Athanasian Creed

views updated May 21 2018


Also called the Quicumque-vult ("Whoever wills [to be saved]") or for short, Quicumque from its opening words; a profession of the Christian faith in 40 rhythmical sentences. Although originally private and non-liturgical, it gradually found its way into the liturgy of the Western Church in the early Middle Ages. It achieved quasiecumenical standing in Carolingian times, and the scholastics of the 13th century placed it on a par with the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.

Content. The Quicumque deals mainly with the Trinity and the Incarnation. It reflects a doctrinal development corresponding to the era after the Council of chalcedon (451). The divine nature is expressed by the term "substance," and the term "person" is used to describe the three in the Trinity. Hypostasis is not used. The distinction of the Persons and their equality are strongly emphasized. The unity of the three Persons in common attributes, such as eternity and omnipotence, is expressed by stating that there is "one omnipotent"unus omnipotens non tres omnipotentes a usage that St. thomas aquinas justifies but does not prefer (Summa theologiae 1a, 39.3). The Holy Spirit is said to be "from" the Father "and" the Son.

In the theology of the Incarnation, Christ's full and perfect divinity and full and perfect humanity are vindicated. Christ was born by eternal generation from the

substance of the Father, by temporal generation from the substance of Mary. Christ's humanity is composed of a rational soul and human flesh. In a characteristically Western expression, Christ is said to be equal to the Father in His divinity and less than the Father according to His humanity. eutychianism is excluded by the denial of any conversion or confusion of natures and by the affirmation of the assumption of a human nature in the divine Person. The comparison of union of body and soul is used to illustrate the union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ. The concluding portion of the Athanasian Creed deals with the Passion of Christ, his descent into hell, Resurrection, Ascension, enthronement at the right hand of the Father, the Second Coming, general resurrection, Judgment, and the sanctions of eternal life and eternal fire. The Creed begins and ends with the necessity of so believing for salvation under pain of eternal loss.

Problem of authorship. Attribution of the formula to athanasius, the 4th-century patriarch of Alexandria, seems to have been a gradual process beginning in the 7th century and continuing uncontested until the 17th century. This attribution is now generally abandoned. Except for a few Eastern scholars, most hold that the original language of the Creed was Latin and that the Greek forms are later translations. The content and style of expression as well as the documentary evidence indicate that Athanasius was not its author. The first certain witness to its existence as a creed is caesarius of arles (c. 542) but the first manuscripts in which it occurs are from the 7th and 8th centuries. From southern Gaul or, more exactly, the region around Arles, it seems to have spread to Spain and to the Carolingian Empire. A document of Autun (670) obliging clerics to memorize it attests to its penetration into the liturgy and clerical training.

It may be that the Quicumque is the work of several authors and is perhaps a compilation of the decrees of several synods, but most probably it was composed by St. Caesarius, a great admirer of St. Augustine. It is suggested that he built the text from a series of quotations from Augustine's work on the Trinity and other writings. The time of composition may be placed sometime between 434 and 440 (date of Excerpta Vincentii Lirinensis, discovered in 1940, which suggest a source for some of the expressions in the Creed), with a terminal date of 542, the year of the death of Caesarius of Arles.

Liturgical use. In Germany the Quicumque had penetrated into the liturgy by the 9th century. It was recited on Sunday after the sermon. Later it was used in the Office at Prime. It entered the Roman liturgy somewhat later. It found a place in the service books of a number of Protestant Churches, notably the Anglican book of common prayer and the Lutheran Prayer Book. It formed part of the ordinary Sunday Office for Prime in the Roman liturgy until 1955 when its use was restricted to Prime on the feast of the Most Blessed. Subsequently it was dropped from the breviary altogether.

Quicumque in the Christian Eastern Church. The earliest manuscripts are from the 14th century, but it seems that the Western monks in Jerusalem in the 9th century confronted the Eastern monks with the Quicumque in support of the filioque, since it read "from the Father and the Son." The Eastern theologians at first paid no attention to the claim that attributed the Creed to Athanasius and simply rejected its authority in the matter of the filioque. At a later date, when manuscript evidence showed that the Creed enjoyed some support in Eastern tradition, the filioque text was regarded as an interpolation and deleted. The Quicumque was adopted into the Russian liturgy in the 17th century, and into the Greek liturgy beginning in 1780 for a short period.

Bibliography: j. quasten, Patrology (Westminster, Md. 1950) 3:3233. h. denzinger and a. schÖnmetzer, Enchiridion symbolorum (36d ed. Herder, 1976). j. n. d. kelly, The Athanasian Creed (New York 1964). e. hill, The Mystery of the Trinity (London 1985).

[g. owens/eds.]

Athanasian Creed

views updated May 23 2018

Athanasian Creed. A statement of faith formerly widely used in W. churches. It begins: ‘Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith. Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, he shall perish everlastingly.’ The opening words thus furnish the alternative title ‘Quicunque Vult’. It was composed in the 4th or 5th cent. (certainly after the time of Athanasius) in Latin.

Athanasian Creed

views updated May 29 2018

Athanasian Creed Christian profession of faith, probably written in the 6th century, that explains the teachings of the Church on the Trinity and the incarnation. The Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches accept its authority.