Friday, October 13, 2017

Quicunque vult. . .

Lutherans sadly have become less and less familiar with the so-called Athanasian Creed.  It is a shame, to be sure.  At best we say the Creed once a year, on the Sunday of the Holy Trinity, whether we need it or not.  This was following the Roman liturgical usage.  At worst, it has been discontinued even on that one annual day when it was typically the creed of the day.  In fact, it has become so unfamiliar that not a few Lutherans choke under its words (even more than the catholic faith but the end when those who have done good are raised to everlasting life and those who have done evil to everlasting death).  Some Lutherans hae gone so far as to say they cannot confess the words of the creed -- only its doctrinal content (a rather strange dichotomy between words and the doctrine those words confess).  After all, they say, this conflicts with the Lutheran doctrine on which the Church stands or falls -- the doctrine of justification by faith.  Strange, I would say, because good and evil at the end stand within the context of the faith defined and confessed at the beginning.  Furthermore, if the Athanasian Creed is heresy, then Jesus is a heretic (Matthew 25) for saying the same thing as the Creed (only saying it first).

A little history finds that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had ordered that the 'Athanasian' [don't we all know that it wasn't actually written by S Athanasius?] Creed be used once a month.  In the Church of England, it was ordered to be said twelve times a year. It is printed after Evensong in the Prayer Book.  In Roman usage the Quicunque vult was used on every Sunday when the liturgy was not lengthened by a Commemoration.  Sadly, in the wake of Vatican II and its concern about the tightness of and the spare use of liturgical language, Annabale Bugnini took the Council's direction to heart and removed the Athanasian Creed even from its last usage in the Liturgy of the RC Church.

Many do not care much for the Athanasian Creed.  Some try to refute its legitimacy at all and challenge the idea that it is one of the three great ecumenical creeds.  Certainly it is Western, rather pedagogical in form and content and not typically know much or used at all in the East.  That said, it is a Creed that begs a more frequent usage.  It puts us squarely before the Mystery of the Holy Trinity which cannot be explained.  It says as much as what the Holy Trinity is not as what it is and that is probably the best we can do with respect to this great mystery.  That said, it reminds us that we confess the Trinity not to define it or even to comprehend it but to worship it -- it being of course the ever-living and eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So even though we are long away from Holy Trinity Sunday, perhaps we are not so far that it would behoove us to drag it out and confess it again.  If only to force Lutherans to say that which dare not be said aloud (the dreaded word catholic).  But even more so because we need to remember that the goal of faith is not to inform the mind but to move the heart to worship Him whom we know as He has revealed Himself, one God in three Persons.  The problem for us today is more than our discomfort with this Creed -- modern clergy and lay probably tend to be rather popularly Unitarians or Modalists and quite happily so.  In fact, for most Christians today, the less said about the Holy Trinity the better the faith is.  But how can we forget what Jesus has come to make known?  The name of the Trinity is not simply words but the name in which baptismal water is endowed with the power to wash clean and give new birth and the name that becomes the power to absolve the baptized from their sins.  Such a name dare not be forgotten and such a faith should not be forgotten even though the formula is pedantic, repetitive, and even tedious as it dribbles away at what the Trinity is by confessing what it is NOT.


Anonymous said...

Just a minor point of clarification to Pastor Peters words regarding QQuincunque Vult appearing in the Book of Common Prayer. It does indeed appear right after Evening Prayer in the BCP 1662, the still official BCP of the Church of England. Perhaps strangely, it does not appear in the American BCP 1928 book. I doubt that it is in the American 1979 book, although I am far less familiar with that infamous book.

Fr. D+

Anonymous said...

Dr. Martin Luther placed the Apostles Creed in his Small Catechism.
Of the three major creeds, this is the one the laity focus on. You
can memorize the The Apostles Creed and gain much comfort from it.

Ken said...

Early Episcopalians, after the Revolution, debated whether to keep even the Nicene Creed. Happily that tragedy was adverted.

I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three.

Chris said...

It wouldn't be used by the Eastern Churches because of its use of the filioque and double procession to which the Orthodox (and the Scriptures), correctly, do not subscribe.

Anonymous said...

So let's get using this again for Epiphany, Lent, Reformation, and other festivals. Dust off this creed and joyfully confess it. What a shame it is only used annually. It might be good also to confess it in Bible classes monthly. This is too good a confession to ignore. Thanks for the fitting reminder.