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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 132. The Athanasian Creed.


G. Joh. Voss (Reform): De tribus symbolis, diss. ii. 1642, and in his Opera Omnia, Amstel. 1701 (forming an epoch in critical investigation). Archbishop Usher: De symbolis. 1647. J. H. Heidegger (Ref.): De symbolo Athanasiano. Zür. 1680. Em. Tentzel (Luth.): Judicia eruditoram de Symb. Athan. studiose collecta. Goth. 1687. Montfaucon (R.C.): Diatribe in Symbolum Quicunque, in the Benedictine ed. of the Opera Athanasii, Par. 1698, tom. ii. pp. 719–735. Dan. Waterland (Anglican): A Critical History of the Athanasian Creed. Cambridge, 1724, sec. ed. 1728 (in Waterland’s Works, ed. Mildert, vol. iii. pp. 97–270, Oxf. 1843). Dom. M. Speroni (R.C.): De symbolo vulgo S. Athanasii. Dias. i. and ii. Patav. 1750–’51. E. Köllner (Luth.): Symbolik aller christl. Confessionen. Hamb. vol. i. 1837, pp. 53–92. W. W. Harvey (Angl.): The History and Theology of the Three Creeds. Lond. 1854, vol. ii. pp. 541–695. Ph. Schaff: The Athanasian Creed, in the Am. Theolog. Review, New York, 1866, pp. 584–625. (Comp. the earlier literature, in chronological order, in Waterland, l. c. p. 108 ff., and in Köllner).

[Comp. here the notes in Appendix, p. 1034, and the later and fuller treatment in Schaff: Creeds of Christendom, N. York, 4th ed., 1884, vol. i. 34–42; vol. ii. 66–72, with the facsimile of the oldest MS. of the Athan. Creed in the Utrecht Psalter, ii. 555 sq. The rediscovery of that MS. in 1873 occasioned a more thorough critical investigation of the whole subject, with the result that the Utrecht Psalter dates from the ninth century, and that there is no evidence that the pseudo-Athanasian Creed, in its present complete form, existed before the age of Charlemagne. The statements in this section which assume an earlier origin, must be modified accordingly. Added 1889.]


The post-Nicene or Augustinian doctrine of the Trinity reached its classic statement in the third and last of the ecumenical confessions, called the Symbolum Athanasianum, or, as it is also named from its initial words, the Symbolum Quicumque; beyond which the orthodox development of the doctrine in the Roman and Evangelical churches to this day has made no advance.14991499   In striking contrast with this unquestionable historical eminence of this Creed is Baur’s slighting treatment of it in his work of three volumes on the history of the doctrine of the Trinity, where he disposes of it in a brief note, vol. ii. p. 33, as a vain attempt to vindicate by logical categories the harsh and irreconcilable antagonism of unity and triad. This Creed is unsurpassed as a masterpiece of logical clearness, rigor, and precision; and so far as it is possible at all to state in limited dialectic form, and to protect against heresy, the inexhaustible depths of a mystery of faith into which the angels desire to look, this liturgical theological confession achieves the task. We give it here in full, anticipating the results of the Christological controversies; and we append parallel passages from Augustine and other older writers, which the unknown author has used, in some cases word for word, and has woven with great dexterity into an organic whole.15001500   In the Latin text we follow chiefly the careful revision of Waterland, ch. ix. (Works, vol. iii. p. 221 ff.), who also adds the various readings of the best manuscripts, and several parallel passages from the church fathers previous to 430, as he pushes the composition back before the third ecumenical council (431). We have also compared the text of Montfaucon (in his edition of Athanasius) and of Walch (Christl. Concordienbuch, 1750). The numbering of verses differs after ver. 19. Waterland puts vers. 19 and 20 in one, also vers. 25 and 26, 89 and 40, 41 and 42, making only forty verses in all. So Montfaucon, p. 735 ff. Walch makes forty-four verses.


1. Quicumque vult salvus esse, ante omnia opus est, ut teneat catholicam fidem.15011501   Comp. Augustine, Contra Maximin. Arian. l. ii. c. 3 (Opera, tom. viii. f. 729, ed. Venet.): “Haec est fides nostra, quoniam haec est fides recta, quae etiam catholica nuncupatur.”

1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic [true Christian] faith

2. Quam nisi quisque integram inviolatamque15021502   Some manuscripts: “inviolabilemque.” servaverit, absque dubio15031503   “Absque dubio is wanting in the Cod. reg. Paris., according to Waterland. in aeternum peribit.

2. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

3. Fides autem catholica haec est, ut unum Deum in trinitate et trinitatem in unitate veneremur;15041504   Gregory Naz. Orat. xxiii. p. 422: ... μονάδα ἐν τριάδι, καὶ τριάδα ἐν μονάδι προσκύνουμένην.

3. But this is the catholic faith: That we worship one God in trinity, and trinity in unity;

4. Neque confundentes personas; neque substantiam separantes.15051505   A similar sentence occurs in two places in the Commonitorium of Vincentius of Lerinum († 450): “Ecclesia vero catholica unam divinitatem in trinitatis plenitudine et trinitatis aequalitatem, in una atque eadem majestate veneratur, ut neque singularitas substantiae personarum confundat proprietatem, neque item trinitatis distinctio unitatem separet deitatis ” (cap. 18 and 22). See the comparative tables in Montfaucon in Opera Athan. tom. ii. p. 725 sq. From this and two other parallels Anthelmi (Disquisitio de Symb. Athan., Par. 1698) has inferred that Vincentius of Lerinum was the author of the Athanasian Creed. But such arguments point much more strongly to Augustine, who affords many more parallels, and from whom Vincentius drew.

4. Neither confounding the persons; nor dividing the substance.

5. Alia est enim persona Patris: alia Filii: alia Spiritus Sancti.15061506   Vincentius Lirl.c. cap. 19: ”Alia est persona Patris, alia Patris, alia Spiritus Sancti. Sed Patris et Filii et Spiritus S. non alia et alia, sed una eademque natura.” A similar passage is quoted by Waterland from the Symbolum Pelagii.

5. For there is one person of the Father: another of the Son: another of the Holy Ghost.

6. Sed Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti una est divinitas: aequalis gloria, coaeterna majestas.15071507   Augustine, tom. viii. p. 744 (ed. Venet.): ”Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti unam virtutem, unam substantiam, unam deitatem, unam majestatem, unam gloriam.”

6. But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coëternal.

7. Qualis Pater, talis Filius, talis (et) Spiritus Sanctus.15081508   Faustini Fid. (cited by Waterland): “Qualis est Pater secundum substantiam, talem genuit Filium,” etc.

7. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.

8. Increatus Pater: increatus Filius: increatus (et) Spiritus Sanctus.

8. The Father is uncreated: the Son is uncreated: the Holy Ghost is uncreated.

9. Immensus Pater: immensus Filius: immensus Spiritus Sanctus.15091509   So Augustine, except that he has magnus for immensus. Comp. below. lmmensus is differently translated in the different Greek copies: (ἀκατάληπτος. ἄπειρος ,and ἄμετρος,—a proof that the original is Latin. Venantius Fortunatus, in his Expositio fidei Catholicae, asserts: “Non est mensurabuis in sua natura, quia illocaus est, incircumscriptus, ubique totus, ubique praesens, ubique potens.” The word is thus quite equivalent to omnipresent. The translation ” incomprehensible” in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is inaccurate, and probably came from the Greek translation ἀκατάληπτος.

9. The Father is immeasurable: the Son is immeasurable: the Holy Ghost is immeasurable.

10. Aeternus Pater: aeternus Filius: aeternus (et) Spiritus Sanctus.15101510   Augustine, Op. tom. v. p. 543: ”Aeternus Pater, coaeternus Filius, coaeternus Spiritus Sanctus.”

10. The Father is eternal: the Son eternal: the Holy Ghost eternal.

11. Et tamen non tree aeterni: sed unus aeternus.

11. And yet there are not three eternals; but one eternal.

12. Sicut non tres increati: nec tres immensi: sed unus increatus et unus immensus.

12. As also there are not three uncreated: nor three immeasurable: but one uncreated, and one immeasurable.

13. Similiter omnipotens Pater: omnipotens Filius: omnipotens (et) Spiritus Sanctus.

13. So likewise the Father is almighty: the Son almighty: and the Holy Ghost almighty,

14. Et tamen non tres omnipo-entes; sed unus omnipotens.15111511   In quite parallel terms Augustine, De trinit, lib. v. cap. 8 (tom. viii. 837 sq.); At “Magnus Pater, magnus Filius, magnus Spiritus S., non tamen tres magni, sed unus magnus ... Et bonus Pater, bonus Filius, bonus Spiritus S.; nec tres boni, sed unus bonus; de quo dictum est, ’Nemo bonus nisi unus Deus.’ ... Itaque omnipotens Pater, omnipotens Filius, omnipotens Spiritus S.; nec tamen tres omnipotentes, sed unus omnipotens, ’ex quo omnia, per quem omnia, in quo omnia, ipsi gloria’ (Rom. ix. 36).”

14. And yet there are not three almighties: but one almighty.

15. Ita Deus Pater: Deus Filius: Deus (et) Spiritus Sanctus.15121512   Comp. Augustine, De trinit. lib. viii. in Prooem. to cap. 1 “Sicut Deus Pater, Deus Filius, Deus Spiritus S.; et bonus P., bonus F., bonus Sp. S.; et omnipotens P., omnipotens F., omnipotens Sp. S.; nec tamen tres Dii, aut tres boni, aut tree omnipotentes; sed unus Deus, bonus, omnipotens, ipse Trinitas.”—Serm. 215 (Opera, tom. v. p. 948): “Unus Pater Deus, unus Filius Deus, unus Spiritus S. Deus: nec tamen Pater et F. et Sp. S. tres Dii, sed unus Deus.” De trinit. x. c. 11 (§18); “Haec igitur tria, memoria, intelligentia, voluntas, quoniam non sunt tres vitae, sed una vita; nec tres mentes, sed una mens; consequenter utique nec tres substantiae sunt, sed una substantia.” Comp. also Ambrosius, De Spiritu S. iii. 111: “Ergo sanctus Pater, sanctus Filius, santus et Spiritus; sed non tres sancti; quia unus est Deus sanctus, unus est Dominus;” and similar places.

15. So the Father is God: the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost is God.

16. Et tamen non tres Dii; sed unus est Deus.15131513   Comp. the above passage from Augustine, and De trinit l.c. 5 (al. 8): “Et tamen hanc trinitatem non tres Deos, sed unum Deum.” A similar passage in Vigilius of Tapsus, De trinitate, and in a sermon of Caesarius of Arles, which is ascribed to Augustine(v. 399).

16. And yet there are not three Gods; but one God.

17. Ita Dominus Pater: Dominus Filius: Dominus (et) Spiritus Sanctus.

17. So the Father is Lord: the Son Lord: and the Holy Ghost Lord.

18. Et tamen non tres Domini; sed unus est Dominus.15141514   Augustine: “Non tamen sunt duo Dii et duo Domini secundum formam Dei, sed ambo cum Spiritu suo unus est Dominus ... sed simul omnes non tres Dominos esse Deos, sed unum Dominum Deum dico.” Contra Maximin. Arian. 1. ii. c. 2 and 8 (Opera, viii. f. 729).

18. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord

19. Quia sicut singulatim unamquamque personam et

19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to Deum et Dominum confiteri christiana veritate compellimur:15151515   1 Others read: “Deum ac Dominum.” acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord

20. Ita tres Deos, aut (tres)15161516   Waterland omits tres, Walch has it. Dominos dicere catholica religione prohibemur.

20. So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, there are three Gods, or three Lords.

21. Pater a nullo est factus; nec creatus; nec genitus.

21. The Father is made of none; neither created; nor begotten.

22. Filius a Patre solo est: 15171517   Solo is intended to distinguish the Son from the Holy Ghost, who is of the Father and of the Son; thus containing already the Latin doctrine of the double procession. Hence some Greek copies strike out alone, while others inconsistently retain it. non factus; nec creatus; sed genitus.

22. The Son is of the Father alone: not made; nor created; but begotten.

23. Spiritus Sanctus a Patre et Filio: non factus; nec creatus; nec genitus (est); sed procedens.15181518   This is manifestly the Latin doctrine of the processio, which would be still more plainly expressed if it were said: “sed ab utroque procedens.” Comp. Augustine, De trinit. lib. xv. cap. 26 (§ 47): “Non igitur ab utroque est genitus, sed procedit ab utroque amborum Spiritus.” Most Greek copies (comp. in Moutfaucon in Athan. Opera, tom. ii. p. 728 sqq.) omit et Filio, and read only ἀπὸ τοῦ πατρός.

23. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son: not made; neither created; nor begotten; but proceeding.

24. Unus ergo Pater, non tres Patres: unus Filius, non tres Filii: unus Spiritus Sanctus, non tres Spiritus Sancti.15191519   Augustine, Contra Maxim. ii. 3 (tom. viii. f. 729): “In Trinitate quae Deus est, unus est Pater, non duo vel tres; et unus Filius, non duo vel tres; et unus amborum Spiritus, non duo vel tres.”

24. Thus there is one Father, not three Fathers: one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.

25. Et in hac trinitate nihil prius, aut posterius: nihil maius, aut minus.15201520   August. Serm. 215, tom. v. f. 948: ”In hac trinitate non est aliud alio majus aut minus, nulla operum separatio, nulla dissimilitude substantiae.” Waterland quotes also a kindred passage from the Symb. Pelagii.

25. And in this Trinity none is before or after another: none is greater or less than another.

26. Sed totae tres personae coaeternae sibi sunt et coaequales.

26. But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together, and co-equal

27. Ita, ut per omnia, sicut jam supra dictum est, et unitas in trinitate et trinitas in unitate veneranda sit.15211521   So Waterland and the Anglican Liturgy. The Lutheran Book of Concord reverses the order, and reads: trinitas in unitate, et unitas in trinitate.

27. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

28. Qui vult ergo salvos esse, ita de trinitate sentiat.

28. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.


The origin of this remarkable production is veiled in mysterious darkness. Like the Apostles’ Creed, it is not so much the work of any one person, as the production of the spirit of the church. As the Apostles’ Creed represents the faith of the ante-Nicene period, and the Nicene Creed the faith of the Nicene, so the Athanasian Creed gives formal expression to the post-Nicene faith in the mystery of the Trinity and the incarnation of God. The old tradition which, since the eighth century, has attributed it to Athanasius as the great champion of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, has been long ago abandoned on all hands; for in the writings of Athanasius and his contemporaries, and even in the acts of the third and fourth ecumenical councils, no trace of it is to be found.15221522   Ger. Vossius first demonstrated the spuriousness of the tradition in his decisive treatise of 1642. Even Roman divines, like Quesnel, Dupin, Pagi, Tillemont, Montfaucon, and Muratori, admit the spuriousness. Köllner adduces nineteen proofs against the Athanasian origin of the Creed, two or three of which are perfectly sufficient without the rest. Comp. the most important in my treatise, l.c. p. 592 ff. It does not appear at all in the Greek church till the eleventh or twelfth century; and then it occurs in a few manuscripts which bear the manifest character of translations, vary from one another in several points, and omit or modify the clause on the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son (v. 23).15231523   Wherever the creed has come into use in the Greek churches, this verse has been omitted as a Latin interpolation. It implies the entire post-Nicene or Augustinian development of the doctrine of the Trinity, and even the Christological discussions of the fifth century, though it does not contain the anti-Nestorian test-word θεοτόκος, mother of God. It takes several passages verbally from Augustine’s work on the Trinity which was not completed till the year 415, and from the Commonitorium of Vincentius of Lerinum, 434; works which evidently do not quote the passages from an already existing symbol, but contribute them as stones to the building. On the other hand it contains no allusion to the Monophysite and Monothelite controversies, and cannot be placed later than the year 570; for at that date Venantius Fortunatus of Poictiers wrote a short commentary on it.

It probably originated about the middle of the fifth century, in the school of Augustine, and in Gaul, where it makes its first appearance, and acquires its first ecclesiastical authority. But the precise author or compiler cannot be discovered, and the various views of scholars concerning him are mere opinions.15241524   Comp. the catalogue of opinions in Waterland, vol. iii. p. 117; in Köllner; and in my own treatise. The majority of voices have spoken in favor of Vigilius of Tapsus in Africa, a.d.484; others for Vincentius of Lerinum, 434; Waterland for Hilaryof Arles, about 430; while others ascribe it indefinitely to the North African, or Gallic, or Spanish church in the sixth or seventh century. Harvey recently, but quite groundlessly, has dated the composition back to the year 401, and claims it for the bishop Victricius of Rouen (Hist. and Theol. of the Three Creeds, vol. ii. p. 583 f.). He thinks that Augustinequotes from it, but this father nowhere alludes to such a symbol; the author of the Creed, on the contrary, has taken several passages from Augustine, De Trinitate, as well as from Vincentius of Lerinum and other source. Comp. the notes to the Creed above, and my treatise, p. 596 ff. From Gaul the authority of this symbol spread over the whole of Latin Christendom, and subsequently made its way into some portions of the Greek church in Europe. The various Protestant churches have either formally adopted the Athanasian Creed together with the Nicene and the Apostles’, or at all events agree, in their symbolical books, with its doctrine of the trinity and the person of Christ.15251525   On this agreement of the symbolical books of the Evangelical churches with the Athanasianum, comp. my treatise, l.c. p. 610 ff. Luther considers this Creed the weightiest and grandest production of the church since the time of the Apostles. In the Church of England it is still sung or chanted in the cathedrals. The Protestant Episcopal church in the United States, on the contrary, has excluded it from the Book of Common Prayer.

The Athanasian Creed presents, in short, sententious articles, and in bold antitheses, the church doctrine of the Trinity in opposition to Unitarianism and tritheism, and the doctrine of the incarnation and the divine-human person of Christ in opposition to Nestorianism and Eutychianism, and thus clearly and concisely sums up the results of the trinitarian and Christological controversies of the ancient church. It teaches the numerical unity of substance and the triad of persons in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, with the perfect deity and perfect humanity of Christ in one indivisible person. In the former case we have one substance or nature in three persons; in the latter, two natures in one divine-human person.

On this faith eternal salvation is made to depend. By the damnatory clauses in its prologue and epilogue the Athanasianum has given offence even to those who agree with its contents. But the original Nicene Creed contained likewise an anathema, which afterwards dropped out of it; the anathema is to be referred to the heresies, and may not be applied to particular persons, whose judge is God alone; and finally, the whole intention is, not that salvation and perdition depend on the acceptance and rejection of any theological formulary or human conception and exhibition of the truth, but that faith in the revealed truth itself, in the living God, Father, Son, and Spirit, and in Jesus Christ the God-Man and the Saviour of the world, is the thing which saves, even where the understanding may be very defective, and that unbelief is the thing which condemns; according to the declaration of the Lord: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” In particular actual cases Christian humility and charity of course require the greatest caution, and leave the judgment to the all-knowing and just God.

The Athanasian Creed closes the succession of ecumenical symbols; symbols which are acknowledged by the entire orthodox Christian world, except that Evangelical Protestantism ascribes to them not an absolute, but only a relative authority, and reserves the right of freely investigating and further developing all church doctrines from the inexhaustible fountain of the infallible word of God.


II. The Origenistic Controversies.


I. Epiphanius: Haeres. 64. Several Epistles of Epiphanius, Theophilus of Alex., and Jerome (in Jerome’s Epp. 51 and 87–100, ed. Vallarsi). The controversial works of Jerome and Rufinus on the orthodoxy of Origen (Rufini Praefatio ad Orig. περὶ ἀρχῶν; and Apologia s. invectivarum in Hieron.; Hieronymi Ep. 84 ad Pammachium et Oceanum de erroribus Origenis; Apologia Adv. Rufinum libri iii, written 402–403, etc.). Palladius: Vita Johannis Chrysostomi (in Chrysost. Opera, vol. xiii. ed. Montfaucon). Socrates: H. E. vi. 3–18. Sozomenus: H. E. viii. 2–20. Theodoret: H. E. v. 27 sqq. Photius: Biblioth. Cod. 59. Mansi:


II. Huetius: Origeniana (Opera Orig. vol. iv. ed. De la Rue). Doucin: Histoire des mouvements arrivés dans l’église au sujet d’Origène. Par. 1700. Walch: Historie der Ketzereien. Th. vii. p. 427 sqq. Schröckh: Kirchengeschichte, vol. x. 108 sqq. Comp. the monographs Of Redepenning and Thomasius on Origen; and Neander: Der heil. Joh. Chrysostomus. Berl. 1848, 3d ed. vol. ii. p. 121 sqq. Hefele (R.C.): Origenistenstreit, in the Kirchenlexicon of Wetzer and Welte, vol. vii. p. 847 sqq., and Conciliengeschichte, vol. ii. p. 76 sqq. O. Zöckler: Hieronymus. Gotha, 1865, p. 238 ff; 391 ff.



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