Quicunque vult These are the initial words of the symbol known as the Athanasian Creed. The real composer of this ancient formulary being unknown, its origin is a mere matter of conjecture. A cursory notice of its history in ancient and modern times is all that can be here attempted. It probably had its origin in the Gallican Church. It was first used in that Church. Gallican councils and bishops have always treated it with especial deference. Churches which received the Gallican Psalter received with it this "expositio fidei." The oldest known translation into the vernacular was Gallican, as prescribed by Hincmar of Rheims to his priests. The first writers who cite its words were Avitus of Vienne and Caesarius of Aries; the oldest commentator upon its text was Venantius Fortunatus, bishop of Poitiers; and MSS. were nowhere so abundant or so ancient as in Gaul (Waterland).
This "Creed," to use its scholastic title, first appeared in Latin, the Greek copies that exist being independent versions from that language. The age also of the oldest Latin MSS. exceeds that of the Greek exemplars by several centuries. The oldest Latin copy is referred by archbishop Usher to the beginning of the 7th century, and was in the Cottonian collection (De Symb. Praef. ii, 3). The Treves MS., acephalous, is of nearly equal antiquity. Five MSS. of the 8th century are known: the Ambrosian of Milan; the Cottonian in king Athelstan's Psalter, referable with certainty to A.D. 703, and professing to be "Fides St. Athanasii Alexandrini;" the Colbertine, copied in Saxon character from the Treves MS. shortly after the middle of the century, and, like the original, imperfect at the beginning; the Paris MS. of equal date, also in Saxon character; and the copy written in letters of gold which was presented by Charlemagne, while only king of France, to Adrian I on his accession to the pontificate, A.D. 772. It is still preserved at Vienna. The Greek copies are of much later date, and Montfaucon had never seen one that was more than three hundred years old (Diatribe, p. 727).
The earliest form in which this "expositio fidei" is found is the commentary of Venantius Fortunatus in the middle of the 6th century, showing that it was then of popular use. The fourth Council of Toledo also (A.D. 633) adopted many of its more striking expressions. lome, distrustful of novelties, only admitted it after long delay, as Waterland says, about A.D. 930. Thus it was accepted by the churches of the West "as soon as, or sooner than, the Nicene Creed." This dogmatic composition has a direct bearing on the Apollinarian error, which was condemned by pope Damasus, A.D. 375. This heresy had much in common with the Eutychian error of the middle of the 5th century; but the latter had certain distinguishing features of which no notice is taken in the Creed, and for this reason the clauses that contravene both errors may be safely applied to Apollinarian notions: we need not look for its origin therefore so low as the Eutychian period (Harvey, Hist. and Theol. of Creeds, p. 549-557), in which the dying embers of Apollinarianism kindled up again. Neither can its production range later than the Nestorian controversy, which commenced with the first year of the patriarchate of Nestorius (A.D. 428), and led to the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431); otherwise the crucial term θεοτόκος must as certainly have found its way into it as that the term ὁμοούσιος was made the "lapis Lydius" of orthodoxy by the Nicene fathers; hence this "expositio fidei" must have been written before the year A.D. 428 (Waterland, Harvey). But by how many years did it anticipate the council? There are undeniable points of resemblance between many of its expressions and the terms used by Augustine in his work De Trinitate (A.D. 416; Harvey, p. 562-564); which furnished the copy, the father or the Creed? Waterland affirms the former, but reasons quite as cogent point to the latter conclusion. Augustine says that the phrases used by him in defining the three Persons of the Godhead were adopted also by catholic writers his predecessors; and, in fact, the writer of the Creed may have borrowed the corresponding terms, in some few cases, from Tertullian, but abut ndantly from Ambrose. The Creed, then, so far as its phraseology is concerned, is quite as likely to have been written between A.D. 381, when Ambrose completed his work De Spiritu Sancto, and A.D. 416, when Augustine put forth his work De Trinitette, as after this latter date.
Further, the rudimental statements of the Creed are more fully developed in the work of Augustine. The Creed simply says, "The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding." The most unbending Greek theologian would have allowed the statement to pass unchallenged. e.g. Cyril of Alexandria says of the Holy Spirit, "For he is termed the Spirit of Truth, and Christ is truth; and he proceeds (προχεῖται) from him, as in fact he does from God and the Father" (Ep. Synod.; comp. Harvey, Vindex Cathol. i, 188). Thus also Basil says "the Spirit proceeds from God, not by generation as the Son, but as the Spirit of his mouth;" where it is manifestly intended that as the Spirit proceeds from God the Father, so also he proceeds from God the Word. Ambrose makes the matter more plain: "Dei Spiritus et Spiritus Christi et in Patre est et in Filio, quia oris est Spiritus" (Ambrose, De Spir. Sanct. i, 11, 37, 114; iii, 6). There is an Augustinian definiteness also in those other words of Ambrose: "Et si Spiritum dicas, et Deum Patrem, a quo procedit Spiritus, et Filium, quia Filii quoque est Spiritus, nuncupasti" (ibid.). The third Person was universally acknowledged to be of the Father and of the Son, and his origination was allowed to be by procession; that which was denied was his procession from the Son as well as the Father, instead of from the Father by the Son. But the work De Trinitate originated all the discussion that followed, and in fact led to that schism between the churches of the East and of the West which has never again been healed. Augustine expresses himself with his usual roundness and perspicuity upon a point that was a result of scriptural reasonings collected into one focus of light (De Trin. 4:29; 15:47). The concluding chapters of his work are filled with statements of the procession of the Holy Spirit, and a comparison of these with the more shadowy lines of the Creed satisfies the judgment that Augustine was indebted to the Creed, and not the Creed to Augustine. Then again the Creed instances by way of illustration the union of a spiritual and a material nature in the individual man: "As the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ." The illustration is exactly to the point; but Augustine follows out the idea in a strain of subtle argumentationl that runs through six books of his work; finding points of analogy between the doctrine of a Trinity in Unity and the unity of the mind existing in different states; and falling into modes of expression that are exactly square with others in the Creed: "Hac igitur tria, memoria intelligentia voluntas, quoniam non sunt tres vitae sed una vita; nec tres mentes sed una mens; consequenter utique nec tres substantiae sunt sed una substantia" (De Trin. 10:18). Both the Creed and Augustine argue from man's bodily and mental constitution, but the convincing simplicity of the former and the strained scholastic reasoning of the latter convince the mind that here again the Creed was the archetype. Diverging, therefore, at this point from Waterland, who dates the Creed A.D. 420, four years after the publication of the work De Trinitate, we may now see whether we can assign a prior date for its composition.
It should be borne in mind once more that the Apollinarian heresy is the latest form of error of which the Creed takes cognizance. But that heresy never took root in the churches of the West; therefore no newly appointed Gallican bishop would have gone out of his way to condemn it, as Waterland supposes Hilary to have done on his appointment to the see of Aries. "It is hardly in keeping with the mild 'credo' of a newly installed prelate. But in the year A.D. 401 we can point to a most popular and zealous bishop of Western Gaul, apostolical in his labors among the benighted population of the Nervii and Morini (Pas de Calais) as well as in his self-inflicted poverty (Paulin. Nol. Ep. 18 ad Victric.), who was accused publicly of teaching heresy, and that evidently of Apollinaris; who also gave account of his faith in a confession that, without any great degree of improbability, may be identified with this exposition of the catholic faith. This eminent son of the Church was Victricius, confessor and bishop of Rouen, who at the close of the 4th centurv was considerably advanced in years" (Harvey, Hist. and Theol. of Creeds, p. 578). The terms of this confession are sketched out by Paulinus of Nola (Ep. 37 ad Victric. 3, 4), and they harmonize remarkably with those of the Creed (ibid. p. 5, 6). There are historical reasons for believing that this confession was presented at Rome between A.D. 399 and 402 when Anastasius was pope (Harvey, Hist. and Theol. of Creeds). But the name of Victricius was in time expunged, and it then stood as the production of Anastasius. Hence, since one commentator terms it "Fides Anastasii," and a codex ascribes it to Anasthasius, it is highly probable that this name was connected with the Creed at an earlier date than that of Athanasius, into which it easily passed. The name of Athanasius is first placed at the head in a copy of the 8th century, which leaves a wide margin of three hundred years for the change of title. The earliest MS. (Cottonian. now lost) assigned no name to the Creed, but simply styled it "Fides Catholica," as does also Venantius Fortunatus in his commentary. The reasons for assigning it to Victricius have been thus summed up:
"(1.) Its careful, well-considered terms are more consistent with the mature age of Victricius, who had attained the honor of confessor forty years before the date now assigned to the Creed, in 401, than with the youth of Hilary, who was only eight-and-twenty years of age when he is supposed by Waterland to have composed the hymn on his advancement to the episcopate.
(2.) Its style, though not that of an apology in vindication of the writer's faith, agrees well with the supposition that he was accused of the errors that he anathematizes.
(3.) Its matter is exactly parallel with the subjects upon which Victricius, if we may judge from the expressions of Paulinus, was called to defend himself. With respect to both of these particulars, the supposition that Hilary should have been the author is singularly unsatisfactory to the judgment. His exposition of faith on entering upon his episcopal office would scarcely have been pointed with anathemas which the history of his time persuades us were not required. Indeed, the Creed can only be assigned to Hilary upon the supposition that Apollinarianism infested the Gallican Church at the date of his appointment to the see of Aries — a supposition wholly contrary to fact. But since we know that Pelagian tenets had then taken a firm root in the south of France, we know also the direction that any inaugural exposition by Hilary must have taken. (4.) Again, if Hilary had been the author of the Creed, his name must have commanded respect, and he would scarcely have met with such hard words from pope Leo I as may be found in his epistle to the French bishops, A.D. 445: e.g. "Non est hoc... salubritatem impendere diligentiae pastoralis, sed vim inferre latronis et firis ... Potest forsitan ad depravandos vestrae sanctitatis animos Hilarius pro suo more mentiri" (Leo, Ep. 10). On the other hand, the highly probable communication between Victricius and Anastasius, and the preparation of a confession of faith bv the Gallican confessor, indicate the process whereby the name of Athanasius may have been placed at length. by assimilation, at the head of the Creed. For these reasons, therefore, it is considered that the authorship of the Creed may be referred to the confessor Victricius, bishop of Rouen; and that the date of the production may be assigned to the year 401" (Harvey, On the Three Creeds, p. 583). See Waterland, On the Athanasian Creed; Harvey, Hist. and Theol. of the Three Creeds; Blunt, Annotated Prayer-book, which latter work should be consulted with reference to its liturgical use. SEE CREED.