Athanasian Creed

Once a year, we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday at church. We sing all the Trinitarian hymns, and we speak the words of the longest creed used by Christians around the world.

It’s often pretty foreboding, so I’m thankful that my husband had the idea to split it into a responsive reading. Speaking ALL of the words together straight through gets long and frustrating and becomes really hard to pay attention. Instead, this past Sunday we spoke the words back and forth, between the pastor and the congregation, between men and women, and even sang some hymn verses in between portions.

What I love about this creed is the list of God’s attributes that we get to speak: uncreated, incomprehensible, eternal, almighty, God, Lord. With each, we also remind ourselves that there are not three Uncreateds, Incomprehensibles, Eternals, Almighties, Gods, or Lords; but just ONE Uncreated, Incomprehensible, Eternal, Almighty, God, Lord. Then the creed goes on to distinguish each member of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, affirming that these three Persons are coequal and coeternal.

This is followed by a section digging into the great mystery of Jesus Christ being both God and Man, and a summary of His great work of salvation for us. Finally, the creed concludes with the statement: “This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved. Amen.”

That word “catholic” can be a sticky thing for many Christians. Most folks hear it and think about the denomination, the Roman Catholic church. Here’s the distinction: look for the lower-case “c.” When the capitol “C” is used, it means the Roman Catholic church, a specific denomination from which almost every other denomination can trace its roots. But the small “c” holds the original meaning, the word “catholic” that was used before there was any other type of church. The word means “universal,” and it actually appears in the original text of both the Apostles’ and the Nicene creeds (which we use in our congregation every Sunday, swapping them depending on whether or not we have communion that day). Nowadays we say “holy Christian church” instead of “holy catholic church,” because the word is used so little now is not easily understood. The universal catholic church is talking about ALL Christians everywhere. Not just our congregation. Not just our denomination. Every Christian. Everywhere.

So do you have a favorite creed? For the full text of all three, click here.

About the Author
Stephanie Pittock is the Director of Christian Education at Christ Lutheran Church in Fort Worth. She and her husband, Rev. Travis Pittock (pastor of Christ Lutheran), have been serving together in ministry since their marriage in 2001.
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