Saint Hilary of Poitiers said, “I will not endure to hear that Christ was born of Mary unless I also hear, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.'” Today we read the Prologue of John’s Gospel and it is an important part of faith in the Incarnation. Christmas has so much humanity about it, and yet we must make an act of faith to be lifted into the true meaning of Christmas. We can tell from John’s first letter how important the truth is, and how tempting it can be to depart from the truth. The “latest Christian breakthrough” should never be something we consent to without “testing the spirits.” Saint Hilary was fighting against those who wanted to reject the Divinity of Christ over a thousand years ago. That’s a heresy we refer to now as Arianism, and even though we could say that we’ve “dealt with it” at this point in the Church’s history, Arianism was very popular for hundreds of years and the same ideas resurfaced in the wake of Protestantism. Even today, the Jehovah’s Witnesses espouse similar principals. The temptation to look at Christmas as a very touching human story of a birth of a religious teacher that took place under adverse circumstances, is the same temptation of Arianism. What’s important about the birth of Jesus Christ is who He really is: God, the Son of God.
I remember leading an Alpha Group at a Community College in Laredo, Texas over ten years ago. A young man came to the group regularly and participated in the discussions. One evening we were discussing the question “who is Jesus?” I remember him saying, “Jesus was probably the wisest man who ever lived, he was extremely intelligent. He managed to get so many people to follow his teachings from all over the world and over thousands of years.” I suggested to him that maybe Jesus was smart enough to actually be God. We can recognize the wonderful human qualities of Jesus, but if we don’t believe that He is God we don’t have faith. I asked some grade school CCE kids one time in front of their religion teacher if Jesus is God. They told me, “NO! He’s the Son of God.” Probably an honest mistake, but that’s exactly what Arianism says.
We have the teaching about the eternal generation of the Word in John’s prologue. Not only was the Word of God born in time when He took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, He was also “born – begotten” from God the Father before time began. At Christmas we celebrate both of these births because the one that was hidden before time was revealed and made visible in His birth from Mary. St. John cautions us about anti-Christs because an anti-Christ has to start as a Christian but then deny that it is actually God the Word who lived among us in the flesh. Denying that Jesus is actually Divine is something of a temptation for Christians. Worldliness and an attachment to this passing world contributes to that temptation. God became one of us so that we might live divine lives – filled with the Spirit of God – not so that we might justify all that contributes to an earthly kingdom and what is most mundane about being human. The Word did not become flesh so that we would admire His hair or his beard, but rather that we would admire who He is and yearn to know our Father.
DIDYMUS THE BLIND:
These things are not said of all who teach false doctrine but only of those who join a false sect after they have heard the truth. It is because they were once Christians that they are now called antichrists.1
It is possible that John calls this the last hour because in it we have reached the limits of what evil can do. For since the coming of the Savior the world has been upset by great evils caused by the devil, either as a way of testing the good or as a way of confusing those who are better still, so that they will no longer know the difference between good and evil. Therefore he calls this the last hour, because things cannot get any worse than they are now. This interpretation is supported by what he goes on to say about the antichrist.2
It seems to us that all who appear to be good and faithful ought to receive the gift of final perseverance. God, however, has judged it better to mingle some who will not persevere with the certain number of his saints, so that those for whom security in the temptations of this life is not helpful cannot be secure.3
John says that the antichrists have gone out from us but then adds the comforting words that they were never really with us beforehand. In fact, he is saying that no one except an antichrist would even leave us, for those who are not against Christ will cling to his body. In the body of Christ there are those who are still being healed and who will not be fully well again until the resurrection of the dead. But there are also others who are malignant tumors, and when they are removed the body is spared. Thus it is that the departure of such people is of great benefit to the church.4
I think that John’s Gospel, which you have enjoined us to examine to the best of our ability, is the firstfruits of the Gospels. It speaks of him whose descent is traced and begins from him who is without a genealogy.… The greater and more perfect expressions concerning Jesus are reserved for the one who leaned on Jesus’ breast. For none of the other Gospels manifested his divinity as fully as John when he presented him saying, “I am the light of the world,” “I am the way and the truth and the life,” “I am the resurrection,” “I am the door,” “I am the good shepherd.” … We might dare say then that the Gospels are the firstfruits of all Scripture but that the firstfruits of the Gospels is that according to John whose meaning no one can understand who has not leaned on Jesus’ breast or received Mary from Jesus to be his mother also.5
There are two births of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one divine, the other human.… Consider that first begetting: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Whose Word? The Father’s own. Which Word? The Son himself. The Father has never been without the Son; and yet the one who has never been without the Son begot the Son. He both begot and yet did not begin to do so. There is no beginning for one begotten without beginning. And yet he is the Son, and yet he is begotten. A mere human is going to say, “How is it that he is begotten, and yet he does not have a beginning? If he does not have a beginning, how was he begotten?” How, I do not know. Are you asking a mere human how God was begotten? I am overwhelmed by your questioning, but I appeal to the prophet: “His begetting who can tell the tale of?”6
HILARY OF POITIERS:
I will not endure to hear that Christ was born of Mary unless I also hear, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.”7
- COMMENTARY ON 1 JOHN. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (pp. 186–187). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON 1 JOHN. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 187). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON THE GIFT OF PERSEVERANCE 8.19. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 187). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON 1 JOHN. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 188). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 1.21–23. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2006). John 1–10 (pp. 2–3). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 196.1. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2006). John 1–10 (p. 3). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON THE COUNCILS 27.70. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2006). John 1–10 (p. 3). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.