Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Athanasian Creed on Issues, Etc.

This is the week of Trinity Sunday, and in many denominations of Western Christianity, it is customary to recite the Athanaisian Creed.

Roman Catholics tend to bury it in the Office of Prime, a prayer office typically said by monks and nuns.  Some so-called "high church" Anglicans use the Creed on Trinity Sunday.  But where we find its use really blossom is among Lutherans - where it is not only the third document in our 1580 book of confessional writings known as the Book of Concord, but where it is also traditional to recite this ancient confession of  faith during the Trinity Sunday Divine Service.  In fact, the constitution of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod requires that the "Synod, and every member of the Synod" accept the Athanasian Creed and must do so "without reservation" (page 13).

You can find it in your Lutheran Service Book on page 319.  And here is a Lutheran Witness article (by the Rev. Christopher Hall) from the current (June 2011) issue on the Athanasian Creed (also known by its Latin name, Quicumque Vult).

In some ways, the Athanasian Creed is shocking.  It opposes the popular modern view that all religions are equal, that any god is God by any name.  The Creed makes the unequivocal case that salvation is dependent upon holding "the catholic faith."  The word "catholic" is a Greek transliteration of the words κατά (kata) and όλος (holos) that mean "according to the whole."  It points us to the wholesome, holistic faith of the apostles and of the whole Church - as opposed to the private opinions of this individual or that person or of this cult or that sect - whose theology stands at odds against the church in its collective confession.  The opposite of "catholic" is not "Protestant," but rather "heretic."  According to the Athanasian Creed, the catholic faith can be boiled down to two main overarching concepts: the Trinity and the Incarnation.  This is described as "the Christian truth" and "the catholic religion."  And the Creed makes it clear: there are no non-catholics in heaven: "This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved."

The Creed also concludes with this sobering warning: "Those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire" - which if misunderstood, could be interpreted to be "works righteousness" and a repudiation of salvation by grace alone.  Actually, the conclusion of the Creed is a paraphrase of our Lord's equally sobering warning.  Jesus does not say that salvation is a result of works.  Rather we know that good works flow out of a living faith, just as good fruit appears on healthy trees, and diseased fruit grows from rotten trees.  It is good for us to hear this warning lest we become complacent and begin to take advantage of God's grace and to forget why we were created and for what purpose we were saved by grace!

Issues, Etc. has recently concluded an outstanding four-part interview with the Rev. William Weedon on the Athanasian Creed.  You can listen here.

1 comment:

Mike Green said...

"The opposite of 'catholic' is not 'Protestant,' but rather 'heretic.'"

Absolutely brilliant!