Year C, Trinity Sunday May 22, 2016 The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“…you have given us grace… to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity…”
Those words are from the Collect of the Day for today, the First Sunday after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday. Observance of this day, a commemoration of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, began way back in the 4th century in the midst of the Arian controversies. Arius, if you are rusty on your 3rd and 4th century heretics, was a presbyter (elder, a precursor of priests), in Alexandria, Egypt. From a reading of St. John’s Gospel, Arius came to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but was created by God the Father, was distinct from God the Father, and, following the logic, was subordinate to God the Father. This was a theology against the Trinity, the theology we reaffirm every Sunday in the words of the Nicene Creed … “Eternally begotten from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from True God, begotten not made…” That Creed, our central statement of Christian faith was drafted at the First Council of Nicea in 325 specifically to counter the non-Trinitarian ideas of Arius and his followers. Creeds, remember, are designed specifically to state what a group believes, and not for he purpose of increasing belief but for the purpose of excluding those who don’t believe the creed. We are reading former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ great book on the Creeds Tokens of Trust at our Wednesday adult ed class. Fascinating stuff. Well, fascinating to some of us. But fascinating or not, it is relevant to us. Even 1700 years later, it is relevant to us. If you are in this room, if you are awaiting the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist under the rubrics of God’s holy catholic and apostolic church, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Creeds, they are relevant to you. How? Well, that’s the thing. I just don’t know how they are relative to each of you, that is a question that only you have an answer to, but they are relevant.
I am going to do something different today. I don’t do things differently very often, particularly when it comes to our liturgical life together. We are adding the Doxology (praise God from whom all blessings flow…) to the Ordinary Time liturgy… that is about as progressive a liturgical innovation I can muster. That, the liturgy, is my one real conservative bone. (Well that and my 1840’s British fashion sensibility). The liturgy is not something to be mucked around with.
But we are going to do something different this morning. I am going to read to you another of the important Creeds held by the church, this one the most poignant statement of Trinitarian theology. Anyone know what I am talking about? The Creed of St. Athanasius. Athanasius of Alexandria was an important defender of orthodox belief in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Most likely Athanasius himself did not write this, it is probably from 6th century Gaul, but that is not important. What is important is that it enshrines verbatim in places the words of one of the real fathers of the church, St. Augustine. The importance of St. Augustine to Christianity cannot be over stated, and this creed is really getting pretty deep into the source code of our faith.
So I am going to read this creed to you today. That is not the different part. It has been a long Anglo-Catholic tradition to read the Creed of St. Athanasius on Trinity Sunday. (That makes me feel better inside). What is different, is that I am not going to offer commentary. We read this at our Catechism class last week and there was some real reaction to it. Very interesting. I’m going to leave the meaning making up to you. The fact that you are here hearing these words means that this is relevant. How? Well that is for you to decipher.
So this is my Trinity Sunday gift to you. Raw material to ponder. Some of you might be bored. Some of you might be offended (you’ll see). Some of you might be astounded that such words are still uttered today, or are even in the Book of Common Prayer. But they are and they are in there. So if you like, turn to page 864 to read along (you’ll need a magnifying glass… this very old statement of faith is both literally and figuratively in the fine print of the church). So sit back, relax, and hear these ancient words read into the record of this Parish.
Quicumque vult salvus esse, ante omnia opus est, ut teneat catholicam fidem…
The Creed of Saint Athanasius
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be 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 Ghost 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 Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly 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 be God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ; One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of 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 sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved. AMEN