• Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 7: Athanasian Creed

    Posted Jun 11th, 2017 By in Pastor Brian's Blog, Why We Believe What We Believe With | Comments Off on Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 7: Athanasian Creed

    Greetings to you from Greensboro, North Carolina.  Travel to this week’s General Assembly means that I can’t be with you today; and for that I am unusually bummed because this is a Sunday I look forward to every year.  On Trinity Sunday the church confesses her faith using the Athanasian Creed. Okay, some churches do. Full disclosure: not many churches use the Athanasian Creed anymore. In fact, some Christians have never heard of nor read the Athanasian Creed (which is, by the way, like an American never reading or hearing of the Constitution, but I digress). The reason? If you are reading this before worship, you will see in just a minute; if reading this after worship, you now know why. The Athanasian Creed is bulkier and more cumbersome than its ecumenical counterparts. In a word, it takes more effort and work for a congregation to get through together. And maybe why that’s why I enjoy it so much. There is something rewarding about the effort and thought needed to get through this.

    …creeds emerged out of great doctrinal conflicts that afflicted the early church

    The marginalization of this creed is unfortunate. It is a fantastic document, one that Luther regarded as “the most important and glorious composition since the days of the apostles,” which is high praise indeed.

    Speaking of the ecumenical creeds, there are three of them: the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian. They are acknowledged – some places more formally than others – by the Greek, Latin, and Protestant churches; in other words, by all Christians.

    Only the most sectarian and fanatical groups neglect and reject them. (by the way, have you ever noticed that for some reason we only have two of the three ecumenical creeds in our hymnal? Can you guess which one is missing? Good guess. Why did the editors of the Trinity Hymnal leave this one out?)

    It is important for us to remember that these creeds did not appear out of thin air. Like most of the New Testament, these creeds emerged out of great doctrinal conflicts that afflicted the early church. You will notice as you read these documents and reflect upon them that they follow a similar order beginning with God and creation and ending with the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, and fill out the key redemptive elements in between.

    Back to the the Athanasian Creed – it bears the name of the great defender of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and the deity of Christ, the bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius (d. 373). Sometimes you will hear him referred to as Athanasius contra mundum (against the world). Pretty interesting, huh? Here’s the bad news. Athanasius didn’t write this creed, at least no credible scholar believes he did. One of the reasons no one believes that he wrote it is because nothing like it was recovered from any of his known writings. Likewise, none of the recent councils after his death (Constantinople, 381; Ephesus 431; Chalcedon 451) make any allusion to it. It was likely labeled with his name after his death so as to pay tribute to him, but also to suggest credibility because of his well-known defense of the Trinity, something the creed focuses on. And since, as we noted above, all of Christendom has adopted it, we can safely say it worked.

    It is divided into 42 articles which make up 3 macro sections dealing with Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and a list of condemnations to those who reject the creed’s teaching.

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    Pastor of New Life La Mesa Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA.

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