Two ancient creeds and one council raise an ominous question: Should dead men define what we believe? Find out now.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, we are building a head of steam towards a definitive guide to the doctrine of the Trinity.
I know you so care.
Regardless, far from being a rather pointless piece of theological speculation…the doctrine of the Trinity is grounded directly in the complex human experience of redemption in Christ.
Today were going take a quick journey back to the 3rd and 4th centuries where the universal church affirmed–through creeds and councils–that the doctrine of the Trinity was normative for all believers.
Then let’s discuss the prickly problem of ancient dead men defining our modern mode of worship. Let’s go.
Apostle’s Creed: Odd Origins
The Apostle’s Creed–one of the earliest creeds–pointed to the Trinity in its three “I believe” statements: I believe in God the Father, Jesus His Son and the Holy Spirit.
The basic point behind the creed was to defend the Gospel of Christ and refute Gnosticism.
The creeds name comes from the 5th Century legend that after Pentecost, the 12 Apostles dictated part of it. That’s why it’s traditionally divided into twelve sections.
Athanasian Creed: Visualizing the Obscure
The Athanasian Creed, appearing possibly after the first Council of Nicaea in 325, is the first creed to establish equality in the Trinity:
Nothing is before or after, nothing is greater or less: but all three persons coeternal, together and equal.
Early experiments–were talkin’ 12th Century here– in symbolizing the Trinity as a visual device produced the Shield of the Trinity. You can see the diagram on the knight’s shield in the image above.
The Shield of the Trinity was used as a device from which the Athanasian Creed can be read. Kind of like a rosary. But not really.
Council of Constantinople: Condemning and Confirming
And the great ecumenical Council of Constantinople in A. D. 381 declared this statement as a norm for orthodoxy.
It did this by:
1. Confirming the original Nicene Creed.
2. Developing a statement to combat the heresy Pneumatomachi.
3. Expanding the 3rd article of the Nicene creed to establish that the Holy Spirit must be of the same being as God the Father.
4. Condemning Arianism.
What Do You Think?
Do creeds even matter? Are they too formal? Too limiting? Too stifling?
Besides, “Why should we suppose that early churchmen,” quoting Andrew Perriman, “who had their own presuppositions and prejudices, were in a position to provide a definitive summary of the faith for all time?”
Or are they important because they define the boundaries within which Christians operate?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop them in the comments. Brutal and all.
**Part of the Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Doctrine of God’s Trinity series.**