This article looks at the history of the Athanasian Creed, the historic article of faith which explains and defends the triune nature of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It also answers arguments against the Trinity and the cults that have come about from misunderstanding it. This study is divided into five sections:
Introduction On the Feast of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Church throughout the world comes to grips with God. This day is devoted to the nature and essence of God we bless as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the Athanasian Creed, we struggle with the language as we explore the mystery of the Trinity in Unity and the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.
The Holy Trinity defies analysis, for God will not be closeted inside a test tube nor captured in a cold, flat formula in mathematics. His judgments are unsearchable, His ways past finding out. "The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible."
But the hidden God reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, the visible image of the invisible God. Christ is the clearest revelation God has given us, for in the Man of Nazareth, God has reduced Himself to size and identified with us as Brother. In the cross of Christ, God has made known His love for us, for Calvary is like a giant picture window that enables us to see into the depths of His compassion. Here we can at least begin to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of the love that surpasses knowledge.
We cannot come to grips with God one day a year, nor even one day a week. Our involvement with the Lord is daily. We come to grips with God because He came to grips with us. We are involved with Him because He has become involved with us. We had our origin with Him, for He created us. Death's limitation is erased, for He redeemed us in His Son, Jesus. We have new life in Him because His Spirit breathed anew the life of God into our hearts. He surrounds us with protecting care. He provides us from His bounty with everything we need for life's supply. He lays His benediction on our hearts as the final word of every worship hour with its assurance that we are His people and in His care.
That prompts our shouts of praise, not the whispered lispings of a sleepy company of Sunday-morning saints. That calls us to an exciting life of trust, not the anxious, careful tiptoe life of doubt. That impels our service, not indifferent efforts of divided loyalties. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Biblical References to the Trinity The word trinity does not appear in the Bible, but it doesn't mean that God doesn't reveal Himself in three persons in the Bible either. The word trinity is based on the word triune, meaning "three in one."
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:16-17, NIV)
"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations." (Isaiah 42:1, NIV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1, NIV)
And God said, "Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness..." (Genesis 1:26, NIV)
Oneness Pentecostalism vs. the Trinity Despite the biblical evidence for the Trinity, some will deny it either out of misunderstanding or on purpose. "Oneness Pentecostalism" is a heretical and cultic teaching that God is indeed the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but not all at once. This may come in part from misunderstanding the historical church teaching that "God is Father in creation, Son in salvation, and Holy Spirit in sanctification". While this describes the purpose of the Persons of the Trinity in the life of the believer, Oneness followers mistakenly interpret this doctrine to mean that God shape-shifts or takes on a different mode or role in saving or sanctifying His saints, much in the same way an actor playing multiple parts on stage cannot play them all simultaneously. This heresy is called modalism.
While there are many Oneness movements and churches, the United Pentecostal Church is the best-known in Christianity. It is considered a cult by most other churches, including other Pentecostals, because of its anti-Trinitarian doctrine and legalism. While fellow Christians can sincerely disagree on and debate the gifts of the Spirit practiced within the Pentecostal and charismatic churches (i.e. speaking in tongues, baptism of the Holy Spirit, words of knowledge), the Trinity is a core non-negotiable biblical doctrine all Christians believe and defend, as codified in the Athanasian Creed below.
A common argument made by Oneness followers against the Trinity is that three entities cannot mathematically add up to one person:
1 + 1 + 1 = 3
Calvary Chapel founder Chuck Smith, however, cleverly answers that argument by saying it's because the Oneness crowd isn't using the right math:
1 x 1 x 1 = 1
The Word "Catholic" in the CreedThe use of the word "catholic" in the Athanasian Creed does not refer to the Roman Catholic church (a common but understandable error). The word itself means "universal" and in this creed it refers to all Christians throughout the world, of all demominations and of none - Roman Catholics, Protestants, evangelicals, charismatics and independent churches. It includes churches that meet in sanctuaries, cathedrals, rented meeting halls and especially the persecuted underground church, for whom confessing the name of Christ can mean imprisonment or death. "Catholic" truly encompasses the universal church of all Christian believers.
Since the 3rd century AD, when this creed was written, all churches that confess to be biblical and orthodox in their doctrine and practice have upheld and defended the triune nature of God as written below.
The Text of the Athanasian Creed The Athanasian Creed is as follows:
Whoever shall be saved shall, above all else, hold the catholic faith.
Which faith, except everyone keeps whole and undefiled, without doubt he will perish eternally.
And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in three persons in one God, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.
For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one: the glory equal, the majesty eternal.
Such as the Father is, such as the Son is, and such is the Holy Spirit.
The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated,
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible,
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.
As there are not three uncreated nor three incomprensiblres but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty.
And yet they are not three almighties but one almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
And yet they are not three Gods but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord.
And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.
For as we are compelled by the Christian truth to acknowledge every person by himself to be both God and Lord,
So we cannot by the catholic faith say that there are three Gods or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten,
The Son is made of the Father alone, not made nor created but begotten,
The Holy Spirit 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 Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
And in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another;
But whe whole three persons are coeternal together and coequal, so in all things, as is foresaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped.
He, therefore, that will be saved is compelled thus to 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 substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance 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 taking 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 sits at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the living and the dead.
At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies and will give an account of their own works.
And they that have done good will 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.