Tuesday, December 7, 2010

'Tis the season

As we trudge through finals week, we find ourselves in a really cool place on the Church calendar. Yesterday was the memorial of St. Nicholas (yes, the real one). Today is the memorial of St. Ambrose and tomorrow is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. How are these three related?

St. Nicholas slaps the heretic Arius.
Well, in the fourth century, Christianity was mired in a bitter theological debate over the nature of Jesus Christ and the relationship of the Persons of the Trinity. The orthodox party taught that Christ was fully Man and fully God and that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were co-equal and co-eternal. The Arians spread the teachings of Arius, a priest from Alexandria, who taught that Christ was created by and subordinate to the Father. The first ecumenical council of the Church, the Council of Nicaea, was called in 325 to settle this dispute. The creed formulated at this council was added to at the Council of Constantinople in 387 and the final product is still recited every Sunday during the Mass as a definitive statement of the Christian faith.

Both Nicholas and Ambrose were bishops and strong proponents of the orthodox position in these matters. Nicholas was bishop of Myra, a small city in present-day Turkey. He attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 and was so passionate in his view that Arius was leading the faithful astray that he took matters into his own hands. According to an ancient legend, during one of the council sessions, as Arius presented his views before the assembled bishops and the emperor, Nicholas stood up, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face! Wow.

As for the Immaculate Conception of Mary, we Catholics believe that the Blessed Mother was preserved free from original sin from the first moment of her conception by a singular grace from God. This was because she was chosen by God, from the beginning, to be the Mother of our Savior Jesus who is God Incarnate.

So, as this week continues on, be aware of the fact that the feasts of the Advent season continue to call our attention to coming Christ, who took on flesh to lead us to salvation. He is coming. Are you ready?