Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Antiochene creeds from 341

341    Antioch (Athanasius De Synodis 22-25)


Athanasius introduces his material in De Synodis 22, where he consistently refers to the parties gathered as those who wised to receive Arius and ‘those with him’[1] back into communion. In this passage Athanasius refrains from calling those gathered ‘Arians’, but maintains some distinction between them, even though he identifies them as ‘contriving to receive…the heresy into the Church’[2]. Athasius then moves on in 23 to introduce the first of various letters.

The letteer Athanasius provides begins with a denial that the bishops are followers of Arius, since they are bishops and he a presbyter, and a claim to only hold the faith that has been passed from from the beginning. They then declare that having examined Arius’ teaching (his ‘faith), they have “admitted him rather than followed him”[3], clearly marking their superiority to Arius in terms of hierarchy. Then follows the first Antioch creed, presented as a statement of what they have learn ‘from the first’.

               to believe –
in one God, the God of the universe,
of all things, both intellectual and sensible, the Framer and Preserver[4]
And in one Son of God only-begotten[5]
existing before all ages,
and being with the Father that had begotten him
through whom all things came to be, things both visible and invisible
who in the last days according to the pleasure of the Father came down
and assumed flesh from the Virgin,
and all his father’s will co-fulfilled
suffered, and rose,
and into heaven ascended,
and sits at the right hand of the Father,
and is coming again to judges the living and the dead
and remains king and God forever.
We believe also in the Holy Spirit;
and if it be necessary to add,
we believe also concerning the resurrection of flesh and life eternal.

It is instructive to compare a few key portions to the Creed of Nicaea 325. In place of Nicaea’s X from X descriptions of the Son, we have only “existing before all ages, and being with the Father that had begotten him”. γεννηθέντα (aorist) has shifted to γεγεννηκότι (perfect). There is no explicit disavowal of the Son being created, and the combination of ‘existed before all ages’ with ‘had begotten’ creates interpretive ‘space’ for a pre-creation ‘gap’ between the Son’s begetting and the Creation’s initio.

The soteriological purpose of the economy is severely curtailed to a statement about fulfilling the Father’s will, and an anti-Marcellan clause is added concerning the Son’s eternal kingship and deity. The final rider after “if it be necessary” indicates some need to clarify these two issues, but that they have not yet risen to a level of contention that requires either clear creedal incorporation or the attachment of anathemas.


The second creed of Antioch is more famous than the first, because it is put to greater use later on.

We believe, according to the evangelical and apostolic tradition,
in one God, Father Almighty
Framer, Maker, and Preserver of the universe
from whom are all things;
and in one Lord Jesus Christ, his Son, the only-begotten God,
through whom are all things
begotten, before the ages, of the Father
God of God, whole from whole, sole from sole, perfect from perfect, king from king, Lord from Lord,
living Word, living wisdom, true light, Way, Truth, Resurrection, Shepherd, Door, both unchangeable and inalterable;
of the Deity, essence, will, power, and glory of the Father – exact image
the firstborn of every creature
the one in the beginning with God, God the Word as it is said in the Gospel, ‘and the Word was God’
through whom all things came to be
and in whom all things consist;
the one whom in the last days came down from above
and was born of the Virgin according to the Scriptures and became man;
mediator of God and men, apostle of our faith, prince of life, as he says, “I came down from heaven not to do my will, but the will of him that sent me”[6];
suffered for us, and raised on the third day;
and ascended into heaven, and seated at the right hand of the Father;
and is coming again with glory and power, to judge the living and the dead;

and in the Holy Spirit, given for the comfort, sanctification, and perfection to the believers,
just as our Lord Jesus Christ enjoined the disciples saying, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”[7], namely of the Father, being truly Father, of the Son, being truly Son, of the Holy Spirit being truly Holy Spirit, the names not lightly nor idly occurring, but signifying exactly the proprietary hypostasis of each name and rank and glory; as they are three in hypostasis, they are one in concordance[8].

Holding then this faith, and holding it before God and Christ from the beginning until the end, we anathematise every heretical heterodoxy. And if anyone teaches besides the sound, right faith of the Scriptures, saying that time, or season, or age either is or occurred before the generation of the Son, let him be anathema. And if anyone says the Son is a creature, as one of the creatures, or an offspring[9], as one of the offspring, or a product, as one of the produces, and not – as the Sacred Scriptures have passed down – the abovementioned things one after another; or if he teaches anything else, or preaches, besides what we received, let him be anathema. For all that has been passed down out of the Sacred Scriptures by the prophets and apostles we truly and reverentially believe and follow.


The second creed is much more expansive than the first creed, and as Athanasius says deals with the fact that the first is deficient, by supplementation and expansion.

Firstly we note the insertion before the main creedal content of ‘according to the evangelical and apostolic traditon’. There is a definite note here of the importance of non-innovation, to present the creed as simply a statement of what has always been taught, even if not taught in these words and phrases.
‘Father almighty’ reappears from the Nicene, while ‘Framer and Preserver’ from the first creed is expanded to ‘Framer, Maker and Preserver’, possibly from a desire to emphasise the Father’s role as not merely the demiurge, planning out creation, but the direct agent of that creation.

It is interesting to note the way μονογενές is used in the three creeds so far. In the Nicene it is attached to the clause ‘begotten from the Father’, and explained as ‘from the essence of the Father’. The first Antiochene simply mentions it in apposition to ‘in one Son of God’, without further explanation. The second Antioch creed not only lacks the Nicene explanation, but introduces θεόν, so that we have a substantial phrase ‘the only-begotten God’. The understanding of ‘God’ here remains unclear, or at least ambiguous, that one might understand the Son to be ‘God’ in some other way than later trinitarian formulations. Indeed, what is remarkable about the Second Antiochene is not so much what it says, but what it doesn’t say.
We then have a substantial section that lists of a series of X from X statements, followed by a catalogue of direct biblical analogies for the Son, mostly derived from John’s Gospel. Finally we have a distinct positive attribution of the relation of Father and Son, in iconic terms. Note that the Son is not only exact image of the Father’s will, power, and glory, but also τῆς θεότητος, οὐσίας. These two features, X of X and iconic relation, typify the Eusebian approach to the Father-Son relation. We also see a direct scriptural citation within the body of the Creed, a novel feature that repeats twice more.

The economic discription of the Son is likewise expanded from the first creed, though lacking any soteriological purpose clause. The inclusion of Jn 6:38 matches the phrase from the first creed “all his father’s will co-fulfilled”, a strong indication of the way the Antiochene counsel wants to firmly align Jesus’ economic fulfilment as the Father’s will. What is left unsaid is the subordinationist tone here, that it is in some sense not Jesus’ independent will of any sort. The anti-Marcellan rider is dropped from the second section.
The third section greatly expands, giving a purpose for the Holy Spirit post-Pentecost, and linking this to Mathew 28:19. This inclusion of Matthew 28:19 and the trinitarian baptism formula moves into the second Antiochene creed’s most precise trintitarian formulation. There is an insistence that the phrasing of the verse is intentional and doctrinally significant, that the names indicate three distinct hypostaseis, distinct also in rank and glory. Their unity is one of concord or agreement.[10]

At this stage of the development of 4th century terminology, we have here a clear expression of three distinct subsistences, three beings even, who differ in rank and glory, and whose unity is one of will. It is in light of this statement that the rest must be read, because it becomes clear that when they refer to the Son as ‘the only-begotten God’, they have in mind a distinct being.

The fourth section of the credal statement anathematises ‘every heretical heterodoxy’. Specifically it excludes the idea that there was a temporal gap prior to the generation of the Son. It also excludes that the Son be considered creature, offspring, product as one of the [other] creatures, offsprings, products. Again, what is left unsaid is the possibility of an a-temporal gap between the Son’s generation and the creation, or that the Son be considered a creature, offspring, product not as the others. The very fact that the statements about creature, etc., are given comparative clauses rather than standing absolute suggests this ‘hermeneutical space’. The creed wraps up with a reaffirmation of the appeal to Scripture as tradition, and anthematises all who teach and preach outside this received faith.


The third document that Athanasius attests to in De Synodis 24, is a creedal statement put forward by Theophronius of Tyana. Although it was subscribed to by those present, they did not make much further use of it. The text runs:

               God knows, whom I call as witness upon my soul, that thus I believe:
               in God the Father Almighty,
               the creator and maker of the universe
               from whom are all things

               and in his Son the only-begotten, God, Word, power and wisdom, our Lord Jesus Christ
               through whom are all things
               begotten of the Father before the ages
               perfect God from perfect God
               and being with the God in hypostasis
               in the last days came down,
               and was born of the Virgin according to the Scriptures
               was made man, suffered, was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven
               and sat-down at the right of his Father;
               and is coming again with glory and power to judge the living and the dead
               and remains forever;

               and in the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the spirit of truth,
which God also promised through the prophet to pour out upon his own servants, and the Lord promised to send to his own disciples, which he also sent, as the Acts of the Apostles witnesses.

But if any teach besides this faith, or holds in himself[11], let him be anathema; and of Marcellus of Ancyra, of Sabellius, of Paul of Samosata, let him also be anathama, and all in communion with him.

The main point to note from Theophronius’ confession is the phrase καὶ ὄντα πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν ἐν ὑποστάσει. Firstly for the use of hypostasis in this context, which we should read in light of the 2nd Antiochene creed, with an eye to the idea that the two are separate hypostaseis. Secondly, with regard to the choice to say that the Son is with God in hypostasis, rather than that the Son is with the Father. We might also briefly note that the list of anathemas is more specific in terms of naming individual figures, though they are all of a cloth.


The 4th Antiochene creed, along with the 2nd, gets the most post-council usage, and so deserves greater attention. Athanasius notes that it was, in his view, due to the deficiency of the earlier formulation, also that the council met with Constantius present, and that the creed was dispatched to Gaul, specifically to bring this to Constans.

We believe in one God, Father Almighty
Creator and Maker of all things
from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth is named[12]

And in his only–begotten Son the Lord Jesus Christ
begotten, before all the ages, of the Father: God from God, light from Light;
through whom all things in heaven and on earth came to be, things visible and invisible:
being Word, and Wisdom, and Power, and Life, and true light;
him being made man in the last of days for us,
and born of the holy Virgin, crucified, and died, and buried;
and raised from the dead on the third day, and taken up into heaven
and sat down at the right hand of the Father;
and is coming at the consummation of the ages to judge the living and dead, and to give to each according to his deeds;
whose kingdom being indissoluble remains into the infinite ages. For he will be sitted at the right hand of the Father, not only in this age, but also in the one to come;

And in the Holy Spirit, that is, the Paraclete; which being promised to the apostles, after his ascension into heaven he sent, to teach them and remind them of all; through whom also the souls of those purely believing in him will be sanctified.
But those saying the Son was from nothing, or from a difference hypostasis, and not from God, and, there was a time when he was not, the Catholic Church knows as aliens.

Comparing the 4th creed to both the Nicene and the 2nd Antiochene, we note in the first section that ‘demiurge’ has been dropped, as has ‘preserver’, instead adopting the language from Theophronius of Maker and Creator. Additionally they have added a line drawn directly from Ephesians 3:15 relating to universal patria. Regarding the Son, it maintains ‘begotten, before the ages, of the Father’, adding only ‘all’ to qualify ages. It significantly reduces the list of ‘X from X’ statements and scriptural titles for the Son. Also absent is the ‘exact image’ language. Significantly the 4th adds back in ‘for us’ from the Nicene to give some soteriological purpose to the Economy. The eschatological elements are expanded considerably, emphasising final judgment, and especially the eternal kingdom and existence of the Son (strongly anti-Marcellan in tone). The purpose of the Spirit is likewise mentioned in both the 4th and the 2nd, though in different terms. The use of εἰλικρινῶς is polemical in the sense that it emphases santification for those with a pure, unmixed faith, implying of course that failure to subscribe to this creed is in fact the standard for such a pure faith.
The anathemas are repeated from Nicaea, and so butress the position that the Antioch council is deliberately distancing itself from any suggestion of Arianism, even as the creeds themselves contain considerable material directing at Marcellan monarchianism. We see here the Eusebian moderating position situating itself between Arian subordinationism and Sabellian modalism, but it is a strategy that the pro-Nicenes will also adopt, essentially situating themselves more centrally, while marginalising the Eusebian trajectory towards the Arian extremity.

[1] τοὺς σὺν αὐτῷ
[2] ἐπεβούλευσαν,…δέξασθαι καὶ τὴν αἵρεσιν εἰς τὴν Ἐκκλησίαν εἰσαγαγεῖν
[3] μᾶλλον αὐτὸν προσηκάμεθα, ἤπερ ἠκολουθήσαμεν
[4] δημιουργόν τε καὶ προνοητήν
[5] μονογενῆ
[6] Jn 6:38
[7] Mt 28:19
[8] συμφωνίᾳ
[9] = generated-thing
[10] ἀλλὰ σημαινόντων ἀκριβῶς τὴν οἰκείαν ἑκάστου τῶν ὀνομαζομένων ὑπόστασίν τε καὶ τάξιν καὶ δόξαν; ὡς εἶναι τῇ μὲν ὑποστάσει τρία, τῇ δὲ συμφωνίᾳ ἕν.
[11] i.e. holds a contrary opinion to this faith, but privately and not teaching so.
[12] Eph 3:15

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