We preach Christ crucified
I — Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
The first Article teaches that there is but one God, what his nature is, and his role in our world. It states also that this one God is a Trinity of Persons.
It answers the position of those who hold to pantheism — many gods — which was the view of the Greek and Roman world, and is found in Hinduism today.
It also answers important questions about who God is, about his nature. He is a Spirit — without body, indivisible — without parts, and not subject to the same physical and emotional laws that we are — without passions (not able to suffer). It speaks of the infinite nature of his power, wisdom and goodness, showing there is no limit on these things in him. He is called the Maker and Preserver of all things, acknowledging him to be Creator and Lord, ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’.
Finally, it adds teaching on the existence of the Trinity, of the co-equality of the three Persons, and of their different titles as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All of this is set out in more detail in the Athanasian Creed, ‘At Morning Prayer’ in the BCP.
II — Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man
The second Article considers particularly the Incarnation. It is a doctrine that can lead to confusion; how can the eternal God, who is a Spirit, become a man, being born a helpless infant?
The Article begins by stating the closeness of the relationship between Father and Son, called the Word. He is ‘begotten from everlasting’, indicating that, like the Father, he is without beginning. He is ‘very and eternal God’, not a different God. He is of ‘one substance with the Father’, showing his identity with the Father, not as a lesser member of the Trinity.
Next it is stated that he ‘took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin’, testifying both to the Virgin birth, and to the fact that he had a full human nature. Jesus was not God disguised as a man, nor was he a man who was raised up to the Godhead. He was both fully God and fully man, from his mother’s womb.
The reason why he has this dual nature is that he might atone for the sins of his people, reconciling his Father to us, and taking away our sins. This is the Gospel!
III – Of the going down of Christ into Hell
This Article is often misunderstood, and has been the subject of unjust criticism. It is assumed by some to be based on 1 Peter 3:1, but this is not so. Rather, what the Article is saying is that our Lord really and truly died on the cross; it was no swoon, no fainting fit from which he recovered in the cool tomb. It was actual, final, physical death. The Article says no more, or less, than Scripture, and it asserts the completeness of his sacrifice.
IV — Of the Resurrection of Christ
Here we have more teaching on an important aspect of our faith, namely that the resurrection body of the Lord Jesus Christ was with ‘flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man’s nature’. That is, he rose from the grave fully human, exactly as he had died. He was not a ghost. It is therefore full human nature that ascended into heaven; David’s Son reigns, and shall return as a man to judge the living and the dead.
This of course means that we shall also have full, human bodies when we are raised to eternal life. We say this in the Creed — ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body’. It is not the body with which we die, ill, damaged, prone to disease, suffering from old age. Rather, it will be a perfect body, no longer prone to the corruption of sin and all that goes with it. We shall not be disembodied spirits, but living, breathing, laughing, rejoicing people, in the presence of our God for ever.
V — Of the Holy Ghost
The final Article in the section on the Godhead completes the teaching on the three Persons of the Trinity.
The Holy Spirit is said to ‘proceed’ from the Father and the Son, where the Son was said to be ‘begotten’ (Article II). While there are some who are unhappy with these terms (‘begotten’ suggests a dependence on the Father, and a cause of existence, while ‘proceeding’ makes the Spirit again dependent on and subject to both the other Persons of the Trinity) it is hard to see how else the matter could be put. Unless some order is stated it would be possible to think not of a Trinity but of three Gods. This would contradict Article I and the First Commandment.
In John 15:26 our Lord said he would send the Spirit from the Father, and that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. So again the Article is saying nothing more than Scripture.
A right doctrine of God is essential if we are to avoid that most common of sins, creating and worshipping a false god. We must believe the truth.