Newman, Keble, Pusey: High Church Parsons on Trinity Sunday

It is in the same spirit that the most precise and systematic of all the Creeds, the Athanasian, is rather, as the form of it shows, a hymn of praise to the Eternal Trinity; it being meet and right at festive seasons to bring forth before our God every jewel of the Mysteries entrusted to us, to show that those of which He gave us we have lost none - John Henry Newman,'The Gospel, a Trust Committed to Us', Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol.2.22.

God the Father, the First Person in the Trinity, is especially called the Maker and Creator of the world, because He is the First Person, the Root, the Fountain, the Beginning of all: as the holy Creed says "He is made of none, neither created, nor begotten" - John Keble, Sermon XL for Trinity Sunday, Sermons for the Christian Year.

Equally, or even more, I should think it fatal to relegate the Athanasian Creed into some corner, to be acknowledged by one knows not whom of the clergy, but to make no part of our devotions, to be banished out of the minds of the people. The Athanasian Creed has been the guide of my faith, ever since I began to think as a young man. What it has been to me it has been to all who have thought on those subjects of faith - Edward Bouvrie Pusey, to the Bishop of Winchester, 25th October 1871, in Liddon, Life of Edward Bouvrie Pusey.

It was a distinguishing mark of the High Church parson on Trinity Sunday, adhering to the rubric requiring the use of the Athanasian Creed.  Newman (while an Anglican), Keble and Pusey would have sounded and looked like traditional High Church parsons on this Sunday: at Mattins, wearing surplice, hood and tippet, leading the saying of the Athanasian Creed.

Here was an expression of native Anglican piety which enriched the Church's confession and prayer by grounding it at major festivals in a historic Augustinian proclamation of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation.  By the end of the 19th century, however, the descendants of the Tractarians - now Ritualists and Anglo-papalists - had quite different concerns.  The concern for the use of the Athanasian Creed at Mattins on Trinity Sunday seemed, at best, quaint.  It was Mass not Mattins, and anyway, the 'proper' place for the Athanasian Creed was, according to the Breviarium Romanum, Prime.

Ritualists and Anglo-papalists, no less than Latitudinarians and Low-churchmen, must bare some responsibility for the disappearance of the Athanasian Creed for public worship, as they abandoned native Anglican piety for foreign forms.

And despite the laudable commitment of Newman, Keble, and Pusey to the use of the Athanasian Creed, they too carry some of the blame for its disappearance, with their attacks on the Old High Church ethos, the disparaging of pre-1833 Anglican piety, and the allegation that to be Protestant was incompatible with patristic and catholic tradition.  One consequence of such stances was the disappearance of the Athanasian Creed from public worship.

For now, however, as Trinity Sunday approaches, let us turn back to Newman, Keble, and Pusey, sounding and looking like High Church parsons, joyfully affirming that it is "meet and right" to confess the Athanasian Creed at Mattins on this Sunday, and follow their example.

The robust, magisterial orthodoxy of this "holy Creed", its deeply Augustinian confession of the Trinity and the Incarnation, provides what Daniel Waterland - in the classical High Church defence of the Athanasian Creed - described as an "open and common" form so "that none may be led astray for want of proper caution and previous instruction in what so nearly concerns the whole structure and fabric of the Christian Faith".  At a time when the teaching of that "whole structure and fabric" has been weakened in contemporary Anglicanism, we should receive afresh the Old High Church commitment to the Athanasian Creed and its "open and common use".

The general approbation it hath long met with in the Christian Churches, and the particular regard which hath been, early and late, paid to it in our own, (while it makes a part of our Liturgy, and stands recommended to us in our Articles,) will, I doubt not, be considerations sufficient to justify an undertaking of this kind - Daniel Waterland, A Critical History of the Athanasian Creed, 1724.


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