Wednesday, May 2, 2012

True God from True God

Christ the Teacher
(Icon by Leonid Ouspensky)
The memorial today of St. Athanasius, the fourth century Patriarch of Alexandria and tireless defender of Nicean orthodoxy is an occasion for both great jubliation and a bit of trepidation.  Jubilation because Athanasius, against great opposition and enduring persecution upheld the true and complete divinity of Jesus vis a vie the Father over and against the supporters of the priest Arius who maintained that Jesus, was a creature, that is, was created by God at some point in time.  Semi-divine but not of the same divine being as the Father. 

The bishops of the first Ecumenical Council at Nicea (Athanasius was a deacon accompanying his bishop at Nicea) inserted language into the baptismal creed to make explicit the orthodox faith of the Church. 'God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, one in being (consubstantial in the creed we pray each week at Mass) with the Father, through whom all things were made.'

The dominant Greek culture of the time believed that the invisible, spiritual world was superior to the visible material one.  The farther one got from the material the closer, they thought, to God (who was pure spirit).  Believing that the material and corporeal were an impediment to salvation, they had a very difficult time embracing mystery of the Incarnation and salvation in Christ.   That the Logos, who is pure spirit, would completely assume our human nature was contrary to their deepest convictions of what was good and holy and true.

The trepidation comes with the knowledge that the revelation of God in Christ inevitably clashes with the cultural norms and received wisdom of every culture, including (even especially) our own.  What the Church believes about Jesus at times contradicts certain aspects of modern culture, which deny revealed truth and  the possibility of a personal God but uphold as absolute values individual autonomy and self-determination, personal freedom, religious skepticism and radical, reductive equality.  

Our age-old temptation as Christians is to be conformed, not to Jesus Christ and to the gospel, but to the world and to the spirit of the age.  St. Athanasius, despite denunciation, persecution and exile, remained steadfastly orthodox.  May we follow his example in our own time.

St.Athanasius, pray for us! 

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