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

Parables Jesus Forgot – Part I

A Message from Tertullian

No one quite knew what to expect when Tertullian’s name appeared on the program. Most Ancient Theological All-Stars are known as “Church Fathers” but Tertullian was more like an eccentric “Church Uncle”. Some of his views were at odds with mainstream opinions and were suppressed and ignored in later years due to official disapproval. By and large most people just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well that’s old Tertullian for you!”

Tertullian Was a Great Satirist!

Tertullian was a delightful satirist too! Theologians are not known for having much of a sense of humor since they take most things, including themselves, very seriously. Tertullian, on the other hand, seems to have been cut from different cloth! It was rumored he was secretly pleased that his most ardent fans liked to call him Uncle Turtle. When the topic of his speech was announced there was little doubt that it would be fascinating and entertaining and he did not disappoint!

Tertullian Said the Son Was Not Co-Equal!

Moderator: Our speaker today is fondly called Uncle Turtle by many and is a true theological giant. He may have fallen out of favor with some Church Fathers but his keen observations earned him a place in church history and in our hearts. However, his insistence the Son was not co-equal with the Father really aggravated some of his peers!  This may have hurt his book sales but Old Turtle just kept plodding along and saying what he thought anyway. You gotta love a guy like that! So with no further ado I give you our non-conformist and always interesting Uncle Turtle!

Audience: Warm applause and shouts of “We love you Uncle Turtle!”

Tertullian: Thank you everyone! Thank you so much for such a warm welcome! I know it can be hard to feel kindly toward someone who doesn’t share all your opinions so this heartfelt reception means a lot to me! What an honor and a privilege it is to be here at this reunion! We all know this is never going to happen again so let’s just make the most of it! Isn’t this the most incredible palace ever? The buffet is out of this world and those casino games really grab your attention!  All the pretty young ladies almost make it hard to think about spiritual things so please try to concentrate! On a more serious note I’ve heard about the Emperor’s troubles and wish him a speedy recovery.

Jesus Failed to Teach Us Anything About the Trinity!

Tertullian: Today I want to share a few thoughts with you about the greatest Teacher of Parables the world has ever known. It is a miracle that Jesus managed to convey such profound spiritual truths without using the big words we theologians love so much! We stand in awe at the depth and beauty and power of His words. Sadly, and as you well know, His parables are also woefully incomplete! Somehow or another He failed to address the critically important issues that matter to theologians when we are busily writing our creeds! We must face facts and admit that Jesus neglected to teach us anything about the Trinity! He even forgot to command us to write a creed!

Audience: Shocked silence. No one knew what to say to such bold speech.

Jesus Did Not Give Us the Parables We Need!

Tertullian: Yes, it is shocking to say out loud that the Son of God failed to give us the teachings and parables we need! He did not provide us with any support for our systematic theology! You know it’s true! He claimed to have told us “all things” but can we find even one single solitary parable about the Triune God? Where in Jesus’ teachings is there any attempt at all to explain the Holy Trinity? Where is it I ask? The answer is distressing… it is not there!

Jesus Failed to Teach Any Parables About the Trinity!

What an incredible oversight! You all know there is nothing more important in our theology than the doctrine of Three Persons in One God! How can it be that Jesus completely failed to give us a single parable about the Triune God? It looks like the greatest Teacher the world has ever known really dropped the ball on this one brethren, and that is why we had to come up with our own parables. (continued in Part II)

PS: We’re glad you’ve taken the time to read about Tertullian and his thoughts on the Parables Jesus Forgot to Teach. We’re not done yet so please come back for more on our next post!

PPS: If you are enjoying this website and maybe even seeing church history more clearly, then why not share with a friend? Thanks and God Bless.

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes