Author Topic: Athanasian Creed  (Read 2542 times)

peter_speckhard

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Athanasian Creed
« on: May 25, 2021, 10:45:30 AM »
We've talked about this topic before, but rather than resurrect an old buried thread I'm starting this one fresh to discuss Trinity Sunday and whether people plan to use the Athanasian Creed. What are the pros and cons of using it, especially if the sermon is not totally or in part devoted to explaining some of the parts of it that on the surface seem to contradict basic tenets of the faith as people have come to understand it?

We plan to confess the Athanasian Creed this Sunday and do so responsively. I'm not sure yet, but I think I'm going to focus on the idea of "giving an account" and the relationship between reality and one's understanding/description of it. Reality is simply God's story/narrative; you are what God says you are, not what you say you are. The Truth is what God says happened (per Peter's Pentecost sermon), not what anyone else says happened. The Law and Gospel proclaim God's account of your life and therefore focus on Christ for you rather than you in isolation. Repentance and faith are simply a matter of squaring our account of ourselves and others with God's Word/reality.

Richard Johnson

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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2021, 11:13:25 AM »
I taught a Lenten series on the ecumenical creeds a couple years ago at Emmanuel Episcopal. After the session on the Athanasian Creed, one lady came up to me and said, "When I read it this week, I really didn't like it. But now that you've explained it, I think it's my favorite creed." Speaks to how important and useful it is to present it to our congregations, with context.

Here's a sermon I preached on the Athanasian Creed on Holy Trinity some years back:

What on earth is the Athanasian Creed, and why are we reciting it in church today? That may be a question in your mind this morning, and I think it deserves an answer. Let’s start by saying that today, in the church’s calendar, is the Festival of the Holy Trinity. Our liturgy and hymns focus on the Christian understanding of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While most of the festivals of the church year center on events—the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, and the coming of the Holy Spirit—today’s celebration focuses on a doctrine, a teaching of the church. That makes it very tricky to preach on—indeed, I’m always relieved when choir Sunday falls on the Festival of the Holy Trinity, so the choir can provide the sermon and I don’t have to figure out how to preach about the Trinity! Truth be told, the Trinity is better sung about than preached about—more effectively praised than explained!

And yet, because human beings communicate most consistently with words, sometimes words must be used. This is what the early church learned, as it tried to answer the question Jesus himself posed to the disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” The disciples were convinced that Jesus was God—but as good Jews, they believed what Moses had taught: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. How could the One God have become flesh in Jesus Christ? And what about this Holy Spirit of God that was poured out at Pentecost? How does that figure in? How do we find language to talk about it? How do we grasp it?

Of course in one sense, we can never really “grasp” God. God is a mystery to us, unfathomable, unknowable except as God reveals himself to us. Yet we need concepts, and we need words, because that is how we begin to understand. And as the church tried to grope its way to some understanding, it came to focus on Jesus’ last words to his disciples in Matthew 28: “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That seemed to the church to be a key, a way of talking about God that helped make sense of it all.

And so the church developed creeds, statements of faith about God, and they reflected this understanding of the One God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—One God who is the Holy Trinity. We see it in the Apostles’ Creed, with its three articles, one each on Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The same structure is in the Nicene Creed.

But that was not the end of the story. There continued to be debates and discussions about how to understand the Trinity, and how to talk about the Trinity. Hard to believe, from this chronological distance, but there were actually battles fought by armies over this subject! There were slogans, there were hymns, there were official Councils—and all because Christians were convinced that what we say about God, what we teach about God, what we believe about God, is very important—so important that the church could say, “Unless you believe this, you cannot be saved.” It was not just a matter of opinion, but a matter of life and death.

Today we are often reluctant to be quite so sure of things. We live in an age when everything is seen as relative. You can believe this, or you can believe that, or you can believe nothing. No big deal. To the early church, though, it was a very big deal indeed, because what is finally at stake is what we believe about Jesus Christ.

And so we have, in the Athanasian Creed, the church’s consensus on just how we understand Christ—what we mean when we say he is indeed God the Son, and also what we mean when we say he is both divine and human, both God and man. This is a creed that was written as a sort of doctrinal summary; it was not intended to be used regularly in the worship of the church; but in many churches, and especially in many Lutheran churches, it became the custom to read this Creed on this particular Sunday, this Festival of the Holy Trinity, as a way of reminding us all what the church believes and teaches about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Having said all of this, let me point you to one of the most wonderful verses in the Bible, which comes in our gospel lesson today. Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” If ever there was as word meant for us, this is it. We haven’t learned everything there is to know about God and his plans for us. Going through Sunday School as children gives us some good information, but there’s more. Two years of confirmation instruction helps us begin to understand our faith, but there’s more. Some of us actually go to college and graduate school and seminary and study theology and Bible and church history, but there’s more, much more.

I think one problem we human beings have is that we want to learn something and then feel that we’ve mastered it. Remember the story of the teenage girl who was attending a formal dinner party and happened to be seated next to a famous astronomer? “What do you do?” she asked, and he replied, “I study astronomy.” At this she expressed surprise: “You study astronomy, at your age? I learned astronomy in 7th grade!” But of course she misunderstood! When we begin to learn, there aren’t any boundaries. There’s always more to understand. That is even truer of faith than any other aspect of life. God always has more for us to learn—but God knows we can only understand a little bit at a time! We cannot bear too much! 

But that is why God comes to us as the Holy Spirit, the Guide. The Holy Spirit is how we continue to learn, how we grow in our understanding. The Spirit, Jesus says, is the One who will “guide us into all truth.” Luther puts it another way when he says that “I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me . . .enlightened me . . .” Our own understanding will never bring us to the place of knowing everything there is to know about our awesome and mysterious God. But the Holy Spirit guides us, leads us, helps us grow in our understanding. And that happens, God willing, each day of our lives.

I admit to you that there is a lot in this Athanasian Creed that I do not understand, at least not fully. That’s equally true, of course, of the Bible itself. There’s a lot there I don’t understand. But in the Athanasian Creed, there is one phrase I love: it is that line right at the beginning: “Whoever wants to be saved should above all cling to the catholic faith,” the universal faith. Finally, you see, faith is not something to be understood or intellectually mastered. It is something to which we cling. It is, as I so often say, “trust.” We may not be able to articulate or understand everything about God—but we are able to praise him, to sing “Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee,” to shout or to whisper in awe, “O Lord, our lord, how exalted is your name in all the world! . . . What is man, that you are mindful of him?” We are able to join our voices, as faltering as they may be, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to sing their unending hymn, “Holy, holy, holy Lord.”

And in breathing these words of praise, we in fact open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, who will guide us into all truth as we are able to bear it. With that guidance, our task is not to understand, but to cling to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2021, 11:15:27 AM »
we use it here, but we do break it up into "two" confessions during the service, with explanatory "notes" at each confession of faith.

I like the idea of it being done responsively.

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J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #3 on: May 25, 2021, 11:32:27 AM »
Pastor Austin has previously shared the service he crafted framed around sections of that Creed. 

A Liturgy based on the Athanasian Creed
Developed for Christ Lutheran Church, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey
The Rev. Charles Austin, Pastor
Page and hymn numbers refer to the Lutheran Book of Worship.

We gather in the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy - No. 165
Pastor: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
People: And also with you.
The Athanasian Creed – First Part
Pastor: 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:
People: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.

Pastor: For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another.
People: But the deity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.

Pastor: What the Father is, the Son is, and so is the Holy Spirit. The Father is infinite; the Son is infinite; and the Holy Spirit is infinite. Eternal is the Father; eternal is the Son; eternal is the Spirit.
People: 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.

Pastor: Almighty is the Father; almighty is the Son; almighty is the Spirit:
People: And yet there are not three almighty beings, but one who is almighty.

Kyrie:    Page 57
Hymn of Praise: “Praise to the Father” No. 517
The Salutation and Prayer for the Day
Pastor: The Lord be with you.
People. And also with you.

Pastor: Let us pray. Almighty and ever-living God, you have given us grace, by the confession of the true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity and, in the power of your divine majesty, to worship the unity.  Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship,  and bring us at last to see you in your eternal glory, one God, now and forever. People: Amen.

We hear the Word of God

The First Lesson
The Psalm
The Second Lesson
The Gospel Verse    Page 62
The Holy Gospel
The Sermon
Hymn of the Day: “O Worship The King”    No. 548
The Athanasian Creed - Part II
Pastor: Thus the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Spirit is God;
People: And yet there are not three gods, but one God.
Pastor: Thus the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord;
People: And yet there are not three lords, but one Lord.
Pastor: 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.
People: Thus there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.
Pastor: 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.
People: Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.

The Prayers of the Church

God comes to us in the Holy Sacrament

Pastor: The peace of the Lord be with you all.
People: And also with you. (The people exchange signs of peace.)
The Offering
The Offering Canticle and Prayer
Athanasian Creed - Part III
Pastor: 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;
People: 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.

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

Pastor: 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.

Preface and Proper Preface    Page 69
“Holy, Holy, Holy”   Page 69
Prayer of Consecration
Our Father...
Lamb of God   Page 72
Distribution of the Sacrament

The Eucharistic Blessing
“Thank the Lord and Sing His Praise”    Page 72

We go into the world, proclaiming God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit

The Athanasian Creed - Conclusion
Pastor: 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.
People: One cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully.

The Post-Communion Prayer

Assistant: Holy Trinity, One God, as you are one, unite your people, that we who are children of the Father may honor God forever; that we who have received the body and blood of the Son may be united with him forever; that we who have been called, gathered, enlightened,  sanctified and preserved by the Holy Spirit may proclaim the one God, who lives and rules, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever,
People: Amen.

The Benediction
Pastor: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace, in the name of the Father, + and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
People: Amen.

Recessional Hymn: “Father Most Holy” No. 169
Assistant: Go in peace. Serve the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit!


« Last Edit: May 25, 2021, 11:36:30 AM by J. Thomas Shelley »
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Terry W Culler

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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2021, 11:49:57 AM »
We use every Trinity Sunday rather than the Apostle's Creed but we do it responsively.  I do try to preach on some characteristic of the Trinity each year and the Athanasian Creed helps with that emphasis.  BTW, one of my aunts told me she carried a copy of it in her purse--I didn't ask why specifically but I was impressed.
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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2021, 11:53:41 AM »
On another discussion site a question was raised about the historic use of this creed.  I supplied this background:

Philip Pfatteicher in COMMENTARY ON THE LUTHERAN BOOK OF WORSHIP (1990) wrote: "Originally private and non-liturgical, the creed found its way into the Western liturgy, no doubt in part because of the creed's insistence on the worship of, rather than simply the belief in, the Holy Trinity. By the ninth century it was used in Germany on Sundays after the sermon. Elsewhere it was used at Prime on Sundays, sometimes treated as a psalm with an antiphon and Gloria Patri...In the Roman Breviary the Athanasian Creed was used at Prime on most Sundays until Pius X (1903-1914) limited its use to Sundays after the Epiphany and after Pentecost. After the revision of the rubrics ordered in 1955, it was used only on Trinity Sunday. With the revision of the Divine Office in 1970 in which Prime was suppressed, the liturgical use of the Athanasian Creed in the Roman Rite ceased. In the 1549 Book of Common Prayer the Athanasian Creed was printed with the Gloria Patri for use after the Benedictus (apparently as a second canticle) on Christmas, the Epiphany, Easter Day, Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday. The 1522 revision extended its use to seven other holy days so that it would be used approximately monthly. The 1662 Prayer Book directed it replace the Apostles' Creed on these thirteen days. In North America, the Athanasian Creed was included in the Lutheran Hymnal (1941), reflecting German use." (pp. 444-445)
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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2021, 12:10:32 PM »
I think the big stumbling-blocks include the impression that salvation depends upon understanding-- that someone could be damned for "getting it wrong" so to speak, and that we are judged and eternally saved or damned based on our works.

LSB lays it out in verses like a psalm for easy responsive reading. But it uses "hold" instead of "cling to" the catholic faith. I wonder if "adhere to" be an acceptable translation with less chance of giving the wrong impression.

Also, LSB uses "catholic" in the Athanasian Creed but "Christian" in the other creeds (with an asterisk and footnote explanation). So every year someone asks what the deal is about that. I like Richard's point that the Trinity is better praised than explained. And the Gospel is better proclaimed than explained. So Trinity Sunday is one time when I tend to feel the danger in the pulpit is that I'll explicate something to the exclusion of really preaching/proclaiming something. To do both as with a good sermon on any other text I have to ask "Why is the Athanasian Creed Good News?" The keys seems to be that the One who is to judge us is also the One who died for our salvation, which can't be true unless what we say about the Two Natures of Christ is true.

In the past (when we had a big building project going on) I've used the example of a child's drawing of a church, an architect's blueprint of the church, and the church itself, and said that a Sunday school lesson is understandable but not detailed while the blueprint is detailed but only understandable to a few, but both only have meaning as they relate to a building. Believers are the building, so to speak. Our personal faith can be simple as long as it does not contradict, interfere with, or otherwise get divorced from the complex doctrinal system (blueprint) of the church that corresponds to the Truth of God's Word.     

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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2021, 01:00:29 PM »
Attached is a dialogue of the Athanasian Creed that I have used. Rather than just use two parts, e.g., leader and congregation; I've used three (a nice number for Trinity Sunday) parts: leader, left, and right (I've also called them "pulpit side" and "piano side"); with "all" coming in now and then.
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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #8 on: May 25, 2021, 01:04:51 PM »
I think the big stumbling-blocks include the impression that salvation depends upon understanding-- that someone could be damned for "getting it wrong" so to speak, and that we are judged and eternally saved or damned based on our works.

Some years ago I had a member come to the elder's meeting and announced his disagreement with the Athanasian Creed, specifically on that issue of works.  I attempted to take a moment to explain it, but he had made up his mind and only wanted to express his opposition.  If I had been able to actually have that conversation, I would have drawn his attention to Matthew 25, especially the concluding verse, not to mention the line (vs. 36 in the LSB version) where it reads regarding our Lord Jesus: "who suffered for our salvation..."  A fuller discussion would follow, of course, on the role of works with faith (e.g. faith alone saves, but faith is never alone). Unfortunately that discussion never happened.  He just wanted to disagree. 
« Last Edit: May 25, 2021, 03:59:28 PM by D. Engebretson »
Pastor Don Engebretson
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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2021, 01:20:04 PM »
I am curious.  From your past practices, where have you placed the recitation of the Athanasian Creed within the service?  In Matins it can take the place of the psalm for that day.  Where have you placed it in the Divine Service?
« Last Edit: May 25, 2021, 04:00:12 PM by D. Engebretson »
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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2021, 01:51:53 PM »
I put the Athanasian Creed in the same place as I do the Nicene and Apostles'. After the sermon in DS 1and 2 and before in DS 3 and 4.

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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2021, 02:19:01 PM »
Even though this Creed is attributed to St. Athanasius, even though St. Athanasius is traditionally one of the Hierarchs written larger than life (think double of life-size) in Iconography on the apse wall surrounding the Altar, the only Creed used in Orthodox worship is the Nicene. 

The Divine Liturgy is so replete with references to the Holy Trinity that we do not need to have a "Trinity Sunday".

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Adult:  "Every day is Childrens' Day."

For us, every Sunday is Trinity Sunday.
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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2021, 02:57:39 PM »
We’ll be confessing it; we do each year.

And I think it’s important to front up to the fact that discomfort with the Creed’s assertions runs smack dab into the fact that its conclusion is a paraphrase of Jesus’ own words in John 5; and its teaching on the judgment in general is of a piece with St. Paul’s clear expression in 2 Corinthians 5:10  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

Our people are in desperate need of hearing these truths confessed AND taught. If our concept of “Gospel” doesn’t have room for the words of Jesus and Paul, the problem is not with the words of Jesus or Paul as confessed in the Athanasian Creed!

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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2021, 03:18:28 PM »
I think it is important to emphasize that the character of confession, in this case a confession of faith, is the church confessing the truth of the Gospel which is certainly unique to Christianity.  It is a confession done publicly in that it could be heard (and, actually is heard, if attended to) by others who are "of other faiths."  Since theoretically it can be done among folks of other beliefs/faiths, the creeds act as expressions of what is core truth for Christian believers.  Of course, it is doxological basically, as well.  It can also act in a missional sense, too, in that it could be a cause for others in the hearing arena to be struck by God as truth for each who hears in faith.  Baptism may be one of the next steps into fellowship in the Body of Christ, in these cases. 
« Last Edit: May 25, 2021, 03:31:19 PM by George Rahn »

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Re: Athanasian Creed
« Reply #14 on: May 25, 2021, 03:25:53 PM »
The Koine Greek for confession is homologia = same word; or, same say.  What we as church say in faith is said before God in addition to others who are gathered in the assembly.  God, hearing that, responds with the same word back to His Body, the church.