Athanasian Creed


#1

If the Athanasian Creed is included as one of “the Three Historic Creeds” is there any way a Christian Universalist can affirm them “in the sense they have always had in the Catholic Church”?

BTW: This is taken from the St. Louis Affirmation, and “Catholic” (in the context used here) does not mean “Roman Catholic.”

Any thoughts or comments would be appreciated.


#2

Thanks for posting the question here, Michael!

(I’m terribly busy today, so my time on the board is very limited. I hope to see other people answering; but I’ll try to add something myself by this weekend at least. :slight_smile: )


#3

Michael, I’m not sure I understand your question. And I’m an evangelical universalist who agrees with the Athanasian Creed.


#4

James,

from Michael’s previous question on this topic over at Gregory’s blog, I think he’s asking in terms of the wrapper-statements which indicate that whoever doesn’t get the details of this creed exactly right is hopelessly damned. (Though Mike is certainly welcome to clarify further what he’s asking about, too.)

It’s rather a complex topic, actually… I’ll be very interested to see some discussion on it.


#5

Thank you Jason. That’s precisely what I was asking about

Thank you too James.

I noticed that you didn’t pay much attention to the “damnatory clauses,” and that may actually answer my question.

Like you–I believe in the Trinitarian formula of this Creed, and maybe the only meaning it has “always had in the Catholic Church” is as an expression of the Trinitarian faith we share (and which is held in common by all three branches of the Western Church–Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican.)

I’d like to see further discussion, because I’m still not sure that I’m not stretching a little.

I’d be very interested in any additional comments you might have.


#6

The translation of the Athanasian Creed makes a difference.

Let’s look at ccel.org/creeds/athanasian.creed.html.

I cannot agree with verse 2, “Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”

I can agree with verse 43, “And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.”

Now let’s look at elca.org/What-We-Believe/Statements-of-Belief/The-Athanasian-Creed.aspx.

In this case, I can agree with verse 2, “Whoever does not guard it whole and inviolable will doubtless perish eternally.”

I don’t know the correct translation. Most scholars suspect that the Athanasian Creed was written centuries after the death of Athanasius while only Western Christianity used it. If that is the case, then it was written after universalism became heresy in Western Christianity. So I would have to disagree with that.

I might have some later comments while I’m kicking off with this.


#7

Passing through again on my way to work :wink: ; but it occurs to me that you may have the resources Michael is really looking for, James. Because I think his question is, to what extent does the wrapper material reflect “what the church has always believed”?

You and some of the other contributors around here are better grounded than I am on arguments about the relative prevalence of universalism among church authorities (not to say popularly) during the centuries up to the rise of Islam (which is roughly where the AthCreed seems to date to, btw.)

Similarly, while I know that the Eastern Emperor Justinian II declared universalism (not just Origin’s rather heterodox notions of pre-existent souls and reincarnation etc.) to be anathema, this would hardly be something the Western church would heed (then or later), and obviously the EOx themselves, though (I suppose??) still respecting his opinion on the matter nowadays, hardly consider it to be an authoritatively dogmatic statement on par with a councilor agreement. (Otherwise they would dogmatically reject universalism as even being an option, instead of simply refusing to teach it as a dogmatic affirmation, leaving their theologians open to affirm or disaffirm it individually according to each teacher’s best understanding.)

Or anyway, this is the (quite possibly mistaken) impression I’ve picked up over the years. But other people here seem far more qualified to go into that kind of detail.

In any case: Michael, I consider the wrapping statements to be technically gnostic, and therefore heretical in themselves and not to be accepted. Unfortunately, the technical gnosticism (where salvation is a matter of knowing the proper doctrine as a sort of passcard into heaven) is prevalent throughout church history, including prior to the AthCreed, in both branches (Western and Eastern) of the church. I don’t think this prevalence can be denied; at best, someone might (though I doubt it) be able to argue that it wasn’t quite a majority belief among learned authorities (not to say popularly).

Also, my understanding is that although the EOx do not formally accept the AthCreed (due to provenance issues tracing it back to “Athanasius”, but also due to the filioque affirmation that tends to be included in it), they do recognize themselves to be in agreement with the content (minus the filioque), so there’s a real though informal agreement among Western and Eastern branches in affirmation of the theological propositions of this Creed. With the qualification of the filioque dispute, this Creed can be said to represent the last vast majority agreement position.


#8

My memory is not precise on this question, but I believe I read that the Athanasian Creed was considered binding on the clergy who, after all, were responsible for teaching rightly in order to draw human beings into union with the Triune God. Compare James, “Be not many of you teachers, for we shall come under a stricter judgment”.

I’m also not aware that the Athanasian Creed was ever considered generally binding on pain of salvation by the first Seven Councils.

I’ll be honest: I think the two “bookend” statements about perishing are terribly presumptuous on the face of it. If they apply, I’d say they would apply against a contumacious rejection more than to a simple ignorance.


#9

John Wesley and C.S. Lewis came to the same conclusion.

Wesley wrote:

I am far from saying, he who does not assent to this shall without doubt perish everlastingly." For the sake of that and another clause, I, for some time, scrupled subscribing to that creed; till I considered (1.) That these sentences only relate to wilful, not involuntary, unbelievers; to those who, having all the means of knowing the truth, nevertheless obstinately reject it: (2.) that they relate only to the substance of the doctrine there delivered; not the philosophical illustrations of it.

piney.com/WesleyTrinity.html

He seems to hint at another clause that gave him some trouble, and I suspect it was line 41 (“At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies.”)

He was a premillennialist (or at least had premillennial leanings–as do I), and that raises another question for me.

Does line 41 leave room for a premillennial second coming?

Any thoughts?


#10

The problem I see is in the phrase “at His coming” (which I believe is “ad cuius adventum” in Latin.) I’ve been reading a book called “Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond,” and (while I can see some plausibility to a post-millennial interpretation) the pre-millennial view still makes the most sense to me–but that would mean that most of the dead aren’t raised till a thousand years “after” His coming, and the only thought I have is that God doesn’t view time in the same way we do (Psalm 90:4.)

Does anyone else have any thoughts?


#11

I’m sorry I haven’t caught up with this yet, Michael… Ironically, when new comments are added, moving it closer to the top of the list, it moves away from my scan back through older material for catchup purposes!

I’m still down with a fever–just checking in before I go to bed for the night. Please post the private exchange we had today (or was it yesterday) on this topic. I don’t want people to think I’m just ignoring you. :slight_smile: I should have posted it here, but there are several people’s comments I haven’t caught up with yet, and I don’t want to get too distracted and forget they’re back there.


#12

BTW: We’ve already discussed the damnatory clauses here, and I should mention that the following quote from Thomas Allin went a long way in helping me resolve that issue.

tentmaker.org/books/ChristTriumphant.htm

What I’m left with (as a premillennialist) is another issue to resolve.

Help, anyone?

I didn’t know you were sick, and I hope you’re feeling better by the time you read this.


#13

Thanks Michael. And yes, I’m feeling a little better. (Enough to do ‘work’ work tomorrow anyway, although whether I’ll be up to doing more than ‘work’ work I don’t know.)

My full reply to Michael, by the way, was:

I should note that this isn’t really much of a reply to his actual question, I think. I’ve about burned up all the energy I have today in writing a few minor comments, though, so I’m off to nap. :smiley: I hope to have something more directly pertinent later.

What I will briefly add in relation my answer above, though (aside from a qualification that I could be easily wrong about the millennial reign at all :wink: ), is that I had meant to say something about how this theory would fit into the “reckoning with sinners” Christology that I affirm. Just as God has two kinds of servants, those who are His friends and those who are not His friends (a line I am borrowing from Song of Justice, by the way… :mrgreen: ), and just as God acts in (and toward) solidarity with us, whether in our righteousness or our unrighteousness; so we have two options for acting in solidarity with even the worst of sinners. We can either act in solidarity with such sinners as God does, or we can act in solidarity with them as Satan does (which is ironically not in solidarity with each other at all. I make a point of this in Books 2 and 3 when a Cabal of demons affirm things “simultaneously but not together”. Note that while my use of “affirm” may seem grammatically wrong, in this case that’s the point. :laughing: They are only incidentally acting as “a group”.)

If I give myself airs, that I am “better” than Satan, there’s a pretty good chance that I am in fact acting like another Satan toward Satan. Not like God toward Satan. If the distinction is only one power competing against another power, one power of which happens to be greater, then we are no longer talking about “fair-togetherness” anymore: no longer talking about “righteousness”.

Heh. If I didn’t already have an epic fantasy I was working on, I’d love to set up a novel or two of spec-narrative on how we Christians (and note the link to the common New Testament theme that we Christians are the ones most likely to screw things over more than anyone–not those pagans over there or whatever) could end up botching even the millennial reign of Christ.

Or rather, botching our part of it anyway. Christ doesn’t fail. But apparently we’re going to fail in some epically huge fashion after we think the story has already been won for ‘our side’–probably because some of us will still be thinking in terms of ‘our side’ and ‘their side’ as being more than an accident of history. And if it sounds kind-of panicky weird that God would reveal centuries and millennia ahead of time that we, His “chosen people”, will betray and bleep up so badly: congratulations! Now you know how the Jews in Old Testament times must have felt, reading and hearing far more widespread prophecies to much the same effect! :laughing: How could we fail?! Hasn’t God chosen us to utterly win?! Hasn’t He already revealed that we’re going to utterly win!?

(Yeah; and the demons in my novels keep seeing the exact same revelation, too: they’re going to utterly win! So how could they possibly fail?! This makes for very satisfying dramatic irony, but it also makes for a lot of angsty tragedy, too, in regard to the people plowed under by these entities who care so much about personally “winning” that they disregard the requirement of fair-togetherness. But then, there’s the thing: God loves His enemies, too. The innocent suffer for the sake of the guilty, because God so loves the whole world–even the guilty.)

And now, I really am off to go nap. (Argh… eyes crossing…)


#14

Perhaps part of the answer is how you look at the word “coming.”

As a pre-millennialist, I believe the dead in Christ will be clothed with their glorified bodies when Christ visably comes to the earth, and I believe the rest of the dead will be clothed with bodies suited to judgement after He’s been invisably present as judge of the living for a thousand years.

(I say “invisably” because I don’t believe that He and the glorified saints will be visably present to everyone on earth the whole time He’s here.)

Whether there’s an intermediate state or not, He doesn’t necessarly appear to the rest of the dead untill He come as their judge (at the Great White Throne Judgment.)

In that sense “all men” do rise, and they all rise at His coming (whenever it is that He happens to come for them.)

On reflection it seems to me that it’s possible to hold that view, and receive the creeds as condensed and simplified summaries of the Christian faith (which is the sense in which I believe they’ve always been received.)

BTW: I’m basically trying to think this out myself, and I’m wondering if that makes any sense to anyone here?


#15

P.S. I just had a conversation with a knowledgeable fellow Anglican, and I think it’s safe to say that we don’t view anything in the Athanasian Creed as precluding any particular view of the millennium.

It’s also probably safe to say (with Thomas Allin) that when the creeds use terms from scripture (such as aionian or aeternum) we believe they’re to be understood in the sense they have in scripture.


#16

I realize that I may be the only one interested in this topic, but I feel I should post this for the record here.

Canon F.W. Farrar (of the Church of England) said the following (in the 19th century):

They (Origen and Gregory of Nyssa) believed and said that punishment was “aionian,” they did not believe believe it to be “endless.” Even the Latin Fathers who had risen to a competent knowledge of Greek and had not become quite stereotyped in prejudice were aware that there was no real force in such a position (as advanced by Augustine.) They were also aware that aeternus was used in just the same lose way–for “an indefinite period”–in Latin writers, as aionios was in Greek. (pages 389-390.)

In addition to this, I’ve seen many Anglican sources (not just Thomas Allin, but others who may or may not have believed in the wider hope) say that when creeds use scriptural phrases, they can mean no more than they mean in scripture.

I think it’s therefore safe to say that a Christian Universalist can accept the 3 creeds in the sense they have always had in the historic Church, providing allowance is made for some recognized ambiguity in “aionian” and “aeternum” (as used in scripture, and the Athanasian Creed.)

Blessings to all (and thanks for helping me think this through here.)


#17

It would be nice if we had the actual evidence (vs. simply a second hand conviction of Farrar) of the use of aionios by
Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and the Latin Fathers. Maybe someone can really do the legwork of compiling actual quotes from the various writings of the above. I don’t believe it till I see it in these cases!

Canon F.W. Farrar (of the Church of England) said the following (in the 19th century):

They (Origen and Gregory of Nyssa) believed and said that punishment was “aionian,” they did not believe believe it to be “endless.” Even the Latin Fathers who had risen to a competent knowledge of Greek and had not become quite stereotyped in prejudice were aware that there was no real force in such a position (as advanced by Augustine.) They were also aware that aeternus was used in just the same lose way–for “an indefinite period”–in Latin writers, as aionios was in Greek. (pages 389-390.)


#18

I see I did the late Canon Farrar a disservice (by neglecting to quote the title of his book), so let me first correct that oversight.

The citation should read (“Mercy and Judgment”, pages 189-190.)

The following quotes are from Saint Gregory of Nyssa (and note the last, where he speaks of an “aionian interval.”)

We certainly believe, both because of the prevailing opinion, and still more of Scripture teaching, that there exists another world of beings besides, divested of such bodies as ours are, who are opposed to that which is good and are capable of hurting the lives of men, having by an act of will lapsed from the nobler view, and by this revolt from goodness personified in themselves the contrary principle; and this world is what, some say, the Apostle adds to the number of the “things under the earth,” signifying in that passage that when evil shall have been some day annihilated in the long revolutions of the ages, nothing shall be left outside the world of goodness, but that even from those evil spirits shall rise in harmony the confession of Christ’s Lordship.

(On the Soul and the Resurrection)

For it is now as with those who for their cure are subjected to the knife and the cautery; they are angry with the doctors, and wince with the pain of the incision; but if recovery of health be the result of this treatment, and the pain of the cautery passes away, they will feel grateful to those who have wrought this cure upon them. In like manner, when, after long periods of time, the evil of our nature, which now is mixed up with it and has grown with its growth, has been expelled, and when there has been a restoration of those who are now lying in sin to their primal state, a harmony of thanksgiving will arise from all creation, as well from those who in the process of the purgation have suffered chastisement, as from those who needed not any purgation at all. These and the like benefits the great mystery of the Divine incarnation bestows. For in those points in which He was mingled with humanity, passing as He did through all the accidents proper to human nature, such as birth, rearing, growing up, and advancing even to the taste of death, He accomplished all the results before mentioned, freeing both man from evil, and healing even the introducer of evil himself. For the chastisement, however painful, of moral disease is a healing of its weakness.

(The Great Catechism, ch. XXVI)

…agony will be measured by the amount of evil there is in each individual. For it would not be reasonable to think that the man who has remained so long as we have supposed in evil known to be forbidden, and the man who has fallen only into moderate sins, should be tortured to the same amount in the judgment upon their vicious habit; but according to the quantity of material will be the longer or shorter time that that agonizing flame will be burning; that is, as long as there is fuel to feed it. In the case of the man who has acquired a heavy weight of material, the consuming fire must necessarily be very searching; but where that which the fire has to feed upon has spread less far, there the penetrating fierceness of the punishment is mitigated, so far as the subject itself, in the amount of its evil, is diminished. In any and every case evil must be removed out of existence, so that, as we said above, the absolutely non-existent should cease to be at all. Since it is not in its nature that evil should exist outside the will, does it not follow that when it shall be that every will rests in God, evil will be reduced to complete annihilation, owing to no receptacle being left for it? But, said I, what help can one find in this devout hope, when one considers the greatness of the evil in undergoing torture even for a single year; and if that intolerable anguish be prolonged for an aionian interval, what grain of comfort is left from any subsequent expectation to him whose purgation is thus commensurate with an entire age?

(On the Soul and the Resurrection)

As for the Latin Fathers, Jerome translated Micah 4:5 (in the Latin Vulgate) as follows:

quia omnes populi ambulabunt unusquisque in nomine dei sui nos autem ambulabimus in nomine Domini Dei nostri in aeternum et ultra (i.e. aeternum and “further”, or “beyond”.)


#19

"As for the Latin Fathers, Jerome translated Micah 4:5 (in the Latin Vulgate) as follows:

quia omnes populi ambulabunt unusquisque in nomine dei sui nos autem ambulabimus in nomine Domini Dei nostri in aeternum et ultra (i.e. aeternum and “further”, or “beyond”.)"

But couldn’t “further” or “beyond” be non literal? A figure of speech?


#20

Beyond eternity?

Further than forever?

What would such a figure of speech signify?