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John Henry Newman An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

Chapter 1 The Development of Ideas


Section 1. The Process

An idea is the representation of an object of thought. Just like an object, an idea can only be fully
understood when it is observed from a distance – from a number of different perspectives.

When an idea arrests and possesses the mind – it is said to have life.

Many ideas have a persistence and follow a life cycle. The final representation of an idea will be of
the same substance but it will be completed by the meditations and reflections of many minds.

An idea does not evolve – it does not change from its original substance. Things do not change over
time – they change but stay the same.

Ideas include contradictions and paradoxes.

“But one aspect of Revelation must not be allowed to exclude or obscure another; and
Christianity is dogmatical, devotional, practical all at once; it is esoteric and exoteric; it
is indulgent and strict; it is light and dark; it is love, and it is fear.” p.36

There will be an initial time of confusion but as time proceeds new light will be shed and a definite
teaching will emerge. It will interact with other systems, it will be criticised by enemies and respond.
The idea develops but stays the same:

“Then in time it will have grown into an ethical code, or into a system of government, or
into a theology, or into a ritual, according to its capabilities: and this body of thought,
thus laboriously gained, will after all be little more than the proper representation of
one idea, being in substance what the idea meant from the first, its complete image as
seen in a combination of diversified aspects, with the suggestions and corrections of
many minds, and the illustrations of many experiences.” p.38

“In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change and to be perfect is
to have changed often.”

Section 2. The kinds of development

In order to analyse the kinds of development we need to look at the ways the word ‘development’ is
used generally in common language. There are roughly 3 main ways it is used:

- for the process of development

- for the results of development
- for a development, true or false ie a corruption

We also need to exclude:

- mathematical development, a series of logical statements

- physical development
- material development

Political development

When society is the subject matter of an idea

often irregular process subject to personalities / fate of battles.

As the idea develops it is often detached from the political development.

Logical development

Although the idea may be initiated in the church it is developed in a logical environment – such as
the courts.

For example, the doctrine of Royal Supremacy

After the start of the Anglican church the idea of the head of state becoming head of the church
developed so that ‘sedition, conspiracy and rebellion’ rank as higher sins than ‘heresy and schism’ in
the prayer book.

Historical development

Over time the accumulation of judgements / wisdom moves toward the development of an idea:

‘truth is the daughter of time’

Ethical development

What is desirable / optional over time may become ‘what is essential’ this in essence is the idea
behind ethical development.

Over a period of time with an accumulation of experience what was originally only optional is come
to be seen as obvious and necessary.

Guizot – religion is man’s way of organising the rapid growth of ethical development. Religion could
be seen as the optional element that over time becomes essential. Guizot saw religion as a way to
organise human nature.

Metaphysical development

The analysis of an idea with ‘complete delineation’.

What happens when an idea grows in the mind to become an essential element of though such as a
character in fiction. For example Shakespeare’s development of Hamlet or Ariel.

“the mind may be employed in developing the solemn ideas, which it has hitherto held
implicitly and without subjecting them to its reflective and reasoning powers.” p.52

The mind contemplates and forms ideas

*ideas evolve*

this process is a development

thus the power of the mind develops impressions into systems or creeds.

The religious vision that we have is only capable of being expressed through such ideas.

“As to Christianity, supposing the truths of which it consists to admit of development,

that development will be one or other of the last five kinds. Taking the Incarnation as its
central doctrine, the Episcopate as taught by St Ignatius, will be an instance of political
development, the Theotokus of logical, the determination of the date of our Lord’s birth
of historical, the Holy Eucharist of moral, and the Athanasian Creed of Metaphysical.”

Episcopate –

§ 45. Development of the Episcopate. Ignatius.

It is matter of fact that the episcopal form of government was universally established in the
Eastern and Western church as early as the middle of the second century. Even the heretical
sects, at least the Ebionites, as we must infer from the commendation of the episcopacy in the
pseudo-Clementine literature, were organized on this plan, as well as the later schismatic
parties of Novatians, Donatists, etc. But it is equally undeniable, that the episcopate reached
its complete form only step by step. In the period before us we must note three stages in this
development connected with the name of Ignatius in Syria (d. 107 or 115), Irenaeus in Gaul
(d. 202), and Cyprian in North Africa (d. 258).

The episcopate first appears, as distinct from the presbyterate, but as a congregational office
only (in distinction from the diocesan idea), and as yet a young institution, greatly needing
commendation, in the famous seven (or three) Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch a disciple of the
apostles, and the second bishop of that see (Evodius being the first, and Hero the third). He is
also the first who uses the term "catholic church," as if episcopacy and catholicity sprung up
simultaneously. The whole story of Ignatius is more legendary than real, and his writings are
subject to grave suspicion of fraudulent interpolation. We have three different versions of the
Ignatian Epistles, but only one of them can be genuine; either the smaller Greek version, or
the lately discovered Syriac.188188 The question of the genuineness will be discussed in
§165. Cureton (1845) Bunsen, Lipsius, and others accept the Syriac version as the original
form of the Ignatian epistles, and regard even the short Greek text as corrupt, but yet as
dating from the middle of the second century. Rothe, Hefele, Schaff (first ed.), Düsterdieck,
Uhlhorn, Zahn, Harnack, defend the genuineness of the shorter Greek recension. The larger
Greek recension is universally given up as spurious. The origin of the hierarchical system is
obscured by pious frauds. See below, §164 and 165.87 In the latter, which contains only three
epistles, most of the passages on the episcopate are wanting, indeed; yet the leading features
of the institution appear even here, and we can recognise ex ungue leonem.189189 In the
Syriac Ep. to Polycarp, the word bishop occurs four times; in the Syriac Ep. to the Ephesians,
God is blessed for having given them such a bishop as Onesimus. In the shorter Greek Ep. to
Polycarp episcopacy is mentioned in the salutation, and in three of the eight chapters (ch. 5
twice, ch. 6 twice, ch. 8 once). In the 21 chapters of the Greek Ep. to the Ephesians, the word
bishop occurs thirteen times, presbyter three times, and deacon once (in the first six chapters,
and ch. 21). In the Greek Trallians, the bishop appears nine times; in the Magnesians, eleven
times; in the Philadelphians, eight times; in the Smynaeans, nine times. Thus in the three
Syriac Epistles the bishop is mentioned but six times; in the seven shorter Greek Epistles
about fifty times; but one of the strongest passages is found in the Syriac Epistle to Polycarp
(ch. 5. and 6.).88 In any case they reflect the public sentiment before the middle of the second

The substance of these epistles (with the exception of that to the Romans, in which,
singularly enough, not a word is said about bishops190190 Except that Ignatius speaks of
himself as "the bishop of Syria," who "has found favor with God, being sent from the East to
the West" (ch. 2). The verb ἐπισκοπέω is also used, but of Christ (ch. 9).89), consists of
earnest exhortations to obey the bishop and maintain the unity of the church against the
Judaistic and docetic heresies. With the near prospect and the most ardent desire for
martyrdom, the author has no more fervent wish than the perfect inward and outward unity of
the faithful; and to this the episcopate seems to him indispensable. In his view Christ is the
invisible supreme head, the one great universal bishop of all the churches scattered over the
earth. The human bishop is the centre of unity for the single congregation, and stands in it as
the vicar of Christ and even of God.191191 Ἐπίσκοπος εἰς τόπον θεοῦ προκαθήµενος, each
bisbop being thus a sort of pope.90 The people, therefore, should unconditionally obey him,
and do nothing without his will. Blessed are they who are one with the bishop, as the church
is with Christ, and Christ with the Father, so that all harmonizes in unity. Apostasy from the
bishop is apostasy from Christ, who acts in and through the bishops as his organs.

We shall give passages from the shorter Greek text (as edited by Zahn):

If any one is able to continue in purity (ἐν ἁγνείᾳ i.e., in the state of celibacy), to the honor of
the flesh of our Lord, let him continue so without boasting; if he boasts, he is lost (ἀπώλετο)
if he become known more than the bishop,192192 Zahn reads, Ad Polyc. cap. 5: ἐὰν γνωσθῇ
πλέον τοῦ ἐπισκόπου,i.e . if he be better known or more esteemed than the bishop. The other
reading is, πλήν, beyond, or apart from.91 he is corrupt (ἔφθαρται). It is becoming, therefore,
to men and women who marry, that they marry by the counsel of the bishop, that the
marriage may be in the Lord, and not in lust. Let ever thing be done for the honor of God.
Look to the bishop, that God also [may look] upon you. I will be in harmony with those who
are subject to the bishop, and the presbyters, and the deacons; with them may I have a portion
near God!" This passage is one of the strongest, and occurs in the Syriac Epistle to Polycarp
as well as in the shorter Greek recension.193193 Ad Polyc. cap. 5 and 6. The Greek text
varies but little from the Syriac.92 It characteristically connected episcopacy with celibacy:
the ascetic system of Catholicism starts in celibacy, as the hierarchical organization of
Catholicism takes its rise in episcopacy. "It becomes you to be in harmony with the mind (or
sentence, γνώµῃ) of the bishop, as also ye do. For your most estimable presbytery, worthy of
God, is fitted to the bishop as the strings are to the harp."194194 Ad Ephes. c. 4: Οὕτως
συνήρµοσται τῷ ἐπισκόπῳ. ὡς χορδαὶ κιθάρᾳ.93 "It is evident that we should look upon the
bishop as we do upon the Lord himself."195195 Ad Ephes c. 6: Τὸν οὖν ἐπίσκοπον δῆλον ὅτι
ὡς αὐτὸν τὸν κύριον δεῖ προβλέπειν.94 "I exhort you that ye study to do all things with a
divine concord: the bishop presiding in the place of God (εἰς τόπον θεοῦ), and presbyters in
the place of the college of the apostles, (εις τόπον συνεδρίου τῶν ἀποστόλων), and the
deacons, most dear to me, being intrusted with the ministry (διακονίαν) of Jesus Christ, who
was with the Father before all ages, and in the end appeared to us."196196 Ad Magnes. c. 6.95
"Be subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Christ [was subject] to the Father according
to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ and to the Father and to the Spirit, in order that the
union be carnal (σαρκική), as well as spiritual."197197 Ibid. c. 13. The desire for "carnal"
unity is significant,96 "It is necessary, as is your habit, to do nothing without the bishop, and
that ye should be subject also to the presbytery (τῶ πρεσβυτερίῳ), as to the apostles of Jesus
Christ."198198 Ad Trallian. c. 2: Ἀναγκαῖον ἐστὶν, ὥσπερ ποιεῖτε, ἄνευ τοῦ ἐπισκόπου µηδὲν
πράσσειν ὑµᾶς κτλ.97 "As many as are of God and of Jesus Christ, are also with their
bishop."199199 Ad Philad. c. 3.98 "Let all of you follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ [follows]
the Father; and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons as the
ordinance of God. Without the bishop let no one do anything connected with the church. Let
that eucharist be accounted valid which is [offered] under the bishop or by one he has
appointed. Wherever the bishop is found, there let the people be; as wherever Christ is, there
is the catholic church. Without the bishop it is not lawful either to baptize or to celebrate a
love-feast."200200 Ad. Smyrn. c. 8: Ὄπου ἄν φανῇ ὁ ἐπίσκοπος, εκεῖ τὸ πλῆθος ἒστω, ὥσπερ
α;̓̀ν ἦ Χριστὸσ Ἰησοῦς , ἐκεῖ ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία.99

This is the first time that the term "catholic" is applied to the church, and that episcopacy is
made a condition of catholicity.

"He that honors the bishop, shall be honored by God; he that does anything without the
knowledge of the bishop serves the devil."201201 Ad Smyrn. c. 9: Ὁ τιµῶν ἐπίσκοπον ὑπὸ
θεοῦ τετίµηται· ὁ λάθρα ἐπισκόπου τι πράσσων τῷ διαβόλῳ λατρεύει..00

This is making salvation pretty much depend upon obedience to the bishop; just as Leo I.,
three centuries later, in the controversy with Hilary of Arles, made salvation depend upon
obedience to the pope by declaring every rebel against the pope to be a servant of the devil!
Such daring superabundance of episcopalianism clearly betrays some special design and
raises the suspicion of forgery or large interpolations. But it may also be explained as a
special pleading for a novelty which to the mind of the writer was essential to the very
existence of the church.

The peculiarity in this Ignatian view is that the bishop appears in it as the head and centre of a
single congregation, and not as equally the representative of the whole church; also, that (as
in the pseudo-Clementine Homilies) he is the vicar of Christ, and not, as in the later view,
merely the successor of the apostles,—the presbyters and deacons around him being
represented as those successors; and finally, that there are no distinctions of order among the
bishops, no trace of a primacy; all are fully coordinate vicars of Christ, who provides for
himself in them, as it were, a sensible, perceptible omnipresence in the church. The Ignatian
episcopacy, in short, is congregational, not diocesan; a new and growing institution, not a
settled policy of apostolic origin


Theotokus –

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Theotokos of Kazan

Theotokos (Greek: Θεοτόκος, translit. Theotókos) is the Greek title of Mary, the mother of
Jesus used especially in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic
Churches. Its literal English translations include God-bearer and the one who gives birth to
God. Less literal translations include Mother of God. Roman Catholics use the title Mother
of God more often than Theotokos. The Council of Ephesus decreed in 431 that Mary is
Theotokos because her son Jesus is one person who is both God and man, divine and human.


• 1 Etymology and translation

o 1.1 Mother of God
• 2 Theology
• 3 Use of Theotokos in the early Christian Church
• 4 Third Ecumenical Council
• 5 Hymns
• 6 Solemnity
• 7 Icons
• 8 Notes
• 9 References
• 10 See also
• 11 External links

Etymology and translation

Theotokos is a compound of two Greek words, Θεός God and τόκος parturition, childbirth.
Literally, this translates as God-bearer or the one who gives birth to God. However, since
many English-speaking Orthodox find this literal translation awkward, in liturgical use,
Theotokos is often left untranslated, or paraphrased as Mother of God. The latter title is the
literal translation of a distinct title in Greek, Μήτηρ Θεού (translit. Mētēr Theou). Mother of
God also accurately translates the Greek words Θεοµήτωρ (translit. Theomētor; also spelled
Θεοµήτηρ, translit. Theomētēr) and Μητρόθεος (translit. Mētrotheos), which are found in
patristic and liturgical texts.{e.g. "Λαβοµένη η Θεοτόκος των εκ του αχράντου και
παναµώµου αυτής θυσιαστηρίου σαρκωθέντα ζωοποιόν και ανέκφραστον άνθρακα ως λαβίδι
... επί τούτοις παρουσιασάµενος ο δίκαιος και τη προτροπή είξας της διακονησαµένης Θεώ
προς ανθρώπους Θεοµήτορος ... περιφανώς ιερά θεοµήτωρ εξετέλει." Methodius of Patra,
"Speech on Symeon and the Holy Theotokos".}

In many traditions, Theotokos was translated from the Greek into the local liturgical
language. The most prominent of these were Latin (Deipara, Dei genetrix and, as
paraphrased, Mater Dei), Church Slavonic (Богородица translit. Bogoroditsa), Coptic (
Ϯⲑⲑⲑⲑⲑⲑⲑⲑ translit. Ti.Theotokós), Arabic (‫ دة ﷲوال‬translit. Wālidat Allah),
Georgian (ღვთისმშობელი translit. Ghvtismshobeli), Armenian: (Աստուածածին
translit.Astvadzatzin), and Romanian (Născătoare de Dumnezeu or Maica Domnului).

Mother of God

The Iveron Theotokos (Iverskaya), an 11th century Russian icon based on the 10th-century
Hodegetria type, Iviron Monastery, Mount Athos.

The English term Mother of God is mostly used as an imprecise translation of Theotokos, and
frequently requires explanation.[1] The other principal use of Mother of God has been as the
precise and literal translation of Μήτηρ Θεού, a Greek term which has an established usage
of its own in traditional Christian theological writing, hymnography, and iconography. In an
abbreviated form ΜΡ ΘΥ it often is found on Orthodox icons (see illustration above), where
it is used to identify Mary.

A hymn normally sung as part of the Greek Divine Liturgy includes both titles in close
proximity, in both cases referring to Mary, showing that the titles are not synonymous: "It is
truly fitting to call you blessed, the Theotokos, ever-blessed and wholly pure and the Mother
of our God (Ἄξιόν ἐστιν ὡς ἀληθῶς µακαρίζειν σὲ τὴν Θεοτόκον, τὴν ἀειµακάριστον καὶ
παναµώµητον καὶ µητέρα του Θεοῦ ἡµῶν...", emphasis added.) The difference between the
two terms is that the former, Theotokos explicitly refers to physical childbearing, while the
latter, Mother of God, describes a family relationship but not necessarily physical

Within the Christian tradition, Mother of God has not been understood, or intended to be
understood, as referring to Mary as Mother of God from eternity, that is, as Mother of God
the Father, but only with reference to the birth of Jesus, that is, the Incarnation. This
limitation in the meaning of Mother of God must be understood by the person employing the
term. By contrast, Theotokos makes it explicit, thus excluding any misunderstanding of
Mary's divine maternity.

However, those reading or hearing the English phrase Mother of God as a translation of a
Greek text cannot — unless they know the Greek text in question, or obtain additional
information — know whether the phrase is a literal translation of Μήτηρ Θεού or an
imprecise rendering of Θεοτόκος or one its Latin equivalents or equivalents in other

Catholic and Orthodox Christians justify use of the term Mother of God by citing Luke 1:43
in which Elizabeth greets the Virgin Mary as the "mother of my Lord."

Key articles on

General perspective
Mother of Jesus • Blessed Virgin
Specific views
Anglican • Eastern Orthodox • Marian
veneration • Muslim • Protestant •
Roman Catholic
Key prayers & devotions

Angelus • Hail Mary • Rosary

Ecumenical views

Theotokos specifically excludes the understanding of Mary as Mother of God in the eternal
sense. Christians believe that God is the cause of all, with neither origin nor source, and is
therefore "without a mother." This stands in contrast to classical Greco-Roman religion in
particular, where a number of divine female figures appear as "mothers" of other divinities,
demi-gods, or heroes. For example, Juno was revered as the mother of Vulcan; Aphrodite, as
the mother of Aeneas.
On the other hand, Christians believe God the Son is begotten of God the Father "from all
eternity" (see Trinity and Nicene Creed), but is born "in time" of Mary. Theotokos thus refers
to the Incarnation, when the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took on human nature in
addition to his pre-existing divine nature, this being made possible through the cooperation of

Since mainstream Christians understand Jesus Christ as both fully God and fully human, they
call Mary Theotokos to affirm the fullness of God's incarnation. The Council of Ephesus
decreed, in opposition to those who denied Mary the title Theotokos ("the one who gives birth
to God") but called her Christotokos ("the one who gives birth to Christ"), that Mary is
Theotokos because her son Jesus is one person who is both God and man, divine and human.
As Cyril of Alexandria wrote, "I am amazed that there are some who are entirely in doubt as
to whether the holy Virgin should be called Theotokos or not. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is
God, how is the holy Virgin who gave [Him] birth, not [Theotokos]?" (Epistle 1, to the monks
of Egypt; PG 77:13B). Thus the significance of Theotokos lies more in what it says about
Jesus than any declaration about Mary.

Within the Orthodox doctrinal teaching on the economy of salvation, Mary's identity, role,
and status as Theotokos is acknowledged as indispensable, and is for this reason formally
defined as official dogma. The only other Mariological teaching so defined is that of her
virginity. Both of these teachings have a bearing on the identity of Jesus Christ. By contrast,
certain other Marian beliefs which do not bear directly on the doctrine concerning the person
of Jesus (for example, her sinlessness, the circumstances surrounding her conception and
birth, her Presentation in the Temple, her continuing virginity following the birth of Jesus,
and her death), which are taught and believed by the Orthodox Church (being expressed in
the Church's liturgy and patristic writings), are nonetheless not formally defined by the
Church, and belief in them is not a precondition for baptism.

Use of Theotokos in the early Christian Church

Many Fathers of the early Christian Church used the title Theotokos for Mary since at least
the third century AD.

Origen (d. 254) is often cited as the earliest author to use Theotokos for Mary (Socrates,
Ecclesiastical History 7.32 citing Origen's Commentary on Romans) but the text upon which
this assertion is based may not be genuine.

Dionysios of Alexandria used Theotokos in about 250, in an epistle to Paul of Samosata.

Athanasius of Alexandria in 330, Gregory the Theologian in 370, John Chrysostom in 400,
and Augustine all used Theotokos.

Theodoret wrote in 436 that calling the Virgin Mary Theotokos is an apostolic tradition.

Third Ecumenical Council

Stained glass window of the Theotokos at the Annunciation Melkite Catholic Cathedral. The
Greek letters ΜΡ and ΘΥ appearing on either side of her are abbreviations for the term
"Μ'ήτηρ Θεού" (Mētēr Theou, "Mother of God"), consisting of the initial and final letters of
each word; the addition of these is a common practise in Eastern Orthodox iconography when
depicting her.

The use of Theotokos was formally affirmed at the Third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus
in 431. The competing view, advocated by Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople, was that
Mary should be called Christotokos, meaning "Birth-giver of Christ," to restrict her role to
the mother of Christ's humanity only and not his divine nature.

Nestorius' opponents, led by Cyril of Alexandria, viewed this as dividing Jesus into two
distinct persons, the human who was Son of Mary, and the divine who was not. To them, this
was unacceptable since by destroying the perfect union of the divine and human natures in
Christ, it sabotaged the fullness of the Incarnation and, by extension, the salvation of
humanity. The council accepted Cyril's reasoning, affirmed the title Theotokos for Mary, and
anathematised Nestorius' view as heresy. (See Nestorianism)

In letters to Nestorius which were afterwards included among the council documents, Cyril
explained his doctrine. He noted that "the holy fathers... have ventured to call the holy Virgin
[T]heotokos, not as though the nature of the [W]ord or his divinity received the beginning of
their existence from the holy Virgin, but because from her was born his holy body, rationally
endowed with a soul, with which [body] the [W]ord was united according to the hypostasis,
and is said to have been begotten according to the flesh" (Cyril's second letter to Nestorius).

Explaining his rejection of Nestorius' preferred title for Mary (Christotokos), Cyril wrote:
"Confessing the Word to be united with the flesh according to the hypostasis, we worship one
Son and Lord, Jesus Christ. We do not divide him into parts and separate man and God as
though they were united with each other [only] through a unity of dignity and authority... nor
do we name separately Christ the Word from God, and in similar fashion, separately, another
Christ from the woman, but we know only one Christ, the Word from God the Father with his
own flesh... But we do not say that the Word from God dwelt as in an ordinary human born of
the holy virgin... we understand that, when he became flesh, not in the same way as he is said
to dwell among the saints do we distinguish the manner of the indwelling; but he was united
by nature and not turned into flesh... There is, then, one Christ and Son and Lord, not with the
sort of conjunction that a human being might have with God as in a unity of dignity or
authority; for equality of honor does not unite natures. For Peter and John were equal to each
other in honor, both of them being apostles and holy disciples, but the two were not one. Nor
do we understand the manner of conjunction to be one of juxtaposition, for this is insufficient
in regard to natural union.... Rather we reject the term 'conjunction' as being inadequate to
express the union... [T]he holy virgin gave birth in the flesh to God united with the flesh
according to hypostasis, for that reason we call her Theotokos... If anyone does not confess
that Emmanuel is, in truth, God, and therefore that the holy virgin is Theotokos (for she bore
in a fleshly manner the Word from God become flesh), let him be anathema." (Cyril's third
letter to Nestorius)

Mary is very frequently addressed as Theotokos in the hymns of the Eastern Orthodox,
Eastern Catholic and Oriental Orthodox churches. The most common is Axion Estin (It is
truly meet), which is used in nearly every service.

Other examples include Beneath thy compassion dating from the third century, the Hail Mary
in its Eastern form, and All creation rejoices, which replaces Axion Estin at the Divine
Liturgy on the Sundays of Great Lent.

Main article: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

In the Roman Catholic Church, the solemnity of the Theotokos is celebrated on January 1st,
on the same day as the World Day of Peace.

This solemnity comes from around 500 AD and was originally celebrated in the Eastern


Athanasian Creed –

Athanasian Creed
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Athanasius of Alexandria was traditionally thought to be the author of the Athanasian Creed,
and gives his name to its common title.

The Athanasian Creed (Quicumque vult) is a Christian statement of belief, focusing on

Trinitarian doctrine and Christology. The Latin name of the creed, Quicumque vult, is taken
from the opening words "Whosoever wishes." The Athanasian Creed has been used by
Christian churches since the sixth century of the common era. It is the first creed in which the
equality of the three persons of the Trinity is explicitly stated, and differs from the Nicene
and Apostles' Creeds in the inclusion of anathemas, or condemnations of those who disagree
with the Creed.

Widely accepted among Western Christians, including the Roman Catholic Church, the
Lutheran Church, and liturgical Protestants, the Athanasian Creed has been used in public
worship more and more infrequently in recent years. The creed only gained limited and
occasional acceptance among Eastern Christians.


• 1 Origin
• 2 Content
• 3 Uses
• 4 References
• 5 External links

The Shield of the Trinity, a visual representation of the doctrine of the Trinity, derived from
the Athanasian Creed. The Latin reads: "The Father is God, The Son is God, The Holy Spirit
is God; God is the Father, God is the Son, God is the Holy Spirit; The Father is not the Son,
The Son is not the Father, The Father is not the Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit is not the Father,
The Son is not the Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit is not the Son."

A medieval account credited Athanasius of Alexandria, the famous defender of Nicene

theology, as the author of the Creed. According to this account, Athanasius composed it
during his exile in Rome, and presented it to Pope Julius as a witness to his orthodoxy.[1] This
traditional attribution of the Creed to Athanasius was first called into question in 1642 by
Dutch theologian G.J. Voss,[2] and it has since been widely accepted by modern scholars that
the creed was not authored by Athanasius.[3] Athanasius' name seems to have become
attached to the creed as a sign of its strong declaration of Trinitarian faith. The reasoning for
rejecting Athanasius as the author usually relies on a combination of the following:

1. The creed originally was most likely written in Latin, while Athanasius composed in
2. Neither Athanasius nor his contemporaries ever mention the Creed.
3. It is not mentioned in any records of the ecumenical councils.
4. It appears to address theological concerns that developed after Athanasius died.
5. It was most widely circulated among Western Christians.[4][5]

The use of the Creed in a sermon by Caesarius of Arles, as well as a theological resemblance
to works by Vincent of Lérins, point to Southern Gaul as its origin.[6] The most likely time
frame is in the late fifth or early sixth century of the common era - at least 100 years after
Athanasius. The theology of the creed is firmly rooted in the Augustinian tradition, using
exact terminology of Augustine's On the Trinity (published 415 c.e.).[7] In the late 19th
century, there was a great deal of speculation about who might have authored the creed, with
suggestions including Ambrose of Milan, Venantius Fortunatus, and Hilary of Poitiers,
among others. [8] The 1940 discovery of a lost work by Vincent of Lérins, which bears a
striking similarity to much of the language of the Athanasian Creed, have led many to
conclude that the creed originated either with Vincent or with his students.[9] For example, in
the authorative modern monograph about the creed, J.N.D. Kelly asserts that Vincent of Lérin
was not its author, but that it may have come from the same milieu, namely the area of Lérins
in southern Gaul.[10] The oldest surviving manuscripts of the Athanasian Creed date from the
late 8th century.[11]

The Athanasian Creed is usually divided into two sections: lines 1-28 addressing the doctrine
of the Trinity, and lines 29-44 addressing the doctrine of Christology.[12] Enumerating the
three persons of the Trinity (i.e., Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), the first section of the
creed ascribes the divine attributes to each individually. Thus, each person of the Trinity is
described as uncreated (increatus), limitless (Immensus), eternal (æternus), and omnipotent
(omnipotens).[13]. While ascribing the divine attributes and divinity to each person of the
Trinity, thus avoiding subordinationism, the first half of the Athanasian Creed also stresses
the unity of the three persons in the one Godhead, thus avoiding a theology of tritheism.
Furthermore, although one God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from each other.
For the Father is neither made nor begotten; the Son is not made but is begotten from the
Father; the Holy Spirit is neither made nor begotten but proceeds from the Father and the Son

Didactic as its content appears to contemporary readers, its opening sets out the essential
principle that the Catholic faith does not consist in the first place in assent to propositions, but
'that we worship One God in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity'. All else flows from that

Its teaching about Jesus Christ is more detailed than in the Nicene Creed, and reflects the
teaching of the First Council of Ephesus (431) and the definition of the Council of Chalcedon
(451). The 'Athanasian' Creed boldly uses the key Nicene term homoousios ('one substance',
'one in Being') not only with respect to the relation of the Son to the Father according to his
divine nature, but that the Son is homoousios with his mother Mary, according to his human

The Creed's wording thus excludes not only Sabellianism and Arianism, but the
Christological heresies of Nestorianism and Eutychianism. A need for a clear confession
against Arianism arose in western Europe when the Ostrogoths and Visigoths, who had Arian
beliefs, invaded at the beginning of the 5th century.

The final section of this Creed also moved beyond the Nicene (and Apostles') Creeds in
making negative statements about the people's fate: "They that have done good shall go into
life everlasting: and they that have done evil into everlasting fire." This caused considerable
debate in England in the mid-nineteenth century, centred around the teaching of Frederic
Denison Maurice.

Detail of a manuscript illustration depicting a knight carrying the "Shield of the Trinity."

Composed of 44 rhythmic lines, the Athanasian Creed appears to have been intended as a
liturgical document - that is, the original purpose of the creed was to be spoken or sung as a
part of worship.[14] The creed itself uses the language of public worship, speaking of the
worship of God rather than the language of belief ("Now this is the catholic faith: We
worship one God"). Among medieval European Christian churches, this creed was recited
following the Sunday sermon or at the Sunday Office of Prime.[15] The creed was often set to
music and used in the place of a Psalm.

Early Protestants inherited the late medieval devotion to the Athanasian Creed, and it was
considered to be authoritative in many Protestant churches. The statements of Protestant
belief (confessional documents) of various Reformers commend the Athanasian Creed to
their followers, including the Augsburg Confession, the Formula of Concord, the Second
Helvetic Confession, the Belgic Confession, the Bohemian Confession and the Thirty-nine
Articles. [16] Among modern Lutheran and Reformed churches adherence to the Athanasian
Creed is prescribed by the earlier confessional documents, but the creed does not receive
much attention outside of occasional use - especially on Trinity Sunday.[17][18]

In Reformed circles, it is included (for example) in the Christian Reformed Churches of

Australia's Book of Forms (publ. 1991). That said, it is rarely recited in public worship.

In the successive Books of Common Prayer of the reformed Church of England from 1549 to
1662, its recitation was provided for on 19 occasions each year, a practice which continued
until the nineteenth century, when vigorous controversy regarding its statement about 'eternal
damnation' saw its use gradually decline. It remains one of the three Creeds approved in the
Thirty-Nine Articles, and is printed in several current Anglican prayer books (eg A Prayer
Book for Australia (1995)). As with Roman Catholic practice, its use is now generally only
on Trinity Sunday or its octave.

In Roman Catholic churches, it was traditionally said at Prime on Sundays after Epiphany
and Pentecost, except when a Double feast or day within an octave occurred, and on Trinity
Sunday. In the 1960 reforms, it was reduced to once a year on Trinity Sunday. It has been
effectively dropped from the Catholic liturgy since Vatican II, although it is retained in the
Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It is however maintained in the Forma Extraordinaria,
per the decree Summorum Pontificum, and also in the rite of exorcism, both in the Forma
Ordinaria and the Forma Extraordinaria of the Roman Rite.

In Lutheranism, the Athanasian Creed is -- along with the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds -- one
of the three ecumenical creeds placed at the beginning of the 1580 Book of Concord, the
historic collection of authoritative doctrinal statements (confessions) of the Lutheran church.
It is still used in the liturgy on Trinity Sunday.

A common visualisation of the first half of the Creed is the Shield of the Trinity.