Summary: We owe a great debt to the saints, like Basil and Gregory, who defended the divinity and Messiahship of Jesus.
January 2, 2014
Thursday before Epiphany–Ss Basil and Gregory
Today we have what might be called “the proclamation of John,” and we hear both Johns speaking to us of Christ. John the Baptist tells us that he is NOT the Christ. John the apostle tells us that Jesus is the Christ, and that anyone who denies that–he means the Jews who did not accept Jesus–is an ANTI-Christ. There is some subtle plays on words in the Greek. Remember that our word “Christ” is a transliteration of the Greek Christos, which means “anointed one.” That is a Greek version of the Hebrew word Messiah, which also means “anointed one.” The trick is to see that John, in saying that people who deny Jesus is the anointed One are “anti-anointed,” are also saying that we are not anointed. John reminds us, “the anointing which you received from him [that is, God] abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you. Abide in him.”
Now I have for several months been sharing with you the Popes’ encyclical–the only one written by two Popes–on faith. They have told us that faith, love, and truth are inseparable. Doesn’t that echo what John is saying both in the Epistle and in the Gospel? By being “little Christs,” we have everything we need to know the Truth, because we know Jesus Christ, the “big Christ,” who IS Truth. If we abide with Him, always striving to know God’s will and do it, then we will always remain in love and faith and the Light of Truth.
Just for a moment let’s look, in that light, at the saints of the day, Basil and Gregory Nazianzen. Around the year 300, a troubling heresy called Arianism swept the Church. Arius denied that Jesus was divine in the same sense as the Father. His ideas were very popular, especially among the upper-class Roman citizens and Emperors. Remember, just a few years before, the Emperors had been worshiped as gods themselves, so the idea of a crucified carpenter being the REAL God was unsettling. Many bishops became Arian; many dioceses were entirely Arian. But a few bishops stood for the truth, for Jesus being of the same divine substance as the Father, and they prevailed at Nicaea early in the century. Basil and Gregory were second-generation Orthodox, and they struggled against Arianism their whole lives, saving the Eastern Church from it. Thanks to them, and to Athanasius and Ambrose and many others, we continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus is the Lord God, second Person of the Trinity. Faith, love, Truth prevailed.
The Popes continue, teaching with William of St. Thierry: he comments on the verse of the Song of Songs where the lover says to the beloved, “Your eyes are doves” (Song 1:15).21 The two eyes, says William, are faith-filled reason and love, which then become one in rising to the contemplation of God, when our understanding becomes “an understanding of enlightened love”. This discovery of love as a source of knowledge, which is part of the primordial experience of every man and woman, finds authoritative expression in the biblical understanding of faith. In savouring the love by which God chose them and made them a people, Israel came to understand the overall unity of the divine plan. Faith-knowledge, because it is born of God’s covenantal love, is knowledge which lights up a path in history. That is why, in the Bible, truth and fidelity go together: the true God is the God of fidelity who keeps his promises and makes possible, in time, a deeper understanding of his plan. Through the experience of the prophets, in the pain of exile and in the hope of a definitive return to the holy city, Israel came to see that this divine “truth” extended beyond the confines of its own history, to embrace the entire history of the world, beginning with creation. Faith-knowledge sheds light not only on the destiny of one particular people, but the entire history of the created world, from its origins to its consummation.