Monday, January 24, 2011

Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity; Volume 1, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation

Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity; Volume 1, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1984.

Pharisees. They were the party of the populace, who did not enjoy the material benefits of Roman rule and Hellenistic civilization. To them, it was important to be faithful to the Law, and for that reason they studied and debated how the Law was to be applied to every conceivable situation. This has led to the charge that they were legalistic. That may be true to a degree. (10)

Those more conservative Jews were the Sadducees. By and large, they belonged to the Jewish aristocracy, and they were conservative in both politics and religion. In matters of religion, their interest centered on the Temple, which they held with the support of the Romans, who in turn found their political conservatism much to their liking. They also rejected many of the doctrines of the Pharisees as unwarranted innovations. /
This means that one must take care not to exaggerate the opposition of Jesus and the early Christians to the Pharisees. A great deal of the friction between Christians and Pharisees was due to the similarity of their views, rather than to their difference. Moving among the common people, Jesus and his followers had more opportunities to rub shoulders with the Pharisees than with the Sadducees. (10)

One of the common traits Diaspora Judaism was that many of its members had forgotten the language of their ancestors. For this reason, it was necessary to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into the languages that they understood—Aramaic in the eastern wing of the Diaspora, and Greek in its western wing, within the borders of the Roman Empire. After Alexander’s conquests, Greek had become the common language of a great part of the Mediterranean. Egyptians, Jews, Cypriots, and even Romans used Greek to communicate with each other. Therefore, it was natural that when the Jews of the Diaspora began losing their Hebrew they would translate the Scriptures to Greek. /
This translation, which originated in Alexandria—the main city in Egypt—is called the Septuagint, or the version of the Seventy (usually abbreviated as LXX). … In any case, the Septuagint was of enormous importance for the early church. It is the text of Scripture quoted by most New Testament authors, including the very name of “Christ,” which was the Septuagint word for “Anointed One” or “Messiah.” When the early Christians began their missionary spread, they used the Septuagint as a ready-made means of communicating their message to the Gentiles. (12)

Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Jesus who sought to show that the best of pagan philosophy agreed with the Hebrew Scriptures. He claimed that, since the Hebrew prophets antedated the Greek philosophers, the latter must have drawn from the wisdom of the former. According to Philo, such points of agreement are many, … The difference is that Scripture speaks figuratively. This in turn means that it is to be understood by means of allegorical interpretation. Through such interpretation, Philo tried to prove that the God of Scripture is the same as the One of the philosophers, … this sort of argument provided ample ammunition for the early Christians in their efforts to show to the pagan world that their faith was credible. (13)

But it was another element in Roman religion that eventually became the reason for persecution. This was the worship of the ruling emperor. Roman authorities saw this as a means of unity and a test of loyalty. To refuse to burn incense before the emporer’s image was a sign of treason or at least of disloyalty. When Christians refused to burn incense before the emperor’s image, they did so as a witness to their faith; (16)

The third such “pillar,” however, was not one of the twelve. He was James, the brother of the Lord. According to Paul (1 Cor. 15: 7), the risen Jesus had appeared to James. Whether because of his blood ties with Jesus, or for some other reason, James soon became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Later, when church leaders were uniformly given the title of “bishop,” it was said that James with the first “bishop” of Jerusalem. Although the title is clearly erroneous, it is probably true that he was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. (21)

Although by A.D. 135 a number of Jewish Christians returned to Jerusalem, their relationship with the rest of Christianity had been almost entirely severed, and leadership had passed to Gentile Christians. … Jewish Christianity… faded out of history in the fifty century. (22)

…the spread of Christianity in Italy was such that when Paul arrived at the small seaport of Puteoli there were Christians there. (25)

…the expulsion of Jews from Rome by Emperor Claudius, around A.D. 51. Acts 18:2 mentions that expulsion, but does not explain the reason for it. Suetonius, a Roman historian, says that Jews were expelled from the capital city for their disorderly conduct “because of Chrestus.” Most historians agree that “Chrestus” is none other than “Christus,” and that what actually took place in Rome was that Christian proclamation caused so many riots among Jews that the emperor decided to expel the lot. At that time, Romans still saw the conflict between Christians and Jews as an internal matter within Judaism. [32] /
But the distinction between Christians and Jews became clearer as the Church gained more converts from the Gentile population, and the ratio of Jews in its ranks diminished. There are also indications that, as Jewish nationalism increased and eventually led to rebellion against Rome, Christians—particularly the Gentiles among them—sought to put as much distance as possible between themselves and that movement. The result was that Roman authorities began to take cognizance of Christianity as a religion quite difference from Judaism. (33)

More and more, the people suspected the emperor. It began to be rumored that he had spent most of the time during the fire atop a tower on the Palatine, dressed as an actor, playing his lyre and singing about the destruction of Troy. Then the story was that, in his presumptuousness as a poet, he had ordered the city destroyed so that the fire would inspire in his a great epic poem. Nero tried to allay such suspicions, but it soon became clear that he would not succeed in this as long as there was no one else to blame. Two of the areas that had not burned had a very high proportion of Jewish and Christian population. Therefore, the Emperor decided to blame the Christians. /
Tacitus tells the story: … the “abominations” of Christians and their “hatred of humankind.” Tacitus and other contemporary authors do not tell us what these supposed “abominations” were. Second-century authors will be more explicit. But, in any case, Tacitus believes the rumors, and thinks that Christians hate humankind. This last charge makes sense if one remembers that all social activities—the theatre, the army, letters, sports—were so entwined with pagan worship that Christians often felt the need to abstain from them. … ‘Before killing the Christians, Nero used them to amuse the people. Some were dressed in furs, to be killed by dogs. Others were crucified. Still others were set on fire early in the night, so that they might illumine it. Nero opened his own gardens for these shows, and in the circus he himself became a spectacle, for he mingled with the people dressed as a charioteer, or he rode around in his chariot. All of this aroused the mercy of the people, even against these culprits who deserved an exemplary punishment, for it was clear that they were not being destroyed for the common good, but rather to satisfy the cruelty of one person.’ [Annals, 15.44] (35)

Domitian, who became emperor after Titus, at first paid no particular attention to Christians. Why he eventually turned against them is not clear. It is a fact that he loved and respected Roman traditions, and that he sought to restore them. (36)

Since Christians worshiped an invisible God, pagans often declared them to be atheists. (36)

In Asia Minor, this persecution results in the writing of the book of Revelation, whose authors was exiled on the island of Patmos. … reign of Domitian … In the midst of persecution, Revelation displays a much more negative attitude towards Rome than the rest of the New Testament. Paul had instructed Christians in Rome to obey the authorities, whom he said had been ordained by God. But now the seer of Patmos speaks of Rome as “the great harlot… drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev. 17:1, 6). (37)

In A.D. 111, Pliny the Younger was appointed governor of Bithynia, on the northern shore of what today is Turkey. … The question then was, should Christians be punished for concrete crimes, or should the very name “Christian” be considered a crime? Not knowing what course to follow, Pliny suspended the proceedings and wrote Emperor Trajan for further instructions. /
The emperor’s response was brief. When it comes to the punishment of Christians, there is no general rule that is equally valid in all circumstances. On the one hand, the nature of their crime is such that the state should not waste time seeking them out. On the other hand, if they are accused and waste time seeking them out. On the other hand, if they are accused and refuse to recant they should be punished. On the other hand, if they are accused and refuse to recant they should be punished. Those who are willing to worship the gods should be pardoned without further inquiries. Finally, anonymous accusations should be disregarded, for they are a bad legal precedent and are unworthy of this age. (40)

In the only reference to Christianity in his Meditations, the emperor praises those souls that are ready to abandon their bodies when the time comes, rather than cling to life, and then goes on to say that this attitude is praise-worthy only when it is the outcome of reason, “and not of obstinacy, as is the case with Christians.” /
Furthermore, as a child of his age, this enlightened emperor was also a superstitious man. He constantly sought the advice of seers, and before every significant undertaking sacrifices had to be offered. [45] During the early years of his reign, there seemed to be an endless string of invasions, floods, epidemics, and other disasters. Soon the explanation arose that Christians were to be impossible to know for certain that the emperor believed this explanations; but, in any case, he gave his full support to the persecution, and favored the revival of the old religion. Perhaps, like Pliny, what he found most objectionable in Christians was their stubbornness. (46)

Marcus Aurelius died in A.D. 180, and was succeeded by Commodus, who had begun to rule jointly with him eight years earlier. Although Commodus did not issue any edicts against persecuation, the storm abated during his reign, and the numbers of martyrs was relatively low. After the death of Commodus, there was a period of civil war, and Christians were once again ignored in favor or more pressing matters. (48)

Thus, for instance, Christians gathered every week to celebrate what they called a “love feast.” This was done in private, and only the initiates (those who had been baptized) were admitted. Furthermore, Christians called each other “brother” and “sister,” and there were many who spoke of their spouses as their “sister” [49] or “brother.” Joining these known facts, imagination drew a picture of Christian worship as an orgiastic celebration in which Christians ate an drank to excess, put the lights out, and vented their lusts in indiscriminate and even incestuous unions. /
Communion also gave rise to another to another rumor. Since Christians spoke of being nourished by the body and blood of Christ, and since they also spoke of him as a little child, some came to the conclusion that, as an initiation rite, Christians concealed a newborn in a loaf of bread, and then ordered the neophyte to cut the loaf. When this was done, they all joined in eating the warm flesh of the infant. (50)

Much more difficult to refute was the criticism of a number of cultured pagans who had taken the trouble to learn about Christianity and claimed that it was intellectually wanting. Although it attacked Christianity on numerous counts, this criticism boiled down to a main point: Christians were an ignorant lot whose doctrines, although preached under a cloak of wisdom, were foolish and even self-contradictory. This seems to have been a common attitude among the cultured aristocracy, for whom Christians were a despicable rabble. /
During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, one such intellectual, Celsus, wrote a refutation of Christianity called The True Word. There he expressed the feelings of those who, like him, were wise and sophisticated: [50] /
‘In some private homes we find people who work with wool and rages, and cobblers, that is, the least cultured and most ignorant kind. Before the head of the household, they dare not utter a word. But as soon as they can take the children aside or some women who are as ignorant as they are, they speak wonders… If you really wish to know the truth, leave your teachers and your father, and go with the women and the children to the women’s quarters, or to the cobbler’s shop, or to the tannery, or to the tannery, and there you will learn the perfect life. It is thus that these Christians find those who will believe them. (51)

Futhermore—the argument went on—the Jewish and Christian God is ridiculous. They claim on the one hand that God is omnipotent, high above every creature. But on the other hand they depict God as a busybody who is constantly delving into human affairs, who goes into every home listening to what is said and even checking what is being cooked. This is sheer contradiction and nonsense. (51)

And the doctrine itself of a final resurrection is the high point of Christian nonsense. What will happen to those whose bodies were destroyed by fire, or eaten by beasts or by fish? (52)

To the objections raised against the final resurrection, the apologists respond by having recourse to divine omnipotence. If God made all bodies out of nothing, why would it be impossible for the same God to create them anew, even after they have been dead and scattered? (57)

The name “Gnosticism” derives from the Greek word gnosis, which means “knowledge.” According to the Gnostics, they possessed a special, [59] mystical knowledge, reserved for those with true understanding. That knowledge was the secret key to salvation. /
Salvation was the main concern of the Gnostics. Drawing from several sources, they came to the conclusion that all matter is evil, or at best unreal. … the Gnostic’s final goal is to escape from the body and this material world in which we are exiled. The image of exile is crucial for Gnosticism. (59)

How, then, is the origin of the world and of the body to be explained? Gnosticism affirmed that originally all reality was spiritual. The supreme being had no intention of creating a material world, … spiritual beings were generated. … beings or “eons.” In any case, one of these eons, far removed from the supreme being, fell into error, and thus created the material world. (59)

Above us are the heavenly spheres, each ruled by an evil power whose aim is to impede our progress to the spiritual realm. In order to reach the spiritual “fullness,” we must break through each of those spheres. The only way to do this is to have the secret knowledge that opens the way—much like a spiritual password. The heavenly messenger has been sent precisely to give us that knowledge, without which there is no salvation. … Christ. (59)

Since Christ is a heavenly messenger, and since body and matter are evil, most Christian Gnostics rejected the notion that Christ had a body like ours. [59] Some said that his body was an appearance, a sort of ghost that miraculously seemed to be a real body. (60)

According to several Gnostic teachers, not all human beings have a spirit. Some are purely carnal, and thus are irreparably condemned to destruction when the physical world comes to an end. (60)

Meanwhile, how is this life to be lived? At this point, Gnostics gave two divergent answers. Most declared that, since the body is the prison of the spirit, one must control the body and its passions and thus weaken its power over the spirit. But there were also some who held that, since the spirit is by nature good and cannot be destroyed, what we are to do is to leave the body to its own devices and let it follow the guidance of its own passions. Thus, while some Gnostics were extreme ascetics, others were libertines. (60)

Gnosticism was a serious threat to Christianity throughout the second century. (60)

Maricon… had a profound dislike towards both Judaism and the material world. He thus developed an understanding of Christianity that was both anti-Jewish and anti-material. About A.D. 144 he went to Rome, where he gathered a following. … founded his own church, which lasted for several centuries as a rival to the orthodox church. … According to him, the God and Father of Jesus is not the same as Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. It was Jehovah that made the material world. The Father’s purpose was that there be only a spiritual world. But Jehovah, either through ignorance or out of an evil intent, made this world… This means that the Hebrew Scriptures are indeed inspired by a god, although this is Jehovah, … It is out of compassion for us, Jehovah’s creatures, that the Supreme God has sent his Son to save us. … Naturally, at the end there will be no judgment, since the Supreme God is absolutely loving, and will simply forgive us. (61)

Maricon’s challenge required a response, and thus the church at large began to compile a list of sacred Christian writings. This was not done in a formal manner, through a council or special meeting. What actually happened was that a consensus developed gradually. While very soon there was general agreement as to the basic books to be included in the canon of the New Testament, it took a long time to come to an absolute consensus on every minor detail. [62] … Many Gnostic teachers claimed that the heavenly messenger had trusted his secret knowledge to a particular disciple, who alone was the true interpreter of the message. Thus, various Gnostic groups had a book that claimed to present the true teachings of Jesus. … Maricon used the Gospel of Luke… In response to this situation, the church at large sought to show that its doctrines were not based on the supposed witness of a single apostolic tradition. The very fact that the various Gospels differed in matters of detail, but agreed on the basic issues at stake, made their agreement a more convincing argument. (63)

Next to the Gospels, the book of Acts and the Pauline epistles enjoyed early recognition. Thus, by the end of the second century, the core of the canon was established: … The book of Revelation, widely accepted by the third century, was questioned after the conversion of Constantine, for its words about the prevailing culture and the Empire seemed too harsh. It was in the second half of the fourth century that a complete consensus was achieved… (63)

…the original meaning of the phrase “catholic church.” The word “catholic” means “universal,” but it also means “according to the whole.” To separate itself from the various heretical groups and sects, the ancient church began calling itself “catholic.” … It was the church “according to the whole,” that is, according to the total witness of all the apostles. The various Gnostic groups were not “catholic” because they could not claim this broad foundation. Indeed, those among them who claimed apostolic origins did so on the basis of a hypothetical secret tradition handed down through a single apostle. (66)

Clement was probably born in Athens, the city that had long been famous for its philosophers. His parents were pagans; … After extensive travels, he found in Alexandria a teacher who satisfied his thirst for knowledge. This was Pantenus, of whom little is known. Clement remained in Alexandria, and when his teacher died Clement took his place as the main Christian instructor in Alexandria. In 202, when Septimius Severus was emperor, persecution broke out, and Clement had to leave the city. He then traveled along the Eastern Mediterranean—particularly Syria and Asia Minor—until his death in A.D. 215. (71)

Alexandria… the syncretistic spirit of the time reached its high point in that city at the mouth of the Nile. / It was in that context that Clement studied and taught, and therefore his thought bears the mark of Alexandria. He was not a pastor, like Irenaeus, but rather a thinker and a searcher; … to help those in quest of deeper truth, and to convince pagan intellectuals that Christianity was not the absurd superstition that some claimed it to be. (71)

In his Exhortations to the Pagans, Clement shows the gist of his theological method in making use of Plato and other philosophers. … But the reason why Clement calls on Plato is not only that it is convenient for his argument. … With the Jews, God has established the covenant of the of the Law; with the Greeks, that of philosophy. … careful study of Scripture will lead to the same [72] truth that the philosophers have known. The reason for this is that Scripture is written allegorically or, as Clement says, “in parables.” (73)

There is a close relationship between faith and reason, for one cannot function without the other. Reason builds its arguments on first principles, which cannot be proven, but are accepted by faith. … But Christians who are content with faith, and do not use reason to build upon it, are again like a child… Naturally, this tends to produce an elitist theology, and Clement has often been criticized on this account. (73)

…Platonic in inspiration. God is the Ineffable One about which one can only speak in metaphors and in negative terms. (73)

In any case, Clement’s importance does not lie in the manner in which he understands one doctrine or another, but rather in that his thought is characteristic of an entire atmosphere and tradition and developed in Alexandria and that would be of great significance for the subsequence course of theology. (73)

Tertullian was very different from Clement. He seems to have been a native of the North African city of Carthage. Although he spent most of his life there, it was in Rome that he was converted to Christianity when he was [73] about forty years old. Having returned to Carthage, he wrote a number of treatises in defense of the faith against the pagans, and in defense of orthodoxy against various heresies. He either was a lawyer or had been trained in rhetoric, and his entire literary output bears the stamp of a legal mind. (74)

The treatise where Tertullian’s legal mind shines is Prescription against the Heretics. In the legal language of the time, a praescriptio could mean at least two things. It could be a legal argument presented before the case itself was begun, in order to show that the tial should not take place. If, even before the actual case was presented, one of the parties could show that the other had no right to sue, or that the suit was not properly drawn, or that the court had no jurisdiction, the trial could be cancelled. But the same word had a different meaning when one spoke of a “long-term prescription.” This meant that if a party had been in undisputed possession of a property or of a right for a certain time, that possession became legal, even if at a later time another party claimed it. /
Tertullian uses the term in both senses, as if it were a case of a suit between orthodox Christianity and the heretics. His aim is to show, not simply that the heretics are wrong, but rather that they do not even have the right to dispute with the church. To this end, he claims that Scriptures belong to the church. For several generations the church has used the Bible, and the heretics have not disputed its possession. Even though not all of Scripture belonged originally to the church, by now it does. (74)

Since Scripture belongs to the church, the heretics have no right to base their argument on it. Here Tertullian uses the term “prescription” in the other sense. Since heretics have no right to interpret Scripture, any argument [74] with them regarding such interpretation is out of place. … This argument against the heretics has repeatedly been used against various dissidents throughout the history of Christianity. It was one of the main argument of Catholics against Protestants in the sixteenth century. In Tertullian’s case, however, one should note that his argument is based on showing a continuity, not only of formal succession, but also of doctrine, through the generations. Since this continuity of doctrine was precisely what was debated at the time of the Reformation, the argument was not as powerful as in Tertullian time. (75)

But Tertullian’s legalism goes beyond arguments such as this. His legal mind leads him to affirm that, once one has found the truth of Christianity, one should abandon any further search for truth. As Tertuallian sees the matter, a Christian who is still searching for further truth lacks faith. / ‘You are to seek until you find, and once you have found, you are to believe. Thereafter, all you have to do is to hold to what you have believed. Besides this, you are to believe that there is nothing further to be believed, nor anything else to be sought. [Prescription against Heretics 8] … Naturally, Tertullian would allow Christians to delve deeper into Christian doctrine. But anything that goes beyond it, as well as anything coming from other sources, must be rejected. This is particularly true of pagan philosophy, which is the source of all heresy, and is nothing but idle speculation. /
‘Miserable Aristotle, who gave them dialectics! He gave them the art of building in order to tear down, an art of slippery speech and crude arguments, … which rejects everything and deals with nothing.’ [Prescription against Heretics 7] /
In short, Tertullian condemns all speculation. To speak, for instance, of what God’s omnipotence can do is a waste of time and a dangerous occupation. (75)

…the strength of his arguments is not so much in his logic as in his rhetoric, which sometimes leads him to sarcasm. (75)

Tertullian became the scourge of heretics and the champion of orthodoxy. / Yet, around the year 207, that staunch enemy of heresy, that untiring advocate of the authority of the church, joined the Montanist movement. Why Tertullian took this step is one of the many mysteries of church history, … But it is possible to note the affinities between Tertullian’s character and theology, on the one hand, and Montanism on the other. /
Monatism is named after its founder, Montanus, who had been a pagan priest until his conversion to Christianity in A.D. 155. At a later time he began prophesying, declaring that he had been possessed by the Holy Spirit. … Montanus and his followers claimed that their movement was the beginning of a new age. Just as in Jesus Christ a new age had begun, so was a still newer age beginning in the outpouring of the Spirit. This new age was characterized by a more rigorous moral life, just as the Sermon on the Mount was itself more demanding than the Law of the Old Testament. (76)

Tertullian seems to have been attracted by Montanist rigorism. His legal mind sought after perfect order, where everything was properly done. In the church at large, in spite of all its efforts to do the will of God, there were too many imperfections that did not fit Tertullian’s frame of mind. (76)

But he then moves on to explain how the Trinity is to be understood. It is in this context that he proposes the formula “one substances and three persons.” Likewise, when discussing how Jesus Christ can be both human and divine, he speak of “one person” and “two substances” or “natures,” the divine and the human. The manner in which he explains the meaning of the terms “person” and “substances” is drawn mostly from their legal use. Later theologians would explicate the same word in metaphysical terms. In any case, it is significant that, in both the Trinitarian and the Christological questions, Tertullian coined the formulas that would eventually become the hallmark of orthodoxy. (77)

For all these reasons, Tertullian is a unique personality in the story of Christianity. A fiery champion of orthodoxy against every sort of heresy, in the end he joined one of the movements that the church at large considered heretical. And, even then, he produced writings and theological formulas that would be very influential in the future course of orthodoxy theology. Furthermore, he was the first Christian theologian to write in Latin, which was the language of the western half of the Empire, (77)

Trajan’s old principle, that Christians were to be punished if they refused to worship the emperor and the gods, but that they ought not to be sought out, was still in force. Therefore, whatever persecution there was local and sporadic. /
In the third century, things changed. Trajan’s policy was still valid, and therefore the threat of local persecution was constant. But over and beyond that there were new policies that deeply affected the life of the church. The emperors who created and applied these policies were Septimius Severus and Decius. … Early in the third century, the reigning emperor, Septimius Severus, had managed to put an end to a series of civil wars that had weakened the Empire. But even so, it was not easy to govern such a vast and unruly domain. [82] … the emperor felt the need for religious harmony within his territories, and thus settled on a policy of promoting syncretism. He proposed to bring all his subjects together under the worship of Sol invictus—the Unconquered Sun—and to subsume under that worship all the various religions and philosophies then current. All gods were to be accepted, as long as one acknowledged the Sun that reigned above all. /
This policy soon clashed with the seeming obstinacy of two groups that refused to yield to syncretism: Jews and Christians. … the year 202, when the edict of Septimius Severus was issued, is a landmark in the history of persecutions. … imperial edict was particularly directed against those who sought new converts, (83)

…in the arena… Having hit and thrown by the animal, Perpetua asked to be able to retie her hair, for loose hair was a sign of mourning, and this was a joyful day for her. … Shortly thereafter, for reasons that are not altogether clear, persecution abated. There were still isolated incidents in various parts of the Empire, but the edict of Septimius Severus, was not generally enforced. In 211… (84)

In 249, Decius took the imperial purple. Although Christian historians have depicted him as a cruel person, the truth is that Decius was simply a Roman of the old style, whose main goal was to restore Rome to her ancient glory. (85)

To a traditional Roman such as Decius, it seems obvious that one of the reasons for all this was that the people had abandoned the ancient gods. When all adorned the gods, things went better, and the glory and power of Rome were on the increase. … This was the basis of Decius’ religious policy. It was no longer a matter of rumors about Christians immorality, nor of punishing the obstinacy of those who refused to worship the emperor. It was rather an entire religious campaign for the restoration of ancestral religion. What was at stake, as Decius saw it, was the survival of Rome itself. Those who refused to worship the gods were practically guilty of high treason. /
Given the circumstances, Decius’ persecution was very different from the earlier ones. The emperor’s purpose was not to create martyrs, but apostates. (86)

One of the results of this persecution was that a new title of honor appeared within the church, that of the “confessors.” Until that time, practically all who were taken before the authorities and remained firm had become martyrs. Those who offered sacrifice to the gods and to the emperor [87] were apostates. Due to the established by Decius, there were now those who remained firm in their faith, even in the midst of cruel torture, but who never received the crown of martyrdom. Those who had confessed the faith in such circumstances were then given the title of “confessors,” and were highly respected by other Christians. /
Decius’ persecution was brief. In A.D. 251, … (88)

We are told in the book of Acts that from the very beginning the early church had the custom of gathering on the first day of the week for the breaking of bread. The reason for gathering on the first day of the week was that this was the day of the resurrection of the Lord. (93)

From that time, and throughout most of its history, the Christian church has seen in communion its highest act of worship. Only at a relatively recent date has it become common practice in many Protestant churches to focus their worship on preaching rather than on communion. … The most remarkable characteristic of those early communion services was that they were celebrations. … In the beginning, communion was part of an entire meal. Believers brought what they could, and after the common meal there were special prayers over the bread and the wine. However, by the beginning of the second century the common meal was being set aside, perhaps for the fear of persecution, or in order to quell the rumors about orgiastic “love feasts.” (94)

At least since the second century, there were two main parts in a communion service. First there were commented readings of Scripture, with prayers and hymn singing. Since at that time it was almost impossible for an individual Christian to possess a copy of Scripture, this first part of the service was almost the only way in which believers came to know the Bible, and therefore it was rather extensive—sometimes lasting for hours. Then came the second part of the service, communion proper, which opened with the kiss of peace. After the kiss, the bread and wine were brought forth and presented to the one presiding, who then offered a prayer over the elements. In this prayer, often lengthy, the saving acts of God were usually recounted, and the power of the Holy Spirit was invoked over the bread and the wine. (94)

At the beginning, the Christian calendar was rather simple and was basically a weekly calendar. Every Sunday was a sort of Easter, and a day of joy; and every Friday was a day of penance, fasting, and sorrow. Rather early, for reasons that are not altogether clear, Wednesday also became a day of fasting. Once a year there was a very special Sunday, the day of resurrection, (95)

As the church became increasingly Gentile, the danger of heresies was greater, and this in turn led to a greater stress on Episcopal authority. (97)

…in the early church worship centered on communion, and only baptized Christians were admitted to its celebration. Therefore, evangelism did not take place in church services, but rather, as Celsus said, in kitchens, shops, and markets. A few thus won some converts among the intelligentsia. But the fact remains that most converts were made by anonymous Christians whose witness led others to their faith. The most dramatic form taken by such witness was obviously that of suffering unto death, and it is for this reason that the word “martyr,” which originally meant “witness,” took on the meaning that it has for us. finally, some Christians were reputed for their miracles, which also won converts. (99)

Another surprising fact about the early expansion of Christianity is that, after the New Testament, very little is said of any missionaries going from place to place, like Paul and Barnabas has done. It is clear that the enormous spread of the Gospel in those first few centuries was not due to full-time missionaries, but rather to the many Christians who traveled for other reasons—slaves, merchants, exiles, condemned to work in the mines, and the like. (99)

Finally, one should note that Christianity spread mainly in the cities, and that it penetrated the rural areas slowly and with much difficulty. It was long after Constantine that Christianity could most of the rural population of the Empire. (99)

[art] Since communion was the central act of worship, scenes and symbols referring to it are most frequent. Sometimes what is depicted is the celebration itself, or the Lord’s Supper in the upper room. In other cases there is simply a basket with fish and bread. (100)

The fish was one of the earliest Christian symbols, and for that reason appears frequently in communion scenes as well as in other contexts. The significance of the fish, apart from its connection with the miraculous feeding of the multitudes, was that the Greek word for fish—ichthys—could be used as an acrostic containing the initial letters of the phrase: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” For this reason the fish appears, not only in representative art, but also in some of the most ancient Christian epitaphs. (100)

Early in the fourth century, however, the last and worst persecution broke out. The reigning emperor was Diocletian, who had reorganized the Empire and brought renewed prosperity. Part of Diocletian’s reorganization had consisted in placing the government on the shoulders of a team of four emperors. Two of these had the title of “augustus”: Diocletian himself in the East, and Maximian in the West. Under each of them there was a junior emperor with the title of “caesar”: Galerius under Diocletian, and Constantius Chlorus under Maximian. Thanks to Diocletian’s political and administrative gifts, this division of power worked quite well as long as he held ultimate authority. Its main purpose, however, was to ensure an orderly process of succession; for Diocletian planned that a “caesar” would succeeded his “augustus,” and that then the remaining emperors would appoint someone to fill the vacancy left by the promoted caesar. Diocletian hoped that this would avert the frequent civil wars that racked the Empire over the question of succession. As we shall see, this hope proved futile. (102)

…only Galerius had given any indication of enmity towards Christianity. Both Diocletian’s wife, Prisca, and their daughter, Valeria, were Christians. The peace of the church seemed assured. (103)

The first difficulties probably appeared in the army. There was no general agreement among Christians regarding military service, for, while most church leaders of the time said that Christians should not be soldiers, there were many believers in the legions. In any case, around A.D. 295 a number of Christians were condemned to death, some for refusing to join the army, and others for trying to leave it. Galerius saw this attitude of Christians towards military service as a serious danger, for it was conceivable that at a critical moment the Christians in the army would refuse to obey orders. Therefore, as a measure required for military morale, Galerius convinced Diocletian that all Christians should be expelled from the legions. … in some areas, probably due to an excess of zeal on the part of some officers who did not wish to see their ranks thinned, there were attempts to force Christian soldiers to deny their faith. The result was a number of executions. [103] … After these events, Galerius seems to have been increasingly predisposed against Christians, and in 303 he finally convinced Diocletian to issue a new edict against Christians. Even then, the purpose was not to kill Christians, but to remove them from positions of responsibility within the Empire. It was then ordered that Christians be removed from every government position, and that all Christian buildings and books be destroyed… Then fire broke out twice in the imperial palace. Galerius accused the Christians of having set it, … Diocletian… decreed that all Christians in the imperial court must offer sacrifice before the gods. Prisca and Valeria complied, but … The situation grew worse. … Thus was unleashed the most cruel of all the persecutions that the ancient church had to endure. (104)

Then help came from an unexpected quarter. Galerius became ill with a painful disease and, perhaps convinced by those Christians who said that this was a punishment from God, grudgingly decided to change his policy. On April 30, A.D. 311… (106)

According to two Christian chroniclers who knew Constantine, on the eve of the battle he had a revelation. One of our sources, Lactantius, says that it was in a dream that Constantine received the command to place a Christian symbol on the shields of his soldiers. … Constantine ordered that his soldiers should use on their shield and on their standard or labarum a symbol that looked like the superimposition of the Greek letters chi and rho. Since these are the first two letters of the name, “Christ,” this labarum could well have been a Christian symbol. Although eventually Christians sw in this the great moment of Constantine’s conversion, historians point out that even after this even Constantine continued worshipping the Unconquered Sun. In truth, Constantine’s conversion was a long process, to which we shall return in the next chapter. (107)

Now, as absolute master of the Empire, he set out on a bold course: he would build a “New Rome,” an impregnable and monumental city, which would be called Constantinople—that is, “city of Constantine.” /
It may well have been during his campaign against Licinius that Constantine became aware of the strategic value of Byzantium. That city was at the very edge of Europe, where it almost touched Asia Minor. Thus, it could serve as a bridge between the European and the Asiatic portions of the Empire. [118] … But ancient Byzantium was too small for the grandiose dreams of the great emperor. Its walls, built during the reign of Septimius Severus, were scarcely two miles long. Aping the ancient legend of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome, Constantine went to the fields far beyond the ancient walls, and with his lance marked the route that the new walls should follow. (119)

Perhaps the most famous statue thus taken to Constantinople was the image of Apollo said to be the work of Phidias, one of the best sculptors of all time. This was placed in the middle of the city, atop a huge stone column brought from Egypt, and which was reputed to be the largest such monolith in the world. To make it even taller, the column was placed on a marble pedestal that was over twenty feet high. The entire monument measured approximately 125 feet from top to bottom. But the statue itself no longer represented Apollo, for a new head, that of Constantine, had been placed on it. … All this, however, did not suffice to populate the new city. To that end, Constantine granted all sorts of privileges to those who came to live there, such as exemption from taxes and from military service. Soon it became customary to give free oil, what, and wine to the citizens of Constantinople. The result was that the city grew at such an incredible rate that a century later, under Theodosius II, it was necessary to build new walls, for the population had outgrown the ones that in Constantine’s time had seemed excessively ambitious. (120)

As will be seen in the future chapters of this history, Constantine’s decision to found a new capital had important consequences, for shortly thereafter the western portion of the Empire—old Rome included—was overrun by the barbarians, and Constantinople became the center that for a thousand years kept alive the political and cultural inheritance of the old Empire. Since its capital was in ancient Byzantium, this eastern Roman Empire was also called the Byzantine Empire. (120)

The truth is probably that Constantine was a sincere believer in the power of Christ. But this does not mean that he understood that power in the same way in which it had been experienced by those Christians who had died for it. For him, the Christian God was a very powerful being who would support him as long as he favored the faithful. … This interpretation of Constantine’s faith is supported by his own statements, which reveal a sincere man whose understanding of the Christian message was meager. (122)

During most of his political career, Constantine seems to have thought that …other gods, although subordinate, were nevertheless real and relatively powerful. (122)

Besides, Constantine was a shrewd politician. … if he had attempted to suppress pagan worship, he would soon have had to face an irresistible opposition. The ancient gods were far from forgotten. Christianity had made very little progress among the old aristocracy and the rural masses. (122)

At first, he simply put an end to persecution and ordered that confiscated Christian property be returned. Shortly thereafter he gave new signs of favoring Christianity… (123)

The founding of Constantinople was a further step in that process. The very act of creating a “New Rome” was an attempt to diminish the power of the ancient aristocratic families of Rome, who were mostly pagan. And the raiding of pagan temples for statues and other objects with which to embellish the new capital was a blow to paganism, many of whose ancient shrines lost the gods that were objects of local devotion. At the same time, the building of new and sumptuous churches contrasted with the sacking of the old temples. /
In spite of all this, almost to his dying day Constantine continued functioning as the High Priest of paganism. After his death, the three sons who succeeded him did not oppose the Senate’s move to have him declared a god. Thus the ironic anomaly occurred, that Constantine, who had done so much to the detriment of paganism, became one of the pagan gods. (123)

After Constantine’s conversion.. The few pagan emperors who reigned after him did not generally persecute Christians, but rather tried to restore paganism by other means. (124)

Others took the opposite tack. For them, the fact that the emperors declared themselves Christian, and that for this reason people were flocking to the church, was not a blessing, but rather a great apostasy. Some who tended to look at matters under this light, but did not wish to break communion with 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 devoted Christians to the deserts of Egypt and Syria. (124)

This early monastic movement will be the subject of Chapter 15. / Others with a negative reaction to the new state of affairs felt that the best course was a simply to break communion with the church at large, now become the imperial church, which was to be considered sinful and apostate. (124)

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. The oldest church that archaeologists have discovered is that of Dura-Europos, which dates from about A.D. 250. This is a fairly small room, decorated with very simple murals. /
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. (125)

The churches built in the time of Constantine and his successors contrasted with the simplicity of churches such as that of Dura-Europos. Constantine himself ordered that the church of Saint Irene—Holy Peace—be built in Constantinople. … This policy continued under Constantine’s successors, most of whom sought to perpetuate their memory by building great churches. Although most of the churches built by Constantine and his first successors have been destroyed, there is enough evidence to have a general idea of their basic plan… (126)

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, as may be seen in the words quoted above; and for this reason he has sometimes been depicted as a spineless man who allowed himself to be swept by the glitter of imperial power. But things are not simple when one considers his entire career. /
Eusebius was born around the year 260, 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. (129)

…persecution under Diocletian… In the midst of such evil times, Eusebius carried on with what would become his most important work, his Church History. This work, which he later revised, is of great importance for later church historians. … Without him, our knowledge of the early history of Christianity would be reduced by half. (130)

A few years before Constantine became sole emperor, Eusebius had been elected bishop of Caesarea. This was a great responsibility, for persecution had disbanded his flock, which he now had to gather and organize anew. … Now become a pastor and administrator, Eusebius had little time for his literary and scholarly pursuits. (131)

He had been bishop of Caesarea for a number of years when a new storm came to break the peace of the church… theological debate… the Arian controversy… Eusebius’ role in the controversy was not beyond reproach. The reason for this, however, was not that he was a hypocrite or an opportunist. It was rather that Eusebius never fully understood what was at stake. For him, the peace and unity of the church were of prime importance. (131)

…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 sighs of divine favor. (134)

…the scheme of history that Eusebius developed led him to set aside a fundamental theme of early Christian preaching: the coming Kingdom of God… one receives the impression that now, with Constantine and his successors, the plan of God has been fulfilled. … postpone the hope of the early church, that its Lord would return (134)

All Christians were aware of the possibility that some day they would be taken before Roman authorities, and there placed before the awesome choice between death and apostasy. …there were those who … 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 the church, and that these enemies proved stronger during periods of relative peace. (136)

Although there were early monastics throughout the Roman Empire, it was the desert—especially the Egyptian desert—that provided the most fertile soil for the growth of monasticism. (138)

The term “anchorite,” which soon came to mean a solitary monk, originally meant “withdrawn” or “fugitive.” (138)

It is impossible to tell who was the first monk—or nun—of the desert. The two that are usually given that honor, Paul and Anthony, owe their fame to two great Christian writers—Jerome and Athanasius—who wrote about [138] them, each claiming that his protagonist was the founder of Egyptian monasticism. (139)

In any case, the lives of Paul and Anthony are significant, if not as those of founders, certainly as typical of the earliest forms of monasticism. / Jerome’s life of Paul is very brief, and almost entirely legendary. But still, the nucleus of the story is probably true. Towards the middle of the third century, fleeing persecution, young Paul went to the desert, where he found an old abandoned hiding place for counterfeiters. There he passed the rest of his life, spending his time in prayer and living on a diet that consisted almost exclusively of dates. According to Jerome, Paul lived in such conditions for almost a century, and his only visitors during that time were the beasts of the desert and the elderly monk, Anthony. (139)

According to Athanasius, Anthony was born in a small village on the left shore of the Nile, the son of relatively wealthy parents. When they died, Anthony was still young, and his inheritance was sufficient to permit a comfortable life both for him and for his younger sister, for whom he now took responsibility. His plans were simply to live off his inheritance, until a reading of the Gospel in church made such an impact that he felt compelled to change his life. (139)

Anthony disposed of his property and gave the proceeds to the poor, reserving only a portion for the care of his sister. But later he was moved by the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:34: “do not be anxious about tomorrow.” He then disposed even of the small reserve that he had kept for his sister, placed her under the care of the virgins of the church, and left for the desert. (140)

He then went to live in a tomb in an abandoned cemetery, where he subsisted on bread, which some kind souls brought him every few days. According to Athanasius, at this time Anthony began having visions of demons that accosted him almost continuously. At times, he encounter with these demons was such that it resulted in a physical struggle that left him sore for days. (141)

As years went by, many monks came to the conclusion that, since their life was holier than that of most bishops and other leaders of the church, it was they, and not those leaders, who should decide what was proper Christian teaching. Since many of these monks were fairly ignorant and prone to fanaticism, they became the pawns of others of more education, power, and cunning, who used the zeal of the desert hosts to their own ends. In the fifth century, this came to the point where rioting monks would seek to impose by force and violence what they considered to be orthodox doctrine. (143)

A surprising fact about the entire process of admission to the Pachomian communities is that many of the candidates who appeared at the gates and were eventually admitted had to be catechized and baptized, for they were not Christians. This gives an indication of the enormous attraction of the desert in the fourth century, for even pagans saw in monasticism a style of life worth pursuing. (146)

Although the roots of monasticism are not to be found exclusively in Egypt, that was the region 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, (146)

From its very beginnings, Christianity had been involved in theological controversies. In Paul’s time, the burning issue was the relationship between Jewish and Gentile converts. Then came the crucial debates about Gnostic speculation. In the third century, when Cyprian was bishop of Carthage, the main point in discussion was the restoration of the lapsed. All these controversies were significant, and often bitter. But in those earlier centuries the only way to win such a debate was by solid argument holiness of life. The civil authorities paid scant attention to theological controversies… After the conversion of Constantine, things changed. Now it was possible to invoke the authority of the state to settle a theological question. The Empire had a vested interest in the unity of the church, which Constantine hoped would become the “cement of the Empire.” Thus, the state soon began to use its power to force theological agreement on Christians. (158)

It was the year 325 when the bishops gathered in Nicea, a city in Asia Minor within easy reach of Constantinople, for what later would be known as the First Ecumenical—that is, universal—Council. … number of bishops… approximately three hundred, mostly from the Greek-speaking East, but also some from the West. In order to understand that event as those present saw it, it is necessary to remember that several of those attending the great assembly had recently been imprisoned, tortured, or exiled, and that some bore on their bodies and physical marks of their faithfulness. And now, a few years after such trials, these very bishops were invited to gather at Nicea, and the emperor covered their expenses. Many of those present knew of each other by hearsay or through correspondence. But now, for the first time in the history of Christianity, they had before their eyes physical evidence of the universality of the church. (162)

It was then decided to agree on a creed that would express the faith of the church in such a way that Arianism was clearly excluded. (165)

The “Apostles’ Creed,” being Roman in origin, is known and used only churches of Western origin—the Roman Catholic Church, and those stemming from the Protestant Reformation. The Nicene Creed, on the other hand, is acknowledged both by these Western churches and by those of the East—Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and the like. (165)

When one reads the formula as approved by the bishops at Nicea, it is clear that their main concern was to reject any notion that the Son of Word—Logos—was a creature, or a being less divine than the Father. … But it is also the reason why the Creed declared that the Son is “begotten, not made.” (165)

It is clear that after Constantine’s death there was some question as to who would succeed him, and that the army then killed most of his relatives—not in order to set up another dynasty, but rather in order to make sure that power would belong undisputably to Constantine’s three surviving sons. Of these, only Constantius was then in Constantinople, where the massacre took place, and for that reason the common opinion was that he had ordered, or at least condoned, the death of his relatives. /
Whatever the case may be, Julian was convinced that his cousin was guilty. (168)

Apart from this, Julian was an able ruler, who managed to set order in the chaotic administration of his vast domains. Yet it is not for such actions that he is most remembered, but rather for his religious policy, which earned him the title by which history knows him: “the Apostate.” (170)

Julian sought both to restore the lost glory of paganism, and to impede the progress of Christianity. Since the time of Constantine, paganism had lost a great deal of its ancient splendor. (170)

People mocked his new ceremonies, even while participating in them. For that reason it seemed necessary, not only to promote paganism, but also to hinder Christianity, its most power rival. / To this end Julian took a series of measures, although in all justice it is necessary to insist that he never decreed persecution… (172)

Among those who were present at the Council of Nicea there was a young man, so dark and short that his enemies called him “the black dwarf.” This was Athanasius, Alexander’s secretary, who would soon become one of the central figures in the controversy, and the champion of Nicene orthodoxy. … his complexion was dark, like that of the Copts, it is very likely that he belonged to that group, and that therefore he was a member of the lower classes in Egypt. He certainly never claimed to be of high birth, nor to be well-versed in the subtleties of Greco-Roman culture. (173)

From the monks, Athanasius learned a rigid discipline that he applied to himself, and an austerity that earned him the admiration of his friends and even the respect of many of his enemies. Of all the opponents of Arianism, Athanasius was most to be feared. The reasons for this were not to be found in subtlety of logical argument, nor in elegance of style, nor even in political perspicacity. … His monastic discipline, his roots among the people, his fiery spirit, and his profound and unshakable conviction made him invincible. (174)

Basil’s younger brother, Gregory of Nyssa, was of a completely different temperament. While Basil was tempestuous, inflexible, and even arrogant, Gregory preferred silence, solitude, and anonymity. He had no desire to become the champion of any cause. Although he had a solid education, it was not of the quality of any cause. Although he had a solid education, it was not of the quality of Basil’s. For a time, he wanted to be a lawyer and a rhetorician, but he did not embrace these goals with great enthusiasm. /

Whereas Basil and his friend Gregory of Nazianzus fervently took up monastic life, Gregory married a young woman with whom he seems to have been very happy. Years later, after his wife died and he took up the monastic life, he wrote a treatise On Virginity, whose arguments were characteristic of him. According to him, he who does not marry does not have to suffer the pain of seeing his wife going through childbirth, nor the even greater pain of losing her. For him, the monastic life was a way to avoid the pains and struggles of active life. He became known for his mystical life and for the writings in which he described that life and gave directives for those wishing to follow it. /

But the struggles of the time were too urgent and too bitter to pass a person such as Gregory. His brother Basil forced him to become bishop of Nyssa, … Although he was a quiet and humble person, his writings show the inner fire of his spirit. And his careful explications of Nicene doctrine contributed to its triumph in Constantinople. /

After that great council, Emperor Theodosius took him as one of his main advisors in theological matters, and Gregory was thus forced to travel throughout the empire, and even to Arabia and Mesopotamia. Although there was great value in this work, Gregory always saw it as a hindrance, keeping him away from the life of contemplation. /

Finally, being assured that the Nicene cause was firmly established, Gregory returned to the monastic life, hoping that the world would leave him alone. In this he was so successful that the date and circumstances of his death are not known. (186)

It was in the year 373 that the death of the bishop of Milan threatened the peace of that important city. … In order to avoid a possible disorder, Ambrose, the governor of the city, decided to attend the election. His efficient and fair rule had made him popular, and he had reason to hope for higher office in the service of the Empire. … Suddenly, from the midst of the crowd, a child cried, “Ambrose, bishop.” This caught the fancy of the crowd, and the insistent cry was heard: “Ambrose, bishop; Ambrose; Ambrose!” / Such an election was not part of Ambrose’s plans for his career, and therefore he had recourse to various devices in order to dissuade the people. [189] /

When that strategy failed, he repeatedly attempted to escape from the city, but was unsuccessful. Finally, when it became clear that the emperor was gratified with the election of his governor, and would be very displeased if Ambrose insisted on his refusal, he agreed to be made bishop of Milan. Since he was only a catechumen, and therefore was not even baptized, it was necessary to perform the rite, and then to raise him through the various levels of ministerial orders. All this was done in eight days, and he was consecrated bishop of Milan on December 1, 373. / (190)

He also undertook the study of theology, with the help of a priest who had taught him the basics of Christian doctrine. His keen mind helped him in this undertaking, and soon he was one of the best theologians in the Western church. (190)

…Augustine, was baptized by Ambrose, who does not seem to have been aware of the exceptional gifts of his convert, (191)

When Valentinian was killed, probably by some who sought his power, Theodosius intervened once again, and thus became sole ruler of the Empire. /

Theodosius was a Nicene Christian—it was under his auspices that the Council of Constantinople gathered in A.D. 381 and reaffirmed the decisions of Nicea. But in spite of this, and now for other reasons, he clashed with Ambrose on two separate occasions. Both times he had to yield before the firmness of the bishop, although in all fairness one must say that the first time justice was on his side. /

The first clash took place when some overzealous Christians in the small town of Callinicum burned a synagogue. The emperor decided that they be punished, and that they also must rebuild the synagogue. Ambrose protested that a Christian emperor should not force Christians to build a Jewish synagogue. After several stormy interviews, the emperor yielded, the synagogue was not rebuilt, and the arsonists were not punished. This was a sad precedent, for it meant that in an empire calling itself Christian, those whose faith was different would not protected by the law. /

The other conflict was different, and in it justice was on Ambrose’s side. There had been a riot at Thessalonica, … Ambrose, who knew the irascible temperament of the emperor, went to him and counseled moderation. Theodosius seemed convinced, but later his wrath was rekindled, and he decided to make an example of the disorderly city. He sent word that the riot had been forgiven, and then, by his disorderly city. He sent word that the riot had been forgiven, and then, by his order, the army trapped those who had gathered at the circus to celebrate the imperial pardon, and slaughtered some seven thousand of them. /

Upon learning of these events, Ambrose resolved to demand clear signs of repentance from the emperor. Although the details are not clear, one of Ambrose’s biographers tells us that the next time Theodosius went to church, the bishop met him at the door, raised his hand before him, and said, “Stop! A man such as you, stained with sin, whose hands are bathed in blood of injustice, is unworthy, until he repents, to enter this holy place, and to partake of communication.” /

At the point, some courtiers threatened violence. But the emperor acknowledged the truth in Ambrose’s words, and gave public signs of repentance. He also ordered that from that time on, if he ever decreed that someone be put to death, the execution be delayed for thirty days. / After that clash, relations between Theodosius and Ambrose were increasingly cordial Finally, when the emperor knew that death was near, he called to his side the only man who had dared to censure him in public. (193)

One hundred years after his death, John of Constantinople was given the name by which later ages know him: John Chrysostom—“the golden-mouthed.” That was a title he well deserved, for in a century that gave the church such great preachers as Ambrose of Milan and Gregory of Nazianzus, John of Constantinople stood above all the rest, a giant above the giants of his time. (194)

He was above all a monk. Before becoming a monk he was a lawyer, trained in his native Antioch by the famous pagan orator Libanius. It is said that when someone asked the old teacher who should succeed him, he responded: “John, but the Christians have laid claim on him.” (194)

His first task was to reform the life of the clergy. Some priests who claimed to be celibate had in their homes what they called “spiritual sisters,” and this was an occasion of scandal for many. Other clergymen had become rich, and lived with as much luxury as the potentates of the great city. (196)

None of the great personalities of the fourth century is more intriguing than Jerome. He is outstanding, not for his sanctity, like Anthony, nor for his keen theological insight, like Athanasisu, nor for his firmness before the authorities, like Ambrose, nor even for his preaching, like Chrysostom, but rather for his titanic and endless struggle with the world and with himself. Although he is known as “Saint Jerome,” he was not one of those saints who are granted in this life the joy of God’s peace. His holiness was not humble, peaceful, and sweet, but rather proud, stormy, and even bitter. He always strove to be more than human, and therefore had little patience for those who appeared indolent, or who dared criticize him. (201)

He was born around A.D. 348, in an obscure of Northern Italy. By his date of birth, he was younger than many of the great figures of the fourth century. But it has been aptly said that Jerome was born of an old man, and therefore he soon considered himself older than his contemporaries. (201)

He was an ardent admirer of classical learning, and felt that this love for an essentially pagan tradition was sinful. His inner turmoil on this score peaked when, during a serious illness, he dreamt that the was at the final judgment and was asked: “Who are you?” “I am a Christian,” Jerome answered. But the Judge retorted: “You lie. You are a Ciceronian.” (201)

He was also obsessed by sex. Upon retiring to the monastic life, he hoped to be rid of that burden. But even there he was followed by his dreams and by the memories of dancers in Rome. He sought to suppress such thought by punishing his body, and by an exaggeratedly austere life. He was unkempt, and even came to affirm that, having been washed by Christ, there was no need ever to wash again. (202)

Meanwhile, he found a great deal of help amidst a group of rich and devout women who lived in the palace of a widow… It is significant that Jerome, who never had any close male friends, and who was obsessed by sex, found such solace in this group of women. Perhaps he felt at ease because they did not dare compete with him. In any case, it was they that came to know the sensitivity that he desperately sought to hide from the rest of the world. / However, Jerome was not a tactful man, and he soon made enemies among the leaders of the church in Rome. (202)

Jerome’s version, commonly known as the Vulgate, eventually became the standard Bible of the entire Latin-speaking church. But at first it was not as well received as Jerome had wished. The new translation, naturally enough, changed some people’s favorite texts, and many demanded to know who had given Jerome authority to tamper with Scripture. (204)

Augustine… That search led the young student to Manicheism. This religion was Persian in origin, having been founded by Mani in the third century. According to Mani, the human predicament is the presence in each of us of two principles. One, which he calls “light,” is spiritual. The other, “darkness,” is matter. Throughout the universe there are these two principles, both eternal: light and darkness. Somehow—Manicheans explains it through a series of myths—the two have mingled, and the present human condition is the result of that admixture. Salvation then consists in separating the two elements, and in preparing our spirit for its return to the realm of pure light, in which it will be absorbed. Since any new mingling of the principles is evil, true believers must avoid procreation. According to Mani, this doctrine had been revealed in various fashions to a long series of prophets, including Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, and Mani himself. (208)

Besides, part of its propaganda consisted in ridiculing the teachings of Christianity, and particular the Bible, whose materialism and primitive language it mocked. /
Manicheism seemed to respond to Augustine’s difficulties with Christinaity, which centered on two issues. The first was that, from the point of view of rhetoric, the Bibles was a series of inelegant writings—some even barbaric—in which the rules of good style were seldom followed, and where one found crude episodes of violence, rape, deceit, and the like. The second was the question of the origin of evil. Monica had taught him that there was only one God. But Augustine saw evil both around and in himself, and had to ask what was the source of such evil. If God was supreme and pure goodness, evil could not be a divine creation. And if, on the other hand, all things were created by the divine, God could not be as good and wise as Monica and the church claimed. Manicheism offered answers to these two points. The Bible—particularly the Old Testament—was not in fact the word of the eternal principles of light. Nor was evil a creation of that principle, but of its opposite, the principle of darkness. (210)

In Milan he became a Neoplatonist. … Unlike Manichean dualism, Neoplatanism affirmed that there was only one principle, and that all reality was derived form it through a series of emanations—much like the concentric circles that appear on the surface of the water when hit by a pebble. Those realities that are closer to the One are superior, and those that are more removed from it are inferior. Evil then does not originate from a different source, but consists simply in moving away from the One. (210)

There remained another doubt: How can one claim that the Bible, with its crude language and its stories of violence and falsehood, is the Word of God? … Ambrose interpreted allegorically many of the passages that had created difficulties for Augustine. Since allegorical interpretation was perfectly acceptable according to the cannons of rhetoric, Augustine could find no fault in this. But it certainly made Scripture appear less crude, and therefore more acceptable. (211)

…evil?... the will is created by God, and is therefore good; but that the will is capable of making its own decisions. It is good for the will to be free, even though this means that such a free will can produce evil. … This, however, does not mean that evil is ever a “thing.” Evil is not a substance, as the Manichees implied when speaking of it as the principle of darkness. It is a decision, a direction, a negation of good. (213)

The other work worthy of special mention is The City of God. The immediate motive impelling Augustine to write it was the fall of Rome in A.D. 410. Since at that time there were many who clung to ancient paganism, soon it was charged that Rome had fallen because she had abandoned her ancient gods and turned to Christianity. It was to respond to such allegations that Augustine wrote The City of God, a vast encyclopedic history in which he claims that there are two cities, each built on love as a foundation. The city of God is build on love of God. The earthly city is built on love of self. In human history, these two cities always appear mingled with each other. [215] But in spite of this there is between the two of them an irreconcilable opposition, a war to death. in the end, only the city of God will remain. Meanwhile, human history is filled with kingdoms and nations, all built on love of self, which are no more than passing expressions of the earthly city. All these kingdoms and nations, no matter how powerful, will wither and pass away, until the end of history, when only the city of God will stand. In the particular case of Rome, God allowed her and her empire to flourish so that they could serve as a means for the spread of the Gospel. But now that this purpose has been fulfilled, God has let Rome follow the destiny of all human kingdoms, (216)

Although the “barbarians” appeared to the Romans as looters with their minds set on destruction, most of them really aspired to settle within the borders of the Roman Empire, and there to enjoy some of the benefits of a civilization that until then they had only known from afar. Thus, after a period of wandering, each of the major invading bodies settled in a portion of the Empire—some because that was the territory they fancied, and others simply because they had been pushed into that land by other invaders. (231)

The Vandals… took Carthage in 439. By then they were virtual masters of all the northern coast of Africa… (231)

The Visigoths… By 415 they were in Spain, and they ruled that country until they in turn were overthrown by the Moslems early in the eighth century. (232)

Great Britain had never been entirely under Roman control. Emperor Hadrian had built a wall separating the southern portion of the island, which was part of the Roman Empire, from the north, where the Picts and Scots retained their independence. (235)

Ireland had never been part of the Roman Empire, but Christianity had spread to it before the downfall of the Empire. (235)

…for a short while Italy was under the rule of the Ostrogoths. (237)

Benedict’s greatest significant, however, was in the Rule that he gave to his community. Although fairly brief, this document would determine the shape of monasticism for centuries. Rather than extreme asceticism, what the Rule seeks is a wise ordering of the monastic life, with strict discipline, but without undue harshness. (239)

The word “pope” simply means “father,” and in early times was used to refer to any important and respected bishop. Thus, there are documents referring to “Pope Cyprian” of Carthage, or to “Pope Athanasius” of Alexandria. Whereas in the West it eventually was reserved for the bishops of Rome, in the East it continued to be used with more liberality. In any case, what is important is not the origin of the title “pope,” but rather how the bishop of Rome came to enjoy the authority that he had in the Middle Ages, and sill has in the Roman Catholic Church. (242)

Early in the seventh century, it seemed that order was about to be restored in most of the ancient Roman Empire. … Then something unexpected happened. Out of Arabia, a forgotten corner of the world that had been generally ignored by both the Roman and the Persian empires, a tidal wave of conquest arose that threatened to engulf the world. In a few world, the Persian Empire had vanished, and many of the ancient Roman territories were in Arab hands. / The driving force between this human avalanche was Mohammed. [248] … Mohammed claimed that he was not preaching a new religion, but simply the culmination of what God had revealed in the Hebrew prophets and in Jesus, … (249)

By his death in 632, a goodly part of Arabia was in Moslem hands. … By 711, a small band crossed the Straits of Gibraltar… Soon all of Spain…was under Moslem rule… 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 Moslem expansion. (249)

But above all, 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 that Arab conquest, in A.D. 800, 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. (250)

…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 Greek-speaking East, the political course of events produced entirely different situations… In the West, the demise of the Empire created a vacuum that the church filled, and thus ecclesiastical leaders—particularly the pope—also came to wield political power. In the East, the Empire continued for another thousand years. … Obviously, 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 Middle Ages. (251)

…question of how divinity and humanity are joined in Jesus Christ. … The Alexandrines… His divinity must be asserted, even if this had to be done at the expense of his humanity. The Antiochenes, on the other hand, felt that for Jesus to be the Savior of human beings he had to be full human. The Godhead dwelt in him, without any doubt; but this must not be understood in such a way that his humanity was diminished… (252)

Apollinaris … A human body with a purely divine mind is not really a human being. From the Alexandrine point of view, this was quite acceptable… But… the theories of Apollinaris 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 against Arianism. (253)

On Christmas Day 800… Pope Leo III took a crown in his hands approached Charles, king of the Franks, and placing the crown on his head… Three hundred and twenty-four years earlier, the last emperor of the West had been deposed. In crowning Charles—or Charlemagne, as he came to be called—Leo revived the ancient empire, now reborn under the aegis of the church. (266)

…even before being crowned emperor, while he was only king of the Franks, Charlemagne had extended his domains beyond the borders of the ancient Roman Empire. This he did through a series of campaigned against the Saxons and their Frisian allies, on the eastern borders of his empire. (266)

…the final resistance of the Saxons was broken, and thousands were forcibly baptized. This was an important step, for many Saxons seem to have believed that in accepting baptism they were forsaking their gods, who in turn would forsake them. Thus, once baptized, one had no god to turn to but the Christian God. In any case, these forced baptism had such result that soon there were Christian leaders among the Saxons, who then employed similar methods for the conversions of their own neighbors. / Charlemagne also extended his powers to the west. … beginning the long process of reconquering the peninsula from the Moors. (268)

As emperor, Charlemagne felt called to rule his people both in civil and in ecclesiastical matters. He appointed bishops just as he named generals, … (268)

Charlemagne, although not himself an educated man, was a patron of learning.. many scholars who flocked to Charlemagne’s domains. (268)

The glory of Charlemagne’s empire did not last long after the great emperor’s death. His son Louis “the Pious” was a conscientious ruler, but not a good judge of character. (268)

The revival of learning that Charlemagne had sought bore fruit throughout the ninth century. Wherever there was a strong ruler and a measure of peace, schools flourished, manuscripts were copied, and there was a measure of theological activity. However, during all that time western Europe produced only one systematic thinker of stature, while most theological activity centered on controversies over a single point of doctrine or worship. /
The great systematic thinker during the reign of the Caroligians—the dynasty of Charlemagne—was John Scotus Erigena, a native of Ireland who had fallen heir to the knowledge of antiquity that had been preserved in Irish [269] monasteries… he translated into Latin the works “Dionysius the Areopagite.” In the fifth century, someone had written these works, which were purported to be the same Dionysius who had heard Paul… (270)

For a time, Charlemagne and his successors seemed to have brought western Europe out of the confusion created by the Germanic invasions of the fourth and fifth centuries. But in truth those invasions, which had subsided for a while, had not ended, and would start afresh at a time that coincided with the decline of the Carolingian empire. / For centuries, extreme northern Europe had been inhabited by Scandinavians. During the eighth century, these heretofore sedentary people developed the art of shipbuilding to such a point that they mastered the neighboring seas. … Since they often attacked churches and monasteries in pursuit of the treasures they held, they were taken to be enemies of God. … In England, the only one who offered significant resistance was King Alfred the Great of Wessex, but by the eleventh century King Canute of the Danes was master of all England—as well as of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. … Eventually they settled in Sicily, which they took from the Moslems, (272)

Eventually, the Norsemen became Christians. Many simply took over the faith of those whom they had conquered and among whom they settled. Others, mostly Scandinavia itself and in distant Iceland, were led to baptism by the example—and sometimes the coercion—of their leaders. By Canute’s time, in the first half of the eleventh century, almost all Scandinavians had been baptized. (273)

From its very beginnings, the Order of Preachings—for such was the official name of the Dominicans—emphasized study. In this Dominic differed from Saint Fraincis, who did not wish his friars to have even a Psalter, and who was suspicious of study. The Dominicans, in their task of refuting heresy, must be well armed intellectually, and for that reason their recruits received solid intellectual training. They soon gave to the church some of its most distinguished theologians… Before long, such Dominicans as Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas would bring great prestige to the order in intellectual circles. (305)

The most important forerunner of scholasticism was Anselm of Canterbury. A native of Italy, he had joined the monastery of Bec, in Normandy, in 1060. … Anselm’s significance for the development of scholasticism lies in his desire to apply reason to questions of faith. What he sought in doing this was not to prove something which he did not believe without such proof, but rather to understand more deeply what he had already believed. … Anselm believed in the existence of God. But he sought to understand more deeply what that existence meant. It was for this reason that he developed in the Proslogion what has come to be called “the ontological argument for the existence of God.” Briefly stated, Anselm’s argument is that when one thinks of God, one is thinking of “that-than-which-no-greater-can-be-thought.” The question then is, is it possible to think of “that-than-which-no-greater-can-be-thought” as not existing? Clearly not, for then an existing being would be greater than it. (313)

Thomas Aquinas. Born about 1224 in the outskirts of Naples, Thomas was reared in an aristocratic family. (317)

Many who knew Thomas in his early years failed to see the genius in him. He was so big and quiet that his fellow students called him “the dumb ox.” But slowly his intelligence broke through his silence, and the Dominican order acknowledged his intellectual gifts. He thus came to spend most of his life in academic circles, particularly Paris, where he became a famous professor. / His literary production was enormous. His two famous works are the Summa Contra Gentiles and the Summa Theologica. (317)

Since God does not limit salvation to those who are intellectually gifted, all this truth necessary for salvation, including that which can be reached by reason, has been revealed. (318)

But Thomas’ significance is even more in his ability to turn a philosophy that many considered a threat into an instrument in the hands of faith. For centuries, western theology—and much of eastern theology as well—had been dominated by a Platonic bias… Yet, Platonism also had its own dangers. By interpreting the Christian faith in Platonic terms, it was possible that Christians would come to undervalue the present world, which according to the Bible is God’s creation. It was also possible that the incarnation, the presence of God in a physical human being, would be pushed to the background, for Platonism was not interested in temporal realities… Condemnations of Aristotle often included some theses held by Thomas, (319)


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