It’s Greek To Me – Part II

Arius Was History’s Biggest Loser

Moderator: Well folks let’s keep moving on. Now it’s time hear from our next speaker, Arius. He may have represented most of the Christians of his era but that didn’t keep him from losing his debate with Athanasius. What a shock it must have been to the majority of believers to wake up one morning and discover they had become a heretics overnight! That’s how it goes when your side loses and Arius lost for everyone when he lost to Athanasius! Let’s give a real All-Stars welcome to one of history’s biggest losers, Arius of Alexandria!

Arius’ Writings Were Confiscated, Banned and Burned

The Audience: Tepid applause. One heckler shouted, “I hope you’ve come to your senses Arius!” Another yelled, “It’s a good thing you’re already dead Arius! Otherwise we’d probably have to take care of that for you!”

Arius:  Hello everyone! It is so nice to see you again too! I think you all know the Reunion organizers asked me to take part in this panel discussion as the official ambassador for the ancient theological term homoiousios! I was hoping passions and tempers had cooled down a little since Nicea but maybe not! By the way, I put some of my writings on the back table but I see they’ve already been confiscated so please feel free to distort and censor my comments in any way you like!

Was Jesus Subordinate to His Father?

Quoting Jesus can get you in a lot of trouble! If you stop and think about Jesus’ statement “My Father is greater than I” it doesn’t look like there is any co-equality between the Father and the Son does it? Jesus actually said a lot of things that showed how much He was submitted to His Father’s will.  I know it upsets some people to say that the Father is greater than the Son but it didn’t upset Jesus! It’s pretty clear that’s what He believed. Jesus is the Son of God, the Lamb of God and our Savior, Redeemer and Lord. He is the Messiah and even more, but He is not co-equal with the Father! You can’t create co-equality without homoousious and you can’t create the Trinity without co-equality! That’s why I wasn’t too fond of it… even if it is Athanasius’ favorite word.

Audience:  Heresy! Nonsense! Blasphemy! Why should we even listen to him?

Is Denying Homoousious a Damnable Heresy?

Athanasius: Damnation Arius! Yes damnation upon you and your damnable ideas and your damnable words! If you deny Homoousious you have denied Jesus’ co-equality with the Father! And to deny homoousious is to deny our beloved Trinity! If I had a good stick I’d smite you on the head right now!

Arius: Hold on a minute Ath! I thought we were having a panel discussion and I’m not done talking yet! Don’t you think you should at least hear me out? I want to talk a little about homoiosious and why so many theologians thought it was a pretty good word before and even after the Council in Nicea.

Athanasius: We’ve heard enough Arius! … and don’t call me Ath! I don’t like it.

The Audience: That’s right Arius! He’s not your Ath, he’s our Ath and don’t you forget it!

Athanasius: What say ye everyone? Shall we give him the brass boot of fellowship and send him packing?  Ignore everything he just said! Why I’ve got half a mind to read the Athanasian Creed out loud right now. That way you can all remember how you are supposed to think just in case anyone has forgotten!

The Audience: Great idea! Go ahead Athanasius! Lay it on us!

Athanasius:  (Blushing) Well alright then if you insist. Here goes…

                                     The Athanasian Creed

“ Whoever wants to be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic (universal) faith; which faith unless everyone keeps it whole and undefiled, without doubt he will perish everlastingly. We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such, is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father infinite, the Son infinite, and the Holy Spirit infinite. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated, nor three infinites, but one uncreated, and one infinite. So likewise, the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Spirit Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet there are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise, the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For as we are compelled by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say “There are three Gods, or three Lords.” The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So, there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity, none is before, or after, another. None is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as was said before, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.”

Pragmatticus thought it sounded like puffed up nonsense and tried not to laugh.

Meticulous said:  That doesn’t sound at all like scripture! Ideas like Divine Substance and Homoousious don’t have anything to do with the Bible!

Arius said: That’s what I’ve been trying to say! Jesus Himself didn’t believe in this co-equality stuff so why should we?

What Does Jesus Think of the Athanasian Creed?

Jesus had not been consulted about the Athanasian Creed and some attendees thought they heard Him say, “My Father is greater than I.”

The Apostle Paul protested:  “Beware lest men spoil you with philosophy and vain deceit! To us there is one God, the Father! There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus!”

The Apostle Peter said:  Amen!

The Nicene Creed Caused a Lot of Trouble

Athanasius: Got red in the face then jumped out of his seat and started choking Arius. This started the legendary Panel Discussion Brawl at the All Stars Reunion.

Emperor Constantine: Showed up just as Athanasius started choking Arius. He had finally been released from custody!  He was a little confused and behind schedule because his medications were slowing him down a bit. When he saw the ruckus starting it reminded him of Nicea and he shouted, “This is just like the good old days!”

Many thought the ugly conflicts resulting from the Athanasian Creed  were unfortunate and deeply embarrassing. These “doubtful disputations” were an ugly blemish on the faith!

A few claimed they heard Jesus say:  “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if you have love one to another.”

Sally the Servant Girl took it on the chin again and fell to the floor in a heap.

Pragmatticus finally had enough and just started cussing.

Hotel Security Guards did their best to restore order.

And then the Moderator said: This concludes our panel discussion. Will someone please call 911? I think Sally is hurt! We want to thank you all for coming and would like to invite everyone to the fellowship hall for refreshments as soon as the fighting stops!

PS: We wonder if the Athanasian Creed seemed so weak to its authors that the only way to protect it was by burning and banning the writings of those who disagreed. Was it really necessary or even remotely Christian to sentence people to death for reading opposing ideas? That’s what it took though to establish the primacy of trinitarian doctine in the church. We don’t think Biblical truths are confirmed by majority votes in councils or by violence either.

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes

History’s Most Famous Heretic

 

Arius Was Called the Father of All Heretics!

The time had finally come for one of history’s biggest losers to get a little recognition! Arius of Alexandria was certainly considered heretical and was even known as the “father of all heretics”. His adversaries liked to call his followers “Ariomaniacs”! It is hard to know exactly what he believed since all of his original writings were burned on the orders of Constantine. Some people, however, think there is a slight chance he may have been right about a few things! The Awards Committee thought giving him a Wordy award was altogether in order.

Arius Had Been Censored and Silenced

Many felt it was time at last to give Arius the chance to speak for himself! He had been vilified, silenced and censored for so long that it just didn’t seem fair to keep it up. After all, Arius was already dead, like all the other theologians at the Allstars Reunion!  Like them, he came to the reunion by special permission from God!  Why not give him an opportunity to express himself? What harm could there possibly be in giving him an award?

Maybe Arius Wasn’t Completely Evil?

Moderator: Good evening everyone! Tonight we are going to do something that is almost unthinkable! We are going to recognize someone who has disagreed with us! Let us concede there is a very slight chance that Arius was not totally 100% wrong (just kidding!) about everything.  We all know it is unlikely he got anything right but we should at least consider the possibility. Not only that, we are even going to acknowledge that our theological adversary may not be completely evil! How’s that for being gracious!

Arius Was Theology’s Biggest Loser

We thought about it a long time before giving Arius “The Biggest Loser of All Time” Award! He was a big deal in his home town but was crushed by Athanasius at the Nicene Council. History has not been at all kind to Arius’ memory even though no one really knows what he actually believed.  Thankfully, all his writings were banned and burned after the Nicene Council to prevent the spread of his dangerously heretical ideas! The only thing we really know about his teachings is what his critics had to say about him.  Some modern commentators allege that this may have given us a slanted view but who knows?  Here to accept his consolation prize and finally speak for himself is the “Father of all Heretics”, Arius of Alexandria!

Giving Arius an Award Was Shocking!

Audience: Some clearing of throats. Awkward silence with undertones of murmuring. An award for Arius was a shocking development!

Arius: Well my goodness! I’m as shocked as you are that I’m getting this award! It is a bit of a left-handed compliment but at least it’s better than being ignored! I never dreamed that someday I would win an award for being the biggest loser in history! All I can say is thank you!

Were Arius and Athanasius Both Heretics?

When Athanasius and I began debating homoousious and homoiousious no one had any idea how things would turn out! Constantine was a wily old devil though and all he wanted was an end to the divisions in his empire. When he finally ruled in favor of homoousious at Nicaea I knew my goose was cooked! Athanasius got his goose cooked later when Constantine changed his mind and decided I wasn’t a heretic after all! I guess it remains to be seen how God will sort all this out in eternity. Looking back, maybe none of us at Nicaea had any business being there in the first place!

The God of Israel is the Father and Jesus is His Son

There are a few issues that seem pretty clear cut. The first is that there is just one God and He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God of Israel and the scriptures call Him the Father. That was never too controversial. He had a Son named Jesus who was the promised Messiah and Anointed One, the Christ. The angel Gabriel told Mary that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and power of the Highest will overshadow you. Therefore also,  that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) That’s when things started to get confusing, especially in the minds of later Christian scholars who were well-versed in Greek Philosophy!

Arius thought “Co-equal” Was a Bunch of Nonsense

Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is there is just one God. “Hear O Israel the Lord our God is One!” That was His creed and it is called the Shema. He also claimed to only say and do what his Father taught him and was pretty straightforward about it. When he said “My Father is greater than I” I believed him!  My theory was we should just take him at his word! That’s why I said the whole idea of Jesus being co-equal with the Father was a bunch of nonsense. Needless to say, that didn’t go over very well with Athanasius and his cronies! They had other ideas!

The Majority of Believers Were Excommunicated!

Next thing you know I was banished, excommunicated and labeled a heretic! Most Christians at the time believed like I did so they all became heretics too! We thought it was pretty strange that one day we were the majority of believers and then boom! Almost overnight we all became heretics! Constantine didn’t really care one way or another. All he wanted was peace and he thought a creed approved by majority vote in Niceae would do the trick. Athanasius just wanted to win the debate and he sure did. That doesn’t mean he won God’s approval though! We’ll just have to wait until Jesus returns to find out about that.

 

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes

 




 

The Christian Sanhedrin

The Jewish Sanhedrin Bungled Jesus’ Case!

When Athanasius spoke on the topic of tradition we thought he had settled everything once and for all, but no! There were still some holdouts lurking around the Reunion who were plainly at odds with the majority view.  It was clear that something had to be done! The Reunion organizers were in a real pickle until someone suggested taking a close look at the Jewish Sanhedrin. Admittedly, the Sanhedrin definitely bungled the situation with Jesus. Other than that, they had run things in Israel unopposed for a very long time. If Jesus hadn’t come along they would likely still be in charge! Maybe it was time to take a close look at how they did it!

Would Our Speaker be Origen or Eusebius?

The Reunion Organizers considered having Origen speak on maintaining order since he was so bright and well known. Eusebius though, was the final choice even though many thought he was just Constantine’s flunky. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and it sure didn’t hurt Eusebius’ career! In a strange twist of fate Eusebius and Athanasius had been fierce adversaries throughout their lifetimes. They gladly excommunicated each other whenever circumstances allowed! The possibility of fireworks between them made the atmosphere of the reunion just crackle with electricity!  Hearing from Eusebius so soon after Athanasius had spoken promised to be truly exciting.

Eusebius Was a Famous Church Historian

Moderator: We have the rare pleasure tonight of hearing from one of the church’s most important and well-known historians! Eusebius of Caesarea is our speaker and I’m sure you will be most interested in what he has to say. Even though it is well known that Eusebius and Athanasius were enemies, Eusebius has promised not to say anything derogatory about Athanasius.  He has also agreed not to excommunicate Athanasius tonight so let’s all relax and give a warm welcome to Eusebius of Caesarea!

Audience: Respectful applause.

The Jewish Sanhedrin Was Powerful

Eusebius: Thank you! Thank you! It is such a pleasure to be here! I want to assure you that I will not say anything nasty about Athanasius even though it sure wouldn’t hurt to tell the truth about him. If I thought his ego could take it, I’d give you an earful! Instead of talking about him let’s talk about how wonderful it is to have the authority to enforce truth and stamp out error! History reveals that was the privilege and responsibility of the Jewish Sanhedrin and of the new and improved Christian Sanhedrin too! Yes, I know there are some who would disagree that there even IS a Christian Sanhedrin but let’s talk about it.

Church Councils Are the Christian Sanhedrin!

Let me remind you that the word Sanhedrin simply means assembly or council and in Israel it had a lot of clout! It had 70 members who met at the Temple pretty much every day except the Sabbath and what they said was LAW! The members of the Sanhedrin were the undisputed rulers of religious life and of the Temple in Jerusalem. Most people knew it was not a good idea to get on the wrong side of the Sanhedrin! Things in Israel generally ran smoothly under their rule and no one dared resist their authority, at least not until Jesus stepped on the scene! He made a habit of challenging their authority and sometimes He even opposed them on their own turf and they hated Him for it!

The Sanhedrin Enforced Jewish Traditions

You may be wondering, what exactly did the Sanhedrin do? Well, its job was to make sure everyone followed the letter of the law and observed Jewish traditions in the way the Sanhedrin deemed essential.  It was a powerful force for maintaining tradition as long as there was Temple worship in Jerusalem. Its power was limited only by Rome and it couldn’t execute anyone without permission from the Roman authorities, but that was just a minor inconvenience.  Later, when the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were scattered, the Sanhedrin fell on hard times too and was finally disbanded altogether in 425 AD.

Jesus Challenged The Sanhedrin!

The chief priests who made up the Sanhedrin wanted to accuse Jesus of wrongdoing and were always trying to trap Him with trick questions.  When a woman was caught in adultery they said “The Law says we should stone her to death! What do you say?” Jesus said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” The Sanhedrin allowed concession stands to operate in the Temple but Jesus drove the vendors out with a whip! Then He turned over the tables of the money changers! They thought Jesus was determined to make them look bad! He openly challenged their opinions and rulings and they wanted to silence Him so much that they came up with a plan to kill Him. When Jesus finally acknowledged that he was the Messiah they accused Him of blasphemy and sentenced Him to death at the hands of the Roman authorities.

Church Councils Enforce Christian Traditions

The new and improved Christian version of the Sanhedrin is called a Church Council and its members are called Church Fathers. Interestingly enough the Christian Sanhedrin came into power at roughly the same time the Jewish Sanhedrin was going out of existence! The Jewish Sanhedrin is no more but the power of the Christian Sanhedrin is as great as ever! Yes, the Christian Sanhedrin only rules in absentia today but that’s still pretty impressive when you think about it! Interestingly, each group resorted to murder at the hands of civil authorities when their authority was challenged.

Jesus Got Killed for Claiming to be the Messiah

Some things never seem to change! The issue that finally got Jesus killed by the Jewish Sanhedrin was His claim to be the promised Messiah. (If He had claimed to be the second person in a triune God they would have just thought He was crazy.) This was the very same issue that got so many non-trinitarians killed by the Christian Sanhedrin. These oddballs simply believed that Jesus was their Messiah and Savior!  For some reason they did not buy the idea that He was a second “person” in God. Jesus’ simple claim to be the Messiah and Son of God (not God Himself mind you) resulted in His own death. Many of His followers have died for exactly the same reason!

Sanhedrins and Councils Should be Feared!

What is the lesson to be learned in all this? We proclaim that keepers and enforcers of tradition are to be feared and respected in every age! Those who dare to challenge religious authorities and traditions often end up dead! It would be nice if things were otherwise and you should know that killing those who disagree with us is not always our first choice! Our fondest hope is that those who dispute our theology would come to their senses. Sadly, many believers refuse to acknowledge our authority and we are sometimes left with no choice but to kill them.

The Death Penalty Protects Traditions!

Some people may need to perish in order to preserve our cherished traditions. The Jewish Sanhedrin proclaimed this very thing when they sentenced Jesus to death (John 11:50). Killing people has been shown to be an effective way to protect religious traditions!  Some believers say Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God but recklessly deny that He is of exactly the same essence as the Father! These simpletons are entitled to the severity of God but not His goodness. This may sound a little rough but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

The Christian Sanhedrin Rules in Absentia!

Many governments in modern times refuse to execute our enemies for us but there is always hope this will change! In the meantime we encourage believers to at least label those who disagree with us as heretics. Treat them with the contempt they deserve! This is about the best we can do for now. The true wisdom of our Christian Sanhedrin is shown by how long it has survived and how it continues to rule in absentia! We are still in charge and we aren’t even physically on the scene anymore!

Thank you for inviting me to speak tonight! It has been a great honor to be here with you. Is it almost time for dinner? I can’t wait to see that great buffet I’ve heard so much about!

Moderator: My goodness everyone, this has certainly been an interesting evening! We are so glad Eusebius could join us and share his unique historical insights and perspective! Who knows what might come next? Only time will tell!

PS: Are we being a little too direct here? We certainly hope not! Our motto is, “Tell it like it is” but we try to do it with kindness and humor and sometimes we even succeed! If you agree, why not tell a friend about  theologyallstars.com  and see what they think? Thanks and God Bless.

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes

The Splendor of Tradition

We all knew the Reunion would have to come to an end someday. Soon the glorious buffets and shows at Caesar’s New Palace would be closed to us forever!  Our grand Las Vegas adventure was about to end and this added an air of urgency to everything we did! An unwelcome gate crasher had showed up and even spoke against our most cherished traditions! We decided that an impassioned talk about the glory and beauty of our traditions was in order! We also wanted to make it known that anyone who did not honor our traditions would be in serious trouble!

People Create Religious Traditions!

The thing traditions have going for them (and why we like them so much) is because we make them ourselves! All you have to do is think of traditions as “do it yourself” religious projects and everything makes perfect sense. That’s why people react so violently when anyone questions their tradition because they take it as a personal attack! “Hey! That’s MY tradition you’re messing with!” And they are absolutely right… it IS their tradition.  People create traditions and people keep them going. God doesn’t generally have much to do with it. Jesus said a lot of harsh things about traditions because they are usually so contrary to God’s ways!

Religious Traditions are Serious Business!

Religious customs are no laughing matter! Traditions are way too important to question. Sometimes traditions are even more important than scripture! No kidding! This is hard for some people to figure out and there are always some who just don’t get it! The question on everyone’s mind was, “What should we do about rebels who won’t treat our dogma with the proper respect?” Our first choice was to smite them with the jawbone of an ass like Samson, but finding a good jawbone from a suitable ass isn’t easy.  Besides, most of the church fathers knew that talking an issue to death is nearly as effective. The next challenge was to figure out who was up to the job!

Jesus Didn’t Love the Traditions of Men

We thought about trying to book one of the Apostles but none of them were trinitarians so that idea fizzled out pretty quickly. No one even considered trying to get Jesus to show up to defend tradition.  He wasn’t a trinitarian either and His stand against Jewish traditions had a lot to do with getting Him crucified.

Athanasius Was the Champion of Tradition!

Someone would have to speak up for tradition and the honor eventually fell to, who else but Athanasius! He once overturned three centuries of church teaching (ie. tradition) with his own radical ideas but he was still a perennial crowd favorite. Athanasius was one of the main architects of the trinitarian dogma that had ruled Christianity for nearly two thousand years! He also knew a thing or two about building and maintaining human traditions!  He was eloquent and bold and not the least bit afraid to promote his own religious ideas in spite of the teachings of Jesus! The jawbone of everyone’s favorite Ath, Athanasius of Alexandria, won speaking honors by a landslide!

Athanasius Was the Defender of Trinitarian Dogma

Master of Ceremonies:  Good evening everyone! We are in for a special treat again tonight! You all know we have had to cope with some unpleasant interruptions in the past few days. We don’t have a lot of time left and we sure don’t want to spend it listening to things we disagree with! Here to silence the voices we don’t want to hear is our theological heavy hitter and the defender of trinitarian dogma!  Brethren I give you Athanasius! Let’s hear it for the Jawbone of Alexandria one more time!

Audience:  Thunderous applause! Stomping of feet! Whistling and shouting aplenty!

Athanasius:  Thank you, thank you! I know we don’t have a lot of time left at this fine Las Vegas Reunion and we all just want to enjoy ourselves while we’re still here. I think we have heard  enough unpleasantness from our critics and as far as I’m concerned it’s time to put an end to it!

Audience:  Amen! Amen!

Take Your Pick! Scripture or Tradition

Athanasius:  Brothers we live in two worlds! The first is the world of “it is written” in the holy scriptures. The other world and the one we wish to exalt tonight is the sphere of tradition which is no less important! We know that some people think Jesus condemned tradition saying “by your traditions you have made God’s laws of none effect…you worship God in vain, for the doctrines you teach are the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15). The Apostle Paul wrote, See to it that no one carries you off as spoil or makes you captive by philosophy and vain deceit (fine sounding arguments) according to the traditions of men.” (Colossians 2) We should just dispense with these scriptural objections right now! Those verses are not talking about us! They are about other people who are not as right about things as we are! There you have it!

Our Traditions Have a Seal of Approval!

You may be wondering; how can we know which traditions are legit and which are merely human? All you have to do is listen to the certified religious authorities we call the Magisterium! In other words, WE will tell you which traditions are humanly generated and which ones are approved by God. It’s just that simple! Fortunately, our traditions have all been approved by specially trained religious experts! 

Our Traditions Are of the Highest Quality!

We have an official document called a Nihil Obstat that certifies in writing that our traditions are the best available anywhere! They have our own special Seal of Approval and are published and approved under our own Imprimatur (license)!  This confirms we have official permission to publish this stuff! These very fine Latin words are your assurance that the traditions we want you to observe are all of the highest quality. Our theology and creeds have passed all these rigorous requirements with flying colors!

We Only Use Violence When Necessary

Yes, we have used force at times to convince people who wouldn’t yield to us but that’s just how it is sometimes.  Burning at the stake, massacres and torture may seem harsh to some but that’s just what it took for us to finally establish our authority. We mostly only killed adversaries who called themselves Christians. In hindsight we probably should have killed everyone who didn’t believe what we wanted them to! We tried to do just that but things didn’t work out so well in spite of our best efforts. Sadly, the days when we could use lethal force are just a fond memory. Religious violence is frowned upon these days so we are inclined to be much more gentle!

The Trinity is Our Greatest Tradition!

Today I am here to assure you that our trinitarian tradition is undoubtedly the majority opinion. If you want to go with a winner you will go with us! Just consider our Magisterium, Imprimatur and Nihil Obstats.  It is little wonder that our traditions are at least equal to, if not greater in importance than what is written in the scriptures. Traditions and scripture are both important but since our traditions give us the sole authority to interpret scripture we can confidently say that tradition has won!  In spite of what some reckless heretics may say, highly qualified religious professionals like us are the only people who are able determine exactly what you should believe!

In closing I trust that this short explanation has answered all your questions, calmed all your doubts and settled this issue once and for all. Now let’s head to that great seafood buffet!

Pragmatticus was up in the rafters and although he didn’t start cussing he could not keep from laughing.

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes

Ecumenical Councils… What Good Are They?

 

“My inclination is to avoid all assemblies of bishops, because I have never seen any council come to a good end, nor turn out to be a solution of evils.  On the contrary, it usually increases them”

                                                                  Gregory of Nazianzus

 “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me.  Amen”

                                                                       Martin Luther

 

Modern society holds certain fundamental tenets sacrosanct; the right to vote, democracy, the right to own property, free speech, etc., in other words ‘the unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.’  There is another equally strong tenet that even one with only the vaguest feel for things spiritual has, the concept of the Trinity.  Nearly everyone knows the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are One in Trinity.  This is taken as true without question; it just is.  Christians regularly recite a creed affirming this even though few realize how it came to be, or hard fought the battles were, or how many people were tortured or died in wars for that creed to exist today.  It didn’t have to be that way.

Rome, the Eternal City, is not much dwelt on during the Dark Ages.  It is assumed the classic age of the emperors went by the wayside as the Church emerged from the ash heap of history to encompass all of the Mediterranean to northern Scandinavian and from Russia to England.  Its a tedious and dull story.  Hardly!  The third thru the ninth centuries were anything but a smooth transition for the Church.  Although Rome was not exactly a backwater, it had lost its glory to Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria.  All that Rome had going for it was Peter was crucified there and, he is the rock upon which the church will be built.  Matthew 16:18. Alexandria’s glory was the greatest library of the ancient world and the western center of theology.  Antioch was considered one of the most beautiful of the ancient cities, boasting it had the greatest library, was also a major seat of learning and, the eastern center of theology.  Constantinople was ancient when renamed in 330 and grew to be the largest and wealthiest city in Europe.  Rome was left in the dust, actual dust.

In the third thru the ninth centuries Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and others like Carthage, Ephesus, and Chalcedon were holy sees, the seats of powerful bishops.  Each claimed to be the center of the Christian world.  Each held to this or that doctrine as absolute spiritual truth, and therefore, ought to be the rightful center of the Christian world.  In hindsight it was unlikely the runt of the group, Rome, would come out on top. That, though, is not the whole of the story.

During this dark period western civilization was being harassed, needled, pillaged, burned, and taken over by the Vandals, Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Huns, to name a few.  As these frightful fellas came from the north and east deals needed to be made, tributes needed to be paid and, emperor’s sisters needed to be married off to the marauders to stem their unpleasantness.  It did not take long for the whole of Europe to be ruled by warlords linked to civilizing women with children Christianized and educated in what was left of the great schools.  That, though, is not the whole of the story.

Maintaining a bishopric as the seat of the Christian world did not come easy.  A doctrine had to be developed and followed without question as right and true.  This required muscle to keep the differently believed in line, and what a time it was for burly monks to bash heretical heads.  Then there was the curiosity of the unwashed monks who believed in utter self-denial for the sake of continuously contemplating God.  Hard to argue against that logic.  That, though, is not the whole of the story.

Bishoprics were not the quaint and quiet monasteries of the sixteenth century.  They existed at the behest of the warlords and emperors.  Who was paying who was a jumble.  It was prudent to pay a warlord to leave you alone, but it was conversely prudent of the warlord, or emperor, to pay for the privilege of going to heaven or even being crowned emperor by the pope as in the later years.  Money made the world go round.  Peasants revolted against the high taxes, plunder was taken, and powerful bishops skimmed of as much as they could along the way.

It is against this backdrop that Constantine first tried to make peace in the realm, peace with the first encroaching marauders, and peace with theologians who called for Christians to kill one another.  He called together the first ecumenical council to settle doctrinal issues once and for all.  In 325 a number of unifying housekeeping details were taken care of such as setting the date of Easter and putting an end to self-castration.  The primary reason, though, for this council, and others, was to anathematize Arius for preaching Jesus was the Messiah born human to Mary.  This council was to settle all matters for all time.  Too bad it was more like The Great War settling all wars for all time.

So far there have been twenty-one ecumenical councils.  There have also been many smaller synods.  As an aside, the Synod of the Oak is a personal favorite.  In the year 402 it involved forty-two archbishops, bishops, money, bribes, the highest of officials, the patriarch of Constantinople, betrayal, love of an empress, and fun gangs like the “Tall Brothers.”  This was the flavor of the early councils.  Let it be said they were not prayerful and thoughtful equivocations of theological fine points.  In fact, the thrust of the first nine was to anathematize and often kill Christians of a different belief.

Back to the First Council of Nicaea.  Beginning in 325 it was to settle spiritual differences so Constantine could get back to his Pax Romana.  318 bishops, their aids, advisers, and servants were living in Constantine’s lap of luxury.  Even Constantine sat in without guards as this was to be a civil discourse.  The question at hand revolved around how Jesus being a man could not possibly save all mankind, yet if He were God, then it was God that died on the cross and God could not possibly die, plus it would make Mary theotokos, mother of God and not christotokos, Christ’s mother.

Most bishops were moderates looking for some sort of compromise, but there were two firebrands who would not give and inch.  Even though it made many bishops uneasy, Athanasius introduced the term homoousian, meaning Jesus was of the same substance as God.  Some tried to meet in the middle with homoiousian, meaning of a similar nature.  But, the die was cast; either you were with Arius or with Athanasius.  As a precursor to the Synod of the Oak, Athanasius was bribing bishops and making backroom deals slowly bringing enough bishops into his camp for a majority vote.  The Arians were threatened with excommunication (including the loss of perks) and eternal damnation.  Most saw the light.  Only Arius, one deacon, and two bishops refused to sign what became known as the Nicene Creed.  Constantine didn’t much care about homoousios one way or the other, but he was pleased to settled all matters spiritual and was able to exile Arius.  That, though, was not the end of the story.

Darn it all Eusebius signed the creed but did not entirely renounce Arius.  This was no big deal except that Eusebius was Constantine’s friend, a member of the court, a bishop, and a distant relative.  Confusing Constantine even more was his sister, Flavia Julia, who was a great friend of Arius and a bit of an Arian herself.  Flavia and Eusebius had Constantine’s ear to the point of eventually rigging a trial against Athanasius.  Being hardheaded, Athanasius would not allow a softening of his homoousian position, Constantine got mad, Athanasius was exiled, and Arius was returned.  Now it was Arianism that began to spread.  On Constantine’s deathbed Eusebius baptized his friend.  Constantine’s son was a die hard Arian who further spread the concept of Jesus as a man.  In fact, many Goths were converted to Christianity through Arianism.  Its interesting the Goths never integrated into the Roman world because of this.  The homoousios/homoiousios schism eventually tore western civilization apart.

The First Council of Nicaea was rather mild compared to others.  But, it was typical of how the government, the bishops, bribes, the fight for power, and out and out beating and murder set the stage for writing creeds.  Make no mistake these were not spiritual get-togethers where prayerful meditations led the faithful to God’s intent.  The 431 Council of Ephesus was nearly the same as Nicaea except with different names: Cyril (The Great) from Alexandria in the west and Nestorius from Antioch in the east – same faces, a different time.  At Ephesus Mary became the Mother of God, Christ became one divine person, and Nestorius was anathematized.  Anathematizing the Nestorian heresy was the whole point of this council.  Pope Leo the Great called it the Robber’s Synod.  During the Gangster Council a bishop was so badly beaten that he died a few days later.  Basically Arius and Athanasius came back in different disguises for five hundred fifty more years.

325   First Council of Nicea

381   First Council of Constantinople

431   Council of Ephesus

451   Council of Chalcedon

553   Second Council of Constantinople

680   Third Council of Constantinople

757   Second Council of Nicaea

869   Fourth Council of Constantinople

After the Fourth Council of Constantinople the Eastern Greek church was split for evermore from the western Catholic church of Rome. This was formalized in 1054 as The Great Schism.  From this point on churches would easily get their theological noses out of joint.  Some recognized the thirteen Catholic councils that followed, and some recognized others.  A fun term that really upset the theological apple cart is Filoque; meaning the procession of the Spirit form the Son as well as from the Father.  Even this confusing term has its further nuances and extended nuances – veerrryyy difficult.

Arius and Athanasius rang through the Great Councils one way or another for five and a half centuries.  Even today a Trinitarian creed is recited with the absolute belief it is the absolute truth.  The truth is Christians are reciting the results of murder, bribery, hardheaded theology, and a struggle for temporal power.  It makes no difference which creed one chooses, they were all the result of anathematizing someone or something.  Here are a few:

Apostles’ Creed anathematized Marcion (120)

Nicene Creed anathematized Arius (325)

Nicaea-Constantinople Creed anathematized Nestorius (381)

Chalcedonian Creed anathematized the Monophysites (451)

Athanasian Creed re-anathematized Arius (500)

On top of these five are a hundred others developed by the myriad of Christian sects who may or may not add the Filoque.

 IT DID NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.  Jesus did not ask anyone to write a creed explaining His relationship to the Father and the Spirit.  He surely did not want murder and wars to be in His name.  Jesus, the Great Teacher, would have taught us about the relationships of the Trinity if He wanted us to know?  Some things are secret to God.  These days professors teach endlessly on theological terms.

 These days those in the pews earnestly recite their favorite creed.  These days Christians jump to the defense of their favorite creed.  And, these days Christians mindlessly defend the concept of the Trinity, even though most have no understanding of the dense and conflicting terms or understand how the Trinity came into existence.  All this leads Christians to be at odds with Christians.  It did not have to be this way!

Christians ought to drop the hubris and with humility believe in God the Father, Christ the Savior, and the Holy Spirit as a personal Paraclete.  It’s just that simple; nothing less and certainly nothing more.

Copyright 2021 by Greg Hallback