An excerpt from a treatise against the heresy of Noetus by Saint Hippolytus was a reading in the Divine Office for December 23rd; a reminder of exactly what and why we celebrate during this Christmas season.
The reading counters a prevailing belief of our modern culture: The early Christian Church suffered none of the disunites of our 21st century religious wars. In fact, there were influential leaders-even Popes- within the early Church who taught that Jesus and God were the same Person, the distinction of the three Person Trinity, seen as axiomatic to 21st Christianity, was absent in the early Christian Church.
Scholars date the Saint Hippolytus writing to somewhere around 200 AD. Noetus was a follower of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, a precursor of Socrates, whether he was a pantheist or one of the first Christians is a matter of some controversy among scholars but the content of the refutation by Hippolytus warrants reflection.
There is only one God, and we learn about him through sacred scriptures…We should believe them in the sense that the Father wills and accepting the teaching he wills to give us through the Holy Spirit. Sacred Scripture is God’s gift to us and should be understood in the way he intends: we should not do violence to it by interpreting it according to our own preconceived ideas.
We should not do violence to scripture by interpreting it as we wish.
The words were written close to two thousand years ago during a time when there was a great deal of violence surrounding correct vs erroneous- heretical- words of scripture. Among Christians today, the violence has subsided somewhat but simmers still. When we do this, we reverse things: Rather than God making us in his image, we make him in ours.
At a moment of his own choosing and in a manner determined by Himself, God manifested his Word, and through him, he made the whole universe. When the Word was hidden within God himself, he was invisible to the created world, but God made him visible. First God gave utterance to his voice, engendering light from light, and then he sent his own mind into the world as its Lord. Visible before to God alone and not to the wold, God made him visible so that the world could be saved by seeing him. This mind that entered the world was known as the Son of God. All things came into being through him; but he alone is begotten by the Father. The Son gave us the law and the prophets and he filled the prophets with the Holy Spirit to compel them to speak out. Inspired by the Father’s power, they were to proclaim the Father’s purpose and his will.
This mind of God, this formerly hidden by the Father until a time of God’s own choosing, this maker of the whole universe, this Logos empties himself of all of his power, divinity, to enter the womb of a young girl though the power of the spirit and become exactly like us: tiny, fragile, born to die.
This is what we celebrate tomorrow.