- The shrine of St Athanasius, St Mark's Coptic Cathedral, Cairo.
- O Holy father Athanasius,
- like a pillar of orthodoxy
- you refuted the heretical nonsense of Arius
- by insisting that the Father and the Son are equal in essence.
- O venerable father, beg Christ our God to save our souls.
- Troparion of St Athanasius
- I am probably one of the few people around in the SEC ever to have sung the entire Athanasian Creed at Mattins on Trinity Sunday (St Peter's Lutton Place Edinburgh 1992). And he was hailed and lauded in my Systematics lectures in Aberdeen as a great thing. Our Aussie Church History Prof referred to him as "a pukka theologian" - Arius was in his words "a bit cranky"! The creed is at least a century later than the saint and Augustinian in phraseology but it explicitly stated the equality of the 3 persons of the Trinity for the 1st time and is of great significance. Here it is for the unfamiliar.
- Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he
hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and
undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic
faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in
Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence.
For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty co eternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite.
So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighty's; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost 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 Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are co eternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus 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 Essence of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Essence 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 assumption of the Manhood by God. One altogether; not by confusion of Essence; 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 sitteth on the right hand of the God the Father Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.
We can cherry pick which bit of God we like - the loving Father, the human Son, the nebulous and more feminine Spirit. But we need to hold all 3 together is our faith is to be rooted in the totality and reality of God. Intellectually it is a challenge and spiritually a difficulty - so the words we use carry us and hold us in a continuing relationship of orthopraxis even if we are a bit hazy on the metaphysics.
whose servant Athanasius testified
to the mystery of the Word made flesh for our salvation:
help us, with all your saints,
to contend for the truth
and to grow into the likeness of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen