Square Zero

A Brand New, Fancy Jesus

Posted by Eric (May 3, 2006 at 12:08 pm)

Original by Fr. Tom LoyaYesterday I dropped by the Borders in Champaign, IL after a special Divine Liturgy there to pick up Rod Dreher’s book Crunchy Cons (more on that in a future post). While roaming around the store looking for Dreher’s book I saw no fewer than three editions of The Da Vinci Code, including a thick, new “Illustrated Edition.” There were also several books on the so-called Gospel of Judas, and a number of other books purporting to tell us the “true story” of Jesus.

What all these books have in common, of course, is the consoling news that Jesus is not who the canonical gospels say he is, the Son of God who is one with God the Father, through whom the Father sends forth his Holy Spirit to transform the world. I suppose nothing so capsulizes the hubris of this age than such books, which claim to have discovered the “truth” about Jesus that was somehow hidden from his disciples and their closest friends, those who wrote the first “True Story of Jesus” books—the ones you’ll find in the New Testament.

As it happened, yesterday was the Feast of St. Athanasius, the Eastern Father who did battle with the heretic Arius and his followers who, like these modern authors, denied the divinity of Christ. Beholding the alarmingly popular works of these new Arians, I felt a sort of sympathy for Arius himself, oddly enough.

Arius, for all of his tremendous pride and pernicious influence, at least a Christian of sorts. He did not worship Jesus Christ as God, but he did confess the truth of His words, and that He spoke on behalf of the father. The Arians composed hymns—quite beautiful ones, we are told—based on their faulty theology. The Arians made the fatal mistake of trying to make comprehensible to mortal minds the incomprehensible mystery of the incarnation, but they were at least seeking to know and understand the person of Christ in pursuit of the spiritual good of their souls.

These new authors seem to be seeking nothing but fortune and fame, most of them capitalizing on Dan Brown’s success to sell books on their bizarre, unfounded theories about Jesus. If they have any purpose other than personal gain, it is to damage or destroy the Church. Arius thought he was serving the Church with his views on Christ, and ultimately a parellel Arian Church was established which persisted into the Early Middle Ages before being reabsorbed in the the Catholic Church.

That the Arian Church could not survive is a testament to the faultiness of Arius’ Christology. Devotion to a purely human Jesus did not prove to have the transformative power over individual lives and societies that orthodoxy. The “superman” Jesus did little to check the barbarism or soften the hearts of the Gothic tribes where Arianism held sway. Only orthodoxy could do that.

This twenty-first century Arianism will fail as well. It offers even less than the Arianism of the fourth century—not even any beautiful hymns to distract the faithful from its empty Jesus. The new Arianism will no doubt do a great deal of damage first—its whole purpose seems to be to ensure us that we need not honor the demands of conscience instilled by orthodox Christianity, that we can admire the man Jesus without having to be transformed by Christ God.

For a response to all this Jesus revisionism, I recommend Luke Timothy Johnson’s excellent little 1997 book, The Real Jesus : The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels.

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One Response to “A Brand New, Fancy Jesus”

  1. Charles Curtis says:


    I just read one of your posts on the thread over at beliefnet discussing Rod’s possible conversion to Orthodoxy. You mention a scholar friend of yours working on reconciling Aquinas and Palamas. I am extremely interested in this topic. Has he published anything? Is there any work of his on this that he would be willing to share? Could he provide a bibliography? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, or if you could give me his email or some other means to contact him, I would be very grateful.

    Thanks for your help.

    Charles Curtis

    Comment posted May 6th, 2006 at 1:17 pm