18 May 2008

Confessing the Athanasian

I confess that I enjoy it. We confess it responsively by whole verse. At St. Paul's we only do so once a year, on Trinity Sunday, and contrary to the better liturgical practice, we let it replace the Nicene Creed in the Divine Service (the practice I first learned as a Lutheran). But aside from pushing everyone's "catholic" buttons, what I really love is the utter clarity of expression that characterizes this Symbol. The longer one studies the complexities of the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the early centuries, the more one can only marvel at the clarity of the Athanasian Creed, achieved at such a great cost, and the more one values it as a priceless heritage from our fathers in the faith. It is fully worthy of being used more than once a year, but I find it comforting that Lutherans as a whole still trot it out on this Sunday.


David Rosenkoetter said...

I confess toloving the Athanasian Creed also. I, too, am fascinated with the way it recalls the complexities of the Christological controversies. What a succinct paradigm for us who defend the faith today. Heresies, after all, don't get altogether newer; they just put on different masks.

Liturgically, I love the Athanasian Creed becaue it really provides that wonderful bridge between Pentecost and the Sundays that follow. All that the Holy Spirit teaches proclaims Christ Jesus crucified and risen for us. The Athanasian Creed speaks clearly to the Church's confession of Jesus Christ in all articles of doctrine. These the Holy Spirit bestows upon us freely in the Word and Sacraments.

William Weedon said...


Very good point. It does serve as a great summary of what has come before, and a bridge to the Sundays following.

John Wurst said...

During the second Divine Service yesterday, we celebrated the new new of a new baby in Holy Baptism. During the Baptism, we confessed the Apostles' Creed.

I found it beautiful and more explanatory as we later (in just a few minutes) confessed the Athanasian Creed.

As stated in the post and commnets, this second confession of faith really proclaims te uniqueness of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost but also the UNITY of all three in One God.

With all the family and friends of the baptismal family in church and also all the confirmands who were present from the past (we celebrated 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, 65, 70, 80+ years of catechesis), what a great day to confess this beautiful Creed.

Also, I walked the adults who came to class through the revised version of the Creed prepared by Rev. Vieker, with the hymns "Father most holy" and "Of the Father's love begotten" inter-spersed into the Creed. We also talked about the history of the Creed and why it developed.

Holy Trinity Sunday is a GREAT DAY!

+ SDG +

Orianna Laun said...

It makes me think about John Kleinig's comment about the mysteries of God. It's amazing how it takes us a lengthy creed to explain the Trinity, and it is still mysterious. So much greater than we is is our God, and yet He deigns to come as a baby who grew to be a man who gave Himself for us.

wmc said...

The Athanasian Creed reminds of Dorothy Sayers:

The Father incomprehensible,
the Son incomprehensible,
the whole thing incomprehensible.

William Weedon said...

Wasn't it Sayers who had that delightful line about the Chinese man being catechized:

Holy Father, I understand.
Holy Son, I understand.
Holy Bird, I do not understand.

William Weedon said...


What I love about it is the way it lets the mystery (which is always greater than any of our words) remain while setting up a boundary around it that shows when we've transgressed the Mystery by faulty ways of speaking. And of course at the heart of it all is that "this is the catholic faith that we WORSHIP (not figure out!)" the one God in three Divine Persons.

Rev. Al Bergstrazer said...

In my first year of the ministry I had my congregations read the Athanasian Creed. It did not surprise me that so few had heard of it. There were some raised eyebrows and first, (and as a rookie pastor I contributed to that). I first printed it in a bulletin insert to make it easier to read, so some did not believe it was actually in The Lutheran Hymnal. One fellow said "Pastor, that's not in our hymnal, its from that other one right?"
What was interesting is how many noticed the wording of the second to last sentence; "And they that have done good will go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire."
A few thought that was an 'un-Lutheran' confession, that is, it sounded like the dreaded 'works righteousness.' My first reaction was to say well no, its not a "Lutheran" creed at all its an ecumenical creed, which only served to make the hole I was in deeper. A simpler solution was to read John 5:24-30 and pointed out that these are the words of the Lord.
I've grown to love the Athanasian Creed and now see why Luther considered it as possibly the grandest production of the Church since the time of the Apostles.
However, I am curious to know anyone out there used the Athanasian Creed for any other day or celebration than Trinity Sunday?

Rev. Al Bergstrazer said...

^ Sorry everyone, I seem to be having trouble with my tenses and prepositions this morning. (Its probably related to my low caffine level.)

Rev. J. Douthwaite said...

What do you all think of the LSB changes to the Athanasian Creed? "Infinite" seems to be a closer translation of the Latin "immensus" (although I like saying incomprehensible better!). I haven't been able to figure out the German "unmesslich" for this word. But what about the first line? The change from "whoever will be" to "whoever desires to be"? Just curious.

Rev. Al Bergstrazer said...

"Will be," is obviously stronger and clearer than "desires to be." 'Desire' also leads us down the Election path...

Orianna Laun said...

Pastor Weedon,
I just happened to notice how so many words it takes to explain it. It just made me think how limited our language is; however, it also made me think of the greatness of our God.

Christopher said...

In the old translation "whosoever will be saved," "will" is the verb of volition (in the subjunctive after the indefinite pronoun) and not the modal of futurity, translating "quicumque vult salvus esse." One could translate "whoever wills to be saved," but that (to my ear) sounds in English as though the will accomplishes the saving. "Whoever desires to be saved" is a clear and accurate translation.

"Infinite" for "incomprehensible" [immensus] is perhaps not so apt, since it makes a simple predication about the divine nature in itself (lit. "without limits") whereas both the Latin and German at least imply the inability of any other to measure or grasp (mensurare/[er]messen) the divine nature.

Rev. J. Douthwaite said...


I am grateful for language scholars who can enlighten folks like me. I wasn't sure how the "will" was to be understood there. But in the Latin, "immensus" is well translated as "incomprehensible"? Would this not be "incomprehensibilis"? What is the difference?


Christopher said...

"immensus" and "incomprehensibilis" overlap considerably in Latin. "Immensus" is much more common, though. (Lewis & Short points out that Seneca uses them in virtually synonymous parallel in De consolatione ad Helviam 1.1) . In English, the cognate "immense" has now (I think) only the sense of "very large," not of "beyond measure or [the grasp of] the mind], which is the idea behind the Latin word.