This week’s show discussing divine revelation is available now.
Listen to Episode 7: What is Divine Revelation? by The Bible Catholic Show #np on #SoundCloud
This week’s show discussing divine revelation is available now.
Listen to Episode 7: What is Divine Revelation? by The Bible Catholic Show #np on #SoundCloud
In my years as a Protestant a topic of great passion was just how God reveals Himself to mankind. Sola scriptura, or the Bible alone, was my battle cry for many years. However, once I started reading the early church fathers, something hit me. These sound a lot like Catholic teachings. After further research I found that there was a piece of revelation that I had ignored, but it was one that answers many questions. The purpose of the article is to go over how God reveals himself and to answer some of the very questions that I had in my faith journey. This will be done with the aid of Dei Verbum, which was written at Vatican II.
What is divine revelation? Through the mercy of God, He has decided to make His will known by various means. This was necessary so that we can draw near to the Father, through the son, and with assistance of the Holy Spirit to participate in the divine nature (Dei Verbum, para 2). The pattern of revelation is contained in the deeds and works of God that match His words. God backed up his words and put into motion His plan for salvation history. Evidence of God is everywhere and evident in all areas of creation, and preserves all things. As a result, when Adam and Eve fell it was then that God set forth a plan for redemption instead of destroying creation and starting over. What great love God has for us!
He initiated this plan through Abraham and fulfilled His promise of making Abraham a great nation. After Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “He taught this nation, through Moses and the prophets, to recognize him as the only living and true God (Dei Verbum, para 3).” Through God’s work, He taught Israel to look for the messiah. As St. John the evangelist tells us “the word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). God sent his son to tell the people about God’s love and how He works. Through His son we are able to have life through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
Obedience in faith should be our only real response to this revelation. It is through this faith that we give of ourselves; we submit ourselves to God and enter into a relationship with Him. We love Him because He first loved us and gave Himself for us. He paid a debt we did not owe because we owed a debt we could not pay. This is done only by the grace of God, and through the working of the Holy Spirit. Through the gifts of the Spirit, our understanding of this revelation grows stronger and is understood in a more profound way.
Through the revelation of God we see that God is manifested not only through sacred scripture, but also in nature. This is done through reason because man knows deep within his soul that there is something out there greater than himself. Though he may not know what it is it is ingrained in all of us to understand that it was not accidental. It is the teaching of the church that “these things themselves are not beyond the grasp of human reason, can, in the present condition of the human race, be known to all with ease, with firm certainty, and without the contamination of error (Dei Verbum, para 6).”
So far we have discussed a lot about sacred scripture. The Church has taught from the beginning that the scriptures are the word of God. As the word of God they are to be treated reverently and with the tradition of the church make up the full teaching of the Apostles. The church has gone through great trial to deliver the proper scriptures to us. According to the Council of Trent, there are forty six books that make up the Old Testament. These books include Wisdom, Sirach, Tobit, Judith, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. Our Protestant brethren do not acknowledge these books. All Christian churches are in agreement with the books of the New Testament which is twenty seven in number. We will now look deeper at the Old and New Testament which make up the written part of the tradition.
The Old Testament is a collection of writings that have narratives about the creation of the world, the fall, and prophecies about the messiah. In it we find a truth that becomes lost in some people’s minds. “In his great love God intended the salvation of the entire human race (Dei Verbum, para 14).” This was obviously plan B because our first parents fell from grace. However in preparation for the salvation of all he chose a small nation.
God entered into a covenant with Abraham and made a great nation that is as numerous as the stars in the sky. God revealed himself through words and deeds as the one true living God (Dei Verbum, para 14). God chose Israel as a type of pet project to show himself and to teach them by experience. In turn Israel would use this experience to teach other nations about God. The books of the Old Testament are vital to the revelation that God gave man. In the books we have life lessons and stories of hope that are still valid today.
Stories of hope and the patriarchs are great, but there is one theme that is overwhelming in the Old Testament. That theme is the coming of Christ. The prophecies starting in Genesis 3:15 all thru the rest of the prophets prepare the people for the Son of God. He was revealed in signs, little by little, to prepare the hearts and minds of the people. While some people find it very startling to see stories of violence these stories show the mercy of God. God had every right to terminate our existence, but the writings of the Old Testament show how merciful God is with humanity.
The Old Testament is a vital part of the liturgy of the church and should be a vital part of each individual’s biblical study. There is a tendency to only read the New Testament, because some mistakenly think that is the only part of scripture that discusses Christ. A closer look at the Old Testament shows that Christ is revealed throughout. The new is hidden in the old and the old is fulfilled in the new. There are several places where a working knowledge of the Old Testament helps explain things in the New Testament. A good example of this in the letter to the Hebrews which discusses what the Hebrew priests do.
The New Testament contains autobiographies of our Lord (Gospels), writings of apostolic origin, and an early history of our church. In these writings the saving power of God is manifested throughout. This Testament would be worthless without one thing, and that is Christ incarnated as the Word who dwelt among us. The Son of God humbled Himself, took on human form and established the kingdom of God on Earth. He revealed himself and the Father by performing various works and deeds to establish and show who He was. His work on earth culminated in giving himself as the propitiation for the sins of all mankind. When He ascended to Heaven He sent the Holy Spirit as a guide to teach the people through the ministry of the Apostles.
Christ alone has the words of eternal life; after all it was He that said He is the way, the truth, and the life. The twenty seven books of the New Testament bear witness to these things. From these twenty seven books the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John hold a special place for Christians. It is in them that we find the words and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the beginning the church “has maintained the apostolic origin of the four gospels (Dei Verbum, para 18). Matthew being written by the tax collector, Mark being written by Mark but dictated by Saint Peter, Luke was written by Saint Luke who was a companion of Saint Paul, and John by Saint John also known as the disciple that Jesus loved.
The church has taught with absoluteness that the four gospels historically and faithfully pass on what “Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men and women, really did and taught for their salvation, until he was taken up (Dei Verbum, para 19).” After the Lord ascended into Heaven the Apostles spoke about what he did and said. The Apostles were now blessed with the Holy Spirit and fully understood everything that the Lord had told them.
Each of the Gospels is written in its own form and style. However it is important to note that the message of Christ in the Gospels is absolute, and the authentic message of Jesus was presented. When Christ presented the apostles with the Great Commission they had no intention of writing down what the Lord had taught them. Later on it became necessary to ensure that the truth about Jesus and His teachings were maintained within proper orthodoxy.
In addition to the Gospels we have other books in the New Testament, such as the writings of Saint Paul. These writings were also done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. These writings involve things as proper Christian living, church order, and further clarification of the teachings of Christ. These writings are great and further establish just want the Lord meant in certain areas, and preach about the saving power of Christ through His death burial, and resurrection.
Looking back on salvation history we can clearly see the plan of God from the beginning. There is little doubt that our ancestors in faith, and the patriarchs of Israel went remember that God is always in control and knew that we could only handle small amounts of his revelation at one time. Just as we need to prepare our souls to receive Holy Communion the souls of our ancestors needed to be prepared for Christ to come.
This happens by God revealing himself in His creation, the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament, and finally through Christ Himself and the teaching of the Apostles. The gift of sacred scripture and the tradition handed on from the Apostles equips us to understand the revelation of God. This understanding should put us in a state of awe, and render us speechless and teary eyed. God has done great things for us. Now let us do great things for Him.
To those who study Church history the Arians are a familiar foe of orthodoxy. The heresy came to the forefront in the 4th century, and was declared heretical at the Council of Nicea in 325 and again at the Council of Constantinople in 381. How was the proper view of Christ upheld? Was it strictly by St. Athanasius’s brilliant exposition of scripture? No doubt that was part of the equation, but Arius was also pleading his case from sacred scripture.
By all accounts Arius was also a brilliant orator, and was able to get crowds riled up into a frenzy (Olson, 141). He was a charismatic individual who was also able to coat his words with enough of a shadow of orthodoxy to get some bishops to agree with his opinion. So who was Arius, and what was he propagating? Though that question will be answered, the most interesting question is how the heresy was thwarted?
St. Athanasius gets a lot of credit, and deservedly so, for championing orthodoxy against the false view of Christ that Arius was teaching. As previously stated he did so using scripture, but the canon would not have been declared until the Council of Rome is 382 (Marshall). The unsung hero during the whole Arian controversy of the 4th century is apostolic succession, and the teaching authority that springs from it. In this paper, I will look at Arianism and how it is still a factor today. I will also look at the sources from Church history that show how apostolic succession was used to combat the heresy.
WHAT IS ARIANISM?
As previously stated, Arianism is a heresy that became popular in the early Church in the fourth century. It is tempting to say that Arianism was a denial of the full divinity of Christ (Cross, 100). To get the full story of the Arian controversy it is necessary to dig a little deeper. This deeper exploration will assist in understanding, not only the nature of the heresy, but the role that apostolic succession played in getting it condemned.
The beginning of the controversy can be traced to the earliest patristic fathers such as St. Justin, St. Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. This is not suggesting that they were denying the divinity of Christ, but has to do with the idea of the Logos (Gonzalez, 182). The Greek philosophers saw God as immutable, and the philosophers were told that Christians believed in such a God. In regard to the Logos Richard Norris writes, “Logos was the divine reason uttered as the divine Word for the sake of forming and governing the world (Norris, 6). At least that is the understanding that the Stoics and Platonists had as this is not orthodox teaching. This was dangerous as some Christians began to say that the Father was impersonal while the Son, or Logos, was capable of human relationships.
It was hard for a pagan people to understand the Trinitarian concept. Specifically, that the Father, Son, and Hold Spirit have always existed in unity. It was easier to accept that the Son was somehow subordinate, and this is where a priest named Arius enters the doors of Church history. To these pagan converts Arius made Christ out to be a type of divine hero, and that was easier for them to grasp (Shelley, 100).
Arius was a student of Lucian of Alexandria, and while studying under Lucian he became friends with a man by the name of Eusebius of Nicomedia. This Eusebius must not be confused with the great church historian of the same name. Eusebius plays an important role in the promulgation of the Arian heresy.
Arius was a priest who was ordained in Alexandria is 311 (Olson, 144). He was a charismatic individual who came to openly challenge the doctrine of the Trinity that his Bishop, Alexander of Alexandria, was teaching. Many of the locals relayed behind Arius because of his persuasiveness as a public speaker, and used verses such as Proverbs 8:22 to support his doctrine. Proverbs 8:22 states, “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old” (RSV). This basis for Arius’s argumentation continues through Proverbs 8:31, and it describes the role of wisdom in creation. Since Christ is the Logos he is God’s personified wisdom, or reason, on earth. Since this passage of scripture says that he was created then he must not be the same substance of God. If he is not the same substance of God then he must not be fully divine. In this regard Arius writes, “Before he was begotten or created or ordained or established, he did not exist (Pelikan, 192).
In Arius’s view Christ was a created being and he had the tendencies that created being have. This meant that he was even liable to change or even to sin. Saint Athanasius sums up the views of Arius quite nicely. In his first discourse against the Arians he writes:
For what can they say from it, but that ‘God was not always a Father, but became so afterwards; the Son was not always, for He was not before His generation; He is not from the Father, but He, as others, has come into subsistence out of nothing; He is not proper to the Father’s essence, for He is a creature and work?’ And ‘Christ is not very God, but He, as others, was made God by participation; the Son has not exact knowledge of the Father, nor does the Word see the Father perfectly; and neither exactly understands nor knows the Father. He is not the very and only Word of the Father, but is in name only called Word and Wisdom, and is called by grace Son and Power. He is not unalterable, as the Father is, but alterable in nature, as the creatures, and He comes short of apprehending the perfect knowledge of the Father (Schaff, 310).
The temptation when looking at the Arian controversy is to immediately look to the Council of Nicea, but there is much more to the church’s response. As any good Pastor would be, Bishop Alexander became concerned by the teaching of one of his priests. This error has eternal consequences for those who became wooed by this new doctrine. Alexander admits that he initially ignored the false doctrines and hoped they would die out on their own. Plans changed when Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia came to the aid of Arius. To This Alexander of Alexandria writes:
But seeing that Eusebius, now of Nicomedia, who thinks that the government of the Church rests with him, because retribution has not come upon him for his desertion of Berytus, when he had cast an eye of desire on the Church of the Nicomedians, begins to support these apostates, and has taken upon him to write letters everywhere in their behalf, if by any means he may draw in certain ignorant persons to this most base and antichristian heresy (Schaff, 69).
Seeing that a fellow bishop is no longer teaching doctrine that is part of scripture, or sacred tradition Alexander used his authority, received via Apostolic Succession, to try to correct the situation. Alexander of Alexandria called a local synod that formally condemned the teachings of Arius, and letters were sent to surrounding bishops to inform them of the synods conclusion (Ferguson, 192). The way that Alexander pleaded his case against Arius was nothing short of brilliant. As previously stated, Arius said that Jesus could not be God because God is immutable. Alexander’s argument was polemical in nature, but very effective. He said that Arius denied the immutability of the Father by saying that he was not immutable until the son was created (Olson, 148). According to Alexander, “Now when Arius and his fellows made these assertions, and shamelessly avowed them, we being assembled with the Bishops of Egypt and Libya, nearly a hundred in number, anathematized both them and their followers” (Schaff, 70).
Over one hundred bishops exercised their authority that they received by apostolic succession to anathematize Arius and his followers. The teaching that was contrary to the apostles was to risk the salvation of souls. The early fathers had no choice but the exercise their authority. According to the synod there was one view of Christ which was handed down directly from the apostles. Sadly, this would not be the end of the heresy. Though the synod had a near unanimous ruling, the eastern bishops were split.
We look back on this event now and say that this was a serious situation, but a schism this early into the Christian era could have been disastrous. Emperor Constantine heard of the controversy from his Bishop named Hosius (Olson, 148). Regarding this the ancient church historian Socrates Scholasticus writes, “To this end he sent a letter to Alexander and Arius by a trustworthy person named Hosius, who was bishop of Cordova in Spain, and whom the emperor greatly loved and held in the highest estimation” (Scholasticus, 17). Constantine needed Christianity to be unified in an already crumbling Roman empire.
To maintain unity the emperor called all the bishops in the empire for a council. This council would become known as the first ecumenical Council of Nicea. The council commenced in 325 and set a precedent for all other ecumenical councils. This council was so important that all other councils would reference it as being so (Sanders, 18). The council was made of 318 bishops. The Holy Father was absent from the council, not because he was not invited, but because he was too elderly to make the trip. In his place he sent two priests to be legates, and to act in his place and authority. Church Historian William Carroll writes, “The recommendation for a general or ecumenical council . . . had probably already been made to Constantine by Ossius [aka Hosius], and most probably to Pope Silvester as well. Ossius presided over its deliberations; he probably, and two priests of Rome certainly, came as representatives of the Pope” (Carroll, 11).
Championing the orthodox cause at the council was St. Athanasius. Athanasius was a brilliant theologian who argued from scripture the case that Christ is eternal. He argued that terms in scripture such as “was handed over” do not imply that the Son was not divine (Norris, 95). The Council fathers rallied behind St. Athanasius, as he was preaching the faith that had been handed on to them (Schroeder, 14). The great saint said many things, but one struck the heart of Arius’s argument. Regarding the Logos Athanasius said, “It is plain, therefore, to everyone that not knowing is proper to the flesh, whereas the Logos, insofar as he is the Logos, knows all things even before their origination” (Norris, 97). Only God knows all things before their origination. This was a statement of deity that had been passed on from the beginning of the church (Bokenkotter, 51).
Both sides of the controversy appealed to scripture, but the orthodox side coined the usage of a term that is not in scripture to describe Christ’s deity. This Greek work word is known as homoousios. The term means that the Son is of the same substance, or consubstantial, as the Father (Sanders, 18). These are the same words we use at mass when we recite the Nicean creed. The teaching was passed on by valid apostolic succession. The irony is that while the bishops condemned Arianism, the term was a source of controversy. The terminology and definitions were defined more narrowly in 381 at the Council of Constantinople thanks in part to the Cappadocian fathers. Regarding the definition St, Gregory of Nazianzus writes, “Because they are from him, though not after him. Being unoriginate necessarily implies being eternal, but being eternal does not entail being unoriginate” (Nazianzus, 71).
WHY APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION?
In the previous pages thee has been much said about apostolic succession, but I think some clarification is in order. Apostolic succession is much more than one taking an office from a predecessor, though that is part of it. In combating the Gnostics, St. Irenaeus listed apostolic succession as a reason, and boasted in each bishop being able to trace his lineage to the apostles.
In the early days of the church succession and tradition were like terms and were synonymous with the Greek word diadochí (Benedict XVI, 23). Tradition involves teaching, but again it is much more than that. It is forever linked to the person from whom that teaching derives. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes that tradition is “linked to a person, is a living word, that has its concrete reality in faith” (Benedict XVI, 23). Succession is proclaiming something that had been entrusted to someone by Christ himself. In Apostolic succession the lineage is not mutually exclusive from the teaching. They both go hand in hand.
Throughout the Arian controversy, and the modern variations there has been one constant. There was deviation from what was taught in the beginning. Apostolic succession is “holding fast to the apostolic word, just as tradition means the continuing existence of authorized witnesses” (Benedict XVI, 24). Apostolic succession and apostolic tradition assist in defining each other. The succession is the form of the tradition, and the tradition is the content of the succession (Benedict XVI, 28)
It is very tempting to look at the Arian controversy and think that it is a thing of the past. To do so would be irresponsible from a theological and historical perspective. The denying of the divinity of Christ is still something that is an issue among those who call themselves Christians. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have a view of Christ that is contrary to scripture and to the tradition of the Church. What would Christianity be like today if the bishops in Alexandria and Nicea not exercised the authority given to them by apostolic succession?
The infant Christian church would have experienced a sizable schism. The Roman empire may have possibly collapsed and been thrown into utter chaos. It would have been a disaster. There were men who resisted the temptation, stayed faithful, and championed the cause of apostolic teaching. That is the way the Christ set things up. He established a Church with Apostolic Succession to help guide the flock in the way of the master. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI states, “Apostolic succession” is by its nature the living presence of the word in the personal form of the witness. The unbroken continuity of witnesses is derived from the nature of the word as authority and oral statement” (Benedict XVI, 31).
Benedict XVI. God’s Word: Scripture—Tradition—Office. Ed. Peter Hünermann and Thomas Söding. Trans. Henry Taylor. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008. Print.
Bokenkotter, Thomas. A Concise History of the Catholic Church. Image Books. New York, NY: 2004. Print.
Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church 2005 : n. pag. Print.
Denzinger, Henry, and Karl Rahner, eds. The Sources of Catholic Dogma. Trans. Roy J. Deferrari. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1954. Print.
Ferguson Everett. From Christ to the Pre-Reformation. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI: 2005. Print.
Fred Sanders & Klaus Issler. Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective. B&H Academic. Nashville, TN: 2007. Print.
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. HarperOne. New York: 2010. Print.
Gregory of Nazianzus. On God and Christ. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Crestwood, NY: 2002. Print.
Norris, Richard. The Christological Controversy. Fortress Press. Philadelphia, PA: 1980. Print
Pelikan, Jasoslav. The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition. University of Chicago Press. Chicago: 1975. Print.
Schaff, Philip, and Henry Wace, eds. St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters. Vol. 4. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series.
Schroeder, H. J. Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils: Text, Translation, and Commentary. St. Louis, MO; London: B. Herder Book Co., 1937. Print.
Shelby John. Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. Harper Collins. New York: 1991. Print.
Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN: 2008. Print.
Socrates Scholasticus. A History of the Church in Seven Books. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1844. Print.
William Carroll. The Building of Christendom. Christendom College Press. Front Royal, VA: 1987. Print.