Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trinity Sunday: the creed of St Athanasius

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

I always begin my sermons with that prayer, but it seems of particular relevance that I do so today, Trinity Sunday. I have been told by some of my brother priests that they approach this Sunday with a certain amount of trepidation … the doctrine of the Trinity is no easy one to do justice to, especially in the limited amount of words available to a preacher in a sermon. Why should it be otherwise? The formulation of that doctrine took place over many centuries & it is no easy task to squeeze it into a few sentences  And even more challenging is the worry of saying something that will set someone off on the wrong track …

So I thought it no bad thing to turn to the experts on this, and look at our third creed this Sunday … and I'm sure that all of you are aware that we as a Church have three creeds: the Apostles', which we read at services such as the Daily Offices; the Nicene, which we use during celebrations of the Holy Eucharist; and the Creed of St Athanasius which is to be found on page 771 of your prayer books.

Now St Athanasius probably didn't write this creed himself; but it was given his name to honour his tireless championing of orthodox doctrine in this matter, particularly in fighting against the Arian heresy which denied the full divinity of Christ. It was a time of itching ears, when many were not willing to listen to sound doctrine, and for a time it seemed as if all were against him. For this reason, he is sometimes known as Athanasius Contra Mundum – Athanasius against the world. But the truth will not be suppressed; the heresy was beaten back, for which reason Athanasius was called by St. Gregory of Nazianzus the 'Pillar of the Church'; and why he is also known as the Father of Orthodoxy and is counted as one of the four great doctors of the Eastern Church.

As I said, the Creed attributed to him was almost certainly not written by him, but his name was attached because it was seen as the perfect expression of the Trinitarian doctrine he devoted his life to defending. And as such, I think it no bad thing to read it on this Trinity Sunday. The language may be difficult; the mysteries it seeks to express certainly are. But there is probably no better short expression of the Trinitarian faith which is at the heart of what it is that we believe. God has chosen to reveal himself to us in Trinity; and though we struggle to understand it, it is a struggle we must continue with, as we seek to draw ever closer to he who created us. And the Creed of St Athanasius is certainly a wonderful way of continuing that struggle.

the creed of St Athanasius 
Whosoever will be saved, 
before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one 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 Essence. 
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 coeternal. 
Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. 
The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. 
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 infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. 
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 are 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 before, or after another; 
none is greater, or less than another. 
But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. 
So that in all things, as aforesaid; 
the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation; 
that he also believe faithfully 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 Essence of the Father; 
begotten before the worlds; 
and Man, of the Essence 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 is God and Man; 
yet he is not two, but one Christ. 
One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; 
but by assumption of the Manhood by God. 
One altogether; not by confusion of Essence; 
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 God the Father Almighty, 
from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. 
At whose coming all men will 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 truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.



  1. The best homilies are always on Trinity Sunday!!

    1. Thanks M ... although I'm sure you mean that the other homilies you have heard have been great, rather than that this is a great homily!

  2. I'm embarrassed to admit I've never read this the whole way through (until today, that is!). I knew of it, but I had no idea the intricacy and detail he went into with it. Wow. Thanks so much for sharing it!


    1. Thanks Gina ... for my own part, even though I know that it tends to be little read these days, I actually love it ... it is so clearly thought through & such a fantastic expression not only of the Trinity but also a wonderful Christological statement as well ... Oh, & happy anniversary again!