What a wonderful gift Mel Gibson has given to us. Talk about unintended consequences!
It’s not what he had in mind, to be sure. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that he has gotten more people talking about theology than the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species. People are actually taking a look at ‘the origin of the Trinity,’ and they’re often very surprised to discover that Gibson’s theology is rooted in a controversial debate at the Council of Nicea, in the year 325 C.E.
Mel Gibson is a self-described conservative, old-school Roman Catholic. He believes that Jesus is the Christ-the long-awaited Messiah foretold by the Hebrew people, and proclaimed by most of the 300 bishops at the Council of Nicea. They had the biggest debate over the smallest letter. The word homoousias means ‘of the same substance.’ The word homoiousias means ‘of similar substance.’ (Substance, in Greek, is the stuff that God is made of.) Jesus is God, v. Jesus is God-like.
Those who argued for the word homoousias were insisting that Jesus and God are ‘one and the same,’ that there was never a time that Jesus did not exist. Jesus, they argued, was actually God, taking on human flesh, to offer Himself as a sacrifice-the kind brought to the sacrificial altar in\ the Temple. They said, if Christ was not God, then his death for sin was useless, for only God can forgive sins.
At Nicea, Bishop Arius argued against the same-substance doctrine, saying that Jesus was created by God, was the Son of God in a special sense, but there was a time when Jesus did not exist. I think that most Christians, agreeing with Arius, believe that God created Jesus at a point in time and sent him.
Those accused of the Arian heresy were called Unitarians! Only two other bishops sided with Arius–all three were excommunicated. Constantine wrote a letter to the bishops, urging them to put an end to the debate, saying, in part, that the homoousias v. homoiousias debate was, “quarrelling about small and very trifling matters.” He didn’t understand its importance.
Gibson and I agree on only one thing: it’s not ‘a small and trifling matter.’ Gibson believes that Jesus was God. I don’t. I believe that Jesus was completely human-his suffering was human suffering, which we all share. It comes with the human package. God, by definition, is immortal.
Gibson has stirred up the old controversy. William Safire says, “Mel Gibson ‘s movie about the torture and agony of the final hours of Jesus is the bloodiest, most brutal example of sustained sadism ever presented on the screen.” Maureen Dowd calls Gibson’s film, “Stations of the Crass.” James Carroll calls it ‘obscene.’ A friend who is a Catholic priest wrote to me, ” Deep down I really feel that only a Catholic can love this movie-and an old-time Catholic at that.” He said he loved the film, but as a piece of inspiring art. “The violence becomes more and more a Jackson Pollack canvas.”
I’ve won’t impugn Mel Gibson’s motives. He’s entitled to his religious beliefs. He’s helping us to look into the Biblical roots of anti-Semitism. He didn’t intend that, either. The Biblical story blames the Jews for Deicide, and in recent years most Christians have tried to teach their believers that it’s wrong to blame Jews for the death of Christ. Unintended consequence: Gibson goes to seminary!
This is the longest introduction to an up-coming sermon I’ve ever given. Thanks, Mel. We’ll continue on Sunday. I hope to see you, and I hope you’re feeling better, now.