Monday, May 31, 2010

Whosoever will be saved

The Athanasian Creed is included among the other Lutheran Symbols with what are called in the Book of Concord The Three Catholic or Ecumenical Creeds (Tria Symbola Catholica seu Oecumenica).  As a man blessed by the vocation of traditionalist Lutheranism, I both see and accept the catholicity and the true ecumenicity of the creed pseudepigraphally called Athanasian.  It is noteworthy, however, that in one sense it seems a bit odd to call the Athanasian Creed "ecumenical," since, as some of the ecumenically crass enjoy pointing out, it is virtually unknown in the eastern traditions of the Church.  If someone wanted to be really down on the Athanasian Creed, however, he should come up with something more relevant, like the fact that it is virtually unknown in the West today as well, except among Lutherans who happen to be in church on Trinity Sunday, and a few other odd sectors of the Church. 

To be sure, it is and remains part of the tradition of the Latin Church.  Sadly, however, it has been swept under the liturgical carpet in the modern Roman Rite, and therefore is known and appreciated in that communion only in the realm of academic theology.  Among the Lutherans, the custom persists that the creed is publicly recited on Trinity Sunday.  This is a good thing.  It is an annual phenomenon, however, that after confessing this creed in church, people will later confess in conversation the various ways in which the Athanasian Creed is felt to be a stumbling block to them.  For some it is too long; for some it is too confusing; for some it is too intellectualist to be truly Christian; for some it seems to contain false doctrine. 

There are at least three approaches the Church could take to answer these concerns.  One would be to take Rome's example, and just sweep this seemingly irrelevant creed under the rug.  Now the disappearance of the Athanasian Creed from the Roman liturgy, to be sure, cannot be oversimplified, or ascribed to ill motives.  Nor did it happen in one sudden step.  Even when the Athanasian Creed was recited or chanted in the Roman Rite on a weekly basis, in fact, it was hardly ever heard by the common people, unfortunately, since the people usually did not attend to the Divine Office.  Nevertheless, it is hardly the only case in modern Roman Catholicism of a good ancient tradition being brushed aside.  There are whole psalms, for example, which have disappeared from the Liturgy of the Hours because imprecation is thought to have no place in the Christian life.  We could easily solve some of these problems associated with the yearly recitation of the Athanasian Creed by simply ceasing the practice.

A second approach would be to keep up our custom of disrespecting the proper place of the Nicene Creed in the Mass on the octave day of the Pentecost each year, and simply try to answer questions as they come up.

I propose a third way.  Namely, we should keep this creed as a regular part of our liturgical practice, only improve the way in which it is practiced.  This will have two types of benefits.  One is that the people will get to know it better, and the other is that as the pastors and teachers themselves get to know it better and make it more a part of their own hearts and thinking, they will be better teachers of its meaning and importance. 

What do I mean when I refer to improving the way in which the Athanasian Creed is practiced?  Several things. 
  • It should be prayed more often than once a year.  I propose every Sunday after Pentecost, as well as the Sundays after Epiphany.  Also in our schools perhaps once a week in the fall semester it would be fitting for chapel.
  • While there is nothing wrong with reciting this creed, a church with a choir might consider chanting it; likewise, a good cantor or choir might try training the congregation to chant it.
  • The true home of the Athanasian Creed is in the Divine Office.  So I suggest that our congregations (which don't yet offer any such opportunity) move towards having a morning order of the Divine Office, before Mass, as part of its Sunday worship.  Even though the Athanasian Creed is proper to the hour of Prime, this could work with Matins, Lauds, or Prime.  This would bring with it all the other benefits of the Divine Office in the parish.  It might start simply with the pastor praying his Daily Office publicly, in the church, and inviting the people to join him.
  • The Athanasian Creed should be prayed not in the form of a disputation, but in the form of a canticle.  For example, I suggest flanking it with an antiphon, like the one you will see below, and adding the Gloria Patri. 
Okay, so these suggestions will seem radical, but what the Church and the world need are radical Lutherans; Christians who, being deeply rooted in the confession of the only true God, boldly worship the Trinity in Person and the Unity in Substance, of Majesty coequal; followers of Christ who firmly believe and confess before the world His two natures and the unity of His Person. 

No one needs to follow my particular words of advice.  While they will be read by some as a mere attempt to repristinate a liturgical purity and hyperritualism, my main prayer is that the churches of the Augsburg Confession look afresh at their own professed confession, both of God (article I) and of Christ (article III), and reaffirm their commitment to take it seriously, and to search out fresh ways to make this confession a true reality.  We say, for example, that with common consent we teach that there is one Divine Essence which is God.  About Him we say, for example, that He is without parts, and yet among us we are satisfied with showing people misleading diagrams, which despite containing true words, picture God as that which can be cut up into parts, rather than the Pantocrator whom we adore.  We say there are Three Persons in this same essence, and that each Person is in no way either a 'part' or a quality, but subsists of itself, and yet is of the one and same essence.  This should inform our preaching, our theology, and our practice.  God is above all mathematics, as Luther said at Marburg, and yet we diagram Him like He were a product of engineers. Islamic theology sees a contradiction in the Christian claim that there is one God and three Persons. On our part we could do a better and more consistent job of confessing this mystery.  We say that the eternal Word assumed our own nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that His two natures, the human and the divine, and inseparably conjoined in one Person.  The Athanasian Creed does not, as too many even in our pews think, attempt to explain these mysteries.  Rather, it confesses them, and submits to them, in worship and adoration of the true and life-giving God revealed in Holy Writ.  Therefore I encourage a greater and more healthy use of this creed among us, both liturgically and devotionally. 

What follows is the Athanasian Creed, in its liturgical form.


GLORY be to Thee, O equal Trinity, one God, *
And before all ages, and now, and forever.

WHOSOEVER will be saved, *
before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith.

Which faith except everyone 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 Persons *
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 coeternal.

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 there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, *
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, the Son is God, *
and the Holy Ghost is God.

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

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

And yet not three Lords, *
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 we are 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, *
not made nor 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 before or after other, *
none is greater or less than another.

But the whole three Persons are coeternal Together and coequal, *
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 thus think of the Trinity.

FURTHERMORE, it is necessary to everlasting salvation *
that he also believe faithfully 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 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 an account of 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 and firmly, 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.

GLORY be to Thee, O equal Trinity, one God, *
And before all ages, and now, and forever.


GLORIA tibi, Trinitas aequalis, una Deitas, *
Et ante omnia saecula, et nunc, et in perpetuum.

QUICUMQUE vult salvus esse, *
ante omnia opus est, ut teneat Catholicam fidem.

Quam nisi quisque integram inviolatamque servaverit, *
absque dubio in aeternum peribit.

Fides autem Catholica haec est, *
ut unum Deum in Trinitate, et Trinitatem in unitate veneremur.

Neque confundentes personas, *
neque substantiam separantes.

ALIA est enim persona Patris, alia Filii, *
alia Spiritus Sancti.

Sed Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti una est divinitas, *
aequalis gloria, coaeterna maiestas.

Qualis Pater, talis Filius, *
talis Spiritus Sanctus.

INCREATUS Pater, increatus Filius, *
increatus Spiritus Sanctus.

Immensus Pater, immensus Filius, *
immensus Spiritus Sanctus.

Aeternus Pater, aeternus Filius, *
aeternus Spiritus Sanctus.

Et tamen non tres aeterni, *
sed unus aeternus.

Sicut non tres increati, nec tres immensi, *
sed unus increatus, et unus immensus.

SIMILITER omnipotens Pater, omnipotens Filius, *
omnipotens Spiritus Sanctus.

Et tamen non tres omnipotentes, *
sed unus omnipotens.

Ita Deus Pater, Deus Filius, *
Deus Spiritus Sanctus.

Et tamen non tres Dii, *
sed unus est Deus.

ITA Dominus Pater, Dominus Filius, *
Dominus Spiritus Sanctus.

Et tamen non tres Domini, *
sed unus est Dominus.

Quia, sicut singillatim unamquamque personam Deum ac Dominum confiteri christiana veritate compellimur, *
ita tres Deos aut Dominos dicere Catholica religione prohibemur.

PATER a nullo est factus, *
nec creatus, nec genitus.

Filius a Patre solo est, *
non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus.

Spiritus Sanctus a Patre et Filio, *
non factus, nec creatus, nec genitus, sed procedens.

Unus ergo Pater, non tres Patres, unus Filius, non tres Filii, *
Unus Spiritus Sanctus, non tres Spiritus Sancti.

ET in hac Trinitate nihil prius aut posterius, nihil maius aut minus, *
sed totae tres personae coaeternae sibi sunt, et coaequales.

Ita ut per omnia, sicut iam supra dictum est, *
et unitas in Trinitate, et Trinitas in unitate veneranda sit.

Qui vult ergo salvus esse, *
ita de Trinitate sentiat.

SED necessarium est ad aeternam salutem, *
ut incarnationem quoque Domini nostri Iesu Christi fideliter credat.

Est ergo fides recta, ut credamus et confiteamur, *
quia Dominus noster Iesus Christus, Dei Filius, Deus et homo est.

Deus est ex substantia Patris *
ante saecula genitus,

Et homo est ex substantia matris *
in saeculo natus.

PERFECTUS Deus, perfectus homo, *
ex anima rationali et humana carne subsistens.

Aequalis Patri secundum divinitatem *
minor Patre secundum humanitatem.

Qui, licet Deus sit et homo, *
non duo tamen, sed unus est Christus.

Unus autem non conversione divinitatis in carnem, *
sed assumptione humanitatis in Deum.

Unus omnino, non confusione substantiae, *
sed unitate personae.

NAM sicut anima rationalis et caro unus est homo, *
ita Deus et homo unus est Christus.

Qui passus est pro salute nostra: descendit ad inferos, *
tertia die resurrexit a mortuis.

Ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis, *
inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.

AD cuius adventum omnes homines resurgere habent cum corporibus suis, *
et reddituri sunt de factis propriis rationem.

Et qui bona egerunt, ibunt in vitam aeternam, *
qui vero mala, in ignem aeternum.

Haec est fides Catholica, *
quam nisi quisque fideliter firmiterque crediderit, salvus esse non poterit.

GLORIA PATRI, et Filio, *
& Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio, & nunc, & semper, *
& in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

GLORIA tibi, Trinitas aequalis, una Deitas, *
Et ante omnia saecula, et nunc, et in perpetuum.


Father Hollywood said...

The practice I inherited at my parish is that we replace the Nicene Creed with the Quicumque Vult two weeks of the church year (we celebrate Mass on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings).

The first is Trinity Sunday (and the following Wednesday). The second is the week before Advent (the final Sunday of the church year and its corresponding Wednesday). Thus the Creed is confessed on the first day and the last day of the Trinity Sundays.

I know it isn't technically correct to replace the Nicene Creed, but in practical terms, this is the only way that most people will say and hear the Creed.

Its use on the Last Sunday is - as far as I know - unique to our parish. I actually tried to get rid of it, but met with protestation (!) - and so, I brought back the Athanasian Creed for the Last Sunday. We speak it responsively (celebrant and congregation) verse by verse.

It is a good and fitting thing that this Creed is actually used liturgically four times a year. There are worse things to be sure.

The Creed is even more poignant in this day and age of postmodernism and the pressure to squeeze the monotheistic religions into one mold. The Quicumque Vult is a roadblock to such notions. It confesses that Christianity cannot compromise on the Trinity nor on the Incarnation. These are non-negotiables. For that is the very essence of the Catholic Faith, and that is the only true faith. Apart from the Catholic Faith, there is no salvation.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

four times per year-very cool. Yours is the only modern case, of which I am aware, of having the Quicumque Vult recited more than once in the year. Aside from my own hang-ups about placing it in the Mass, I wish more churches would follow your example.

I do believe this neglected creed is destined to be part of the general renaissance of the Divine Office in our time.

But again, I applaud your practice.

gnesio-lutheran said...

I can attest that what you say is correct in regards to modern Roman usage. Due to Roman Rite family members being in town, we attended Mass at a Roman parish located mere blocks from St. Stephen's. The Athanasian Creed was not said, and even the fact that it was Trinity Sunday was only given passing mention. The closing hymn, in fact, was "America the Beautiful", appaently in commemoration of the secular holiday of Memorial Day the following day. I kid you not.

The parish priest there is a populist Jesuit, who apparently has license to do whatever he pleases. On Easter, for example, the ENTIRE ordinary was omitted, to save time for seven baptisms which took up the majority of the mass.

The tells you this, not to knock our Roman brethren, but merely to demonstrate that abuses and bad practice which we decry among Lutherans are likewise found across the Tiber.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thanks for this input, Gnesio. The RCC is a big tent, and so I acknowledge all important developments there as I see them, good and bad. The same is true among us.

When Lutheran priests have their people recite this creed on Trinity Sunday, and then contentedly and lazily let confusion about it reign in the parish without addressing it in the pulpit, and in the religious education of the church, they are guilty of a dead 'traditionalism.' However, as long as the tradition of keeping this creed alive in the parish persists, there is hope that the pastors and teachers will pick up on that tradition, and make it a lively and healthy tradition. That is traditionalism in the best sense.