2cornucopias

A Light to the Nations: The Meaning and Future of the Catholic Church – Part I

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2013/11/22 at 1:01 AM

 by Archbishop Charles j. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; begotten, not made; of one Being with the Father. Through Him all things were made.

We’ve said those words thousands of times at Sunday Mass. We know them so well that sometimes we don’t think about them. But they’re vital to what it means to be Catholic.A man born of a Jewish mother is Jewish by virtue of his birth. He may be very religious, or lukewarm, or an atheist. But he’s still, in a real sense, a Jew. Being Catholic is a very different kind of experience. Baptism is necessary to be a Catholic, but it’s not enough as we grow in age. As Catholics, we become defined by what we believe, how we worship, and how actively we live our faith in public and in private.
It’s not possible to be what some people call a “cultural” Catholic. Catholic culture comes from an active Catholic faith. Unless we truly believe and practice that faith, “Catholic culture” very quickly becomes a dead skin of nostalgia and comfortable habits.
When Catholics say that Jesus is eternally begotten of the Father and of one Being with the Father, we’re joining ourselves to 17 centuries of Christian Faith. Those words come to us from the very first ecumenical council of the Church, the Council of Nicaea in 325. The Nicene Creed settled a long and important dispute over the identity of Jesus Christ and shaped the course of Western history.
Catholics have always struggled to understand the mystery of what it means for Jesus to be both fully human and fully divine. That mystery is the creative tension at the heart of Christianity. In the fourth century, a gifted priest named Arius tried to relieve that tension by claiming that “God begat [the Son], and before [the Son] was begotten, [the Son] did not exist.” In other words, for Arius, Jesus might have a uniquely intimate relationship with God, but He was a creature like you and me.
Arius had a brilliant mind, and many bishops and scholars supported him. But in the end, the Council Fathers saw that if Jesus were created by the Father, He couldn’t be eternally co-equal with the Father. And that means Christian revelation begins to fall apart. If God isn’t a Trinity of eternally equal persons, then the Incarnation is false, because God didn’t ultimately become man. And if the Incarnation is false, then so is the Redemption, because God didn’t die on the cross to deliver us from our sins. What Arius proposed would have actually destroyed the entire gospel message of salvation.
That’s why the Council of Nicaea described Jesus as one in being or one in substance with the Father. And that’s why we say those same words every Sunday. The Nicene Creed has helped shape Western civilization’s understanding of who God is and who man is. And over the centuries, it has had an impact on art, music, morality, ideas of justice and human dignity, our political institutions — everything. Faith drives culture. What we believe shapes how we think and what we do. That’s why what we believe — or don’t believe — matters.
The Council of Nicaea demonstrates just how important an ecumenical council can be — not just for the Church, but also for the world. Indeed, “ecumenical” comes from the Greek, oikoumene, meaning “the whole world.” The Church has had 21 ecumenical councils from Nicaea to Vatican II, and many have been hugely important for the course of history. This would be a different world without Nicaea or Chalcedon or Trent.
Or Vatican II
See Part II
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