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Many young believers have no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

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The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon, Part 5 (History of Christianity #193)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #193, titled, “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON], Part 5.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is 1 Corinthians 8:6 which reads: “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Ambrose of Milan. He said: “Just as in Paradise, God walks in the Holy Scriptures, seeking man.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON], Part 5” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

This council condemned Dioscorus [DEE-OH-SKOR-US] and Eutyches [YU-TIK-EES], but forgave all others who had participated in the Robber Synod of Ephesus two years earlier. Leo’s letter was finally read, and many declared that this expressed their own faith. It was a restatement of what Tertullian had declared centuries earlier, that in Christ there are “two natures in one person.” Finally, the council produced a statement that was not a creed, but rather a Definition of faith, or a clarification of what the church held to be true. A careful reading of that “Definition” will show that, while rejecting the extremes of both Alexandrines and Antiochenes, and particularly the doctrine of Eutyches [YU-TIK-EES], it reaffirmed what had been done in the three previous great councils (Nicea [NY-SEE-UH] in 325, Constantinople in 381, and Ephesus in 431):

Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all with one voice teach that it is to be confessed that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same God, perfect in divinity, and perfect in humanity, true God and true human, with a rational soul and a body, of one substance with the Father in his divinity, and of one substance with us in his humanity, in every way like us, with the only exception of sin, begotten of the Father before all time in his divinity, and also begotten in the latter days, in his humanity, of Mary the Virgin bearer of God.

This is one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, manifested in two natures without any confusion, change, division or separation. The union does not destroy the difference of the two natures, but on the contrary the properties of each are kept, and both are joined in one person and hypostasis [HAI-POW-STEI-SUHS]. They are not divided into two persons, but belong to the one Only-begotten Son, the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. All this, as the prophets of old said of him, and as he himself has taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers has passed on to us.

It will be readily seen that his Definition does not seek to “define” the union in the sense of explaining how it took place, but rather in the sense of setting the limits beyond which error lies. Thus, it rejected the notion that the union destroyed “the difference of the two natures” and also the view that the Savior is “divided into two persons”–thus rejecting the most extreme Alexandrine and Antiochene positions. It is clear that this manner of speaking of the Savior is far distant from that of the Gospels, and has been deeply influenced by extrabiblical patterns of thought. But, given the manner in which the issue was posed, it is difficult to see what else the bishops gathered at Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON] could have done in order to safeguard the reality of the incarnation.

The Definition of faith soon became the standard of christological orthodoxy in the entire Western church, and in most of the East–although there were some in the East who rejected it, and thus gave rise to the first long-lasting schisms in the history of Christianity. Some, mostly in Syria and Persia, insisted on a clear distinction between the divine and the human in Christ, and were eventually called “Nestorians.” Many others took the opposite tack, rejecting the doctrine of “two natures,” and for that reason were dubbed “Monophysites” [MOH-NOH-FEH-SITE]–from the Greek monos [MOH-NOHS] (one) and physis [FIH-SIS] (nature). Very few of these, however, adhered to the teachings of Eutyches [YU-TIK-EES]. Rather, their concern was that the divine and the human in the Savior not be so divided that the incarnation be rendered meaningless. To this were joined political and nationalist considerations which added fire to the theological debates that raged for centuries.

Next time, we will begin looking at “Further Theological Debates.”

Let’s pray.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.

The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon, Part 4 (History of Christianity #192)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #192, titled, “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON], Part 4.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is 1 John 5:20 which reads: “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Cyril [SIRR-UHL] of Jerusalem. He said: “Your accumulated offenses do not surpass the multitude of God’s mercies; your wounds do not surpass the great physician’s skill.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON], Part 4” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Thus, the second episode in the christological controversies ended with a victory for Alexandria, and with a truce that would not hold for long. In 444, when Dioscorus [DEE-OH-SKOR-US] succeeded Cyril [SIRR-UHL] as patriarch of Alexandria, the stage was set for a third and even more acrimonious confrontation, for Dioscorus [DEE-OH-SKOR-US] was a convinced defender of the most extreme Alexandrine positions, and a rather unscrupulous maneuverer.

The storm centered on the teachings of Eutyches [YU-TIK-EES], a monk in Constantinople who lacked theological subtlety, and who held that, while the Savior was “of one substance [homoousios (HO-MO-OW-SEE-OHS)] with the Father,” he was not “of one substance with us.” He also seems to have been willing to say that Christ was “from two natures before the union, but in one nature after the union.” Exactly what this meant is not altogether clear. In any case, Patriarch Flavian [FLA-VEE-UHN] of Constantinople, whose theology was of the Antiochene tradition, felt that Eutyches’s [YU-TIK-EES] teachings were close to Docetism [DOW-SEE-TI-ZM] and condemned him. Through a series of maneuvers, Dioscorus [DEE-OH-SKOR-US] had the affair grow into a conflict that involved the entire church, so that a council was called by Emperor Theodosius II [THEE-UH-DOH-SHUS], to meet at Ephesus in 449.

When this council gathered, it was clear that Dioscorus [DEE-OH-SKOR-US] and his supporters had taken all the necessary steps to predetermine the outcome. Dioscorus [DEE-OH-SKOR-US] himself had been appointed president of the assembly by the emperor, and given the authority to determine who would be allowed to speak. This council took an extreme Alexandrine stand. When Pope Leo’s legates tried to present before the assembly a letter that Leo had written on the subject at hand–commonly known as Leo’s Tome–they were not allowed to do so. Flavian [FLA-VEE-UHN] was manhandled so violently that he died in a few days. The doctrine that there are in Christ “two natures” was declared heretical, as were also all who defended the Antiochene position, even in moderate form. Furthermore, it was decreed that any who disagreed with these decisions could not be ordained.

In Rome, Leo fumed, and called the council a “Robber Synod.” But his protests were to no avail. Theodosius II [THEE-UH-DOH-SHUS] and his court, who apparently had received large amounts of gold from Alexandria, considered the matter ended.

Then the unexpected happened. Theodosius’s [THEE-UH-DOH-SHUS] horse stumbled, and the emperor fell and broke his neck. He was succeeded by his sister Pulcheria [PUL-CHER-EE-AH] and her husband Marcian [MAR-SHEN]. Pulcheria [PUL-CHER-EE-AH] had agreed earlier with the Western position, that Nestorius [NES-TOR-EE-UHS] should be condemned, for it imperiled the union of the divine with the human. But she was not an extreme Alexandrine, and felt that the proceedings at Ephesus in 449 had left much to be desired. For this reason, at the behest of Leo, she called a new council, which met at Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON] in 451 and which eventually became known as the Fourth Ecumenical Council.

Next time, we will continue looking at “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON].”

Let’s pray.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.

The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon, Part 3 (History of Christianity #191)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #191, titled, “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON], Part 3.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is 1 Corinthians 8:6 which reads: “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Tertullian. He said: “For God alone is without sin; and the only man without sin is Christ, since Christ is also God.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON], Part 3” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

This happened when Nestorius [NES-TOR-EE-UHS] declared that Mary should not be called Theotokos [THEE-UH-TOW-KOWS]–that is, bearer of God–and suggested that she be called Christotokos [CHRIST-UH-TOW-KOWS]–bearer of Christ. It is difficult for Protestants to understand what was at stake here, for we have been taught to reject the notion that Mary is the “Mother of God,” and at first glance this seems to be what was at issue here. But in truth, the debate was not so much about Mary as about Jesus. The question was not what honors were due to Mary, but how one was to speak of the birth of Jesus. When Nestorius [NES-TOR-EE-UHS] declared that Mary was the bearer of Christ, but not of God, he was affirming that in speaking of the incarnate Lord one may and must distinguish between his humanity and his divinity, and that some of the things said of him are to be applied to the humanity, and others to the divinity. This was a typically Antiochene [AN-TEE-OH-KEEN] position, which sought to preserve the full humanity of Jesus by making a very clear distinction between it and his divinity. Nestorius [NES-TOR-EE-UHS] and the rest of the Antiochenes [AN-TEE-OH-KEENS] feared that if the two were too closely joined together, the divinity would overwhelm the humanity, and one would no longer be able to speak of a true man Jesus.

In order to explain this position, Nestorius [NES-TOR-EE-UHS] declared that in Jesus there were “two natures and two persons,” one divine and one human. The human nature and person were born of Mary; the divine were not. What he meant by this is not altogether clear, for the terms “person” and “nature” could be used with different meanings. But his enemies immediately saw the danger of “dividing” the Savior into two beings whose unity consisted of agreement rather than in any real joining together. Soon many others were convinced that Nestorius’s [NES-TOR-EE-UHS] doctrines were indeed dangerous.

As was to be expected, the center of opposition to Nestorius [NES-TOR-EE-UHS] was Alexandria, whose leader, Bishop Cyril [SIRR-UHL], was a much more able politician and theologian than Nestorius. Cyril [SIRR-UHL] made certain that he had the support of the West, for which the doctrine of two persons in Christ was anathema, as well as of emperors Valentinian III [VAL-UHN-TIN-EE-AHN] and Theodosius II [THEE-UH-DOH-SHUS], who then called an ecumenical council to be gathered at Ephesus in June 431.

Nestorius’s [NES-TOR-EE-UHS] main supporters, John of Antioch and his party, were delayed. After waiting for them for two weeks, the counsil convened, in spite of the protests of the Roman legate and several dozen bishops. Then then dealth with the case of Nestorius [NES-TOR-EE-UHS] and, without allowing him to defend himself, declared him a heretic and deposed him from his see.

John of Antioch and his party arrived a few days later, and they then convened a rival council, which was much smaller than Cyril’s [SIRR-UHL], and which declared that Cyril [SIRR-UHL] was a heretic and reinstated Nestorius [NES-TOR-EE-UHS]. In retaliation, Cyril’s [SIRR-UHL] council reaffirmed its condemnation of Nestorius [NES-TOR-EE-UHS] and added to it the names of John of Antioch and all who had taken part in his council. Finally, Theodosius II [THEE-UH-DOH-SHUS] intervened, arrested both Cyril [SIRR-UHL] and John, and declared that the actions of both councils were void. Then followed a series of negotiations that led to a “formula of union” to which both Cyril [SIRR-UHL] and John agreed in 433. It was also decided that the actions of Cyril’s [SIRR-UHL] council against Nestorius [NES-TOR-EE-UHS] would stand. As to Nestorius [NES-TOR-EE-UHS], he spent the rest of his life in exile, first in a monastery in Antioch, and then, when he became too embarrassing to his Antiochene [AN-TEE-OH-KEEN] friends who had abandoned him, in the remote city of Petra.

Next time, we will continue looking at “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON].”

Let’s pray.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.

The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon, Part 2 (History of Christianity #190)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #190, titled, “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON], Part 2.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is John 1:14 which reads: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Ignatius of Antioch. He said: “If any one says there is one God, and also confesses Christ Jesus, but thinks the Lord to be a mere man, and not the only-begotten God, and Wisdom, and the Word of God, and deems Him to consist merely of a soul and body, such an one is a serpent, that preaches deceit and error for the destruction of men. And such a man is poor in understanding, even as by name he is an Ebionite.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON], Part 2” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Although this explanation seemed satisfactory to Apollinaris [UH-POL-EH-NAR-IS], soon many began to see flaws in it. A human body with a purely divine mind is not really a human being. From the Alexandrine point of view, this was quite acceptable, for all that was needed was that Jesus really speak as God, and that he have the body necessary to communicate with us. But the Antiochenes [AN-TEE-OH-KEENS] insisted that this was not enough. Jesus must be truly human. This was of paramount importance, because Jesus took up humanity so that humankind could be saved. Only if he really became human did he really save us. If any part of what constitutes a human being was not taken up by him, that was not saved by him. Gregory of Nazianzus [NAA-ZEE-AAN-ZEEN-AWS] (one of the Cappadocian Fathers) put it this way:

If any believe in Jesus Christ as a human being without human reason, they are the ones devoid of all reason, and unworthy of salvation. For that which he has not taken up he has not saved. He saved that which he joined to his divinity. If only half of Adam had fallen, then it would be possible for Christ to take up and save only half. But if the entire human nature fell, all of it must be united to the Word in order to be saved as a whole.

After some debate, the theories of Apollinaris [UH-POL-EH-NAR-IS] were rejected, first by a number of leading bishops and local synods called by them, and eventually by the Council of Constantinople in 381–the same council that reaffirmed the decisions of Nicea [NY-KEE-AH] against Arianism.

The next episode of the christological controversies was precipitated by Nestorius, a representative of the Antiochene [AN-TEE-OH-KEEN] school who became patriarch of Constantinople in 428. There were always political intrigues surrounding that office, for the patriarchate of Constantinople had become a point of discord between the patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria. The Council of Constantinople had declared that the bishop of Constantinople should have in the East precedence similar to that which the bishop of Rome had in the West. This was a simple acknowledgment of political reality, for Constantinople had become the capital of the Eastern empire. But the bishops of the older churches in Antioch and Alexandria were not content with being relegated to a secondary position. They responded, among other things, by turning the bishopric of Constantinople into a prize to be captured for their own supporters. Since Antioch was more successful at this game than Alexandria, most of the patriarchs of Constantinople were Antiochenes [AN-TEE-OH-KEENS], and therefore the patriarchs of Alexandria regarded them as their enemies–a process we have already seen when dealing with the life of John Chrysostom. For these reasons, Nestorius’s position was not secure, and the Alexandrines were looking to catch him at his first mistake.

Next time, we will continue looking at “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON].”

Let’s pray.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.

The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon, Part 1 (History of Christianity #189)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #189, titled, “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON], Part 1.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is Luke 3:21-22 which reads: “Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Gregory of Nazianzus [NAA-ZEE-AAN-ZEEN-AWS]. He said: “No one has yet breathed the whole air, nor has any mind entirely comprehended, or speech exhaustively contained, the being of God.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON], Part 1” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

The question of the divinity of the second person of the Trinity (and of the Holy Spirit) had been settled by the Councils of Nicea [NY-KEE-AH] (325) and Constantinople (381). Although the conversion to Arianism of some of the Germanic people beyond the borders of the empire, and their subsequent invasion of Western Europe, brought about a brief resurgence of Arianism, this eventually disappeared, and Christians were in basic agreement on trinitarian doctrine. But there were still other issues that would cause sharp theological disagreement. Foremost among these was the question of how divinity and humanity are joined in Jesus Christ. This is the fundamental christological question.

On this question, there were in the East two different currents of thought, which historians have conveniently labeled the Antiochene [AN-TEE-OH-KEEN] and the Alexandrine–although not all those who followed the Alexandrine way of thinking were from Alexandria, nor were all the Antiochenes [AN-TEE-OH-KEENS] from Antioch. Both sides were agreed that the divine was immutable and eternal. The question then was, how could the immutable, eternal God be joined to a mutable, historical man? At this point, the two schools followed divergent paths. The Alexandrines, like Clement and Origen centuries earlier, stressed the significance of Jesus as the teacher of divine truth. In order to be this, the Savior had to be a full and clear revelation of the divine. His divinity must be asserted, even if this had to be done at the expense of his humanity. The Antiochenes [AN-TEE-OH-KEENS], on the other hand, felt that for Jesus to be the Savior of human beings he had to be fully human. The Godhead dwelt in him, without any doubt; but this must not be understood in such a way that his humanity was diminished or eclipsed. Both sides agreed that Jesus was both divine and human. The question was how to understand that union.

As one now looks back at that question, it appears that the way it had been posed made it impossible to answer. In the preceding generations, guided mostly by earlier Greek philosophy, Christian theologians had come to define God in terms of contrast with all human limitations. God is immutable; humans are constantly changing. God is infinite; humans are finite. God is omnipotent; human power is limited. God is eternal and omnipresent; humans can only be present at one place in a particular time. When divinity and humanity are thus defined, the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ–the presence and full union of the divine and the human–becomes a contradiction. (I have said elsewhere that it is like asking someone to produce hot ice cream. One can melt the ice cream; one can mix the ingredients; one can put both ice cream and something hot on the same plate; but one can never produce ice cream that, without ceasing to be ice cream, is hot.) The only solutions to such a quandary, when matters are posed in such terms, are to declare that the divinity and the humanity are not really joined in one–which was the Antiochene way of thinking–or to be willing to have the divinity overwhelm the humanity, overcoming its natural limitations–which was the Alexandrine position.

In the West, such questions did not create the same stir. For one thing, after the Germanic invasions, there were other urgent matters that required attention. For another, the West simply revived Tertullian’s old formula–that in Christ there were two natures united in one person–and was content to affirm this. Thus, the West played a balancing role between the two factions in the East, and for that reason would come out of the controversies with enhanced prestige.

The first stages of the controversy began even before the trinitarian issue was settled. One of the defenders of the Nicene position regarding the Trinity, Apollinaris [UH-POL-EH-NAR-IS] of Laodicea [LAO-DEH-SAY-AH], thought that he could help that cause by explaining how the eternal Word of God could be incarnate in Jesus. This he attempted to do by claiming that in Jesus the Word of God, the second person of the Trinity, took the place of the rational soul. Like all human being, Jesus had a physical body, and this was activated by the same principle that gives life to all human beings. But he did not have a human intellect. The Word of God played in him the role that the intellect or “rational soul” plays in the rest of us.

Although this explanation seemed satisfactory to Apollinaris [UH-POL-EH-NAR-IS], soon many began to see flaws in it. A human body with a purely divine mind is not really a human being. From the Alexandrine point of view, this was quite acceptable, for all that was needed was that Jesus really speak as God, and that he have the body necessary to communicate with us. But the Antiochenes [AN-TEE-OH-KEENS] insisted that this was not enough. Jesus must be truly human. This was of paramount importance, because Jesus took up humanity so that humankind could be saved. Only if he really became human did he really save us. If any part of what constitutes a human being was not taken up by him, that was not saved by him. Gregory of Nazianzus [NAA-ZEE-AAN-ZEEN-AWS] (one of the Cappadocian Fathers) put it this way:

If any believe in Jesus Christ as a human being without human reason, they are the ones devoid of all reason, and unworthy of salvation. For that which he has not taken up he has not saved. He saved that which he joined to his divinity. If only half of Adam had fallen, then it would be possible for Christ to take up and save only half. But if the entire human nature fell, all of it must be united to the Word in order to be saved as a whole.

Next time, we will continue looking at “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON].”

Let’s pray.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.

Eastern Christianity (History of Christianity Podcast #188)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #188, titled, “Eastern Christianity.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is 1 Corinthians 1:10 which reads: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from John of Damascus. He said: “When I have no books, or when my thoughts, torturing me like thorns, do not let me enjoy reading, I go to church, which is the cure available for every disease of the soul. The freshness of the images draws my attention, captivates my eyes…and slowly leads my soul to divine praise.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Eastern Christianity” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Although in the last chapter our attention has centered on Western Christianity, one must not forget that at the same time there was an Eastern branch of the church. For Christians at that time, both East and West, the church was one. Historians, however, can now see that by the early Middle Ages the two branches of the church were drifting apart, and that the final schism, which took place in 1054, was long in the making. Apart from the obvious cultural differences between the Latin-speaking West and the Greek-speaking East, the political course of events produced entirely different situations in the two branches of the church. In the West, the demise of the empire created a vacuum that the church filled, and thus ecclesiastical leaders–particularly the popes–also came to wield political power. In the East, the empire continued for another thousand years. It was often beleaguered by foreign invasion or by inner turmoil, but it survived. Its autocratic emperors kept a tight rein on ecclesiastical leaders. This usually led to civil intervention in ecclesiastical matters, particularly in theological debates. Theological discussion came to be tainted with the ever-present possibility of appealing to the emperor to take one’s side, and thus crushing an enemy one could not overcome by mere argument. Given that power, many emperors made theological decisions on the basis of political considerations, which led to even greater acrimony. For these reasons, theological controversy became one of the hallmarks of Eastern Christianity during the early Middle Ages.

This is not to say that such controversies were not important. The issues at stake were often central to the gospel. Furthermore, since Christians at that time considered themselves members of the same church, the decisions made in the East, sometimes with little or no Western participation, came to be regarded as normative by both East and West. Finally, out of these debates the first permanent schisms developed within Christianity, giving rise to separate churches that still exist.

Next time, we will begin looking at “The Christological Debates to the Council of Chalcedon [KAL-SEH-DON].”

Let’s pray.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.

The Arab Conquests, Part 3 (History of Christianity #187)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #187, titled, “The Arab Conquests, Part 3.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is 1 Timothy 2:5 which reads: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Basil the Great. He said: “And so let us be glad and bear with patience everything the world throws at us, secure in the knowledge that it is then that we are most in the mind of God.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Arab Conquests, Part 3” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

These invasions had enormous significance for Christianity. For one thing, many of the ancient centers of Christianity–Jerusalem, Antioch, Damascus, Alexandria, and Carthage–were now under Muslim rule. Although seldom persecuted, Christians in those areas were placed under severe handicaps. Most often conversion to Christianity was harshly punished. Although the church in these areas produced a number of notable apologists, at times any defense of Christianity was considered an offense against Muhammad, punishable by death. In Carthage and the surrounding area, Christianity completely disappeared. In the rest of the vast Arab holdings it was tolerated, but ceased growing, and eventually was content with holding its own.

The Byzantine Empire, which until then had vast territories in the Near East and the northern coast of Africa, was pushed back to what is now Turkey, and to its holdings in Europe. In the next chapter we shall see that, since many of those within that empire who had dissented from its policies were now under Muslim rule, and therefore the Byzantine emperors no longer felt the need to take their views into account, Byzantine Orthodoxy could now ignore the objections of Monophysites and Nestorians.

Furthermore, the entire geographic configuration of Christianity changed. Until then, Christianity had developed along the Mediterranean basin. Now, it would find its center along an axis that ran from north to south, including the British Isles, the Frankish kingdom, and Italy. Constantinople would be increasingly alienated from that axis. Therefore it is no coincidence that a few years after the Arab conquests, in 800 ce, the pope felt inclined to crown Charlemagne emperor of the West, and both he and Charlemagne were ready to ignore the protests that came from Constantinople.

In the field of theology, Islam affected Christianity, not only in that the latter produced a number of apologies–written both within and beyond the borders of Muslim power–but also in the manner in which Christian leaders sought to respond to Islamic criticism. This was particularly true in the debate regarding the use of images, which would rage in the eighth century, and in the need to clarify the doctrine of the Trinity, which Muslims claimed was a denial of monotheism.

But above all, the Muslim invasions, and Christian reaction to them, continued and accelerated a process of militarizing Christianity that had long been developing. The earliest Christians, following the teachings of Jesus, had been strict pacifists. Slowly, however, as Christianity made way among the ranks of the military, concessions began to be made. Even before Constantine’s conversion, some Christian writers held that strict pacifism was required only of monastics. After Constantine Christians, now finding themselves responsible for the safety and order of the state, developed the Just War Theory, which made it acceptable for Christians to use violence under some circumstances. Then came Germanic invasions from the north, and Muslim invasions from the south. The Germanic peoples were assimilated, and in the process the church came to adopt many of their traditional warlike customs. To the East and South, Islam presented itself as a constant threat to be held back only by armed force, with the result that Christianity became radically militarized, and a few centuries later would undertake an offensive against Islam–the Crusades–whose violence and cruelty equaled any perpetrated earlier by the Muslim invaders. Thus was created an atmosphere of violence and suspicion that would continue to bear its bitter fruit half a millennium later.

Next time, we will begin looking at “Eastern Christianity.”

Let’s pray.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.

The Arab Conquests, Part 2 (History of Christianity #186)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #186, titled, “The Arab Conquests, Part 2.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is 1 John 4:1 which reads: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Augustine. He said: “Our hearts were made for you, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Arab Conquests, Part 2” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Then leadership passed on to the caliphs–from an Arabic word which means “successor.” Under Abu Bakr [BAA-KER] (632-634), power over Arabia was consolidated, and the Muslims achieved their first victory over the Byzantine armies. Under Omar (also known as ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab [OO-MAR EE-BIN AL-KAH-TAB], 634-644) the Arabs invaded Syria. In 635 they took Damascus, and Jerusalem in 638. Two years later, they were masters of the entire region. At the same time, another Muslim army invaded Egypt, founded what would one day become Cairo, and took Alexandria in 642. By 647, under the leadership of the third caliph, Otman (also known as ‘Uthman ibn Affan [OOTH-MAN EE-BIN AF-FAN], 644-656), they were again marching westward along the northern coast of Africa. Meanwhile, a Muslim army invaded the Persian Empire, whose last king died in 651. After that, experiencing only minor setbacks, the Muslims swept through what had once been one of the most powerful kingdoms on earth.

During the second half of the century, the Muslim advance was somewhat slowed by the inner strife that had marked it from the beginning. Of the first four caliphs, three were assassinated. The struggle between the fourth caliph, Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib [AH-LEE EE-BIN AH-BEE TAH-LEEB], 656-661), and his rivals resulted in a great division that would continue to persist through the centuries: the Shiites supporting Ali, and the Sunni his rivals. While their theological differences were minor, they disagreed on some matters of ritual, and in particular on whether only a direct descendant of Muhammad could be his successor–a position held by the Shiites, and denied by the Sunni.

Even while torn asunder by inner conflict, however, Islam continued to advance. Carthage fell in 695, and soon many of the inhabitants of North Africa, who had lived through so much strife between Catholics, Donatists, Arians, and Byzantines, accepted Islam. By 711, a small band crossed the Straits of Gibraltar–whose name is derived from that of their leader, Tariq–and found the Visigothic kingdom so weakened that they overran it. Soon all of Spain, except for the extreme northern areas, was under Muslim rule. From there they crossed the Pyrenees and threatened the very heart of Western Europe. In 732, they were finally defeated by Charles Martel at the battle of Tours, which marked the end of the first wave of Muslim expansion.

This enormous expansion was made possible by disaffection among those who had been subjected to the Byzantine and Persian empires. In the specific case of the Byzantine Empire, such disaffection had already played a role in the growth of the Monophysitism in areas such as Syria and Egypt. Now Muslim rule presented itself as an alternative to Byzantine oppression, and promised those who had been disaffected for religious reasons that their views and goods would be respected. The proclamation issued at the time of the conquest of Jerusalem is typical, although of particular interest due to the later history of religious relations in that city. In that proclamation the general promised that Jews and Christians would be respected in their property and their customs, but would only be required to pay tribute “like the inhabitants of other cities.” As to Christians, “their churches and their crosses” would be respected. And there would be “no pressure or coercion on religious matters.” Only the “Greeks”–meaning the Byzantines–would be forced to leave the city, and they would be given a safe conduct to do so.

Next time, we will continue looking at “The Arab Conquests.”

Let’s pray.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.

The Papacy, Part 4 (History of Christianity #184)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #184, titled, “The Papacy, Part 4.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is Romans 6:4 which reads: “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Basil the Great. He said: “To partake of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ is good and beneficial; for He says quite plainly: ‘He that eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life.’ Who can doubt that to share continually in life is the same thing as having life abundantly?”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Papacy, Part 4” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

However, it is not only for these reasons that Gregory is called “the Great.” He was also a prolific writer whose works were very influential throughout the Middle Ages. In these writings, he did not seek to be original or creative. On the contrary, his greatest pride was not to say anything that had not been held by the great teachers of earlier centuries, particularly Saint Augustine. To him, it sufficed to be a disciple of the great bishop of Hippo, a teacher of his teachings. But in spite of such wishes, there was a chasm between Gregory and his admired Augustine. Gregory lived in a time of obscurantism, superstition, and credulity, and to a degree he reflected his age. By making Augustine an infallible teacher, he contradicted the spirit of that teacher, whose genius was, at least in part, in his inquiring spirit and venturesome mind. What for Augustine was conjecture, in Gregory became certainty. Thus, for instance, the theologian of Hippo had suggested the possibility that there was a place of purification for those who died in sin, where they would spend some time before going to heaven. On the basis of these speculations of Augustine, Gregory affirmed the existence of such a place, and thus gave impetus to the development of the doctrine of purgatory.

It was particularly in that which refers to the doctrine of salvation that Gregory mitigated and even transformed the teachings of Augustine. The Augustinian doctrines of predestination and irresistible grace were set aside by Gregory, who was more concerned with the question of how we are to offer satisfaction to God for sins committed. This is done through penance, which consists of contrition, confession, and the actual punishment or satisfaction. To these must be added priestly absolution, which confirms the forgiveness granted by God. Those who die in the faith and communion of the church, but without having offered satisfaction for all their sins, will go to purgatory before they attain their final salvation. The living can help the dead out of purgatory by offering masses in their favor. Gregory believed that in the mass or communion Christ was sacrificed anew (and there is a legend that the crucified appeared to him while celebrating mass). This notion of the mass as sacrifice eventually became standard doctrine of the Western church–until it was rejected by Protestants in the sixteenth century.

Gregory tells the story of a certain monk who had died in sin. The abbot–Gregory himself–ordered that daily masses be said on behalf of the deceased, whose soul appeared to a brother after thirty days, declaring that he was now free of purgatory, and had moved on to heaven. This and similar stories were not Gregory’s invention. They were rather part of the atmosphere and beliefs of the time. But, while earlier Christian teachers had sought to preserve Christian faith free of popular superstition, Gregory readily accepted the stories circulating at his time as if they were simple and direct confirmation of the Christian faith.

Under Gregory’s successors, the papacy fell on evil days. Constantinople insisted on asserting its authority over Rome. Since at that time, as we shall see in the next chapter, the Eastern church was divided by christological controversies, the emperors demanded that the popes support their theological positions. Those who refused were treated harshly. Thus, it came about that Pope Honorius (625-638) declared himself a Monothelite–that is, a follower of a christological heresy claiming that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one will. When, years later, Pope Martin I disobeyed the emperor’s command that there was to be no discussion of these christological issues, he was kidnapped and taken to Constantinople. His main supporter, the monk Maximus, had his tongue and his right hand cut off by imperial order, and was also sent into exile. From then on, all the theological controversies with which we shall deal in the next chapter had serious repercussions in Rome, which could not free itself from the overwhelming power of the emperors of Constantinople. During all this time, and until Gregory III (731-741), the election of a pope had to be confirmed by the authorities in Constantinople before the candidate could be consecrated as bishop of Rome.

Then, as Byzantine power in Italy began to wane, the ever present threat of the Lombards forced the popes to find new support elsewhere, and they turned to the Franks. It was for this reason that Pope Zacharias agreed to have Childeric III, “the Stupid,” deposed, and Pepin crowned in his stead. Although Zacharias died the same year that Pepin was crowned (752), his successor, Stephen II, collected the debt that Pepin had acquired with the papacy. When the Lombards again threatened, Stephen appealed to Pepin, who twice invaded Italy, and granted to the pope several cities that the Lombards had taken. The protests of the government at Constantinople need not be heeded, and the popes became rulers of a vast portion of Italy. From that point, the alliance between the Franks and the popes grew closer. Finally, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of the West on Christmas Day, 800 ce.

Next time, we will begin looking at “The Arab Conquests.”

Let’s pray.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.

The Papacy, Part 3 (History of Christianity Podcast #183)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #183, titled, “The Papacy, Part 3.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is Acts 20:28 which reads: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Gregory the Great. He said: “Act in such a way that your humility may not be weakness, nor your authority be severity. Justice must be accompanied by humility, that humility may render justice lovable.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Papacy, Part 3” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Little is known of Gregory’s early years in this beleaguered city. He may have been an important Roman official–a career for which he was undoubtedly trained by his family, which was of aristocratic origin. After he became a Benedictine monk, Pope Benedict made him a deacon–that is, a member of his administrative council. The next pope, Pelagius II [PEH-LAY-JEE-US], appointed Gregory his ambassador before the court at Constantinople. There Gregory spent six years, and was often involved in the theological controversies and political intrigues that were constantly boiling in the great city. Finally, in 586, Pelagius [PEH-LAY-JEE-US] sent another ambassador, and Gregory was able to return to his monastery in Rome, where he was made abbot.

At that time the situation in Rome was serious. The Lombards had finally united, and intended to conquer the whole of Italy. Although some resources were sent from Constantinople for the defense of Rome. and although the Lombards were occasionally being attacked from the rear by the Franks, there was great danger that the city would fall.

To make matters worse, an epidemic broke out in Rome. Shortly before, floods had destroyed much of the store of food. Since those who were ill frequently had hallucinations, rumors began circulating. Someone had seen a great dragon emerging from the Tiber. Death was seen stalking the streets. Fire had rained from heaven. Then Pope Pelagius [PEH-LAY-JEE-US], who with the help of Gregory and other monks had organized the sanitation of the city, the burial of the dead, and the feeding of the hungry, himself became ill and died.

Under such circumstances, there were not many who coveted the empty post. Gregory himself had no wish to become pope, but the clergy and the people elected him. He sought to have his election annulled by writing to the emperor and asking that his appointment not be confirmed–by that time it had become customary to request the approval of Constantinople before consecrating the bishop of an important see. But his letter was intercepted. Eventually, although reluctantly, he was made bishop of Rome.

Gregory then set about his own tasks with unbounded zeal. Since there was nobody else to do it, he organized the distribution of food among the needy in Rome, and he also took measures to guarantee the continuing shipments of wheat from Sicily. Likewide, he supervised the rebuilding of the aqueducts and of the defenses of the city, and the garrison was drilled until morale was restored. Since there was little help to be expected from Constantinople, he opened direct negotiations with the Lombards, with whom he secured peace. Thus, by default, the pope was acting as ruler of Rome and the surrounding area, which soon came to be known as “Saint Peter’s Patrimony.” Much later, in the eighth century, someone forged a document, the so-called Donation of Constantine, which claimed that the great emperor had granted these lands to Saint Peter’s successors.

But Gregory considered himself above all a religious leader. He preached constantly in the various churches in Rome, calling the faithful to renewed commitment. He also took measures to promote clerical celibacy, which was slowly becoming the norm throughout Italy, and which many claimed to follow but did not. Also, as bishop of Rome, Gregory saw himself as patriarch of the West. He did not claim for himself universal authority, as Leo had done earlier. But he took more practical steps, which did in fact increase his authority in the West. In Spain, he was instrumental in the conversion of the Visigothic population to Nicene Catholicism. To England, he sent Augustine’s mission, which would eventually extend the authority of Rome to the British Isles. His letters to Africa, dealing with the Donatist schism, were not as well received by the local bishops, who wished to guard their independence. He also tried to intervene in the various Frankish territories, seeking more autonomy for the church. But in this he did not succeed, for the Frankish rulers wished to have control of the church, and saw no reason to yield to the pope’s entreaties.

Next time, we will continue looking at “The Papacy.”

Let’s pray.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.