Tag Archives: Arianism

Reflection: I Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (part 3)

Happy Feast of St. Joseph!  St. Joseph is the MAN (meaning he is awesome AND his is my model of manhood).  I’ve written about how awesome St. Joseph is HERE and am also working on a series of reflections about him and how he is a model of manly virtues.  

 

Shot from The Nativity Story (dir. Catherine Hardwicke) showing my man St. Joseph being an awesome foster father to the Incarnate Lord.  

 

But this post, like my devotion to Joseph, isn’t really about Joseph.  Its about Jesus.  

 

Today, we continue our reflections on the Creed, and our reflections on our Lord Jesus Christ, by examining the historical importance of the Incarnation and the theological importance of the Hypostatic Union.

 

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven

One of the fundamental truths the Church teaches about Jesus is that Christ is truly God and truly Man.  He isn’t part god, part man, like Hercules or some other demigod from other world mythologies.  Rather, in the words of the Council of Chalcedon, Christ has two natures, Divine and human, “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”  When the Incarnation happened, God took on a human nature without losing any of the Divine Nature.  It is what the Church calls the Hypostatic Union.  Practically speaking, this means that Jesus was fully God, and yet truly one of us, “like us in all things but sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  All of the Christological heresies in the Church, from Gnosticism onward, took issue with some aspect of this fundamental teaching of the Gospels.  The Creed of Nicaea answers their heresies sometimes before they were even formulated.

 

Perhaps Christ was merely God, with an imaginary body.  So the Gnostics, specifically the Docetists, taught.  The New Testament allows no such confusion.

 

Perhaps He was like God, but not quite God, since it would not be fitting for God to join with His creation.  No, Arius, that’s not right either. 

 

Perhaps He was God and Man, with a real body, but with two persons: the Second Person of the Trinity and the human person Jesus, son of Mary.  No, Nestorius, that doesn’t work either; He wouldn’t be truly God. 

 

Maybe, at the moment of the Incarnation, the power of God was SO POWERFUL, that the divine Nature subsumed Jesus’ human nature?  No, you Monophysites, then He wouldn’t be truly human.  You can’t be human without a human nature. 

 

What if Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t really God, but was so good, as a moral teacher, that God picked Him to be His Son at His baptism by John in the Jordan River?  No, Apollianarius, then he wouldn’t be God; he would be a mere hero from Greek and Roman mythology.

 

Jesus of Nazareth was (and is) 100% God and 100% Man.  That statement continues to baffle people today.  The pendulum has swung away from those who sought to paint Jesus as God and not really man to the point that you might be mocked today for considering Jesus truly God, that the miracles attributed to Him really happened, that He did, indeed, rise from the dead.  Modernism, “the synthesis of all heresies” according to Pope St. Pius X, tried desperately to keep the relevancy of the Gospels while gutting it of the spiritual dimensions found therein.  The result was a mixed bag of confusion and error, a perfect storm of bad history and messy heresy.

 

And the Church continues to confess, in season and out of season, that “He came down from heaven.”

 

Fine fine FINE.  He’s truly God and truly man.  But we didn’t really need Him as a redeemer, just as a model for right living. 

 

No, Pelagius, that doesn’t work either.

 

The line “For us men and for our salvation” answers the question, “Why did God become incarnate?”  Check out one of the most famous lines in all of Scripture:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17)

 

Our salvation is through Christ Jesus, through the grace of God for us.  It was this fundamental facet of our Faith that Pelagius denied.  Pelagius taught that it was our work, our effort, that won us our salvation.  In other words, we weren’t redeemed by Christ, but we instead seized our place in Heaven.  In fact, we didn’t need a redemption at all, because Adam’s sin (Original Sin) had no affect on us directly; rather, we followed his bad example and sinned.  Christ was not our redeemer; He was merely a good example to counteract Adam’s bad example.

 

Now Pelagius should have known better.  At least the earlier heretics like the Gnostics and Arius did not have the benefit of the Nicene Creed to help in their theological discussions.  Pelagius did, having come onto the theological scene a generation after Nicaea I.  St. Augustine dealt well with Pelagius’ arguments, earning Augustine the nickname “Doctor of Grace.”

 

So Christ, truly God and truly man, saved us from our sins.

 

What of our good works?  Are they as bad as Martin Luther taught in the 16th century, that the best human act is at least a venial sin?  Are they a waste of time, since our redemption has been won for us by the blood of Christ on the cross?

 

Often forgotten in this context, at least by those who reject the Church’s position on salvation, is St. Paul comment in his letter to the Colossians, that in his suffering he is “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God” (Colossians 1:24-25).  In other words, our actions unite with those of Christ for the whole Church.  What is “lacking” is our joining our joys and sufferings with those of Christ, through which we participate in Christ’s sacrifice.  This is particularly clear at the Mass, where the faithful are called upon to “lift up your hearts.”  The Roman Canon has the priest pray to God for those gathered at the liturgy,

Whose faith and devotion are known to you.
For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise
or they offer it for themselves
and all who are dear to them:
for the redemption of their souls,
in hope of health and well-being,
and paying their homage to you,
the eternal God, living and true.

 

At every Mass we, in our prayers, admit that we are not the source of our salvation, but that we play a role in it through our participation in the sacrifice of Christ.

 

Yet it isn’t to the sacrifice of the cross that the Creed turns at this moment.  Rather, it is the other side of Christ’s life, the Annunciation itself.  We will turn to this mystery in our next reflection.

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Reflection: I Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (part 2)

Let’s continue our reflections on the nature of Jesus Christ.  As before, quotes from the Nicene Creed are in bold.

 

“Begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father”

The word we translate as “consubstantial” was at the heart of the Arian crisis in the latter part of the fourth century.  “Consubstantial” is the English translation of homoousios in Greek.  The word is a dense one, indicating that the Persons in the Trinity are “of the same substance,” which philosophically means they are the same thing, that they share the same nature.  For the purposes of Arian crisis, homoousios means that the Father and the Son are, in fact, both entirely God.  They are the same “substance.”

 

You would think that such clear teaching from the Church would solve the problem of Arianism.  Yet, as with most heresies, just because a teaching is rejected does not mean that the teaching goes extinct.  More often than not, a heresy with little public support goes underground.  Usually, over time, such heresies die out.  However, may reemerge, having slightly adjusted their teachings to maintain the heresy but seem orthodox.

 

This is exactly what happened with Arianism.

 

Nobody wanted to be caught teaching pure Arianism.  Instead, what we now call semi-Arians began teaching Arianism lite.  They centered their twisting of Church teaching on the very word taught by the Council of Nicaea: homoousios.  Homoousios was too strong of a word, they held.  The Son couldn’t be the exact same substance of the Father.  So they proposed a different word, nearly identical in Greek: homoiousios.  The difference was one letter, but that one letter changed the entire meaning of the word.  Rather than speaking of the Father and the Son as the “same substance,” the semi-Arians taught that they were “of a similar substance.”  Close, but very different.  Something similar to another does not mean they are the same.

 

Many in the Church recognized this distinction, and they rejected the semi-Arian position.  However, in the intervening years since the Council, the semi-Arians had risen to ranks of influence in the Roman Empire, even into the court of Constantine (who was not yet baptized, and was receiving instruction in the Faith from semi-Arian catechists).  The result was a persecution of the Christians by the semi-Arians.  Bishops throughout the Church gave in to the heretics, some after severe torture.  The pope at the time, Pope Liberius, the first pope not recognized as a saint, was coerced into signing an ambiguous document which could be interpreted along the lines of Nicaea’s decrees, but could also be interpreted as a support of the semi-Arians.  Despite Liberius including a note saying he intended the statement to be interpreted according to the Church, the semi-Arians proceeded to use the statement as papal support for their position.

 

The whole matter finally ended not with another council, but with the rise of an ant-Christian Roman emperor.  Julian was baptized as a Christian in his youth, but because of the murderous actions of Constantine’s family after Constantine’s death, Julian vowed to reject Christianity and bring back paganism.  In an effort to expediate the demise of Christianity, he removed any official government protection for the semi-Arians.  Without that protection, the orthodox began preaching more vigorously to the semi-Arians, with orthodox bishops publicly speaking against the heresy.  Soon semi-Arianism was officially gone, thought it would crop up throughout Church history (some quasi-Christian groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, hold views similar to the Arians and semi-Arians).

 

That is why this line in the Nicene Creed is so important.  It is a reminder of not just the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation, but also the heroic strength of those who defended this truth.

 

 

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“Christ in Majesty” from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC

 

“Through him all things were made.”

 

This line from the Creed encapsulates the opening, rather bold, statement from the Gospel According to John, which begins, “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.  What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race” (John 1:1-3).  Central to the Judeo-Christian doctrine of Creation is the providence of God.  We are not blindly made, started by some distant god who sets us on our merry, or miserable, way without guide or directions.  Rather, God carefully guides us to our destination.  That’s the ultimate meaning behind the book of Job, the answer to why God allows suffering.  Following the thought of Job, St. Paul echoes, regarding God, that “from him and through him and for him are all things” (Romans 11:36).

 

God made the world, and became incarnate as Jesus.  This flies in the face of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, which I examined in some detail in a blog post long ago.  For our purposes, we’ll look at Gnosticism’s hatred of creation.  For the Gnostic, the physical world is evil, and it was made by an evil god, who trapped our poor spiritual souls in evil physical bodies.  Our spiritual salvation comes not at that creator god’s hand, but at the hands of the spiritual god, who taught us the secret of how to escape our evil physical bodies.  However, the Judeo-Christian view of creation encapsulated in the Creed is that the God who created is the source of our redemption.  By calling the Son the source of all of creation, we reaffirm that the Son is God, just as much as the Father is God.  

 

The Gnostics had an issue with the Incarnation.  How could a good god take on a physical body if bodies are evil?  This led to a version of Gnosticism called Docetism, which taught that Jesus’ body wasn’t a real body, more of a pretend one.  You see references to this in some of the Gnostic gospels, where the Apostles try to touch Jesus, and their hands pass through his body.  The Church’s response to these appears in the the center of the Creed, where we as Church affirm the great mystery of the Incarnation.  

 

And that will be the topic of our next reflection.  

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Reflection: I believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (part 1)

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”

 

Image result for Jesus

JESUS!

“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.

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Serious debating for serious men!

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.

 

 

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