Saturday, June 06, 2009

B, Holy Trinity - The Athanasian Creed "We Believe"

Moses stood on Mount Sinai three and a half thousand years ago and saw the burning bush. There he received God's command to go to Pharaoh and seek release of the Israelites. Understandably after Israel hadn't heard from God for four hundred years, Moses asks…
"Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' " God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, 'The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation. (Exodus 3:13-15)
In this generation God has given us his name, I AM. Our almighty God takes the simplest of names; he takes the name of a verb, the most basic of verbs in any language. The verb "AM" is from the verb "to be", and from it we get a family of verbs we use every day: be, am, are, is, was, were, been, and being.
Through the generations after God gave his name to Moses, people have been confessing their faith in the great "I AM". We as believers can use his name as a confession by saying, "HE WAS, HE IS, AND HE WILL BE!" In fact when we say what we believe, it is our creed. A creed is merely — what we believe. The word creed is from the Latin word credo which simply means to believe!
A "was, is, and will be" creed is very short and concise. Even more succinctly one can have a creed that states, "I believe". But one might ask, "What do you believe?" Therefore simple short creeds can confess one's faith in anything and can be open to misinterpretation.
Since the time of Moses, God has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So we confess God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who was, is and will be. In the church right from earliest of days people struggled with articulating what we believe about this three in one God. In the church we name this three the Trinity.
Gaining an understanding of the Trinity and how the three members co-exist is no easy feat. If we keep it at its most basic we might confess the Trinity "IS, WAS, and WILL BE". We might also confess the complexities of the Trinity as being, "One plus One plus One equals One". But because we humans are what we are, the church has had reason to defend what God was, is, and will be. And so today the one holy church has three ecumenical creeds!
The first of these creeds is the Apostles' Creed. Although named such it was not written by the Apostles although it is apostolic (therefore biblical and Christ centred) in its content. It emerged at the beginning of the third century, used in Rome as a baptismal creed. It still functions today as our baptismal creed, containing all the essential articles of the Christian faith necessary for salvation.
Then there is the Nicene Creed which more extensively explains what Jesus Christ, IS, WAS, and WILL BE; that he was, and is "eternally begotten from the Father". In it we also confess the Holy Spirit's being as "proceeding from the Father and the Son". The Nicene Creed in it's earliest form originated from the first ecumenical council at Nicaea in 325, and the form we still use today was approved by the second ecumenical council at Constantinople in 391. Traditionally we, the church, use this ecumenical statement of faith in services of Holy Communion.
Then the third and less known creed is the Athanasian Creed. It was not written by Athanasius but ascribes to where he and others stood against the heresy of Arianism. This is the heresy that Jesus Christ had an origin and therefore is not God as the Father is God. It is believed the Athanasian Creed was written in the second half of the fifth century by an Augustinian theologian.
Today the Athanasian Creed is usually only read on Trinity Sundays in the worship service. It is hard for one to get their head around it in one reading, it is deliberately repetitive to make its point, and statements at the beginning and the end prove to be a stumbling block without proper explanation.
However, in its length we thoroughly confess the Trinity's being and the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Let's hear the Athanasian Creed, keeping in mind that catholic means "the whole church seen and unseen gathered around the throne of God" and not Catholic with a capital "C" as in Roman Catholic.
(Whoever wants to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and inviolate will doubtless perish eternally.)
This (, however,) is the catholic faith: that we worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.
For the person of the Father is one, that of the Son another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another, but the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one - equal in glory, coequal in majesty.
What the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father is uncreated; the Son is uncreated; the Holy Spirit is uncreated. The Father is unlimited; the Son is unlimited; the Holy Spirit is unlimited. The Father is eternal; the Son is eternal; the Holy Spirit is eternal - and yet there are not three eternal beings but one who is eternal, just as there are not three uncreated or unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited. In the same way, the Father is almighty; the Son is almighty; the Holy Spirit is almighty - and yet there are not three almighty beings but one who is almighty.
Thus, the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God - and yet there are not three gods but one God. Thus, the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord - and yet there are not three lords, but one Lord. For just as we are compelled by the Christian truth to confess that each distinct person is God and Lord, so we are forbidden by the catholic religion to say there are three gods or three lords.
The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten by anyone. The Son is from the Father alone, not made or created but begotten. The Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son, not made or created or begotten but proceeding. Therefore there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits. And in this Trinity none is before or after, greater or less than another, but all three persons are in themselves coeternal and coequal, so that (as has been stated above) in all things the Trinity in unity and the Unity in trinity must be worshipped. (Therefore, who wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.)
But it is necessary for eternal salvation that one also faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore it is the true faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at once God and a human being. He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages, and a human being, born from the substance of his mother in this age. He is perfect God and a perfect human being, composed of a rational soul and human flesh. He is equal to the Father with respect to his divinity, less than the Father with respect to his humanity.
Although he is God and a human being, nevertheless he is not two but one Christ. However, he is one not by the changing of the divinity in the flesh but by the taking up of the humanity in God. Indeed, he is one not by a confusion of substance but by a unity of person. For, as the rational soul and the flesh are one human being, so God and the human being are one Christ.
He suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose from the dead, ascended into the heavens, is seated at the right hand of the Father, from where he will come to judge the living and the dead. At his coming all human beings will rise with their bodies and will give an account of their own deeds. Those who have done good things will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil things into eternal fire.
This is the catholic faith (; a person cannot be saved without believing this firmly, and faithfully).
From this creed we begin to see how profound the Triune God was, is, and will continue to be. It is difficult for us to really understand the Trinity. But thankfully we do not have to understand but just believe. It will only be when we open our eyes to the unseen realm in eternity that we will fully understand. In fact then we will see God as he is, as he was, and as he will be.
But for now, we believe, and confess our belief, only by the grace of God. These three Creeds of the Church are not an institution's creeds, they are the people's creeds, they are your Creeds, they are your confessions of faith. They are the faith into which you have been baptised, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. His Triune name and the church's confessions of it are a gift to you from God and his church. Therefore, we worship in his holy name and receive Divine service in what we confess as the one true faith.
By remaining in Christ and confessing our sin we uphold our Creeds as true and do the things that are good. Therefore, hold onto the Creeds, struggle with them, confess them with your lips, and examine them against God's written word and see they are your confession of the Triune I AM who comes to us in his Word. Amen.