faith of our fathers

Arthur Middleton on a state of mind little understood

The earnestness of those Primates defending the orthodox doctrine of human sexuality has brought protest. The Archbishop of Wales protested that this is not what Anglicanism is about; it is about 'unity in diversity', a cliche that means anything goes. Would such protest be made today to Athanasius, Hilary, Basil, Gregory and Ambrose who risked their lives to defend the Catholic faith against the threat of Arianism?

Today people inside and outside the Church would dismiss such doctrinal strife as bad for religion, which is about 'peace and love.' Insisting on orthodoxy puts the Church and the world into a fever because even today it is a state of mind little understood. The contemporary educated mind wants to see Church union as the highest end of the Church, 'unity in diversity', a quiet unanimity; as if the Church were not built upon faith, with truth really the first object of the Christian's efforts and peace but the second.

People view priests as 'men of peace'. They are denounced if they oppose heterodox doctrine or morality. The priest's job, like the Church's, is to promote good order and no more, but this is only part of their function, not the whole. A priest is also a confessor for the Catholic faith. Yet, as Newman pointed out, too often if there is any difference in matters of doctrine between Christians, the primary aim 'of so-called judicious men' is to hush it up, no matter what the difference is about. 'They will not admit that it can be more than secondary to the preservation of a good understanding between Christians.. .that things will right themselves.. .the one pressing object being to prevent the outward fabric of the Church from being weakened by dissensions...' Such people forget that the Church exists, in a special way, for the sake of the faith committed to her keeping.

This was not so with Athanasius, Hilary, Basil, Gregory and Ambrose. For them the crucial question was 'What think ye of Christ?' When the answer is incorrect, defective Christology leads to problems at every level of ecclesial life. These Fathers knew this when confronted with a humanism that wanted to remake Christ in its own image and cut him down to no more than a man. Our culture and Church is dominated by a pervasive humanism, where political correctness would reduce God and Christ to our image.

The issue for us as for Athanasius is confessing and teaching people to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is perfect both in his divine nature and in his human nature, so that he is actually God and actually man, with a human soul and a body. His divinity is as real as God's and his humanity as real as ours, but without sin. He existed with God before being born of the Virgin Mary for our salvation. She is God-bearer in respect of his humanity.

Christ then has two natures and we must not confuse the one in the other nor convert one into the other, nor divide them into two separate categories, nor contrast each according to function. The distinctiveness of each nature is not annulled by the union. The union conserves both natures, harmonizing them in one person and preventing division into two persons. Together they are the Word which was made flesh as the only-begotten Son of the Father. This is the Nicene Faith.

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