Grace to you and Happy New Year!
Who is Jesus? This is one of the questions people ask me during the course of my daily works as a priest and, also, outside the circles of the Church. Many people, Christians and non-Christians, have tried to answer this question in various ways. Faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior depends on the true understanding of his identity.
You may have heard some say Jesus is the founder of Christianity and he is human just like other founders of religion. Or, at best, he is a prophet or an exceptionally good man. Is Jesus simply a prophet, a good man?
Years ago, before many of the Western countries were born, this question was addressed by theologians, rhetoricians and philosophers, and was settled at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) and the First Council of Constantinople in 381AD. I would love to summarize the main arguments. Hence, the style of our reflection today would be different, based on an historical approach. I will adopt this approach because the saints celebrated by the Church today (Saints Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzen), were key players who argued for the true identify of Jesus. These two, also honored as Doctors of the Church, plus Saint Gregory of Nyssa, who was the younger brother of Basil, were called the three Cappadocians.
Among the most prominent critics of the true identity of Jesus was a priest from either Egypt or Libya called Arius. During a theological conference for the priests convoked by Bishop Alexander of Alexandria around 318/319AD, Arius proposed a view that he had been teaching the faithful, having been recognized as a popular theologian and orator. He taught that Jesus, who became God, was created by the Father and, therefore, never preexisted with the Father. “If the Son is a real Son; therefore, the Divine Father must have existed before the Divine Son,” he argued.
His view was rejected by Bishop Alexander as a pagan syncretistic adaptation of the deity of Jesus, a kind of Greek demi-god. Surprisingly, many people still hold this view today.
The Council of Nicaea (AD 325) definitively rejected this view of Arius. It affirmed that Jesus is co-equal with the Father. He was not created by the Father. He is of one substance (consubstance) with the Father. The detailed declaration about the relationship between Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit is found in what is called the Nicene Creed. Remember, we recite the Nicene (or Apostle’s) Creed every Sunday.
Though the Council clarified this Christological error (error related to the identity of Christ), Arius and his supporters never gave up. It led to the first major separation, what is called schism in the Church between the supporters of the biblical teaching about the identity of Jesus and those who support Arius. It was in this context that Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen stood out as defenders of the divinity of Jesus.
Their contributions led to the defeat of the Arian controversy, the heretic movement which was officially denounced by the First Council of Constantinople (380 AD). The Council affirmed the declarations of the Nicene Creed, and also added the substantive identity of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity: “and in the Holy Ghost, the giver of Life who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.”
Therefore, to the question: Who is Jesus? The biblical answer is that Jesus is God, one of the three persons in one God. This is the central dogma of the Christian Faith – the belief in the Trinity and the Eternal Divinity of Jesus Christ, who is both Lord and Messiah. Hence, anyone who denies the true divinity of Jesus as God, Lord and Messiah is a liar and the antichrist (I John 2:22).
The truth of our Faith is that Jesus is God, coequal and coeternal with the Father. He is the Lord and the Savior of the universe. Upon this truth lies the defining core of salvation in Christ.
I pray God to grant us the grace to know and continue to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Amen. May God reveal this truth to others who are yet to know it. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.