THE SO-CALLED ATHANASIAN CREED.
SOME of our ecclesiastical contemporaries are sneering at a vestry for taking up the subject of the Athanasian Creed, and request- ing the Bishop to take any steps in his power for obtaining a dis- continuance of the use of it in the Liturgy of the Church. Of course the sneer proceeds on the ground, as Shown in a letter in another column from the Vestryman of St. BOtolples, Ifiihepagate, who brought forward the resolution, that vestrymen ezenot-thetilogians. If, however, they are supposed to be theologians enoligh to say the creed and to be saved by it, we suppose they mug be theolo- gians enough to refuse to say it and be.damned by it ; and Clearly what a man refuses to say at the peril, as many.persons believe, of his own soul, he is refusing to say on grounds whiCh deserve the fullest consideration of the ecclesiastical authorities of the Church. The taunt that a 'greengrocer' ought not to dictate to learned theologians has in fact no application. What even a greengrocer ought above all things to do, is to consider deeply What he can say to his God from the bottom of his heart, and what he-cannot. Is it possible to conceive a piece of .Protestant -snobbishness so profound as the refusal to let a man object to saying what-lie can't believe, on the ground that he sells turnips.and plums? !Yet this is, if we understand the critic of the Church.Timeserht,. the drift of his very brilliant criticism.
As to the main, question at issue, we need not 'conceal-for a moment that we are heartily at one with the Nestayorenof St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate. We hold the so-called Athanasian Creed, though perhaps capable, like most other things in the world, of a subtle metaphysical defence that might explain:tiway its most objectionable features, to be, in its broad and general drift, -bad theology, bad morale, and had sense. Now, -as creeds to be re- peated in churches ate not meant for refined 'theologians, who can thread their way 'subtly between the Scylla of one false popular interpretation and the Charybdis of another, but for ordinary persons, greengrocers and parish'paupers included, who are quite sure to take the sense (or nonsense) that seems most -near to the plain meaning of the words, it is tibvicinisly a very great mischief that a creed should be -especially appointed for those days in the year when' Christians most earnestly wish to unite on the common ground of their faith, which -seems to some a mass of contradictions, to mOst men an Ineatiration of uncharitable passion, and to a few the eifreas repudiation of St. John's (which is also the Nieene) theology. It is not easy to exhaust the objections to this-creed, which, if it bears Athanarriva's name at all, might better be called the anti-Athanarrian Creed than the Athanasian, so open are certain of its- dogmatic assertions to an interpretation which Athanasius would have earnestly re- pudiated. But its vices may.perhaps be reduced to four, which seem to us to have the greatest possible weight. First, in form, the creed is -not a creel, but a -string of precise dogmas. The value of a creed like the Apostles' and the Nicene, in public worship, is, that they are acts Of trust, that they express the believer's spiritual allegianbe to infinite realities, —divine Fetsons,-;-without attempting Ito Abstract out of those Rota of trust, theoretic propositions which may or -May not adequately express even -for our own time, and ate -very un- likely to do so for the future, the true intellectual rationale of the -spirittral trust .declared. Age after age has been able to Say, with the profoundest -fervour, "-I believe in God the Father -Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, our 1,ord," or even to use the fuller and, AS we of course-admit, more distinctly theological language of the Nicene Creed, in which ad- jectives like " light -of light," "very God of very God, begotten, not made," are appended to -Christ's name, to define more closely the attitude of the personal belief in Him, -- ages which would have turned away, without 'attaching much reality to it, from the dissertational language of so dry a piece .of theoretic definition as the creed called the Athanasian. • It is much, very much, to make the believer feel that he is not using his intellect mainly, but his spiritual faculty of trust mainly and his intellect only in subordination to it. The Apostles' and Nicene Creed do this. Both no doubt involve intellectual judgments, and the latter even metaphysical convictions, but in both cases the great Objects of faith tower high above the defini- tion of our human thoughts concerning them. The first thing that strikes the spirit is the divine Person in whom belief is expressed, only the second thing, and this quite subordinately, the intellectual definition of our own mode of thought about Him. Both these creeds therefore are acts of worship ; the Athanasian only at best an intellectual exercise. Both the former creeds leave so wide an intellectual margin of freedom that they might unite numbers in all ages in acts of common faith who had very different conceptions as to the theological definition of some of their thoughta—the Athanasian is one of the most precise pieces of dogmatic logic or anti-logic ever invented by the mind of man. On the strong ground, then, of creed versus mere dogma, we hold
that the Athanasian, which is purely a logical exercise, has no place
whatever in social worship. The very form of it excludes it from a true liturgy. It is not an act of trust, but a controversial state- ment; not a spiritual profession, but a feat of intellectual hair- splitting, —in short, a composition expressly adapted by, its form, not to speak yet of its substanoe, not to unite, but to divide.
Next, the substance of this creed is,—at all events to the kind of persons expected to join in it, and as we believe to everybody, --disfigured by self-contradiction and bad sense. For example, "The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal, and yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal." What the creed means, we suppose, is that there are three eternal persons, and one eternal being in whom all these three eternal persons are united,—but it seeks out needlessly and scandalously the language of contradiction, and gives the impression that in the same sense in-which they are three, in that same sense also, they are one. We call this a scandal, because-it forces the sense of self-contradiction needleealy on the ordinary mind with reference to sacred subjects, on which.mere logic-chopping is scandalous. Or here, again:—" The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God for like as we are compelled by-the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic faith to say there be three Gods or three Lords." We do not call attention here to the bad theology of this passage, but‘to its explicit self-contradiction. If each person "by himself" is "God and Lord," then, as there are three persons by them- selves, there are in the very- same sense in which all these words have been hitherto used three Gods and three Lords. We believe the words "by himself" to be-bad theology, an express contradic- tion of the Johannian and Nicene theology-, as well as bad sense. But whether bad theology or not, they are bad sense. For a more explicit assertion of a proposition in one sentence which is denied in the next in the 'very same sense in which it was previously asserted, it is impossible to find in any human composition.
Next, this spurious creed is, as we have said, bad theology. Nothing can be clearer than that the Nicene Creed and the Gospel of St John deny the equality of the Father and Son in every sense in which the word 'equality' has any meaning. "I can do nothing of myself," "I have not spoken of myself,"—phrases repeated a score of times in the Gospel,—are not words asserting equality. He who can do nothing, who has no life, except in obedience and clird love, is not, in the common meaning of the terms, the equal of Him whose eternal life he shares. Our Lord indeed speaks of all men " honouring the Son even as they honour the Father," but -equal honour does not imply equality in the object of that honour. We honour equally divine perfection in the form of Sonship and the form of Fatherhood, but we do not call the derived and the underived, the sender and the sent, the fountain of love and the receptive life of filial love, equal. At least if we do, the word in all ordinary senses loses its meaning. Indeed our Lord says expressly, "the Father is greater than I," not "greater than my human nature," but " greater than I ;" and " greater than I" can scarcely mean the same as "equal to me." We feel no doubt that the so-called Athansaian Creed is entirely incompatible with the true Athanasian theology.
But last and worst of- all, the Atlaanasian Creed is bad in its morality. We know that charitable clergymen have pleaded that it cannot mean that men are to "perish everlastingly" for an intellectual error, because it would be so very unchristian to think so. But that is, at all events to all ordinary human understand- ings, precisely what it says, and continually reiterates. "Whoso- ever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith ;"—" before all things," mind,—for instance, before 4‘ doing the will of my Father which is in heaven," which our Lord makes the antecedent condition of "knowing of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." "Which faith," it goes on, as if nervously afraid of underrating the magnitude of the stake at issue, "except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly." Again, after the definition of the Trinity, " He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity." Do Unitarians, for instance, "'thus think of the Trinity," do Rebellions, do Arians, does the Greek Church, do Swedenborgians ? And are not, therefore, all these excluded expressly from hope of salvation? %Again, "Further- more; it is necessary-to everlasting salvation that he also believe tightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ," and then follow definitions the-rejection of which shuts out most of the old classes of -heretics and several new ones from hope of salvation. And finally, at the close we read, "This is the Catholic faith, which excepta man believe faithfully he cannot be saved." Now, what- ever modes of escape wise and thoughtful and subtle men have
invented from this mesh of intolerance, we assert that what it teaches, and must ever teach to the popular mind, is a gospel of damnation, and not a gospel of salvation. It damns freely for all sorts of metaphysical inabilities,—nay, as we believe, for sound sense, divine theology, and the spirit of love. It is bad enough to proclaim damnation at all. But to proclaim damnation in the most refined tone of dogmatic controversy, as the con- sequence of not believing carefully defined logical contradic- tions, to proclaim it on the express ground of belief in those words of our Lord which it contradicts, to proclaim it as your fate because you believe that God has sent His Son into the world to save and not to condemn the world, is a course so flagrantly blasphemous that it is a disgrace to any church which adopt. it. That our own national Church has retained this metaphysical mockery of Christian worship up to the preaent time is at once a proof how silently the consciences of men ignore the poison which is offered to them, and how inert is their intellect in ridding itself of what no longer represents the convictions even of one out of every hundred of English Churchmen. We sincerely be- lieve that at present, however, there are many who stay away from the morning service on Christmas Day and Easter and Whit Sunday and Trinity Sunday, simply to avoid a barbarous and absurd creed. If vestrymen,—even supposing them to include green- grocers,—make the first move to rid the Church of this burden round its neck, let us follow them heartily, greengrocers or paupers though they be, in their noble work.