Authorship and content
The author of the creed is unknown, although it was initially attributed to Athanasius. At first glance it appears to have been written by a “fire and brimstone” preacher. In fact it may have been written by somebody who was himself under pressure from such preachers and therefore wished to prove conclusively that his personal faith agreed with the Church’s doctrines. If this is so, then in modern terminology the author might be saying, “I am writing this to prove that I understand the theology of the church. Therefore any condemnation from the authorities should not apply to me and should be directed elsewhere.”
On the other hand the author may have had Jesus’ words in mind when he wrote the creed. Jesus said,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already
because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18, NIV ©2011)
Jesus wished to ensure that his listeners were saved from sin, death and hell by understanding who he was, recognising his ability to save, and ultimately trusting and believing him to do so.
The creed can easily be divided into two sections (and I have done so below).
The first part explains the nature of the Trinity in a way that has not been dealt with by the other creeds.
The second part is a reflection on the two natures of Christ as divine and human and has some similarities to the Creed of Chalcedon.
The Athanasian Creed
The nature of the Trinity: God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.
2. Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
3. And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
4. Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence.
5. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Spirit.
6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.
7. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Spirit.
8. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Spirit uncreated.
9. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Spirit unlimited.
10. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Spirit eternal.
11. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal.
12. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite.
13. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Spirit Almighty.
14. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty.
15. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Spirit is God.
16. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God.
17. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Spirit Lord.
18. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord.
19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;
20. So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords.
21. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten.
22. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten.
23. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding.
24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
25. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another.
26. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.
27. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped.
28. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.
The nature of Jesus Christ as both fully God and fully man.
29. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation; that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
30. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess; that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
31. God, of the Essence of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Essence of his Mother, born in the world.
32. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
33. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood.
34. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ.
35. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood into God.
36. One altogether; not by confusion of Essence; but by unity of Person.
37. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and Man is one Christ;
38. Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; rose again the third day from the dead.
39. He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the God the Father Almighty,
40. from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead.
41. At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies;
42. And shall give account for their own works.
43. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
44. This is the Catholic Faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.