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

Religion Run Amok

The story of Theodora and Justinian is a hardly known story that reads like a wonderful fairy tale. They ruled the world as the greatest power couple in history at a time when civilization was falling apart. They held it together. As power couples go, no two were ever more powerful; President Kennedy and Jackie, or Prince William and Kate, cannot compare in the slightest. How about Henry and Eleanor (1200), Augustus and Livia (0), or William and Mary (1700)? Not even close. Theodora reigned over the Byzantine Empire from Constantinople as regent along side her husband from 527 until her death in 548. Yet, no two were ever a more unlikely power pair.

By the early 500’s the Roman Empire in the West was well on its way to collapsing into the Dark Ages. Rome’s population fell from 1,500,000 to maybe 30,000 and the grand Forum became an actual garbage dump. Unsavory barbarians demolished civilization in the West. But, Justinian and Belisarius (one of the greatest generals in history) conquered the Vandals in North Africa and booted the Ostrogoths out of Rome, Sicily, Italy, and Dalmatia along with establishing a presence in Spain. That, though, was not all. Two thousand miles to the east Belisarius subdued worse trouble closer to home along the Black Sea by stopping the Persians from toppling western civilization at the Battle of Dara.

Before leaving Belisarius, it is interesting to note his strange life. Born in Germania, he is considered “the last Roman.” As a youth he raised pigs but eventually moved up from the lowliest of military ranks with his better idea. His military success was due to the unique concept of using long range archers with short re-curved bows on war horses to soften up the enemy and then rush them on horseback with long spears. This heavy cavalry of the day is known as the Bucellari. When Rome was recaptured, Theodora told Belisarius, ‘as long as you are there, toss out that pope, Silverius.’ It’s rumored Silverius died of starvation. Belisarius felt bad about that and built a church. Back in Constantinople, his much older and debauched wife, Antonia, cuckolded this powerful general. Eventually, Belisarius was tried for fomenting an overthrow of Justinian, was imprisoned where he became a monk, but was later restored to the court. He is one of many colorful characters of the time.

Flavius Petrus Sabbatius (later Justinian I) was a most unlikely emperor who came from peasant folk who raised pigs. Justin, his uncle, had a similar background rising up through the military ranks to become emperor and took Justinian under his wing. Justinian had a very quick mind and was educated in philosophy, languages, administration, law, and most of all, theology. A gigantic accomplishment of his was to codify the mess of Roman laws into the Code of Justinian, upon which our present day laws are based. As if saving civilization was not enough, he built one of the world’s great churches, the Hagia Sophia. This all took coin, and lots of it. There was no financing, so piles of coin were needed for the wars, the church, and keeping the population intact. Justinian brilliantly expanded the Silk Road exchanging Italian glass for Chinese silk – until a few of the worms were smuggled out in hollow canes, but that is another story. He implemented a bribe free and efficient tax system and shook down the wealthy to pay their fair share, even if it meant torture. He reorganized the entire administration of the empire with a competent bribe free staff. In 536 he had to also deal with the Black Death plague that killed millions, a fifth of the population. The unrealized dream of Justinian was to reunite the East and West into a single Roman Empire. Lucky for western civilization he was a workaholic.

The Byzantine Empire, the eastern half of the Roman Empire, was an amalgam of church and state. There was no church without the state and no state without the church. It was Justinian’s obligation to know as much about theology as he had to know about statecraft. His version of Christianity came by way of the Fourth Council of Chalcedon in 451. The Chalcedonian Definition states, ‘Jesus is actually

God and actually man (the two natures definition) while reaffirming the First Council of Nicaea (325), the First Council of Constantinople (381), and the First Council of Ephesus (431) in that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not created but are rather the eternal same substance as God; therefore, the consubstantiation of the Trinity.’ This is entirely in conflict with the Arian contention that Jesus was a created being, e.g., Docetism. Justinian was a devout Catholic believing in Chalcedon and the two natures of Jesus, and Theodora was a Monophysite believing in the one nature of Jesus.

Not only was Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire a church and a state, there was the unique and curious concept of “demes.” Before Justinian’s time there were four demes: the Reds, the Whites, the Blues, and the Greens. By the 520’s there were only the Blues and the Greens. A deme was a sports club, social group, political group, and the church all rolled into one. In today’s sense it is as though half the population cheers for the only the Green Bay Packers, belongs to only the Eagles club, is only Republican, and they are all strictly Baptists. The biggest sport by far was chariot racing, and this brought the Blues and Greens together in Constantinople’s 100,000 seat hippodrome. It proved to be less than prudent to crowd 50,000 rowdy Catholic/Democrat/Vikings/VFW fans in with 50,000 Baptist/Republican/Packer/Eagles fans. Justinian played the Blues off the Greens and the Greens off the Blues thereby keeping the heat off himself. It was at the chariot races that Justinian met Theodora.

It is difficult to comprehend Theodora came from an even lowlier circumstance than Justinian, especially in light of her becoming the most powerful leader on earth. Her father was a bear keeper in the hippodrome and her mother was a dancer/actress/prostitute. Theodora’s mother prostituted her at too young of an age to be effective. It was said even a slave could afford her. When Theodora was a little older, her mother introduced her to acting where she specialized in a bawdy performance of Leda and the Swan with the comic appeal of a mime. To be an actress often meant being a prostitute for after performance activities. At sixteen she left “acting” to become the mistress to a Libyan governor from Syria by capitalizing on her great beauty. She escaped from him 1,600 miles from home in Alexandria with the help of Monophysite monks. In her gratitude she asked how she could thank them. Their answer was to believe that Jesus had only a single purely divine nature, i.e., Monophysitism. Theodora learned the art of wool dying and made her way back to Constantinople.

At the chariot races, the highest and lowest of the population were crowded together. Movers and shakers would provoke their deme to riot in order to have their political agenda heard by the emperor. Justinian’s heralds would yell back the emperor’s reply to the crowd. Theodora was the most beautiful young woman in the land and caught Justinian’s eye at the races. To the disgust of the high echelon, Justinian carried on and lived with Theodora. By law he was not allowed to marry a prostitute, so just as soon as he became emperor, he changed the law, and they were married. Theodora was not just any prostitute, but one with an exceptionally keen mind. She learned to read and grasped philosophy, economics, administration, and theology. It was a perfect match except for the fact that Justinian was a Chalcedonian Catholic and Theodora was an Alexandrian Monophysite.

Theology was a most serious issue between the demes. The Chalcedonian faction believed Jesus has two natures in one being as Justinian’s believed. Theodora’s Monophysite belief is Jesus has one wholly divine nature. This theological pot boiled over in the second week of 532. Justinian’s fair tax reform so irritated some wealthy Blues that they switched demes to the Greens and lobbied for riots to take down the emperor. In 531 Justinian had enough of the Blues and Greens rioting to the point of murder. Low level riots could be chalked up to hooliganism, but enough was enough when it came to murder. Justinian made an example of the ring leaders by hanging seven of the Blues and Greens. One by one the trap doors opened and down they came – except for the last two a Blue and a Green. Their ropes broke, they landed on the ground gasping, and monks carried them away to sanctuary before

anyone realized what had happened. General Belisarius happened to be in town and had his personal troops surround the church to starve them out. The populous rebelled.

On January 13th of 532 a pent up crowd of Blues and Greens were at the races and hurled unified insults up at Justinian in his palace box attached to the hippodrome. By race twenty-two, both the Blues and Greens were shouting to Justinian “Nika” meaning to conquer, or win, or victory. The Blues and Greens were out of control and attacked the adjacent palace. For five days the palace was under attack, fires burnt much of the city, including the original Scanta Sophia, and hundreds died. Justinian sent his eunuch into the hippodrome with a bag of gold for the Blue section asking them to please leave peacefully reminding them Justinian was himself a Blue. Some Blues sulked out with their small bags of gold. Belisarius stormed in thru the Black Gate and General Mundus stormed the Nekra Gate and more than 30,000 Blues and Greens were systematically slaughtered by 3,000 heavily armed troops.

During the riots many suggested the court flee Constantinople. It was only Theodora that took a stand with her impassioned speech. She refused to run and become a fugitive. “May I never be deprived of this purple robe, and may I never see the day when those who meet me do not call me empress. … royal purple is the noblest shroud.” She held the empire together by shaming the court into staying put, the rioting stopped, and Justinian was never questioned again.

So what went wrong in Constantinople? Sure there were more taxes, but the majority of the population was probably very pleased the wealthy had to now pay their fair share. What really lit a fire under the citizens was this two natures or one nature of Jesus thing. The man on the street certainly did not understand it. Yet, Blues and Greens vehemently shouted at one another, “Our Jesus is One God,” “Mary is Theotokos,” “We will not divide God,” and “Christ is God.” (And, many clergy did not care to understand the homoousios or homoiousios aspect of the Trinity in relation to ek duo physeon or en duo physeon nature(s) of the hypostatic union and prosopon.) Over the centuries people became pretty excited about their religion to the point of clergy and kings burning people at the stake. But, was there ever a time when people went wild over the little “i” in homo(i)ousios or on not?

The Nika Riots were a different animal. Constantinople had an entire population divided by their convictions, even though they did not understand them. On the one hand, it was ever so far from the common sense teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. In another theological sense, it was ever so far from the Bible as a whole. C’mon, when did Jesus ever speak of ek duo physeon? It is absurd to think Jesus would choose sides to the point of rioting, or to think Jesus would ever define Himself – but man did.

Theodora the Monophysite, and Justinian the Chalcedonian inadvertently allowed religion to run amok. Religion aligned the Blue and Green demes one way or another taking them down a path to inevitable conflict. Theodora believed in a theological construct of Jesus that is simply not Biblical. Justinian believed in his non-Biblical creed that existed only because it won the day through bribery, coercion, torture, and murder. These two man-made corrupt versions of the Gospel permeated society to the point of lighting the fuse that literally blew up one of the most powerful cities in the world.

The story of Theodora and Justinian is fascinating and complex. It is the stuff fairy tales are made of. The little guy and little girl from horrid backgrounds find love and grow to rule the world. It’s a great fairy tale like story, but their theological baggage blew up that world. Religion ran amok.

The moral of this fairy tale is read the Gospels plainly without the weird and corrupting influence of theology that only runs religion amok.

Copyright 2021 by Greg Hallback

Bubbles of Glass

The theological term “Bubbles” is not often used and in fact, this may be the first time. Yet, it may very well be one of the most important terms needed in an honest discussion of religion. The glass bubbles we live in whether large or small tint our own personal spiritual universe. We defend our religious beliefs as vigorously as we defend our family. In these modern times a “live and let live” attitude prevails…. to a point. As long as we are left alone in our glass bubbles, all is well. It doesn’t much matter to a Baptist if a Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal or Catholic exist, as long as they don’t criticize the Baptist.

Seventeen hundred years ago people were murdered if they believed in ek duo physeon instead of en duo physeon, i.e., Jesus has a human and divine nature or a single nature that is both divine and human. This subtle difference is usually ignored in the contemporary culture of our churches, unless someone pushes the point. Will you agree only Jesus the divine can save all of mankind from eternal damnation? If so, will you further agree that Jesus as a co-equal third of the Triune Godhead cannot suffer, and since God cannot suffer, the crucifixion is thereby made an ersatz show? Or, is Jesus an admixture of the divine and human and therefore not a co-equal One in Trinity? Ages ago these questions required deep theological thought, not to mention extreme coercion to the point of torture and murder. This man-made question and other deep ones are answered within our preferred bubble one way or another. To paraphrase one writer, “Orthodoxy is my doxy and heresy is the other guy’s doxy.”

We see clearly through our church bubbles that make complete sense to us. This sense depends on which questions are considered most important, which verses of Scripture are emphasized, and the logic of our man-made arguments. For instance, The Twelve Articles of Faith clearly lay out what it means to be a Catholic. Article 3 addresses the physeon issue in the previous paragraph. It was further addressed by Leo’s Tome as a major topic in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon. Other sects may not have as long of a history as the Catholic Church, but they have equally sound arguments defending their stance on the Bible and their beliefs.

Analogous to the Twelve Articles, but longer, is the Lutheran Book of Concord. This collection of nine writings reacts to the Catholic faith as well as being expressions of doctrine, ecumenical creeds, and confessional writings. This book is the foundation for Lutheranism, but it leaves room for the franchised variations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Missouri Synod.

John Wesley in the latter 1700’s unintentionally broke away from the Church of England. Methodists emphasize Matthew 16:18 and the concepts of “My church,” “practical divinity,” acting on one’s faith, and being social among other believers. Interestingly, Wesley coined the phrase, “agree to disagree.”

It is impossible to explain any bubble in a sentence or two. Trotting out a list of Christian denominations would fill a long chronological book or could come from the perspective of mainstream to the fringe. Many consider Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Latter Day Saints, and Seventh Day Adventists some of the more outlying flavors of Christianity. Nevertheless, once a believer accepts the tenets of a particular bubble, all makes good sense within that bubble, and all is well. How good it is to be accepted and approved by other folks who live in your own bubble!

The logical consistency of a Catholic bubble is certainly there, but that game is played and won only by those living within that rose-colored bubble. The practicing Catholic’s relationship to the church, to the social order, to marriage, and a host of other elements have that Catholic rose tint applied to everything. Unitarians see everything in the orange glow of a non-judgmental God and are concerned with the more worldly matters of human dignity, justice, and peace. Lutherans have a lovely blue bubble wherein the wretched sinner can be saved only thru grace reinforced by sacraments. Conversely, The Salvation Army has next to no sacraments in its green bubble. No one is really quite sure how the Pentecostals and Baptists color their bubbles.

The Catholic Church has the longest history of men defining and refining their belief system. Martin Luther obviously instigated a break therefrom and very quickly the Lutheran sect caught fire. Similarly about the same time, John Calvin and a dozen other malcontents constituted the Reformation Movement which evolved into the Episcopal, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches. Two hundred years later John Wesley began the Methodist church. In modern times William Booth broke from the Methodists to found the Salvation Army, and Charles Russel founded the Jehovah Witnesses. This list of churchmen also extends to volumes.

Glass bubbles are created by men. The tenets of the Bible have not changed in two thousand years, but along the way men built glass walls between themselves and other Christians. The Bible remained clearly laid out, but men said the Trinity must be this way or that, and Jesus must have two natures or a single nature with two elements. As soon as men defined God, Jesus, and how the Bible ought to be read, tinted bubbles were formed separating Christians from Christians. As yet another example, the Mennonites are from the Reformed Movement, but the Quakers were from the Anglican Movement.

A great and ironic example of a significantly tinted bubble is the Separatist Movement of the Pilgrims, the Puritans if you will. It is an inspiring but totally wrong notion to think the Pilgrims came to America for religious freedom. In 1608 a group moved from England to Holland for greater religious freedom. They found the “devil may care” attitude of liberal Amsterdam adversely affected their children with examples of licentious living. They packed up and came to American where they could enforce less religious freedom; where their children could be raised within stricter puritan boundaries.

My hometown was founded in later 1800 by French Catholic fur traders. Soon thereafter immigrants from Scandinavia settled to work the lumber mills in the northern forests of Minnesota. For a hundred years there were Catholics who divided into French and Polish churches and Lutherans separated into Swedish, Finnish, and Norwegian churches. Eventually Presbyterian and Episcopal churches were established. Even among the Lutherans subtle tints of blue separated the lighter shade of the Norwegians from the mid-range of the Swedes from the darker bubble of the Finns. The Finns considered the Norwegians wildly liberal and inappropriate. Even in a small town our glass bubbles separated neighbor from neighbor. We could clearly see the other denominations through our bubbles but not very easily relate to them.

A single Gospel message evolved, or is it devolved, into more than a hundred bubbles of different tints. What should Christians do about this? Does God intend to burst your bubble? In a word, yes! Christians ought to recognize that their bubble is a human construct rooted in how a man lobbied for this or that question and this or that answer. Nothing Biblical can separate one Christian from another. It is only man’s ideas and not God’s that separate us.

Does this mean there should be no bubbles whatsoever? In a word, yes. This, though, does not mean God’s church cannot react to society differently from one time or place to another. The great Gothic cathedrals were a glimpse of heaven on earth during very difficult times. Veritable shacks were the needed solace of exuberant worship on slave plantations. And, storefronts offer refuge to the homeless in inner cities.

Christians should be mindful of seeing the world through the tinted glass bubbles of men’s thoughts rather than God’s principles plainly laid out in Scripture. Is there room for discussion? Of course, but let us recognize that some things are secret to God. For example, men ought not ask nosy questions about His substance and the nature(s) of Jesus. Those questions only create bubbles separating Christians from Christians.