Difficult Teaching

St. Athanasius, Bishop & Doctor


We sometimes hear famous people say without provocation that they find the teachings of Christianity absurd and without reasonable foundation. It’s a fair assessment. Even among his disciples Jesus found some who could not grasp what he taught. All this week we have been reading from the Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6 of John’s gospel. And today, we are told how some of his disciples found this particular teaching hard and left him, returning to their old ways and no longer walking with him.

And when Jesus addressing the Twelve, asked if they too would leave, on behalf of the others Peter said famously, “Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.” There’s a good chance he too had trouble grasping the meaning of that specific teaching. But he didn’t give up trying. Theology, the study of divinely revealed truth, unlike science, begins from revelation on the basis that Jesus speaks what is true. And employing human reasoning, the human mind tries to make sense of that revealed truth. And that human exercise of trying to make sense of Truth in no way diminishes its value. Our inability to grasp Truth does not make it any less true. Instead, Truth invites us to keep searching and exploring. Our lack of an answer now does not imply that an answer does not exist.

When Athanasius took up the defense of the Divinity of Jesus Christ against the Arians, he probably started with the foundation of Jesus’ own words that “the Father and I are one.” Arianism denied that the Father and the Son were equal in substance, that the Father bestowed divinity on the Son after the fact. The Council of Nicea in 325 CE teaches that the Father and the Son are one and equal in substance. The current translation of the Nicene Creed we profess each Sunday mentions that word “consubstantial” that some have found awkward and archaic. It would probably have meant the same to say “one in substance” instead. But it got us talking, didn’t it?

Truth revealed by science emerges from our observation of measurable data. For instance, gravity is an observable measurable truth because falling objects move in the direction of the earth’s core. And in outer space where the pull of the earth’s core is not a factor, objects don’t fall at all, not until a gravitational force comes within range. Truth revealed by Jesus invites us to make sense of it in our material world, although it does not cease to be true just because we fail in our attempts. When Jesus declared that the bread is now his Body and the wine is now his Blood, we can grasp his meaning if we can distinguish the philosophical difference between substance and accidents. Explore that route. Transubstantiation would cease to be such an obstacle anymore.

This mass was offered for the repose of +Gertrude Hughes.

Rolo B Castillo © 2020