Three Little Words That Divide East & West

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You probably hardly take notice of them. They are three little words in the Nicene Creed and they have divided Eastern and Western Christians for centuries. Those words? “and the Son.” They appear in the section dealing with the Holy Spirit where it reads: “…who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” It is known as the filioque phrase and it has proven to be highly divisive.

It was not a part of the original Nicene Creed that came from the Council of Nicaea in 325 which only read “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” Then the Council of Constantinople in 381 added a fuller statement regarding the Holy Spirit being a fully divine person. But it only stated that the Spirit proceeded from the Father (single procession). It was not until 589 at the Council of Toledo that that seemingly small phrase, “and the Son” (double procession) was added. The West did this on their own without consulting the East which may help explain how this small phrase came to divide the two halves of Christendom.

This phrase was gradually accepted in the West and is therefore in our version of the Nicene Creed. But to this day, the East still rejects it and is they are still astounded at the casualness with which the West added the filioque to the creed. From the sixth century onward, when the West began to insert “and the Son” to the sentence dealing with the Spirit’s procession from the Father, the Orthodox began to complain that the West was violating both the spirit and the letter of Nicaea. They were violating the spirit by acting unilaterally in making the change and the letter by violating an explicit canon of the council that the wording of its formula was not to be changed. Additionally, the East argued that the Western addition was a grievous theological error. In this view, the Western urge to equalize relationships among the members of the Trinity short-circuited the full personality of the Spirit and so crippled the understanding of what the Spirit was to do.

In 1054, the Great Schism between East and West occurred and communication between the two stopped for centuries. But in recent decades, the communication between East and West started up again. In 1987, Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Demetrios I met in Rome, where they recited together the Nicene Creed without the filioque phrase.

Celebrating Mothers: Saint Monica

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In one week, we celebrate Mother’s Day here in the U.S. and May 4th is the feast day of the patron saint of mothers, St. Monica who was the mother of the great fourth century theologian, St. Augustine of Hippo. She is honored and remembered for her outstanding Christian virtues, particularly the suffering against the adultery of her husband and a prayerful life dedicated to the reformation of her beloved son, who wrote extensively of her pious acts and life in his Confessions. Popular Christian legends recalls Monica to have wept every night for her son.

Born in 332, she lived at Tagaste in North Africa (now Souk Ahras, Algeria). She was married early in life to Patritius who held an official position in that city. He was a pagan and had a violent temper and appears to have had dissolute habits. Her problems were made worse by the presence of a hostile mother-in-law in the house and Monica used alcohol as an escape.

She eventually overcame her addiction. Due to her unhappy married life, there was a gulf between husband and wife. Her alms deeds and her habits of prayer annoyed him, but it is said that he always held her in a sort of reverence. Monica was able to win over her husband and he converted to Christianity in 370. He died the following year. She then turned her efforts to the eldest of her three children, Augustine, who was at the time leading a life of debauchery and self-indulgence. Augustine tried to escape his mother’s efforts by fleeing to Italy in 383. But mom followed him first to Rome and then to Milan. It was at Milan, with the help of St. Ambrose, that Augustine converted to the Christian faith in 386 and was baptized the following year. It has been said that Monica then declared that all her hopes had now been fulfilled and that she had no more need of life on earth. Soon after on the journey home to North Africa, she died at Ostia in Italy.

About the 13th century, the cult of St. Monica began to spread and her feast day was set on May 4. Her relics are kept in a chapel to the left of the high altar in the Basilica of St. Augustine in Rome. The city of Santa Monica, California is named after her. A legend states that in the 18th century Father Juan Crespi named a local dripping spring Las Lagrimas de Santa Monica or “Saint Monica’s Tears” (now known as the Serra Springs) that was reminiscent of Monica’s tears that were shed over her son’s early impiety. There is a statue of this beloved saint in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park by sculptor Eugene Morahan which was completed in 1934.

St. Monica is a wonderful and inspiring example of motherhood. Monica was a patient wife and mother who dearly loved her son despite his sinful lifestyle. She prayed for her son’s conversion on a daily basis and of course celebrated when he finally came to faith. I believe all mothers can look to Monica and be inspired by her.

Athanasius: “Pillar of the Church”

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On May 2, we celebrate the feast day of St. Athanasius the Great (296-373), who was the bishop of Alexandria (328-373). He is considered to be a renowned Christian theologian, a Church Father, the chief defender of the Trinitarian faith (against Arianism), and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century. 

He is remembered for his role in the conflict with Arius and Arianism. In 325, at the age of 27, he had a leading role against the Arians in the First Council of Nicaea. At the time, he was a deacon and a personal secretary to the then bishop of Alexandria, Alexander. The council dealt with the nature of Jesus Christ. He is quoted as saying at that council, “Jesus that I know as my Redeemer cannot be less than God.” 

When he became bishop of Alexandria, at the age of 30, in 328 he continued to lead the fight against Arianism which he considered to be the most dangerous enemy of the true faith. He was banished by four times by Arian emperors and once by Julian the Apostate, because of his strict adherence to the trinitarian faith, spending a total of 20 years in exile. He was permitted five times to return to his church. He led the fight against Arianism and heresy for the rest of his life.

Athanasius spent his last years peaceably but vigorously writing against heresy. The passion of his life was to vindicate the deity of his Lord Jesus Christ. His writings were well regarded by all of the Church Fathers in both the East and the West. The writings of St. Athanasius display a rich devotion to the Word-become-man, great pastoral concern, and profound interest in monasticism. They include Three Orations Against Arius and Of the Incarnation of the Word of God. My favorite quote from him is “The Son of God became man so that we might become God” or also phrased as “Christ became like man so that we might become like him.” 

Athanasius is counted as one of the four great Eastern Doctors of the Church in the Roman Catholic Church and in Eastern Orthodoxy, he is labeled as the “Father of Orthodoxy.” St. Gregory of Nazianzus called him the “Pillar of the Church.” Protestants see him as the “Father of the Canon” due to the fact that he was the first to recognize all 27 books of the New Testament. The following prayer celebrates his great legacy:

“Uphold your church, O God of truth, as you upheld your servant  Athanasius, to maintain and proclaim boldly the catholic faith against all opposition, trusting solely in the grace of your eternal Word, who took upon himself our humanity that we might share his divinity, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen”

 

Our future depends on a good understanding of the past. I invite you to take a walk in the cloister with me as we learn about what has gone before. For by learning from those who have gone before, we can help ensure a better future for us and those who will come after us.