What is Symbolics?

Symbolics is the theological science that studies the various confessions of the Church. This study has as its aim to analyze, compare, and differentiate between the various confessions of individual denominations. The object of the study of symbolics is formed by the different writings and documents in which the church expresses what she believes and upholds. We must distinguish between symbols, confessions, and confessional documents. The study of symbolics is focused upon these ecclesiastical documents. Besides these documents there are also theological writings in which the church expresses what she believes but are not confessional statements. They give a further explanation of the contents of the actual confessions. For instance, there are certain dogmatic statements which are adopted by individual denominations. We can also refer to liturgical forms and church orders. In the study of symbolics, one will always have the starting point in one’s personal faith. The Reformed study of symbolics stands on the basis of faith. When we study other confessions we may not withdraw ourselves from our own confessional point of view. In the study of Reformed symbolics, we examine our own confessions in comparison to other confessions. For instance, the genetic cohesion between our Reformed confessions and the confessions of the early Church. We also consider the development of confessions in various denominations. We can distinguish four confessional developments:

1)            Within Roman Catholicism

2)            The Eastern Orthodox Churches

3)            The Lutheran Churches

4)            The Reformed Confessions


The aim of symbolics is four-fold:

1)            A literary aim: We ascertain the exact text which forms the basis of our examination. We are to investigate newer versions of older confessions to determine whether they are reliable renderings of these older symbols.

2)            A historical aim: We are to consider the development and the historical background of various confessions. The differences between various Reformed confessions can be explained from their historical setting.

3)            A systematic aim: An exposition of the doctrine contained in the various confessions. We can compare the various loci in the various confessions.

4)            A critical aim: To determine whether the confession is indeed in agreement to the holy scriptures. We are to consider whether the confessions are based on God’s Word, but this can also be a task for systematic theology.


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