Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Creeds Preserve Mystery

In a blog posting entitled "Creed and Mystery," Fr. Matt Gunter addresses the difficulty some people may have with the Creeds feeling "too definite" and thus dismissive of "a sense of mystery." Fr. Gunter rightly notes that "the Creeds actually 'preserve' the mystery from domestication while focusing our attention on the mystery within the context of revelation." He goes on to write:
The Creeds focus us on mystery within the context of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. There is plenty of mystery and much escapes our understanding. But, we are not left with nothing but guessing about God. The Creeds began as baptismal formulae and through baptism we are invited into the mystery of a God who is One, yet Threefold. We are invited into the mystery of a God who does not remain aloof, but became one with humanity and the dusty world through the Incarnation - for us and for our salvation. We are invited into the mystery of Jesus Christ who is, in a mystery beyond our comprehending, both human and divine. We are invited into the mystery of the forgiveness of sin. And so on.
Rather than constraining mystery, the Creeds, particularly the Nicene Creed, were conceived as means to preserve that mystery from the tendency to domesticate Christian faith in one way or another to make it less paradoxical or more intellectually comfortable. That is one way to understand the various heresies rejected by the Church. It was the heretics who in fact presumed to know more about the mystery of God than is prudent, not those who defended what came to be known as the “catholic” faith summarized in the Creeds. It was the heretics, not the orthodox, who insisted on resolving paradoxes like the Incarnation and the Triune character of the Godhead. The Creed is the Christian way into the the mystery of God.
Read it all.

I have increasingly come to understand the Nicene Creed less and less as a straight jacket that stifles critical thinking and kills the spirit and more and more as an opening into a whole world of meaning and purpose, and an invitation into the life of God. As coldly analytic and rational as it may sound, the Creed is actually a mystical opening into transforming relationship with the triune God.

The articles of the Creed touch on the mysteries at the heart of Christian faith. Putting mystery into words is, of course, awkward at best. The mysteries of God cannot be contained by rational explanations. But like a compass that always points north, the Nicene Creed points us in the right direction. The compass is not the destination just as the Creed is not God. But it would be much easier to get lost as to what is truly essential for reaching the goal of the Christian journey without it.

4 comments:

George Dunning said...

"Rather than constraining mystery, the Creeds, particularly the Nicene Creed, were conceived as means to preserve that mystery from the tendency to domesticate Christian faith in one way or another to make it less paradoxical or more intellectually comfortable"

Father Matt's comments here and yours Bryan in your summation touch a nerve with me . . . for me it has often been not the courage to 'believe' but the courage to 'say I believe' without being able to give any rational reason for doing so. The intangible 'mysterious' pull that God has exerted on my life for as long as I can remember does indeed strike a resonant chord in the Nicene Creed.

Alston said...

Perhaps off target a bit - but reading the post reminded me of one of the great points that Evelyn Waugh sought to make in Brideshead Revisited: there is actually a great discovery of freedom and generativity when giving ourselves to discipline andn committment; because that is in fact is the teleological end toward which we were created at the outset.

Blessings

Alston

C. Wingate said...

I may be misremembering this, but I seem to recall that Robert Farrar Capon has a bit about this in Hunting the Divine Fox: that the orthodox formulations, particularly as they appear in the creeds, protect the mystery by fighting the tendency to oversimplify the Divine Reality that is the hallmark of the classical heresies.

Matt Gunter said...

C. Wingate,

Good point about Capon. It's been 20+ years since I read Hunting the Divine Fox, but that and another gem by Capon, The Third Peacock, were among the significant resources influencing my decision to remain a Christian at a time when I very nearly abandoned the faith.

C. S. Lewis also says something similar about the Creeds - toward the end of Mere Christianity, I think.

Though I was not consciously channeling either Capon or Lewis when I wrote the post, very little that I write, or think, or say is truly original.