I Believe in Jesus Christ
“Consubstantial with the Father”: That tongue-twister in the new Mass translation is one way we describe Jesus. And it’s what our Christian faith is all about! By the time of Jesus, Israel’s belief in one God was well-established, an unshakable truth. But the People of God struggled for centuries with the temptation to adopt the gods of their neighbors—and often did. And so it was a tremendous challenge for many to accept Jesus as divine. In Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, the high priest tears his garments and accuses Jesus of blasphemy for claiming divine sonship.
When Christians moved into the world of Greek philosophers, the understanding of Jesus as divine remained a challenge. In the fourth century, a priest named Arius held that the Son of God did not exist from all eternity. Rather, Arius contended that Jesus was a created being, not divine.
The Arian heresy divided the Church of the fourth century. To address this heresy, the Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicea, in 325. The council issued a statement of faith, a creed. It proclaimed that, as the Catechism tells us, “the Son of God is ‘begotten, not made, of the same substance…as the Father.’” The Latin version of the Greek expression, “of the same substance,” is now translated literally as “consubstantial.”
This word in the Creed is crucial to our understanding of what we believe. Were Jesus not divine, there would be no Incarnation. But we believe that the Second Person of the Trinity became human. The Love which created our world and all that is in it has entered our world and become part of it. We profess that “in him all things were made.” Creation itself testifies to how much God loves with us, a love is fully revealed in Jesus.
That love is further expressed in our Creed, as we are instructed at Mass to bow at the words which profess our faith in the “incarnation.” For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. That gesture shows how this belief is central to Christianity. It is Christianity, in a sense!
In the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi responded to God’s call and “came down” from the safety of the medieval walls of his town. He went to live in the swampy lowlands with lepers, to serve them in poverty. Francis understood these words of the Creed well. The Word “came down” and entered our humanity. Overwhelmed by this great truth, St. Francis promoted the Christmas crib. He wanted to bring home the story of Jesus’ birth to the Virgin Mary. Francis embraced all of creation because God was joined to it in Jesus.
If we ever are tempted to discount our humanity, this action of God makes us stop and re-evaluate. The Incarnation tells us how much God loves us. Becoming one of us, God has given us the chance to share in divinity. We discover in Jesus what we can become, with God’s grace.
This month, American Catholic Radio joins Catholic Updateand St. Anthony Messenger in highlighting the Creed we profess each Sunday. You can find those resources at www.FranciscanMedia.org.