Monday, May 20, 2013

Consubstantial, Yes!

The God of Jesus Christ 
Meditations on the Triune God 
Translated by Brian McNeil 

It's a good thing my annual vacation time is limited and I don't really have to spend much time reining in my propensity to impulse buying. The other day I saw a blurb from Ignatius Press suggesting this book would be good reading for Pentecost... and so I bought and read it. Not a mistake (as I have never found a book or article by our beloved Pope Emeritus to be a waste of time) but rather another find with countless insights to be gained of which I want only to share one from his discussion of the article of the Creed "consubstantial with the Father".

The quote is long, but more readable than my ramblings:

"But why did Arius’ answer seem so very obvious to the people of his age? Why did he succeed in winning over the public opinion of the entire educated world in so short a time? His success was due to the same reason that leads public opinion today to write off the Council of Nicaea: Arius wanted to preserve the purity of the concept of God. He did not want to ascribe to God anything as naive as an incarnation. He was convinced that in the final analysis, the concept of God and God himself must be completely excluded from human history. He was convinced that, ultimately, the world itself must regulate its own affairs; that it cannot gain access to God; and that of course God himself is so great that he cannot touch the world. The Fathers regarded this as atheism, and their judgment was correct, since a God to whom man has no access whatsoever, a God who in reality cannot play any role in the world, is no God. But have we not long since quietly returned to this kind of atheism? Do we, too, not find it intolerable to make God descend into human existence? Do we, too, not find it impossible that man could have a genuine relationship with God in the world? Is this not the reason why we have retreated with such passion to “the man Jesus”? But does this not mean that we have ended up in a world view of despair? For if only we ourselves have power over the world, since God has no such power, what else remains but despair (even if it is screened by big words)?" (Highlight Loc. 920-30)

These days here at home and in conversation with good folk have brought lots of questions and issues to the surface concerning the needs of our day and time. Yesterday I enjoyed being interviewed by the local Catholic Radio, still struggling for access to the airwaves here in South Dakota (anti-Catholic bias?). The interview was to a great extent biographical and a central theme was that of asking what was different about the faith environment which nurtured me, who if anyone inspired me or played a key role in my life, who helped bring out my vocation to priesthood, etc. Reasonable questions, yes, which must always stand against the backdrop of whatever it is that is going on in home, parish and Church today, no? The other usual query, which also came up during the interview, posits some sort of vocational struggle or wrestling with God before surrendering to His call.

As always, I guess, I must say that I disappoint my questioners by stating that my parents at home, both of them in their own unique way and together complementing each other, communicated a sense of the presence of God, which has stood me and all my siblings in good stead over the years. Catholic school supported that and offered additional content. For me there was no struggle, no wrestling with the will of God for me; believing folk around me shared with Mom and Dad what they discerned as the seeds of a vocation in a little boy and what I perceived at first in a childish way grew apace with my own maturation process over the course of time, marked by a boy's prayers, the balance of a minor seminary experience, university and major seminary, never stopping with ordination, but continuing in the school of life right up until today. Never forget that it is the Church that concretizes the call to Holy Orders, which comes from God! 

Where did Benedict and "consubstantial" go, you ask? Well, even though most of what is written in this book was thought out and set to paper decades ago, it reflects on a practical atheism abroad in our world which in my childhood and youth I was somehow spared. Certainly, we can fault decades of poor pedagogy which kept children (some now grandparents) from learning their catechism, but then the general and enveloping climate had changed as well, undermining what was really a Catholic culture, a nurturing environment. 

I think that Benedict is right in saying that the atheism of our day has crept into the Church just like the Arianism which the Fathers of the Council of Nicaea had to struggle against. The sense of the Year of Faith, which he proclaimed, is all too evident to me.

Other than recommending this book, may I suggest one small exercise and namely taking time to reflect that when we proclaim "Jesus is Lord" we are acknowledging the Son of the Eternal Father as God. Ponder the words of the Creed and let them change your outlook, your approach to every day. Reclaim or seek for the very first time that natural (for us the baptized) sense of the power and presence of God in Jesus Christ in our daily lives.



  1. It seems to me that our time there is a new and all-controlling god: convenience.

    As Catholics, our God is most inconvenient.

    1. The years of my seminary in Rome (early 70's) were still years with anticlericalism alive and well. People frowning or shouting or spitting at a priest. When I returned in the 80's, it was generally indifference. I'm sure the "anti" found it inconvenient, but the indifferent or distracted doesn't even find it.


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