Memorial of Saint Athanasius, bishop and doctor of the Church
(Acts 5:27-33; John 3:31-36)
The Church in its first few centuries had to come to a common understanding of its belief. One of the most perplexing issues was exactly who is Jesus Christ. From passages like today’s first reading he might be understood as a most virtuous man whom God raised from the dead. He would be of the order of Elijah or Enoch, an ancient patriarch who is said to have been assumed into heaven. But surely the Gospel of John has more in mind when it says in today’s passage: “The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to the Son.”
The debate about Jesus reached its climax in the early fourth century. A priest named Arius took the lesser view of Jesus. He thought that putting Jesus on the same level as God would be like calling a cat a lion because it has teeth and whiskers. Today’s patron St. Athanasius opposed the minimal view. He rightly saw that God cannot be compared to earthly things. Both Jesus and the Father are of another order or substance. The Council of Nicea affirmed his position: Jesus and the Father are the same along with the Holy Spirit.
All this may sound heady and impractical. But belief in Jesus as God affects us significantly. Because he and the Father are one, we can feel confident in following him. As guide and end, his teaching cannot lead us astray. We can also pray to him. He has the power to help us in our every need.