The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Athanasian Creed - The Damnatory Clauses and UR

This new thread is a spin-off from the “Church of England” thread which has been up for some time and recently re-invigorated by the contributions of new member “sobornost”. We both felt this topic, which is of interest to many, should be discussed separately. I know Dick (sobornost) has something to say on this. For my initial two-pennorth I would say I believe it is now well established that, although it is recognised has having value in many churches, the AC is nothing to do with Athanasius and was written a long time after his death.

That’s the impression I got from Wikipedia :smiley:

You might find The Athanasian Creed defines orthodoxy thread interesting.

I just want to do a place holder post to introduce this thread properly.

In the medieval Catholic English Church, the Athanasian Creed functioned as part of the liturgy – it was chanted solemnly and beautifully – in Latin; at the same time incense was wafted from a censer, bells were chimed, and candles were lit to illuminate the darkened church to indicate that here the central mysteries of the Christian faith were being set both revealed and concealed. Obviously there were draw backs to this approach – the deliberate obscurity could enhance the hold of the priests over the laity. However, there is something to be said for not seeing this creed as a repository of purely rational formulas; for its words point to something beyond our ability to grasp in completeness. As the author of the medieval English manual of mystical prayer, ‘The Cloud of Unknowing,’ put it – ‘By love God is gotten and holden; by thought alone, never’. And surely the rationalism of the Reformers reversed this older Catholic understanding of the function of the Creed so that it became a check list of things that have to be believed if a person is to be saved; in my view this was a swing too far in the opposite direction. Indeed, I note that a proper Evangelical criticism of the Magisterial Reformers approach to this creed suggests that the MR take on things implies that people are to be be saved through their own efforts of rational assent to a set of doctrines, rather than through faith and grace.

As I have argued on the C of E/Abrogation of the 42nd Article thread, the Athanasian Creed – with its damnatory clauses - was used by the early Anglican Church as a pretext for the persecution of Arian and Anabaptist ‘heretics’. This thread will presuppose a knowledge of the excellent discussion of the Creed that has already taken place on this site which Alex gives the link for in the previous post (so have a read of this if you can – it will make things easier for you to understand as the discussion develops here). It will chart how debate about the status of the Athanasian Creed within the Anglican Church over four centuries finally completes the revolutionary implication of the Abrogation of the 42nd Article by the Elizabethan Church. The debate over the Athanasian Creed is closely allied to other related issues –

The rise of non-conformity including explicit universalism in English Christianity

The realisation of the need for greater tolerance within the Anglican Church – at first simply a move towards greater comprehension of difference within the Church, and later an embrace of tolerant pluralism within society

Growing anxieties about the status of the Thirty Nine Articles which originally had been drafted to ensure compromise, but in latter times seemed to embody a worrying rhetoric of intolerance

The decline of religious persecution (and the conservative Anglican attempt to frustrate this)

The decline of religious justification for draconian penal codes (and the conservative Anglican attempt to frustrate this)

The decline of hell (and the conservative Anglican attempt to frustrate this)

The evolution of the British monarchy from a more absolutist model to a constitutional model (and the conservative Anglican attempt to halt this)

The growth of religious ideas of human rights and democratic representation (and the conservative Anglican attempt to halt these)

The struggle in the nascent Episcopalian Church between Conservatives who had been loyal to the Crown during the War of Independence and wanted to maintain an authoritarian Church, and progressive Republicans who wanted a Church that enshrined ideals of Liberty

The growth of Christian Rationalism which increasingly saw the doctrinal definitions of the Athanasian Creed and the concept of ECT as contrary to reason

The subsequent growth of Christian Romanticism which increasingly saw the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian Creed and the concept of ECT as contrary to the tender, wholesome and godly feelings of human solidarity.

A final ironic note -

Three summers ago I read a book that was a collection of essays produced by a symposium of medieval scholars entitled, ‘Was Chaucer Murdered?’. The thesis of the collection – which flagged for being repeated too often – was that the poet Chaucer had been a key player within the liberal and cultured regime of Richard II (it was Richard who brought the handkerchief to England in an effort to stop his Lords and Barons from wiping their noses on their long beards – yeech!). Richard had been soft on the pre Reformation Protestant movement – the Lollards - and there is evidence that Chaucer had sympathies with the Lollards too. Richard was deposed and murdered by the usurper Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry VI. Henry brought in the law for the persecution of heretics – Lollard Knights’ and Lollard peasants were burned at the stake or hung, drawn and quartered for having heretical views on ‘transubstantiation ‘– the Catholic doctrine which states that in the celebration of the Eucharist while the appearances of the bread and the wine remain the same, in substance these are transmuted into the Body and the Blood of Christ. The symposium of scholars argued that before Henry’s time, transubstantiation was simply a mystical doctrine, and not one that required complete rational comprehension. Henry brought in the comprehension test as a tool of political repression to consolidate his power as a usurper King. While I was not convinced that he killed Chaucer, the arguments put forward for the origins of the statute concerning the burning of heretics seemed rather compelling. I see it as ironic that. as with transubstantiation in the Late Middle Ages, so with The Athanasian Creed during the English Reformation; a persecuting rationalism made both the pretexts for repression.

I will begin this thread properly when I have completed the Abrogation of the 42nd thread – I hope to have done and dusted the latter by the end of this week. In the meantime, watch this space – if you are interested – and have a look at the thread which Alex has kindly provided the link for.

All good wishes and thanks for your patience and support


Btw, I am seriously considering compiling your work (once it’s finished) into a single doc/pdf file and attaching it to relevant threads as well as its own “Useful Material” thread, Dick. Unless you do so first. :mrgreen:

Jason that is really nice of you and a great honour coming from you, for I have such respect for you. Yes please do so - if you think it would be useful; it’s far better that someone else does the editing/compiling job, and you can have free range on this.

The only way I can write happily is to write as I speak - that’s why I’ve always preferred teaching to writing and posting here is perfect for me because it’s social. Because I write as I speak I sometimes change my mind and correct myself and even stumble over spelling and grammar from time to time (as I sometimes lose the thread when I teach and have to re-focus).

It would be so good of you to do the editing /compiling job - if and when you have the time (but no pressures on you old china, and you can change your mind without disappointing me)


Dick :smiley: - What does Mr Green mean? I’ve not seen it outside of this site.


I don’t think :mrgreen: means anything other than a Big Grin compared to the Big Smile of :smiley: . I apply the Big Smile for purposes of joy, and the Big Grin for fun and amusement.

(I have access to a large library of other smilies, most of them animated, from, too, which I occasionally borrow instead.

Where you fix problems afterward, I would of course replace prior information with the correction, with some slight editorial recomposition if necessary to make the fix fit the original context. If I couldn’t do that very easily, I would contact you and ask your preference about how to proceed on a case-by-case basis. (You would have final approval on the collected form of the work anyway of course. :slight_smile: )

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328- 373

St Athanasius was the 20th bishop of Alexandria. He certainly did not write or authorize the Athanasian Creed that has been attributed to him and has been given authority by this attribution. His episcopate lasted 45 years (328 –373), of which over 17 were spent in five exiles ordered by four different Roman Emperors because of the uncertain, acrimonious and violent power struggles over the definition of the Trinity in which he eventually emerged triumphant against the Arians (who emphasized the Father’s divinity over the Son against emergent orthodoxy), but at first was often seemingly on the losing side and had to flee in fear of his life.

Regarding Origen, Fredric Farrar tells us that, **St. Athanasius – who might have been supposed to have as keen an eye on heresy as anyone – so far from speaking angrily about Origen…speaks of him tenderly and admiringly as ‘the marvellous and indefatigable Origen’ (De Com essent.tom.i.p.236), and in one passage only alludes to him with oblique and kindly disapproval to his opinion of the Restitution of all Things (see Cave, ‘Lives of the Primitive Fathers’, i. 23). **[Farrar, ‘Eternal Hope’, p.163]


Joachim Camerarius, German classical scholar, reformer, and close friend of Phillip Melanchthon, is the first to raise doubts about the authorship of the Athanasian creed in the Greek edition of his ‘Catechesis’. However, his remarks are met with such a storm of protest that he omits them from the Latin edition of the same work in 1563 (*see, J.N.D. Kelly ‘The Athanasian Creed p.3) *


In his ‘Defense of the Apology’, John Jewel, Elizabethan Bishop of Salisbury speaks cautiously of the creed having been written ‘as some think by Athanasius, as some others by Eusebius Vercellensis’- which is unwitting testimony of debate about this among scholars in England and elsewhere in Europe at this date (see, J.N.D. Kelly ‘The Athanasian Creed p.p.3-4).


Meletius I Pegas 1549-1601 who served both as Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and for a brief time as Patriarch of Constantinople seems to also have contributed to diminishing the authority of the Creed amongst educated Christians. Meletius was a vigorous opponent of the then Pope’s attempts to impose the primacy of Rome on Orthodox Christians. He was also an early champion of Ecumenism. The Dutch Protestant Christian Humanist scholar Georgius Dousa (1574 – 1599) met Meletius in his travels in the East from 1593- 1597. In 1597 Meletius wrote an ‘Epistle of Consolation’ to the bereaved Dousa that was published widely in Protestant Europe and became famous as an example of human compassion. According to Jeremy Taylor, the Epistle includes the following excursus:

’We do not scruple plainly to protest that the creed is falsely ascribed to Athanasius, which was corrupted by the Roman Pontiffs. And it is more than probable that he said true, because this creed was written originally in Latin, which in all reason Athanasius did not, and it was translated into Greek; it being apparent that the Latin copy is but one, but the Greek is various, there being three editions, or translations rather…’ (quoted in, A Discourse of the Liberty of Prophesying p.77)


In Book V of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Richard Hooker (1554 – 1600) writing in defense of the 39 Articles states the following concerning the Athanasian Creed:

‘Is there in that confession of faith anything which doth not at all times edify and instruct the attentive hearer? Or is our faith in the blessed Trinity a matter needless to be so oftentimes mentioned and opened in the principal part of that duty which we owe to God, our public prayer?’ (Laws, Book V., ch. xlii., 12.)

And so we note that Richard Hooker, in many ways a proto-universalist, is a supporter of the Creed. In Hooker we find charity of wide hope and an innate conservatism side by side. Since he was a protégée of John Jewell it seems almost certain that Hooker knew of the doubts about the Athanasian authorship of the Creed. HIs focus in defending it is purely on its inclusive function as a communal affirmation of faith in the Trinity. He does not mention the damnatory clauses - but the issue of pluralism and comprehension in the Church were not ‘hot topics’ when Hooker was writing. His purpose was to supply a corrective to the extremes of Calvinism - belief in the Trinity was common ground between Calvinists and Hooker.


In his ’De Tribus Symbolis’ - that is, ‘The Three Symbols/Creeds’ - published in this year, Gerhard Jan Voss (1577 – 1649) casts serious doubt on the authorship of the Athanasian Creed by arguing:

• First, no early writer of authority speaks of it as the work of Athanasius
• Second it contains doctrinal expressions that arose in controversies after the time of Athanasius
• Third its language and structure point to a Latin/Western origin, as opposed to a Greek/ Alexandrian one

The unanimous consensus of modern scholarship is that Voss was absolutely correct - and this consensus includes the most conservative of scholars.

Voss was a Dutch Protestant Christian Humanist theologian - he had studied Classics, Hebrew, Church History and Theology. He was a lifelong friend of the more famous Grotius, and like Grotius – and other Christian Humanist Scholars - he believed that the many and bitter religious disputes of his day could be solved by a deep study of Christian antiquity to discover the mind of the Early Church (therefore his scholarship had a broadly ‘evangelical’ inspiration and intent).
Voss had many contacts in England; he declined invitations from Cambridge, but accepted from Archbishop William Laud a post as non-residential cannon of Canterbury Cathedral, and went to England to be installed in 1629, when he was given an honorary Doctorate.

Among his English correspondents were the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher. Voss suggested that the creed appeared at the time of Pepin III (c.714-68) or his son Charlemagne (c. 742-814). On the other hand, Ussher, while accepting Voss’s critical argument, argued in a letter prefixed to his own ‘De Romane ecclesiae symbol…diatriba’ (1647) that the evidence suggested a much earlier date - about the middle of the fifth century. (see Kelly, ‘The Athanasian Creed’, p.4)


Richard Baxter (1615 –1691) the English Puritan church leader, and theologian had a non-separatist Presbyterian approach (he was prepared to compromise on the question of bishops, and did not believe the atonement is limited for example). He became one of the most influential leaders of the nonconformists, spending time in prison. Baxter advocated for a comprehensive “national church”, off and on, until his death in which Nonconformity could be tolerated within latitude. At the time of the Toleration Act of 1689 – which allowed dissenters full protection under the law as long as they subscribed to thirty five and a half of the thirty nine articles - Baxter set out his thoughts on the article sot help his fellow nonconformist reach some kind of accommodation. He lauded the Athanasian Creed as ‘the best explication of the Trinity,’ provided, however, ‘that the damnatory sentences be excepted, or modestly expounded.’ Since Baxter also wrote a memorable and blood curdling hell fire sermon, his scruples about the damnatory clauses were obviously only connected to their offence against charity in their ability to foster intolerance and division between Christians.


The English Parliament passes ‘The Blasphemy Act’ which makes it an offence for any person, educated in or having made profession of the Christian religion, by writing, preaching, teaching or advised speaking, to deny the Holy Trinity, (or to claim there is more than one god, deny “the truth” of Christianity or deny the Bible’s divine authority).
The first offence results in a person being rendered incapable of holding any office or place of trust. The second offence results in them: being rendered incapable of bringing any action, of being guardian or executor, or of taking a legacy or deed of gift, and three years imprisonment without bail. However, the provisions of the Act are rarely applied.


William Whitson, the English Arian, writes a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury on the subject of a plague that is destroying cattle. He suggests that this plague might stop if the English reformed their manners and stopped cursing the Eusebians or ‘Primitive Christians in the Athanasian Creed (see D.P. Walker ‘The Decline of Hell’, p.102).


When the Methodists of the newly formed United States)began to plan for a Conference in 1784, John Wesley(1703 – 179) sent them an abridged version of twenty-five articles which were adopted at said by them. Most of the rejected Articles concern Church Government (irrelevant to the new situation) but one conspicuous article on doctrine that is rejected is Article VIII Of the Three Creeds.

Robert Southey in his ‘Life of Wesley (pp. 28 -29) records that Wesley had ‘scruples’ about the damnatory clauses in the Athanasian Creed in when a young undergraduate at Oxford. Later, Wesley records the following in his Journal:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the true faith; the faith which works by love; which, by means of the love of God and our neighbor, produces both inward and outward holiness. This faith is an evidence of things not seen; and he that thus believes is regenerate, or born of God; and he has the witness in himself: (Call it assurance, or what you please:) The Spirit itself witnesses with his spirit that he is a child of God.
(John Wesley’s journal, entry for November 17 1760, which is a letter to the editor of Lloyd’s Evening Post)

As Wesley records in his journal in a later entry, the statement above purposely copies the opening line of the Athanasian Creed. That creed teaches of the Trinity. Wesley’s formulation includes the doctrines he preached time and again: justification, new birth, perfection, and assurance. This letter reveals Wesley’s belief in the instrumental nature of love rather than doctrine.

It would be wrong to say that Wesley did not believe that doctrine matters . he was very firm in his opposition to Socinianism, for example and obviously thought wrong beliefs could hinder salvation. However, it is certain that he did not think right belief could save a person, and found the thought of regularly cursing others in liturgy to be abhorrent

In the 1770’s, Wesley corresponded at length with John William Fletcher (1729-1785) the Anglican vicar of Madely who was a devoted supporter of the Methodists. In a letter of August 1775 Flecther , exhorts Wesley as’ an Englishman, a Christian, a divine, and an extraordinary messenger of God’, to take positive steps toward the reformation of the Church of England, “which I love,” says Fletcher, “as much as you do, but I do not love her so much as to take her blemishes for ornaments.” Point four in Fletcher’s list of suggestions is: ‘That a pamphlet be published containing the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. rectified according to the purity of the Gospel, 'together with some needful alterations in the liturgy and homilies, such as the expunging of the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian Creed, etc’

(see … -in-order/)

Regarding the contemporary attitude of United Methodists in the USA towards the Creeds The Rev. J. Richard Peck has written:
Unlike some churches that require affirmation of a strict list of beliefs as a condition of membership, The United Methodist Church is not a creedal church.

So why do we recite creeds during worship?

The United Methodist Hymnal contains nine creeds or affirmations. Only two of these (Nicene and Apostles’) are strictly considered to be creeds because they are products of ecumenical councils.

The remaining affirmations are taken from Paul’s letters (Corinthians, Colossians, Romans and Timothy) along with affirmations from the United Church of Canada, the Korean Methodist Church and the United Methodist Social Affirmation.

United Methodists are not required to believe every word of the affirmations. Church founder, John Wesley himself did not agree with a historic (Athanasian) creed, because he disliked its emphasis on condemning people to hell.

Affirmations help us come to our own understanding of the Christian faith. They affirm our unity in Christ with those followers who first wrote them, the many generations who have recited them before us and those who will recite them after we have gone.


Benjamin Flower (1755–1829) an English radical journalist and political writer, also a Conservative Unitarian who advocated the removal of the grievances of the Dissenters on the broad grounds of religious liberty wrote in his’ The French Constitution’:

‘To continue the solemn pronunciation of damnation contained in this Creed and to make it part of the public service and an instance of Christian devotion, sure then, is not altogether right. What shall the bigot amongst the common people be led hereby to think of the fate of the Dissenters (I think the Unitarian Dissenters are specifically intended here), however otherwise deserving, and of the behaviour due from them? What too shall a considerate, modest Christian think about his own fate, when he reflects how little he can be said indeed to believe about such dark points?”


Parliament passes The Doctrine of the Trinity Act that amends the Blasphemy Act of 1697. The Act grants toleration for Unitarian worship; previously the Act of Toleration 1689 had only granted toleration to those Protestant dissenters who accepted the Trinity.


Professor Philip Schaf writes the following in his magisterial work The Creeds of Christendom:

**III. The Damnatory Clauses. – The Athanasian Creed, in strong contrast with the uncontroversial and peaceful tone of the Apostles’ Creed, begins and ends with the solemn declaration that the catholic faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation herein set forth is the indispensable condition of salvation, and that those who reject it will be lost forever. The same damnatory clause is also wedged in at the close of the first and at the beginning of the second part. This threefold anathema, in its natural historical sense, is not merely a solemn warning against the great danger of heresy, nor, on the other hand, does it demand, as a condition of salvation, a full knowledge of, and assent to, the logical statement of the doctrines set forth (for this would condemn the great mass even of Christian believers); but it does mean to exclude from heaven all who reject the divine truth therein taught. It requires every one who would be saved to believe in the only true and living God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, one in essence, three in persons, and in one Jesus Christ, very God and very Man in one person.

The damnatory clauses, especially when sung or chanted in public worship, grate harshly on modern Protestant ears, and it may well be doubted whether they are consistent with true Christian charity and humility, and whether they do not transcend the legitimate authority of the Church. They have been defended by an appeal to Mark xvi.16; but in this passage those only are condemned who reject the gospel, i.e., the great facts of Christ’s salvation, not any peculiar dogma. Salvation and damnation depend exclusively on the grace of God as apprehended by a living faith, or rejected in ungrateful unbelief. The original Nicene Symbol, it is true, added a damnatory clause against the Arians, but it was afterwards justly omitted. Creeds, like hymns, lose their true force and miss their aim in proportion as they are polemical and partake of the character of manifestoes of war rather than confessions of faith and thanks to God for his mighty works.**

Note: Schaf was an American Universalist from a Reformed background

(The Creeds of Christendom, Volume 1, Section 10, point iii which can be viewed online at

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Less coffee!–LESS COFFEE!!! :wink:

Less Tea :laughing:

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Surely nobody disputes the fact that Athanasius had nothing to do with the creed which bears his name. Modern scholars support Voss’s explanation.

You’re right Drew - no informed person does or could (including all professional scholars). I’ve just expressed myself badly. Instead of ‘broad consensus’ it’s more accurate to say ‘unanimous consensus’ (including conservative scholars).

All the best

Dick :slight_smile:


Voss suggested that the creed appeared at the time of Charlemagne, ca. 742-814. On the other hand,
James Ussher, archbishop of Armagh, while accepting Voss’s critical argument, argued that
the evidence suggested a much earlier date, about the middle of the fifth century.


In Book V of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Richard Hooker (1554 – 1600) writing in defense of the 39 Articles states the following concerning the Athanasian Creed:

** ‘Is there in that confession of faith anything which doth not at all times edify and instruct the attentive hearer? Or is our faith in the blessed Trinity a matter needless to be so oftentimes mentioned and opened in the principal part of that duty which we owe to God, our public prayer?’** (Laws, Book V., ch. xlii., 12.)

And so we note that Richard Hooker, in many ways a proto-universalist, is a supporter of the Creed. In Hooker we find charity of wide hope and an innate conservatism side by side. Since he was a protégée of John Jewell it seems almost certain that Hooker knew of the doubts about the Athanasian authorship of the Creed. HIs focus in defending it is purely on its inclusive function as a communal affirmation of faith in the Trinity. He does not mention the damnatory clauses - but the issue of pluralism and comprehension in the Church were not ‘hot topics’ when Hooker was writing. His purpose was to supply a corrective to the extremes of Calvinism - but belief in the Trinity was common ground between Calvinists (including separatists) and Hooker.

On the Damnatory Clauses –

When fretted almost past endurance
By bold and impudent assurance
Or angered by some bare faced sham
A man lets out a hasty ‘damn,’
The orthodox predict his bane,
And stigmatise him as ‘profane;’
But if within the church’s bound
Where holiest emblems gird him round,
He damns at least one half mankind
Dooms them to Satan sealed and signed
And does this free from passion’s bias
Lo! Then they call him ‘good and pious!’