Summary: The anointing by the Holy Spirit makes all special knowledge worthless. Gnosis is not the way to salvation.
Feast of St. Basil and St. Gregory (January 2)
Thirteen Days of Christmas
Let’s be clear about something as we move into the new year. The word “Christ” in English is the same as “Christos” in Greek and “Mashiah” in Hebrew. It means “anointed,” and refers to the anointing with oil of the Hebrew priests, prophets and kings. Jesus was the true Anointed One referred to throughout the OT. But remember that each of us Christians is “christened.” That is another word for our baptism. When we are baptized, we are also anointed with two different sacred oils, the oil of catechumens, and the chrism. It is the chrism that symbolizes the infusion of the Holy Spirit into our souls. We are chrismated again at our confirmation. The priest, whose role is sacrifice and reconciliation, is also the recipient of chrism at his ordination. Remember, priests, prophets and kings are anointed. Each of us is a priest, a prophet and a leader, and that is why we receive the anointing with the Holy Spirit.
What about this rather strange claim of John in his first letter? We have no need of anyone to teach us, because of the anointing we have received? That seems wrong, doesn’t it? In my Christian journey, I have needed many teachers–in morals, in dogmatic theology, in Scripture and in liturgy. That’s just a start. What I think John is trying to do is, as Christians did throughout the first hundred years, combat the Gnostics. The Gnostic heresy claimed that you couldn’t be a real Christian until you learned the secret knowledge or gnosis that only the special people could get. They claimed one could only be saved by this gnosis. But we are saved by being united to the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus. That is salvation from our sins. It is the person of Jesus that saves us. So we don’t need those Gnostic teachers. All we need is to be united with the Anointed One, and the Holy Spirit does that.
The stories of Saints Basil and Gregory are fascinating looks into the fourth century of our Christian era. Basil came from a family of saints. He studied at Athens, the center of thought in the West for a millennium. His classmates were this St. Gregory and–of all people–Julian, the future Emperor Julian the apostate. Gregory Nazienzen was bishop of Sasima in Arian territory. Remember that the Arians denied that Jesus was divine in the same sense as the Father. They taught he was “kinda” divine, raised to semi-divine status.
Arians were great marketers. They used their hymns to spread their false doctrines. Their heresy spread all over Europe and Asia. Even condemnation at the Council of Nicaea in 325 was not enough to rid the Church of this plague. Only the Holy Spirit, working through the tireless efforts of saints like Basil, Gregory and Athanasius, was able to win over the Emperor (Theodosius) and ultimately the people. It was a near thing, but it was the first big victory of Jesus, Son of God, consubstantial with the Father, over the forces that would destroy the Church. When you recite the Nicene Creed each week, and wonder about all that language in the first paragraph–God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God–remember that much pain and suffering came along with the acceptance of that doctrine, and we week humans are always prone to forget it. Even today, there are a lot of Christians who, along with their secular counterparts, think Jesus was just a great guy.