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 Spread of the Monastic Ideal (Part 2)

The History of Christianity #104

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is Romans 15:4 which reads: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Seraphim of Sarov. He said: “That I am a monk and you are a layman is of no importance … rather that we are both in the light of the Holy Spirit … Acquire peace, and thousands around you will be saved.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Monastic Reaction: The Spread of the Monastic Ideal (Part 1)”.

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

But the most remarkable example of the manner in which a saintly and monastic bishop contributed to the popularity of the monastic ideal was Martin of Tours. The Life of Saint Martin, written by Sulpicius Severus, was one of the most popular books in Western Europe for centuries and was one of the most influential elements in the shaping of Western monasticism.

Martin was born around the year 335 A. D. in Pannonia, in what is now Hungary. His father was a pagan soldier, and during his early years Martin lived in various parts of the empire — although the city of Pavia, in northern Italy, seems to have been his most frequent place of residence. He was very young when he decided to become a Christian, against his parents’ will, and had his name included in the list of catechumens. His father, in order to force him away from his Christian contacts, had him enrolled in the army. It was the time when Emperor Julian – later known as the Apostate – led his first military campaigns. Martin served under him for several years. During this period, an episode took place that ever since has been associated with the name of Martin.

The Monastic Reaction: The Spread of the Monastic Ideal (Part 1)

The History of Christianity #103

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is Psalm 119:18 which reads: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from the Second Vatican Council, Decree on Religious Life. It reads: “The main task of monks is to render to the Divine Majesty a service at once simple and noble, within the monastic confines. Let monasteries be renewed in their ancient and beneficial traditions, and so adapt them to the modern needs of souls that monasteries will be the seedbeds of growth for the Christian people.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Monastic Reaction: Pachomius and Communal Monasticism (Part 3)”.

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Monastic Reaction: The Spread of the Monastic Ideal (Part 1)”

Although the roots of monasticism are not to be found exclusively in Egypt, that was where the movement gained most momentum in the fourth century. Devout people from different regions went to Egypt, some to remain there and others to return to their countries with the ideals and practices they had learned in the desert. From Syria, Asia Minor, Italy, and even Mesopotamia, pilgrims went to the land of the Nile and on their return spread the story and the legends of Paul, Anthony, Pachomius, and countless others. Throughout the Eastern portion of the empire, wherever there was a suitable place, a monk fixed his abode. Some exaggerated the ascetic life by ostentatious acts, such as spending their lives atop a column of a ruined temple. But others brought to the church a sense of discipline and absolute dedication that was very necessary in what seemed the easy times after Constantine.

However, those who most contributed to the spread of the monastic ideal were not the anchorites who copied the ways of the Egyptian desert and sought secluded places where they could devote themselves to prayer and meditation, but rather a number of bishops and scholars who saw the value of the monastic witness for the daily life of the church. Thus, although in its earliest times Egyptian monasticism had existed apart and even in opposition to the hierarchy, eventually its greatest impact was made through some of the members of that hierarchy.

The Monastic Reaction: Pachomius and Communal Monasticism (Part 2)

The History of Christianity #102

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is 1 Corinthians 9:27 which reads: “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Mark the Ascetic. He said: “Conquer temptations by the patience and prayer. If you oppose them without these, you will fall all the more severely.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Monastic Reaction: Pachomius) and Communal Monasticism (Part 2)”.

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Monastic Reaction: Pachomius) and Communal Monasticism (Part 3)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Since every monk had to obey his superiors, the hierarchical order was clearly defined. At the head of each housing unit there was a superior, who in turn had to obey the superior of the monastery and his deputy. And above the superiors of the various monasteries were Pachomius and his successors, who were called “abbots” or “archimandrites.” When Pachomius was about to die, his monks vowed obedience to whomever he would choose as his successor, and thus was established the custom that each abbot would name the person to succeed him in absolute command of the entire organization. This new abbot’s authority was final, and he could name, transfer, or depose the superiors of all the communities in the entire system.

Twice a year, all Pachomian monks gathered for prayer and worship, and to deal with any issues necessary to maintain proper order of the communities. The organization was also kept together by frequent visits to all monasteries by the abbot or his representative. Pachomius and his followers never accepted ecclesiastical office, and therefore there were no ordained priests among them. On Sundays a priest would come to the monastery and celebrate communion.

In the women’s communities, life was organized in a similar fashion. While each was headed by a woman, the male abbot of the original community — Pachomius and his successors — ruled over them just as they did over the male Pachomian communities.

The Monastic Reaction: Pachomius and Communal Monasticism (Part 1)

The History of Christianity #101

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is Psalm 62:5 which reads: “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Charles H. Spurgeon. He said: “There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech. We should be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God, and gathering through meditation on His Word spiritual strength for labour in his service.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Monastic Reaction: Pachomius and Communal Monasticism (Part 1)”.

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Monastic Reaction: Pachomius and Communal Monasticism (Part 2)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1). And, I want to remind you to take advantage of our special offer. If you enjoy this podcast, please feel free to purchase a copy of the book that we are using, “The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1” by Dr. Justo L. González. The book is available on our website for just $30. You can make your purchase today at historyofchristianitypodcast.com.

Meanwhile, Mary, Pachomius’ sister, founded similar communities for women. At that time, there were some in city churches who felt that the institution of the widows and virgins was no longer necessary, and as a result many of these women left the cities and joined other women in monastic communities, often in the desert. According to witnesses who visited the region, in some areas in Egypt there were twice as many women monastics as there were men.

Each of these monasteries was encircled by a wall with a single entrance. Within the enclosure there were several buildings. Some of them, such as the church, the storehouse, the refectory, and the meeting hall, were used in common by the entire monastery. The rest were living quarters in which monks were grouped according to their responsibilities. Thus, for instance, there was a building for the gatekeepers, who were responsible for the lodging of those who needed hospitality, and for the admission and training of those who requested to join the community. Other such buildings housed the weavers, bakers, cobblers, and so forth. In each of them there was a common room and a series of cells, one for every two monks.

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.

The Monastic Reaction

The History of Christianity #95

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Psalm 46:10 which reads: “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Anthony. He said: “Monks who leave their cells, or seek the company of others, lose their peace, like the fish out of water loses its life.”

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

The new position of the church after Constantine’s peace was not equally received by all. Over against those who, like Eusebius of Caesarea, saw the more recent events as the fulfillment of God’s purposes, there were those who bemoaned what they saw as the low level to which Christian life had descended. The narrow gate of which Jesus had spoken had become so wide that countless multitudes were hurrying through it – many seeming to do so only in pursuit of privilege and position, without caring to delve too deeply into the meaning of Christian baptism and life under the cross. Bishops competed with one another over prestigious positions. The rich and powerful seemed to dominate the life of the church. The tares were growing so rapidly that they threatened to choke out the wheat.

For almost three hundred years, the church had lived under the constant threat of persecution. All Christians were aware of the possibility that some day they might be taken before Roman authorities, and there placed before the awesome choice between death and apostasy. During the prolonged periods of quiet in the second and third centuries, there were those who forgot this; and when persecution did arrive, they proved too weak to withstand the trial. This in turn convinced others that security and comfortable living were the greatest enemies of faithfulness, and that these enemies proved stronger during periods of relative peace. Now, when the peace of the church seemed assured, many of these people saw that very assurance as a snare of Satan.