Last week, we highlighted the life of church father Athanasius with a brief biography. As one reader pointed out, Athanasius is the man that was used by God to produce what is today known as the Athanasian Creed.
On Blue Letter Bible’s FAQ page, Don Stewart addresses the role this great creed, among others, played in the early church’s confession and celebration of the Trinity:
The Great Creeds Acknowledge The Trinity
Church creeds are statements of belief that were formulated to express what Christians believe. They were usually written in response to some false teaching that arose. The creed clarified the truth about the faith. While the creeds are not to be considered as equal to Scripture they do provide insight for us about what the early Christians believed. There are three great creeds to which western Christianity confesses – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.
The Apostles’ Creed
The Apostles’ Creed, which is the earliest statement of Christian beliefs, does not mention the Trinity. It is a very compact formula. If this was the only creed written one might assume that the Father alone is God and that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are lesser in character for only the Father is referred to as divine in the Apostles’ Creed. However, the creed was not anti-Trinitarian. The issue was simply not covered.
The Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed was written in A.D. 325 and added to in A.D. 381. It is clearly Trinitarian in outlook. It states that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all divine and of one substance or essence.
The Athanasian Creed
The Athanasian Creed came centuries later. It was named after the fourth-century defender of the Trinity – Athanasius. It is even stronger with its statement about the Trinity. The Creed says, “So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet there are not three Gods but one God.
The Athanasian Creed
1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic1 faith;
2. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
3. And the catholic1 faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
4. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.
5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.
6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.
7. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.
8. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.
9. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.
10. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.
11. And yet They are not three eternals but one eternal.
12. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.
13. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty.
14. And yet They are not three almighties, but one almighty.
15. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God;
16. And yet They are not three Gods, but one God.
17. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord;
18. And yet They are not three Lords but one Lord.
19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;
20. So are we forbidden by the catholic1 religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.
21. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.
22. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.
23. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.
26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.
27. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
28. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
29. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
30. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.
31. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world.
32. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
33. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.
34. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.
35. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.
36. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.
37. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ;
38. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead;
39. He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty;
40. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
41. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies;
42. and shall give account of their own works.
43. And They that have done good shall go into life everlasting and They that have done evil into everlasting fire.
44. This is the catholic1 faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.