The Athanasian Creed

(from Pastor Preus) I had an experience a couple of weeks ago which made me believe that the church and possibly even the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is getting stronger and more vibrant. After Divine Services on Trinity Sunday a couple of people commented on how nice it was to say the Athanasian Creed. One person whimsically queried as to the liturgical propriety of saying this, the longest of the Ecumenical Creeds, on Sundays other than Trinity Sunday. She modestly averred that she made it a point not to miss church on the Sunday when the Athanasian Creed was spoken since she loved confessing it so much.


I have to confess that I was a bit unsure about whether this strongly Trinitarian creed could be used, say, on Easter, Christmas or the 21st Sunday after Trinity. Who ever heard of confessing the Athanasian Creed on just any old Sunday? But, before such musings got the best of me I did observe to myself how wonderful such a request was. Why?


First, it showed just how effective the patient teaching on liturgical customs can be. I remember the first time I used the Athanasian Creed in Church on Trinity Sunday. My people, who were tragically and inexcusable unaware of such a tradition, murmured and grumbled, “Pastor, it’s so long.” The testing of parishioner patience is risky business even only once a year, I thought. I can remember my feeble attempts to apologize and say something clever like, “It’s only once a year.” What a wimpy response. Such an answer accomplishes little except to reaffirm the silly and sinful thought that we ought actually to determine the length of the service based on our time pieces. God doesn’t look at His watch when you are talking to Him in prayer, so when He is talking to you during the Divine Service don’t you dare look at your watch. I learned later to say, “Yes, it’s long and beautiful and full of grace and the Spirit (swoon, sigh, look wistfully to heaven). It speaks the theology of the church. When we speak it we follow the tradition of the church.” Since I started responding more assertively (and with patient consistent resolve) I really cannot recall anyone complaining about its length. And now people are starting to want the Athanasian Creed more. That’s a positive sign for the church.


Second, the request to speak the creed more often shows that Lutherans really do love doctrine and sophisticated theology. The Creed tends to repeat itself with apparent disregard not only for the pressing time schedules of 21st century Americans but for their theological categories as well. Perhaps that’s because it was produced in the fifth century. It speaks to resolve theological issues which were quite current in the 3rd through 5th Centuries; Issues regarding precisely who God is, who He is not and how we must think of him. It speaks of the great Three in One whom we worship neither “confusing the persons nor dividing the substance” But how is this 1500 year-old creed relevant today? HMMM? Let me think. How long ago was it that we were discussing in our circles whether someone who prayed to “Allah,” the false nonexistent god of the Islamic world, is really praying to God? When was the last time you were in some church which claimed the name Lutheran and you did not hear the Trinitarian invocation or anything else particularly Trinitarian? I receive bulletins from my members who visit other churches which sometimes indicate the absence of any reference to the Holy Trinity during the worship hours of these churches. I can honestly say that I get a couple of questions each year indicating a desire to learn to talk about the unique persons of the Trinity properly. So I show them the Athanasian Creed. I don’t think I am wrong to believe that those who crave the Athanasian Creed are eager to assert the truth of precisely those issues which confront us today. And that is also a positive sign for the church.


In a day when so much is wrong with the organized church and even our church body, it’s nice to get fleeting but certain proof that the consistent teaching and use of liturgical customs is a worthy endeavor. But I still don’t know if it there is liturgical precedent for speaking the Athanasian Creed more than once a year.              

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


The Athanasian Creed — 22 Comments

  1. Yea, gotta agree with Preuss, for the past 28+ years I’ve used the “A” creed on Trinity Sunday and during Christmas (I don’t know, just seemed to fit), and as he said if you are not apologetic about it people basically accept it and can see the confesional beauty in it. For the past 20 years I’ve served parishes in either Germany or the UK and it is amazing how many people didn’t even know it existed – sad. Confessing it on Easter & Christmas would seem like hitting the largest number of people–the C & E crowd!

  2. In traditional Anglicanism, the rubrics directed that teh Athanasian Creed be sung or said in place of the Apostles’ Creed on Christmas Day, Epiphany, St. Matthias, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost (“Whitsunday”), St. john the Baptist, St. James, St. Bartholomew, St. Matthew, St. Simon adn St. Jude, St. Andrew, and Trinity Sunday. These usuages were made optional in the 20th century prayer books. There are lovely musical settings of this Creed in the Anglican psalter books.

    Lutheran use doesn’t appear to have been quite as vigorous, but did apparently extend beyond Trinity Sunday in several places. Even in the US, one of the synodical hymnals had this Creed printed in one of the orders for morning service. (I need to dig into my collection and get specifics on that!) Luther did commend this symbol highly, saying at one point that it was “the most important and gloriosu composition since the days of the apostles’.”

    I have a similar story to share to Rev. Preus’s. After church on Trinity Sunday, my daughter was in quite a good mood. I asked her whether she enjoyed church that day and she reported that “It was great!” After listing a couple of hymns, the sermon, the setting of the Verse of the Day, and the choir anthem, she concluded by saying, “AND WE GOT TO SAY THE ATHANASIAN CREED!” She’s in junior high, by the way.

    God is good!

    Phillip Magness

  3. Amen! People are looking right and left for a god, and here we have something that is not simply true, but describing an unintuitive, mysterious and deeply fundamental aspect of the one true God’s nature. It’s a gem and I too would be happy to speak it more frequently in the service.

  4. A couple of years ago I thought I wanted to leave the LCMS and tried all kinds of other congregations, both affiliated and independent. One that I went to had a long drawn out “service” with skits, dances, rock music ‘sacred songs’ and whatnot. It started at 10 AM and was still going strong at 12:15 when I left, and there hadn’t even been anything resembling a sermon.

    Give me the Athanasian Creed any day.

  5. “How long ago was it that we were discussing in our circles whether someone who prayed to “Allah,” the false nonexistent god of the Islamic world, is really praying to God?”

    About as long as it has remained (and allowed to be) unrecanted by the LCMS official who said it and those who supported him.

  6. I took the plunge yesterday and put the Athenasian creed in place of the Nicene for the Divine Service. I’m going to use it on 5th Sundays as yesterday was one. I mistakenly put in the bulletin that it would be spoken responsively by half verse. It’s not set up to be read that way in LSB. But the congregation did great anyway. This Creed has so much richness of the Trinity to teach the people. Maybe they will start asking for it more often.

  7. The more often the better. Maybe some will finally “get it!”
    However, do NOT, as we did last Trinity Sunday, omit the last verse!

  8. I had the same wonderful experience. This most recent Trinity Sunday I took the time to preach on the AC. And once people had a better grasp on what it was all about, I got the same kind of comments.

    I am curious though as to why it matters if there is liturgical precedent for confessing the AC more often.


  9. I also love this Creed. I always look forward to Trinity Sunday because I know we will be using it. I asked my pastor a couple of weeks ago if it is unLutheran to use it more than one time a year.

  10. This Creed declares the true catholic faith, One cannot recite it without knowing who the Trinity truly is (unless one simply fails all comprehension tests). We recite the Athanasian Creed on the 5th Sunday as well as on Trinity Sunday. This post has given me pause to consider increasing our recitial of this important Creed.

    Pr. Toby Byrd

  11. We really don’t need to race against the clock on any given Sunday. However, there are congregations that do look at the stop watch. Sadly, even on Saturday Evenings. It isn’t the desire of the parishioners to rush things along, but rather it’s that of the preconceived notions of leaders for timely good order between Services, Coffee, and Bible Study/Sunday School. Prayerful, they will return to The Lord’s Table rather this strange “Pilgrimage Style” dash to the altar and back to the pews.

  12. “from whence he will come to judge the QUICK and the dead” Why has this changed in many congregations to “the LIVING and the dead”. As an LCMS Lutheran all my life I am fearful of us ever preaching politics from the pulpit. It can harm our faith and the LCMS as a whole. I would welcome some guidance here.

  13. “Quick” is just an archaic noun for those who are living.  It has nothing to do with politics that I can see.

  14. Quickening is the moment in pregnancy when the mother starts to feel or perceive fetal movements in the uterus. The word “quick” originally meant “alive”. Historically, quickening has sometimes been considered to be the beginning of the possession of “individual life” by the fetus. British legal scholar William Blackstone explained the subject of quickening in the eighteenth century, relative to feticide and abortion:
    Life… begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb. For if a woman is quick with child, and by a potion, or otherwise, killeth it in her womb; or if any one beat her, whereby the child dieth in her body, and she is delivered of a dead child.

    So, I am seeking guidance. Is this being changed in our creeds for political or language purposes?

  15. @Adam Tisdale #14
    Life… begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb.

    As you say, “quickening” originally meant “alive”. The law is no longer contemplating an infant as alive… or even as an infant… at three months gestation. As a recent court case has proved, babies are being routinely killed after viability (legally) and even after birth (not so legally).

    And, in the other direction, many [Christians] state that life begins at conception, although 80 years ago women were advised not to consider themselves certainly with child until ‘quickening’ because a lot of things could go wrong and sometimes did.

    I would suspect that none of this entered into the updating of language in the creeds or the new editions of the Bible. (And I have been labeled a “conspiracy theorist” on occasion!)

  16. Thank you Helen. I understand the direction. I would suggest that we keep the word in our creeds and push for at least that law be readdressed in order to stop this late term murder, uh, abortion.

  17. The history of the three ecumenical creeds is rich. I definitely think we could benefit from increased exposure to not only the recitation of the creeds but to classes about their development. Alexander and Athanasius were theological studs.

  18. I’ve suggested that we also use the Athanasian Creed on our last numbered Sunday of Trinity in the Church year. It didn’t go over very well.

  19. I appreciate the creed. However, why the ending expressions “good to eternal life and bad to eternal.damnation.” I may not be quoting accurately. It is God’s Grace that saves!

  20. @Paul Gruetzmacher #21

    Paul, this is a good question, but there is an answer.

    That segment of the Creed is pretty much a quotation of Jesus in John 5, where there is a dispute about Jesus’ authority, and the Pharisees declare that “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

    In verses 19-29 Jesus is teaching His relationship to the Father. This leads up to Him declaring that the Father has given the final judgment to the Son (Jesus). He then says, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (vs. 28-29).

    So there is no questioning that the statement is correct — Jesus said it.

    But your statement is also true: “It is God’s Grace that saves!”

    How can both be true? Don’t worry!

    Solely by God’s free gift, solely through faith in Christ, which itself is a gift of God and not our own doing (Eph. 2:8), you are saved. However, that salvation is accomplished by God forgiving your sins. While we still commit sins, as God’s believing people our sins are never accounted against us in God’s justice.

    With that in mind we return to Jesus’ words about judgment. It should terrify us that those who do evil will be condemned. We do evil! (See Isaiah 6 and many other places where humans encounter God in His holiness.) But by the grace of God, our sins are gone, so that at the judgment we will have no evil deeds — all by God’s grace. Likewise, on that day we will have done good — again, not by our own strength, but by the Holy Spirit working in us to will and to do the works of God. Though even our good deeds in this world are tainted by our own sin, that sin is washed away in the blood of Jesus, and only the good remains at the judgment.

    This matches Jesus’ description of Judgment Day in Matthew 25:31-46 where the sheep and goats are separated with reference to their works, but the sheep (followers of the Good Shepherd, Jesus) don’t recall having done good, and the goats seem to believe their lives have not been evil.

    So, to tie it all up, the final judgment will be based on works, however, by God’s grace alone, Believers in Christ will have no sins to be counted against them. Therefore we are saved by grace alone, to pass safely though a judgment by works.

    Hope this helps.

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