I've seen a few examples online of people claiming that John Wesley objected to the "hell" clauses of the Athanasian Creed, such as on the United Methodist Church website:

United Methodists are not required to believe every word of the affirmations. Church founder, John Wesley himself did not agree with a historic (Athanasian) creed, because he disliked its emphasis on condemning people to hell.

Similarly, on a blog:

Yet later in his life, Wesley became uncomfortable with the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian Creed, which have no parallel in the other two creeds.

The clauses in question appear to be:

Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

they that have done evil, into everlasting fire (WP)

A little bit of research has revealed one place where Wesley discussed the creed, saying:

I, for some time, scrupled subscribing to that creed; till I considered (1.) That these sentences only relate to wilful, not involuntary, unbelievers; to those who, having all the means of knowing the truth, nevertheless obstinately reject it: (2.) that they relate only to the substance of the doctrine there delivered; not the philosophical illustrations of it. (Sermon 55, On the Trinity; emphasis in original)

This seems to indicate that at some point in the past, he was unsure or unsatisfied with the wording of the creed, but later decided that it was acceptable. I find this weak evidence for the "did not agree" claim. Furthermore, this sermon was delivered in 1775, when Wesley was 71 years old, making me doubt the "later in his life" claim (though he did live another 16 years).

My question, therefore, is: did John Wesley explicitly reject any clause of the Athanasian Creed in any of his writings? I am particularly interested in knowing if such a rejection exists in his writings between 1775 and his death in 1791.


1 Answer 1


A Google Books search yielded only two documents from the time period you referenced that mention the Athanasian creed — and only one of them actually deals with Wesley's writings during that time period.

John Wesley's father wrote a letter (dated October 19, 1725) to his son during the time he was supposed to have taken orders. The letter is "intended to resolve some doubts with regard to the Athanasian creed":

"You seem staggered at the severe words in the Athanasian creed. Consider, their point is levelled against, and only against obstinate heretics. A distinction is undoubtedly to be made, between what is wilful, and what is in some measure involuntary. God certainly will make a difference. We don't so well know it. We therefore must leave that to him, and keep to the rule, which he has given us."

Memoirs: With A Review Of His Life And Writings

Secondly, an excerpt from John Wesley's journal (towards the end of December 1760). In a letter to Lloyd's Evening Post, he addresses the charge that some earlier comments "falsify the first Article of the Athanasian Creed":

"But how so? Why, I said 'The fundamental doctrine of the people called Methodists is, whosoever will be saved before all things it is necessary that he hold the true faith.'"

An extract of the Rev. Mr. John Wesley's Journal

  • 2
    Thanks! That letter from his father in 1725 definitely sounds like his point #1 from the sermon I quoted. Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 4:19

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