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

Faith Without Creeds

Saved by Faith… Plus the Nicene Creed!

The Reunion Committee knew the right person to give the keynote address just had to be the great theologian Athanasius! His powerful intellect, keen grasp of subtle philosophical issues and his forceful oratory made him the perfect choice. His epic speech “Faith Without Creeds is Dead” may be the most magnificent defense of the Nicene Creed you’ll ever read. His insights and passion truly captured the spirit of Nicea!

The Master of Ceremony’s Introduction of Athanasius was pretty dull and is omitted from this account. The transcript of Athanasius’ glorious speech is presented here in its entirety.

Arius Was a Heretic!

Athanasius:  Greetings and blessings to all! Except of course to Arius and his band of heretics who slithered in here somehow and are sitting with us today. How did he get in here anyway? The Reunion committee must have lost its collective mind to let him in! I see his name is even on the program somewhere! I thought we had banned him from everything we could think of! Well no matter, we’ll deal with him again later. Some of you may recall how, after our first council, we made it a crime punishable by death to even have a copy of his writings. It makes me a little nostalgic just to think of it. Those were the days!

What About  Emperor Constantine?

You may be wondering, where is Emperor Constantine? The Reunion organizers have asked me to inform you that he is doing well. The unfortunate misunderstanding that got him arrested when he tried to check in has been cleared up! He may have lost his bearings for awhile but he’s doing much better now that he’s on medications. We all know it was his will that brought us together in Nicea and it was his power that established our teachings!  Thank God for the Emperor! Let us pray for his speedy recovery!

Thank God for the Nicene Council!

It is so remarkable that we are all together again in Caesar’s Palace! Today we want to remember and give thanks for all the wonderful things we said and did in Nicea! Yes, I know there may be critics who whine that all we did was revel in our own intellectualism and sophistication. Well they are simply wrong! They were wrong then and they are still wrong today! You can be sure they will be wrong forever as long as I have anything to say about it! Besides, what’s so wrong with being intellectual and sophisticated anyway?

AUDIENCE:   Thunderous applause!

The Nicene Council Preserved the Kingdom of God!

Never forget that it was our work in Nicea that preserved the very kingdom of God from destruction! The wicked heretic and so-called Christian, Arius got what he deserved when we threw him out on his ear! We are forever grateful to Emperor Constantine who paid all our expenses and fed us sumptuously at his table. We should never lose sight of his kindness to the church when he told Roman citizens to quit killing us! It was Constantine, our beloved patron and Emperor, who took our side in the Nicean debate!  He pledged the power and might of Rome to our cause, and brethren, that’s as good as it gets!

AUDIENCE:   Deafening applause.

The Church Fathers Wrote a Beautiful Creed!

You may be wondering exactly what it was that we did in Nicea to preserve God’s kingdom. What did we accomplish that changed the very course of history? What was our crowning achievement you ask! We wrote a creed and crafted words that could show who is a true believer and who is not! Our words are wonderfully filled with gravity and mystery! (I wrote a lot of it myself by the way) Simply reciting them in public can establish whether you are in or out of God’s Kingdom!

Salvation Depends on the Nicene Creed!

The words we wrote are so important that we decided to establish their authority by majority vote! Our creed must never be disputed even if dimwits like Arius refuse to acknowledge it! We created the undisputed gold standard of faith for untold millions of believers! The Nicene Creed has been the only acceptable way for Christians to think for well over 1500 years now! Thankfully, we have even convinced people that unless they accept our theological formulation they cannot be saved!

AUDIENCE:  Enthusiastic shouting and foot stomping.

Many Christians Refused to Believe in the Trinity!

Thank you. Thank you! Most of you remember the situation we faced. There was trouble in the church! There were churches all over the empire and beyond that didn’t agree with each other! To their great shame there were even some people who stubbornly disagreed with me.  Far too many of them refused to accept my views about the threefold nature of God.

 AUDIENCE:   Booing and hissing.

Those Damnable Heretics Rejected Our Creed!

Athanasius: Damnable heretics like Arius and his followers refused to recognize the brilliance of our creation.  They would not believe in Jesus the right way, our way! Some did not like the idea of God being three “persons” but one substance! They rattled on about how it is wrong to claim God is a substance or essence in the first place. Well, that was our idea and we like it a lot and so does the Emperor! That pretty much settles it once and for all wouldn’t you say? But Arius and the thickheaded imbeciles who were his companions just wouldn’t go along with us. It didn’t matter though because our ideas became the official dogma of the Roman Empire!

AUDIENCE:   Right on Athanasius! God is One! God is Three! Let’s hear it for the Trinity!

The Church Needed Some Platonic Philosophy!

Arius and his accomplices accused us of building our doctrine on a foundation of Platonic philosophy. Well La Ti Da!  We told them, “If you don’t like it we’ll excommunicate you! Then to protect the Gospel from people who disagree with us we condemned and banished them! Just for good measure we made it a crime punishable by death to even have a copy of Arius’ writings! How’s that for taking a firm stand for the truth brethren!

AUDIENCE:   Bravo! Bravo! Well done!

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Continued… Click for Part II

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes