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Christian Documents Index.

Early Protestant Creeds

Just as the Reformation brought new Christian organizations, it brought new credal statements. Many statements mixed creeds with organizational instructions, and some contained specific denunciations of Catholic tradition. For example, Article 22 of the Anglican Articles of Religion (1571) reads:

The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

With the passage of time the anti-Roman statements and subtexts gradually vanished, and credal statements created in the 1800s or 1900s rarely contain allusions to the views and practices of other groups as "fond things vainly invented." Rather than provide full texts of Protestant credos, I have on this page merely briefly described three that are fundamental in the homeland(s) of Protestantism in Northern Europe. Full texts can be easily located on the Internet.

The Augsburg Confession (1530)

The most important of the Protestant credos is the Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana) of the Lutherans, composed by Philipp Melanchthon based on earlier Lutheran credal statements and adopted in 1530 by the Diet of Augsburg. Unlike the Nicene Creed, for example, the Augusburg confession did not have a subtext of combatting heresy, but rather of resisting what Lutherans believed to be Roman Catholic abuses. Although the 1530 text remains foundational for Lutherans, slight modifications were created in an effort to pacify various other groups. The principal surviving variant is referred to as the "Variata" and dates to about 1540.

Luther was of course a Catholic priest, and did not imagine that there was any theological distance between himself and the Roman Catholic Church, but rather that certain abuses within the Church needed correction. The Augsburg Confession takes exactly that position, restating fundamental "pan-Christian" beliefs, and then condemning the abuses that precipitated the Reformation.

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Heidelberg Catechism (1562)

Even as the Augsburg Confession was the statement of faith in the Evangelical (i.e. Luthern) churches, so the Heidelberg Catechism played a similarl role in the Reform (i.e., Calvinist) churches. Drafted in 1562 by Caspar Olevianus, a professor at the University of Heidelberg, it was accepted by the Reformed churches the following year.

Intended as a peace-making, "middle-way" sort of document, the Heidelberg Catechism attempted to bridge differences between Lutheran and Calvinist groups in Germany, in opposition to Roman Catholics. Probably for this reason, the distinctively Calvinist doctrine of predestination —the belief that God has already selected some people for salvation and some for damnation before they are even born— was pushed to the background in the interest of finding common cause with Lutherans on other issues. (Conciliation didn't happen, but the catechism is still used.)

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Westminster Confession (1643)

English-speaking Calvinists or Presbyterians, meeting in Westminster Abbey, completed their own credo in 1648, during the English Revolution when the monarchy had no control over them. With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Presbyterianism, and hence the Westminster Confession, lost official support in England, but remained in use in Scotland and was adopted by Presbyterians (and some other Protestant groups) in North America. Today it is probably the clearest statement in general use of Calvinist theological views.

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