom on earth as in heaven.’
Myth, mystery, metaphor and symbolism (including words) are truly liberating. The only alternative way of providing meaning is the propagation of untruths and deutro-subsidiary doctrines?