“Why does theology matter?” (A Reflection)

I would like to talk about the importance of theology. Before I proceed, I want us to come to the realization of the world we live in – how we are so wrapped up in our liberality and technology, we take gifts handed down to us for granted. Before, we turn to a father of the early Church or even Scripture itself, we may find ourselves immersed in Google searches or discussion groups lead by some Biblical ‘scholar’, who apparently speaks of the Bible better than any early writings of the Church Fathers or even the Gospel itself. We are embedded in a world where society needs information which is both fast and catered to them for the modern day. Never mind the fact that Christ and His teachings are eternal, and that they are able to withstand the test of time. No…, the works of those who have suffered and endured and have raised the Church are all but forgotten.

In my personal experiences, I have heard many argue about the nature of Christ: Who is He in relation to the Father (in the Godhead), is He God, is He less than God, etc? We become absorbed in our debates that we turn to our own interpretations without ever looking at the interpretations based on the traditions of the Holy Church. The Church was for the most part, a one, universal, holy and apostolic church in the early centuries. Particularly in the fourth century, when Christians were allowed to practice freely without the onslaught of persecution. We became structured and worked uniformly to deal with problems within the church: heresy, apostasy, and Gnosticism. The Church, at this time would come together from all parts of the Empire and work together to deal with these issues. With this structural system, more emphasis was put on theology in regards to its terminology and technicality. This was not only as a result of this new freedom, but also because there were those who thought incorrectly also – the heretics. Although, they appear detrimental to the Church’s foundation, it is because of their challenge why our great church fathers came to the ultimate conclusion – that they were right, because the heretics were wrong. However Scriptural the heretics were, the Fathers were very convinced that right belief and right piety were appeased with one another (change). Therefore, the conclusion the Fathers reached was more than a misguided understanding of Scripture.

One of the premier highlights of the fourth century was none other than time period surrounding the Nicene Council in 325. This dealt with an ongoing issue at the time highlighted by a controversy implanted by a priest named Arius. Arius gave way to the belief that Jesus was not of one substance with the Father and that there had been a time before he existed. Although in conflict with what the Church believed, this belief started to germinate throughout the Empire. The Council of Nicaea proved this wrong (although the Arian controversy was yet far from eradicated at the conclusion of the council), and laid the groundwork for future Christological understandings. The Nicene Creed’s central term, used to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son, is homoousios, or consubstantiality, meaning “of the same substance” or “of one being”. The Council of Nicaea argued over the denotations of the Greek words homoousios (same substance) and homoiousios (similar substance). The council came to the conclusion that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (the Godhead) all are of the same substance, being or essence (homoousios).

The 4th century also marked further developments of Trinitarian beliefs as such enforced by three saints of the Church known as the Cappadocian Fathers (St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nanzanius,and St. Gregory of Nyssa). As mentioned before, subsequent to the Council of Nicaea, Arianism did not simply disappear. The semi-Arians taught that the Son is of like substance with the Father (homoiousios) while the outright Arians who taught that the Son was not like the Father. So the Son was held to be like the Father but not of the same essence as the Father.

The Cappadocian Fathers fought extensively for the Orthodox cause. In their writings they made extensive use of the formula “three substances (hypostases) in one essence (ousia),” and thus firmly acknowledged a distinction between the Father and the Son, but at the same time maintained their essential unity – a formula that was not as clear earlier during the time of the Nicene Council. Thus, the formula “Three Hypostases in one Ousia” came to be everywhere accepted as an epitome of the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

I understand that the vocabulary may be new and new and daunting to many people in our faith – but I am hoping throughout the course of time we can all gain a better understanding of what was realized. It is important we learn this as understanding the true nature of the Godhead constitutes better understanding of our faith. Since we are followers of Christ, we must of have an understanding of whom we are worshiping. Since it is easy to distort the truth with Scripture, we must rely on those who meditated and examined Scripture with guidance of the Church and who kept and preserved her ways – the Church Fathers. In a modern world today where being spiritually uplifted takes precedence over theological understanding, we must not forget our roots and we must realize the importance of (Orthodox) theology.