On Trinity Sunday, we reflect on the profound mystery of the Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

The Athanasian Creed (typically used only on Trinity Sunday because of its length and philosophical wordiness) clearly defines what Christians mean when they say they believe in the Trinity. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — three persons in one being. 

The Athanasian Creed provides great clarity regarding the Trinitarian teaching of the church. But then it goes, I think, too far.

The Athanasian Creed states that: 

“Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith.

Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.

And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance…”

(And then it goes on for about a page with language like the last paragraph above. Also, the word, "catholic," means, "universal," in this context. When it refers to the denomination, the "C" is capitalized because it is a proper noun.)

Is the description of the Trinity true? I believe it is. Does a person have to believe two pages of serpentine, esoteric language to be saved?

I say, “No.”

The Athanasian Creed clearly articulates the mystery of the Trinity. But asserting that we must believe an intricate doctrinal statement to be saved makes Christianity into a philosophical system rather than a faith in Christ.

The Risk of Philosophical Faith

Centering our salvation in doctrinal correctness rather than the love of God in Christ Jesus can close us off rather than open us up to God’s expansive grace. In declaring that a person must believe the arcane language of this creed or perish eternally, the Athanasian Creed treats Jesus like a philosophical system rather than a person who lived, died, and rose again for the salvation of mankind.

We trust in the person Jesus Christ to save us, not in our understanding of the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity. 
The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:17–19 (ESV) underscores this beautifully: 

“so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

This passage highlights that the essence of faith is not in intellectual comprehension but in being rooted and grounded in love, allowing Christ to dwell in our hearts.

Jesus’ Radical Message of Love for All

Jesus' ministry continually expanded the boundaries of God’s love, often scandalizing those around Him. His first sermon, recorded in Luke 4:16–30 (ESV), serves as a prime example.

In his sermon, Jesus demonstrated to His Jewish listeners that God does not love them particularly and uniquely. He reminded them of the non-Jewish widow from Sidon who was the only one fed miraculously during a 3-year famine in Israel. He pointed out that though there were many lepers in the time of Elisha, the only leper healed was Naaman, a Syrian general.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ hometown responded to his message by trying to throw him off a cliff. (An auspicious way to begin a ministry, eh?)

Jesus proclaimed a message of God’s favor and love, not just for the Jews but for all people, including the marginalized and despised. 

Breaking Boundaries

Jesus consistently tried to crack open people’s boundaries and encourage a wider and wider circle of love.
He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, breaking social and religious taboos (John 4). He valued and included women among His followers, such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, who supported His ministry (Luke 8:1-3). Jesus welcomed and blessed children, saying, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14, ESV).

The early Church grappled with the inclusion of Gentiles. Peter was given a vision that indicated that God’s love and acceptance (to his own surprise) extends over the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Peter’s declaration, 

“Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35, ESV), marks a profound shift towards a more wider understanding of God’s salvation.

The Primacy of Love

Doctrine, while important, is not the essence of faith. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 (ESV):

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Our faith must be rooted in love, which reflects the character of God. True faith involves trusting in Jesus Christ, seeking His guidance, and embracing His love.

Faith: A Journey of Trust

Faith is fundamentally about trusting in Jesus Christ. We are saved by a person not by a correct understanding.
Paul’s response to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:31 (ESV), “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” underscores that salvation comes through a relationship with Christ, not merely through adherence to a belief system. Jesus’ assurance to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43, ESV), and His words to the woman healed by touching His robe, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (Luke 8:48, ESV), highlight the personal nature of this trust.

Relationship Over System

Christianity first and foremost is trusting Jesus more than believing just the right thing. Humans are so apt to substitute a prescription for a person. We want a system instead of a savior. We a reasonable explanation and God wants a relationship. We are looking for a formula when God wants to form us into a family of faith.

The Heart of Faith

Faith, then, is about trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, seeking His leadership in our lives, and embarking on a journey of growth and transformation. It is about knowing that Jesus, the most loving, caring, and compassionate person, walks with us in our struggles, offering encouragement and strength.

Paul’s prayer for the Philippians encapsulates this beautifully:

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11, ESV).


So, is the Athanasian Creed correct? Yes. It's doctrinal formulation is a clear elucidation of the mystery of the Holy 
Trinity as revealed to us in the scriptures. Is it correct when it asserts that a person must believe exactly as it states or suffer eternal punishment. I don't see how that could be so.

Much grace and peace to you!