Identity Of Creed With Theology

Identity Of Creed With Theology

These types of theory all seem to fail through the same fault ; namely, their common denial of the necessity of creed in religion. They describe characteristics which religion does undoubtedly often or always possess ; but they try to explain it as consisting chiefly or only of these characteristics, and to avoid admitting its basis in positive creed.

Without examining further theories of the same kind, therefore, we may venture to assert that religion cannot exist without a definite belief as to the nature of God. This contention would probably be borne out by any careful investigation of actual religions ; every religion claims to present as true and intellectually sound a doctrine which may be described as a theory of God.



This statement of belief as to the nature of God, which of course includes beliefs as to the relations of God and the world, God and man, and so forth, is the intellectual content of religion ; and it is not a thing outside or different from the religion itself.

It may be only one aspect or element of religion ; but at least it is an element, and an indispensable element. I call it intellectual, even if it has not been reached by “ scientific ” processes, because the intellect is the name of that activity by which we think, know, hold convictions or draw inferences ; and a non-intellectual conviction would be a contradiction in terms. ∗

Now the Doctrine of God is of course theology ; it is in fact the translation of that word. Accordingly, a creed is a theology, and there is no distinction whatever between Theology and Religion, so far as the intellectual aspect of religion is concerned. My theology is the beliefs I hold about God, that is to say, my creed, the intellectual element of my religion.

This identification is often controverted. In the first place, a distinction is sometimes made between religion and theology with a view to reconciling the claims of criticism with those of ecclesiastical authority. Criticism (it is supposed) merely affects theology ; orthodoxy is a matter of religion and is untouched by critical arguments. Such a distinction enables us to make two promises : first, to believe whatever the church believes ; and secondly, to accept whatever criticism proves. But the two spheres cannot be separated in this way.

There is an abstract possibility that criticism should prove the Gospel a forgery and that philosophy should demonstrate God to be an illusion ; and the second promise involves readiness to accept these results as promptly as any others. But this implication already denies any weight to the authority of the church ; for no church would allow its members to accept such conclusions. The proposed modus vivendi is as valueless in practice as it is indefensible in theory

Some writers, again, distinguish theology, as the thought which takes religion as its starting-point and builds a superstructure upon it, from the religion upon which it builds. But this is no distinction at all ; for if religion supplies the premisses from which theology infers other new truths, the two are only related as premisses and conclusion in one syllogism, and one and the same syllogism cannot be split up into two distinct kinds of thought.

Rather, this argument would prove the identity of the two ; for there is no difference between putting together the premisses and drawing the conclusion. It is only in the abstractions of formal logic that they are separated. The distinction therefore would be an entirely abstract one ; we could never point to two different concrete things and say “ this is religion and that theology. ”

The same objection would apply to the opposite distinction, according to which theology, instead of using religion as its starting-point, takes its pronouncements as conclusions, and endeavours to provide proofs for them. This does seem to be a way in which the word theology is sometimes used ; thus the conviction of the existence of God might be described as religion, and the proofs of his existence as theology. But in that case theology would include the whole intellectual side of religion in itself, and religion would be merely the name for an incomplete and mutilated fragment of theology—the conclusion without the evidence—which when its deficiencies were made good would coincide with theology.

A somewhat similar distinction is that between religion as the personal experience of the individual and theology as the systematic statement of religious experience as a whole. If religion means “ that fragment of theology, of whose truth I have had personal experience, ” the distinction between the two can never be made at all. Theology is the whole ; religion my particular part of it. For me—within my knowledge—the two are in every way identical. Whatever theology I know is to me religion ; and the rest I do not know.

There is certainly a kind of thought which takes religious dogmas and tries to discover their logical result ; and one which tries to prove their truth ; and one which arranges and expresses them all in a systematic way. And if we like to call any or all of these theology, we have no doubt a right to do so. But we must remember, if we use the term, that theology so described is not different from religion. A religious truth does not cease to be religious truth and turn into theological truth because it is proved, or arranged in a system, or reflected upon.

In general, then, it does not seem that we can distinguish religion as creed from theology at all. Each of the above distinctions, as we have said, does correspond to a real difference in the way in which we use the words ; and they may be summed up by saying that in ordinary language religion means something less deliberate, less consciously logical, than theology.

Religious experience gives us a number of truths arranged anyhow, just as they come to the surface ; all is knowledge, all the fruit of intellectual activity, since intellect means nothing but the attainment of knowledge ; but it is knowledge unsystematised. Theology then, according to this view, arranges and classifies the truths already given in religion ; it creates nothing new, but rather, so to speak, tidies up the workshop where religion has finished work for the day. But even this simile overstates the difference ; for in the apparent chaos of the unsystematised experience, system is in fact already present. The work of co-ordination which we have ascribed to theology is already characteristic of religion itself ; it supplies us not with a number of disconnected conceptions of the nature of God, but with a conception.