Published: November 2008
In an article entitled "Time for a Christian truce" (Niagara Anglican, June 2008) our editor asked "Who knows who was right in the Christological arguments of the 3d. century?" He goes on to remark that "each of us has a unique understanding of our relationship with Jesus Christ". But was this always so? Indeed, is this true in the 21st. century? Do we each have a unique relationship with Jesus, or do we believe what we are told to believe?
John Bowen takes our editor to task in "Why Arius was wrong" (Niagara Anglican, September 2008). Apparently he does not consider that it is time for a Christian truce. Such being the case, I will throw my hat in the ring.
I have already expressed my doubts as to the veracity of the 325 A.D. conference at Nicaea. I consider it a political exploit of the Emperor Constantine. Harold Mattingley (Outlines of Ancient History) states that, at the time, there was so much controversy in the Church that it began to call in the worldly power. The controversy was occasioned by the very question that our editor has raised and to which John Bowen has responded with rather specious statements.
I would argue that Athanasius was by no means the saint that he has been considered. When he proclaimed his doctrine, Arius was Bishop of Alexandria. A council in Nicomedia in 323 had declared in favour of Arius, but the argument still flared with the result that Constantine convened the council at Nicaea in 325. This time Arius was condemned and the Arians were persecuted (a good Christian practice!). Athanasius became Bishop of Alexandria in 328, but refused to accept Arius back into the church when he and a number of followers made their peace in 330. Athanasius was called before the council of Tyre in 335 and condemned for abuse of power and banished, but was restored for political reasons by Constantine's successor, Constantius, in 338. This time he lasted for two years and was again deposed, only to return in 346 and then to be excommunicated in 353 by the council of Arles. This led to riots and he again forced his way back to Alexandria only to be driven out after serious rioting in 355. In 359 the Arian creed was confirmed by the councils of Ariminium and Seleucia. The Arian creed dominated until 381when a synod of Constantinople accepted the Nicaean formula and Arian bishops were expelled by violence from their sees.
Athanasius was a strong-willed man. Not being completely satisfied with the Nicaean formula, he wrote his own creed, which was accepted from the Roman Church after the Church of England broke with Rome in 1534. No English Prayer Book was issued until the reign of Edward VI when the first book was published in March 1549. The recitation of the creed is required at both Mattins (Morning Prayer) and Evensong. In the latter is the instruction that the Athanasian Creed should be used on six great feast days. This creed may still be found in the Book of Common Prayer at p.695.
The Athanasian Creed is an anomaly; it makes one statement and then follows it with an apparent contradiction, e.g.
15. So the Father is God, the Son God, / the Holy Ghost God;
16. And yet there are not three Gods, / but one God.
If anything is intended to confuse, that takes the cake! Even worse, this creed concludes with the statement
42. This is the Catholic Faith, / which, except a man do faithfully and steadfastly believe, he cannot be saved.
You either believe what you are told, or there is no hope for you (women excluded?).
I have the impression that the Church has thought that, ever since the Resurrection, God has done no work outside His Church—the Church is the sole purveyor of God's good grace. By now we should recognise the truth of the hymn God moves in a mysterious way / His wonders to perform. He can, and does, work outside the Church. I suggest that God was so disappointed with our convoluted thinking that he inspired another messenger to make us think again. The doctrine of the Trinity had already confirmed the Jews that Christians were barking up the wrong tree and now they were confusing possible converts, so God sent a new messenger to proclaim that "There is only one God, Allah". Of course, his disciples added "And Mohomet is His prophet"....
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