Last night at St Paul’s Cathedral

Though I worked in the Diocese of London for a few years before beginning my formal ordination training, I’ve never considered myself a member of the Church of England. Thus, it is always interesting for me to go to worship down there and encounter their little ways.

Last evening I was at holy mass in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. It was a splendid service, in the round under the dome. There was a visiting choir from St Mary’s, Nottingham who were singing Kodály Missa Brevis, which I just love. It was a good service and there were hundreds of people at it. Modern without lacking in dignity, thoughtful without being stuffy. (All this was in honour of good St Bartholomew, whose feast day was yesterday).

What brought me up a bit short was the affirmation of faith which was used in place of a creed.

It went thus:
We believe in God the Father,
from whom every family
in heaven and on earth is named.

We believe in God the Son,
who lives in our hearts through faith,
and fills us with his love.

We believe in God the Holy Spirit,
who strengthens us
with power from on high.

We believe in one God;
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I’ve no problem with most of that, but what on earth does the first sentence mean – “We believe in God the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named”?

(Actually I might want to bicker a bit about the Holy Spirit coming from on high, but we’ll let that be for now as I do at least understand it).

Does anyone have any idea what it might mean? I kept my mouth shut at the time lest I found myself committing a sin by asserting something heretical.

I’ve checked, and that Affirmation is part of Common Worship, the Church of England’s vast collection of authorised liturgical resources.

But it is still bugging me a day later. What does that phrase mean? Does anyone with better theological enlightenment, or perhaps a better knowledge of our dear cousins in the Church of England know?


  1. Pam R says
    • That’s an interesting discussion, Pam. Clearly it isn’t just me.

      There are words in our Scottish Liturgy that I don’t understand either, but not many of them. (We who bear your threefold likeness look for the city of peace in whose light we are transfigured and the earth transformed is one obvious example).

  2. Hmm, maybe it’s something to do with GtF establishing Patriarchy, or Adam’s naming rights? (guessing obv.)

  3. My initial thought is that it reminds me of something I read in an early book on Jewish liturgy about every tribe/family being named by God and thus all are part of the family of God, but my eyes aren’t up to digging it up at the moment and others might be able to recall it without me needing to dig just now. Will look out of self interest anyway after eyes return and will pass on any info to you if you are still curious.
    I also note with amusement – although I will leave mother Ruth to rant – that it would appear you had no qualms about the male gender pronouns being used.

    • The truth is, at the time I was enjoying the fact that the three holy ministers consisted of both male and female participants too much to worry about the pronouns of the Eternal.

      When I lived in London, that would not have been so, I don’t think.

  4. I think that gets used in place of the Creed for baptisms in the COE church in Newcastle at which I am an increasingly infrequent attender — hence why I only think. I can sort of understand its being used in a baptismal rite, especially somewhere that does refer to both the church and the Church as families. I don’t understand it at all in a general service. And I don’t understand where on Earth they’re getting it from in any case.

  5. It’s from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where “father” is “patera” and “family” is “patria,” so every family is literally named after the father. What the C of E *thinks* that means when translated into English, where it doesn’t make sense the same way, and in a modern liturgical setting, I’ve no idea.

  6. It’s an interesting one.
    I’ve never (knowingly) been to a Church of England service, so I thought I’d approach it more as an intellectual exercise.
    Starting with Nestle-Aland (Greek NT) on Eph. 3.15 : “ἐξ οὗ πᾶσα πατριὰ ἐν οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς ὀνομάζεται”.
    To the best of my (very limited) knowledge, “ὀνομάζεται” would appear to be a 3rd person singular present-tense indicative, which would follow, as the Father is the subject (in the previous verse), thus, it means “he gives name to all families in heaven and in earth” – just a round-about way of saying “created”. Modern translations, and indeed, the CoE liturgy , might suggest, however, that I’m missing something.
    Clearly, more investigation required.

  7. It’s a form of the creed we have used from time to time and it didn’t satisfy me because it seemed to miss out any mention of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. But it is scripture, a paraphrase of Ephesians 3:15-19, so I think it’s useful.

    On the issue of families etc, I think it’s about authority, God being the fixed father at the heart of the universe, from whom every other family has been derived.

  8. I’ve just realised, I have been to one CoE service, in Wakefield. Which undermines the veracity of my last comment somewhat.

  9. Rosemary Hannah says

    Yeah well – not what we mean by a family, not even in my extended sense of it, is it?

  10. There is a time and a place for bad Greek puns, but I’m not really convinced that the middle of the liturgy is it.

    It seems to me that many alternative affirmations that people suggest to supplant the Creeds of the church introduce more problems than they solve.

  11. Rosemary Hannah says

    As to what it means to the C of E – I would guess it means that a nuclear family which has a father in it is in some way an especial revelation of the nature of God. What I strongly suspect the writer of Ephesians (not in my view Paul) actually meant was ‘from whom the various heads of the households in the church derive their authority’ – which might be an interesting way of toning down the authority of the head of a big slave-owning household, since presumably that authority could then only be enacted as God the Father himself would enact it.

    The other possibility is that it is the only thing about the Fatherhood of God the compliers could think of at the time that somebody else did not object to. Opportunity missed I think.

  12. Rosemary Hannah says

    The following is not right, but is I think better.
    I believe in God the Father, who made the star-filled universe, and loves his creation; who waits to welcome each of his children however they wander.
    I believe in God the Son, who made all things with the Father, who became human, who shows the Father’s love and teaches his forgiveness.
    I believe in God the Holy Spirit, by whom God’s love is shed abroad in human hearts.
    We believe in one God;
    Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  13. 14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

    15 of whom the whole family in the heavens and on earth is named,

    21 to Him [is] the glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus, to all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen. Eph 3 YLT.

    The family in heaven and the family on earth are the same.
    In the eternity of heaven the whole history of the universe and of humanity is concluded.
    As we live out our lives upon the earth we are also alive within the perfected household of God assembled within the eternity of heaven.
    It could be said that in our lives in this world we are living out our past.

  14. william says

    It’s good to find a discussion here that is biblically centred – well at least becomes aware of a scriptural reference!
    It will always be beneficial for us to probe the thinking of the Apostle Paul, as it is to discern what God has spoken in His Word.
    I was also a little heartened, and surprised, by Kelvin’s sensitivity to be found to be engaging in heresy!! – there is always hope for anyone who walks humbly before his God.

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