|St. Basil the Great, from Orthodoxwiki.org|
But this faith also contains the great mysteries. As we continue in this Christmas season, we are face to face with the deepest mysteries of the Incarnation and of the Trinity. These two great mysteries are at the heart of our faith, and they always seem to give the greatest opportunity for falling into error.
In the fourth century, the biggest crisis in the Church was the crisis of Arianism. Now the Arians, you'll remember, claimed that God the Son was not God in the same way that God the Father is God; that he was basically a creature. Every time we say in the Creed that Jesus Christ is "consubstantial" with the Father, we're saying that the Son and the Father share the very same divine essence, that they are both divine in the very same way. We're rebuking the ideas of the Arians.
The two saints whose memorial we celebrate today, Basil and Gregory, did so much in the fourth century to defend the faith of the Apostles. As bishops and preachers and theologians, Basil and Gregory taught with great power and compassion the true meanings of these mysteries of the Incarnation and the Trinity. They rejected the ideas of the Arians, and they both suffered for it, at a time when political authorities were choosing sides in the theological debates of the Church.
Let me offer just one example of how they taught. St. Basil wrote a treatise called "On the Holy Spirit," a powerful, influential work. (If you just think for a moment of the differences between the Nicene Creed's paragraph on the Holy Spirit, and the Apostles' Creed, all of what's added about the Holy Spirit, what the Church believes and knows about Him, is clearly stated in this little book.) But his treatise was also an argument against the Arians, and his basic argument went like this:
When we think about the relationship of the Son to the Father, our thinking is muddied by the fact of the Incarnation, of Jesus's humanity. So let's look at it in terms of the Holy Spirit. Does it make any sense, in terms of the apostolic faith, or in terms of Scripture, to say about the Holy Spirit what the Arians say about the Son, that he's not of the same substance as the Father? No, it doesn't. How can we say that the Holy Spirit is Lord and Giver of Life, if he is not fully and equally divine with the Father? But if that's true of the Holy Spirit, it must be true of the Son also, or else there's no Trinity.
|St. Gregory Nazianzen, from ewtn.com|
[I can't remember how I said it, but I finished with a very brief and positive exhortation to hold and believe the fullness of the apostolic, Catholic faith - it is, after all, the Year of Faith (though I neglected to mention it this time).]