The Athanasian Creed is like the Apostles' in that its author is unknown. It was written later than the Nicene Creed, appearing in its complete form near the end of the eighth century. It was wrongly attributed to Athanasius at first but has kept that title because of Athanasius' defense of the deity of Christ and the Trinity - the two main subjects of this creed.
The Athanasian Creed is an excellent summary of the decisions of the first four ecumenical councils (Nicea - 325, Constantinople - 381, Ephesus - 431, and Chalcedon - 451) against various and many false teachings concerning the fundamental teachings of Scripture.
In the years 400-800 A.D. false teachers arose who began to deny the doctrine of the Trinity and the person and work of Jesus Christ. For this reason, the Athanasian Creed deals with the most fundamental Christian truths of the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, and His redeeming work. Our ultimate salvation is at stake because without knowledge of these truths saving faith is impossible.
This confession consists of two distinct parts: The first sets forth in great detail the teaching of the Trinity. It goes beyond the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds which do not state the doctrine of the Trinity explicitly but by implication. The second part contains a short and definite statement concerning the doctrine of the person of Christ, teaching the proper relation between the divine and human nature of Christ.
So that there is no confusion, we should take note of a few things:
The expression "Catholic faith" does not refer to membership in the Roman Catholic Rite, but of those who are united in the "universal Christian faith" and members of the Holy Christian Church. "Catholic" is the Latin word for "universal."
The term "uncreate" reminds us that all three persons of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are equal and without beginning or end. The Son was not "created" by the Father, nor was the Holy Spirit "created" by the Father and the Son. All three persons have existed from eternity as one united, equal God.
The creed also goes into detail (perfect God and perfect man; one altogether; not by confusion of substance but by unity of Person.) to show that Jesus Christ was at once fully God and fully man. Jesus was not half God and half man, but as incomprehensible as it seems both immortal and mortal at the same time.
Whenever works are spoken of in connection with the judgment, it is good to remember -
Good Works are those things done by believers in the true fear and love of God - for Jesus' sake. The writer to the Hebrews writes: "Without faith, it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
These will stand as evidence of true faith in Christ, which alone saves. James declares: "Thus also faith by itself if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17).
In contrast to the peaceful tone of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, the Athanasian Creed begins and ends with the strong condemnation: "This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved. While many have opposed this harsh wording, the same is taught in Scripture: Jesus said, "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." (John 8:24; cf. Acts 4:12, Mark 16:15-16). Let us continue to proclaim both the Law and Gospel of Scripture to today's world!
The Athanasian Creed
Whoever will be saved shall, above all else, hold the catholic faith. Which faith, except it be kept whole and undefiled, without a doubt, one will perish eternally. And the true Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one; the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father infinite, the Son infinite, and the Holy Spirit infinite. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal; just as there are not three uncreated, nor three infinites, but one uncreated and one infinite.
Likewise the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, and the Holy Spirit is almighty. And yet there are not three almighties, but one almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet there are not three gods, but one God. Likewise the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord. And yet there are not three lords, but one Lord.
For as we are compelled by the Christian truth to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be both God and Lord, so we are forbidden by the true Christian faith to say that there are 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 Spirit 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 Spirit, not three holy spirits.
And in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another; but all three Persons are coeternal together and coequal, so that in all things, as said before, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. Whoever will be saved is compelled thus to think of the Holy Trinity.
Furthermore it is necessary for everlasting salvation that one also believe faithfully 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 rational 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 is God and Man, yet He is not two but one Christ; One not by changing of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One indeed, not by confusion of substance, but by oneness of person. For just as the rational 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 is seated at the right hand of the Father, God almighty, from there He shall come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all will rise again with their bodies and will give an account of their own works. And they that have done good will enter into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith; whoever does not faithfully and firmly believe this cannot be saved.