Athanasian Creed

The Athanasian Creed is a more in-depth summary of Christian doctrine. It is a statement of belief specifically emphasizing Trinitarian doctrine and Christology. It is traditionally believed to have been written by Athanasius, archbishop of Alexandria, who lived in the 4th century A.D. However, this traditional view of its authorship is challenged by most historians and scholars, for various reasons:

1. The creed originally was most likely written in Latin, but Athanasius composed in Greek.
2. Neither Athanasius nor his contemporaries ever mention the Creed.
3. It is not mentioned in any records of the ecumenical councils.
4. It appears to address theological concerns that developed after Athanasius died (including the filioque).
5. It was most widely circulated among Western Christians.

For these reasons, Athanius was rejected as the author, and the true author is unknown.

The Athanasian Creed seems to have been written primarily to refute heresies involving the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ. The creed which was written in Latin, was largely unknown in the Eastern church until the 12th century, but it has been used by some western Christian churches since the sixth century. It is the first creed in which the equality of the three persons of the Trinity is explicitly stated. It differs from the Nicene and Apostles Creed in that it includes anathemas, or condemnations, of those who disagree with the creed.

The Athanasian Creed was designed to supplement the Nicene Creed and thus distinguish Nicene Christianity from the heresy of Arianism. Arianism was a belief system in which the Son of God did not always exist but was begotten within time by God the Father, therefore Jesus was not co-eternal with God the Father. Arianism holds that the Son is distinct from the Father and therefore subordinate to Him. The heretical followers of Arius argued that Christ was an exalted creature but that He was less than God. It was also intended to combat the teachings of of Monophysitism and Nestorianism. Monophysitism attempted to reduce the person of Christ to one nature, which nature was neither truly divine nor truly human. Nestorianism claimed that Jesus had two natures and was therefore two persons, one human and one divine. Both the Monophysite heresy and the Nestorian heresy were clearly condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

The Athanasian Creed is usually divided into two sections: The first section address the doctrine of the Trinity and describes the divine attributes to each individually. The second part enumerates the three persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), and the doctrine of Christology. Thus, each person of the Trinity is described as uncreated, limitless, eternal, and omnipotent. This creed gave rise to a depiction of the "Shield of Faith".

Ascribing the divine attributes and divinity to each person of the Trinity eliminates any appearance of subordination. The first half of the Athanasian Creed also stresses the unity of the three persons in the one Godhead, thus avoiding a theology of tritheism (three gods). Furthermore, although all are one God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from one another since 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. (Note: Western churches changed the phrase "from the Father" to "from the Father and the Son", which is rejected by the Orthodox churches.)

The Athanasian Creed

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the *catholic faith. Which faith unless every one 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 Essence. 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 coeternal.

Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. 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 uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. 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 God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the *catholic religion; to say, There are 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 before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation; that he also believe faithfully 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 [Essence] of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Substance [Essence] 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 is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood into God. One altogether; not by confusion of Substance [Essence]; 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 on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the living 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 truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.

*Once again, the word "catholic" is uncapitalized, and does not refer to the Roman Catholic church; rather, it refers to the "universal" church: the entire body of believers in all times and places. However, it is considered one of the four authoritative creeds of the Roman Catholic Church, stating in no uncertain terms what must be believed for one to be saved. That, and the statement that Christ descended into hell, is why the Athanasian Creed is not widely accepted in most Protestant and Orthodox churches. However, the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation expressed in this creed are affirmed by virtually every historic Protestant church.

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