The Athanasian Creed defines orthodoxy


I need to go to bed, but I’ll need to answer him later, so if anyone has suggestions…

What is the definition of Orthodoxy?
Athanasian Creed - The Damnatory Clauses and UR
Hellbound debate: Peter Sanlon, Glenn Peoples & Kevin Miller

It still says nothing about universal reconciliation unless you assume that not everybody will eventually hold to the catholic faith, and that people won’t be plucked out of the everlasting fire.


Well, first I assume he’s a Roman Catholic. Otherwise, oops, he isn’t quite holding to the “Catholic Faith” that the author of the AthCreed (probably Ambrose) was talking about. :mrgreen:

In which case he ought to be appealing to the Pope and the Magisterium as the definers of orthodoxy, and urging us to accept their inerrant authority on this matter.

But anyway, the structure of the (so-called) AthCreed is pretty clear: there’s the catholic trinitarian faith statement, divided into two portions; and a wrapping statement including a brief bridging element.

The trinitarian faith statement is what the wrapper calls “the catholic faith”. The wrapper is not itself “the catholic faith”; which is good because the wrapper is pretty explicitly gnostic in theology! (“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary for him to hold the Catholic faith. Which faith, except everyone do keep it whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. …] He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believes rightly the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. …] This is the Catholic Faith, except which a man believes rightly, he cannot be saved.”)

As can be seen above, the wrapper is quite distinct from the content of the Creed itself. Anyone (including Roman Catholics) who agreed with the Protestant Reformation thrust against the notion of salvation by works, ought to be able to see huge problems with the wrapper, especially the first sentence.

It may also be worth noting that the judgment language of the Creed itself is not as (hopelessly!) detailed as in the wrapping language; the terminology is distinctly different, too:

“they who have done evil shall go into the eternal fire” – that’s what the Creed has to say, the end, period. It doesn’t talk about what going into the ‘pura eonian’ specifically means, leaving the interpretation open to scriptural study and reasoning.

“without doubt he shall perish everlastingly” “he cannot be saved” – that’s what the rhetorical promotional commentary about the Creed has to say. That’s because the Creed didn’t “define orthodoxy” enough on the topic of going into the eonian fire. So the promulgator defined it in more detail. Including adding the detail, not found anywhere in the doctrinal list of the Creed itself, that people are saved from this by holding to the doctrines of the creed. (And not only that, but emphatically first and foremost by holding to those doctrines!)

I’m a hyper-doctrinaire, who (as it happens) defends the catholic faith statement represented in the AthCreed. Consequently, I understand what’s in the Creed and what is not, and why what’s in it is in it, and why what’s not is not. THE WRAPPING STATEMENTS ABOUT THE CREED ARE NOT THE CREED!

Also worth noting: the Eastern Orthodox, who don’t like having the filioque attached to the Nicean Creed post hoc (and I can’t say I blame them, even though I agree with that doctrinal detail), would have no problem with the AthCreed except, first, it’s much later than Athanasius, second it has that filioque reference, and third it has that wrapper. The wrapper has not been agreed to in an ecumenical council, which (aside from the filioque) is technically why they don’t accept that Creed per se (despite agreeing with the doctrines of the Creed, filioque aside); Protestants shouldn’t accept the wrapper either on that ground; and Roman Catholics ought to be appealing to something more religiously fundamental to the RCC, namely inspired papal infallibility against universalism being true.


Ditto Jason’s comments. Not sure what your friend is suggesting. There’s no possible way to use the Athanasian Creed to establish the Orthodox (capital ‘O’) status of ECT. The first question to ask when someone claims that this or that belief is ‘orthodox’ is, Whose orthodoxy are you talking about? Eastern Orthodoxy? Roman Catholic? Lutheran? Reformed? The Athanasian Creed is an important document no doubt, but it doesn’t define orthodoxy for, say, the Eastern Church (as Jason noted). Athanasius didn’t write it and neither he nor his contemporaries ever mention it; nor is it mentioned in any of the ecumenical creeds. So…

Even the Catholic West who is fond of this creed hasn’t in fact condemned every universalist in history. Catholics hold universalist St. Gregory of Nyssa in the highest esteem and even refer to him as Father of the Fathers.



Something else worth pointing out: this is the only one of the Big Three Creedal formulations which features threats of hopeless damnation for not accepting the doctrinal set. The closest the other two come is another commentary addition to the original version of the Nicene Creed: “But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

That isn’t the same as being hopelessly punished by God, though; the phrase is still commentary on the Creed (not Creed itself); and the anathema commentary was removed for the Chalcedonian clarification a few decades later in 381.


Further note: the Roman Catholic Church itself doesn’t use the AthCreed any more for normal liturgical worship (although that was popular in medieval times). It uses the Nicean-Chalcedonian Creed.


A big thank you for your help. I’ve done my first reply:


I don’t have a copy of “City of God” right now, but I’d be very interested in that quote from Augustine.

More than anyone else, he was responsible for the doctrine of ECT being the majority view it is today, and I would be suprised if he said that God could deliver a soul from eternal torment?

Can you provide us a quote here?


Sure, see Even Augustine taught post-mortem salvation :sunglasses:


Thank you Alex.


Thank you Jason.

Does the Athanasian Creed condemn premillennialists (as some amillennialists claim)?


What?? No, not as far as I can tell (or even have ever heard of). It contains the standard lines about the resurrection of the evil and the good, one to eonian crisis and the other to eonian life, but those are scriptural statements which obviously John had no problem affirming along with the millennial kingdom.

To affirm a doctrinal set without mentioning (pro or con) another proposed doctrinal set which has at least some scriptural basis (and with which the first doctrinal set is typically affirmed without tension), is not at all the same as denying the other proposed doctrinal set. The AthCreed says nothing pro or con either way on the topic of whether the general resurrection happens before the 1000 year reign, after it, or whether there is no special 1000 year reign; neither does it have the slightest thing to say pro or con about the rapture, whether it’s pre-trib or post-trib (or a-trib for that matter!) All it does is affirm the general resurrection and post-mortem punishment for the wicked who will be raised with the good (except to eonian crisis, not to eonian life).

The AthCreed does seem to deny the possibility of ultra-universalism, where there will be no post-mortem punishment at all. But since the AthCreed isn’t an ecumenically approved Creed, I don’t know why ultra-us would care. (And even if it was, the faithful deposit from which to work are the canonical scriptures; after all at least one Ecumenical Council was subsequently and quite vehemently revoked!–so the Councils are not in themselves inherently infallible, regardless of what people insisted back then or now on the matter.)

The Creeds are mainly useful for identifying ‘Orthodoxy’ as a socio-cultural group: what a large majority agrees in believing to be right-representation of God. I’m glad the Big Three don’t outright deny universalism, but even if one or more of them did, ultimately the authoritative documents we’re supposed to be interpreting are the scriptures, not the Creeds (or encylclicals or any other official non-scriptural church texts.) If I thought something in the Creeds was logically false or scripturally denied, I wouldn’t affirm the relevant Creed(s).

(This is why I don’t mind unitarian or modalist Christians refusing to profess one or more of the Big Three, so long as they believe they’re being faithful to the scriptural witness and thus to God by refusing so.)


So “at whose coming (adventum) all men will rise again with their bodies,” doesn’t exclude the possibility that the bodily resurrection of the unjust will ocur a thousand years after the bodily resurrection of the just?



:astonished: That’s daring :mrgreen:


Sounds like Jason needs to pay the blog a visit, although there is a word limit on the comments there! :slight_smile:


I’d say the first few creeds and the first several councils are a great place for establishing the shape of orthodoxy.

Hi Jason,

Saying the creed is “Roman Catholic” is anachronistic, catholic means universal, this is before the schism with the East. Why have you introduced this arbitrary category of “wrapper”, it divides the content unnaturally and seem only to serve your final conclusion that the creed doesn’t speak against universalism. Also final judgement of works is standard Reformed doctrine.


Alex, is your friend Catholic? What’s is religious affiliation? Does he accept ALL the directives of the ecumenical creeds? Those are ‘creeds’ too, and authoritative. So does he accept ALL that’s in them?



No more or less so than RevJohn’s juxtoposition of the topics.


Well, I was being partly humorous. But only partly: there are historical issues for the AthCreed per se.

Actually, scholars are pretty sure that the AthCreed per se wasn’t drafted until around the 8th century or so, after the Great Schism–not incidentally at a time when RCCs were gearing up on their version of ecumenical reintegration: agree to RCC doctrine where this differs from whatever it is ‘you’ believe (the filioque being a key issue here, and prominently featured in the AthCreed, though also issues about universal salvation on occasion!), or you can just be perma-damned over there for dying outside the real Church. (I can quote chapter and verse from RCC dogmatic sources on this topic; my quick informal summary there is in no way principly inaccurate, unfortunately.)

There’s some dispute as to who exactly drafted it (Ambrose and Hilary are the most famous of the proposed authors, but the current leading theory involves a guy none of us have ever heard of, who was pretty well known back in Western Europe during the middle of what’s called the Dark Ages), but the dating of the document itself can’t possibly go back any farther than Augustine’s work because it’s using phraseology from things we know he wrote. And as Alex summarized from source and text studies on the topic (reported in Wikipedia, but I’ve read enough to know those reports on the analysis are accurate), we have every reason to believe the AthCreed first showed up in the 8th century and not before then. (Though there was probably some informal local variant usage preceding it.)

My point isn’t that Protestants (including Anglican Catholics) haven’t or can’t use the AthCreed–obviously various Protestant Creedal statements have themselves referred to it either explicitly or implicitly. My point in bringing up its RCC promotional context, is only that leaning on it as a chief arbiter in what constitutes an orthodox doctrinal set is ironic once the original context is counted in.

I thought I commented on this in some detail afterward in the same post. :wink:

But to lick that calf again in yet a little more detail: we Protestants started Protesting largely (though not solely) because the RCC had gotten into a salvation-by-works mindset. (A critique that the RCC came to agree with pretty quickly in the Counter-Reformation, although it took a while for them to implement reforms–and they still have problems with this in practical outworking, though technically they know and teach better.) The holding of precisely correct doctrinal knowledge in order to be saved is a doctrine of salvation by works, specifically the work of affirming correct doctrinal knowledge, i.e. the heresy of gnosticism broadly speaking. The AthCreed’s wrapping commentary VERY EXPLICITLY and insistently affirms this notion. Which isn’t surprising, considering what was (and had been, and would be) going on in the RCC when the Creed was drafted. Ergo, the wrapper is pretty explicitly gnostic in theology.

Protestants ought to have been the first people jumping up and down complaining about this. Instead, historically we picked it up and ran with it. Probably because Protestants at the time thought it was the only way to successfully compete with what the RCCs were claiming. ‘Look, this Creed says we only have to believe this set of a few dozen doctrines in order for us to get God to save us!–not those other doctrines the RCCs tell us we also have to believe and hold to in order for God to save us. Where is papal primacy in the AthCreed, huh? Or indulgences? Or transsubstantiation? Etc.?? These are the only things we have to believe in order to be saved!–not those other things! The RCC uses this Creed, right? We’re only doing what they themselves agree is all that has to be believed in order for God to save us!’

But an appeal to gnostic salvation against a more detailed gnostic salvation is still gnostic salvation.

Obviously, various RCC and Protestant (not EOx!–so not in fact accepted by all the ‘orthodox’ church!) communions have historically accepted the statements about the Creed as also being Creedal statements. I can’t and don’t deny that. But the statements themselves do not treat themselves as being part of the Creed. They talk about the “Catholic Faith”, they don’t present themselves as the “Catholic Faith”.

Otherwise the Creed would have run something like this: “The Catholic faith is this: Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary for him to hold the Catholic faith. Which faith, except everyone do keep it whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. One God in Trinity should be worshiped, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. Etc.”

Instead of how it actually runs: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary for him to hold the Catholic faith. Which faith, except everyone do keep it 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. Etc.”

Another point is that the doctrinal details match up (with some clarification) to details from earlier versions of the Apostle’s Creed (through the Nicene formulations.) The statements I have called “wrapping” commentary do not.

A related point: they can be removed without affecting the theological statements about God, including Christ, at all. Nor can they be derived from the other theological statements. Nor do those other theological statements imply questions or issues that the “wrapper” commentary addresses. The “wrapper” statements (which certainly do wrap around and bridge the two portions of the Creed, whether they themselves should be considered Creedal statements of the Catholic faith or not) address one and only one doctrinal point, very much distinct from anything else in the Creed: that in order to be saved a person must first and foremost hold and keep those other doctrines, and unless a person does this he or she will be permanently damned. That is quite literally the whole point to those wrapping and bridging statements. “He that would be saved must think thus about the Trinity. Furthermore in order to be saved it is necessary for him to also rightly believe etc.”

So the wrapping statements:

1.) are in fact wrapping and bridging statements (and might as well be called that regardless of whether they are themselves proper Creedal statements of the Catholic faith, too);

2.) do not even call themselves part of the Catholic faith that must be believed in order to be saved, but introduce and claim something the doctrinal details of the Catholic faith;

3.) exist in historical isolation from prior developments of the Apostle’s Creed;

4.) and exist in theological isolation from the trinitarian and Christological doctrines of the AthCreed…

5.) …except for the purposes of adding one more doctrine to the set…

6.) …which doctrine is expressly and repeatedly formulated (throughout all three parts of the wrapper) as not only being a doctrine of holding to doctrinal beliefs in order to be saved…

7.) …but actually goes the distance and insists that holding such doctrines IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING in order to be saved…

8.) …which could not be any more plainly a doctrine, not only of gnosticism, but of the primacy of gnosticism unto salvation.

If anything, it is the wrapper that has been “arbitrarily” “introduced”. Not my categorization of it, which is based on inferences from the external and internal details.

I will add in passing that I was quite convinced of this back when I was a non-universalist, too. It’s pretty obvious, of course, that some details of the wrapping statements (not all of them even then!) deny universalism. But I didn’t need them to be a non-universalist before, and I sure as hell don’t need them now. :wink: I rejected them along with (and as) gnosticism before, and I still do now.

It’s also a standard RCC and EOx doctrine (and a standard doctrine of other trinitarian communions; and a standard doctrine among non-trinitarian Christians generally); and a Biblical doctrine; and makes perfectly fine metaphysical sense.

Consequently, I have never once denied a final judgment of works; nor of people either!

What I mean by final judgment is certainly somewhat different from standard Protestant and RCC interpretations of the doctrine (though not necessarily different from common, if not standard, EOx and other trinitarian interpretations of that doctrine). But I am trying to mean what the canonical texts mean by final judgment, taken as a composite testimony, thus hopefully what God means by final judgment. :slight_smile:


This all reminds me, btw, that it’s been a while since I caught up with the thread(s) on whether various soteriologies (Calv, Arm or Kath) can be derived from orthodox trinitarian theism. Mental note to get back to that this week…