What if the “goodly heritage” (Psalm 16:6) that we have from Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (d. 373), whose feast we celebrate today, is not a rule requiring intellectual assent but an approach inviting mystical contemplation?
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,
So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be 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 Ghost 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 Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. (BCP 864)
The Athanasian Creed, composed in the midst of swirling controversies about the nature of God, the person of Jesus, and the authority of the Church, certainly reads like a legal document, setting out terms and conditions for salvation.
“He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.”
But what if the focus here is more on the word “think” than on the word “thus”?
What if we let Athanasius’ bewildering, “incomprehensible” creed instead serve as an invitation to meditate on the God revealed in Scripture, on the life and ministry of Jesus, on the enduring power of the Spirit in our lives?
There is rich fruit for reflection here, solid food for the Christian life, a “goodly heritage” on which to build our own life of faith and seeking after God.
The St. Augustine Chapel at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Not long after Athanasius’ time, another great thinker in the early Church, Augustine of Hippo (d. 430), wrote about “faith seeking understanding.”
Our goodly heritage is filled with examples of people not only placing their faith in God and their trust in Jesus’ saving power, but also using their minds to explore what relationship with God might mean for us and the world around us.