Thursday, September 13, 2007

Christian Heroes

A few years ago, my hubby taught a Sunday School class on church history. Being a history buff in general, I relished this class. As time went on however, the class was bittersweet. I loved what I was learning, but I lamented not having grown up being familiar with some of the great heroes of the Christian faith. In elementary school, I could have told you lots about George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and the like. However, I would have been stymied had you asked me about Polycarp, Athanasius, Augustine or who the “Morningstar of the Reformation” was. [John Wycliff]

How sad.

Too many times, Protestants forget that for centuries there was one church. The St. Patrick of the Catholic Church is also our Patrick – a man to be greatly admired and imitated. It’s okay to call him “saint” - after all, Christians are “saints.” The Apostle Paul often wrote letters referencing “the saints” of his time. There are wonderful heroes that are dubbed St. This or St. That. The history of the Catholic Church before the 16th century is the history of Protestants as well and we should know it! We should know the personalities involved in the Protestant Reformation. We should be at least as familiar with our Christian heroes as we are our country’s founding fathers.

To that end, I picked up a small little book entitled, Against the World: The Odyssey of Athanasius by Henry W. Coray. I wanted to know the man who uttered the famous line “Athanasius contra mundum” or “Athanasius against the world” as he stood for the doctrine of the Trinity against overwhelming odds.

The battle was over Jesus and His place in the Trinity. Against Athanasius was Arius. Arius basically maintained there is only one unbegotten God, one originated Being, without any beginning of existence. The Son, therefore, had a beginning, and was therefore a created being, though the greatest and first of all created beings. Since he was created he was also mutable [changeable], but because he was chosen of God on account of his foreseen merits he was entitled to the veneration of men.

Arius was an eloquent and winsome preacher who knew how to make the most of his appeal and even put some of his propositions into jingles, which the common folk sang. The popularity of his hymns and chants contributed greatly to the spread of his heresy.

Between Arius and Athanasius was the middle majority led by church historian Eusebius of Caesarea. Because of their Arian leanings, this group proposed a compromise position by allowing that the Son was of “like substance” with the Father (homoiousios). Believing Truth cannot be compromised, Athanasius and the orthodoxy party continued to maintain the Son was of the “same substance” with the Father (homoousios), until finally, after considerable debate, the emperor threw the weight of his authority in the balance and thus secured the victory for the party of Athanasius. The Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. gave us the Nicene Creed which set forth Athanasius' view as the orthodox position.

Ah, but there’s the rub. Having a religious issue settled by political means creates its own problems and the Arius vs Athanasius battle would continue all of Athanasius’ 80+ years!

The means people are willing to use says a lot about their character. The Arians hurled false accusations after false accusations against Athanasius. They manipulated rulers resulting in Athanasius being exiled five times for his unwavering commitment to the exclusion of one letter (homoousios vs homoiousios)! The Arian supporters time and time again barged into church services of Athanasius’ followers and raped, beat and murdered many of the congregants. All this in the name of religion! (And we think things are bad today!)

Ancient creeds, which set forth doctrines Christians take for granted today, were forged many times by the blood of brave, uncompromising believers:

The Nicene Creed
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and
of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of
the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God;
begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things
were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was
incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was
crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the
third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory,
to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who
proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one
baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.



Anonymous said...

It should be mentioned that the Nicene council was convoked by Constantine, thereby settling a religious issue by political means.

Alisa said...

And your point would be? I'm sorry, but you seem to be suggesting theology is not political.

Anonymous said...

The Nicene creed is full of hidden truths about our faith. But why the contention???

Barbara Wood said...

Alisa, I want to thank you for this post. I'm putting together a church program highlighting heroes of the faith, and these thoughts go right along with what I hope to portray.

Thank you again,