Friday, January 16, 2009

Athanasian Creed

Here is a little report of what I have learned about the Athanasian Creed.
This is one of the earliest creeds of the Christian faith and is attributed to Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria (c.296-c.373), but it was actually written after his death. Note that there are references in the Athanasian Creed to the catholic faith. Today's Roman Catholics say that means their church and only their church is the pillar and ground of the truth. The church of Rome IS the Catholic church that the Fathers spoke of. I don't think that the arrogance of that statement needs to be elaborated on in this post. It is self-evident.

The rest of us realise that "catholic faith" is a reference to the body of teachings that all Christians hold in common. Paul when he addressed Titus said, "To Titus, my true son in our common faith. (Titus 1:4)"

So this creed is to be understood in the sense of our common faith. This creed elaborates on what Christians have always believed to be the true teaching in Scripture about the Trinity. Not all of us are creedal Christians. That is, not all of us look to the creeds as some kind of authority. They are helpful but not authoritative. Scripture alone is the final arbiter in matters of faith and practice. Even so, those who crafted the Athanasian Creed did an amazing job. Bible believers will find little if anything to disagree with in this creed.

Some find the term "eternally begotten" to be contradictory, since how can someone be begotten in an eternal sense. They say that "monogenes" - which in John 3:16 in the KJV was translated as "only begotten" - simply means the unique Son of God. Since Christ was not engendered in the normal way, how could He be begotten in any sense of that word?

Many newer translations reflect that line of reasoning, including the ESV.

John 3:16 (English Standard Version)

For God So Loved the World
16"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

In translating "monogenes" this way, there is no denial of the eternal existence of the Son of God. It is not deemed necessary to use the phrase, "only begotten" to convey the real meaning of Christ's uniqueness as the only, eternal Son of God.

Then, to say that the Second Person of the Trinity is "eternally begotten" is actually oxymoronic; it is contradictory. Also, if one is not careful, some reason, the Son can be seen as a lesser God who receives His very existence from the Father instead of from sharing in the Godhead equally with the Father and being Himself fully God. Anyway, it gets pretty thick, I think.

I personally do not have any problems with either "only begotten" or "eternally begotten." I think that they better reflect the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son. The Father is Eternal as well as the Son, and that relationship has always existed within the members of the Trinity in Unity. Otherwise, the concept of fatherhood and sonship is obscured, IMO.

In both views, no one is denying that the Son is eternal, so I maybe it's no big deal at the end of the day which way you look at it, or both ways depending on one's mood. Just so one's wording does not contradict the doctrine of the Trinity and the full deity and eternity of the Son of God.

Note that this statement about the Trinity contained in the Athanasian Creed is viewed to be essential doctrine. A proper view of the Trinity is necessary for salvation, IOW.

It was crafted as a refutation of certain heretical teachings that had entered some churches.

Here is Wikkipedia's entry for the authorship of the Athanasian Creed.

"Beginning in the 9th century, the Athanasian Creed was ascribed to St. Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria, who lived in the 4th century. This view was contested in the 17th century and is rejected today. Reasons for rejecting Athanasius as the author are: 1) The creed originally was written in Latin. 2) It is not mentioned by Athanasius or his contemporaries. 3) It is not mentioned in any records of the ecumenical councils. 4) It appears to address Christological controversies that developed after Athanasius died. Although Constantine ended imperial persecution of the Church in 313 with the Edict of Milan, the preceding centuries of oppression had prevented large-scale theological debate and uniformity. The Nicean Council institutionalized widely held beliefs and formally opposed theologically divergent doctrines. The creed was attributed to Athanasius as a sign of its intense orthodoxy of Trinitarian belief.

Most of today's historians agree that it originated in Gaul around 500. Its theology is closely akin to that found in the writings of Western theologians, especially Ss. Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, and Vincent of Lérins. J.N.D. Kelly, a contemporary patristics scholar, believes that St. Vincent of Lérin was not its author, but suggests that it may have come from the same milieu, namely the area of Lérins in southern Gaul.

The oldest surviving manuscripts of the Athanasian creed date from the late 8th century."

Here is a brief comment about the content of the creed and the significance of the word "homoousios" or "hypostasis."

"Its teaching about Jesus Christ is more detailed than in the Nicene Creed, and reflects the teaching of the Council of Ephesus (431) and the definition of the Council of Chalcedon (451). The 'Athanasian' Creed boldly uses the key Nicene term homoousios ('one substance', 'one in Being') not only with respect to the relation of the Son to the Father according to his divine nature, but that the Son is homoousios with his mother Mary, according to his human nature.

The Creed's wording thus excludes not only Sabellianism and Arianism, but the Christological heresies of (so-called) Nestorianism and Eutychianism. A need for a clear confession against Arianism arose in western Europe when the Ostrogoths and Visigoths, who had Arian beliefs, invaded at the beginning of the 5th century."

Whoever wants to be saved should above all cling to the catholic faith.

Whoever does not guard it whole and inviolable will doubtless perish eternally.

Now this is the catholic faith: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.

For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another.

But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.

What the Father is, the Son is, and so is the Holy Spirit.

Uncreated is the Father; uncreated is the Son; uncreated is the Spirit.

The Father is infinite; the Son is infinite; the Holy Spirit is infinite.

Eternal is the Father; eternal is the Son; eternal is the Spirit:

And yet there are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal;

as there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited.

Almighty is the Father; almighty is the Son; almighty is the Spirit:

And yet there are not three almighty beings, but one who is almighty.

Thus the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God:

And yet there are not three gods, but one God.

Thus the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord:

And yet there are not three lords, but one Lord.

As Christian truth compels us to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord, so catholic religion forbids us to say that there are three gods or lords.

The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten;

the Son was neither made nor created, but was alone begotten of the Father;

the Spirit was neither made nor created, but is proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Thus there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.

And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other;

but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons.

Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.

It is necessary for eternal salvation that one also faithfully believe that our Lord Jesus Christ became flesh.

For this is the true faith that we believe and confess: That our Lord Jesus Christ, God's Son, is both God and man.

He is God, begotten before all worlds from the being of the Father, and he is man, born in the world from the being of his mother --

existing fully as God, and fully as man with a rational soul and a human body;

equal to the Father in divinity, subordinate to the Father in humanity.

Although he is God and man, he is not divided, but is one Christ.

He is united because God has taken humanity into himself; he does not transform deity into humanity.

He is completely one in the unity of his person, without confusing his natures.

For as the rational soul and body are one person, so the one Christ is God and man.

He suffered death for our salvation.

He descended into hell and rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

At his coming all people shall rise bodily to give an account of their own deeds.

Those who have done good will enter eternal life,

those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.

This is the catholic faith.

One cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully.

From Wikisource.