Pastor’s Column June 15-16, 2019
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and Father's Day
I saw a cute humorous story on Facebook last week. The kindergarten teacher asked little Johnny, “How old do you think your father is?” Johnny confidently replied, “My father is five years old.” His teacher responded, “But Johnny, you are five years old. You must realize that your father is much older.” And Johnny answered, “But he wasn’t my father until I was born.”
This simple observation formed the basis for one of the first and most stubborn and troubling heresies in the history of the Church. Arius, a priest and gifted preacher from Libya, reasoned that, “If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows there was a time when the Son was not.” For Arius, the Son, who takes on our human flesh in the person of Jesus, had to be a created being - perhaps the highest and most perfect of all created beings - but as such could not be consubstantial with the Father and hence divine.
The argument caught on, but the great Saint Athanasius, at the time chief deacon to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria whom he would later succeed as Bishop, fought strenuously against Arius, arguing that it denied the Trinity. Christ is not of a like substance to God, he argued, but the same substance. To Athanasius this was no splitting of theological hairs. Salvation was at issue: only one who was fully human could atone for human sin; only one who was fully divine could have the power to save us. To Athanasius, the logic of New Testament doctrine of salvation assumed the dual nature of Christ. He said, “Those who maintain ‘There was a time when the Son was not’ rob God of his Word, like plunderers.”
Word of the dispute made it to the newly converted Emperor Constantine the Great, who called a council of bishops at Nicea in the year 325. The council, led by Athanasius, argued, fought, and eventually fleshed out an early version of the Nicene Creed in which we still profess at Mass today our belief in “one God, the Father almighty …one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God … God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father … and the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified …”
As a former theology professor of mine in Rome, Luis Ladaria, who is now Cardinal Archbishop and Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, used to say to us in Italian, “Non c’é Padre senza Figlio, e non c’é Figlio senza Padre” which translated means, “There is no Father without the Son, and there is no Son without the Father.” Our God is a God of relationships. St. John wrote that God is love, and love requires a relationship with an “other”. Saint Augustine characterized the Trinity by saying that the Father gives his love entirely to the Son, and the Son receives that love and returns it entirely to the Father, and that love between them is so great it forms another unique Person, the Holy Spirit.
We who are created in God’s image and likeness are thus created by love, out of love, for love. By virtue of the Holy Spirit who from the moment of our baptism dwells within us, we are called to participate and share in that divine love, which we experience and demonstrate most concretely in the love we share with one another. Pope Francis once described God as “the love of the Father that is the origin of every life, the love of the Son who dies on the cross and rises, the love of the Spirit, who renews man and the world. Understanding that God is love does us a lot of good, because it teaches us to love, to give ourselves to others as Jesus gave himself to us, to walk with us. Jesus walks with us along the road of life.”
Happy Father’s Day!