Fourth Sunday in Lent - Chalcedon – “Athanasian Creed

Chalcedon – “Athanasian Creed”

Does it exhaust all the heresies of the 5th – or of the 21st - centuries?

Whoever will be saved shall,

above all else,

hold the catholic faith.

Which faith,

except everyone keeps whole and undefiled,

without doubt he will perish eternally.

And the catholic faith is this,

that we worship one God in three persons

and three persons in one God,

neither confusing the persons

nor dividing the substance.

For there is one person of the Father,

another of the Son,

and another of the Holy Spirit.

But the Godhead

of the Father,

of the Son,

and of the Holy Spirit

is all one:

the glory equal,

the majesty coeternal.

Such as the Father is,

such is the Son,

and such is the Holy Spirit.

The Father uncreated,

the Son uncreated,

and the Holy Spirit uncreated.

The Father incomprehensible,

the Son incomprehensible,

and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

The Father eternal,

the Son eternal,

and the Holy Spirit eternal.

And yet there are not three eternals

but one eternal.

As there are not three uncreated

nor three incomprehensibles

but one uncreated

and one incomprehensible.

So likewise

the Father is almighty,

the Son almighty,

and the Holy Spirit almighty.

And yet they are

not three almighties

but one almighty.

So the Father is God,

the Son is God,

and the Holy Spirit is God.

And yet there are not three gods;

but one God.

So likewise

the Father is Lord,

the Son Lord,

and the Holy Spirit Lord.

And yet

they are not three lords

but one Lord.

For as we are compelled

by the Christian truth

to acknowledge every person

by himself

to be both God and Lord,

So we cannot by the catholic faith

say that there are three Gods

or three Lords.

The Father is made of none,

neither created nor begotten.

The Son is of the Father alone,

not made nor created;

but begotten.

The Holy Spirit is of the Father

and of the Son,

neither made nor created

nor begotten

but proceeding.

So there is one Father,

not three Fathers;

one Son,

not three Sons;

one Holy Spirit,

not three Holy Spirits.

And in this trinity

none is before or after another;

none is greater or less than another;

But the whole three persons

are coeternal together and coequal,

so that in all things,

as is aforesaid,

the Unity in Trinity

and the Trinity in Unity

is to be worshiped.

He, therefore,

that will be saved

is compelled thus

to think of the Trinity.

Furthermore,

it is necessary to everlasting salvation

that he also believe faithfully

the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For the right faith

is that we believe and confess

that our Lord Jesus Christ,

the Son of God,

is God and man;

God of the substance of the Father,

begotten before the worlds;

and man of the substance of his mother,

born in the world;

Perfect God and perfect man,

of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.

Equal to the Father

as touching his Godhead,

and inferior to the Father

as touching his manhood;

Who, although he is God and man,

yet he is not two but one Christ.

One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh,

but by taking the manhood into God;

One altogether,

not by confusion of substance,

but by unity of person.

For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man,

so God and man is one Christ;

Who suffered for our salvation;

descended into hell;

rose again the third day from the dead.

He ascended into heaven;

he sits at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty,

from whence he will come to judge

the living and the dead.

At whose coming

all men will rise again

with their bodies

and will give an account

of their own works.

And they that have done good

will go into life everlasting;

and they that have done evil,

into everlasting fire.

This is the catholic faith

which except a man believe faithfully and firmly,

he cannot be saved.

Rome was sacked in 410. The Goths, from the north and west of Europe, ran that rout and razing. ‘Barbarian invasions’ included Anglo-Saxon reclamation of Britain, Attila the Hun and the Ostrogoths and Visigoths rising in the north, and the Vandals claiming North Africa. The church was not a monolith siding with Roman Empire. The empire was crumbling and dividing, and the church was splitting on similar fault lines. The ‘orthodox’ had no monopoly on power or coercion – if anything they were losing to other heresies or faiths.

Theological splits reflected political ones in this century of realignment. The ‘doctors of the western church’ began to lay a groundwork for what we will learn to call the ‘catholic’ church, against the ‘orthodox’ east, culminating in mutual anathematizing. The Coptic Egyptian churches divide from the ‘orthodox’, and the ‘orthodox’ from what will be known as the ‘catholic’ or Roman ones.

Constantinople is now imperial capital, and eastern church and eastern empire are veering from the west, as Constantinople emerged as Byzantium, supply lines were suspect, most soldiers already non-Roman. The barbarians from the north, and the ‘heathen’ from the east, left all the heretics this week in a defensive posture – even if we read their writings as triumphal.

Here in a time of ‘the decline and fall’, (to borrow a phrase from Gibbon), and ‘barbarian invasions’, (to add Hodgkinson’s theme), those who claim the power of empire have no clothes. They were echoed by the powerful in medieval and in reformation and counter-reformation times, as authorities justifying persecution of other heretics. Just try to hear them this week not as patriarchs, but as heretics like us. The barbarians are at the gates – which side of this fence are you on, and who’s there with you? We had heretics on both sides in the 5th century: “Barbarians’R’Us”.

Take a moment today to read each affirmation about the divine unity and trinity, pausing to imagine what the alternative position would be. If you can recognize one or two alternative heresies, perhaps from the past four weeks of heretics trying to name the person and work of Christ, or the working of the Holy Spirit. Read each as an affirmation of boundaries, to protect communities against ideas proven to have pernicious consequences.

You may even recognize more heretics like us, and advocates able to create safe space, sanctuary from corrosive influences.