On the American Public Media show "Speaking of Faith" Krista Trippet and Jaroslav Pelikan explore "The Need for Creeds."
The late great historian Jaroslav Pelikan devoted his life to exploring the modern vitality of ancient Christian doctrines and creeds, which all revolve in some sense around the Easter events of the life death and resurrection of Jesus. And Pelikan believed that even modern pluralists need strong statements of belief. This hour we revisit my 2003 conversation with him.
Here is an excerpt:
Ms. Tippett: So what is it about Christianity that has needed creeds?
Dr. Pelikan: Well, what it is about religious faith that needs creed is that religious faith in general, prayer addressed "To Whom It May Concern," sentiment about some transcendent dimension otherwise undefined, does not have any staying power. It's OK to have that at 10:00 on a Sunday morning when you're out with your friends somewhere, but, in the darkest hours of life, you've got to believe something specific, and that specification is the task of the creed, because, much as some people may not like it, to believe one thing is also to disbelieve another. To say yes is also to say no. And clarifying what the yes is and then finding a way to say what it is we believe and the experimentation involved in that, I've made a very good living studying the experimentation, trying — how they tried on particular words for size. There are words in the Bible — important words — which didn't get into the creeds. You see…
Ms. Tippett: Like what? I mean, give me a…
Dr. Pelikan: Like the designation of Christ as logos. Logos means both "word" and "reason," as in logic. And the gospel of John begins with the words that many people know: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God, and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." And it was, in many ways, one of the most important terms in the arguments about the identity of Christ during the third and fourth centuries, and yet, in the only creed that all Christians or almost all Christians have in common, the so-called Nicene Creed, the term doesn't appear.
Ms. Tippett: And why was that?
Dr. Pelikan: They wanted rather to make use of terms that would clarify simultaneously the distinction between God and His Son, that when I say I believe in Jesus Christ, I am not saying I believe in two gods. The doctrine of the Trinity was the effort to preserve monotheism. The real Unitarians were the Trinitarians.
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