Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. – Matthew 22:37-38
I’m just getting into John Chrysostom’s Homilies On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (CUA Press). The homilies attempt to explain that we can know nothing of the nature of God, but we can still know God. St. John gave these as a response to the neo-Arians who said that we could know the nature of God.
In order to give some background information, the introduction explains the controversy of Arianism and what it brought about. He talks about how how the adoption of the Nicene Creed was a response to Arianism. Yet he points out:
“…Arianism did not die; in fact it grew for four decades and was still a disturbing factor at the end of the fourth century. Indeed, it might have been reestablished after Nicaea were it not for Athanasius of Alexandria.”
For those who do not know, Athanasius is often referred to as “Athaansius Contra Mundum” (Athanasius against the world). Athanasius was a deacon when he attended Nicaea, but in 326 (the year after Nicaea) when Alexander of Alexandria died, Athanasius took his place as Bishop of Alexandria. During Athanasius’ tenure as Bishop of Alexandria he was banished from the city no less than five times due to his refusal to back down on his beliefs concerning Christ.
Eusebius (not to be confused with the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea), the bishop of Nicomedia, was an open Arian and used his position of influence to have the government of Alexandria consistently harass Athanasius. Much to the chagrin of Eusebius, Athanasius willingly faced the persecution; after all, he was raised during the last great persecution of Christians under the Roman Empire (303-311) and watched many of his family friends and his mentors die in the persecution. What was banishment compared to what he had endured as a child?
Athanasius turned away the favor of man and a position of prominence in order to stand for the truth. As C.S. Lewis says of Athanasius in the introduction to “On the Incarnation” (St. Vladamir’s Press),
“He knew that the very existence of the Church was at stake; but he was utterly certain of the truth and he knew that it must in time prevail.”
Athanasius was faithful to the doctrines of Christianity and to Christ not out of some desire to be right or some attempt to win an argument or exert his power and control over people, but because he was dedicated to the Truth who is Christ. In being dedicated to the Truth, he desired that all men know the Truth as He revealed Himself. The Arians created a Jesus who was different from the Jesus of history and therefore Athanasius, in loving loyalty to Christ, stood his ground and suffered for his holy obstinance. Banishment back then was not a simple thing; being in Egypt, he was banished into the wilderness. He had to leave all that he knew five separate times and depart into the unknown (though the first two times he went to the Desert Father Antony, while the last three times he went to the disciples of Antony). Continue reading