If you read the review of Knocking, the documentary we ran in April on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you may have been curious about the reference to the fourth century heresy, Arianism, to which the Witnesses subscribe. Arianism is the belief that Jesus was not fully divine. He was a human who later became the Son of God, and so, while greater than other humans, was, and is, always lesser than the Father.
This teaching threatened to split and destroy the early church. We have St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria and doctor of the church, to thank for leading the church, and all of us, to the truth about Jesus’ nature and his relationship with the Father.
The final statement of the church was written during the Council of Nicaea (325 AD), which Athanasius attended, and the Council of Constantinople (381 AD), by which time, Athanasius had died. Stop and reflect on the beauty and elegance of the words of the creed: God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial (which means, “one in being”) with the Father.
Just as Jesus declares in John’s gospel, the Son and the Father are One.
Don’t think Bishop Athanasius had an easy time making his argument for the truth. He traveled throughout his diocese, preaching, teaching and forming his people in true faith. He wrote letters against the Arian teachings and Arius, hearing of Athanasius’ effective mission, starting spreading lies about the bishop. Arius had many followers and debates about the nature of the relationship of the Son and the Father raged throughout the land.
With Arius’ followers in the ascendancy, Athanasius was exiled from his city. The suffering continued. During the fifty years he was bishop, Athanasius spent more than 20 of them in exile, as the debate went toward and then away from and then back towards Arius’ position. But Athanasius was faithful, and, finally, his teachings prevailed.
Pray with the Nicene Creed today and say a prayer of thanksgiving for Athanasius, the courageous and obedient servant of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Or read his excellent book, On the Incarnation, a beautiful fourth century meditation on the incarnation written by St. Athanasius himself with an introduction by C.S. Lewis.
– Melissa Musick