Secondly, all dogmas are formulated negatively, namely as a reaction against misinterpretations from inside the Church. This is even true of the Apostolic Creed.
We will come to the first article, “I believe in God the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” This is not simply a statement which says something in itself, but it is the rejection of dualism, of Manichaeism, after a life and death struggle of a hundred years. And so also with all the other dogmas. The later they are, the more they show clearly this negative character. They are PROTECTIVE DOCTRINES, protecting the substance of the Biblical message. This substance was fluid. It had, of course, a core which was fixed, the confession that Jesus was the Christ, but beyond this everything was in motion. But now doctrines came up which seemed to undercut this fundamental statement, and the protective doctrines were added to it. In this way the dogma arose. Luther still knew this, that dogmas are not results of a theoretical interest, but of the need for protection of the Christian substance.
Now these statements again could be misinterpreted, and if this was done, then a sharper theoretical formulation was necessary. In order to do this, it was necessary to use philosophical terms. In this way the many philosophical concepts came into the Christian dogma, not because people were interested in them – again Luther is very frank about it: he openly declared he disliked terms like “Trinity,” “homoousios,” or similar words, but he said they must be used, unfortunately, because we have no better terms. This is the theoretical formulation which comes if other theoretical people formulate the doctrine in such a way that the substance seems to be endangered by a leading group in the Church.
But this was not the last step. The next step was that this dogma was accepted as canonic law, by the Church. Canonic law is law according to the canon, which is the rule of thought or rule of behavior. Canonic law is the ecclesiastical law to which everybody must subject himself who belongs to the Church. In this way the dogma receives a legal sanction, and in the Roman church the dogma is a part of the canonic law, and its authority comes from the legal realm, not from the dogmatic realm, according to the general development of the Roman church, which is especially Roman, that means, always legalistic development.
Now even this perhaps would not have created the tremendous reaction against the dogma in the last 400 years if another step had not been taken: the ecclesiastical law was accepted as state law by the medieval society. This meant that he who breaks the canonic law of doctrines is not only a heretic against the Church: he disagrees with fundamentals which were accepted by the Church as a whole; but he is also a criminal against the state. And this last point was one which produced the radical reaction in modern times against the dogma, and the impossibility of using the concept of dogma even for the title of these lectures.