It’s Greek To Me – Part II

Arius Was History’s Biggest Loser

Moderator: Well folks let’s keep moving on. Now it’s time hear from our next speaker, Arius. He may have represented most of the Christians of his era but that didn’t keep him from losing his debate with Athanasius. What a shock it must have been to the majority of believers to wake up one morning and discover they had become a heretics overnight! That’s how it goes when your side loses and Arius lost for everyone when he lost to Athanasius! Let’s give a real All-Stars welcome to one of history’s biggest losers, Arius of Alexandria!

Arius’ Writings Were Confiscated, Banned and Burned

The Audience: Tepid applause. One heckler shouted, “I hope you’ve come to your senses Arius!” Another yelled, “It’s a good thing you’re already dead Arius! Otherwise we’d probably have to take care of that for you!”

Arius:  Hello everyone! It is so nice to see you again too! I think you all know the Reunion organizers asked me to take part in this panel discussion as the official ambassador for the ancient theological term homoiousios! I was hoping passions and tempers had cooled down a little since Nicea but maybe not! By the way, I put some of my writings on the back table but I see they’ve already been confiscated so please feel free to distort and censor my comments in any way you like!

Was Jesus Subordinate to His Father?

Quoting Jesus can get you in a lot of trouble! If you stop and think about Jesus’ statement “My Father is greater than I” it doesn’t look like there is any co-equality between the Father and the Son does it? Jesus actually said a lot of things that showed how much He was submitted to His Father’s will.  I know it upsets some people to say that the Father is greater than the Son but it didn’t upset Jesus! It’s pretty clear that’s what He believed. Jesus is the Son of God, the Lamb of God and our Savior, Redeemer and Lord. He is the Messiah and even more, but He is not co-equal with the Father! You can’t create co-equality without homoousious and you can’t create the Trinity without co-equality! That’s why I wasn’t too fond of it… even if it is Athanasius’ favorite word.

Audience:  Heresy! Nonsense! Blasphemy! Why should we even listen to him?

Is Denying Homoousious a Damnable Heresy?

Athanasius: Damnation Arius! Yes damnation upon you and your damnable ideas and your damnable words! If you deny Homoousious you have denied Jesus’ co-equality with the Father! And to deny homoousious is to deny our beloved Trinity! If I had a good stick I’d smite you on the head right now!

Arius: Hold on a minute Ath! I thought we were having a panel discussion and I’m not done talking yet! Don’t you think you should at least hear me out? I want to talk a little about homoiosious and why so many theologians thought it was a pretty good word before and even after the Council in Nicea.

Athanasius: We’ve heard enough Arius! … and don’t call me Ath! I don’t like it.

The Audience: That’s right Arius! He’s not your Ath, he’s our Ath and don’t you forget it!

Athanasius: What say ye everyone? Shall we give him the brass boot of fellowship and send him packing?  Ignore everything he just said! Why I’ve got half a mind to read the Athanasian Creed out loud right now. That way you can all remember how you are supposed to think just in case anyone has forgotten!

The Audience: Great idea! Go ahead Athanasius! Lay it on us!

Athanasius:  (Blushing) Well alright then if you insist. Here goes…

                                     The Athanasian Creed

“ Whoever wants to be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic (universal) faith; which faith unless everyone keeps it whole and undefiled, without doubt he will perish everlastingly. We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such, is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father infinite, the Son infinite, and the Holy Spirit infinite. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated, nor three infinites, but one uncreated, and one infinite. So likewise, the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Spirit Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet there are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise, the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For as we are compelled by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say “There are three Gods, or three Lords.” The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So, there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity, none is before, or after, another. None is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as was said before, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.”

Pragmatticus thought it sounded like puffed up nonsense and tried not to laugh.

Meticulous said:  That doesn’t sound at all like scripture! Ideas like Divine Substance and Homoousious don’t have anything to do with the Bible!

Arius said: That’s what I’ve been trying to say! Jesus Himself didn’t believe in this co-equality stuff so why should we?

What Does Jesus Think of the Athanasian Creed?

Jesus had not been consulted about the Athanasian Creed and some attendees thought they heard Him say, “My Father is greater than I.”

The Apostle Paul protested:  “Beware lest men spoil you with philosophy and vain deceit! To us there is one God, the Father! There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus!”

The Apostle Peter said:  Amen!

The Nicene Creed Caused a Lot of Trouble

Athanasius: Got red in the face then jumped out of his seat and started choking Arius. This started the legendary Panel Discussion Brawl at the All Stars Reunion.

Emperor Constantine: Showed up just as Athanasius started choking Arius. He had finally been released from custody!  He was a little confused and behind schedule because his medications were slowing him down a bit. When he saw the ruckus starting it reminded him of Nicea and he shouted, “This is just like the good old days!”

Many thought the ugly conflicts resulting from the Athanasian Creed  were unfortunate and deeply embarrassing. These “doubtful disputations” were an ugly blemish on the faith!

A few claimed they heard Jesus say:  “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if you have love one to another.”

Sally the Servant Girl took it on the chin again and fell to the floor in a heap.

Pragmatticus finally had enough and just started cussing.

Hotel Security Guards did their best to restore order.

And then the Moderator said: This concludes our panel discussion. Will someone please call 911? I think Sally is hurt! We want to thank you all for coming and would like to invite everyone to the fellowship hall for refreshments as soon as the fighting stops!

PS: We wonder if the Athanasian Creed seemed so weak to its authors that the only way to protect it was by burning and banning the writings of those who disagreed. Was it really necessary or even remotely Christian to sentence people to death for reading opposing ideas? That’s what it took though to establish the primacy of trinitarian doctine in the church. We don’t think Biblical truths are confirmed by majority votes in councils or by violence either.

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes

‘Tis a Gift to be Simple

We believe in God the Father, His only begotten Son Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Well said, well said, well said. Did the first Christians believe this? They certainly did! Do Christians today believe this? Indeed we do! So there is no problem, right? Wrong! During the early Christian centuries Romans asked believers, “Do you believe in one god or are you polytheists? And, by the way, if you are polytheists, would you mind throwing in our emperor as a god? He’s kind of touchy about this, and we’d all be good if you would just add him to your polytheism.”

Those early Christians stuck with “I believe in God the Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.” They refused to add the part about the emperor, and that got them in hot water, actual hot water. Rather than accepting the Biblical story of God and His Son Jesus Christ, the theological class attempted to plumb the depths of God’s being and figure out how He could be three in one.

As the early Christian centuries moved along, so did the answer to the three gods in one question. Early theologians could have agreed some things are secrets that belong only to God, as in Deuteronomy 29:29. Unfortunately they decided it would be better to force Jesus and the Holy Spirit into the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” This led to some really interesting words being invented like homoousios and homoiousios. Never had the world heard such grand words. Never before did Christians have to choose between the “godhead” being an essence or a substance. The search for explanations of the Triune vision eventually led to teachings about triangles and eggs and water, as if God could somehow be compared to such things!

Theological greats like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen focused on whether or not Jesus and the Holy Spirit were co-equal to the Father or subordinate to Him. They generally agreed on subordination. As this line of theological debate continued during the second and third centuries, Tertullian pointed out this was not a particular concern of the common man – at least not yet.

The simple, indeed, (I will not call them unwise and unlearned,) who always constitute the majority of believers, are startled at the dispensation of the Three in One, on the ground that their rule of faith withdraws them from the world’s plurality of gods to the one only true God; … They are constantly throwing out against us that we are preachers of two gods and three gods, while they take to themselves pre- eminently the credit of being worshippers of the One God.

The first Christians simply believed in God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Tertullian was clear about this. Once again though, the theological class could not leave this simplicity alone. Some Jews considered Jesus to be a man that was the Messiah. Another faction moved to full-fledged subordinationism: the Son is less than the Father and, the Spirit is less than the Son. Others answered that Jesus and the Holy Spirit must be inserted into the Shema as one but in different modes of being.

Even though the Romans stopped persecuting Christians, Christians pitted themselves one against the other over this word or that as theologians fanned that fire. It is so important to recognize the Christian split was due to bishops wanting: 1) to protect their realm, and 2) to make their realm preeminent in the Christian world. Emperor Constantine finally had enough of this. (Much more on this in another essay.) It was disturbing the Pax Romana, and it was time to do something. Constantine called together a council of bishops to meet at Nicaea and settle the nature of the godhead once and for all in order to reestablish the peace.

The Council of Nicaea in 325 was called to anathematize subordinationism and codify some administrative details. Athanasius held that Jesus must not be less than the Father but equal with the Father. Arius argued for the Son being less than the Father claiming Tertullian and Origen. The attendees were living in the emperor’s lap of luxury and were probably not too anxious to go back home, but the party had to end. In a courtroom like setting a vote was taken, and Voila! Jesus became the same substance as God and coequal with God. The simple faith that was entrusted to us was now officially on the road to Trinitarianism. Fierce theological debates followed to answer the question of what happened to Jesus the man when He became co-equal to the Father?

Quite a few more councils and centuries went by before a full-fledged Trinity was voted into existence. It was not until 381 that Theodosius made subordinationism officially illegal. Subsequent councils hammered out concepts like homoousios, homoiousios, prosopon, hypostatic union, and other officious terms. There was much gnashing of theological teeth, and bashing of theologians’ heads, but as another millennia and a half went by, Man finally defined God the Father, Jesus His Son, and the Holy Spirit. This was a great step forward! (Or not.) No longer did we have to merely marvel and wonder at the nature of Jesus. Homoousios told us all we needed to know. Eventually a finalized creed was written that told us what to believe. We can now rest easy on the hypostatic union.

No longer can we simply say we believe in God the Father, His Son the Christ, and the Spirit as those “primitive” Christians did. We must believe in a theological abstraction called the Trinity in order to be saved, and that is why Christians to this very day need theologians.

Copyright 2021 by Greg Hallback

Marvel and Worship… or Analyze?

Jesus astounded those around Him with miracles. An especially exciting one was The Transfiguration when Peter, John, and James went with Jesus to a high mountain to pray (Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2- 8, and Luke 9:28-36). Jesus was transfigured by a great light and his clothes became white as light. Then before Peter, John, and James also similarly appeared Elijah and Moses. They were terrified at the sight and the voice of God when He said “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” Jesus consoled the three and told them to not be afraid. They marveled at seeing Jesus in a heavenly light.

The great theologian Thomas Aquinas considered The Transfiguration “the greatest miracle.” This is as it ought to be. But being a theologian, Thomas could not leave well enough alone and simply marvel. No, Thomas, as theologians are wont to do, launched off into a statement about the hypostatic union opining on how Christ’s human body became one with the essence of His divine glory. This is brought up at length, and I mean length, in his impressive work Summa Theologiae. Specifically Thomas dissects The Transfiguration in his Question 45 which is answered in four Articles each of which has three or four objections and three or four replies to the objections. All together that is twenty-eight lengthy paragraphs (a lot longer than these) plus eight more points and commentaries. This is a long way down the bunny trail from marveling, but it has given theology students 750 years of headaches.

Most of the miracles Jesus performed were of healing – and bringing back from the dead cannot be topped. They, though, relate as much to the act of faith as the act of healing. When the ruler’s daughter died and the mother touched the cloak of Jesus, He turned and said, “Your faith has healed you.” (Matthew 9:18-26). Luke 7:11-18 describes Jesus raising the widow’s son from the dead. The onlookers did NOT analyze the hypostatic union but rather were filled with awe and praised God.

Other notable miracles were feeding the five thousand (men that is plus the women and children) with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:15-21). Another time he fed four thousand (men plus the women and children) with only seven loaves and a few small fish (Matthew 15:32-39). Maybe the most remarkable was Jesus walking on water with Peter (Matthew 14:28). Let’s not trouble Aquinas with this one. Suffice it to say Thomas had an awful lot to say about what God knows and doesn’t know and the essence of His being. In the future we will have great fun with his Summa Theologiae.

Maybe we don’t know as much about theology as Aquinas, but neither did Peter. Some think it’s a wonder Jesus did not pick a disciple a lot smarter and more articulate than Peter. But, for some reason Jesus chose Peter to be a fisher of men. On a windy night Jesus walked on the sea out to the disciples’ buffeted boat. At first they did not recognize Jesus, but He called to them. To Peter He commanded “Come.” As long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus he too walked on water. But as he looked to the storm Peter began to sink and Jesus saved him (Matthew 14:31). Then in verse 33 those in the boat worshiped Him saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

The disciples were awed by the power Jesus had over the sea and marveled. John did not say, “I understand your hypostatic essence did not sink in the waves, but how can it be, Lord, that your body stayed above the water? Does your essence dictate your substance?” It’s too bad the disciples were not theologians equipped to ask these pertinent questions.

The disciples, and those around Jesus, marveled at the miracles, were in awe of them, and worshiped. It was as simple as that. They did not pull an Aquinas and philosophically reconfigure a simple message using Aristotelian logic. They were simply primitive Christians that marveled and believed.

Copyright 2021 by Greg Hallback