Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Article 8

The article for today is itself very short. The creeds to which it refers to, however, are not:


VIII. Of the Three Creeds
The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius's Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.

The Apostles' Creed, which I talked about a few days ago in regards to the Harrowing of Hell issue, was basically the Baptismal formula catechism in the early centuries. It is pre-Nicene, so the issues of Christology that the Council of Nicea were arguing about are not there. The Nicene Creed is (or should be) familiar to most Anglicans. It is usually said on Sundays and other Feast Days, whereas the Apostles' Creed is said during Morning and Evening Prayer. I will likely come back to the Nicene Creed again in subsequent articles in this series.

The Athanasian Creed is a horse of a different color. It is in the current 1979 Book of Common Prayer with the other Historical Documents, but it isn't used often in Anglican Liturgy, mainly because it is extremely long and repetitive, and very hard to understand for even those with advanced degrees in theology. I have never actually used it in a Liturgy, not that I disagree with it, but that it is extremely liturgically distracting because it is so dense and not particularly well translated into modern English. I do know some Lutheran churches that use it on Trinity Sunday or other Catechism Sundays, either saying it outright or singing it (I would love to hear that community hymn!) but I have yet to attempt it. 

Here is the Athanasian Creed as found in the current BCP:

The Creed of Saint Athanasius
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.
Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish
     everlastingly.
And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity,
     neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory
     equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost
     incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and
     one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty.
And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by
      himself to be both God and Lord,
So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father
 is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten,
      but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three
      Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be
      worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved is must think thus of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the
      Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of
      God, is God and Man;
God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance
      of his Mother, born in the world;
Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching his
      manhood;
Who, although he be God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ;
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by taking of the Manhood into God;
One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;
Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, he sitteth at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from
      whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead.
At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their
      own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into
      everlasting fire.
This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

So, are you confused? If not, read it again. You should be, as it basically tries to map out the understandings of the Trinity, Salvation, and the Catholic Faith. As with any attempt to turn the Trinity into an equation, either in a (relatively) short creed or a massive several volume Systematic Theology, you simply cannot do it.   God is that which nothing bigger can be conceived. Thus, trying to pin God down in any doctrinal formula is ultimately to fail because the equation would then, in itself, be that of which nothing larger can be conceived. 


As much as more radical Protestants had a say in compiling the Articles of Religion, it may somewhat be interesting to see that Anglican Articles adhere not just to the Apostles' and Nicene Creed, but also to the Creed of Athanasius, seeing as it begins and ends with "This is the Catholic faith." Certainly there were strands of Protestants who wanted nothing to do with the Creeds of Traditions. Baptists, Congregationalists,  and some Anabaptists to this day do not adhere to any Creed. Personally, I do not understand how such traditions can function without being incoherent or at the least being sucked into age old doctrinal controversies over and over, but that is a subject for another day.


Actually, for reasons I am not entirely clear on, Protestants of the Reformed cloth in the Church of England loved the Athanasian Creed. In fact, in the Books of Common Prayer from 1552 to 1662, there were rubrics for up to 19 occasions during the year when one was supposed to recite this creed in the liturgy. It was not until the 1800's that the liturgical use of this creed began to fall into disuse, probably because of the "eternal damnation" language, which the English Reformers loved but the Post-Enlightenment rise of Modernism loathed. 

Also, 1800's Church of England debate centered on the bit about ""They that have done good shall go into life everlasting: and they that have done evil into everlasting fire," which sounded an awful lot like works-righteousness to some people, something the earlier Puritans for some reason liked, though it was at odds with a Justification by Faith doctrine of salvation. Puritans just loved bewailing their 'manifold sins and wickedness.'

Even in the Catholic church, the Creed of Athanasius has largely fallen into complete disuse since the 2nd Vatican Council, other than a recent resurgence in the Mass of the Extraordinary Form (the Tridentine Latin mass revival) and, interestingly, it is still mandated in the Catholic exorcism rites. (I guess they hope the demons will leave out of boredom.)

Personally, I think it behooved modern Christians to grapple with the notion of the Trinity. Anglicans, in particular, are extremely Trinitarian, and yet so many have gravitated to an almost Unitarian or Agnostic view of God's nature, simply conceding that the notion of the Trinity is too esoteric a doctrine and that it is either "a mystery that can't even be thought about" or else some antiquated doctrine that holds no modern meaning like a flat Earth or something. I think we forsake the teachings of the Creeds at our own peril, lest we fall into  any of the early church heresi
es like Sabellianism and Arianism, but also the Christological heresies of Nestorianism and Eutychianism.

Let me close by saying that heresy is not just wrong-headed or false doctrine. Heresy is doctrine or belief that is so bad  and so false that we may very well be in danger of losing our salvation if we get sucked into believing it. Therein is the danger of heresy. This is something that I think we as modern Western Christians need to think and pray about because we live in an age where anything goes, where I can believe whatever I want to about God whenever I want to believe it. This is not the revelation given to either the Church or even the Jews in the Old Testament. The God of the Bible says over and over again that you will have 'no other gods before Me.'

1 comment:

Don Henri said...

Not related, but does anyone know where I could find preferably for free) the score of "little" Pelham Humfrey's Communion Service? It's delightful and very baroque, yet singable by a congregation...
If someone wants to send a scan of it to me: spasblag@rambler.ru

+ PAX et BONUM