Monday, May 19, 2008

The Athanasian Creed and the Holy Trinity

After a brief look at a number of blogs on this, I found the expected schizophrenia that descends upon many a confessional Lutheran on Trinity Sunday, myself included.

On the one hand, this great creed gets so little press that we really need to expose our people to it at least once a year.

On the other hand, as the liturgically minded are sometimes wont to say, "there is no authority" for replacing the Nicene Creed with it on Trinity Sunday.

What to do?

The Bishop of Kewanee (that would be your humble scribe) has given the parish here permission to allow that it be confessed in place of the Nicene Creed on Trinity Sunday only.

It is a great thing to say, and always brings the mind to wondering.

To see the entire text of it, click here.

This year I took to wondering about this: "He that would be saved must thus think of the Trinity."

And the left side of my brain began pondering -- right during mass, mind you -- the idea that one must 'think' anything at all in order to be saved. I mean, what about infants, etc.

But then the right side of my brain quickly replied, 'thus think' means essentially this: 'if you're going to go thinking about the Trinity, as thinkers do, you must think of the Trinity in this way. That's what it means. No heretics permitted, you know?

And then the left side of my brain thought, Well, there's also: ". . . which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved." Seems to me this 'firmly' business suggests that it's a matter of mustering up enough confidence; which it really isn't.

And then the right side of my brain replied, This is really nothing other than what we have in St. James, who says that a double-minded man ought not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

It's all a matter of context.

The Christian faith is not for idle conversations of the intelligentsia of the culture. The Holy Trinity does not belong on page xx of the catechism. He is a consuming fire. He is holy, holy, holy. His train fills the temple.

And that got me musing on Isaiah 6, and thinking, I too am undone, a man of unclean lips, dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips, until, as it were, a seraph places his live coal, which he had taken from the altar with tongs, on my tongue, to purge my sin.

[Here's the meaning I take from the vision of Isaiah: on the 'tongs' of the cross, Christ was crucified, and the savor of it rose to the Father's nostrils, a pleasing aroma of sacrifice for the sin of the world; and Christ Himself is now taken from the altar, in the Holy Sacrament, and placed on my tongue to purge my sins]

He is a consuming fire, but in His eternal love He has purged my sin, and delivers that forgiveness to me by the Holy Ghost.

Indeed the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is no matter for idle or disinterested conversation. "He that would be saved must thus think . . ."


Jeff said...

Pastor, please comment on the end of the creed... specifically, with reference to what the original authors intended by it (as much as you know of their intent).

"At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire."

Jeff said...

I sort of messed up that last comment... the quote should follow specifically- but I think it's still understandable.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

simple: take away any inferences you may be tempted to draw, and read it as it is, and, well, it's true.

You can say all you want about works following from faith (which is true), and that works do not produce the favor of God (which is also true), etc. etc.; but the bottom line is that since works always show faith, therefore, they that have done good shall go into everlasting life. It's the truth.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Father can take this on himself, but I just thought I'd throw in a couple of quick thoughts. Salvatioon can be viewed from a number of perspectives. To view it from the perspective of the final judgement is in a sense what is going on in the passage in question. It is, in fact, a reflection of the way our Lord discusses it in Matthew's Gospel, especially in the eschatological discourse, in chapter 25.

It will be difficult to determine anything about the intent of the composer of this creed, since, unless I am mistaken, his identity is lost. As I think we all know, the title we give the creed is an honorary attribution. It is literally pseudepigraphal.

The Rev. BT Ball said...

I was discussing the creed with one of the parents of our parish children. One particular child of his confessed the creed twice this past Lord's Day as the 1st and 2nd graders were the choir. The dad said, "that is some creed." Mainly referring to length, I surmised. I said, "Yep, and if one doesn't confess it they will go to hell." Reply, "Right, that is some creed." Wonder and pondering ensued.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

One can do "good works" with or without faith, as in the parable, wherein the "goats" cried out that they had called Him, "Lord!" and had even done miracles in Christ's name.

But of course God sees through such works to what really lies behind them. To do a faithless work, even a miracle, is not to have done good at all, but only to have exercised pride and egotism under the guise of goodness. On the Last Day, such works will cry out against those who did them.

Rev. Gerson Flor said...

Dear brother,
very nice way of reading Isaiah 6. Have you ever thought of an OT counterpart to Every day I Will Bless Thee?

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Rev. Flor,

Actually, I've been working on a sequel on the Psalms, but it is going very slow. Maybe within the next several years . . .

Josh Osbun said...

When we confess "they they have done good," we are doing nothing more than speaking the Word of God.

John 5:28-29, "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned."

Revelation 20:12, 15, "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

We confess this because this is what God has taught us. When taken within the context of the entirety of Scripture, we know that this is not speaking about works righteousness. "They that have done good" are those who have believed. "They that have done evil" are those who have rejected the faith.