The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea: The Outbreak of the Controversy, Part 2 (The History of Christianity Broadcast #113)


Our History of Christianity Scripture passage 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 Ephrem of Edessa. He said: “God’s Word is an inexhaustible spring of life.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea – The Outbreak of the Controversy.

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea – The Outbreak of the Controversy – Part 2 from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).  Continue reading

The Monastic Reaction: The Origins of Monasticism

The History of Christianity #96

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Lamentations 3:28 which reads: “He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He said: “Monastic life became a living protest against the secularization of Christianity, against the cheapening of grace.”

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

Even before Constantine’s time, there had been Christians who, for various reasons, had felt called to an unusual style of life. Reference has already been made to the “widows and virgins” – that is, to those women who chose not to marry or to remarry, and to devote all their time and energies to the work of the church. Some time later, Origen, following the Platonic ideal of the wise life, made arrangements to live at a mere subsistence level, and led a life of extreme asceticism. It is said that he even took literally the Word of Christ about those who have made themselves “eunuchs for the Kingdom.” Also, although Gnosticism had been rejected by the church, its influence could still be felt in the widely held notion that there was a fundamental opposition between the body and the life of the spirit, and that therefore in order to live fully in the spirit it was necessary to subdue and to punish the body.

Thus, monasticism has roots both within the church and outside of it. From within the church, monasticism was inspired by Paul’s words, that those who chose not to marry had greater freedom to serve the Lord. This impulse toward celibacy was often strengthened by the expectation of the return of the Lord. If the end was at hand, it made no sense to marry and to begin the sedentary life of those who are making plans for the future. At other times, there was an additional reason for celibacy: since Christians are to witness to the coming Kingdom, and since Jesus declared that in the Kingdom “they neither marry nor are given in marriage,” those who choose to remain celibate in the present life are a living witness to the coming Kingdom.

A number of outside influences also played a part in the development of Christian monasticism. Several schools of classical philosophy held that the body was the prison or the sepulcher of the soul, and that the latter could not be truly free as long as it did not overcome the limitations of the body. Stoic doctrine, very widespread at the time, held that passions are the great enemy of true wisdom, and that the wise devote themselves to the perfecting of their souls and the subjugation of their passions. Several religious traditions in the Mediterranean basin included sacred virgins, celibate priests, eunuchs, and others whose lifestyle set them apart for the service of the gods. This sense that the body – and particularly sexual activity – was somehow evil or unworthy of those devoted to holiness became so widespread that in an attempt to curb this extreme practice, the Council of Nicea, in 325 AD, ordered that any among the clergy who had castrated themselves be deposed, and no one be admitted into the clergy who had done such a thing. But according to ancient chroniclers even at that council there were already some who wished to order clerical celibacy – a move that was defeated by the impassioned opposition of bishop Paphnutius (pa-ph-nutis), widely respected for his steadfastness during the persecution and his own celibate life. Thus, the ideals of early Christian Monasticism arose both from Scripture and from other sources quite alien to Christianity.

Next time, we will look at The First Monks of the Desert.

Official Theology: Eusebius of Caesarea (Part 4)

The History of Christianity #94

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Matthew 19:24 which reads: “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Bill Johnson. He said: “Much of today’s church relies more on a book the early church didn’t have, than the Spirit they did.”

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

Three examples should suffice to illustrate the manner in which theology was being accommodated to fit the new situation. First of all, it is clear that, in the New Testament as well as in the early church, it was affirmed that the gospel was first of all good news to the poor, and that the rich had particular difficulty in hearing it and receiving it. Actually, one of the theological issues that caused some concern for earlier Christians was how it was possible for a rich person to be saved. But now, beginning with Constantine, riches and pomp came to be seen as signs of divine favor. The next chapter will show that the monastic movement was in part a protest against this accommodating understanding of the Christian life. But Eusebius – and the thousands of others for whom he probably spoke – does not seem to have been aware of the radical change that was taking place as the persecuted church became the church of the powerful, nor of the dangers involved in that change.

Likewise, Eusebius described with great joy and pride the ornate churches that were being built. But the net result of those buildings, and of the liturgy that evolved to fit them, was the development of a clerical aristocracy, similar to the imperial aristocracy, and often as far from the common people as were the great officers of the empire. The church imitated the uses of the empire, not only in its liturgy, but also in its social structure.

Official Theology: Eusebius of Caesarea (Part 1)

The History of Christianity #91

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Romans 13:1 which reads: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Eusebius. He said: “Looking westward or eastward, looking over the whole earth, and even looking at heaven, always and everywhere I see blessed Constantine leading the same empire.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Imperial Church – Reactions to the New Order”. Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Official Theology: Eusebius of Caesarea” (Part 1) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Eusebius of Caesarea was in all probability the most learned Christian of his time. He was also one of the most ardent admirers of Constantine and his work. For this reason he has sometimes been depicted as a spineless man who allowed himself to be swayed by the glitter of imperial power. But things are not so simple when one considers his entire career.

Eusebius was born around the year 260 AD, most likely in Palestine, where he spent most of his early years. He is known as Eusebius “of Caesarea” because, although it is not certain that he was born there, it was in that city that he spent most of his life and that he served as bishop. Practically nothing is known of his parents, and it is impossible to determine whether he grew up in a Christian home or was converted as a youth.

In any case, the person who left a deep impression on Eusebius was Pamphilus of Caesarea. Pamphilus was a native of Berytus — now Beirut, in Lebanon — who had studied in Alexandria under Pierius, a famous teacher who was carrying on Origen’s work in that city. After holding some important posts in Berytus, Pamphilus went to Caesarea, probably at the request of the bishop of that city. The church of Caesarea had kept Origen’s library, and Pamphilus spent long hours working with it and adding to it. In this task he was aided by several others who were moved by Pamphilus’ intellectual curiosity and profound faith. One of those captivated by the scholar from Berytus was young Eusebius, who acknowledged his debt by calling himself “Eusebius of Pamphilus.”

The Imperial Church – Reactions to the New Order

The History of Christianity #90

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse 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 Nils Forsander. He said: “Church history is the record of God’s gracious, wonderful and mighty deeds, showing how by His Spirit and Word He rules His church and conquers the world.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Imperial Church – Reactions to the New Order” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

One of the results of the new situation was the development of what may be called an “official theology.” Overwhelmed by the favor that the emperor was pouring on them, many Christians sought to show that Constantine was chosen by God to bring the history of both church and empire to its culmination, where both were joined. Typical of this attitude was church historian Eusebius of Caesarea.

Others took the opposite tack. For them, the fact that the emperors now declared themselves Christian, and that for this reason people were flocking to the church, was not a blessing, but rather a significant loss. Some who tended to look at matters under this light, but did not wish to break communion with the rest of the church, withdrew to the desert, there to lead a life of meditation and asceticism. Since martyrdom was no longer possible, these people believed that the true athlete of Christ must continue training, if no longer for martyrdom, then for monastic life. The fourth century thus witnessed a massive exodus of the most devout Christians to the deserts of Egypt and Syria.

Others with a negative reaction to the new state of affairs felt that the best course was simply to break communion with the church at large, now become the imperial church, which was considered sinful and apostate.

The Imperial Church — The Impact of the New Order

The History of Christianity #88

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is John 4:24 which reads: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Paul David Tripp. He said: “Corporate worship is a regular gracious reminder that it’s not about you. You’ve been born into a life that is a celebration of another.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Imperial Church – The Impact of the New Order” (Part 2) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Until Constantine’s time, Christian worship had been relatively simple. At first, Christians gathered to worship in private homes. Then they began to gather in cemeteries, such as the Roman catacombs. By the third century there were structures set aside for worship such as the house in Dura-Europos (duh-ra-yoo-roh-pos).

After Constantine’s conversion, Christian worship began to be influenced by imperial protocol. Incense, which was used as a sign of respect for the emperor, began appearing in Christian churches. Officiating ministers, who until then had worn everyday clothes, began dressing in more luxurious garments – and soon were called “priests,” in imitation of their pagan counterparts, while the communion table became an “altar” – in opposition to the instructions found earlier in the Didache (dide-ki). Likewise, a number of gestures indicating respect, which were normally made before the emperor, now became part of Christian worship. An interesting example of this had to do with prayer on Sunday. At an earlier time, the practice was not to kneel for prayer on Sundays, for that is the day of our adoption, when we approach the throne of the Most High as children and heirs to the Great King. Now, after Constantine, one always knelt for prayer, as petitioners usually knelt before the emperor. The custom was also introduced of beginning services with a professional. Choirs were developed, partly in order to give body to that procession. Eventually, the congregation came to have a less active role in worship.

The Imperial Church: The Impact of the New Order, Part 1

The History of Christianity #87

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is 1 Corinthians 12:27 which reads: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Ignatius of Antioch. He said: “It is right, therefore, that we not just be called Christians, but that we actually be Christians.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Imperial Church – The Impact of the New Order” (Part 1) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

The most immediate consequence of Constantine’s conversion was the cessation of persecution. Until then, even at times of relative peace, Christians had lived under the threat of persecution, and what was for many the hope of martyrdom. After Constantine’s conversion, that threat and that hope dissipated. The few pagan emperors who reigned after him did not generally persecute Christians, but rather tried to restore paganism by other means. But the immediate impact of that conversion on the life of the church went far beyond the obvious cessation of persecution. In this regard, a series of imperial edicts granted the church and its leaders’ privileges whose echoes may still be seen in some areas in the twenty-first century. One of this was tax exemption for church properties, as well as making it legal to bequeath property to the church. Over the long run, this would mean that the church would come to own vast lands and other riches. The bishops — at the time there were about eighteen hundred of them – as well as other clergy were also granted exemption from taxes, from military conscription, and from the days of labor that others were forced to devote to public works.