Today is the day, the one day in the Church Year where we blow off the dust and confess the Athanasian Creed. It’s a long creed, to be sure. It says a lot about the Trinity, but we need to ask the question, why do we need this creed? We have two perfectly good creeds, why add a third?
In the early second century, the Early Church composed the Apostles’ Creed as a universal statement of belief that all of Christendom confessed. The Apostles’ Creed served as a basic definition of each person of the Trinity and the work ascribed to each Person. This served the Church for some time until an error arose in the Church. In 325, the Nicene Creed was produced to combat an error of the day. It grew out of the immediate necessity of safeguarding the apostolic teaching concerning the deity of Christ. The Nicene Creed, more than the Apostles’ Creed, echoes sharp distinctions drawn by the orthodox against heresies.
That brings us to the end of the fifth century. Another creed was written that delved further into the mystery of the Trinity. If this had been confessed twice before by the Church, then why again? A priest named Arius posited that God created out of nothing a being through whom He created the world. This being was the Logos, called the “Son.” However, the “Son” was not true God or eternal. This heresy had already been handled of sorts by the Nicene Creed, but needed to be handled again, this time, in a most definitive way. And from that heresy, you get the Athanasian Creed, the end all and be all confession of who the Holy Trinity is and is not.
Again, we are left with the question of why. Why is this creed or any creed so important? Why do we confess this creed or any creed Sunday after Sunday? The reason why the three Ecumenical Creeds, the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian, are so important is because of the confession of faith they make. They say what we believe. In the case of the Apostles’ and Nicene, they confess the basic tenants of who the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are and the work each Person of the Trinity does. As for the Athanasian Creed, it too confesses who the Trinity is, but it also declares who the Trinity is not.
Martin Luther, writing in 1528, says the following: “These are the three persons and one God, who has given Himself to us all wholly and completely, with all that He is and has. The Father gives Himself to us, with Heaven and earth all creatures, in order that they may serve us and benefit us. But this gift has become obscured and useless through Adam’s fall. Therefore, the Son Himself has subsequently given Himself and bestowed all His works, sufferings, wisdom, and righteousness, and reconciled us to the Father, in order that restored to life and righteousness, we might also know and have the Father and His gifts. But because this grace would benefit no one and could not come to us, the Holy Spirit comes and gives Himself to us wholly and completely.”
When we worship the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we worship only one God, not three. God is fully God when God created and still creates the universe. God is fully God when God lived and still lives in the presence of Jesus. God is fully God when God lived and still lives in the presence of the Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts today. These are not three gods but one God who has three different Persons.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a very important doctrine. The Trinitarian formula is used at the beginning of the service to invoke the name of God among His people. The Trinitarian formula is spoken at the beginning of Christian life at our Baptism and spoken at the end of the Christian life in the committal of the Christian. In other words, life begins with Baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and ends at your grave in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These words are bookends for the beginning and ending of our lives here on earth.
When we look at the Athanasian Creed with regards to Christology, that is, the study of Christ, we look at very specific aspects of Christ. We focus on the nature and person of Jesus Christ. Primary considerations include the relationship of Jesus’ nature and person with the nature and person of God. That is why we confess in the Athanasian Creed: “Therefore, it is the right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man.” The Athanasian Creed states clearly that Jesus Christ is both God and man at the same time. Jesus Christ must be true God so that He could live a sinless life. He must also be true man so that He could die for our sins. If He were not true God, He would sin. If He were not true man, He would not be able to die for our sins. If He were not true God, He would not be holy. If He were not true man, then we would not have One who would be able to redeem mankind. If He were not both true God and true man, He would not be able to rise from the dead and achieve the ultimate victory over sin, death, and the devil.
As we confess the Christian faith, the faith handed down to us from Jesus to the apostles, we continue to confess that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the Son of the Father from eternity. His identity as the Son becomes apparent here in the Creeds. Jesus is the Son of the Father from eternity.
As Jesus speaks to the Jews in our Gospel, they speak of Abraham and question if Jesus is greater than Abraham. Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Jesus. “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”” With these words Jesus reveals that he is the God who appeared in the Old Testament to Moses in the burning bush. The Gospel of John includes many “I am” statements of Jesus to declare His divinity and reveal Him as the God of the Old Testament, who now fulfills it by His coming.
Jesus was sent by the Father to give us life. His forgiveness grants us life. Jesus’ sacrificial life and death paid for our sins to grant us forgiveness. Baptized into His death and resurrection, we know that life has the final word. Jesus, the Son of the Father from eternity, gives us life. The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, works in the Means of Grace to bring us to faith in Christ and keep us to life eternal.
We poor sinners who have been blessed with the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit will receive the gifts that only the Triune God can give – the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. We receive those gifts by: God the Father’s grace for God the Son’s sake through God the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts andminds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.