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Athanasius of Alexandria was traditionally thought to be the author of the Athanasian Creed, and gives his name to its common title.
The Athanasian Creed, or Quicunque Vult (also Quicumque Vult), is a Christian statement of belief focused on Trinitarian doctrine and Christology. The Latin name of the creed, Quicumque vult, is taken from the opening words, “Whosoever wishes”. The creed has been used by 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-Constantinopolitan and Apostles’ Creeds in the inclusion of anathemas, or condemnations of those who disagree with the creed (like the original Nicene Creed).
Widely accepted among Western Christians, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran Churches and most liturgical Protestant denominations, the Athanasian Creed has been used in public worship less and less frequently, but part of it can be found as an “Authorized Affirmation of Faith” in the recent (2000) Common Worship liturgy of the Church of England [Main Volume page 145]. The creed has never gained much acceptance in liturgy among Eastern Christians.
The Shield of the Trinity, a visual representation of the doctrine of the Trinity, derived from the Athanasian Creed. The Latin reads: “The Father is God, The Son is God, The Holy Spirit is God; God is the Father, God is the Son, God is the Holy Spirit; The Father is not the Son, The Son is not the Father, The Father is not the Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit is not the Father, The Son is not the Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit is not the Son.”
A medieval account credited Athanasius of Alexandria, the famous defender of Nicene theology, as the author of the Creed. According to this account, Athanasius composed it during his exile in Rome and presented it to Pope Julius I as a witness to his orthodoxy. This traditional attribution of the Creed to Athanasius was first called into question in 1642 by Dutch Protestant theologian G.J. Voss, and it has since been widely accepted by modern scholars that the creed was not authored by Athanasius. In fact, it was not originally called a creed at all, nor was Athanasius’ name originally attached to it. Athanasius’ name seems to have become attached to the creed as a sign of its strong declaration of Trinitarian faith. The reasoning for rejecting Athanasius as the author usually relies on a combination of the following:
- The creed originally was most likely written in Latin, while Athanasius composed in Greek.
- Neither Athanasius nor his contemporaries ever mention the Creed.
- It is not mentioned in any records of the ecumenical councils.
- It appears to address theological concerns that developed after Athanasius died (including the filioque).
- It was most widely circulated among Western Christians.
The use of the creed in a sermon by Caesarius of Arles, as well as a theological resemblance to works by Vincent of Lérins, point to Southern Gaul as its origin. The most likely time frame is in the late fifth or early sixth century AD – at least 100 years after Athanasius. The theology of the creed is firmly rooted in the Augustinian tradition, using exact terminology of Augustine’s On the Trinity (published 415 AD). In the late 19th century, there was a great deal of speculation about who might have authored the creed, with suggestions including Ambrose of Milan, Venantius Fortunatus, and Hilary of Poitiers, among others. The 1940 discovery of a lost work by Vincent of Lérins, which bears a striking similarity to much of the language of the Athanasian Creed, have led many to conclude that the creed originated either with Vincent or with his students. For example, in the authoritative modern monograph about the creed, J.N.D. Kelly asserts that Vincent of Lérin was not its author, but that it may have come from the same milieu, namely the area of Lérins in southern Gaul. The oldest surviving manuscripts of the Athanasian Creed date from the late 8th century.
The Athanasian Creed is usually divided into two sections: lines 1–28 addressing the doctrine of the Trinity, and lines 29–44 addressing the doctrine of Christology. Enumerating the three persons of the Trinity (i.e., Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), the first section of the creed ascribes the divine attributes to each individually. Thus, each person of the Trinity is described as uncreated (increatus), limitless (Immensus), eternal (æternus), and omnipotent (omnipotens). While ascribing the divine attributes and divinity to each person of the Trinity, thus avoiding subordinationism, 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. Furthermore, although one God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from each other. For 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 and the Son (filioque).
The text of the Athanasian Creed is as follows:
|in Latin||English translation|
|Quicumque vult salvus esse, ante omnia opus est, ut teneat catholicam fidem: Quam nisi quisque integram inviolatamque servaverit, absque dubio in aeternum peribit. Fides autem catholica haec est: ut unum Deum in Trinitate, et Trinitatem in unitate veneremur. Neque confundentes personas, neque substantiam separantes. Alia est enim persona Patris alia Filii, alia Spiritus Sancti: Sed Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti una est divinitas, aequalis gloria, coeterna maiestas. Qualis Pater, talis Filius, talis [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Increatus Pater, increatus Filius, increatus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Immensus Pater, immensus Filius, immensus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Aeternus Pater, aeternus Filius, aeternus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Et tamen non tres aeterni, sed unus aeternus. Sicut non tres increati, nec tres immensi, sed unus increatus, et unus immensus. Similiter omnipotens Pater, omnipotens Filius, omnipotens [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Et tamen non tres omnipotentes, sed unus omnipotens. Ita Deus Pater, Deus Filius, Deus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Et tamen non tres dii, sed unus est Deus. Ita Dominus Pater, Dominus Filius, Dominus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Et tamen non tres Domini, sed unus [est] Dominus. Quia, sicut singillatim unamquamque personam Deum ac Dominum confiteri christiana veritate compellimur: Ita tres Deos aut [tres] Dominos dicere catholica religione prohibemur. Pater a nullo est factus: nec creatus, nec genitus. Filius a Patre solo est: non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus. Spiritus Sanctus a Patre et Filio: non factus, nec creatus, nec genitus, sed procedens. Unus ergo Pater, non tres Patres: unus Filius, non tres Filii: unus Spiritus Sanctus, non tres Spiritus Sancti. Et in hac Trinitate nihil prius aut posterius, nihil maius aut minus: Sed totae tres personae coaeternae sibi sunt et coaequales. Ita, ut per omnia, sicut iam supra dictum est, et unitas in Trinitate, et Trinitas in unitate veneranda sit. Qui vult ergo salvus esse, ita de Trinitate sentiat.Sed necessarium est ad aeternam salutem, ut incarnationem quoque Domini nostri Iesu Christi fideliter credat. Est ergo fides recta ut credamus et confiteamur, quia Dominus noster Iesus Christus, Dei Filius, Deus [pariter] et homo est. Deus [est] ex substantia Patris ante saecula genitus: et homo est ex substantia matris in saeculo natus. Perfectus Deus, perfectus homo: ex anima rationali et humana carne subsistens. Aequalis Patri secundum divinitatem: minor Patre secundum humanitatem. Qui licet Deus sit et homo, non duo tamen, sed unus est Christus. Unus autem non conversione divinitatis in carnem, sed assumptione humanitatis in Deum. Unus omnino, non confusione substantiae, sed unitate personae. Nam sicut anima rationalis et caro unus est homo: ita Deus et homo unus est Christus. Qui passus est pro salute nostra: descendit ad inferos: tertia die resurrexit a mortuis. Ascendit ad [in] caelos, sedet ad dexteram [Dei] Patris [omnipotentis]. Inde venturus [est] judicare vivos et mortuos. Ad cujus adventum omnes homines resurgere habent cum corporibus suis; Et reddituri sunt de factis propriis rationem. Et qui bona egerunt, ibunt in vitam aeternam: qui vero mala, in ignem aeternum. Haec est fides catholica, quam nisi quisque fideliter firmiterque crediderit, salvus esse non poterit.||Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except 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 Essence of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the 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 by God. One altogether; not by confusion of 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 the God the Father 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 truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.|
Didactic as its content appears to contemporary readers, its opening sets out the essential principle that the catholic faith does not consist in the first place in assent to propositions, but ‘that we worship One God in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity’. All else flows from that orientation.
The Christology of the second section is more detailed than that of the Nicene Creed, and reflects the teaching of the First Council of Ephesus (431) and the definition of the Council of Chalcedon (451). The ‘Athanasian’ Creed boldly uses the key Nicene term homoousios‘ (‘one substance’, ‘one in Being’) not only with respect to the relation of the Son to the Father according to his divine nature, but that the Son is homoousios with his mother Mary, according to his human nature.
The Creed’s wording thus excludes not only Sabellianism and Arianism, but the Christological heresies of Nestorianism and Eutychianism. A need for a clear confession against Arianism arose in western Europe when the Ostrogoths and Visigoths, who had Arian beliefs, invaded at the beginning of the 5th century.
The final section of this Creed also moved beyond the Nicene (and Apostles’) Creeds in making negative statements about the people’s fate: “They that have done good shall go into life everlasting: and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.” This caused considerable debate in England in the mid-nineteenth century, centred around the teaching of Frederick Denison Maurice.
Composed of 44 rhythmic lines, the Athanasian Creed appears to have been intended as a liturgical document – that is, the original purpose of the creed was to be spoken or sung as a part of worship. The creed itself uses the language of public worship, speaking of the worship of God rather than the language of belief (“Now this is the catholic faith: We worship one God”). In the Catholic Church in medieval times, this creed was recited following the Sunday sermon or at the Sunday Office of Prime. The creed was often set to music and used in the place of a Psalm.
Early Protestants inherited the late medieval devotion to the Athanasian Creed, and it was considered to be authoritative in many Protestant churches. The statements of Protestant belief (confessional documents) of various Reformers commend the Athanasian Creed to their followers, including the Augsburg Confession, the Formula of Concord, the Second Helvetic Confession, the Belgic Confession, the Bohemian Confession and the Thirty-nine Articles. A metric version titled “Quicumque vult”, with a musical setting, was published in The Whole Booke of Psalmes printed by John Day in 1562. Among modern Lutheran and Reformed churches adherence to the Athanasian Creed is prescribed by the earlier confessional documents, but the creed does not receive much attention outside of occasional use – especially on Trinity Sunday.
In Reformed circles, it is included (for example) in the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia’s Book of Forms (publ. 1991). That said, it is rarely recited in public worship.
In the successive Books of Common Prayer of the reformed Church of England, from 1549 to 1662, its recitation was provided for on 19 occasions each year, a practice which continued until the nineteenth century, when vigorous controversy regarding its statement about ‘eternal damnation’ saw its use gradually decline. It remains one of the three Creeds approved in the Thirty-Nine Articles, and is printed in several current Anglican prayer books (e.g. A Prayer Book for Australia (1995)). As with Roman Catholic practice, its use is now generally only on Trinity Sunday or its octave.
In Roman Catholic churches, it was traditionally said at Prime on Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost, except when a Double feast or day within an octave occurred, and on Trinity Sunday. In the 1960 reforms, it was reduced to once a year on Trinity Sunday. It has been effectively dropped from the Catholic liturgy since the Second Vatican Council. It is however maintained in the Forma Extraordinaria, per the decree Summorum Pontificum, and also in the rite of exorcism, both in the Forma Ordinaria and the Forma Extraordinaria of the Roman Rite.
In Lutheranism, the Athanasian Creed is—along with the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds—one of the three ecumenical creeds placed at the beginning of the 1580 Book of Concord, the historic collection of authoritative doctrinal statements (confessions) of the Lutheran Church. It is still used in the liturgy on Trinity Sunday.
A common visualisation of the first half of the Creed is the Shield of the Trinity.
- ^ Morin 1911
- ^ a b Kantorowicz 1957, p. 17
- ^ O’Carroll 1987
- ^ a b Norris 1997
- ^ Richardson & Hopkins 1967, p. 483
- ^ Faulkner 1910, p. 427
- ^ Bente & 2008 p13
- ^ Schaff 1990
- ^ See Jackson (1966) for examples of various theories of authorship.
- ^ Mahajan & Sampaolo 2012
- ^ Kelly 1964
- ^ Chazelle 1997, p. 1056
- ^ See Schaff (1877a) for an example of this division.
- ^ Athanasian Creed, lines 8,9,10, and 13, respectively. See the side by side English and Latin in Schaff (1877b, pp. 66–71)
- ^ This is Schaff’s emendation of the Book of Common Prayer translation. See Schaff (1877b, pp. 66–71)
- ^ a b Pfatteicher 1990, p. 444
- ^ See Melanchthon (1530), Andreä et al. (1577), Bullinger (1564), de Bres & Junius (1562), Church of England (1563)
- Church of England (1563), Thirty-Nine Articles, archived from the original on 2011-06-29, retrieved 2013-01-19
- Andreä, Jakob; Chemnitz, Martin; Selnecker, Nikolaus; Chytraeus, David; Musculus, Andreas; Körner, Christoph (1577), Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, retrieved 2013-01-19
- Bente, Friedrich (2008-10-13), Historical Introductions to the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (txt) (eBook), retrieved 2013-01-19
- Chazelle, Celia (1997), “Archbishops Ebo and Hincmar of Reims and the Utrecht Psalter”, Speculum 72 (4): 1056, JSTOR 2865958
- Faulkner, John (July 1910), “The First Great Christian Creed”, The American Journal of Theology (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press) 14 (3): 426–427, doi:10.1086/478939, JSTOR 3154994
- Mahajan, Deepti; Sampaolo, Marco (2012), “Athanasian Creed”, Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica
- Jackson, Samuel (1966), “Athanasian Creed”, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religion, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, OCLC 9097284
- Kantorowicz, Ernst (1957), The King’s Two Bodies, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 17, ISBN 0691017042
- Morin, Germain (1911), “L’Origine du Symbole d’Athanase” [The Origin of the Symbol of Athanasius], The Journal of Theological Studies (in French) (Oxford: Oxford University Press) XII (2): 337, doi:10.1093/jts/os-XII.3.337, retrieved 2013-01-19
- Norris, Frederick (1997), “Athanasian Creed”, in Ferguson, Everett, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (2nd ed.), New York: Garland, ISBN 0824057457
- O’Carroll, Michael (1987), “Athanasian Creed”, Trinitas (Collegeville: Liturgical Press), ISBN 0814655955
- Pfatteicher, Philip (1990), Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Fortress, ISBN 0800603923
- Richardson, Herbert; Hopkins, Jasper (October 1967), “On the Athanasian Creed”, The Harvard Theological Review 60 (4): 483–484, doi:10.1017/S0017816000003953, JSTOR 1509257
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