The Greatest Creed You Have Never Read

The Symbolum Quicunque [Athanasian Creed] is a remarkably clear and precise summary of the doctrinal decisions of the first four œcumenical Councils (from A.D. 325 to A.D. 451), and the Augustinian speculations on the Trinity and the Incarnation. Its brief sentences are artistically arranged and rhythmically expressed. It is a musical creed or dogmatic psalm…The first part (ver. 3–28) sets forth the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity, not in the less definite Athanasian or Nicæno-Constantinopolitan, but in its strictest Augustinian form, to the exclusion of every kind of subordination of essence…The second part (ver. 29–44) contains a succinct statement of the orthodox doctrine concerning the person of Christ, as settled by the general Councils of Ephesus 431 and Chalcedon 451, and in this respect it is a valuable supplement to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. It asserts that Christ had a rational soul (νοῦς, πνεῦμα), in opposition to the Apollinarian heresy, which limited the extent of his humanity to a mere body with an animal soul inhabited by the divine Logos. It also teaches the proper relation between the divine and human nature of Christ, and excludes the Nestorian and Eutychian or Monophysite heresies, in essential agreement with the Chalcedonian Symbol.

Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1878), 1.37, 39.

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  1. Never read? I’m amazed – I would have thought every office bearer in a Reformed church would be thoroughly familiar with it. It is recited over a dozen times a year by the congregation in the liturgy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and is specifically mentioned in the Second Helvetic Confession:

    “And, to say many things with a few words, with a sincere heart we believe, and freely confess with open mouth, whatever things are defined from the Holy Scriptures concerning the mystery of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and are summed up in the Creeds and decrees of the first four most excellent synods convened at Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon — together with the Creed of blessed Athanasius…”

    To my mind it also excludes Eternal Functional Subordination, since it states “So likewise the Father is Lord: the Son Lord: and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet not three Lords: but one Lord”. EFS would seem to imply that just as Sarah was commended for calling Abraham ‘Lord’, it would be proper for the Son eternally to call the Father ‘Lord’ as his functional superior, and the Holy Ghost to call both the Father and the Son Lords, as for example is implied by the arguably blasphemous statements in Grudem’s ‘Systematic Theology’ p257, “The husband’s role is parallel to God the Father and the wife’s role is parallel to that of God the Son…And, although it is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, the gift of children within marriage, coming from both the father and the mother, and subject to the authority of both father and mother is analogous to the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father and Son in the Trinity.”

    But this is a point that Athanasius himself addressed: the Son only calls the Father ‘Lord’ in his office of Christ the mediator, e.g. Contra Arianos II 50: “he names the Father Lord; not because he was servant but because he took the servant’s form. For it became him on the one hand, being the Word of the Father, to call God Father, for this is proper for Son towards Father; on the other, having come to finish the work, and take a servant’s form, to name the Father Lord.”

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