Friday, April 26, 2013

Whosoever Desires

This time last year, we talked about the Athanasian Creed.  Specifically, we talked about ways to incorporate this extremely long piece of Christian history into one's worship service, should you so desire -- and we insisted, we think now too forcefully, that you should so desire.

The subject was raised again last night in an online chat among some colleagues.  It was a good chat, but one very specific thing that came up was confusion about the role of the Athanasian Creed in historic liturgies, whether Evangelical or otherwise.  We did a few minutes of research, and want to clear up some misconceptions on the subject.

Briefly, the liturgical history of the Athanasian Creed looks like this:


The Athanasian Creed seems to emerge in the 5th-6th centuries in southern Gaul.  It is a Latin document reflecting Augustinian theology (and, obviously, has nothing to do with Athanasius).  No matter what the Book of Concord says, it is not really an "ecumenical creed," since it was never accepted by any of the councils.  However, its structure suggests that it may have been intended from the beginning as a liturgical document.  Indeed, in documents from the 10th and 11th centuries, it is called "the Hymn of St. Athanasius on the Trinity" or "the Psalm Quicunque vult."

From at least 820, according to the old Catholic Encyclopedia, it occurred on Sundays at Prime in the Roman and Ambrosian breviaries (as well as derivatives, such as Sarum).  The Ambrosian rite also used it, sometimes, in the commendation of the dying.

Unsurprisingly, it has no formal role in Orthodox worship, but it is sometimes printed on the Horologion, as a text for private devotion.  As you would expect, it is printed without the filioque.


In his commentary on Joel, Luther says of the Athanasian Creed that, "I doubt if, since the days of the apostles, anything more important and more glorious has ever bee written in the Church of the New Testament."  This is hyperbolic, to be sure, but it shows that the Reformers had no plan to surrender their inheritance.

Among Evangelicals, the Athanasian Creed was used in two ways.  Some church orders (Wittenberg 1533; Braunschweig Wolfenbuettel 1543; Pomerania 1563; John Casimir of Saxony, 1626) used it as part of the Daily Office. In these cases, according to the 1899 Lutheran Cyclopedia article, it was typically sung at Matins on Saturday or Sunday, alternating in use with the Te Deum and Benedictus.  In practice, it was sung antiphonally, with the Gloria Patri added (because, obviously, it wasn't long enough already).

Timothy Wengert describes the use at Wittenberg, during Luther's lifetime, in detail:
It was to be sung at Matins on Sundays by the boys choir in Latin, alternating week by week with the Te Deum, after the sermon and a German hymn sung by the congregation. The same choir was to begin the Matins service reciting the catechism in Latin antiphonally.
A smaller number of orders used it as part of the Communion service, following the Gospel.  (Hesse 1574 and, specifically on Trinity Sunday, Schwaebisch Halle 1615).

The Pomeranian agenda also prescribed it for use "at the opening of synods, and once a month," at least according to an 1899 article by R. Morris Smith. It also seems to have been used at ordinations.

What must be added here is that, while some Evangelicals retained this creed in worship, others did not.  The Lutheran Reformation was liturgically diverse, and -- for all its conservatism -- sought to impose no common liturgy upon its adherents.

Anglicanism, of necessity, sought precisely that.  Each successive revision of the Prayer Book became, at least in theory, a legal document prescribing just what would be said, and when, at worship in each parish church.  In 1549, the BCP prescribed the Athanasian Creed for use after after the Benedictus at Matins on Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity.  The 1559 added seven saints' days, for a total of thirteen recitations.  This rubric was retained in the 1662 book, which remains the principal liturgical book of the Church of England.

Thirteen times per annum, the Anglican rubric (which remains in force to this day, at least on paper) seems like a lot.  It is worth remembering that the Pomeranians, and presumably some of the other German churches, sung it about as often.


Notwithstanding Fr. Zuhlsdorf's thing about red and black, we all know that rubrics are made to be ignored.  It seems pretty clear that, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Athanasian Creed fell into disuse.  Evidence is that the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA, when it developed its own version of the BCP, omitted the Athanasian Creed entirely.  A post at the Prayer Book Society blog avers that the minatory clauses were to blame, and this sounds likely.

We aren't sure just what the various Lutheran churches did during these years.  Perhaps, on paper, some retained the Athanasian Creed at Matins -- but then, it seems that the Daily Office dropped almost entirely out of use, which would moot the rubric without abolishing it.


In a curious 1875 essay, the Anglican writers Pebody and Kenny describe the gradual restoration of the Athanasian Creed in their own church.  They extol the frequency of its use in English churches, where it seems to have been sung to instrumental accompaniment.  They admit, however, that it has only returned to widespread use over the preceding 60 years, as BCP rubrics have been more carefully followed, and that even in their own time many of the English clergy refuse to obey the rubric, and they estimate that 3/5 would prefer it were removed.

They also mention that, in 1829, the Prussian church had given permission for the Athansian Creed to be used "in any churches where the use had lingered to that time."  This suggests that at least a few Lutherans had continued the practice through the liturgical lean years.

Nonetheless, such use must have been exceptional.  A 1906 LLA essay on the liturgical use of the creeds in Lutheran churches states flatly that it "is not used ... at this time."  It is not clear how the author knows this, or even whether he is correct.


In 1914, revisions to the Roman breviary reduced the use of the Athanasian Creed to Prime on Trinity Sunday.  (In the contemporary Liturgy of the Hours, it is used only on Trinity.)

Among Lutherans, recitation on Trinity Sunday seems to have been common enough by the mid-20th century.  The Athanasian Creed was not included in the 1917 Common Service Book, or the 1958 Service Book and Hymnal, but it was in The Lutheran Hymnal (1941).   In 1967, Catholic World noted in passing that Lutherans and Roman Catholics were "almost" the only American churches to use the Athanasian Creed in worship.

In a 1965 article, Arthur Carl Piepkorn prescribes thusly for TLH users:
On Trinity Sunday, at Matins, the Athanasian Creed may be used instead of the Psalmody. The Lutheran Liturgy [a manual for TLH] authorizes you to use the Athanasian Creed in place of part of the Psalmody. When you use the Athanasian Creed, render it like a Psalm or Canticle; use Gloria Patri at the end and, if you wish, use an appropriate Antiphon at the beginning and the end. The Athanasian Creed should never be substituted for the Nicene (or the Apostles') Creed.
It was printed in the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship, and although we recall no rubrics concerning its use, we have neither our desk edition nor Pfatteicher's Manual on the Liturgy available to us just now.  The latter, we assume, had at least some suggestions.

Meanwhile, Episcopalians added it to the back pages of their 1979 BCP, as "an historical document" like the 39 Articles or the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, rather than a liturgical text.   Evangelical Lutheran Worship omits it entirely.

This, so far as we know, covers the field.  At the moment, Lutherans (at least users of LBW, ELW or the new Missouri book) have no rubric prescribing the Athanasian Creed, but a fair number of congregations are accustomed to its use, at least on rare occasions.  This use, while by no means obligatory, is deeply rooted in the history of the Evangelical movement, and deserves to be remembered, whether or not it is continued.


mark said...

LSB, p. 319. Includes introductory paragraphs regarding the history of the creed. Then: "The following translation may be spoken responsively by whole verse."

Father Anonymous said...

But no guidance as to where in either the service or the year? So, basically, no rubric there either.

mark said...

Nope. Maybe on their Sundays and Seasons website? Maybe there is a lurker who will come forward?

mark said...

Maybe on their Sundays & Seasons website? Maybe there's a lurker out there?

Pastor Joelle said...

Not convinced. Sorry

Father Anonymous said...

I've given up trying to convince anybody; all I'm trying to do here is document the history, which isn't well known.

The truth is that, when you look at it objectively, the historical case -- even setting aside questions of theology or pastoral care, which I know is what concerns you -- for using the Athanasian Creed in a communion service is pretty poor. It's place, if you think it has one, really does seem to be the Daily Office.

Now, if there are any Lutheran churches out there with a regular weekend Matins scheduled, that's another matter. And churches like that are the ones where people are likeliest to be accustomed to it anyway.

James of the Tonsure said...

I would tend to accept the claim of the 1906 essay. How did he know it was not used?
1) I haven't checked the shelf of service books upstairs, but odds-on, it wasn't printed in the hymnals of the day;
2) The bulletin had not yet been invented and the mimeo was not yet invented; (though I suppose copies could have been provided by a local printer, but would probably been more coin than deemed worth; 3) No one had it committed to memory.

James of the Tonsure said...

Those of us who were required to read Silas Marner in public school, learned of it's use on Trinity Sunday from that.

Father Anonymous said...

Sure, it wasn't printed in the American hymnals that this guy had handy. But did he bother to look through the orders of every single German and Scandinavian state church? There were some people who did that sort of thing, but not many. And then there's still the matter of isolated local uses, like those Prussians in 1829.

I'm suspicious of a claim this broad that doesn't offer any support.

But of course, the real point is that, if the creed was used in parishes at all, it was used rarely and in few -- which seems to certainly have been the case.