The Athanasian Creed: Setting the Record Straight on the Blessed Trinity.
The adoption of the Athanasian Creed settled the matter, in an explanation of the trinity of the persons of God and the twofold nature of the one divine Person of Jesus Christ.
Vic Biorseth, Sunday, July
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." --Matt 28:18-20
From the beginning of the Church, the official teaching was that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were one God, in three Divine Persons, and that Jesus Christ, Son of God, was also God. That was actual doctrine, and orthodox teaching. Obviously, not an easy idea to teach to new Christians, especially to highly educated Greeks and philosophers, schooled in worldly logic.
The situation was exacerbated by the rise of Gnosticism, the heresy that claimed to hold "secret knowledge" about God that "the Church doesn't want you to know". Sound familiar?
This was the situation the Church began to rise out of after Emperor Constantine ended the Roman persecution of Christians and began the era known as The Peace of Constantine.
Arius, a Libyan by birth, was a Priest in Alexandria, Egypt. When he began emphasizing the divinity of the Father over that of the Son, based not on Revelation but on worldly logic, that began what would become known as the great Arian Heresy. His popular new ideas and interpretations swept North Africa and the Eastern Church, before the Western Church was even aware of them.
When it all blew up in heated controversy, Constantine called for a Great Council to settle the matter. The First Council of Nicea was that Council, and it adopted St. Athenasius' formal doctrinal formulation, written down as the Athanasian Creed. Thus, the Doctrine was formalized into Dogma. The new Creed was to be held by all Christians under pain of losing salvation.
The Athanasian Creed
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 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 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 are we 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 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 into 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 Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.
Thus, the Trinitarian nature of God and the hypostatic union of Jesus Christ, taught from the beginning, was concretized in written words and published to the whole Christian world.
This followed the pattern set in Acts, in which Jesus promised the Apostles the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Acts 15 was the First Council, to settle the matter of circumcision and the old law requirements for non-Jewish Christians. When the matter was settled, the Apostles, in union with Peter, pronounced it after first saying "... For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us ..." (Acts 15:28)
Here is how we described the guidance of the Holy Spirit as it involved Councils of the Bishops in union with the Pope, in the Infallibility page:
It is beneficial to read the entire 14th and 15th chapters of
John, paying careful attention to whom it is that the Lord is speaking,
throughout. He is speaking to His Apostles, and that is a very
important point. He had previously appointed them Apostles; He has now
told them some mysterious things that they cannot fully understand, but
that they would later understand, and that He would send another
“Counselor” to them, Whom they would know, but the world would not know.
They still did not understand. In 14:22, Judas, not the
Iscariot, said to Him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself
to us, and not to the world?” The answer is fairly long. In 14:25-26,
He says in reply, “These things I have spoken to you, while I am still
with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send
in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (Emphasis added.)
Through the Holy Ghost, the Church will never forget the Words of the Lord. Infallibility is not promised randomly to all, but to His Apostles.
He continues in 15:26-27, “But when the Counselor comes, whom I
shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who
proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me, and you also are
witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.” And He
continues farther in 15:12-15: “I have yet many things to say to you,
but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will
guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own authority,
but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the
things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is
mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I
said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
This represents the guidance, into all truth, of the Church of Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ Himself appointed the first twelve Apostles to be
the leaders of His Church. Over the last two thousand plus years,
there has been an unbroken line of Apostolic succession in the Roman
Catholic Church, for 265 Papacies, from number 1, Peter, to number 265,
Benedict XVI (although Peter and the first few were not called “Pope.”)
Every single Bishop has received a laying on of hands from other
Bishops, tracing back to the blessing of Jesus in the upper room, when
He breathed on them, and said receive the Holy Spirit (Jn. 20:22.)
The first thing to remember is that the teachings of Jesus Christ to His chosen Apostles were heard, not read. He spoke; He did not write. The Bible didn't exist yet. It would be long after His Ascension into Heaven that they would begin gathering their own letters and writing the four Gospels that would comprise the Bible, as we know it today.
The Apostles had to remember what had been taught, and do it through multiple generations, for everything that was taught was not written down.
An impossible task for mere men; yet nothing is impossible with God.
Blessed be the Holy Spirit, and blessed be God forever.
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