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A Visit from St. Nicholas (Part 2)

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This week continues the story of the first War on Christmas, the controversy between Arius and Athanasius!  (Click here to start at the beginning)

Was Jesus really God, or was he just a great man?  For many, this question is the hinge for whether or not you call yourself “Christian.”  The earliest church interpreted the Scripture to mean the Jesus Christ is God.  Controversies would come and go as people tried to define what that meant.  The Arian controversy of the 4th century was one in which Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt, argued that scripture really teaches Christ is the first created thing, and therefore not God.  He believed Jesus was more than human, but less than God.  Much of his argument was rooted in Neo-Platonic ideas of existence and ideals.  Jesus has a different existence (or nature) than God.  Jesus is the ideal man, so perfect he shows us what God is like…but not God.

Arius’ teachings became so popular in Alexandrian Christianity that when Athanasius pushed back with what had been passed down for centuries, he was the odd man out.  Athanasius argued that scripture clearly stated Jesus is God, and that this is crucial for our understanding of what is happening in salvation.  Jesus is not just an ideal man, or a perfect example of how to live rightly, an ethical hero.  If Jesus is actually God, then the very fact that God put on flesh and became human indicates that something different is happening in salvation.  Athanasius taught, “God became man so that man might become god” (On the Incarnation, 8.54).  Philippians 2:5-11 teaches that Jesus Christ was God, self-emptied to become human, self-emptied to be obedient and to die on a cross…not just to be an example for morality, but so that the eternity of God would break into the limits of creation and bring about the healing and restoration of all things.  God’s self-emptying in Jesus fills us up.  For Athanasius to argue with Arius’ neo-platonic language, he would say Jesus was con-substantial, or the same substance, as God.  Or just quote John 1:1-5, among other verses.  For Athanasius, this was less a lesson in metaphysics and more contemplating mystery revealed in Scripture.

Today’s comic is in the middle of a story.  If you missed the first part, Click Here to start at the beginning.  And be sure to come back next Tuesday to see how the story unfolds (and exactly why this is called A Visit from St. Nicholas!!!)

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