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Sunday, November 30, 2014

I Believe -- Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed -- the Third Meditation

This is the next of the forty meditations. You can find the book on Amazon. Follow this link here. (Also available on Kindle)


Creed Statement: I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

Today’s Focus: One God 

"Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in on attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced  . . . more true than truth itself." Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.2

But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
Less than two decades after the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, heresy crept into the Church. The first theological challenge occurred when Pharisees who had become believers demanded of the Gentile converts that they be circumcised and “observe the Law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5)

This caused a great deal of dissension and confusion in the Church, and so, to settle the issue, the apostles convened a council in Jerusalem to discuss the matter. After considering both sides of the theological aisle, Peter, James, Paul, and the other apostles and elders came to a decision that they then promulgated throughout the Church.

The 15th chapter of the book of Acts lays the foundation for the next 2000 years of how God would guide His Church regarding faith and morals – and that guidance would come through Church leadership (see 1 Timothy 3:15).

Note what the apostles said in verses 24-27 of chapter 15 (NASB): “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, . . . Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report” the doctrinal decision of the Church leadership in Jerusalem.

In other words, the apostles declared that those who required circumcision of the converts had no authority to do so. Further, they had no authority to teach doctrine since they had not been sent by the Church leadership.

This is a crucial point. 

The circumcision question was only the first of many heretical challenges to crop up during the next twenty centuries. Arianism raised its horns in the fourth century. Arius was a church presbyter who taught others Jesus was created by the Father, and therefore inferior to the Father. Such teaching caused dissension and confusion in the Body of Christ, and so to settle the question of Christ’s deity and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Church convened a council in Nicea in 325 A.D. After considering both sides of the theological arguments, the Church determined Arius in error and promulgated the Nicene Creed, which became the official Church position regarding Christ’s deity.

Nearly sixty years later, the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 A.D. affirmed the deity of Jesus and, in response to yet another heresy (this one formulated by Macedonius, who denied the deity of the Holy Spirit), promulgated the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed which officially declared orthodox Christian faith regarding the Holy Spirit and the Trinity. 

So what does all this history have to do with the statement within the Creed, “I believe in one God”? 

In early 2014 my wife and I had lunch with a young man, a member of the Jehovah Witness faith group. Jehovah Witnesses believe Jesus was created by the Father and, therefore, inferior to the Father – just like Arius taught in the fourth century.

I asked him if he had ever heard of Arianism. He had not.

Then he told us something so disturbing, I do not think I will soon forget it. He said he used to be Catholic and was raised in a Catholic home – but it was a home in which his family was ignorant of Church history. It was also a home in which none of the adults thought it important or necessary to read and study the Scriptures.

When as a young person he met members of the Jehovah Witness group, he began to study the Bible with them. Soon, he joined their fellowship –not only he, but both of his parents, three siblings, several aunts, uncles and other members of his family. They had all been Catholics, but Catholics ignorant of the richness, the depth, and the history of the faith dating back to the Apostles.

And so, an entire family was lost to the Church. 

When we recite the Nicene Creed and proclaim, “I believe in one God . . .” we can be certain our belief in “One-God-Yet-Three-Persons” is absolute and unalterable truth because the Church, founded on the Apostles, and affirmed by successive Church councils through the millennia, has definitively and authoritatively proclaimed that truth. 

Unless we settle in our hearts the question about who God has chosen to authoritatively teach doctrinal truth, we will always be at risk of being swept up in the latest – or the oldest –heresies.

Prayer: Oh, God, You are truth itself. Guide our hearts and our minds by your Holy Spirit into greater understanding of, and confidence in, the truth You delivered to us through the Church. Protect us, Holy Spirit, from darkness masquerading as light. Amen.



Barb Schoeneberger said...

St. John Paul II made a comment about us needing to know our history, a point that seems to have whizzed right past most people.

We also need to spend time outside of Mass either on our own or with others studying the Bible. I like the Ignatius study Bible and will slowly acquire all the books. Reading the Bible using this resource inevitably leads to lectio divina for me. The key issue here is that pastors are NOT, in most places I've been, encouraging parishioners to know their Faith through the CCC, the Bible, etc. and to spend time studying it. There's no point in being intentional disciples if we go out into the world half-cocked.

Rich Maffeo said...

Your experience mirrors my own. I think I am no longer angsting as I have in the past few years. I think the reason is I have given up hope that the leadership has any intention of changing the status quo. The only encouragement I get is from people such as yourself who not only recognize the serious problem, but are DOING something about it -- at least for themselves, by reading and studying the Scriptures.