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.
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 little story, I hope, will appeal to children so they will read it and as they grow older, they may understand that the love, peace and gentleness of the Christ Child, leads to a way of life for which we must all strive.”
The words were written close to eighty years ago, in the midst of a world at war, by Eleanor Roosevelt in a brief and beautiful book she called, Christmas: A Story.
A little girl named Marta has lost her father, his life one of the millions claimed by WW ll. With the death of her father, the little girl and her mother have lost their joy…and their hope.
Then on Christmas eve, after hearing that St. Nicholas will not come that night (there is no extra money for Christmas,) Marta finds a candle left from the year before. The little girl asks permission of her mourning mother to place it in the window. “To light the way for the Christ Child,” she explains to her mother. Shaking her head sadly, Marta’s mother does not object.
“Marta took out the candle and carefully placed it in a copper candlestick which had always held a lighted candle on Christmas Eve. ”
Once the candle is in shining in the window, seven- year- old Marta wants to see how far the light would extend into the night. She dashes outside into the howling wind to see the light.
“Why are you out here, little girl?”
It is a very tall strange man standing beside her who asks the question. At Marta’s reply that she wants the Christ Child to see it so He can come into her house, the stranger admonishes her, “You must not believe in any such legend. There is no Christ child. This is a story told for the weak. It is ridiculous to believe that a little child could lead the people of the world, a foolish idea, claiming strength through love and sacrifice. You must grow up and acknowledge only one superior, he who dominates the world through fear and strength.”
Marta listens. After all, she is just seven and has been taught to respect her elders. But she has been talking to the Christ Child, all year, about her hopes and fears…and dreams of her father coming home.
“Somehow this man hurt that dream and it was worse than not having St. Nicholas come. It seemed to pull a curtain down over the whole world.”
If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
I recall that it was this very passage that Claudia heard the one and only time she heard Jesus speak in my latest book. I did not know why it was this passage that appeared in my head as I wrote. I am beginning to see now.
This infant Child asks nothing from us and everything;
All at once.
He enters into our hearts and souls softly,
Quietly, almost without sound.
Once there, He offers peace, Life, wisdom
At no cost; just ourselves, whole, entire,
All at once.Fr Chuck Durante