…God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father
By Larry Peterson
Why do we have the Nicene Creed in the Mass and why are the words above so significant for us? Let’s face it, most of us do not know the Nicene Creed by heart. We should because it is about the faith we proclaim to be part of. The truth is, if we did not have the prayer cards or missalettes with the words to follow, we would be somewhat lost. Maybe it is time to find out a little bit more about some of the words we babble during Mass while having no idea what they signify.
First, we should meet St. Leander of Seville. Most of us have never heard of him but he was the man who probably saved Catholicism from the Arian heresy. Leander was born in Seville (Spain) in 534 A.D. His family was of noble origin and well connected. Leander was the oldest of two brothers and one sister, all of whom became saints. St. Isidore became Bishop of Seville, St. Fulgentius, the Bishop of Cartagena, and his sister, St. Florentina, became an abbess with over 1000 sisters under her direction.
St. Leander began his faith journey by entering a Benedectine monastery as a monk. He proved to be a model of piety and applied himself diligently to learning. In the year 579, he was elevated to the episcopal see of Seville becoming the Bishop of Seville. Leander practiced penance and lived a life of austerity. He continued doing the same thing as Bishop.
During this time, the Visigoths controlled part of Spain. They were barbaric Arians and spread their errors wherever they could. They controlled the Iberian Peninsula and the entire area had been subjected to the Arian heresy for over 170 years. (Arianism dispensed with the teaching of the Holy Trinity basically saying that God is self-existent and He created His son who is NOT self-existent—see link). This had become widespread heretical teaching and Leander, as bishop, immediately began to defend the true meaning of the Trinity).
Bishop Leander, devoting his efforts to God and the Holy Spirit, was relentless in his attacks against Arianism. He even managed to convert, Hermenegild, the king’s eldest son. King Leovigild, the Visigoth King, was furious at his son’s conversion. He had Leander exiled from Seville and condemned his own son to death. The king martyred his own son because of pride.
After some time, King Leovigild sought forgiveness and recalled Leander back to Spain. He asked him if we would teach his son, Reccared, the actual teachings of the Church. Reccared studied and became a Catholic, helping Bishop Leander to convert the rest of King Leovigild’s subjects.
Arianism was like a virus that had been spreading for over 170 years. The Visigoths were really not pagans as many think. Before invading Spain, the Arian heresy had been circulated among them by a man named Ulfilas. When the Visigoth tribes invaded Spain, they had already been infected with Arianism. All the invaders knew the teaching and it was easy to spread it among the unsuspecting people they had conquered.
When Reccared ascended to the throne, he made it a point to help Leander establish actual church teaching. Leander was a key figure in the Third Council of Toledo. This is the Council where King Reccared, accepted the Catholic faith and declared Arius and Arianism, anathema. The King’s conversion was the reason for many bishops and people to accept Catholicism which was established as the state religion. Arianism disappeared from Spain forever.
St. Leander was not only the primary force in bringing Spain back to the church; he also reformed the liturgy in Spain, adding the Nicene Creed. This was done to make it clear that the Catholic faith did NOT in any way embrace Arianism. If you read the words at the beginning of this essay carefully, you will see why. “Consubstantial with the Father” the word “Consubstantial” means of one and the same substance, essence, or nature.
We say it aloud every Sunday and Holy Day at Mass. We shoud never forget what it means.
St. Leander of Seville, we thank you and ask for you to pray for us all.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2020