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Category: Contemporary
Date Published: March 18, 2014
Number of Pages: 172
Print Price: $17.00
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In November of 2011 the Catholic Church began using a new translation for certain parts of the Catholic Liturgy that included a change in the language of the Nicene Creed. Such a shift from the use of the words, “One in Being with the Father,” to “consubstantial with the Father,” caused hardly a tremor in the Catholic Church. Other than a few weeks of awkwardness with the word change, the Nicene Creed that had survived unchanged since the time of the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople as the standard of faith was taken as a matter of course and for granted by many who profess such a faith in Christ. Missing from this word change that took place in the 21st century was the dialogue and intensity of conviction that helped to formulate such a basis of faith that has had a profound impact on the Church, human history and civilization.

Frank Spinella in his book, Heresy: A Novel, introduces the reader to the fabric of belief and the intricacies of conversations pertaining to faith that permeated the Christian community at the dawn of the Christian Era. The need to grapple with the major foundations of faith, such as the unique understanding of who Christ is and how the Church came to that understanding, is wonderfully presented in a manner that brings to life the pages of history and a faithful community’s response to answer the question that Christ asks of his apostles and all of us: “Who do you say I am?”

What we so casually and nonchalantly proclaim each Sunday as we profess the Nicene Creed was for people of the fourth century, like Arius, Athanasius, Alexander and Constantine, a passionate and critical clash of wills and belief. We of the Christian faith today could not imagine the risk and the dangers that belief in Christ subjected a faithful man or woman to at that time. Words held great power and significance for belief and the expression of that belief. One would be willing to die for the words that gave flesh to the embodiment of the Christian story and faith all centered on the person of Jesus Christ and the answer to the question, “Who do you say I am?”

Persecution, heresy and excommunication were significant issues for the early Church. In spite of the suffering, turmoil and theological posturing they enabled the fledgling community of believers to codify their understanding of Jesus Christ and permitted the Christian community to grow, expand and influence the world to this very day.

The lighthouse of Alexandria and the vastness of the sea that the lighthouse surveys and controls, provide the backdrop for the author’s invitation to consider the magnitude of what the Council of Nicaea had to consider.  How does one give definition to the Mystery of God and how does one explain the mind of God in fifty words or less so that the human mind can comprehend the enormity of the unexplainable? The lighthouse, I sense, represents this search for Truth; and the sea recalls for human beings their limitations in defining and understanding God.

Each of the characters, well known to the Christian journey of faith, grapples with his or her own faith convictions and then tries to translate such into a comprehensive form of belief that can be embraced by the multitudes of believers then and throughout the ages to come. Frank Spinella gives us a chair and invites us to sit as an observer to the Council as it deals with matters political, social, personal, religious and faith oriented. They must overcome individual animosity, deception of the truth and the burden of culture and history to define in language what can only be understood by the symbols of faith that are translated by one’s life and heart.

Living in a society of constant chatter, talking points and an unbroken stream of words tweeted around the globe, words have little impact today as we focus not on listening but on speaking. The Council of Nicea and the arguments and the theological sparring it produced reintroduces us to the wonder of language, the importance of dialogue and a deeper appreciation of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.  They are about the Word being spoken and, when spoken, the world comes into being and God becomes one of us.

In the fourth century, men like Athanasius and Arius spent hours and days studying the Scriptures, seeking a deeper understanding of who this Jesus was. They studied His impact on history and how we, today, evolved into an understanding and experience of the Christ of faith. Such did not come easily to the early Christians.  Spinella presents the struggles that people of faith are willing to engage in as a sign of faith, belief and, ultimately, commitment and faithfulness.

In spite of the human frailty and personal agendas of those committed to the deepening of our understanding of Jesus from Nazareth, the book offers insights into the theological and philosophical arguments that display a richness of faith. Such a faith is indeed a living organism and guided by the Spirit.  It was promised by Christ and given a concrete form and basis by men and women of millennia past. We benefit from this work today and sadly take it for granted.

This novel is a panoramic view of the tensions that develop when culture and faith clash. This is a story of the Christian Church, suddenly free, coming to grasp with the enormity of the task presented, which was to define the belief which, for nearly three centuries, people have given their lives. In this view we get a glimpse of the exchange between the saintly Anthony of the Desert and Athanasius who seeks out the hermit for some sage and holy advice. He is only given what we ourselves receive and that is our search for God, which begins, “Why, within your own heart, of course. God reveals himself to those who truly seek him: but we must do so in the proper spirit”.

The words of the Nicene Creed remain just that, words, unless one allows God to reveal Himself. Reading this novel, I developed a sensitivity and appreciation for the men and women who in deep faith responded to the challenges that they faced as they struggled to become authentic witnesses. The philosophical, theological and scriptural language that is used by the author leaves one with the feeling of immense gratitude, not to the participants of the Council alone, but to the gracious guidance of the Holy Spirit that enabled these ordinary men to respond to an extraordinary challenge.

This novel reminds me of the phrase, “The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.” The language, and as our author states, the nuances of parsing the letter of the law with the spirit of faith leaves me with a new found respect for those who have gone before us in that faith. I also have a deeper appreciation for the power of grace to inspire us to pull back the veil of Divinity and to transcend beyond language and words and allow God to reveal who He is not through chatter but listening.

I would recommend this book for its faithful expression of an ancient faith that should cause any believer who reads this to profess the Nicene Creed with renewed vigor, understanding, passion and gratitude.

ISBN-13: 978-1625645364
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions:

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Brother Richard Contino, OSF, has been a member of the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn since 1993. As a religious educator, he has taught on the high school level in both New York and North Carolina. He is also a member of the leadership Council for his religious community, the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn and also serves his fellow brothers in his capacity as Director of Formation. Brother has published two books: These Sacred Days; Walking with Jesus through the Sacred Triduum and To the Stable; Encounters on the Way to Bethlehem. Currently working on a third book on a subject close to his heart, that on the life of Saint Francis.

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