…God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father…
We utter those words at every Mass, words as familiar as the backs of our own hands, and sometimes just as taken for granted. Intellectually we know that every word of the Creed is there for a purpose. We know that saints have given their lives defending the truth of those words. But without the point of reference history gives us, a dry, academic understanding of the Creed fails to burn it very deeply into our hearts.
It is St. Leander of Seville that we have to thank for the inclusion of the Nicene Creed in Mass, and St. Leander we have to thank for the triumph of Catholicism over Arianism in Spain.
Born in Hispania in 534, Leander grew up in an area soaked in the Arian heresy. The nobility and king of the region were Visigoths, who held that Christ was a created being, something made by, and inferior to, God the Father. Leander’s family, however, were faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and Leander grew up to become the bishop of Seville.
The persecution of Catholics under Visigoth rule had as much to do with politics as it did theology. Liuvigild, the ruler of Hispania, found his kingdom precariously sandwiched between the Catholic Merovingian rulers to the north, and the Byzantine emperor to the south. Catholics in Hispania represented enemies at the gate, though in Seville they were more or less tolerated.
As bishop, Leander had access to Princess Ingunthis, a Catholic from the north, who had come to wed Liuvigild’s son Hermegild. Together, bishop and princess prayed for the conversion of Hermegild, which not only occurred, but also resulted in the heir to Hispania going to war with his father over Liuvigild’s heretical beliefs.
During this civil war, Leander was exiled by the king, and went to Byzantium, where he continued his fight against Arianism and met the future Pope Gregory the Great.
Back in Hispania, Hermegild was captured and martyred by his father. Eventually, the old king died, and Leander returned to him homeland, where he helped convert Liuvigild’s next heir, Reccared. Upon his return, Leander also called together the Third Council of Toledo, which saw the Visigoths of Hispania finally rejecting Arianism, and returning to the fullness of the Faith.
Far from resting easy at this point, Leander spent the remainder of his days shoring up the faith, making sure that Arianism could make no inroads to the hearts of Hispania’s people. To this end, the tireless bishop introduced the practice of saying the Nicene Creed at Mass, so the faithful could constantly be reminded that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity was not a creation, but rather co-creator with the Father.