Neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance…

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Not that it matters to the reader, but our sound system was “re-tuned” this week. Projecting voice and presence is not always easy, but it got easier. Thank you Mr. Bayer.

This last week was Trinity Sunday – the end of the festival season and the day confessional churches bring out something called the Athanasian Creed. When the Western Church speaks of its three creeds it means: the Apostles which is the creed the developed from the church at Rome used during Baptism, the Nicene which is the universal creed (if we in the west dropped ‘and the son’ in the Spirit’s procession) stemming from the council of Nicea in 325 AD, and the Athanasian which is a little clouded in origin if not in how it speaks of the Godhead and of Jesus Christ.

It has two driving doctrinal points from which everything else grows.
1) We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.
2) It is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You might ask why that is important. Can’t we just leave it a squishy spiritual concept? I’m typically all for squish primarily because we don’t know anywhere near as much as we think we do, but as this creed says – this is the Catholic Faith. These things have been revealed: the triune nature of God and the incarnation of that God in Jesus Christ. [Just a question, what does it mean that my spellcheck doesn’t know triune but instead suggests triumvir or tribune? Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.] They have been revealed because of a spiritual truth – you become what you worship.

Read the sermon for the support of that statement. But this creed states that: Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ: one, however, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God. Christ, through the incarnation, has redeemed our very nature. The disciple of Christ is being conformed to His likeness. In you the Spirit is reforming the image of God. We are exacting about who we worship, because that is what we are being made into.

9 thoughts on “Neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance…

  1. “You might ask why that is important. Can’t we just leave it a squishy spiritual concept?”

    The Athanasian Creed contradicts Scripture on a few points. It says that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are co-eqaul. Yet, Jesus says “My Father is greater than me.” Strike 1. It does not directly touch the idea of omniscience, but in all the omnis that it makes equal between the three subdeities in the one Deity, it does imply that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are equally omniscient, assuming any of them is. Yet, Jesus admits to not knowing when the end of the world is, saying only the Father knows, which implies that the Holy Ghost also is ignorant of this date as Jesus himself is. So, are the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost co-equal? Apparently not according to the Bible. So does that mean that the creed is unorthodox, or that the Bible is? Which takes precedence?

    Another point of issues is “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.” Yet the whole point of the gospel of John appears to be that the Son came down to make the incomprehensible comprehensible by his own comprehensibility. That is, although the Father is in his nature invisible and incomprehensible, as John says “no man has seen the Father,” yet the Son who is comprehensible came to make the incomprehensible comprehensible by likening the incomprehensible Father to his comprehensible self, or as John puts it “the only-begotten Son has declared him,” and as a saying of Jesus in John puts it in, “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” So, is the Son then as incomprehensible as the Father? It is apparently not the case according to Scripture. And surely, Scripture leaves the Holy Ghost the most incomprehensible, way more incomprehensible than the Father. For Jesus says “if you have seen me you have seen the Father” and John says that the son declared the Father, but no such statements are ever made of the Holy Ghost, who remains an enigma never to be revealed, even by himself, for when the Spirit of Truth comes, Jesus says, “he will not speak of himself.” So, again, does that mean that the creed is unorthodox, or that the Bible is? Which takes precedence?

    1. 1st Welcome, thanks for the comments.

      Now, I’ll try and address them, but I’m pretty sure we won’t be able to reconcile this. One thing you should understand about me is that as a minister in the Lutheran Church I am subscribed to the Book of Concord which includes at its start the three historic creeds of the Western Church. What that means is that I hold them to be faithful testimonies to the truth of Holy Scripture. In the Lutheran Tradition the Scriptures are the Norming Norm. Everything is judged by the scriptures. The confessions, which the Athanasian Creed is included in, are a normed norm. They are faithful testimonies and useful for teaching and understanding, but they are normed by scripture. It is possible that there are errors in them. I might go so far and say that since they are not inspired in the sense of scripture but purely the works of man, there probably are errors, but the confessions have proven themselves over and over again to be incredibly valid ways of understanding the testimony of scripture. In the 2nd century AD, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, talked about reading the scriptures with the rule of faith. The rule of faith means what we know as the creeds. (This wikipedia entry doesn’t do a bad job.) He was before our creeds were finalized, but the overall driving force of his rule is the story of God’s interaction with the world.

      What that rule of faith does is prevent proof texting or taking certain verses of the scriptures out of context to try and prove a point. Jesus says “my father is greater than all” in John 10:29, but in John 10:30 he says “I and the Father are one”. Which is it? Are they co-equal, or subordinated? Within the context of the scriptures, which the creed helps with, in the state of humiliation (i.e. when he took our flesh) or according to his human nature the Father is greater. According to His divine nature they are one and co-equal. Or as the Athanasian Creed says – “equal to the Father with respect to his divinity, less than the Father with respect to his humanity.” The Creed echoes the Scriptures. It is a normed norm.

      When you quote “incomprehensible” the Latin is immensus. (Link) A more modern translation says infinite, but you can get the gist just by looking at the latin word. Ultimately we have some words to describe who God is – like immensus or infinite – but being finite creatures those things are hard to truly fathom. We can see space, but we can’t really fathom it. Were you there when I stretched out the heavens? Knowing we weren’t, God condescended to us, coming to us in the person of Christ. In Christ, by the unity of the person, assuming the humanity into God. In Christ and through Christ we can approach those great mysteries.

      It is impossible for us to hold in our heads the entirety of scripture. What the rule of faith or the creeds do is distill it to something, such that if we are reading the scriptures and come upon an interpretation that says – Jesus isn’t fully God after all Arianism is a form of subordination where the Son is under the Father – then the creeds help us in saying we’ve done something wrong. We’ve read the scriptures wrongly. Go back and read more. Read them with the rule of faith, the story they tell and the church at all times and places.

  2. “Jesus says ‘my father is greater than all’ in John 10:29, but in John 10:30 he says ‘I and the Father are one’. Which is it?…According to His divine nature they are one and co-equal.”

    Jesus also prays in John concerning the apostles and those who are to believe on their word, “Father, Let them be one as we are one.” The oneness, then, to which Jesus refers when he says “I and my Father are one” is not a oneness of divine nature or co-equality, but of agreement, unless perhaps he is praying that Peter and the rest become part of the trinity. If the oneness is in nature, we would be talking about the taking up of 12 more persons, or more if this prayer properly includes all Christians, into the Deity.

    “It is impossible for us to hold in our heads the entirety of scripture. What the rule of faith or the creeds do is distill it to something” — which is a noble goal, but I think the result is an epic failure. What is the true essence of the Christian faith? According to the end of the Athanasian creed, “this is the universal faith, which unless a man believe whole-heartedly, he cannot be saved” — but what is the “this” in the creed? The creed only discusses the proper formulation of trinitarianism and christology — that by itself is the faith? Christianity suffers from making its creed and its rule of faith entirely abstract and not at all practical. The essence of the faith, the most important point, without which one cannot be saved, the one point that we want to make in the creeds and rules of faith and norms, is the Trinity and the deity of Jesus. It shows a beggarliness unequalled elsewhere. No moral points in the creed. Nothing to make us better people. Just pseudo-philosophy and dogmatic metaphysics. Of what use is a “rule” that doesn’t govern action? The Christian “rule” of faith can only make thoughts a crime–the only sin is thought crime. The rule of faith ought to legislate proper moral behavior, not proper thoughts. The communistic and tyrannical nature of orthodox christianity comes out clearly in the rule of faith: all immoral actions are ok to the clergy, but thoughts are a crime.

    1. Again, thank you for the comment.

      Two things. First, as the sermon this post was roughly about says, we are being conformed the likeness of Christ. The eastern orthodox call it theosis. (This is a good link.) So when Jesus wants Peter and rest to be one – in a way that can be abused, but that the Athanasian creed helps with – we are made part of the divine life. The godhead is not made flesh, but the humanity assumed into God. Being justified and sanctified is a process of being conformed to Christ. It is being made one with God through Christ.

      Second, of all the creeds, the Athanasian in the only one that says anything about giving an account of what we have done. “At his coming all people will rise again with their bodies and give an account concerning their own deeds.” Salvation, our justification, is by grace through faith in Christ – but we are still called to account. Immoral actions are not ok. The are sin. Sin that Christ forgives by grace, but still sin. Christians already have a rule that governs proper moral behavior. It is called the law of Moses or the 10 commandment. The problem is we can’t keep it. Never could, never will. Being merciful God freed us from the law in Christ. The law is still good and wise and holy and righteous, but through the body of Christ (Rom 7:1-6) we have been set free. The creeds help us with faith. They help us keep a proper distinction between law and gospel.

  3. “Christians already have a rule that governs proper moral behavior. It is called the law of Moses or the 10 commandment. The problem is we can’t keep it.”

    The problem isn’t that we can’t keep it but that its too short. Yes, in some absolutist sense we can’t keep it, but even the Torah itself foresaw this and forgiveness existed in the Old Testament for those who broke the law. It is stated clearly in Deut 30, in Psalm 50, in Ezekiel 18, that those who repent and confess in prayer can be forgiven–this is not truly something new in the New Testament, although Paul seems to think it is. For whatever reason, Paul interprets the passage “whoever does not CONFIRM all these commandments is cursed” as meaning there is no forgiveness in the Old Testament, but passage after passages shows this is a mistake. But again, the problem is the shortness of the 10 commandments. They are not a sufficient moral guide. This is why the Torah expands on them with laws about sexual purity, defining what incest is, and so on. No such definitions exist in the New Testament, which is a shame. It would have been to the benefit of all if those formulating synopses, creeds, confessions, had included a concise list of moral regulations rather than just metaphysics with a brief and totally generic statement that there will be a judgement in the future. One of the biggest problems Christianity suffers from is a diversity of morality in the churches. Each congregation has its own idea of what is morally right and wrong, and perhaps each Christian in each congregation. A standard creed of morality is sorely needed, and it would indeed form a stronger base for FELLOWSHIP than metaphysics, for “unless two be agreed, they cannot walk together.” What we truly need to agree on before we can walk together is not how many persons exist in God, but how should we live? If someone who believes the notion that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are all one and the same person had the same definition of morality as me, I could walk with him, fellowship him–but a Trinitarian who thinks that sex outside of marriage and drunkenness are ok, I cannot walk with him, cannot fellowship him. The church has a rather backwards view on what the basis of fellowship should be. It has chosen the most impractical basis.

    1. There is a group that has such a concise list. Rabbinic Judaism. 613 precision commands. The problem is they don’t know Jesus Christ. All the sacrifices and forgiveness of the OT was still based upon the fully revealed sacrifice of Jesus. They were types and shadows of the reality that came in Jesus.

      Jesus had no trouble eating (i.e. having fellowship) with sinners and tax collectors (i.e. the biggest sinners to the pharisees). What he came to do was free them. You only are free when you know the truth. That our salvation has nothing to do with what we do and everything to do with who God is and what he has done and is doing.

      Rey, try re-reading Galatians. See what Paul says about creeds based on the law or excluding fellowship based on who is clean or not.

  4. “There is a group that has such a concise list. Rabbinic Judaism. 613 precision commands.”

    That’s not actually true. At least 150 of them are purely ceremonial. (

    “Jesus had no trouble eating (i.e. having fellowship) with sinners and tax collectors (i.e. the biggest sinners to the pharisees)”

    Yet, these happened also to be repentant sinners. Jesus had no problem with the woman who washed his feet with her tears, though she was a prostitute. But in that very act she was showing her repentance. If she had been obstinate in prostitution, what would he have said? To the woman caught in adultery, whom he rescued and to whom he said “neither do I condemn thee” he also said “go and sin no more.” There is a difference between fellowship with repentant sinners and simply saying “well, we all sin sometimes, so go on in sin and we will still have fellowship with you because you believe in the Trinity.”

    “That our salvation has nothing to do with what we do and everything to do with who God is and what he has done and is doing.”

    That sounds like what Paul is saying when he argues that there is a “blessedness of the man to whom the Lord imputes righteousness without works” (Rom 4:6-7) and yet it obviously isn’t what he means, since even he says “know ye not that no fornicator [and so on] shall inherit the kingdom of heaven?” When, therefore, Paul excludes works from our salvation, he doesn’t mean simple morality; he means ceremonies like circumcision and the new moons and so on.

    “Rey, try re-reading Galatians. See what Paul says about creeds based on the law or excluding fellowship based on who is clean or not.”

    Re-read 1 Corinthians 5 and see what Paul says about casting out the unrepentant sinner like the man who was living in sin with his father’s wife. The problem with you Lutheranites is that you interpret works as meaning anything done, whereas Paul clearly only means ceremonies–for if he means morality, he contradicts his own self since he makes morality necessary to salvation, “no fornicator can inherit the kingdom,” and certainly if he was trying to cast off all morality, as you seek to do, then he would have been a heretic, and then the passage in Revelation about a “Baalam” who was teaching the people to “commit fornication” would surely apply to him, but since he does not allow fornication even in his “justification by faith without works” system, then clearly morality is not a work (which is logical, since morality is negative, something to not do not to do, as in “do not murder” which means not to do something but to not do something, it is not a work but a rest from an evil work) and therefore you have completely misunderstood Paul because you want an immoral system. And your comment about Rabinic Judaism shows this, for essentially it is your view that if one “knows Christ” then one must throw off all morality, and therefore in your opinion only the Jews can have a list of moral commands, since morality is anti-christ in your view. You clearly, then, do not know Christ; nor indeed do you understand Paul at all.

    1. Ok, I’m going step back a little.

      I’ll thank you for calling me a Lutheran. I’ve had enough people question that over the years that I’ll take it where I can.

      The sermon of this week just posted on the site is on Romans 7 and what is the law to the Christian. That is really what we are talking about I think. And Paul kinda separates some potential answers. Rom 7:1-6 he talks to those arguing for the law as still playing a role in our justification. His conclusion is that we have been freed from the written code to serve in the new way of the Spirit. I have died to the old legal code through baptism into the body of Christ. To anyone arguing that the law has any role in my salvation the answer is no it doesn’t. I have been freed. My justification is completely due to the person and work of Christ. Romans 7:7-13 talks to the antinomian or the person who wishes that the law wasn’t there at all. (This is where you place Lutherans I think.) To that person Paul says don’t go so fast. The law shows us how sinful and lost we are. The law itself is good and righteous and holy. What it does is show that our hearts are the problem. Being justified by the work of Christ, I am now sanctified by the Spirit living within me. That sanctification looks like following the law. I am not following the law because I hope to get something by it. I am following the law because it is God’s word. Those works gain me nothing. They are God’s works done through me by the power of Christ and the working of the Spirit. But we do the law.

      The rest of Romans 7 talks about the messiness of the result of being both a sinner and a saint at the same time. My corrupt nature doesn’t go away. It is being remade and formed into the image of Christ, but that will not be complete in this mortal body. I will find myself doing what I don’t want to do. Do we kick those people out? If so, than I am the first person in line to be kicked out. You could ask my kids and I’m sure they could tell you my faults. The church is the gathering of those who know that and cling to the cross.

      The Lutheran does not throw off morality. The true Lutheran upholds the law, but with the clear distinction that the law has no part in my justification or sanctification. The law is a rule of what the sanctified life looks like. But it holds no power to those who are in Christ.

  5. Although Paul never explicitly makes the distinction between the moral law and the ceremonial law using those terms, it is obvious the distinction is in his mind and integral to his theology. For he at one point will berate the law as inadequate and flawed, as something imperfect and in need of replacement and as weak because of its fleshliness (as in Hebrews. “if the law had been perfect…”) but at another time he will say the law is spiritual and perfect. He obviously has in mind the ceremonial law which is fleshly and in reality of little to no worth, and the moral law which is spiritual and perfect. The ceremonial law amounts to nothing, and performance or non-performance thereof is meaningless, as he says of circumcision “circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but the keeping of God’s commandments is something.” Here, then, “God’s commandments” mean the moral law as opposed to the ceremonial, so that the ceremonial (typified by circumcision) is meaningless and utterly indifferent, but the keeping of the moral law matters. Now, as you say “Those works gain me nothing” which is as true of the moral law as the ceremonial, because righteousness is not positive but negative. That is, one does not earn righteousness by doing moral things; rather one retains righteousness by not doing wicked things, even as David describes in Psalm 32. For Paul claims that David there describes “the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord imputes righteousness without works” but on reading the Psalm “blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven. Blessed in the man to whom the Lord does not impute guilt” you see that in fact, Paul has slightly misunderstood, for he has made righteousness positive rather than negative, as something imputed rather than something retained by lack of dis-imputation. That is, David does not say that righteousness is imputed; but David says that guilt is not imputed. This means that to be righteous is not to earn the status of righteousness by doing many good things; but to retain it by not doing bad things. And where one fails and does bad things, one must seek forgiveness, so that those bad things will not be imputed. But there is no imputation of righteousness, for it is a negative quality; not negative in a negative sense, mind you. In this sense, it could be argued that in doing the law one does not save themselves but is merely manifested as one who will be saved. Yet the fact remains that the one who does not care to do the moral law is not saved, for whether doing the law saves or whether it merely manifests that you are saved, the one who does not do it clearly lacks both. “The law is a rule of what the sanctified life looks like. But it holds no power to those who are in Christ.” Then you mean that none who are in Christ are truly sanctified but that only Jews are sanctified since you own quite plainly that no Christian cares about the moral law but only Jews do.

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