Begotten, Not Made

Posted by Ann Urinoski on

Do these words sound familiar? We say them every time we say the Nicene Creed, and we declare a statement of our faith every time we worship together, whether it's the Nicene Creed, the Apostles' Creed, or our Baptismal Covenant. These words articulate our faith in God, and their source has far deeper roots than our Book of Common Prayer.

In 313 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which ended the persecution of Christians and legalized Christianity after almost 200 years of intermittent persecutions. After all these years underground, church leaders came to understand the nature of Christ quite differently and much theological debate ensued. A priest named Arius argued that Jesus was created by God, therefore there was a time when Jesus did not exist. Challenging him, Athanasius, whose feast day fell on May 2, preached that Jesus is completely OF God - begotten, not made. The conflict became so tumultuous that Emperor Constantine called together all 317 bishops in the Christian world, and they met in Nicea in 325. At what became known as the Council of Nicea, all but three agreed on the first version of what became known as the Nicene Creed, which incorporated Athanasius' argument that Jesus is indeed fully God, co-equal and co-eternal. Athanasius' leadership led to his being called to be Bishop of Alexandria.

Unfortunately, the consensus did not last long; Athanasius' articulation might have been lost completely, if it had not found bold support. Supporters of Arius took hold in several cities, including Constantinople, and the church soon faced fracture again. Several decades after the Council of Nicea, Gregory of Nazianzus, the Bishop of Constantinople, began preaching a series of sermons arguing Athanasius' theology of the Trinity - that Christ is of God; begotten, not made. His evangelism transformed the city and paved the way for the Council of Constantinople, which gathered in 381 and reaffirmed the Nicene Creed.

The words we say together have a rich history, yet for all the names of individuals who've shaped it, it is one story. Just as Gregory of Nazianzus built his ministry on what Athanasius began, we're continuing the work of those before in articulating our faith, joining together in worship, discerning the best way the proclaim the Good News of Christ to an ever-changing world, whose need for the Gospel remains constant.

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