The Final Excommunication

What came next at the All-Star Theologians Reunion was almost beyond belief! There had been a few strained moments to be sure but by and large the church “fathers” had behaved themselves reasonably well in spite of old disagreements. That all changed dramatically when Athanasius asked for a few moments to address the group “from the heart”. He said he didn’t have any carefully prepared remarks but simply wanted to share his feelings. This was an exceptional request from a man who had spent his entire life speaking “from the head.” Now he wanted to share what was in his heart!

Athanasius Liked to Argue!

A few people thought Athanasius might have mellowed since the great Ecumenical Council in Nicea. His request to make a few remarks at this particular session was taken by some as a clue that he wanted to sow peace and reconciliation in the Body of Christ. It turned out they were wrong. He still felt like arguing! Interestingly enough, the session he chose for sharing his heart was listed on the Reunion Program as “The Mark of the Lamb“. The theme was “By this shall all men know you are my disciples if you have love for each other.” The irony of what followed was exquisite.

Athanasius Against the World!

Athanasius’ adversaries had some pretty uncharitable nicknames for him! (you’ll have to research them yourself if you’re interested). Suffice it to say his enemies were not shy about using well-placed insults when it suited them. History tells us that Athanasius was known for his adversarial and confrontational approach. It seems he was a pretty argumentative fellow! Maybe it was his basic temperament or maybe he just liked arguing since he was so good at it. This had even earned him his own brand name! He became known as “Athanasius Contra Mundum” which meant “Athanasius Against the World”.

Athanasius Argued With  Everyone!

Athanasius argued with just about everyone! His most notable conflicts were with Arius, Eusebius, Emperor Constantine, along with Emperors Constantius II, and Emperors Valens and Julian too. Whenever he was in favor with a particular Roman Emperor he used his political connections to excommunicate and banish his religious rivals. Sometimes though, the political tides would turn against him and then his rivals would exile and excommunicate him! His career was an ongoing drama of forced exiles followed by a return to ecclesiastical power… until the next time. Then the cycle would start all over again. He was excommunicated and banished 5 times by four different emperors! That’s just how it goes when you hitch your wagon to an earthly star and Athanasius had hitched his wagon firmly to the power of the Roman empire.

Heretics, Scoundrels and Traitors

Athanasius: Beloved friends and brothers!  You all know it is my custom to bring you well-reasoned and eloquent arguments for our doctrines and traditions. Today though, my heart is stirred and the time has come for something more. I have a few things to get off my chest and want to clear the air about how some people have treated me. Most of you already know that Eusebius is a scoundrel through and through! If he wasn’t I wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of having him banished and excommunicated in the first place. It was a great disappointment to me when afterwards he got Constantine’s ear and had me excommunicated and banished. What a rat!

Arius, Constantine and Eusebius Were All Against Him!

I was faced with Arius the heretic, Emperor Constantine the backstabber and Eusebius the weasel and they were all against me! I’m not going to bore you with all the sordid details of how they shamelessly disagreed with some of my finest theological arguments for the trinity. It is enough to say they did and they were not the only ones! Emperors Constantius II, Valens and Julian also banished me a few times after I’d been excommunicated by some second-rate bishops and councils who were jealous of my prominence.

Athanasius Excommunicates Everyone!

What really gets under my skin is that the reunion organizers allowed some of these characters to come to this reunion and even let them speak!  I can’t even tell you how ticked off I am about that! Anyway, they are such colossal disappointments I have decided to excommunicate all of them personally and permanently. Yes, that includes the reunion organizers too! I have made up my mind so there is no need to convene a council or take a vote or anything like that. Don’t go running to old Constantine either! His days are over and his power is broken. I’m warning you ahead of time. Don’t even try to argue with me because it won’t do you any good. Just remember that the creeds you know and believe in were my writings and ideas!

A Janitor Rebuked the Great Theologian

Pragmatticus was up in the rafters again and had heard all he could take. He didn’t start cussing but he did have something to say. “That’s the whole problem Smarticus! The things you argued for and established were your ideas and that’s why they caused so much trouble. You were smart enough to overwhelm your human opponents but you will never overwhelm God! If the things you taught were simply God’s words they would have brought peace and blessing to those who heard them. Your prideful words only brought division and bloodshed. The legacy of your dogma started with your arrogant claim that to be saved men had to think of God in the incomprehensible way you declared. You will be remembered for your brazen desire to banish and excommunicate anyone who disagrees with you. Thank God the Kingdom is not yours!

Athanasius: I recognize that voice! That’s the janitor Pragmatticus! Who does he think he is to disagree with me? People like him who don’t even have an advanced degree in theology really aggravate me! How did he get invited to our reunion anyway? I hereby excommunicate him too. No one gets in the Kingdom unless I say so…  and I say it takes understanding and complying with the creed that bears my name!

A Still Small Voice Was Heard…

A Still Small Voice was heard saying, “Truly, truly I tell you I am the door of the sheep. I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me. I am the door. If anyone enters by me he shall be saved and shall go in and out and find pasture.”

Some listeners decided there was a big difference between what was in the heart of Athanasius and what was in the heart of God.

PS: We don’t think the Athanasian Creed expresses what is in the heart of God at all! That’s our honest opinion anyway. What’s yours? By the way… we’d sure appreciate it if you would share this website with a friend. Believing Christians should at least be aware of the perspective we try to share at    theologyallstars.com    Thanks and God Bless.

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

It’s Greek to Me!

Jesus Didn’t Use Theological Terms

Theologians love big words… the bigger the better and words most people have never heard of are best of all! Latin and Greek terms especially have a certain flair. These really showcase the religious expert’s sophistication and intelligence!  This is why it is so frowned upon in theological circles to say things plainly in everyday language. One notable exception to this practice was Jesus Christ Himself! Many commentators have observed that Jesus rarely, if ever, used scholarly theological language! Strangely though, the reason for this is unclear.

Athanasius’ Favorite Word Was Homoousious

Moderator: Greetings everyone! Today’s Panel Discussion is dedicated to the always popular topic of theological terms. Our expert panel members have scaled the frosty mountains of systematic theology and the pinnacles of scholarly thought! Our format is straightforward and simple although our subject matter is anything but! Each speaker will expound on a favorite theological term until they have nothing left to say. Just kidding folks! These experts never run out of things to say! We’ll probably have to muzzle them if we want to get to dinner on time!

The Audience: Polite laughter.

Moderator: Our first presenter this afternoon is none other than philosopher and theologian par excellence Athanasius himself! We proudly hang our hats on the ideas and terms He has bestowed upon the church! The topic he has chosen for today is the ever popular and timeless word homoousious! Let’s hear it for our favorite Ath! Athanasius!

The Audience: A respectful standing ovation.

Homoousious is a Vital Part of Your Salvation!

Athanasius: Thank you my friends, thank you. Please be seated if you can.  Let’s dig right in to our topic and what a topic it is! Today we will talk about the most important word in Christianity! I’m talking of course about Homoousious. It was an essential part of building the trinity! It is astonishing that the primitive church survived so many centuries without it! How sad it is that very few people know what it means much less how to spell it. It would be so wonderful if people just knew how to say it correctly!  We are fortunate to have a word so precise, scholarly and lovely as homoousious! I am living proof that it is possible to build an entire career on this one single word!

We Built Our Creeds Upon Homoousious!

There was a time when homoousious was just another run of the mill Greek word! That all changed at the Nicene Council when I made it the most important word in Christianity! It is not an exaggeration to say that the Nicene Creed is truly a Homoousian Creed. I blush to mention that many people call it the Athanasian Creed but modesty prevents me from drawing any attention to that! By the way, signed copies of my writings are available at the table in the back of the room if you are interested!

Some of you may be wondering how homoousious got to be so important. The truth is it was just another nondescript Greek word until I figured out how to use it against heretics! You all know how much I enjoy a good argument! Homoousious  was a word made to order for someone like me! I don’t mean to brag but I’ve argued with so many people about so many things that I eventually became known as “Athanasius Contra Mundum”. (That’s Latin for “Athanasius Against the World”).

Bend a Knee to Homoousious… or Else!

Heretics have been excommunicated and banished for their willful refusal to bend a knee to homoousious! We’ve had to kill more than a few believers who refused to endorse it, and rightly so. I stand here today to declare that I am a homoousian and trust you are homoousians too! There can be no doubt that God wants everyone to be a homoousian! We stand guard over the Kingdom of God against stubborn contrarians like homoiosians!  They are simply heretics, blighted souls who refuse to applaud the doctrinal statement we worked so hard to build! The true beauty of our Creed is the way it cleverly detects and roots out homoiosians!

Homoousious or Homoiosious. What’s the Fuss?

A Question from the Audience: “Will you please explain the difference between homoousious and homoiosious? I’ve always wondered what all the fuss is about and how one little letter ended up getting so many people killed.”

Athanasius: What a great question! Just remember that homoousious means that Jesus is of the very same substance as God while homoiosious says that Jesus’ and God’s substance are pretty similar but not exactly the same. This is so important that we had no choice but to excommunicate everyone who was thinking the wrong way. Thank God that Constantine’s army stepped in to enforce our view with military power! Once we had the army on our side things started working out pretty well! Our opponents learned to keep their opinions to themselves once the Emperor’s army started stamping them out for us!

A Still Small Voice was heard saying “you make a man an offender for a word?” but the meaning of this obscure phrase was debatable. No one was quite sure what to make of this mysterious statement or where the voice came from.

Saved by Faith in Christ Plus Belief in Homoousious!

Athanasius: Things didn’t turn out so well for Arius and his followers but that’s the price you pay for being disagreeable! It was only a single letter i separating homoousious from homoiosious that caused them so much trouble! They were just too primitive and stubborn to give it up. In closing let me remind you that choosing correctly between homoousious and homoiosious can mean the difference between heaven and hell! No kidding! I really mean it! It is good to believe in Jesus but don’t ever forget that faith in Christ plus allegiance to homoousious is the standard we have set for your salvation. Thank you!

PS: These seemingly obscure ideas are important to talk about! That’s why we do. If you think this discussion matters then why not share a link to theologyallstars.com with others. Thanks and God Bless.

Continued…Click to Read Part II

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes