You surely recognize these beautiful words:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
one in being with the Father.
These words emphasize the divinity of Christ, an essential truth of our faith. The Liturgy also says: “Through the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus asserts his divinity, which troubles some of his hearers who cannot bear to accept it. Many turned away and returned to their former way of life. But the Twelve did not, they were convinced (all but one of them) that Jesus had the words of eternal life.
The Arians, led by the priest Arius in the third century, did not believe this. They believed there was a time before Jesus existed, that he was not one in being with the Father, but rather was created by the Father. This position denies the divinity of Christ, which is an unacceptable position for our faith. If Christ is not divine, he has no power to save us.
St. Athanasius was a great champion of the faith against the harmful teachings of Arius. But it was a hard battle. He was exiled not once but actually five times during the fight against Arius’s teachings. His writings are almost all a great defense of the faith and are so sound that Athanasius was named a doctor of the Church.
We have St. Athanasius to thank for the wonderful words of our Creed. We often say them, I think, without a whole lot of thought. But we need to remember when we pray the Creed that each of those words was the result of dedicated work, intensive prayer, and hard fought defense against heresy. Because of people like St. Athanasius, we may indeed come to share in the divinity of Christ.