Introducing the Creed of Saint Athanasius

One of the “Documentary Foundations”, on page 769 in the 2019 Prayer Book, is The Athanasian Creed.  It is offered there without comment, much like it is in the back of the 1979 Prayer Book, except this time in a normal font size so you don’t have to be especially young and spry in order to read it.

There is, however, a rubric in our Prayer Book that point to it.  On page 139, among the Additional Directions Concerning Holy Communion, we are told that the Athanasian Creed may be used in place of the Nicene Creed on Trinity Sunday and other occasions as appropriate.  This is probably the most widespread use of that Creed today.

In the classical Prayer Book tradition, however, it received a bit more use.  In the 1662 Prayer Book, for example, we find this rubric:

Upon these Feasts, Christmas-day, the Epiphany, St. Matthias, Easter-day, Ascension-day, Whitsunday, St. John Baptist, St. James, St. Bartholomew, St. Matthew, St. Simon and St.
Jude, St. Andrew, and upon Trinity-sunday, shall be sung or said at Morning Prayer, instead of the Apostles Creed, this Confession of our Christian Faith, commonly called the Creed of St. Athanasius, by the Minister and people standing.

That’s 13 times a year this Creed was ordered to be said.  If you’re curious about why those feasts were selected, and not others, the best I can offer is that the principle feasts of the year are covered (Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday), and beyond that one feast per month is chosen, such that this Creed would be heard about once a month, usually near the end:

  • January: Epiphany (6th)
  • February: St. Matthias (29th)
  • March: Easter sometimes
  • April: Easter usually, Ascension sometimes
  • May: Ascension usually, Pentecost sometimes
  • June: Pentecost usually, Trinity, St. John Baptist (24th)
  • July: St. James (25th)
  • August: St. Bartholomew (24th)
  • September: St. Matthew (21st)
  • October: St. Simon and St. Jude (28th)
  • November: St. Andrew (30th)
  • December: Christmas (25th)

Anyway, let’s look at the Creed itself.  It’s called Of Athanasius because he is the traditionally-acclaimed author, though historical scholarship has indicated that it’s most likely a product of his school of thought, or his tradition so to speak, rather than of him himself.  Thus some like to refer to it by its first line in Latin: Quicunque vult.  But the appellation of Athanasius is appropriate nonetheless, as this does express his theology quite clearly.

In terms of contents, this Creed is by far the best and most robust resource in the Church’s arsenal when it comes to teaching the doctrine of the Trinity.  In the way it is formatted in our Prayer Book, most of page 769 deals with the Trinity, all of page 770 does, and the first “verse” of it on page 771 concludes the section on the Trinity.  The rest of the Creed (page 771) proceeds in a fashion very similar to the Nicene Creed, outlining the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  But even this uses more developed language to expound the two natures of Christ (in close union with the 3rd and 4th Ecumenical Councils, again indicating a post-Athanasius origin).

Let’s be honest, this Creed can be a bit of a tongue-twister, and its repetitive phrases can make it difficult to understand without familiarity.  But if you read it slowly and carefully, its logic will be clear, as two things are being established very methodically: there are three Persons in the Trinity and there is one God in Unity.

Apart from its length, this Creed has other features that have contributed to its decline in popularity over the past 200 years: its vehement insistence on orthodoxy for salvation.  Note how it begins:

Whoever will be savedbefore 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.

It ends with the same tone:

This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

The good news here is that it never says “understand”, only “hold” or “keep” or “believe”.  So if you or your child or your uneducated Christian friend don’t really understand what this Creed is saying, you or they are not damned.  We keep the faith, we hold and believe the faith, however well we understand and grasp its particulars in our minds.  The mystery of the Trinity is one of the greatest mysteries and paradoxes that can be found in the Scriptures, yet this Creed reminds us (and carefully explains) that no true Christian worships three Gods, or blends the Father, Son, and Spirit together into one person, neither do we blend the divinity and humanity of Jesus together into some sort of demigod half-breed.  We hold to the intellectually-difficult yet simple truths that the one God exists in three persons, and that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

So that, I hope, puts to rest any fears that the anathemas (condemnatory statements) may rile up in the heart of the reader.

If you and your church did not say the Athanasian Creed on Trinity Sunday this year (and let’s face it, very few of us even had the chance to!) consider taking up the tradition of the classical Prayer Books and saying it at Morning Prayer on John the Baptist’s birthday tomorrow!  It’s not technically authorized in our Prayer Book, but to do so would be in accord with the spirit of the rubrics, if not the letter.

Learning the Daily Office – part 4 of 12

So you’ve heard about the Daily Office, specifically the Anglican tradition of daily prayer and scripture reading, and you want to enter into this beautiful and formative tradition?  Great, grab a prayer book and go!  Except, maybe someone already said that and you don’t know where to start… or worse, you did try it and it was just too much?  The length of the Office was overwhelming and the contents too complicated to navigate when you’ve got no experience with liturgy.  We understand, we’ve all been at that place before!  Some just don’t remember it as well as others.

Diving into the full Prayer Book life of worship doesn’t work for everyone; sometimes you have to work your way up toward that discipline, adding one piece at a time as you grow comfortable with each feature and learn how to “do” them all.  This post series is basically a twelve-step program to help you advance in the life of disciplined prayer from zero to super-Anglican.  The pace is up to you – the goal of this sort of spiritual discipline is consistency, not “how much” you do.

Step One: Pray a Psalm followed by the Lord’s Prayer.
Step Two: Add a Scripture Reading
Step Three: Add more Psalms and Lessons

Step Four: Add the Apostles’ Creed

This is a small step, logistically speaking, but it’s a milestone in your development of the discipline of the Daily Office.  This is your first not-from-the-Bible ingredient in your prayer life, and this may be especially foreign or challenging for you depending upon your background.

As Anglicans we emphasize our adherence to creedal orthodoxy; that is, we look to the great Creeds (in our case three of them) to summarize the dogmas of the Christian faith – dogma being that which must be believed.  When we include a Creed in a worship service, it is for multiple reasons.

  1. It is a formation tool, helping us to internalize the basics of the faith.
  2. It is a teaching tool, helping us to understand what we read in the Bible.
  3. It is a particular form of prayer: a confession of faith.

Although none of the Psalms literally say “I believe ___”, there are many confessions of faith found within the psalms – proclaiming God’s goodness, or mercy, or love.  The reciting of a Creed is a development of that form of prayer, stating more explicitly a number of key points of doctrine regarding God, the person of Jesus, the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, and the Church.

Furthermore, we use the Apostles’ Creed in the Daily Office not only because it’s the shortest creed but because it was historically associated with the rite of holy baptism – this Creed (as best we can tell) was formed as the summary of the faith that was proclaimed in the Early Church when someone was getting baptized.  So as we confess our faith with this creed in Morning and Evening Prayer we are essentially re-affirming our baptismal vows, recommitting ourselves to God and his Church and his Gospel.

It’s a small thing to add, but it’s a major addition to take in!

The Apostles’ Creed can be found on page 20 of the Prayer Book, shortly before the Lord’s Prayer in the liturgy.  For now, you will be now praying the Creed immediately before the Lord’s Prayer.  Some wise logistics, as a result, should be that you make a point of saving one of appointed Psalms to follow the first Lesson and a second Psalm to follow the second Lesson, in order to separate the Bible-reading from the Creed-reciting.  Not every morning and evening will provide enough Psalms to accomplish this, so don’t sweat it if you run out.  This isn’t the end of the road, after all, and the next step in this series will “solve” that problem anyway.

Summary

Your Morning & Evening Offices are now looking like this:

  1. Psalm(s) to pray
  2. Old Testament Lesson (occasionally the first lesson is from the NT instead)
  3. Psalm to pray
  4. New Testament Lesson
  5. Psalm to pray (usually)
  6. The Apostles’ Creed (consider standing up for this!)
  7. The Lord’s Prayer

The length of time to do all this is still probably about five minutes, maybe as many as ten if the readings are particularly long and you’re reading them out loud.   Same with the Psalms – praying them means reading them aloud – and sometimes they can be a little lengthy too.

Reading Pace, with video

Back in October I wrote a short piece about reading pace – how talking too quickly or slowly, either as a leader in the liturgy or concerning the congregation as a whole, can be the death knell of intelligible worship.  I decided it was time to re-visit that subject, not because I just had another bad experience with it, but because it was on my mind and I made a video.  The original post is repeated below.  Enjoy!

A major feature of any liturgy is reading.  Appointed readers read Scripture lessons, a Deacon (or Priest) reads a Gospel lesson at the Communion service, everyone reads prayers and Creeds together.  Sometimes it’s like a dialogue, going back and forth between the minister and the people; sometimes it’s a block reading, like everyone reading a Confession together.  One of the issues that can crop up is the pacing of these readings.

On his or her own, sometimes a reader gets nervous.  This is perfectly understandable, and experience and practice works wonders here.  But it must be cautioned that a nervous or inexperienced reader can rush through the words, tripping over or slurring them together.  Or sometimes the opposite – the gravity of reading the Word of God overwhelms them such that they end up reading it very slowly.  Public readings ought to be read at a natural pace, such that the commas, semicolons, and periods are all clear and distinct.  We want the reading to have some dramatic weight, but we don’t want to overdo it, William Shatner style:

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The same applies to congregation readings.  Be it a Psalm, a Collect, Creed, or other prayer or reading, the people need to go at a natural pace.

If we read too fast together, the issues are many:

  • people could run out of breath
  • there’s no time to think about or process what you’re actually saying
  • it communicates a lack of care, value, or import to the words
  • visitors unfamiliar with the liturgy will feel swamped and overwhelmed

Similarly, reading too slowly can mask the overall coherence of the reading or prayer.

If your congregation has a pacing problem, it’s really upon the leaders to fix it.  The clergy or other ministers who lead the various services need to set the pace, even instruct the congregation to speed up or slow down.  Reading and praying together is a spiritual exercise requiring practice and intentionality.  Western culture sometimes makes this difficult for us – we don’t want to end up like the Borg from Star Trek, we don’t want to lose our individuality, we easily mistrust corporate liturgical action and prefer “personal” and “relational” things.  So for many people these acts of common prayer and common reading is a lost art that has to be re-learned.  Let’s not beat people over the head with this, but we do need to be aware that actual training, practice, and learning is involved!

Sermon, Creed, or Creed, Sermon…

When going through the Communion service, after the Collect & Lessons comes the Creed, and then the sermon.  Or is it the sermon, and then the Creed?  Most people take this for granted and tend to forget (or not even be aware at all) that there are two ways that this works.

In the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books, in accordance with the Roman Rite, the sermon immediately follows the Gospel lesson, and the Nicene Creed comes after that.  Thanks to the liturgical ubiquity of Romanism in the West, and their impact on Anglican liturgy in the 1970’s and beyond, this is the order that the vast majority of Anglicans today are used to.

However, the Prayer Book tradition from 1549 until 1979 was unanimous: after the Gospel comes the Nicene Creed!  Then follows announcements of the week’s feasts and fasts, whatever other announcements and prayers need to be made, and then the sermon will follow.

These two different orders may not seem like a big deal, but there are some underlying matters of emphasis that are worth considering here.

One of the basic principles of liturgy is revelation and response.  God is revealed in some way, and the people respond.  The dialogue “The Word of the Lord / Thanks to be God” is perhaps the smallest and clearest example of this dynamic at play.  In the Daily Office a Scripture reading (revelation) is followed by a Canticle (response).  In the Communion liturgy the first lesson (revelation) is followed by a Psalm (response).  So, if the Gospel lesson is a revelation, what is the response?

Classical Anglicanism makes the Nicene Creed the response; the Roman Rite and modern Anglican liturgies makes the Sermon the response.  In the former, the Sermon then goes on to be like another “revelation” followed by the “response” of the Prayers and Confession.  In the latter, the Creed is perhaps the next revelation followed by the Prayers?  It’s hard to say, one can’t go too haywire with liturgical principles as if one concept will explain everything.

Nevertheless, the shape or feel of the liturgy comes across very differently if the Creed is the climax of the lessons, followed by a brief ‘break’ before the sermon begins, compared to if the sermon is the climax of the lessons, followed by the creed and the prayers.  In the old Prayer Books, your “announcement break” is relatively early (between the Creed and the Sermon) whereas in modern Prayer Books the “announcement break” is relatively late (after the Peace and before the Offertory).  I suppose it depends upon the typical length of a sermon to judge which tradition most nearly bisects the liturgy in half.

In previous drafts of the ACNA Communion liturgy, a rubric authorized the re-arranging of the Creed-Sermon order according to local custom and preference.  This would have allowed a more classical-prayer-book order to the liturgy within the 2019 BCP.  However, the book we have no longer offers that switch explicitly, but only as part of the “1662 Order” described on pages 142-143 which not only re-order the sermon & creed but also much of the rest of the liturgy following.  So, as it stands, we are not, strictly speaking, permitted to rearrange the 2019 liturgy to match the order found in the 1928 Prayer Book.  That said, if you ask your bishop for permission to do so, I doubt he’d say no.

Whether you want to go old-school or not, whether you’re allowed to go old-school or not, it’s helpful to be aware of how our liturgy has changed over time.  Cosmetically these may be subtle changes.  Theologically this may not be a major profound change.  But it is a change, and emphasis does carry meaning, however slight.  Even if you never experience or implement the “other order” (whichever one is native to your parish) it is fruitful to look across the fence at how else this aspect of liturgy is done, and what these little variances can show us about the significance and role and function of the Creed and the Sermon.

Nicene Creed Translation

In our week-by-week Thursday walk-through of the service of Holy Communion, we come now to the Nicene Creed.  Amidst the very many blog posts and articles that cropped up early this summer with the release of the 2019 Prayer Book came one writer who objected to the translation of the Nicene Creed.  This was, in many ways, a very strange complaint, because the new translation in our book was made and approved by our College of Bishops six years ago, in 2013.  It’s been available since the very first Texts for Common Prayer were released, and some churches, like mine, have been using it ever since.  It’s a bit late to complain.  The nature of the complaint, too, in my opinion, is more a questioning of motive than it is of actual substance.

Nevertheless, one should be very attentive to how the Creeds are translated.  Article of Religion #8 places the Creeds on a very high level of authority: they “ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.”  So, just like Bible translation, it’s very important that we get a decent translation of the Creeds before us.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at the text, comparing 1662, 2019, and 1979.

  • 1662: I BELIEVE in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible:
  • 2019: We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, visible and invisible.
  • 1979: We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

The modern we/I switch is one of the main objections the aforementioned critic took issue with.  The functional difference here is that in the context of the Eucharist, our affirmation of faith is corporate (while the Apostles’ Creed in the Daily Office is our place to say “I believe…”).  There is a fair bit of history behind the I/we translation choices which I’ll let you research yourself if you’re curious.

The other big difference in this opening line is the terminology “visible and invisible” versus “seen and unseen.”  The problem with the latter translation was that it opened the Creed (and thus the entirety of the biblical faith) to the possibility of demythologization.  Among the excesses of modernist thought, this subtle wording change paves the way for the rejection of angels and demons, and the devil, as these are things invisible.  “Unseen” suggests a more empirical approach to reality and metaphysics which can easily be used to “correct” the Bible.

  • 1662: And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten son of God, Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By whom all things were made:
  • 2019: We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.
  • 1979: We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.  Through him all things were made.

The repetition of “we believe” is a modern concession to English grammar.  The whole creed is technically one giant sentence, but that’s pretty incomprehensible to the modern reader.  A couple hundred years ago, it was still in practice to make giant compound sentences nearly an entire page long, but readership has changed since then, and thus so have our approaches to dealing with punctuation and repetition.

In terms of actual substance, note that we got “only-begotten” back, omitted in 1979, “eternally begotten” is a theological clarification in the modern translations, “of one substance” is equated to “of one being” (more theological technical terms).  Nothing controversial here, just basic orthodox Christology.

  • 1662: Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man, And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
  • 2019: For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
  • 1979: For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

“For us men” became “For us” in contemporary English, as the gender-neutral use of “men” goes on the decline.  At least this is an instance of that word where its omission isn’t a problem, as it is in some verses of Scripture.

The similar language in 1662 and 2019 – “incarnate from/by the Holy Spirit/Ghost of/and the Virgin Mary” – is highly preferable to the 1979’s translation “by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary”.  The latter separates the Holy Spirit from the Annunciation and conception of Jesus by a degree that is neither necessary nor precedented.  “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you”, the archangel Gabriel told Mary, not “the power of the Spirit will descend upon you”.

There is an interesting difference in where to end the sentence/phrase which you can see at the end of this section and the beginning of the next.  It seems to me primarily a matter of logical organization rather than of direct theological import.

  • 1662: He suffered and was buried, And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and dead: Whose kingdom shall have no end.
  • 2019: he suffered death and was buried.  On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
  • 1979: he suffered death and was buried.  On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

Apart from language style and punctuation, there’s no substantial change here at all.

  • 1662: And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord and giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spake by the Prophets.
  • 2019: We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],† who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
  • 1979: We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.  He has spoken through the Prophets.

Again, nothing here is of any substantial difference, just language style and translation methods.  Except one… the filioque – the phrase “and the Son”.  This is a bit of a historical-theological bugbear.  The original text of this Creed, on which the 2019 translation is based, does not include that phrase.  A Lambeth Council (representing Anglicans world-wide) decision in 1978 encouraged future liturgical texts to drop the filioque even though it is a constant feature of the entire Western Church.  It (and the way in which the Roman Popes “authorized” it) was one of the wedges driven between East and West, leading to the final split in 1054.  To drop the filioque is a gesture of good will toward the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and (potentially) a return to primitive creedal orthodoxy.  Does this little word really make much difference, theologically, let alone practically?  It can, but it doesn’t necessarily have to.  So our prayer book has bracketed the phrase and included a footnote reference to a longer statement about the issue, written by our bishops in 2013, as an opportunity for further education and learning.

  • 1662: And I believe one Catholick and Apostolick Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come. Amen.
  • 2019: We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
  • 1979: We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

To be honest, the difference between “believe in one… church” and “believe one… church” has always puzzled me.  Go ask some other more educated priest than I.  Or if you, please comment about it, so I can understand it too!

There seems to be a bit of a mixed report about the word “holy”… it is a traditional part of the Creed, one of the “four marks of the Church” – one, holy, catholic, apostolic.  How it got omitted from the Prayer Book tradition until 1979 escapes me.  The legend that it was a printing error that got enshrined in England and American practice is unconvincing.

One can argue that there is a difference between the precise meaning of “remission of sins” and “forgiveness of sins”, but the effect is at least the same.

So there you go.  If you’ve been used to the 1979 Creed, hopefully this has helped you see the improvements we’ve got in our new book.  It’s high time to make the switch if you haven’t already!

Happy Saint Andrew’s Day

Good news, everyone!  It’s a Friday, but you shouldn’t be fasting today because today’s the Major Feast Day commemorating Saint Andrew the Apostle.  We already looked at some thoughts about this holiday last week, so let’s just think about some other angles of observing this day.

This is one of the feast days listed in the 1662 Prayer Book as being a day for using the Athanasian Creed instead of the Apostles Creed at Morning Prayer.

Also, there is an ancient custom of churches, both local and regional, having “patron saints”.  Sometimes this was for historic reasons – the saint was said to have lived, ministered, or died in that area.  Sometimes this was for devotional reasons – the story of a particular saint was special to a particular founder or community.  In most cases, the memory of the origin of regional patron saints is probably long lost to history.  That being as it may, there are a number of places that bear the patronal name of Andrew, most notably the countries of Scotland, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania.  I know of a church that celebrates Saint Andrew’s Day every year with a bagpipe leading the procession, celebrating the Scottish heritage of several members of the congregation.  They then go on to celebrate and bless all manner of cultural heritages, using the Scottish patronage of St. Andrew as a starting point to highlight and rejoice in the “many tribes and nations” that are brought into Christ’s Church.

Perhaps you can find elements of your own family’s culture to “do up” this feast day, too?  A special food, a special activity, certain music, songs, or other arts…

Sts. Simon & Jude Tomorrow

Although the American Prayer Book tradition has (inexplicably, to me) pretended the Athanasian Creed (or, Quicunque Vult) doesn’t exist, the 1662 Prayer Book ordered for it to be read on various holy days throughout the year, averaging about once a month.  The feast of Saints Simon and Jude, which is tomorrow, October 28th, is one of the days that it was appointed to be read.  The practice was to read it in the Morning Office in place of the Apostles’ Creed.

Especially now that the ACNA has recognized the original form of the 39 Articles among our formularies, rather than the Episcopalian version of them from circa 1801, the Athanasian Creed is back with us, and there’s even a draft contemporary translation of it to be included in our Prayer Book.  So consider printing out yourself a copy of that Creed today so when you’re saying Morning Prayer tomorrow morning, it’ll be ready.  Sure, it’s long, but it’s very useful.  And considering how poorly American evangelicals have scored in basic Christian dogma in recent years, this is probably the sort of liturgical teaching tool we need to bring back in our congregations too.