Athanasian Creed

This past Sunday was Trinity Sunday, the Sunday following Pentecost and is the last Sunday, from Easter to Pentecost, before we enter the propers, which constitute ordinary time in the Christian calendar. Trinity Sunday is an important day for Christians because we focus on the Triune nature of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In liturgical Churches this is typically centered around the affirmation of the creed known as the “Athanasian Creed.” This is a statement of Christian belief that focuses on Trinitarian doctrine and Christology. It has been used by Christian Churches since the sixth century and centers around ‘orthodox’ Christian doctrine. These statements come largely from the defense of Athanasius, who at the age of 27 accompanied his bishop, Alexander of Alexandria to Nicaea in 325 AD, to refute the doctrine of Arius, whose belief was that Jesus was not of the same essence of the Father and that he did not exist with the Father at creation. Arius’ famous statement was, ‘there was a time when the Son was not.’ The implications of accepting this belief would have a huge impact on Christian doctrine but Athanasius fought for and won the distinct doctrine and belief in the Trinity and the work of Christ who became a ‘full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.’ (Holy Communion, Rite I) Athanasius countered Arius’ statement by saying, ‘there was not a time when the Son was not.’

The creed seems a little ‘wordy’ to contemporary readers but from the very beginning it sets out the essential principle that the Catholic faith does not consist in the first place in assent to propositions, but ‘that we worship One God in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity.’ All else flows from that orientation.

The Creed is divided into two sections. The first section ascribes the divine attributes of God to each person individually. Thus, each person of the Trinity is described as ‘uncreated,’ ‘limitless,’ ‘eternal,’ and ‘omnipotent.’ While ascribing the divine attributes and divinity to each person of the Trinity, thus avoiding subordinationism, the first half of the Creed also stresses the unity of the three persons in the one Godhead, thus avoiding a theology of tritheism. Although one God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from each other. For the Father is neither made nor begotten; the Son is not made but is begotten from the Father; the Holy Spirit is neither made nor begotten but proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The teachings in this creed are more detailed than in the Nicene Creed, and reflects the teaching of the First Council of Ephesus (431) and the definition of the Council of Chalcedon (451).

As we affirm the statements in the Athanasian Creed and contemplate the mystery of our Triune God, may we remember ‘that we worship One God in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity.’

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.