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Christian Documents Index.

Creed of Saint Athanasius

("Quicunque Vult")

The doctrine of the trinity is so profoundly counterintuitive for most Christians that unless they simply repeat approved formulas word for word, they find it difficult to state it in a form that does not risk falling into doctrinal error. The following tortuous statement of this doctrine, attributed to Saint Athanasius (famed especially for his opposition to Arian heresy), is an example of the difficulty.

Scholars have long doubted that Saint Athanasius had much to do with this text, in fact, but he would probably have approved of it, and much of the same text was found in a text dating to the early 400s, so it clearly comes from his world.

The Athanasian Creed, as it is called, has been used in Western Christian liturgy, particularly in southern Europe, since at least the VIth Century.

The text strikes me as interesting because it provides a detailed (read: tortuous) description of the difficult doctrine of the Trinity, confirming my general suspicion that Christians in the early Middle Ages could make no more rational sense of it than most modern Christians can.

The English translation of the following text is reproduced from the Book of Common Prayer, published by a decree of the English Parliament in 1549 and still the official manual of liturgy for the Church of England. (The original English spelling and punctuation are retained. Line numbers are added to facilitate citation or discussion.)

In an instructional paragraph preceding the text we are told that

Upon … [enumerated Church holidays] shall be sung or said at Morning Prayer, instead of the Apostles' Creed, this Confession of our Christian Faith, commonly called the Creed of Saint Athanasius, by the Minister and people standing.

As an indication of how seriously doctrinal purity has been taken, note the opening lines (§§1-2), and then the sentence at the end (§43): "This is the Catholick Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved." ("Catholic" here means "universal," not "Roman Catholic"; the usage is not uncommon among Protestants, although today the word is capitalized only when it means Roman Catholic.)

Politically incorrect as it has become for Christians to insist that theirs is the exclusive road to salvation, that was exactly the position of the early Church (and for that matter of many schismatic groups). Unlike other widely used credal statements, this one makes that very explicit.

Also unlike many other widely used credal statements, this one has become increasingly unpopular in recent years, preserved more by the sanctity of its age than by the logic of its arguments, the elegance of its prose, or the appeal of its conclusion.

1Quicunque vult salvus esse, ante omnia opus est, ut teneat catholicam fidem: Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith.
2Quam nisi quisque integram inviolatamque servaverit, absque dubio in aeternam peribit. Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
3Fides autem catholica haec est: ut unum Deum in Trinitate, et Trinitatem in unitate veneremur. And the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
4Neque confundentes personas, neque substantiam seperantes. Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance.
5Alia est enim persona Patris alia Filii, alia Spiritus Sancti: For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost.
6Sed Patris, et Fili, et Spiritus Sancti una est divinitas, aequalis gloria, coeterna maiestas. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
7Qualis Pater, talis Filius, talis [et] Spiritus Sanctus. Such as the Father is, such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost.
8Increatus Pater, increatus Filius, increatus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
9Immensus Pater, immensus Filius, immensus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
10Aeternus Pater, aeternus Filius, aeternus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. The Father eternal, the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal.
11Et tamen non tres aeterni, sed unus aeternus. And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal.
12Sicut non tres increati, nec tres immensi, sed unus increatus, et unus immensus. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated: but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
13Similiter omnipotens Pater, omnipotens Filius, omnipotens [et] Spiritus Sanctus. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty: and the Holy Ghost Almighty.
14Et tamen non tres omnipotentes, sed unus omnipotens. And yet they are not three Almighties: but one Almighty.
15Ita Deus Pater, Deus Filius, Deus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. So the Father is God, the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost is God.
16Et tamen non tres dii, sed unus est Deus. And yet they are not three Gods: but one God.
17Ita Dominus Pater, Dominus Filius, Dominus [et] Spiritus Sanctus. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord: and the Holy Ghost Lord.
18Et tamen non tres Domini, sed unus [est] Dominus. And yet not three Lords: but one Lord.
19Quia, sicut singillatim unamquamque personam Deum ac Dominum confiteri christiana veritate compelimur: For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity: to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;
20Ita tres Deos aut [tres] Dominos dicere catholica religione prohibemur. So are we forbidden by the Catholick Religion: to say there be three Gods, or three Lords.
21Pater a nullo est factus: nec creatus, nec genitus. The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten.
22Filius a Patre solo est: non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus. The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created, but begotten.
23Spiritus Sanctus a Patre et Filio: non factus, nec creatus, nec genitus, sed procedens. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
24Unus ergo Pater, non tres Patres: unus Filius, non tres Filii: unus Spiritus Sanctus, non tres Spiritus Sancti. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
25Et in hac Trinitate nihil prius aut posterius, nihil maius aut minus: And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another;
26Sed totae tres personae coaeternae sibi sunt et coaequales. But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together: and co-equal.
27Ita, ut per omnia, sicut iam supra dictum est, et unitas in Trinitate, et Trinitas in unitate veneranda sit. So that in all things, as is aforesaid the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
28Qui vult ergo salvus esse, ita de Trinitate sentiat. He therefore that will be saved: must thus think of the Trinity.
29Sed necessarium est ad aeternam salutem, ut incarnationem quoque Domini nostri Iesu Christi fideliter credat. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
30Est ergo fides recta ut credamus et confiteamur, quia Dominus noster Iesus Christus, Dei Filius, Deus [pariter] et homo est. For the right Faith is that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
31Deus [est] ex substantia Patris ante saecula genitus: et homo est ex substantia matris in saeculo natus. God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world;
32Perfectus Deus, perfectus homo: ex anima rationali et humana carne subsistens. Perfect God, and Perfect Man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting;
33Aequalis Patri secundum divinitatem: minor Patre secundum humanitatem. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching his Manhood.
34Qui licet Deus sit et homo, non duo tamen, sed unus est Christus. Who although he be God and Man: yet he is not two, but one Christ;
35Unus autem non conversione divinitatis in carnem, sed assumptione humanitatis in Deum. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God;
36Unus omnino, non confusione substantiae, sed unitate personae. One altogether, not by confusion of Substance: but by unity of Person.
37Nam sicut anima rationalis et caro unus est homo: ita Deus et homo unus est Christus. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ.
38Qui passus est pro salute nostra: descendit ad inferos: tertia die resurrexit a mortuis. Who suffered for our salvation: descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.
39Ascendit ad [in] caelos, sedet ad dexteram [Dei] Patris [omnipotentis]. He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty:
40Inde venturus [est] judicare vivos et mortuos. from whence he shall come to judge the quick [i.e., the living] and the dead.
41Ad cujus adventum omnes homines resurgere habent cum corporibus suis; et reddituri sunt de factis propriis rationem. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies: and shall give account for their own works.
42Et qui bona egerunt, ibunt in vitam aeternam: qui vero mala, in ignem aeternum. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting: and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
43Haec est fides catholica, quam nisi quisque fideliter firmiterque crediderit, salvus esse non poterit. This is the Catholick Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.
44 Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
45 As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

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