The Athanasian Creed

The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are printed in all editions of the Book of Common Prayer, and are therefore widely accessible.

The Athanasian Creed is one of the three great Creeds of the Church, and as such is printed in most editions of the Prayer Book, though not in the American Prayer Book.  The omission of the Athanasian Creed from the American books may have had something to do with the influence of anti-Trinitarian Deism in the 18th century and probably even more to do with an uneasiness concerning its so-called ‘damnatory clauses’.  As, however, the preface to the American Prayer Books asserted an identity of doctrine with the Church of England, which always used the Athanasian Creed, there was never any question of a formal rejection of either the Athanasian Creed or its doctrine.  As for the damnatory clauses, they may be understood as directed mainly against traitors to the faith or apostates (those who fail to keep the faith), rather than as a condemnation of those who have never had the opportunity to embrace or hear the gospel.  In any case, the status of the Athanasian Creed is acknowledged by the Affirmation of Saint Louis and by the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Catholic Church.

As the Apostles’ Creed was not in fact authored by the Apostles, and the Nicene Creed as it now stands was actually the product of the Council of Constantinople, not the Council of Nicaea, so too the Athanasian Creed was not authored by Saint Athanasius.  In each case, however, the creed in question does present the faith of the nominal author, so the traditional titles are fitting if historically inexact.  In the Athanasian Creed the divinity of Christ, and his oneness of substance with the Father, as taught by Athanasius, are clearly asserted.

The Athanasian Creed in fact probably originated during the sixth century.  Although this creed has dogmatic authority as well as a place in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, and is respected in the Lutheran and many Eastern Churches, its place in the Anglican Church is uniquely high.  This unique position comes from the fact that the English and most other Prayer Books direct that the Athanasian Creed be recited publicly in Morning Prayer on a dozen or so great feasts.  Since Morning Prayer in turn was for some centuries often the chief popular service on most of those feasts, Anglican laymen said or sang this creed with unparalleled frequency.  In contrast in the Roman Church the Athanasian Creed was generally only recited occasionally in Latin by clergy or religious in the Office of Prime, and so was not widely known by laymen.

The Athanasian Creed is also called the Quicunque vult, from the first words of its Latin text.  The Prayer Book translation of the text, which is printed as a canticle or hymn as in the Prayer Books, is as follows:

Quicunque vult

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 Person * nor dividing the Substance.

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 co-eternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son, * and such is the Holy Ghost.

The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, * and the Holy Ghost uncreate.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, * and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.

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 incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, * but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.

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, and Son is God, * and the Holy Ghost is God.

And yet they are not three God, * but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, * and the Holy Ghost Lord.

And yet not three Lord, * 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 be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none: * neither created, nor begotten.

The Son is of the Father alone: * neither 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 afore, or after other: * none is greater, or less than another;

But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together * and co-equal.

So that in all things, as is aforesaid, * the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

He therefore that will be saved * must think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation * that he also believe rightly 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 Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: * and Man, of the substance 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 be God and Man, * yet he is not two, but one Christ;

One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, * but by taking of the Manhood into God;

One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, * 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 Father, God almighty: * from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

At whose coming all men shall 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 faithfully, he cannot be saved.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, * and to the Holy Ghost.

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, * world without end.  Amen.

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