How many unfinished series did I start with this blog? Sheesh!
This is the continuation of a series of reflections on the Creed, begun during the Year of Faith (which was begun by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and was concluded by Pope Francis in 2013). Since we should always strive to grow closer to God, not just through years of Faith, I’ll pick up the reflections here. This part of the series will look at what the Church teaches about Our Lord Jesus Christ. As with previous parts of this reflection series, I will look at a section of the Creed each time. If you want to read the previous reflections, you can find them here and here.
So then, let’s begin.
“I believe in One Lord Jesus Christ”
“Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” Too often that question is reserved for evangelizing Jehovah’s Witnesses or some Evangelical televangelist. But it shouldn’t be. It is a serious question that strikes at the deepest levels of our spiritual life. Oftentimes, however, our beloved Protestant brothers in Faith seek too narrow of a relationship with Jesus. Yes, you MUST accept Jesus as Lord and as Savior, for that is the first, not the last, step in a dynamic relationship with Him. Catholics are called to a radical relationship, not just accepting Jesus (as if that was the only thing necessary for salvation) but living His will in the world. To paraphrase a prayer attributed to St. Theresa of Avila, We are Christ to the world. We are the hands and feet He uses to spread the Gospel. This is the calling of EVERY Christian, no matter his or her denomination. We cannot fulfill our mission without first accepting Jesus into our lives. We cannot stop there; our act of Faith is not enough, for as the Epistle of St. James notes, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).
The Creed uses the word “one” in reference to Jesus. As St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. This was the testimony at the proper time.” There is only one Jesus, one moment where God entered into history (more on that later). Jesus alone is Lord. Not Caesar (Paul was writing in the Roman atmosphere) but Jesus, crucified for our sake. We won’t get into the controversy over this verse and the veneration of saints. I will merely say this: praying to saints is the same as asking someone to pray for you here on earth, only the saint is closer to God, being as the saint is in Heaven.
The word “Christ” is the anglicized version of Christos, which in turn is a Greek version of Mashiach (Messiah). All of these words mean the same thing: “Anointed One.” Christ is THE Anointed One of God. There were many Christs throughout the Old Testament. Anyone anointed priest, prophet, or king among the Israelites was a Messiah, a Christ. But Jesus is THE Christ, the ultimate Anointed One, for He has in His person the fullness of priest, prophet, and king.
“The Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
There is a crisis of Faith in the Church; there is always such a crisis, as there was in the earliest moments of the Church (did not Judas leave the Last Supper to betray Our Lord?). We see a similar crisis in the earliest Christian centuries, when the Church faced persecution and death at the hands of the Roman Empire. In 313 that all changed. In that pivotal year, Emperor Constantine promulgated the Edict of Milan, which granted Christianity the status of an accepted religion in the Roman Empire. No longer were Christians hunted down and killed simply for their Creed. Now churches could be built, preaching could commence on a grand scale, and Christian thinkers could meditate on the great mysteries of the Faith.
But with time to think, Christian thinkers began to question fundamental aspects of the Church’s theology. A theological revolution erupted in Alexandria, Egypt when a priest named Arius, having reflected on the Scriptures, began teaching that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was not God, that He was just a creature like everything else (the highest creature, of course, but still a creature). Arius was clever, brilliant even, and had an overabundance of charisma. Many followed his teaching, and enormous pressure piled upon the pope and bishops to accept his heresy. Riots broke out in the streets of the empire as men and women of both theological camps sought to beat out the heretics (both sides saw the other as heretics) and establish themselves as the dominant theological voice in the Church.
People took their beliefs a little more seriously back then.
Cries for a solution reached the ears of Emperor Constantine, and he called for bishops from around the Roman Empire to meet in a lovely city called Nicaea. Even the pope sent representatives. The debates between the bishops got intense (the story is that St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus, punched Arius after hearing the heretic defiantly argue his heresies at the council), and eventually, the orthodox side won by a landslide (only two bishops voted against the Church’s teaching that the Son was God).
That should have settled the matter, but men being what they are, an even greater Arian crisis erupted. Heretics of political power captured and killed those who stood against them. It looked as if the Church would crumble. As St. Jerome would later write, “The world awoke and groaned to find itself Arian.” But the Church prevailed and today, very few so-called Christians claim that Jesus was not God.
The First Council of Nicaea clarified the Church’s teaching about Jesus. At Mass, we recite the Nicene Creed, which is the statement of belief composed at that council (with some additions about the Holy Spirit composed at the First Council of Constantinople in 381). The wording of each statement in this creed was carefully selected, each emphasizing the truth of Jesus’ divinity. Hence, in the Creed we repeat the words of the Council’s declarations. We acclaim Christ as God. All of those phrases (“God from God, Light from Light”) get at the fundamental teaching of Nicaea, that the Son is God, just as much God as the Father. There is no big God and little God. There’s just God. Words like “begotten” and “Light from Light” indicate that the Son has the same Divine Nature as the Father, no more and no less. They are equally God, “consubstantial” to use the word in the Creed.
What’s that? You don’t know what “consubstantial” means?
Well, I guess we’ll have to address that in the next post in this series.