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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
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LIARS IN THE CHURCH

EVERY YEAR, ON JANUARY 2, the Church celebrates the feast of two friends-St Basil the Great and St Gregory Nazianzen.  Both were born in 330.  St Basil was Bishop of Caesarea before his death on January 1, 379, while St Gregory Nazianzen was Bishop of Constantinople when he died on January 25, 389 or 390. 

St Gregory spoke of their friendship in his Oration 43 entitled In Praise of Basil the Great.  He said: "Basil and I were both in Athens.  We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it." 

Both were eminent in their saintliness, intelligence and eloquence which they put at the service of the Church, at the service of teaching right doctrine and refuting error.  It was in their time that a group emerged in the Church known as "Fighters of the Holy Spirit", so called because they denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.  For Fighters of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit is a creature and should neither be adored nor glorified.  It would be the lot of Basil the Great, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzen-the three are known by scholars of early Christianity as Cappadocian Fathers-to refute the error of the Fighters of the Holy Spirit. 

The objective of the Fighters of the Holy Spirit was to deny the divinity of the Son.  Their strategy was to deny the divinity of the Son by denying the divinity of the Holy Spirit.  The response of the Cappadocian Fathers-Basil and the two Gregorys-was to say that whoever denied the Spirit denied the Son, and whoever denied the Son denied the Father.  Therefore, to deny the Holy Spirit is to deny the whole Trinity.

In 381, the Church Council of Constantinople was assisted by the writings of the three Cappadocian Fathers.  That Council gave us the article of faith in the Nicene Creed which says: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified."

It is significant that the First Reading in the Mass of January 2, on the memorial of Saints Basil and Gregory Nazianzen, is taken from the First Letter of John. The Letter was written two centuries before the Cappadocian Fathers.  The Cappadocian Fathers refuted the error of those who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.  The First Letter of John was written in response to those who denied the Son by denying that he came in the flesh.  It describes whoever denied the Son as a liar, and it says that whoever denied the Son denied the Father.  The author wrote: "Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?  This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.  No one who denies the Son has the Father.  He who confesses the Son has the Father also" (1 Jn 2:22-23).

We all know that a liar is someone who does not bear witness to the truth.  What he says is not a reflection of what he has in mind.  His word contradicts his thought.  If a liar says, "Good morning," take a good look at your watch.  His actions do not reflect but contradict what he has in mind.  He may pretend to be nice.  But he is not.  He is like the politician as described by Niccolo Machiavelli who does not have to be good but only needs to pretend to be good.  What you see in him is not what you get.

What is intriguing about those the author of the First Letter of John called liars is that they were Christian members of the community of the author.  They belonged to the same Church.  They were Christians who denied the Son, and who, by so doing denied the Father.  One is permitted to wonder: how can Christians deny the Son and end up denying the Father?

The answer is not farfetched.  Those Christians denied the Father and the Son because they did not keep to true teaching.  That is why the First Letter of John continues: "Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you.  If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father" (1 Jn 2:23-24). What you have heard inthebeginning is the true teaching.  Let true teaching remain in you.  Do not go about looking for people who would make you stray from the path of true teaching.  For if you stray from the way of true teaching while you still call yourself a Christian, if you abandon the way of the Gospel and still call yourself a Christian, then you are a liar.  If you stray from the way of the Gospel, you deny the Father and the Son.  And if you deny the Father and the Son but still call yourself Christian, you are a liar.

The teaching of the First Letter of John remains relevant in our days.  The one who does not deny Christ bears witness to Christ.  He is a true Christian.  The one who claims to be Christian but does not bear witness to him is a liar.  And there are many of such even in the Church in our time. 

You can only bear witness to someone if you know the person.  You cannot bear witness to Christ if you do not know Christ.  There are many who claim to know Christ.  But they do not know him.  If you say: I am Christian, I am Catholic, I am even charismatic, you are claiming to know Christ.  But do you really know him? If you truly know him, you will bear witness to him.  And the sign that you know Christ is when you keep God's commandments.  Whoever says he knows Christ but does not keep his commandments is a liar.  He claims to be Christian.  But he does not bear witness to Christ.  He says one thing.  But he means the opposite.  That is why he is a liar.  He is a Christian in name but not in deed.  That is why he is a liar.

The liar is the one who denies the truth.  Jesus is the truth.  Whoever denies the truth denies Jesus even if he says he is Christian.  The one who denies Jesus bears witness against Jesus.  The mission of John the Baptist is the mission of the Christian.  It is to bear witness to Christ by bearing witness to the truth.  If we call ourselves Christians but fail to bear witness to the truth we are liars.

Falsehood destroys persons.  It destroys families and nations.  When what I say is untrue, and I say it willfully and deceitfully, I make the world a difficult place.  But many are afraid of bearing witness to the truth, afraid of what will be lost by speaking the truth, attracted to what will be gained by telling lies.  I must ask myself as a Christian: what do I say about Jesus before the world?  What do I say by my way of life?  Is it not the case that our country Nigeria broke down because of falsehood? 

We talk of fuel scarcity.  But before our fuel scarcity there was and there still is truth scarcity.  There are many Christians in Nigeria.  But there is a scarcity of witnesses.  There is a scarcity of people who will stand up for what is right.  And even when we claim to stand up for what is right, it is quite often what suits our selfish interests, or the interests of our friends.  Our fuel scarcity is fueled by truth scarcity, and many Christians are complicit.  Such are liars in the Church.  We can retrace our steps.  We must retrace our steps.  And that will make a positive difference.

-REV. FR ANTHONY AKINWALE O.P

Email:frakinwale@aol.com

 


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