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The Apostasy that Wasn’t Part II: Traditions, Scriptures and the Council

For the first part: The Apostasy that Wasn’t Part I: The Council and the Martyrs

Traditions, Scriptures and the Council

Rod Bennett shines a bright light on the role of tradition, biblical interpretation and orthodoxy. Biblical interpretation and tradition were at the heart of the dispute between the Catholic understanding of the divinity of Chris and that claims made by a priest named Arius who posited that the Son of God was a created being, albeit with all the attributes of God the Father. A common refrain of the Arians was: “there was a time when the Son of God was not”. Today heirs of the Arian heresy can be found in groups like the Jehovah Witness and the Church of the Latter Day Saints. This is only to the extent that both groups assert that Jesus is a created being. Bennett points out that both camps were well equipped with biblical passages to argue in favor of their respective positions. However, the Arians were introducing novel biblical interpretations to substantiate their positions. Interpretations that directly opposed the traditions that have been taught by the Church since apostolic times:

“What was that tradition? It might well be described simply as stubbornness: a tradition of stolid, donkey-like stubbornness born out of humility and fear of God. There was a list, that’s all-an unwritten list of four rock–solid facts of our Faith, handed down by the saints gone before us. And the list- well, the list was the list:

1. That the Father is God;
2. That Jesus, his Son, is also God;
3. That Father and Son are not, however mere names but real personalities who can
relate not only to us but to one another;

4. Yet there is only one God”.

Rod Bennett
The Apostasy that Wasn’t

It is important to remember that during the time of the Arian heresy there was no theological treaty that harmonizes a philosophical argument with the gospel teachings about the Holy Trinity. As a matter of fact the word ‘trinity’ was not even common in the lexicon of the council’s father neither did it appear in the bible. Instead the early Church faithfully relied on the traditions taught by the Apostles, as St. Paul urged them in 2 Thessalonians 2:15:

“Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours”.

2 Thessalonians 2:15

It is clear from the writings of the early disciples of the Apostles that the Church universally proclaimed the divinity of Christ, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the regenerative nature of baptism, and the authority of the Bishop. It was precisely this stubborn faithfulness of the early Church that preserved the teachings of the Apostles against many unorthodox teachings that disputed the nature of the Divinity of Christ, way before Arius was preaching his views. Gnostic for example, claiming that matter is evil and thereby denied that Jesus was truly man, whereas Sabellianism taught that Jesus and God the Father were not distinct person but two aspects of the same person. As with Arianism the Church stood firm against these heresies.

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This juxtaposition between scripture and tradition evident in the Arian controversy is reminiscent of today’s theological disputes between Catholics and some Protestants. Is the “bible alone” necessary and sufficient to resolve matters of faith or as Jesus said in Matthew 18:17-18, it is the Church that ultimately has that authority? The Church assembled in the council composed of an estimated 300 bishops from around the know-world resoundingly affirmed the gospel as taught by the Church since apostolic times.

The declaration of Arianism as a heresy is not an indictment against the development of doctrine or theological speculations, but an indictment against a world view that divorce scriptures from its apostolic traditions. One that puts in perils the teaching of the Apostle Paul:

“Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours”.

2 Thessalonians 2:15

The First Council Of Nicaea and the Nicene Creed

The Church gathers at Nicaea universally reaffirmed the divinity of Christ except for two holdup Theonas of Marmarica and Secundus of Ptolemais who were anathematized. The council condemned the Arian heresy and gave us part of the Nicene Creed, which is professed by many Christians churches around the world.

As Theodoret writes in his Ecclesiastical History, the council’s father represented an army of martyrs. These were the stoics Christians who survived the blunt of the Diocletian persecution and bore in their bodies the sign of the Cross. They were a living witness for Christ and for his Church. Are we willing to bear the same witness today?

Nicene Creed

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance [ek tes ousias] of the Father, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of the same substance with the Father [homoousion to patri], through whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; who for us men and our salvation descended, was incarnate, and was made man, suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven and cometh to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost. Those who say: There was a time when He was not, and He was not before He was begotten; and that He was made out of nothing (ex ouk onton); or who maintain that He is of another hypostasis or another substance [than the Father], or that the Son of God is created, or mutable, or subject to change, [them] the Catholic Church anathematizes”.

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The Apostasy That Wasn’t Part I: The Council and the Martyrs

One of the most common historical objections against the Catholic Church goes something like:

“The Catholic Church was founded by the Emperor Constantine forcing the early church to fall away from preaching the simple gospel and into the arms of pagan rituals and traditions like worshiping of idols”.

Historians have repudiated this old canard over and over, but it still manages to make its way into the lips of anti-Catholics who used it as a blunt instrument against the Catholic Church. However, the witness of history firmly disabused many accusations made to discredit the historical and doctrinal claims made by the Catholic Church. As Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, wrote in his conversion story to the Catholic Church:

“To be deep into history is to cease to be protestant.”

Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman

He wrote these words after a long journey, which he first started as a quest to disprove the historical claims of the Catholic Church in favor of those made by the Church of England.

Today many claim that the simple gospel of Christ was lost in early Christianity and the church that Christ founded fall into apostasy. The problem with such statement is that it is simply false. This is the main point that historian Rod Bennett makes in his new book: “The Apostasy That Wasn’t: The Extraordinary Story of the Unbreakable Early Church”. In it the author traces the events that led to the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D and the tumultuous time that ensued it.

the-apostasy

The Apostasy That Wasn’t is a truly riveting story of the heroic early Christian church that defended Christianity against the threats of heresy, schism and court intrigue. It shines a bright light on the unbroken continuity of church teachings and the heroes that defended it.

The “Ghetto Church” and Martyrs

The book highlights the growth of Christianity post-apostolic times and the role that the Jewish diaspora and God fearing people (gentiles that became acquainted and adopted many, if not all elements of the Jewish religion) played in fueling the growth of the early Christian church.

The author does not shy away from what he calls the “ghetto church” which grew at a time of relative peace and acceptance of Christianity that occurred after the major early persecutions of Roman authorities against Christian and prior to the Diocletian persecution of the early 300’s. The “ghetto church” slowly grew out as Christians became indifferent about their faith as evident by the number of scandalous behaviors committed not only by the laity but also by the clergy. The moral state of many churches is very well documented by a number of synods convened by bishops to address their scandalous behavior.

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The shallowness of some Christians became self-evident when the Diocletian persecution started in full force. Whole parishes renounce their Christian faith as soon as the persecution was in full swing. One cannot help but to think of today’s stagnant Christians, those who are neither warm nor cold, but just going along with the culture. What would be on them if faced with such persecution? However, this only had the effect to prune the flock. Many more Christians remained faithful. As the author points out soon after the persecution started many in the Empire knew of a Christian who was either tortured or killed by the pagan authorities. Some years later Emperor Constantine witnessed with his own eyes the cruelty committed by his predecessor when he called the Council of Nicaea:

“At this period many individuals were richly endowed with gifts; and many, like the holy apostle, bore in their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ. James, bishop of Antioch, a city of Mygdonia, which is called Nisibis by the Syrians and Assyrians, raised the dead and restored them to life, and performed many other wonders which it would be superfluous to mention again in detail in this history, as I have already given an account of them in my work, entitled Philotheus. Paul, bishop of Neo-Cæsarea, a fortress situated on the banks of the Euphrates, had suffered from the frantic rage of Licinius. He had been deprived of the use of both hands by the application of a red-hot iron, by which the nerves which give motion to the muscles had been contracted and rendered dead. Some had had the right eye dug out, others had lost the right arm. Among these was Paphnutius of Egypt. In short, the Council looked like an assembled army of martyrs”.

Theodoret
Ecclesiastical History, Chapter 6

Such witness not bore in words, but with their own body cannot only move mountains, but also tear a pagan heart and replace them with a human heart…

St. Athanasius the “black dwarf” and the Dessert Fathers 

Rod Bennett continuously hits high marks in his narrative approach to the story by allowing history to speak for itself. He accomplished this by extensively quoting contemporary sources, such documents from the council or from historians that were fairly close to the events.

One figure that comes to life through the witness of contemporary historians is St. Athanasius of Alexandria a “short and dark priest from Alexandria. He was the assistant to the Bishop of Alexandria named Alexander during the Council of Nicaea and as his successor, he heroically defended orthodoxy in the tumultuous times that followed the council.

St. Athanasius was one of the ascetics from the dessert. A humble Christian community of hermits who renounced all wordily good in favor of a devout life dedicated to prayer, self denial and fasting. It is from this community that emerge the early prototype of monastic life that later would have not only change Europe, but save civilization from the dark ages of the Barbarians that occurred after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire. It was this saintly community who adopted St. Athanasius as a young child in order to provide him a safe haven from the full blunt of the Roman persecution.

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History tells us that this community was founded by young and rich Christian Roman, named Anthony of Coma, who, after hearing a sermon decided to give up everything to the poor and devoted himself to a secluded and ascetic life of prayer in the dessert. Not long after, many others joined him and formed a community known today as the desert fathers. Many miracles and conversion were attributed to the desert fathers:

“Many sufferers in body who where present did the Lord heal by [Anthony’s hand]; and other he purged from demons….And certainly Anthony did not heal by his own authority, but by praying and calling on Christ; so that it was plain to all that was not he who did it, but the Lord, who through Anthony showed love to men, and healed the sufferers”.

Life of Anthony
Athanasius

(Quoted from The Apostasy that Wasn’t)

This was the community that received young Athanasius and instructed him in the fullness of the gospel of Christ with humility and obedience. His brilliant clarity and orthodoxy were evident in a treaty that he published early in his career titled: “On the Incarnation”. Today it is universally viewed as a theological masterpiece. C.S. Lewis the great 20th Christian apologist wrote:

Link to “On the Incarnation”:

http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2802.htm

“When I first opened De Incarnatione [On the Incarnation] I soon discovered by a very simple test that I was reading a masterpiece, for only a master mind could have written so deeply on such a subject with such classical simplicity.”

C.S. Lewis

On the Incarnation” gives us yet another window of what Christians believed in the early fourth century. Its clarity and simplicity reflects greatly the integrity of the teachings of the Christian church in the early centuries of Christianity. One key component of the doctrine of the incarnation is the fact that God was made flesh. That is: Jesus was truly man and truly God. In that way as Christ hung from the Cross so did death and corruption, ultimately meeting their demise in the Resurrection:

“The death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished.”

St. Anthanasious
On the Incarnation

It was this young priest who wasn’t even old enough to vote at the council that stood up with clarity and conviction along with the council fathers against those who denied the divinity of Christ.

 To be continued…

When Does A Human Life Begin?

According to the CDC there ” a total of 730,322 abortions were  reported to CDC for 2011” in the US alone.  Thats about 2,000 babies aborted every day.  That is about 7X the number of death per day that American troops suffered during during WWII. Yet our society goes about daily life convinced that abortion is a right and not the death of a human being, oblivious of the fact that without the right to life there can’t be any other right.

Please let love win, choose life!

He loves you with a love that caused his heart to stop.

As we reach the summit of Holy Week I would like to charge again a mediation on John 15:9-11 by Fr. Vincent Serpar:

“Jesus said to his disciples:

As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete”.

John 15:9-11

Nowhere else do we find Jesus expressing such intimacy and vulnerability. What he said to them on Holy Thursday night he showed them on Good Friday. What he said to them he says to you this very moment! He loves you with a love that keeps your heart beating. He loves you with a love that caused his heart to stop. What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do about it?”

-Fr. Vincent Serpa
Chaplain of Catholic Answers Apostolate

From Fr. Vincent Serpa’s book “Just a minute, Sixty Seconds a Day with the Gospel”

A Reflection on our response to Christ Love

I want to share this beautiful and enlightening reflection on John 15:9-11 from Fr. Vincent Serpa’s book “Just a minute, Sixty Seconds a Day with the Gospel”:

“Jesus said to his disciples:

As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.

If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.

John 15:9-11

Nowhere else do we find Jesus expressing such intimacy and vulnerability. What he said to them on Holy Thursday night he showed them on Good Friday. What he said to them he says to you this very moment! He loves you with a love that keeps your heart beating. He loves you with a love that caused his heart to stop. What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do about it?”

-Fr. Vincent Serpa
Just a minute, Sixty Seconds a Day with the Gospel

What are you going to do about it?

Just think about it:

“He loves you with a love that keeps your heart beating”.

Everything, that is, the air that you breathe, the light that strikes your eyes, you and me, all exists because of him…without him we would not exist. We owed him this very instant…

“He loves you with a love that caused his heart to stop.”

By his death on the Cross, he transformed the ultimate act of human cruelty into the ultimate act of self-giving. It was his love for humanity that opened the gates of heaven for you and for me.

Imagine how your life will be different if every time you see someone suffering you see Christ suffering, if every time someone offends you, you remember all the times that you have offended Christ, and how he still offers you his wounds, his suffering and his death on the Cross, just for you. How much our life will change if we keep such a perspective and what a difference we can make in the world!!!

Do you believe that you can make a difference? I do, because of his Love.

God Bless!

Note: One of my favorite radio shows/podcast is Catholic Answers Live. It is Q & A radio show dedicated to defending and explain the teaching of the Catholic faith and confront head on some of today’s most controversial topics that affect our society. I highly recommend it.

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