Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
(Acts 15:1-6; John 15:1-8)
Today the Church celebrates St. Athanasius. A fourth century bishop, he made a brilliant insight to overcame a theological crisis. The burning question at the time was Christ’s divinity. Was he “really God” or just “like God?” A priest named Arius with his many followers took the latter position. They believed the preponderance of evidence in Scripture favored a weak Christology. Athanasius reasoned to the contrary. He taught that accepting Christ as truly God corresponded to the deepest New Testament intuition. The crisis was resolved at the Council of Nicea in accord with Athanasius’ insight. Christ, the council taught, has the same divine nature as the Father and the Spirit. Today’s first reading tells of a similar crossroads in Church history.
Could only Jews who professed Jesus be saved? Or did Jesus’ death and resurrection save non-Jews as well? The question was theoretical in the earliest days of the Church when all believers were also Jews. As non-Jews heard about Jesus, however, it turned into a crisis. Did they have to submit to circumcision to be considered part of Jesus’ vine? Requiring it would have severely dampened missionary efforts. In the passage the issue is brought to the apostles and presbyters of Jerusalem for resolution. They will decide that faith in Christ satisfies as the basis of salvation.
We should note how the Church has from the beginning deliberated issues in council. Not even Scripture has answers to all theological and moral questions. Rather successful outcomes require dialogue and trust in the Spirit’s presence to Church leaders.