Constantine’s Last Words

Emperors Demand Respect

Constantine got off to a pretty rocky start when he tried to check in to the reunion!  He was deeply upset by his arrest and at being held against his will. Emperors are not used to that kind of treatment! We were all relieved to see that after some counseling and medication he was right back to his old self. He was eager to return to the reunion and the church fathers were  looking forward to seeing him too. Rumor had it he was still miffed about all the indignities he suffered during his mental health hold so that was a bit of a worry. No one knew what to expect when he finally made an appearance… and what an appearance it was!

A Royal Robe and a Golden Throne

Constantine entered the reunion hall wearing a royal purple robe lavishly encrusted with jewels and gold. It looked just like the royal robe he wore at the first council of Nicea! (except that the gold and jewels were fake and the fabric was a close out from a local upholstery shop) In spite of that he looked truly regal! In their lifetimes the church fathers admired his style so much they adopted it for their own ecclesiastical garments. The casino also found a nice golden throne for the emperor to use and the church fathers thought this was another very nice touch. They liked having thrones in their churches because it sent such a powerful message about their importance!

Constantine Controlled the Nicene Council

The All Stars Reunion featured a lot of important people and that created a big problem. When everyone is important it can be hard to tell who is really important! Constantine decided it was time to show who was in charge. That issue was never in doubt at the first Nicene Council. Not even a little bit! After all, Constantine had convened the council and the church fathers came at his invitation. He provided their transportation, security, lodging and then set a sumptuous table for them to enjoy. Best of all, it didn’t cost them a penny! The emperor also set the agenda and laid out the goals of the council. He was their host, moderator and the final judge of all their decisions! To seal the deal, Constantine even began paying the salaries of church officials which effectively made them his employees!

Pomp and Circumstance

Moderator:  We are honored by the presence of our benefactor and the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire! May I present Constantine the Great! The sounds of a trumpet fanfare played impressively over the world class sound system and everyone immediately stood to their feet. Then the emperor strode into the room in all his glorious apparel and sat down on his golden throne. Caesar’s Palace had even provided a troop of Roman soldiers holding spears with concealed microphones for the event. It was a thrilling display of pomp and circumstance! 

The Emperor Remembers Nicea

Emperor Constantine the Great: Beloved subjects! It is so good to be here with my soldiers, my robe, my golden throne and all of you. I’m almost beginning to feel at home here in Sin City! When I heard the trumpets and saw all of you kneel before me it was such a relief! What a strange world the centuries have wrought! Who would have ever thought an emperor would get arrested and locked up just for acting like an emperor? Go figure!

I do regret missing the reunion sessions with Athanasius, Tertullian, and Origen, along with Eusebius and Arius.  I heard that a very interesting character named Lewis Carroll showed up too. The reports I’ve heard about the Reunion have been so complimentary! Let me first congratulate you for crafting the dogmas and creeds that shaped civilization and preserved my empire for so long. Your labors at the Great Council in Nicea will never be forgotten!  People who claim we ultimately did more harm than good are just jealous of our success.

The Theology All-Stars Reunion Was a Mystery to Him

No one has really explained to me how we got here since we have all been dead for so long! Sadly, the reunion committee tells me we are all headed back to our graves any day now. I hope we have the chance to play at least one more round of golf before then! I really enjoyed that crazy game. When I first got here to Las Vegas I confess to being a little concerned about the cost because my empire is bankrupt and doesn’t even exist anymore. Fortunately, the organizers told me lots of people leave this town deeply in debt so I guess we’ll have lots of company! Luckily for us we’re all dead so when we do leave town we’re going where no one will ever find us!

What Was The Real Reason for the Nicene Council?

Some people think I convened the Council in Nicea to further the Kingdom of God.  Others claim it was really called to help preserve my empire. I guess that’s a question you’ll just have to answer for yourself! Some have even questioned the sincerity of my conversion to Christianity since I didn’t get baptized until I was on my deathbed. That did give me more time to do what I wanted and then have it all forgiven right at the end! All in all it was a pretty clever move on my part if I do say so myself! I only hope God never figures what I was up to!

Without Warning Emperor Constantine Began Fading Away!

With that, the lights began to dim without warning and the emperor and all the church fathers started fading away! All their pomp and all their glory slowly evaporated into nothing!  Soon there was nothing left but an empty room! Their authority, their powerful intellects and their influence had become little more than a memory. The curtain had finally dropped on the Theology All Stars Reunion! Its fine buffets and great speakers became a thing of the past. But it was a fine past indeed!  We are glad it took place and we’re glad you came to read about it!

The Nicene Council Created a Religious Mess

Someone had to clean up after the reunion and that chore was left for the janitor Pragmatticus. (We’ll hear from him in a week or two.) After that we have something quite wonderful in store for you! We are planning a brand new companion site to the All Stars Reunion called wonderfultheology.com. You can reach it directly or by way of the link we’ve included right here on our homepage.

PS: Please be sure to come back for the final installment of the Allstars Reunion and take a look at our companion site too. You’ll be glad you did.
PPS: Before you leave today please invite someone else to read about the Reunion too. Thanks and God Bless.

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 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 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 is 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 ruled 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

Satan’s Fingerprints

The Screwtape Letters is a book by C. S. Lewis wherein is a collection of fictitious letters from Satan to his son advising him on how best to turn humans towards hell. His advice boils down to ‘all you need to do is nudge the believer slightly off the path.’ Satan saw no need convert the believer to a full fledged Wiccan. Just as a small nudge to an archer sends the arrow wildly off its target, a small nudge from Satan can send the believer disastrously off course. This little push can be seen in the non-Biblical creeds men write. Creeds separate Christians from Christians. This is especially evident in the concept of the Trinity. Satan’s fingerprints are all over this.

The very early centuries of Christianity saw converts believing in the Gospels. Simple enough. Some Romans began to ask nosy questions about Christians being polytheists as they believed in three gods, even four if Mary is thrown in the mix as the mother of one of the gods. The hubris of the first theologians caused them to answer in writing. Once written the answer could be criticized and had to be defended. Schools of thought developed in the east in Antioch and Constantinople and in the west in Alexandria and Carthage. The following centuries saw Holy sees established in these cities with all the accoutrements of wealth, power, and prestige. Each jealously protected its power while demanding the others become subservient to their answers, that is their creed.

Whichever city had the most facile answer, and the ear of the emperor, won the power. The argument of the time revolved around understanding the true nature of Jesus and His relation to the Father and the Spirit. Conclaves of bishops convened a number of times to defend one position or another. Ever more precise creeds were drafted explaining the Three in One of the Trinity and the dual nature, or not, of Christ. These creeds defining the true nature of Jesus were voted on and assented to by bishops. The end result of the winning creed was the winning city winning the power.

The process of maintaining power is an interesting one. What it was not was the prayerful meditations of bishops waiting on the Holy Spirit to guide them to a correct understanding of the Trinity. The goal of the process was to protect and hold the see with all of its perks of wealth and power that go along with such a prestigious position. Most often this meant stamping out the opposition, i.e., anathematizing and exiling the opposition – and worse. This process was generally a statement of the opposing positions, arguing the points of each position, voting on the proper position, and writing or revising a new creed for the bishops to sign on to. This seems reasonable as long as they prayed about how to vote.

Fun fact: The Second Council of Ephesus was so rowdy Archbishop Flavian of Constantinople was beaten by a thousand monks while clinging to the altar. (An actual one thousand monks were waiting outside and called in by Dioscorus to do their worst.) After a few days he died because of this beating. At another point during the Council, April 12, 449 to be precise, the holy conclave of bishops became so enraged at the reading of a certain letter that they chanted, “These things pollute our ears. …Cyril is immortal. …Let Ibas be burnt in the midst of the city of Antioch. …Exile is of no use. Nestorius and Ibas should be burnt together!” These are the precise words penned by scribes at the time of this incident. It cannot be stressed enough that our creeds of today were NOT the result of prayerful meditations of devout men of the cloth waiting to be moved by the Holy Spirit.

The process of argument, rebuttal, and voting seems reasonable at first blush. However, the truth is the voting bishops were buttonholed in back rooms by the more powerful in order to convince them of the correct position. This convincing came in the form of beatings, bribes, and threats of exile. It cannot be emphasized enough that intimidation thru violence was the norm and not the exception; for most it did not take much convincing to see the light. Soon there were enough right minded votes to support this creed or that properly defining the relationships of the Trinity. The inspiration of greed, violence, and bribery was surely not God’s intent. Surely it was not God’s intent to split His church into an east warring with a west. This acrimony has Satan’s fingerprints all over it.

In order to win the day, or more properly to justify the day, the first nine Great Councils invented brand new theological terms. Homoousios and homoiousios related the substance of Jesus to the substance of the Father. Prosopon and the hypostatic union related the human and divine elements of Jesus. The Christian world devolved into Dyophysites and Monophysites. Eventually dynamic monarchicianism and modalistic monarcharianism developed. These terms and many others were the result of wrestling with the concept of the Trinity and the person of Jesus.

In modern times theologians and philosophers still wrestle with the Trinity, but rarely does one theologian physically beat another. Their arguments, though, are no less robust. To understand a position these days requires advanced university training. To the regular Christian in the pews the Trinity is a mystery to be left to the theologians. Unfortunately, it is not just set aside as a mystery. The unlearned Christian not only carries the burden of not knowing, but argues their version of the Trinity with other Christians. Satan’s fingerprints are all over this.

In these gentle days of Christianity the Trinity is based on this verse or that depending on one’s sect. Instead of fighting one another over the concept, demure Christians just say it’s a mystery that might be the case. They believe it is only for the highly educated to know such things, so let’s just say the Trinity might be real. It is this state of equivocation that Satan wants in us. As for the mystery of the Three in One and the human and divine in Jesus, Satan’s fingerprints are all over this.

If we cannot be sure of the nature of Jesus and the Trinity, what else are we unsure of? It is a dangerous nudge Satan gives us by fomenting the mystery. This approach is the same as contending all emeralds are grue. This means the jewels are blue in color until they are observed. At the instant they are observed they become green. This might be the case, but it is ridiculous to believe so. No doubt Satan is pleased if we doubt the physical world. But, Satan must be ecstatic when we doubt and “dispute” the Trinity and the nature of Jesus. Satan’s fingerprints are all over this.

Not only was the concept of the Trinity and the nature of Jesus born out of violent intimidation, these issues sow doubt about the very nature of God the Father, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Man’s definitions have split the Christian church, weighed down Christians with an unfathomable mystery, caused rifts among everyday Christians, and have led to ridiculous “it might be” suppositions. Satan’s fingerprints are all over this.

So what is the solution to the conundrums? The first step is to realize the questions are man-made, if not the direct result of Satan’s nudge to contention. The second is to realize some things are secret to God, Christ, and the Spirit. Jesus, the Great Teacher, did not forget to teach the disciples about His nature, He chose to not teach about His nature. Furthermore, He never asked the disciples to write a creed and exhort a theology explaining His nature. Therefore, set these matters aside and do not allow Satan to contend with you. Do not contend with other Christians about such things as the Trinity. Humbly believe in God the Father, Christ the Savior, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Life in faith will be light and without provocations with other Christians. Do not be nudged off the path by Satan’s fingerprints.

Copyright 2021 by Greg Hallback

The Opening Ceremony

Did the Church Fathers Speak Gobbledygook?

Planning a nice opening ceremony was a BIG challenge for the Reunion organizers! God had allowed everyone to attend in spite of the fact that they were all dead but there had never been an event like this before. There were no clear guidelines to follow. No one even knew whether the attendees had been granted a temporary pass out of heaven or hell or some other place that God had prepared especially for theologians! That was hard to judge because the church fathers spoke so much gobbledygook that it was hard to tell what they were really saying! More than a few Church Fathers were dismayed to see their opponents had somehow avoided the flames of hell. The question on everyone’s mind was “What good are all our excommunications and anathemas if they don’t work and God is merciful anyway?” It was no surprise that planning the Opening Ceremony was  a bit complicated.

People Got Killed at Church Councils!

Seating assignments were carefully selected to help avoid awkward encounters but feelings still ran strong and confrontations were inevitable. It was hoped that an orderly atmosphere would prevail but it soon became clear that the All Stars Reunion would look a lot like the chaotic and often violent Church Councils that dotted church history. One Council was even called the Murder Council! At least this time there was no real worry that anyone would get killed since everyone was already dead!

When everyone was seated the lyrics of “Hail Hail the Gang’s All Here!” appeared on the giant screen and the audience sang it heartily.

            Hail, hail the gang’s all here,  Never mind the weather, here we are together!

            Hail, hail the gang’s all here,  Sure we’re glad that you’re here too!

Constantine Wasn’t Master of Ceremonies This Time

Emperor Constantine was the natural choice for Master of Ceremonies since he had been the de facto Master of Ceremonies at Nicea.  Unfortunately, he was still incarcerated under a 72 hour mental health hold and was unable to attend. To the great delight and frabjous joy of just about everyone it turned out that Lewis Carroll the beloved author and Patriarch of Poetry had agreed to be the Master of Ceremonies! None of the Church Fathers had ever heard of him but they recognized him as a brother and true theological All Star as soon as he began to speak.

Lewis Carroll Thought Las Vegas Might Be Heaven

Greetings everyone! It is my singular honor and joy to have this chance to address you tonight! I am just as happy and surprised to be here as you are!  I had never even heard of Las Vegas until now. When I first saw all the brilliant lights I thought Las Vegas might be heaven, but now that I’ve been here a little while I know better! Nevertheless, the food is good and we might as well enjoy ourselves! It was a wonderful idea to hold this reunion! Let’s give a big round of applause to the organizers for all the work they have done.

Audience: Polite applause.

Gobbledygook and Trinitarian Theology

My dear brothers and comrades! You are important and famous and smart! I have read your works with great interest and done my best to follow your example. While my subject matter has differed from yours, my approach has been nearly identical as you will soon see. There is no doubt that you have very important things to say!  There is also no doubt most people have a hard time figuring out what exactly you mean! Some people even say that you, the Church Fathers, speak fluent gobbledygook! Tonight, I am a happy man, knowing that at long last, I am among friends who understand and appreciate my work in the same way I understand and appreciate yours.

Theologians Are Hard to Understand!

We use words most people do not comprehend to convey ideas that are only vaguely understood… if understood at all. You mean to say things that are very weighty and you see things others do not see! We are those who seek to express what makes a great deal of sense to us but hardly anyone else seems to catch on! Shall we then be embarrassed if our words create amazement and befuddlement? No I say! and no again! Let us fulfill our high destiny! This is our duty and our privilege and our calling. Pile on the words I say! Pile them ever higher and make them ever more inscrutable if the situation demands it! To do anything less is a dereliction of duty!

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes

PS: Who would have ever thought Lewis Carroll might get invited to a Reunion of ancient theologians? But he did and we’re so glad he showed up! We only hope you enjoyed his initial remarks as much as we did. Part II is coming next and it promises to be a real delight. Be sure to take a look… and while you’re at it why not invite someone else?