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It must be admitted by Protestants that only the most banal of the 44 assertions of the Creed of Athanasius appear in the pages of scripture and that its authority is Catholic tradition, justified with inferences rather than explicit assertions, and yet they claim "sola scriptura". Isn't it more accurate to say that they essentially have treated the Creed as if it were canonized and authoritative in itself?

In other words, aren't they being disingenuous? Shouldn't they say, "sola scriptura plus the Creed of Athanasius"? Or rather, more broadly, "sola scriptura plus Catholic tradition"?

VERY related post

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To start with, you're not understanding what Sola Scriptura actually means. It does not mean that only explicit propositions found in the scriptures are accepted. It does not mean that Protestants reject or ignore tradition, historical theology, creeds, or reason. Sola Scriptura means that Protestants think that the scriptures are the only infallible source of knowledge on this side of resurrection (on the other side we will be able to speak directly to God of course.) Sola Scriptura means that when there are questions and debates, the highest authority we can appeal to is the scriptures. But it doesn't mean the scriptures contain everything we want to know, nor that all of the scriptures are easy to understand. We interpret the scriptures under the power of the Holy Spirit, guided by generations of past Christians, using the fullness of the intellects God has granted to us.

So there's nothing to reconcile. Like the Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, and Chalcedonian Definition, the Athanasian Creed is believed by most Protestants to be an accurate summary of the theology taught by the Bible. Protestants can recite it and join the other Christians around the world who share its truths. And some Protestant denominations would endorse it as an authoritative summary of their beliefs. This does not make it part of the canon, nor does it ever sit in a higher place than the scriptures. Any Protestant church which truly believes in Sola Scriptura would allow in principle for the possibility that a deeper understanding of scripture may convince them that some aspect of the Athanasian Creed needs revising, although after all this time they'd consider that unlikely to happen.

(There is some small disagreement over some lines already, in particular the first and last. Many Protestants would disagree that doubt precludes salvation. And of course "descended into hell" is disputed by many as it is in the other creeds, but that is more an issue of translation.)

  • Very balanced. Very informative. Respect. +1. – Nigel J Jan 21 at 7:33
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    A good summary. We should also mention that while your answer is quite correct (upvoted +1) not all protestants agree with these creeds, or, not all protestants agree with every statement in the creeds. Some protestants stridently disagree with some of these creeds. These creeds are only accepted to the extent that they agree with Scripture. – Mac's Musings Jan 21 at 10:05
  • "These creeds are only accepted to the extent that they agree with Scripture" Was this the view of the Council Fathers who wrote up the Creed? 'It's only authoritative if you feel you can reconcile it with Scripture?' I think not. – Sola Gratia Jan 21 at 15:27
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    @solagratia that's not the point. The point is that this is hope Protestants reconcile these two beliefs, not whether or not the Council Fathers may have agreed. – Matt Gutting Jan 22 at 12:16
  • So the Creed is kind of hoisted up to explain the Protestant faith regardless of what those who wrote it up believed? Defies the point in a Council in the first place, but whatever; I guess technically the Creed and Protestantism can be reconciled. – Sola Gratia Jan 22 at 12:53
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Yes to answer your question and to make a point I continue on.

I am an Episcopalian. I understand we as a Church once used all three Creeds in our worship but have somehow slipped down to two with the Creed of Saint Athanasius being relegated to a spot in the back of the Book of Common Prayer under "Historical Documents". Touche, it is a historical document and should be preserved as part of our shared Catholic history. We accept the authority of the early church as being relevant to all of our shared Christian beliefs that were and remain the same. We all use one Bible with the same books in all of them, some have more. We accept the teachings of the church on many things, like the divinity of Christ, The relation of Jesus to the Father and the whole idea of the Trinity. Pretty much the first 1000 years we were more or less in agreement (boy is that a broad statement and not entirely true). We were one Church and it was and still remains only a portion of our Christian faith that believes in Sola scriptura, and many more who believe as I do in prima scriptura. Yet, The Creed of Saint Athanasius like Bel and the Dragon and many others may one day be lost to our Protestant Churches. It is a not a tidy creedal statement but a summation of a particular Christian Theological way of expressing The faith. I love the certainty of it, the rhetorical feel of the affirmation is masterful and yet in some ways flawed because it is so very impossible to keep, you can't have everything.

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    How do you distinguish sola scriptura from prima scriptura? They should be synonyms I would have thought... – curiousdannii Jan 21 at 22:22

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