From “The Building of the Spirit,” On Behalf of Belief (1889)

There [the Creeds] stand at last, perfect, strong, entire; so quiet and sure that we forget that the smell of fire has been upon them. We remember no more the anguish and trial out of which they were born. Those Creeds are the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. So we rightly believe; but, so believing, we are apt to fancy that that must mean that they were done in a flash, in easy strength. God spoke, we suppose, and it was done.

We have our fancy- picture of a Church that came together, with regular and calm dispatch, at each difficulty that arose, and at once relieved all dispute and indecision by formally announcing the true Creed; and then we are staggered to find ourselves today deprived of this rapid and convenient mechanism, left to the strain and the pain of prolonged uncertainty, often stripped of authoritative guidance just when we seem most to need it, encompassed by obscurities, watching timorously the local interests, the temporary accidents, the worldly intrigues, which seem ever on the very point of doing some irretrievable hurt to the truth and the Church.

But if we know acts, we escape this disturbing contrast; for then we have learnt that the Creeds can indeed be the work of the Holy Spirit, and yet not be shown to be such by force of rapid ease, but rather by the victorious lordship perilously but perfectly exercised over the tumult and the chaos of earthly passion.

The evidence for his presence is to be found in the contrast between the apparent disorder and terror of the outward scene and the steady and beautiful harmony of the result. To us it seems but a wild and confused babel of discordant noises, yet in its very midst, as we find, the Holy Spirit still worked. Still he held the threads and clues; still he warded off the threatening disasters; still he toiled and strove; still he saved the remnant he shielded the holy seed; still he fashioned, in his holy fires, like a smith beats out and toughens iron, the strong words which should stand for ever; still over the chaos of those loud waters he passed, and under him the truth grew, came together, shaped itself, solid, firm, eternal; and then the storm ceased, the wind died away, and there it stood – the fair and beautiful fabric, within which belief could find itself at peace; there stood the Creeds, his own undoubted work, testifying to him, the evidence of his care, of his teaching, of his tenacity, of his unfailing inspiration.

Now that we see the result, we do not doubt the Spirit’s handling, any more than we doubt the evidence of the Creator’s mind and will which is given us in the completed structure of the living bird. The subtlety and toil of the long process through the pressure of which it was formed cannot be allowed to obscure the positive and decisive clearness of the outcome. The proof of God’s handling, of God’s supremacy, is as undeniable in every line and point of that delicate mechanism of the swallow, as if he had struck it out with one blow of His hand, with one word of his will. And as he works in nature, so, after the same methods and analogies, it has been in the framing of his supernatural kingdom.

Through the very thick of human disorder he held on his predestined and unbroken way. The process to human eyes was dark, confused, slow, perilous; but lo! the fruit is peace. The Spirit, whose track our eyes could not follow, has never failed His task. In spite of human wranglings, the truth has been secured; the Creed has been built, word by word, line after line; the victory is complete. Now we know the meaning, the issues, the gain of all those long, painful, patient hours, when men cried for the night to pass, and it seemed as if no dawn would ever break. Now we know. All is justified; all is safe. Truly “the Lord sitteth above the water- flood : and the Lord remaineth a King for ever.”

The Rev. Canon Professor Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918) was among the best-known Anglican clerics of the Victorian era. A prominent high churchman, he was a canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral for decades, where his sermons were greatly admired. He worked to alleviate the sufferings of the urban poor and founded the influential Christian Social Union, which advocated for socialist policies rooted in Christian principles.  Eight years before his death he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.