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Reviewed by:
  • Credo. Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition
  • George H. Tavard
Credo. Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition. By Jaroslav Pelikan. (New Haven: Yale University Press. 2003. Pp. liii, 609. $37.50.)

This is undoubtedly a major introduction to a major collection, also published in 2003, that was edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Valerie R. Hotchkiss: Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition. Comprising five parts in three volumes, the collection is inseparable from the introduction, even though the introduction "is also intended to be a freestanding monograph and reference work in its own right, even a textbook, also for readers who do not have the volumes of the set" (p. xi). As I review the freestanding monograph, a few allusions to the three-volume set will be unavoidable.

Credo is divided into seven parts, the last three of which (pp. 517-609) are made up of exhaustive bibliographies and indexes. In addition, pages xvii-liii, located after the preface, list abbreviations and "editions, collections, and reference works." These many pages of references, however, are hardly user-friendly. They may even be confusing for most readers, who are unlikely to guess immediately to which index a footnote refers. (I sought for Chr Trad near Chr Sci..., until I realized that it designates a major work of Jaroslav Pelikan, the other reference being to Christian Science!). Some readers may also have problems with the lengthy convoluted sentences that the author seems to favor. While they allow for the expression of the complex nuances of thought and of fact that may be appropriate, fifteen-line-long sentences—not infrequent—will leave a number of readers wondering what has actually been said.

The substance of the volume is covered in seventeen chapters divided into four parts. These successively examine, (I) the "definition of Creed and Confession" (chapters 1-4), (II) "the genesis of Creeds and Confessions" (chapters 5-8), (III) "the authority of Creeds and Confessions" (chapters 9-12), and (IV) "the history of Creeds and Confessions" (chapters 13-17). Definition and authority relate primarily to theology, genesis and history to history. The two areas, however, cannot be clearly distinguished. The relation between "the Rule of prayer and the Rule of faith" is a matter of theology no less than of history; and the "transmission of Creeds and Confessions to other cultures" (III, chap. 11) is a matter of history no less than of theology. Jaroslav Pelikan is certainly at home [End Page 291] in both areas. Credo therefore ought to function well both as a theological and as a historical guide, just as the three volumes of Creeds and Confessions will become an indispensable source-book for future historians and theologians.

Both collection and reflection are marked by an ecumenical openness that is refreshing. The creeds and confessions, to the history and theology of which the reader is introduced, pertain virtually to all Christian traditions. They are treated objectively, as documents that are made available to all students of the Christian religion, even though in many instances recourse to their original language will be necessary for an adequate understanding of their teachings, and instruction as to where to find the original language is not always provided. The theology of the creeds, is, in general, explained fairly and sufficiently, even though the adherents of specific confessions may find some explanations too succinct. The purpose of the book is, of course, presentation, not apologetics.

This is not to say, however, that the "guide" is perfect. While there is a laudable effort to do justice to the main shades of the Reformation and their sequels, I find that the uniqueness of the Anglican tradition does not come out well. Despite the Calvinist leanings of Archbishop Cranmer and the Thirty-nine Articles, Anglicanism stands out for a comprehensiveness in which discussion of the creeds and their continuing value comes naturally. It has been unique among the larger Christian churches as not assuming that every member believes all that is stated or implied in the official texts. Not infrequently have Anglican theologians debated on the differences between "fundamental...


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