The Foundation of the Creeds
by Lisa Traylor
I love the creeds. You might think they’re boring–so do I, at times–but they are so important to our formation as Christians.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I had a crisis of faith. Some people find Christian college strengthens their faith, mine instead was weakened. I learned to question everything, but was never satisfied with the answers provided. Though I still believed God existed and that the Christian faith was the true faith, those beliefs only came through gritted teeth and fingernails digging in to the edge of a cliff. I had doubted myself into a dangerous place.
Growing up Advent Christian, I don’t remember saying the creeds in church at all. Attending Church of the Resurrection was a revelation to me–each week reciting a historic statement that the church had created to be clear about who God is–and isn’t. One Sunday in the middle of the Nicene Creed it dawned on me–the creeds are for gaining a foothold in Christianity, for having a safe place to stand in faith. I recognized that “doubting” was as much a decision as “believing,” so I decided that I would choose to believe everything in the Nicene Creed. I also decided that as I recited it, I would do so with whatever conviction I could muster, and if I had no conviction, I would say it anyway and ask God to make it true in me.
That decision pulled me up off the edge. Slowly, the Creeds went from being a foothold to a foundation, providing a platform to stand on as I live my Christian life and yes, continue to question things that seem to have no answer. I still doubt, but full-blown existential crises are now rare for me. Yes, I do space out during the creeds sometimes, but I continue to trust that God has showed up even before I have and will continue to work those foundational words into my soul.
Probably John & I are the only people who get excited about saying the Athanasian Creed on Trinity Sunday. But it’s definitely worth reading through prayerfully. Here’s the text if you’d like to ask God where the truth about who he is needs to be worked more deeply into you:
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, 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 substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one Eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one Uncreated, and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Spirit Almighty. And yet they are not three almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet not three lords, but one Lord.
For as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge each Person by Himself to be both God and Lord, so we are also forbidden by the catholic religion to say that 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 Spirit is of the Father, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.
And in the Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another, but all three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved is must think thus of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly 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 substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of his mother, born in the world; perfect God and perfect man, of a rational 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 taking of the manhood into God; one altogether; not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the rational 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 sits at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the quick and the dead. At His 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 faithfully, he cannot be saved.
July 31, 2017
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