Who am I to “review” the Athanasian Creed?
I do not review it on my own authority. I review it on the authority of the teachings of Jesus, the apostles, and of the Christians, churches, and councils that preceded the production of the Athanasian Creed.
I make two assertions:
1. It is impossible for someone to promote the Athanasian Creed if he knows what the Nicene Creed teaches.
2. The number of Protestants and Catholics who know what the Nicene Creed teaches are very, very few.
We’ve discussed the Nicene Creed over the last few days. Let’s look at the Athanasian Creed today. It is wordy and repetitive, so we’ll just address parts of it today. The whole text is all over the internet. For example, it’s at theopedia.com or at christian-history.org (my site). If you want to read the whole thing, you’ll need to read it there.
The Athanasian Creed begins by saying that anyone that does not hold to the Catholic Faith as described in the creed, they shall “without doubt” perish eternally. In that case, if the Athanasian Creed is indeed accurate, then the bishops who formed the creed of Nicea went straight into the fires of Hades.
For the sake of brevity, I am going to have to leave out lots of words in my quotes from the Athanasian Creed. Feel free to go check the entire text of the creed against my abbreviations. You will find the abbreviations accurate.
Athanasian Creed: We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity.
Nicene Creed: We believe in one God … and one Lord … also in the Holy Spirit.
Athanasian Creed: So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet not three lords, but one Lord.
Nicene Creed: We believe in one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God … also in the Holy Spirit.
Scripture: For us there is but one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 8:6).
I hope you can tell the difference in terminology here.
One can argue that this is just semantics, but wrong semantics lead to wrong teaching, which leads to wrong believing and wrong obeying.
I can tell you one major negative result of the ideas inherent in these statements from the Athanasian Creed, which is that most Christians have forgotten that the Son is really the Word of God.
No, I mean really the Word of God.
Let’s dispense with the word “Word,” just for a moment. The Greek word Logos is a much bigger word than “word.” It’s definition is far wider. Here’s Tertullian’s best shot at explaining what the Logos might be inside of God by comparing it with logos inside of us.
Observe, then, that when you are silently conversing with yourself, this very process is carried on within you by your reason, which meets you with a word at every movement of your thought … Whatever you think, there is a word … You must speak it in your mind … Thus, in a certain sense, the word is a second person within you, through which in thinking you utter speech … The word is itself a different thing from yourself. Now how much more fully is all this transacted in God, whose image and likeness you are? (Against Praxeas 5)
Tertullian actually discusses the word Logos and argues that it is better translated “Reason,” but he also chooses the translation of Logos, as do most early Christians, based on the specific work that God is doing through his Logos.
When the Logos was inside of him, then he was Reason. He was the thoughts and ideas of God as explained in Tertullian’s example above. When he was ready not just to plan, but to do, then he birthed his Logos as his Son. From then on the Logos would not just be Reason, but he would be Word, for God does all things by speaking. His first words were, “Let there be light,” or, more precisely, “Light, be!”
In this very real sense Jesus was God’s Word. We say it, and we find ways to express it, but most of us have never heard that he was literally the Word of God. We have never heard that the very fact that God spoke in Genesis was a testimony to the pre-existence of the Son of God, the divine Logos, born before the beginning.
And of course we don’t think about that truth because we have forgotten, or never heard, that the Son of God was begotten of God before the beginning. Even that great and simple truth has escaped us.
How many times have I seen a Christian squirm when a Jehovah’s Witness pointed out that Jesus is called the firstborn over all creation? Many. We try to remake the word to mean the one with priority or the ruler over all creation, but the word remains, giving us fits.
Yet if we were merely to believe our inheritance, the faith that has been passed down to us, then we would rejoice over that verse and others as testimonies of the faith of the apostles.
If you read the Athanasian Creed earlier, then about now you should be pointing out to me that it confirms that the Son is begotten, while the Father is unbegotten. In fact, it points it out more than one time.
This is true, but we do not repeat the Athanasian Creed today. Some know about it, but only some, and only a rare few have read it. The part we know about is right at the beginning: “We worship one God in Trinity.”
That, in itself, is not false, We should worship one God in Trinity. One God the Father, from whom is one Lord, the Son of God—truly divinity from divinity and light from light, sharing one divine substance with the Father—and from whom proceeds one Spirit.
We have also managed to remember that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, but that is mentioned in the Nicene Creed as we know (and recite) it today. Also, the Scriptures are much more vague about the person of the Holy Spirit (though not vague at all about his role), so he seems, if I may, different than the Father and the Son.
The Son, however, is active and personal. He speaks in audible words. Even under the old covenant, before his birth as a human, he appeared and was visible and touchable.
When we are not reminded that he is the divine Logos, born of the Father before the beginning, we forget. Most western Christians have forgotten. We wonder in what way he is different or distinct from the Father. What does he do that the Father does not do?
He is equal to the Father, we are told, which is true in divinity, but not at all in role. The Son does the will of the Father, not vice versa. The Son is sent by the Father. In fact, we read that the Son is sent by God. You will never read that the Father is sent by anyone, and you will certainly not read that the Father is sent by God. The Son is never spoken of as the Father’s God, but the Father is spoken of as the Son’s God regulary. Even in Hebrews 1:8, where the Son is addressed as God, even there we read that “your God” is sending him.
I’ll quit there and leave you to compare the one creed with the other.