THE CREED OF SAINT ATHANASIUS
(COMMONLY SO CALLED)
WHOSOEVER would be saved / needeth before all things to hold fast the Catholic Faith.
2 Which Faith except a man keep whole and undefiled, / without doubt he will perish eternally.
3 Now the Catholic Faith is this, / that we worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity In Unity;
4 Neither confusing the Persons, / nor dividing the Substance.
5 For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, / another of the Holy Ghost;
6 But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, / the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.
7 Such as the Father is, such is the Son, / and such is the Holy Ghost;
8 The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, / the Holy Ghost uncreated;
9 The Father infinite, the Son infinite, / the Holy Ghost infinite;
10 The Father eternal, the Son eternal, / the Holy Ghost eternal;
11 And yet there are not three eternals, / but one eternal;
12 As also there are not three uncreated, nor three infinites, / but one infinite, and one uncreated.
13 So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, / the Holy Ghost almighty;
14 And yet there are not three almighties, / but one almighty.
15 So the Father is God, the Son God, / the Holy Ghost God;
16 And yet there are not three Gods, / but one God.
17 So the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, / the Holy Ghost Lord;
18 And yet there are not three Lords, / but one Lord.
19 For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity / to confess each Person by himself to be both God and Lord
20 So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion / to speak of three Gods or three Lords.
21 The Father is made of none, / nor created, nor begotten.
22 The Son is of the Father alone; / not made, nor created, but begotten.
23 The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son; / not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
24 There is therefore one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; / one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
25 And in this Trinity there is no before or after, / no greater or less;
26 But all three Persons are co-eternal together, / and co-equal.
27 So that in all ways, as is aforesaid, / both the Trinity is to be worshipped in Unity, and the Unity in Trinity.
28 He therefore that would be saved, / let him thus think of the Trinity.
29 FURTHERMORE, it is necessary to eternal salvation, / that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
30 Now the right Faith is that we believe and confess / that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and Man.
31 He is God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; / and he is Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world;
32 Perfect God; / perfect Man, of reasoning soul and human flesh subsisting;
33 Equal to the Father as touching his Godhead;/ less than the Father as touching his Manhood.
34 Who although he be God and Man, / yet he is not two; but is one Christ;
35 One, however, not by conversion of Godhead into flesh, / but by taking of Manhood into God;
36 One altogether; / not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
37 For as reasoning soul and flesh is one man, / so God and Man is one Christ;
38 Who suffered for our salvation, / descended into hell, rose again from the dead;
39 Ascended into heaven, sat down at the right hand of the Father, / from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
40 At whose coming all men must rise again with their bodies, / and shall give account for their own deeds.
41 And they that have done good will go into life eternal; / they that have done evil into eternal fire.
42 This is the Catholic Faith, / which except a man do faithfully and stedfastly believe, he cannot be saved.
GLORY be to the Father, and to the Son, / and to the Holy Ghost;
As It was in the beginning, Is now, and ever shall be, / world without end. Amen.
Those of you who follow our Ordo Kalendar may have noticed that there are certain Saints who are listed as being “Confessors”, and some who are described as “Doctors”. And while there are a few who have both designations, you may have also noticed that on the days assigned for the feasts of those who are called Doctors of the Church, we include the Creed at the Mass. However, this is not so on those days assigned to celebrate “mere” Confessors. I was recently asked why this is so.
The easiest answer to this question may be found in the different definitions of a “Confessor”, and a Doctor”. A Confessor is someone who has continued to profess the Gospel even in the face of horrible persecution, though they did not necessarily face death for their bravery; thereby separating them from those who were Martyrs for the Faith. By this simple definition, any one of us may potentially become Confessors of the Faith, particularly during these troubled times.
But a Doctor of the Church is someone who’s witness, teaching and/or doctrine has provided great benefit to the whole Church. More specifically, a Doctor is someone who has contributed to the exposition of the Faith. And the definition of exposition is; “the act of expounding, setting forth, or explaining”. Some examples would be, quite naturally, any of the Apostles, including St. Paul, who carried on the work of Christ as He commanded them, and defined the earliest doctrines of the Church. Another would be St. Mary Magdalene, who first witnessed the Risen Christ to the Apostles, thereby “exposing” to them the reality of the Resurrection; and of course there are the four Evangelists, who wrote the Gospels we know today.
We also find these “Doctors” to be prominent in the earliest days of the Church, including those whom we have come to know as the “Fathers” of the Church. And it is here that we come to St. Athanasius, and that great exposition, setting forth, and explaining of the Faith, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
Now I’m not going to bore you with a complete martyrology of St. Athanasius, but suffice it to say that his ministry came along at just the right time in history. You see, just as Athanasius was coming into prominence as a protégé of the Bishop of Alexandria, there arose a particular heresy being professed by a man named Arius, who denied the co-Eternal Divinity of Christ. It would be Athanasius’ lot in life to combat this heresy that would come to be known as Arianism.
In order to effectively fight against Arianism, Athanaisius would need guidance from Holy Scripture. He would need guidance from the teaching of the Apostles. He would need guidance from the earliest authors of Christian Doctrine, as well as the mentorship of his own Bishop. He would need to call upon God and summon all of his earthly strength to persevere through the many debates and arguments and councils and commands from those in seemingly higher authority, in order to preserve the True Faith.
St. Athanasius would endure many hardships during his life in defense of this True Faith, but the end result can be seen in the Creeds that we recite; whether they be the Nicene Creed that we normally recite at the Mass, the Apostles Creed that is used during the Daily Office, or the Athanasian Creed that we have rehearsed today. In each and every case, we are “expounding” on the Faith. We are “setting forth”, the tenants of our Faith; we are “explaining”, the particulars of our Faith. We are in each and every case “Confessing” to the “Exposition”, of the true Catholic Faith.
And that Faith is very simply put; For there is one Person of the Father. “I am the Lord thy God; Thou shalt have none other gods but me” (BCP, pg 68). we believe and confess / that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and Man. “I and my Father are one (John 10, v 30). And that The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son; / not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance”. We worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity In Unity;
This is, of course, a very profound and sometimes confusing mystery; indeed, it is “incomprehensible” to the human mind. And when we reflect on the words of the Athanasian Creed, and the Scriptural references I have used to support one portion of it, one might think that I could be “reaching” a bit. After all, the word “Trinity” itself cannot be found anywhere in Scripture. So what would give me, or Athanasius, or anyone else for that matter, the right to “concoct”, or justify such a doctrine?
And the answer is that no one has concocted anything. What we have come to think of as the “doctrine” of the Holy Trinity is, in reality, simply the “exposition”, the setting forth, and explaining, of a revealed Truth. The mystery of the Holy Trinity is not an invention of man, it is the reality of God. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is merely mans attempt to expose this mystery using human terms. The two terms most relevant to us today are “nature”, and “person”.
By “nature”, I mean any part of a being that can be described; for we mortals, this includes our bodies, our minds, our personalities. But for God, this means His Power, His goodness, His Mercy, His Holiness, His Divine Will. This is quite different from the definition of “person”.
The word “person” cannot be described about any being except as he or she exists, acts, or experiences. Our “nature”, our mind and personality, may use our “person”, to act or to experience things, but they are not one and the same. A person is one who simply uses, is guided by, his or her nature.
But for God, this “difference”, is very dissimilar in a most significant way. And that is because there is only one Divine Nature; one Divine Power, one Divine Goodness, One Divine Mercy and Holiness; One Divine Will! Ah, but the “person” of God, he who exists, and acts and experiences, this “person” we actually know in three ways. And each is verified for us in Holy Scripture.
First, of course, is God the Father; “I am the Lord thy God; Thou shalt have none other gods but me”. Next, is God the Son: “This is my beloved Son, hear him”. And finally, there is the Holy Ghost; “and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave then utterance”.
Three different “persons” acting and experiencing; For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, / another of the Holy Ghost. for one Divine purpose; “so God Loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”; with one Divine Will; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou will”, and with one Divine Nature; “But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, / the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal”.
This is how St. Athanasius combated the heresy of Arianism, the denial of Christ’s co-Eternal Divinity, in his time; and it is how we should contest it in our time as well. Let us confess therefore that great exposition of the Faith; that there are not three Lords, / but one Lord”. That The Father is made of none, / nor created, nor begotten. That The Son is of the Father alone; / not made, nor created, but begotten. That; The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son; / not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
That; there is therefore one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; / one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And that; in this Trinity there is no before or after, / no greater or less. This is the Catholic Faith, / which except a man do faithfully and stedfastly believe, he cannot be saved.