This morning in my devotion time, I decided to read and pray through the Athanasian Creed. I have a slick iPhone application that provides full text for the major Christian creeds throughout history. Ironically, scholars are not sure if Athanasius of Alexandria even penned the creed, though it bears his name. It likely originated in the late fifth or early sixth century and came about, as do all creeds, as a response to heresies (unorthodox beliefs) about the nature of the Trinity, the doctrine that God exists as three distinct persons (Father, Son, Spirit) yet mysteriously remains as one God. The heresies were centered on two false ideas: either they alleged that God the Son and Spirit were inferior, or subordinate, to God the Father, or they set forth a theology of tritheism (God existing as three separate, not unified, persons). The Trinity has been the most widely debated belief in orthodox Christianity and is the place of departure for the vast majority of past and present heresies and cults. Here is a portion of the creed:
And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Spirit Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty.
I enjoy reading creeds like this because they are theologically robust. Like old hymns, you can’t simply breeze through the words with ease. They require reflection, an exercise in worship of the mind. They also remind me of God’s sovereign providence to protect his Church from error and sustain the orthodoxy (literally “right belief”) that leads to proper worship.
שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה׀ אֶחָֽד׃ : “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)