14 June 2011

As we approach

Trinity Sunday again, the Athanasian Creed will be taken out of the closet, dusted off for use, and recited by (sometimes groaning) congregations.  I think it's a pity we only use it liturgically once a year.  To me, the great value of this creed is beyond words.  Today I'd just point out one very helpful thing (and I'm sure I've mentioned it on the blog before):  this Creed defines for us what the Catholic faith is.

"And the catholic faith is this:  that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the substance."

According to the CREED, the catholic faith isn't submission to the Roman pontiff (why, he's not even mentioned!), nor is it adherence to this or that human tradition - no matter how venerable, and it certainly is not to be identified with the cult of the saints and such.  Rather, the catholic faith is worshipping the Trinity!  Find the glorification of the Father, Son, and Spirit going on without confusing the Persons or dividing the substance, and you've found the catholic church.

So, if you're one of those sorts who are ALLERGIC to the word "catholic" because you can only hear it as "Roman," well, let the Creed teach you that that is NOT what catholic means!  To say salvation ONLY in the catholic church is to confess salvation only in the worship of the Blessed Trinity.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.


Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

I agree, any ideas on other feast/festival days in which we could recite the Athanasian Creed? Or perhaps just schedule it regularly?

I don't get much groaning, but I do typically get three questions 1) "Is this Lutheran?" or words to that effect, expressing doubt this is one of 'our' confessions of faith. Of course its an ecumenical creed, not a distinctly Lutheran one. 2) Concerns about the abundant use of the word 'catholic.' 3) Questions about whether the second to the last line "And those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire," smacks of works righteousness. (Actually it is quoting John 5:29).

Once those are explained I find some actually look forward to the Athanasian Creed as a unique way to recognize Trinity Sunday.

Chris Jones said...

I've been Lutheran now for some fifteen years or more, and I have yet to hear the Athanasian Creed in public worship. Must be the salt water.

A couple of things I would add to this post:

It's true that the Creed defines the Catholic faith in terms of the worship of the Trinity. But don't forget that it also defines the faith in terms of the right confession of the Incarnation of the Word of God. Like the Nicene Symbol, it is not only Trinitarian but Christological.

You wrote: the Catholic faith isn't ... to be identified with the cult of saints and such ... Find the glorification of the Father, Son, and Spirit going on without confusing the Persons or dividing the substance, and you've found the Catholic Church. Well, perhaps. But if you find the worship of the Trinity going on, you will have found the Catholic Church, and the angels and the saints will be there, sharing in the Trinitarian worship. Without the communion of saints, there is no Catholic Church. To act as if the saints are cut off from us is certainly not Catholic.

Finally, it has to be noted that whatever else the Athanasian Creed is, it is not in any meaningful sense "ecumenical" (despite being so identified in the Book of Concord). It is a purely Western document (despite its spurious attribution to St Athanasius), it has never been authorised by an ecumenical council, and it is never used liturgically outside of the Latin West.

William Weedon said...

Pr. B.,

Amen and Amen! Other days it would be appropriate might be toward the end of the Church Year when the great judgment parables ring out.


So good to hear from you - even indirectly. I'm not sure about the salt. I heard it each Sunday out in a salt water district growing up, and in the same district where I first served for six years, we faithfully recited on Trinity Sunday without fail. Indeed, the confession of the Trinity invariably involves a confession of the incarnation - for it is through the Incarnation that the Trinity's great epiphany occurs - thinking of the Baptism of our Lord. And you betcha: find the worship of the Trinity, you will find saints and angels joined together in adoration - "the living" according to Psalm 115, who bless the Lord, as opposed to the dead who do not praise this Lord, this glorious Trinity.

Phil said...

Pr. Weedon,

I always appreciate being reminded that our faith is that we worship God.

To that point, the Te Deum in its own way seems to concur: "Te Deum laudamus, Te Dominum confitemur." Perhaps this could be read as, "We worship Thee, O God; that is, we confess Thee to be the Lord"... ?

William Weedon said...

You betcha, and that's why Luther counted the Te Deum (called the Symbol of Sts. Augustine and Ambrose) as one of the Creeds! To confess=to praise by saying back to Him what He has said to us.

Phil said...

So, in the Western creeds,

Lex orandi, lex credendi.


Lex credendi, lex orandi.

You don't even have to be Lutheran to pick that one up!

Dennis Peskey said...

I think the only cure for "knee-jerk" theology (too Catholic) is catechesis.

Ps-Iosifson said...

...it also defines the faith in terms of the right confession of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

The "cult of the saints" is merely a confession of the grace-filled reality of the Incarnation and the perichoresis of divine power from the divine nature to the human nature. That is, the communication of properties is not solely hypostatic.

Ps-Iosifson said...

"Catholic" in the Athanasian Creed wouldn't be so tough to swallow (once a year) if the Nicene Creed were properly translated with the same term.

jgernander said...

There are a few other Sundays on which I try to make use of the Athanasian Creed:

On the Sunday after Christmas (the Christology in the last third of the creed).

On the Baptism of Our Lord.

On Confirmation if it is more than 2 orr 3 weeks before Trinity Sunday.

On the Second-to-Last Sunday in the Church Year (Trinity 26), when the Gospel is Matthew 25:46, with its "inasmuch as you did it ... inasmuch as you did not do it .." It provides an opportunity to preach the correct exposition of these words that (with John 5:29) form the basis for the controversial 2nd-to-last paragraph of the Athanasian Creed.

I try to use the Athanasian Creed 3 times in a year, Trinity plus 2 of these options. That's sort of Trinitarian itself ;-)

Keep in mind that the Athanasian Creed does not have to replace the Apostles' or Nicene -- it may be used as the canticle, for instance where the Gloria in Excelsis is normally placed.

If I may add one comment to our esteemed host's: What sets the Athanasian Creed apart from the other two: in the others we begin with "I believe" and in this one we begin "I worship." It is a putting-the-creed-into-action. I got that from reading Prof. Dennis Marzolf's article in the most recent Lutheran Sentinel (ELS).

Jerry Gernander

Larry Luder said...

QUICUMQUE vult salvus esse, ante omnia opus est, ut teneat catholicam fidem

I really don't understand the the big deal of the word "catholic". I wonder sometime if it is silliness or onomatophobia?