The Confession of Christ (Part Three): Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
The Church had safeguarded the teaching about the deity of Christ and the confession of the Holy Trinity at Nicaea. For some believers, however, the problem of God as “wholly other” or as an absolutely transcendent Being remained. For them, the union of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ compromised God’s transcendence.
At the beginning of the fifth century, a group arose, led by Bishop Nestorius of Constantinople, who taught that the Son of God in heaven and the man Jesus of Nazareth were actually two distinct persons. Although these two persons were united in Jesus Christ, they remained separate and distinct entities. Thus, for example, the Virgin Mary could be referred to as the mother of the man Jesus, but not as the mother of God. To deal with this problem, the Council of Ephesus in 432 declared that in Christ there is a divine and human nature united in the one person of Christ “without confusion” and “without division”. In other words, we can find the fullness of God in the man Jesus. To give full expression to this mystery, the council gave to the Virgin Mary the designation of Theotokos – “the God-bearer”. This is still the manner in which Mary is referred to in the Eastern Church, while in Western Christendom Mary is still often spoken of as the mother of God.
The last Christological controversy arose immediately after the decision at Ephesus. Pious people began to put forward the theory that in Christ one may only find divinity with the human nature being essentially non-existent. Thus, behind the facade of a man, there was no true humanity. In this system of thought, Christ feigned human responses – hunger, fatigue, emotion – for the benefit of his observers. Despite showing such human responses, however, he was not truly a man. Those putting forth this idea were called Monophysites (from the Greek, “one nature”). Another Church council was called, this time at Chalcedon in 451. The assembled bishops issued a formula declaring that both a human and divine nature existed in Christ in their entirety. God had truly appeared in a real man with a nature like ours. For Jesus, as for us, the hunger was real, the emotions were real, the suffering was real. In other words, if you wish to know what God is like, look at Jesus Christ.
The decisions and terminology of these two councils, Ephesus and Chalcedon, were included by an anonymous Western theologian in the document that has come down to us as the Athanasian Creed. Although it was not written by the great fourth-century defender of orthodoxy, it was so called because it included many of the fourth and fifth century conciliar concepts. With the Apostles Creed, the Athanasian Creed does not have the sanction of an ecumenical council, relying on its traditional use and acceptance, mainly in the West. In fact, the text of the creed came down to us in Latin, with its first words, “Quicunque Vult” (“Whosoever will”) being used to identify it. Nevertheless, it is without doubt one of the ages most precise documents concerning the person of Christ. It has been used for various festivals and celebrations of the Church throughout Western Christendom. Owing to its length and polemical quality (it is the only creed to include anathemas) it is used much less often than the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed.
THE ATHANASIAN CREED
WHOSOEVER will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith.
Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
And the Catholick 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 co-eternal.
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 also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated: 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 are we forbidden by the Catholick 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 afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together: and co-equal.
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 rightly 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 of 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 account for 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 Catholick Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.
The councils of the Church sought to defend and define key articles of the faith in regard to the person of Christ. The Council of Nicaea in 325 was concerned with his divinity; that of Ephesus in 432 was concerned with his unity; and that of Chalcedon in 451 spoke concerning his humanity. It is noteworthy, however, that these councils expressed themselves in what have become liturgical documents – meant for use not just in the study of theology, but for worship. One of the earliest known hymns that we possess outside of the New Testament, “Joyous Light” (Phos Hilaron) says it best in its praise to Christ, the joyous light of the holy glory:
Joyous light of the Holy Glory of the Immortal Father
Heavenly and wholly Blessed, Jesus Christ.
Having come to the setting of the sun
We see the evening light
We praise the Father and the Son
And the Holy Spirit of God.
It is right that you be praised
At all times with holy sounds
Son of God, the giver of life
Therefore the world glorifies you.
“God had truly appeared in a real man with a nature like ours. For Jesus, as for us, the hunger was real, the emotions were real, the suffering was real. In other words, if you wish to know what God is like, look at Jesus Christ.”
As I sit here this morning with a shattered heart, this is the sum total of all theology for me.
I have wept this morning until I thought my heart would burst from the grief…and I know that my God…my Jesus…is with me in this.
This is the only God a human could possibly worship in spirit and truth…the God who took our sin, our suffering, our loss as His own and has redeemed them.
My comfort, if there is any comfort, is that Jesus wept…and that someday soon, He will wipe every tear from my eyes.
In times of tragedy and loss, Christ is our only hope. I remember the remark of my friend, Jeff Astley, when he was asked, “What happens when we die?” His answer was, “The one thing that we know about what happens when we die is that God continues…”
Peace of Christ to you Michael and all in tears (myself included).
Duane, so does the Athanasian Creed declare universalism heresy?
And what about the “christian” who teaches that those we do not believe and in fact deny Jesus will still qualify to enter heaven, is this “christian” outside of salvation?
In the late 19th century, the anathema of the last line became a matter of controversy in the Anglican Communion, as well as other Western churches. Owing to this, in 20th century Books of Common Prayer, the Athanasian Creed is now placed in “Historic Documents of the Church”. In any case, it has never been a binding creed (such as the Nicene) in most of the churches of Western Christendom apart from the Lutheran churches who, as you know, have it in the Confessions. It has never been accepted in the East. All that being said, I think it is safe to say that the author(s) of the Athanasian Creed did not believe in universalism.
I find the opening line just as condemning.
… And if we turned the Creed into a quiz for most lay people (and a number of clergy), I wonder what sort of answers we might get…
When it says “Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance” would that include the heresy of “modal-ism” or is that addressed somewhere else in the creed or in another counsel altogether?
Yes… Modalism was indirectly addressed at Nicaea, but the later councils nailed it down. It is addressed in the phrase, “So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.” It is the uniqueness of each person…
From out here on the sidewalk… ?
Long years ago a physician wrote a book. “Chemistry of the Blood,” if memory serves me. His premise? That the male is the one who provides the make up of the embryo’s blood. The life of the (mortal) flesh is in the blood. The Holy Spirit gave life to Mary’s embryo. Thus Jesus, born in weak mortal flesh (as are we) all the way back to Adam and Eve, interrupted the flow of humanity with a sinless immortal soul from day one. I could go on into the ramifications that this would have for the Church as i see the Church as a unique creation, logical, unique and reasonable – this mysterious creation, born of the Holy Spirit is, both Jesus and His Bride.
Many of us simple minded have been blessed to find a reason in the mystery. A simpler Faith over time, not requiring great intellectual gymnastics to get us where we need to be…
But this community is not composed of simple minded evangelicals like me… ?
Enjoy your need for deep questioning, convoluted explanations, your dissecting skills… The Faith can take it
God keep all the searching, honest theologians on our honest quest – He will
Do all old people lose succinctness? I thot it went the other way…. wordy again, sorry bout that. ?
When I read some of the Trinity statements on Calvary Chapel websites such as ccphilly and I compare it to this creed, it is tempting for me to conclude they are outside the faith and lost. Am I being too harsh and critical or is this just bad wording and should we give them a pass for bad grammar?
“We believe in one personal, transcendent, Triune God, the creator of all, who is eternal, and who manifests Himself in three separate persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I think they mean well, but God does not manifest Himself in three persons (close to modalism) he IS three persons! They would be better to stick with the creeds 🙂
I wish the early fathers had written something about people who are always looking for ways to damn someone else.
The creeds teach us normative Christian doctrine, especially as regards the Trinity.
However, there is nothing in the creeds that state that God always works in a normative fashion.
Most of the time axeheads sink…
I think the Trinity statement on the CCPhilly website is a result of sloppy/unclear writing. I do not think the church is heretical in their beliefs or teaching on the subject as I have never heard anything unorthodox taught about the Trinity. Now granted, the subject isn’t addressed very often as it apparently does not compare in importance to things like the End Times or pastors who drink alcohol, but when it is addressed, I’ve never heard anything concerning.
What you have with places like CCPhilly are untrained theologians trying to write about things they only studied in passing.
They are not actively opposing a sound doctrine of the Trinity, but lack clarity and understanding themselves.
Because they have a relationship with the living Savior, there’s grace to cover…
Agree. Some do not have the theological language to express themselves clearly….
I’m still confused about modalism though. Can a committed modalist that claims to have a relationship with the living Savior be saved? Or are they anathema according to the creed?
I think it has to do with what stands behinds the words.
I agree with you but aren’t these creeds just written down words? Words at lease at one point in history seemed to matter a great deal but now a days I’m not so sure any more. Its rather confusing to me.
Words matter. I would not wish to condemn anyone for imprecise language, but a single Iota separated truth from heresy at Nicaea. It is a part of the modern age that we think that we can come up with something “in a casual way” that means “kind of, sort of” the same thing. Why can’t we turn to the creeds? Do we really think that we know more or have a better way of expressing ourselves? I’m afraid that it is part of the arrogance of the age. Part of embracing the faith “handed down” is humility…
Thanks! You are doing a good work here. And I am glad Michael lets you post often.
Good article Duane. It seems that the question of understanding Christology correctly is of extreme importance in assuring our salvation. I understand this emphasis and both agree and disagree with it. I’ve seen many people, myself included, give their lives to Christ, trusting in Him for their salvation, and did not have a solid comprehension of either a Western Christology, nor an Eastern view, which I see as more hierarchical in the relationship between the three Persons of the Trinity. All I understood is that if I would call upon the name of the Lord, I would be saved.
This opens the door for a discussion of the catechesis process and how that might be more fruitful than event type of evangelism that preaches a sermon and then calls people to a decision.
“They are not actively opposing a sound doctrine of the Trinity, but lack clarity and understanding themselves.”
Surely the study of Christology is of greater importance than whether a pastor drinks alcohol or the speculation of the return of Christ. It seems strange that so much effort would be spent on understanding Christ’s return without understanding fully, including acknowledging the mystery of who He is.
I agree with you completely on all points. It seems to me that we have entered a different time in the life of the church. We are nostalgic (not a Christian virtue) for the old mass evangelism that we saw in the early years of the movement. Yet, it seems to me that we have entered into a different time. Now it is one person at a time, with the opportunity for discipling and catechesis. If we take it seriously, we’ll see growth… slow but sure. If, however, we remain consumed with nostalgia for the past, we may miss the opportunity that is facing us at the moment.
#s 22 & 23
Made me smile a bit… As i look back on the world of my youth – mid 30s thru mid 50s – i recall the world of our Christian faith as more closely aligned with Dr. Duane’s description of where the Church should focus – the mass meetings were a call for revival of the (already) Saints… Why do Saints need so much rescussitation? ?
Would it be fair to say that the commerce of the Church today mirrors the mores of our secular world? Perhaps to the degree that leads to compromising morality? Maybe only my simple minded evangelical camp is guilty…. dunno ?
We copy the commerce model of secular society way too much!
#22 and #23 are excellent.
#26 – yes they are…
Care to unpack your assessment a bit? What resonated?
“…..we have entered a different time in the life of the church.”
I ask because shouldn’t we, the Church, be prepared? I do believe that God provides for the searching soul, but it would be nice if we were able to fulfill the admonition of 2Timothy 2:15
Yikes! ? make that 2 Timothy 2:15
For me it comes down to this:
“It seems that the question of understanding Christology correctly is of extreme importance in assuring our salvation.“
To me the Creeds define Who He is (as best we can understand) and what He has done and continues to do for us based on God’s Word. The more we learn about Him and focus on Him (not us) in through the Creeds the more worshipful and repentant we become, IMO.
Im not sure if I’ve “unpacked” anything here. 🙂
Btw, the Daily Office is a valuable resource, especially for those like me wandering in the wilderness…
JoelG, i think you have put your finger on the most critical part of the whole Christian life
and the focus of the Creeds get us there if we have any spirit life in us at all
“The more we learn about Him and focus on Him (not us) in through the Creeds the more worshipful and repentant we become,”
the “what’s in it for me” application of the Faith is an embarrassment – that’s not to say that it isn’t the richest and most eternally sound life that one can have, but that is the wrong focus is it not?
got to shut down here, but i hope that this thread gets a lot of thot and comment this weekend