Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article VIII

Article VIII.

Of the Three Creeds.

THE Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’ Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.

De Tribus Symbolis.

SYMBOLA tria, Nicenum, Athanasii, et quod vulgo Apostolorum appellatur, omnino recipienda sunt, et credenda, nam firmissimis Scripturarum testimoniis probari possunt.

[The American Article reads, “The Nicene Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed,” &c. There is no mention, therefore, of “the Creed of Athanasius,” and, correspondently, it does not appear in our Service.

That our Church accepts the Athanasian definition is placed beyond doubt, by the declaration in the Preface to the Prayer Book, that we do not intend to depart “from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine;” by the retention of the Preface for Trinity Sunday in the office for Holy Communion, and by the adoption of the first five Articles.

That she is not singular in omitting the Athanasian Symbol from her public worship, is proved by the fact that it does not occur in the authorized formularies of the Orthodox Greek Church. And these two facts must, it would seem, place her beyond any well-grounded charge of unsoundness, or even carelessness, on such a vital point.

Bishop White’s “Memoirs” show, that all these considerations were present to the minds of the Bishops — White and Seabury — who composed the House of Bishops in 1789. Whether they were equally present to the minds of the other House is, to say the least, uncertain. That body was very strenuous in its opposition, refusing to allow the insertion of the Creed — or, as it should rather be called, Hymn — at all, even with the provision that it might be used or omitted at discretion. This refusal the New England clergy, not without reason, considered intolerant. The difficulty probably arose from those clauses which even Dr. Waterland thought might be separated from the symbol itself. — J. W.]

Section I. — Of Creeds in General.

THE Church, after having defined the authority to which she appeals for the truth of her doctrines, proceeds to require belief in those formularies of faith which from very early times had been in constant use in the Church universal, and that upon the principle already laid down, namely, that they are in strict accordance with holy Scripture.

It seems generally admitted that the probable origin of Creeds is to be traced to the form or confession of faith, which was propounded to the Catechumens previously to their baptism. In the Scriptures such forms appear to have been brief. Our Lord commanded that men should be baptized “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” and perhaps a confession in some such simple form as, “I believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost,” was all that was at first required. Indeed, Philip required of the Eunuch no more than a profession of a belief that “Jesus Christ was the Son of God.”[1] It is probable that the Apostles and their immediate disciples used several Creeds, differing in form, though not in substance. Hence, no certain form existing, all Churches were at liberty to make their own Creed, as they did their own liturgies, not being tied to a particular form of words, so long as they kept to the analogy of faith and doctrine delivered by the Apostles. Then, as heretics arose who denied the fundamental doctrines of the faith, the Creeds became gradually enlarged, to guard the truth from their insidious designs and false expositions.

Dr. Grabe, who examined the question as to what forms were used even in the Apostles’ days, came to a conclusion that all the Articles in the Creed commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, were in use in the Apostolic Confessions of faith, with the exception of these three, “The Communion of Saints,” “the Holy Catholic Church,” and “the descent into Hell.”[2]

Many confessions of faith are to be found, nearly corresponding with the Creeds which we now possess, in the writings of the earliest fathers. For example, in Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, the Apostolic Constitutions.[3] We have also Creeds of several different Churches preserved to us, agreeing in substance, but slightly varying in form; as the Creed of Jerusalem, Cæsarea, Alexandria, Antioch, Aquileia,[4] &c. But until the time of the Council of Nice, there does not appear to have been any one particular Creed, which prevailed universally, in exactly the same words, and commended by the same universal authority.

The prevalence, however, of some authoritative standard in the Church, although varied by diversity of expression, is apparent from the language of many of the earliest Christian writers. Thus, Irenæus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and others, speak of a “Canon, or rule of faith, according to which we believe in one God Almighty, and in Jesus Christ, His Son, &c.” And it is quite clear that this Κανὼν ἀληθείας or Regula fidei, was no other than the Creed of the Church, expressed in a regular formulary.[5]

The commonest name by which the Creed was designated, was that of Σύμβολον or Symbolum. The meaning of the term is confessedly obscure. (1) It has been said to have arisen from the fact that the twelve Apostles met together, and each contributed (συνέβολον) one article to the Creed; hence called Symbolum, or collation. (2) It has been said to mean a Collation, or Epitome of Christian doctrine. (3) It has been supposed to be, like the Tessera Militaris among the Roman soldiers, a symbol, or sign, by which the soldiers of the Cross were distinguished from heathens or heretics. (4) It has been thought again that it was borrowed from the Military oath (sacramentum), by which the Roman soldiers bound themselves to serve their general.[6] (5) And lastly, Lord King has suggested that it may have been borrowed from the religious services of the ancient heathens, who gave to those who were initiated into their mysteries certain signs or marks (symbola), whereby they knew one another, and were distinguished from the rest of the world.[7]

It is not very easy to decide which of these five senses may with most propriety be attached to the word. The first is the least probable, inasmuch as the tradition on which it rests appears not to have existed before the fourth century.[8]

The word “Creed,” by which these ancient formularies of faith are designated in English, is derived from the word Credo, with which the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds commence.

Section II. — The Apostles’ Creed.

RUFINUS mentions a tradition, handed down from ancient times, that, after our Lord’s ascension, the Apostles, having received the gift of tongues, and a command to go and preach to all nations, when about to depart from one another, determined to appoint one rule of preaching, that they should not set forth diverse things to their converts. Accordingly, being met together, and inspired by the Holy Ghost, they drew up the Apostles’ Creed, contributing to the common stock what each one thought good.[9] The author of the Sermons de Tempore, improperly ascribed to Augustine,[10] tells us that “Peter said, I believe in God the Father Almighty; John said, Maker of Heaven and earth; James said, And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Andrew said, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; Philip said, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; Thomas said, He descended into Hell, the third day He rose again from the dead; Bartholomew said, He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; Matthew said, From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead; James the son of Alphæus said, I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church; Simon Zelotes said, The Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins; Jude the brother of James said, The Resurrection of the Flesh; Matthias concluded with, The Life Everlasting.”

The principal objections to the truth of these traditions, which are fatal to the last, and nearly fatal to the other, are these: — First, that Rufinus himself tells us, that the article of the descent into hell was not in the Roman (i. e. the Apostles’), nor in the Eastern Creeds. It has been proved by Archbishop Usher and Bishop Pearson, that this statement is true; and also, that two other articles, “the Communion of Saints” and “the Life Everlasting,” were wanting in the more ancient Creeds. Secondly, the formation and existence of the Creed is not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, nor in any of the more ancient fathers or Councils; which is most extraordinary, if any such formulary was known to have existed, a formulary which would have had the full authority of Scripture itself, and would therefore, probably, have been continually appealed to, especially in Councils, where new confessions of faith were composed.

Thirdly, it is plain that the ancient Creeds, though alike in substance, were not alike in words; which could never have been the case, if one authoritative form had been handed down from the Apostles.[11]

Fourthly, we may add to this, that the ancients scrupulously avoided committing the Creed to writing; and it is hardly probable, if there was in the Church a deposit so precious as a Creed drawn up by the Apostles, that it would have been left to the uncertainty of oral tradition, or that, if it were so left, it would have been preserved in its perfect integrity.[12]

But though this Creed was not drawn up by the Apostles themselves, it may well be called Apostolic, both as containing the doctrines taught by the Apostles, and as being in substance the same as was used in the Church from the times of the Apostles themselves. This will appear to any one who will compare it with the various ancient forms preserved in the works of the most ancient fathers, and which may be seen in Bingham, Wall, and other well-known writers already referred to.[13]

It was, no doubt, “the work neither of one man nor of one day;” yet it is probable that the Apostles themselves used a form in the main agreeing with the Creed as we now have it, except that the articles concerning the descent into hell, the communion of saints, and the life everlasting, were most likely of later origin. The form indeed was never committed to writing, but, being very short, was easily retained in the memory, and taught to the catechumens, to be repeated by them at their baptism. It differed in different Churches in some verbal particulars, and was reduced to more regular form, owing to the necessity of guarding against particular errors. The form most nearly corresponding to that now called the Apostles’ Creed, was the Creed of the Church of Rome; though even that Creed lacked the three clauses mentioned above.[14] And it is an opinion, not without great probability, that the reason why it was called Apostles’ Creed was, that the Church of Rome being the only Church in the West which could undeniably claim an Apostle for its founder, its see was called the Apostolic See, and hence its Creed was called the Apostolic Creed.[15]

It is hardly necessary here to enter into any exposition, or proof from Scripture of the different clauses of the Apostles’ Creed. Most of them occur in the Articles of the Church of England. The few which are not expressed in them may be more profitably considered in regular treatises on the Creed, than in a necessarily brief exposition of the Articles.

Section III. — The Nicene Creed.

WHEN the Council of Nice met, A. D. 325, summoned by the authority of the Emperor Constantine, Eusebius, Bishop of Cæsarea in Palestine, recited to the assembled fathers the Creed, which he professed to have received from the bishops which were before him, into which he had been baptized, even as he had learned from the Scriptures, and such as in his episcopate he had believed and taught. The form of it was as follows: —

“We believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God of God, Light of Light, Life of Life, the only-begotten Son, begotten before every creature (Πρωτότοκον πάσης κτίσεως, Col. i. 15); begotten of the Father before all worlds, by whom all things were made; who for our salvation was made flesh, and conversed among men, and suffered and rose again the third day, and ascended to the Father, and shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead. And we believe in the Holy Ghost.”

This confession of faith both Constantine and the assembled bishops unanimously received; and it should seem that this would have been all that was required. But Arius himself, soon after the Council, A. D. 328, delivered a Creed to the Emperor, which was unobjectionable, if viewed by itself, but which studiously omitted anything which might have led him either to express or to abjure his most heretical opinions;[16] namely, that there was a time when the Son of God was not, that He was made out of nothing, and that He was not of one substance with the Father. This shows that there was an absolute necessity that the Council should word its Confession of faith, not only so as to express the belief of sound Christians, but also so as to guard against the errors of the Arians. Accordingly, the symbol set forth by the Council was in these words: —

“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only-begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father ; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, Begotten, not made; being of one substance with the Father: by whom all things were made, both things in Heaven and things in earth; who, for us men and for our salvation, came down, and was incarnate, and was made man: He suffered, and rose again the third day: and ascended into Heaven: and shall come again to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost.

“And those who say that there was a time when he was not; or that before He was begotten, He was not; or that He was made out of nothing; or who say that the Son of God is of any other substance, or that He is changeable or unstable, these the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes.”[17]

The Nicene Creed thus set forth, and the decrees of the Council against Arius, were received by the whole Church throughout the world, and thus marked by the stamp of Catholicity. Athanasius, in A. D. 363, informs us, that all the Churches in the world, whether in Europe, Asia, or Africa, approved of the Nicene faith, except a few persons who followed Arius.[18]

It appears to many that this Creed of the Council of Nice was but an abridgment of the Creed commonly used in many parts of the Church, and that the reason why it extended no further than to the Article, “I believe in the Holy Ghost,” was, because it was intended to lay a stress on those Articles concerning our Lord, to which the heresy of Arius was opposed. Epiphanius, who wrote his Anchorate some time before the Council of Constantinople, says, that every catechumen repeated at his baptism, from the time of the Council of Nice to the tenth year of Valentinian and Valens, A. D. 373, a Creed in the following words: —

“We believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible: and in the Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, that is of the substance of His Father, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, both things in Heaven and things on earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and ascended into Heaven; and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

“And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. And in one Catholic and Apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, We look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the Life of the world to come. Amen.

“And those who say there was a time when He was not, or that He was made out of nothing, or from some other substance or essence, or say that the Son of God is liable to flux or change, those the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes.”

This Creed Epiphanius speaks of as handed down from the Apostles, and received in the Church, having been set forth by more than 310 Bishops (the number at Nice being 318).[19]

It has also been observed that Cyril of Jerusalem, who died A. D. 386, and delivered his Catechetical Lectures early in his life, in the eighteenth lecture repeats the following Articles, as part of the Creed: — “In one Baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, and in one Holy Catholic Church; and in the Resurrection of the flesh; and in eternal Life.”[20]

We must infer then, either that a larger, as well as a shorter Creed was put forth at Nice, such as Epiphanius has recorded, or that such a longer form had existed of old time, and that the Council only specified those parts which bore particularly on the controversy of the day; or, lastly, that shortly after the Council of Nice the Nicene fathers, or some of them, or others who had high authority, enlarged and amplified the Nicene symbol, and that this enlarged form obtained extensively in the Church.[21]

The Council of Constantinople met A. D. 381, consisting of 150 fathers. Their principal object was to condemn the Macedonian heresy, which denied the Deity of the Spirit of God. They accordingly put forth an enlarged edition of the Creed of the Council of Nice. It agreed almost word for word with the Creed of Epiphanius, the only omission being of the following clauses, “that is of the substance of His Father,” and “both things in Heaven and things in earth;” which were already fully expressed in other words.

The chief clauses contained in this Creed, which do not occur in the Creed as put forth by the Council of Nice, are as follows: —

“Begotten of the Father before all worlds,” “By the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,” “Was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and was buried,” “Sitteth on the right hand of the Father,” “Whose kingdom shall have no end;” and all those clauses which follow the words “We believe in the Holy Ghost.”

The most important of these expressions is “the Lord, and Giver of life” (τὸ Κύριον καὶ τὸ ζωοποιὸν). The Arians spoke of Him as a creature. The Macedonians called Him a ministering spirit. In opposition to these, in the Creed of Constantinople, after an expression of belief in the Holy Spirit τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον is added τὸ Κύριον, “the Lord.” This was in allusion to 2 Cor. iii. 17, 18, where the Spirit is spoken of as the Lord (i. e. JEHOVAH); and is called “The Lord the Spirit;”[22] and therefore in this Creed He is called τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Κύριον, “the Spirit, which is the LORD.”[23]

It is unnecessary to repeat here what was said in the History of the fifth Article, concerning the famous addition of the Filioque; which was the chief cause of the schism of the Eastern and Western Churches.

The Creed of Constantinople was solemnly confirmed by the third general Council, the Council of Ephesus, A. D. 431; whose seventh Canon decrees that “No one shall be permitted to introduce, write, or compose any other faith, besides that which was defined by the holy fathers assembled in the city of Nice with the Holy Ghost.”[24]

It is said that the first to introduce the Constantinopolitan Creed into the Liturgy was Peter Fullo, Patriarch of Antioch, about the year 471; and that he ordered it to be repeated in every assembly of the Church.[25] It is further said, that Timotheus, Bishop of Constantinople, first brought the same custom into the Church of Constantinople, about A. D. 511.[26] From the East the custom passed into the Western Churches, and was first adopted in Spain by the Council of Toledo, about A. D. 589, when that Church was newly recovered from an inundation of Arianism. The Roman Church appears to have been the last to receive it, as some say, not before A. D. 1014; though others have assigned, with probability, an earlier date.[27]

Section IV. — The Creed of St. Athanasius.

I. THE original of this, as of the Apostles’ Creed, is obscure.

In former times, many learned men believed it to have been composed by Athanasius, when he was at Rome, and offered by him to Pope Julius, as a confession of his faith. This was the opinion of Baronius, and in it he was followed by Cardinal Bona, Petavius, Bellarmine, Rivet, and many others of both the Roman and the reformed communions.[28] The first who entered critically into an examination of the question of its authorship, was Gerard Vossius, in his work De Tribus Symbolis, A. D. 1642; who threw strong doubts on the received opinion, having given good reason to believe that this Creed was the work, not of Athanasius, but of some Latin writer, probably much posterior to Athanasius. Indeed he did not set it higher than A. D. 600. He was followed by Archbishop Usher, who in his tract De Symbolis (A. D. 1647) produced new evidence, of which Vossius was ignorant, agreed with him in denying it to Athanasius, but scrupled not to assign it a date prior to the year 447.

In the year 1675, Paschasius Quesnel, a learned French divine, published the works of Pope Leo, with some dissertations of his own. In the fourteenth of these, he discusses the authorship of this Creed, and assigns it to Vigilius Tapsensis, an African Bishop, who lived in the latter end of the fifth century, in the time of the Arian persecution by the Vandals. His arguments have so prevailed as to carry a majority of learned writers with him; amongst whom may be mentioned, Cave, Dupin, Pagi, Natalis Alexander, Bingham.

The principal arguments against the authorship of Athanasius, and in favour of Vigilius, are thus summed up by the last-mentioned writer, Bingham.[29] “First, because this Creed is wanting in almost all the MSS. of Athanasius’ works. Secondly, because the style and contexture of it does not bespeak a Greek, but a Latin author. Thirdly, because neither Cyril of Alexandria, nor the Council of Ephesus, nor Pope Leo, nor the Council of Chalcedon, have even so much as mentioned it in all they say against the Nestorian or Eutychian heresies. Fourthly, because this Vigilius is known to have published several others of his writings under the borrowed name of Athanasius, with which this Creed is commonly joined.”[30]

In 1693, Joseph Antelmi, a learned divine of Paris, in his Dissertatio de Symbolo Athanasiano, attacked with great success the opinion of Quesnel, and ascribed the Creed to Vincentius Lirinensis, who flourished in Gaul, A. D. 434.

His arguments appear to have produced considerable effect on the learned world. The famous Tillemont (1697) commends the performance of Antelmi, though still inclining to Quesnel’s opinion. Montfaucon (1698) is convinced that the Creed is not the work of Athanasius nor Vigilius, nor is he convinced that it is due to Vincentius; but thinks there is great reason to conclude, that it was the work of a Gallican writer or writers, about the time of Vincentius. In like manner, Muratori, a famous Italian writer (1698), commends the opinion of Antelmi, as nearest to the truth.[31]

Lastly, our learned Dr. Waterland, in his valuable History of the Athanasian Creed, having given an account of the opinions of his predecessors, brings many strong arguments to prove that the writer was Hilary, who became Bishop of Arles, A. D. 429, and that he, in all probability, put forth this creed, when he first entered his diocese.

The arguments, by which the time and place in which this Creed was written have been pretty certainly arrived at, may be classed under two heads: 1 External; 2 Internal Proofs.

1. External Proofs are as follows: —

A. D. 670. (1) We have ancient testimonies as early as the Council of Autun, A. D. 670, where this Creed is enjoined to be recited by the clergy. After this, Regino, Abbot of Prom in Germany, A. D. 760. The Council of Frankfort, A. D. 794. Theodulph, Bishop of Orleans, A. D. 809. Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, A. D. 852, &c.

A. D. 570. (2) There is an ancient commentary, as early as A. D. 570, by Venantius Fortunatus, an Italian, who became Bishop of Poictiers. Afterwards commentaries by Hincmar, Bishop of Rheims, A. D. 852; Bruno, Bishop of Warzburgh in Germany, A. D. 1033; the famous Abelard, 1120, &c.

A. D. 600. (3) There are MSS. as early as the seventh century, and one was found in the Cotton Library by Archbishop Usher, as early as A. D. 600; though this has since disappeared. This is a very early date, considering how few MSS., even of the most ancient writers, are much earlier.

A. D. 850. (4) There are French versions of the year 850; German, 870; Anglo-Saxon, 930; Greek, 1200, &c.

A. D. 550. (5) The reception of this Creed may be shown to have been in Gaul, as early as A. D. 550; Spain, 630; Germany, 787; England, 800; Italy, 880; Rome, 930.

From these considerations we trace the Creed to the middle of the sixth century, when it appears to have been well known, commented on, and treated with great respect; and that more especially in the churches of Gaul.

2. The Internal Evidences are these: —

Not before A. D. 370. (1) It was clearly written after the rise of the Apollinarian heresy; for the Creed is full, clear, and minute in obviating all the cavils of that heresy concerning the incarnation of Christ.[32] This heresy arose about A. D. 360, and grew to a head about A. D. 370. Epiphanius marks the time when Creeds began to be enlarged in opposition to Apollinarianism, namely, A. D. 373,[33] about which year Athanasius died.

Not before A. D. 416. (2) The Creed appears to have adopted several of St. Augustine’s expressions and modes of reasoning. Now he wrote his books on the Trinity about A. D. 416. Especially this Creed contains the famous Filioque; and Augustine was the first who brought the doctrine of the Procession from the Son prominently forward; whence he has been charged by the Greeks with being the father of that doctrine. This would make it probable that the Creed was not written much before A. D. 420.

Before A. D. 451. (3) It appears, however, to have been written before the rise of the Eutychians; for there is not a word plainly expressing the two natures of Christ, and excluding one nature; which critical terms are rarely or never omitted in the Creeds after the Eutychian times. Nay, though this Creed does in effect oppose this, as well as other heresies, there are expressions in it, which, it has been thought, might have been laid hold of by Eutyches in his favour, and therefore would not have been written after his heresy had arisen; e. g. “One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God.” This might have been perverted to prove the Eutychian dogma, that Christ’s manhood was converted into and absorbed in His Godhead. Again, “As the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.” The Eutychians might have argued from this clause, that, as body and soul make up the one nature of man, so God and man in Christ made one nature also.

Hence it is concluded that this Creed was written before the Council of Chalcedon, where Eutyches was condemned, A. D. 451.

Before A. D. 431. (4) It was probably before the spread of the Nestorian heresy. It is certain that this Creed does not condemn Nestorianism in the full, direct, and critical terms which Catholics made use of against that heresy. There is nothing about the Deipara in it, or about one Son only in opposition to two Sons, or about God being born, or suffering and dying. But such terms ever occur in Creeds drawn up, or writings directed against Nestorianism. And though terms occur in it which may be held to condemn both Eutychianism and Nestorianism, yet they are not stronger than were used by those who, before the rise of both these heresies, wrote against the Apollinarians, whose doctrine bore considerable resemblance in some points to that of Eutyches, and the maintainers of which often charged the Catholics with something very like the doctrine afterwards held by Nestorius. Hence, in the Apollinarian controversy, the fathers were often led to condemn, by anticipation, both Nestorius and Eutyches. If this reasoning be correct, the Athanasian Creed must have been written before the Council of Ephesus, where Nestorianism was condemned A. D. 431.

Thus the internal evidence leads us to conclude, that the Athanasian Creed was, in all probability, composed between A. D. 420 and A. D. 431.

As to the place where it was made, evidence tends to show that it was Gaul.

(1) It seems to have been received first in Gaul. (2) It was held in great esteem by Gallican councils and bishops. (3) It was first admitted into the Gallican Psalter. (4) The oldest versions of it, commentaries on it, citations from it, and testimonies to it, are Gallican, or connected with Gaul. (5) The greatest number of the manuscripts of it, and those of greatest antiquity, are found in Gaul.

From such arguments as these, it has been concluded, with the greatest probability, that this Creed was written in France, and at some time in the interval between A. D. 420 and 431.[34]

The authorship of it then must be assigned to some person or persons, who flourished at this period in the church of Gaul.

Now Vincentius Lirinensis and Hilary of Arles both were Gallican divines, and both flourished at the required time.

Vincentius was a writer of great celebrity and judgment, and his works contained thoughts and expressions which bear a great similarity to the expressions in the Athanasian Creed. It is true his famous work, the Commonitorium, is assigned to the date 434, i. e. a few years later than the probable date of the Athanasian Creed; but there seems no reason why he should not have written the Creed before the Commonitorium.

On the other hand, it is argued by Dr. Waterland, that Hilary was a bishop, which Vincentius was not; and such a work appears much fitter for a bishop than for a private presbyter. He was made a bishop A. D. 429, which falls exactly within the limits assigned for the date of the Creed; and what more likely than that he should have set it forth when he entered on his diocese? He is spoken of as a man of great powers. His writings are said to have been small tracts, but extremely fine; and Honoratus of Marseilles, who wrote his Life, says that he wrote an excellent Exposition of the Creed; which is the proper title for the work in question, a work which was rarely called a Creed (Symbolum) by the ancients. Again, he was a great admirer of St. Augustine (in all but his views of predestination), whence we may account for the similarity of the expressions in this Creed to the language of that father. The resemblance, which is traced to the language of Vincentius, may have resulted from the fact that Hilary and Vincentius were not only contemporaries, but had been inmates, about the same time, of the same monastery at Lerins; that so Vincentius might borrow expressions from Hilary, to whom he would be likely to look up with respect. Lastly, the style of this Creed answers well to what is told us of the style and character of Hilary.

To conclude: whether we assign the Athanasian Creed to Hilary or Vincentius, or to both or neither of them, it was pretty certainly the work of some Gallican writer in the beginning of the fifth century. It was very probably called Athanasian because it clearly expressed the doctrines which Athanasius so ably defended; and because, when Arianism was rife in Gaul, as it was soon after the publication of this Creed, the Arians very probably called the Catholics Athanasians, and the Creed, which especially and most fully expressed their doctrines, the Athanasian Creed.[35]

II. The particular value of this Creed consists in this, that it guards the doctrine of the Trinity and of the Incarnation against the various heretical subtilties by which it has been explained away: and although it may be argued that most of these heresies are ancient, and therefore out of date, it is far from being true that they may never recur. Arianism, Sabellianism, Apollinarianism, against which it seems chiefly to have been directed, have all been revived in late times; even Nestorian and Eutychian doctrines, which the Creed, as it were, anticipates and condemns, have been more or less approved in our days. And although none of these errors were openly professed, yet the loose way in which many modern writers on Theology often express themselves requires to be restrained by something like the Creed in question, which, by its accurate language, is calculated to produce accuracy of thought.

Even then, if some people may think the damnatory clauses, as they are called, unduly strong, yet the occurrence of one or two strong expressions should not so far weigh with us as to induce us to wish the removal of this confession of our faith from the formularies of the Church. It is, in the main, unquestionably true, that he who, having the means of learning the truth of Christ, shall yet reject and disbelieve it, shall on that account be condemned. It is probable that the damnatory clauses in the Creed of Athanasius mean no more than the words of our Lord, “He that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark xvi. 16). What allowance is to be made for involuntary ignorance, prejudice, or other infirmities, is one of those secret things which belong only to the Lord our God; concerning which we may hope, but cannot pronounce. The Gospel declares that unbelief in the truth shall be a cause of condemnation; and the Church is therefore justified in saying the same. The extreme earnestness and, as to some it seems, harshness, with which the Creed expresses it, resulted from the imminent danger, at the time it was composed, from the most noxious heresy, and the need there was to hedge round the faith of the Church, as it were, with thorns and briers. If we think such language unnecessarily severe, still we must remember that nothing human is free from some mark of human infirmity, and should be slow to doubt the value of a Catholic exposition of the Faith, because one or two expressions seem unsuited to modern phraseology.

The meaning and importance of the different clauses will be best appreciated by observing what errors they respectively opposed. Thus, let us begin with ver. 4: “Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.” The Patripassians and Sabellians confounded the Persons; the Arians divided the Substance of the Godhead. After this, the next 14 verses, down to “yet not three Lords, but one Lord,” seem principally designed to oppose the Arian heresy, which denied the homo-ousion. Accordingly they declare that in the Holy Trinity there are Three, with a distinction of Person, but with an Unity of Substance or Essence; so that, though it is lawful to say that the Father, Son, and Spirit, are distinct Persons, and that each Person is Lord, God, Almighty, uncreated, and incomprehensible, yet it is not lawful to say that there are three Gods, three Lords, three Almighties, three Uncreated, or three Incomprehensibles.[36]

The 19th verse concludes this portion of the Creed, in the words, “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.” Now the former part of this clause has been supposed by some to speak, so that we might infer from it, that any one Person in the Trinity, by Himself, would constitute the whole Godhead. This, however, is far from being the real or natural sense of the passage. The meaning is this: Each Person in the Trinity is essentially God. And we must not view God as we would a material being, as though the Godhead could be divided into three different parts, which three united together made up one whole, and so imagine that the Father alone was not God, but required to have the Son and the Spirit added to Him in order to make up the Godhead. No! The spiritual unity of the three Blessed Persons in the Trinity is far closer, more intimate, and more real, than that unity by which parts make up a whole. Each by Himself, or considered alone, must be confessed to be God; and yet all make not up three Gods, but are One in Essence, and therefore but one God.

The next four verses are opposed to those who confounded the Persons of the Godhead, making the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost not only one God, but one Person. And they state the relations of the Son to the Father, and of the Holy Ghost to both of them.

The 23d verse runs thus: “So there is one Father, not three Fathers: One Son, not three Sons; One Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.” It may be asked here, of what use is this clause? Did any heretics ever teach that there were three Fathers, or three Sons, or three Holy Ghosts? The answer is, Those who asserted that there were three unoriginated principles (τρεῖς ἄναρχοι), were considered to teach virtually that there were three Fathers, or three Sons, or three Holy Ghosts, or a Trinity of Trinities. Thus one of the Apostolical Canons is directed against presbyters, who should baptize “in three unoriginated principles, or in three Sons, or in three Paracletes, or in three Holy Ghosts.” The Council of Bracara denounces those who shall say, “as the Gnostics and Priscillianists, that there is a Trinity of Trinities.” And Pope Vigilius decrees, that, if any “baptize in one Person of the Trinity, or in two, or in three Fathers, or in three Sons, or in three Comforters,” he should be cast out of the Church.[37]

The Creed from verse 27 treats of the Incarnation, and excludes the various heretical opinions on this subject.

Some denied that Christ was God, as the Ebionites, Arians, &c. Others denied that He was Man; as the Gnostics, the Apollinarians, and afterwards the Eutychians. Especially the Apollinarians denied that He was perfect man, having both a reasonable soul and human flesh besides His Godhead, ver. 30.

Again, the Apollinarians charged the Catholics with saying that Christ was two, since they assigned Him a human soul as well as a Divine Spirit. Therefore the Creed adds, that, “though He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ,” — a clause which afterwards was suitable to oppose the Nestorians, who held that there were two Persons united in Christ, ver. 32.

Once more, the Apollinarians made the Godhead of Christ act the part of a soul to His Manhood; which was virtually converting the Godhead into flesh.[38] The true doctrine is, not that God was changed into man, but that the Word of God took human nature into union with His Godhead. Therefore the Creed says, “One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God,” ver. 33.

Again, the Apollinarians made a “confusion of substance” in Christ, for they confounded His Godhead and His Manhood; as the Eutychians did afterwards, inasmuch as they made His Godhead act the part of His human soul. Therefore says the Creed “One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of Person,” i. e. by uniting both natures in one Person, ver. 34. And this is further explained, that, as in the ordinary man there are two different substances, body and soul, united in one, so in Christ two different natures, God and Man, are intimately united, yet not confounded together, ver. 35: “As the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ.”

Thus the principal clauses of the Creed are drawn up, to obviate the principal errors on the two chief doctrines of the Christian faith. If such errors had never arisen, the accurate language of the Creed would have been useless. But when dangers have been shown to exist, opposition to them seems inevitably forced upon the Church. Peace is infinitely to be desired, but it is better to contend for the faith than to lose it.


1. Symbolum Apostolorum.

Πιστεύω εἰς τὸν Θεὸν Πατέρα παντοκράτορα ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς, καὶησοῦν Χριστὸν Υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν. τὸν συλληϕθέντα ἐκ Πνεύματοςγίου, γεννηθέντα ἐκ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου, παθόντα ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου, σταυρωθέντα, θανόντα, καὶ ταϕέντα, κατελθόντα εἰς ᾅδου, τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ ἀναστάντα ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανοὺς, καθεζόμενον ἐν δεξιᾷ Θεοῦ Πατρὸς παντοδυνάμου, ἐκεῖθεν ἐρχόμενον κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς. Πιστεύω εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον, ἁγίαν καθολικὴν ἐκκλησίαν, ἁγίων κοινωνίαν, ἄϕεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν, σαρκὸς ἀνάστασιν, ζωὴν αἰώνιον. Ἀμήν.

2. Symbolum Constantinopol.

Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν, Πατέρα παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς, ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων. Καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριονησοῦν Χριστὸν, τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ μονογενῆ, τὸν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων· ϕῶς ἐκ ϕῶτος, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ. γεννηθέντα, οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί· δἰ οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο, τὸν δἰ ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν, κατελθόντα ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν, καὶ σαρκωθέντα ἐκ Πνεύματος ἁγίου, καὶ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου, καὶ ἐνανθρωπήσαντα· σταυρωθέντα τε ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου, καὶ παθόντα, καὶ ταϕέντα, καὶ ἀναστάντα τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ κατὰ τὰς γραϕάς· καὶ ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανοὺς, καὶ καθεζόμενον ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ Πατρὸς, καὶ πάλιν ἐρχόμενον μετὰ δοξῆς κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς· οὗ τῆς βασιλείας οὐκ ἔσται τέλος. Καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον, τὸ Κύριον, καὶ τὸ ζωοποιὸν, τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον, τὸ σὺν Πατρὶ καὶ Υἱῷ συμπροσκυνούμενον, καὶ συνδοξαζόμενον, τὸ λαλῆσαν διὰ τῶν προϕητῶν. Εἰς μίαν ἁγίαν καθολικὴν καὶ ἀποστολικὴν ἐκκλησίαν·ὁμολογοῦμεν ἕν βαπτίσμα εἰς ἄϕεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν, προσδοκώμεν ἀνάστασιν νεκρῶν, καὶ ζωὴν τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος. Ἀμήν.

3. Fides Sancti Athanasii.

1. Quicunque vult salvus esse, ante omnia opus est ut teneat Catholicam Fidem.

2. Quam nisi quisque integram inviolatamque servaverit, absque dubio in æternum peribit.

3. Fides autem Catholica hæc est, ut unum Deum in Trinitate, et Trinitatem in Unitate veneremur:

4. Neque confundentes Personas, neque Substantiam separantes.

5. Alia est enim Persona Patris, alia Filii, alia Spiritus Sancti.

6. Sed Patris, et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, una est Divinitas, æqualis Gloria, coæterna Majestas.

7. Qualis Pater, talis Filius, talis et Spiritus Sanctus.

8. Increatus Pater, increatus Filius, increatus et Spiritus Sanctus.

9. Immensus Pater, immensus Filius, immensus et Spiritus Sanctus.

10. Æternus Pater, æternus Filius, æternus et Spiritus Sanctus.

11. Et tamen non tres æterni, sed unus æternus.

12. Sicut non tres increati, nec tres immensi, sed unus increatus, et unus immensus.

13. Similiter, Omnipotens Pater, Omnipotens Filius, Omnipotens et Spiritus Sanctus.

14. Et tamen non tres Omnipotentes, sed unus Omnipotens.

15. Ita Deus Pater, Deus Filius, Deus et Spiritus Sanctus.

16. Et tamen non tres Dii, sed unus est Deus.

17. Ita Dominus Pater, Dominus Filius, Dominus et Spiritus Sanctus.

18. Et tamen non tres Domini, sed unus est Dominus.

19. Quia sicut singillatim unamquamque Personam et Deum et Dominum confiteri Christiana veritate compellimur; ita tres Deos aut Dominos dicere Catholica religione prohibemur.

20. Pater a nullo est factus, nec creatus, nec genitus.

21. Filius a Patre solo est, non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus.

22. Spiritus Sanctus a Patre et Filio, non factus, nec creatus, nec genitus est, sed procedens.

23. Unus ergo Pater, non tres Patres; unus Filius, non tres Filii; unus Spiritus Sanctus, non tres Spiritus Sancti.

24. Et in hac Trinitate nihil prius aut posterius, nihil majus aut minus, sed totæ tres Personæ coæternæ sibi sunt, et coæquales.

25. Ita ut per omnia, sicut jam supra dictum est, et Unitas in Trinitate, et Trinitas in Unitate veneranda sit.

26. Qui vult ergo salvus esse, ita de Trinitate sentiat.

27. Sed necessarium est ad æternam Salutem, ut Incarnationem quoque Domini nostri Jesu Christi fideliter credat.

28. Est ergo Fides recta, ut credamus et confiteamur, quia Dominus noster Jesus Christus, Dei Filius, Deus pariter et Homo est.

29. Deus est ex substantia Patris ante sæcula genitus: Homo, ex substantia Matris in sæculo natus.

30. Perfectus Deus, perfectus Homo ex anima rationali et humana carne subsistens.

31. Æqualis Patri secundum Divinitatem: minor Patre secundum Humanitatem.

32. Qui licet Deus sit et Homo, non duo tamen, sed unus est Christus.

33. Unus autem, non conversione Divinitatis in carnem, sed assumptione Humanitatis in Deum.

34. Unus omnino, non confusione Substantiæ, sed unitate Personæ.

35. Nam sicut anima rationalis et caro unus est Homo; ita Deus et Homo unus est Christus.

36. Qui passus est pro salute nostra, descendit ad inferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis.

37. Adscendit ad cœlos, sedet ad dexteram Patris; inde venturus judicare vivos et mortuos.

38. Ad cujus adventum omnes homines resurgere habent cum corporibus suis, et reddituri sunt de factis propriis rationem.

39. Et qui bona egerunt ibunt in vitam æternam, qui vero mala, in ignem æternum.

40. Hæc est Fides Catholica, quam nisi quisque fideliter, firmiterque crediderit, salvus esse non poterit.


  1. See King, On the Creed, p. 33; Wall, On Infant Baptism, II. pt. II. ch. IX. § x. p. 439.
  2. Bingham’s Eccles. Antiq. Bk. x. ch. III. §§ 6, 7. It is not to be supposed, because these Articles do not occur in the most ancient copies of the Creed, that they were therefore of comparatively modern invention. There is abundant testimony to the doctrines expressed by them in the earliest ecclesiastical writings. Evidence of this may be seen as regards one of them, “The descent into Hell,” under Art. III.
  3. These are given at length in Wall, as above; and in Bingham, Bk. x. ch. IV.
  4. See them at length in Bingham, as above.
  5. See Bingham, Bk. x. ch. III. § 2; Bp. Marsh, Lectures, Camb. 1828, p. 470. See also the meaning of the term, “Rule of faith,” discussed under Art. VI.
  6. Symbolum cordis signaculum, et nostræ militiæ sacramentum. — Ambros. Lib. III. De velandis Virginibus, apud Suicer.
  7. Suicer, voc. Σύμβολον. — Bingham, Bk. x. ch. III. King, On the Creed, pp. 6, 11, &c. Wheatley, Dr. Hey, and others have adopted King’s derivation. Bingham totally rejects it.
  8. St. Augustine says, the name was given, “quia symbolum inter se faciunt mercatores, quo eorum societas pacto fidei teneatur. Et vestra societas est commercium spiritualium, ut similes sitis negotiatoribus bonam margaritam quærentibus.” — Serm. CCXII. Oper. Tom. v. p. 985. Paris, 1683.
  9. Rufinus, Expositio in Symb. Apost. ad calcem Cypriani, p. 17, Oxf. 1682; King, p. 24; Bingham, Bk. x. ch. III. § 5. Bingham translates, “each one contributing his sentence.” But Rufinus’s words are “conferendo in unum quod sentiebat unusquisque.”
  10. Serm. De Tempore, 115; Augustini Opera, Paris, 1683, Tom. v. Append. p. 395, Serm. CCXLI.
  11. See Suicer, s. v. Σύμβολον; King, p. 26; Bingham, Bk. x. ch. III. § 5.
  12. See Aug. Opera, Tom. v. p. 938. See also King, p. 31.
  13. Suicer, Bingham, and Wall, as above; Pearson, at the head of every Article in his Exposition of the Creed.
  14. Bingham, Bk. x. ch. III. § 12.
  15. Wall, On Infant Baptism, Part II. ch. IX. p. 472. Oxford, 1835.
  16. Arius’s Creed runs thus: — “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ His Son our Lord, begotten of Him before all ages, God the Word, by whom all things were made that are in Heaven and that are in earth; who descended, and was incarnate, and suffered, and rose again, and ascended into Heaven, and shall come again to judge the quick and the dead: and in the Holy Ghost; and in the resurrection of the flesh, and in the life of the world to come, and in the kingdom of Heaven; And in one Catholic Church of God, from one end of the earth to the other.” — Socr. H. E. Lib. I. c. 26; Suicer, voc. Σύμβολον; Bingham, Bk. x. ch. IV. § 10; Wall, Part IV. ch. IX. p. 453.
  17. The Greek may be seen in Routh’s Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Opuscula, Tom. I. p. 351; and in Suicer, voc. Σύμβολον; also Athanasii Opera, Tom. I. p. 247, Epist. ad Jovian. Colon. 1686.
  18. Καὶ ταύτης σύμψηϕοι τυγχάνουσι πᾶσαι αἱ πανταχοῦ κατὰ τόπον Εκκλήσιαι . . . . πάρεξ ὀλίγων τὰρείου ϕρονούντων. — Epist. ad. Jovian, Tom. I. p. 246. See Palmer, On the Church, Pt. IV. ch. IX.
  19. Epiphanius, In Anchorato, juxta finem; Suicer, s. v. σύμβολον; Bingham, Bk. x. ch. IV. § 15.
  20. Cyril, Catech. XVIII.
  21. See Suicer and Bingham, as above.
  22. ὁ δὲ Κύριος τὸ Πνεῦμα ἐστιν, and ἀπὸ Κυρίου Πνεύματος.
  23. See Wall, On Infant Baptism, II. p. 465.
  24. Beveridge, Synodicon, I. p. 103; Routh’s Opuscula, II. p. 392.
  25. Πέτρον ϕησὶ τὸν κναϕέα ἐπινοῆσαι. . . . καὶ ἐν πάσῃ συνάξει τὸ σύμβολον λεγέσθαι — Theodor. Lector. Hist. Eccles. Lib. II. p. 556, Paris, 1673; Bingham, Bk. x. ch. IV. § 7; Palmer’s Origines Liturgicæ, II. ch. IV. § 6.
  26. Theodor. Lector. p. 563; Bingham and Palmer, as above.
  27. Bingham and Palmer, as above.
  28. Bingham, Bk. x. ch. IV. § 18.
  29. Bingham, as above; Waterland, Hist. of Athanasian Creed, ch. I.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Waterland, as above.
  32. It will be remembered that the Apollinarians denied a human soul to Christ, and said that the Godhead supplied the place of the rational soul. See August. Hæres. 49. Tom. VIII. p. 19.
  33. Epiphanius Anchorat. c. 121, ap. Waterland.
  34. See Waterland, as above.
  35. See Waterland’s History of the Athanasian Creed; Works, IV.
  36. The original of the word “incomprehensible” is “immensus,” i. e. ἄπειρος, boundless, immeasurable, or omnipresent. See Waterland, Hist. of Ath. Cr. Ch. x.; Works, IV. p. 385.
  37. Bingham, E. A. Bk. XI. ch. III. § 4.
  38. Contentiosissime affirmantes, Verbum carnem factum, hoc est, Verbi aliquid in carnem fuisse conversum atque mutatum. — Augustin. Hæres. 55.


E. Harold Browne

(Edward) Harold Browne was an English bishop, born at Aylesbury and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was ordained in 1836, and two years later was elected senior tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. From 1843 to 1849 he was vice-principal of St David’s College, Lampeter, and in 1854 was appointed Norrisian professor of divinity at Cambridge. His best-known book is the Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles (vol. i., Cambridge, 1850; vol. ii., London, 1853), which remained for many years a standard work on the subject and is still beloved today. In 1864 he was consecrated bishop of Ely.

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