Athanasian Creed

Two creeds need to be distinguished: (1) the Nicene Creed*; (2) the Athanasian Creed or the Quicunque Vult, known also as the Fides Catholica.

How the latter became known as the Athanasian Creed (beyond the fact that it expresses Nicene sentiments) is unknown, but it was apparently written originally in Latin, then translated into Greek, and is later than Athanasius.* It has been widely used in the West among Anglicans (in the Book of Common Prayer), Catholics, and Protestants. The late medieval controversy between the East and the West on the double procession* of the Holy Spirit (that the Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son) intensified its use in the liturgy of Western churches. But its use is now diminishing.

In the preface and conclusion, belief in the truths it declares is said to be necessary to salvation and it anathematizes divergent faith. It is made up of forty rhythmical sentences and is thus more a sermon or instructional hymn than a creed. It expounds the doctrine of the Trinity and the divine relationships, the Incarnation, and the two natures of Christ, and includes statements about our Lord's work as Savior and Judge. It is a valuable compendium of orthodox faith and contains one of the best Christian confessions on the Trinity, “we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.”

As to its origin, Babcock suggests it be dated either in the latter half of the fourth or the fifth century, but not later than the sixth century. It seems to reflect Augustinian views or was known to him. Recently some attribute it to Ambrose, while others attribute it to writers from Gaul such as Hilary. The errors it opposes are primarily Arian,* Apollinarian, and Sabellian, rather than Nestorian and Eutychian. Parallels between the Quicunque Vult and the letters sent from the Council of Constantinople in 382 seem to confirm the period 381- 428 as the time of its writing. It appears in the handbooks of certain Eastern Orthodox churches, including the Greek Horologium and Russian service books from the seventeenth century, but as translated from the Greek version omitting the Filioque clause.

F.J. Babcock, History of the Creeds (1930); J.F. Bethune-Baker, Early History of Christian Doctrine (1954); J.N.D. Kelly, The Athanasian Creed (1964).