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Doctrine, Christian, History of.

1. Jesus commanded His disciples to teach all nations to observe all that He commanded them (Mt 28:20). What the disciples taught was Christian doctrine. When men teach what Jesus commands, they teach the truth; when they teach anything contrary to His commands, they teach error or heresy. The teachers of the ch. soon found it necessary to defend the truth of their faith against error in their midst and against attacks from Jews and pagans. This made it necessary for them to formulate their doctrine so that it would be clear to others. This led to the fixation of dogma. Those who taught error also formulated their doctrine; as the cents. passed, error increased in scope and variety. The hist. of doctrine is the record of the development of doctrinal forms and the fixation of dogma in the ch.

2. The earliest pronouncements of doctrine subsequent to the books of the NT are in the writings of the Apostolic* Fathers. These are followed by the writings of the so-called Gk. Apologists* (Epistle to Diognetus,* Quadratus,* Aristides,* Melito,* Claudius Apollinaris,* Miltiades,* Athenagoras,* Theophilus* of Antioch, Tatian,* and Justin* Martyr; see also Patristics, 3–4; Christian Church, History of the, I 2). These defended the faith in an era of persecution. But in praising Christianity as the highest form of philos. wisdom and truth, they weakened its power as the only means of salvation. During this period the ch. also had to defend itself against error in its midst (Gnosticism*; Encratism*; Montanism*; Monarchianism*). Controversy with errorists led to the declaration that revelation and prophecy had ceased and to fixation of the NT canon (see Canon, Bible, 3–5). During this time the schools of Alexandria and Antioch were founded, marking the beginning of scientific theol. (see Exegesis, 3–4). Tertullian* became the father of Lat. theol. He, Irenaeus,* and Hippolytus* were among the principal anti-Gnostic writers. The development of scientific theol. coincides with serious attacks on fundamental Christian doctrine, but also with the correct formulation of the challenged doctrines and their successful defense. The doctrine of the Trin. was attacked by Monarchianism and Arianism* (see also Christological Controversies). The resulting controversy led to the first Council of Nicaea* 325 and to the Nicene Creed (see Ecumenical Creeds, B), which also took note of the error of the Macedonians or Pneumatomachians,* who denied the deity of the Holy Ghost. Apollinarianism (see Apollinaris of Laodicea) was condemned by the 381 council at Constantinople.* Nestorianism* denied the unity of Christ's person. Cyril* of Alexandria brought about the condemnation of Nestorius* at the council at Ephesus* 431. Eutychianism* taught that Christ, after the incarnation, had only 1 nature. The ensuing controversy was settled by the council at Chalcedon* 451. The resulting agreement is found in the Athanasian Creed (see Ecumenical Creeds, C). The Chalcedonian settlement was unsuccessfully challenged by Monophysitism (see Monophysite Controversy) and Monothelitism.* Summary: Nicaea 325, Christ is divine; Constantinople 381, Christ is human; Ephesus 431, Christ 1 in person; Chalcedon 451, Christ 2 in nature. A fierce anthropological controversy was stirred up by Pelagius* (see Pelagian Controversy), who taught freedom of the will in spiritual matters and salvation by works. Augustine* of Hippo was one of his chief opponents. Persecution* of Christians by Decius* and Diocletian* and the problem of the lapsed gave rise to Novatianism* and Donatism (see Donatist Schism).

3. The early Middle Ages found the E and W Ch. in controversy regarding the use of images (iconoclastic* controversy) and the addition to the Nicene Creed of the words “and the Son” (see Filioque Controversy). The 2d Council of Nicaea* 787 marked the virtual end of development of doctrinal forms in the E Ch. In the W Ch. the adoptionist controversies (see Adoptionism), predestinarian* controversy, and eucharistic* controversies are to be noted.

4. In the later Middle Ages, philos. became the handmaid of theol. The great scholastics aimed to harmonize various doctrines of the ch. by the dialectic* method (see also Scholasticism). The sacramental and sacerdotal system that had developed in the course of cents. was fortified and papal supremacy explained. The number of sacraments grew from 2 to 7 (see Sacraments, Roman Catholic). Augustinianism* gave way to semi-Pelagianism (see Pelagian Controversy, 7–10. The immaculate conception of Mary was still being debated, but the trend was in favor of the dogma (defined 1854). The papal victory over the conciliar movement (see Councils and Synods, 7) prepared the way for the definition of papal infallibility 1870. Debates centering on the terms “realism,”* “nominalism,”* and “conceptualism”* influenced the development of doctrine in the medieval ch. The Council of Trent* (1545–63) crystallized RC dogma.

5. Earlier reformers (P. Waldo,* J. Wycliffe,* J. Hus*) had not been able to change the direction of RCm The greatest challenge to RC doctrinal aberrations came with Prot. Reformation. Prot. doctrinal formulation is linked with M. Luther,* H. Zwingli,* and J. Calvin.* The name Luther suggests his 2 catechisms,* the AC, and the SA (see Lutheran Confessions, A, B 2). Zwingli's views are set forth in his 67 theses of 1523 and in a modified way in the Tetrapolitan Confession (see Reformed Confessions, D 1). Calvinism gave rise to many symbolic expressions (e.g., the Zurich Consensus, the Gallican Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Thirty-nine Articles, the Lambeth Articles; see Reformed Confessions, A 8, B, C 1; Anglican Confessions, 6, 7). Arminianism* was a synergistic protest against Calvinism (Remonstrants* vs. Counter-Remonstrants). Post-Reformation controversies in the Luth. Ch. (Interimistic or Adiaphoristic,* Majoristic,* Antinomian,* Osiandrian* or Stancarian, Synergistic,* Flacian [see Flacius Illyricus, M.], Crypto*-Calvinistic) led to the FC and the Book* of Concord (see Lutheran Confessions, C 2), the last dogmatic formulation of the Luth. Ch. as such. For the Calvinistic Ref. Ch. the final dates are 1619 (Syn. of Dordrecht) and 1643 (Westminster Assembly). The last 2 cents. have been as marked by deviations from accepted standards as by adherence to them (Deism,* Ecumenical* Movement, Evangelicalism,* Fundamentalism,* Liberalism, Modernism,* Rationalism*). Unfaithfulness to the Word of God has led to innumerable doctrinal aberrations and the rise of many religious sects and cults, each with its own doctrinal idiosyncrasies. But by the grace of God there is still a host of believers faithful to His Word.

See also Christian Church, History of the; Christian Faith and the Intellectual; Dogmatics; Theology. LWS

E. H. Klotsche and J. T. Mueller, The History of Christian Doctrine (Burlington, Iowa, 1945); O. W. Heick, A History of Christian Thought, rev. ed., 2 vols., I originally by J. L. Neve and O. W. Heick (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1965–66); R. Seeberg, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 4 vols. in 5 books, 2d and 3d ed. (Leipzig, 1913–23), tr. C. R. Hay, Text-Book of the History of Doctrines (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1952); A. v. Harnack, History of Dogma, 7 vols., tr. from the 3d Ger. ed. by N. Buchanan (Boston, 1899–1903).


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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