II. Persecution – Threat from without
(Sources: Justo Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume 1; Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, Volume I; Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volumes I-II)
A. Nero (A.D. 54-68; 64 AD) – First Roman persecutor – blames the Christians for the great fire in Rome. Extremely cruel persecution and local to Rome. Tacitus’ testimony is of great value. Peter and Paul martyred under him.
B. Domitian (A.D. 81-96; 95 AD) – Long live Rome – loved Roman traditions and sought to restore them. He began to persecute the Jews and any who followed Jewish practices; without any recognizable distinction between the Christians, persecute them too. There are mixed reports as to the severity, but there were likely many martyrs. Mainly took place in Rome and Asia Minor. The apostle John was banished to Patmos and then returned and died under his reign. Clement of Rome martyred under him.
C. Trajan (A.D. 98-117; 111 AD) – Don’t ask but do tell. Don’t seek out the Christians, but do prosecute them once brought to the authorities. In that case, three strikes and you’re out – three opportunities to recant or die. Pliny, the governor of Bithynia (Turkey) sought to understand Christianity and eventually wrote to Trajan for direction. His correspondence was instrumental in making this the policy, which lasted for nearly a hundred years. Ignatius martyred under him.
D. Hadrian (A.D. 117-138) – Continued the policy of Trajan, but punished those who brought false charges against people being Christians when they were not.
E. Antonius Pius (A.D. 138-161; 138 AD). Polycarp martyred under him.
F. Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161-180; 169 AD) – I don’t like Christians, they’re too stubborn. Though Marcus was a refined man who sought to rule by his lofty ideals of government, Gonzales notes that he was also superstitious . . . and when the explanation that Christians were to blame for continued invasions, epidemics, floods and other disasters, having brought the wrath of the gods upon the Empire, then he supported their persecution. Famous martyrs of his persecution are the consecrated widow, Felicitas and her seven sons, along with the famous Christian apologist, Justin Martyr. He was probably the best Christian scholar of the time who founded a school in Rome, where he died.
G. Septimius Severus (A.D. 193-211; 202 AD) – Just Don’t Do It. He issued an edict forbidding conversions to Judaism or Christianity, while Trajan’s policy was also still in effect. Much of the persecution took place in North Africa and Egypt. The father of Origen was killed in Alexandria Egypt at this time and Origen wanted to follow him to martyrdom, but his mother hid his clothes. Irenaeus also suffered martyrdom as did Perpetua and Felicitas.
H. Decius (A.D. 249-251; 249 AD) – Long live Rome. He embodied the old Roman virtues, seeking to restore Rome to her ancient glory. His edict required all citizens in the empire to sacrifice to the gods, making this the most extensive persecution up till that time, both systematic and universal. Though he did not single out and seek to kill Christians, his zeal to make all people worship the gods placed Christians in the most difficult position. His goal was to make apostates rather than martyrs. Since Christians had enjoyed nearly fifty years of peace, many were not prepared for the persecution. Some went immediately to sacrifice, while others held out as long as they could but then caved in. Others secured fraudulent libelli – certificates of compliance stating that they had sacrificed when they had not, while others refused to sacrifice and suffered the consequences. This persecution was short lived (less than two years). Result was that the church was purged of many luke-warm members, but this created a big problem for the church over those who had lapsed in some manner. Because Decius chose to subject the Christians to severe torture rather than death, there were far less martyrs but many who endured the torture and received a new honorary title (Confessors). What was the church to do with those who lapsed in some way? Some did die however, including Origen from his torture. Others however, like the beloved Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, went into hiding for a later time to serve the church.
I. Valerian (A.D. 253-260; 257 AD) – Strike the shepherds and scatter the sheep. He singled out the bishops commanding them to do homage to the gods or be exiled. Christians were threatened with death if they attended worship or meetings of the church or a Christian cemetery. In 258, a new and more drastic edict was given, ordering the death of bishops, priests and deacons > confiscate property, death to Christians of high rank in the state and Christian members of the imperial household were enslaved. Though it extended to most provinces, it too was short lived, ending in 260. Cyprian was martyred at this time.
J. Diocletian (A.D. 284-305; 303 AD) – The Grand Finale. His edict initiated the last and worst persecution, despite both is wife and daughter being Christians. Beginning with the removal of Christians from every government position and destroying all buildings and books, the condition worsened with Christians refusing to give up their sacred books. The result was many were tortured and condemned to death. Then increasing his demands, he decreed that all Christians in the imperial court must sacrifice to the gods. While his wife and daughter complied, others refused and were martyred. This was extensive and long lasting (eight years), being empire wide from Britain to Arabia and most severe in the East. He then decreed that all the church leaders be arrested and that all Christians offer sacrifice to the gods. As during Decius’ persecution, many Christians were not prepared for it (after several decades of peace) and succumbed to the demands to sacrifice. Others sent pagans to sacrifice for them while the rest were cruelly tortured and killed in various ways, with some seeking out martyrdom (again, the goal was to force the worship of the gods and create apostates, not merely kill Christians).
III. End of Persecution
End of persecution came with the Edict of Toleration, on April 30, A.D. 311, given by Galerius. He had become reflective as a result of a terrible disease and possibly influenced by Christians; he would die five days later. Despite this edict, one of his four successors, Maximinus Daia restarted persecution. Empire wide peace came in A.D. 313, after Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Milvan bridge on October 27, 312. He and his co-regent and brother-in-law, Licinius issued a new edict granting toleration and protection to Christians. Maximinus was also forced to sign it before committing suicide a short time later. (See Justo Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1, 106; Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, p. 72)
IV. Results of Persecution
A. Church Growth – The 3rd century Christian apologist, Tertullian had written: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” This proved to be true throughout the 250 years of recurring persecution as the faith grew even more. Alexandria, Egypt (2nd century) became the chief center for Christianity in Egypt; also Carthage, North Africa (3rdcentury) became a significant center, so that by 300 AD, between 5 and 15 percent of the total population of 50-75 million people were Christians (Cairns). Later on when the emperor Constantine moved his capital to the city of Byzantium and subsequently renamed it Constantinople, he built in it many churches and it also became a major center for Christianity in the fourth century.
B. Controversies over those who faltered under persecution – 1) those who sacrificed during the Decius persecution; 2) those who gave up sacred Scriptures during the Diocletian persecution (traditores). Both groups posed significant difficulties for the church as to how to respond to them when persecution had ended. Complications of this were due to the fact not all lapsed to the same degree. Some had willingly sacrificed to the gods and/or offered incense, while others purchased a fraudulent libeli. Still others had given in under persecution, but then reaffirmed their faith while the persecution was still taking place; while others fled and hid. These different degrees of lapsing would not all be treated the same way.
1. Cyprian – bishop of Carthage (North Africa) – hid during Decius’ persecution (A.D. 249-251) in order to continue correspondence with the church and continue leadership. This was perceived as cowardly by some Christians, such as those at the church in Rome who lost their bishop during the persecution. There were those in Carthage then that believed the “confessors” had more authority to decide how to restore the lapsed than did Cyprian and the hierarchy of the church. Though
Cyprian would be martyred under Valerian’s persecution 8-9 years later (A.D. 258), this was a problem for the church for many years to come. With this schism arising as a result, between those in agreement with the confessors versus those aligned with Cyprian, the schism at that time was brought to a close in Carthage (Gonzales, 89). Cyprian called a synod of the bishops in that region to decide the matter, with the following results to be carried out by the bishops (not the confessors).
a. Those who had purchased or otherwise attained certificates without sacrificing would be immediately readmitted into the church.
b. Those who had sacrificed to the gods would only be readmitted on their deathbeds or when a new persecution broke out and they could prove themselves sincere in their repentance.
c. Those who had sacrificed and not repented would never be readmitted.
2. Novation – a presbyter of the Roman church who opposed the bishop Cornelius in his willingness to restore the lapsed, also during the third century. With others siding with him, they elected him bishop leading to two bishops in the Roman church. He believed the lapsed were restored too easily and enforced more stern ethical requirements for restoration to the church and even rebaptized those who came to him from the Catholic Church. This led to numerous churches emerging that were sympathetic to him, for which Novatian appointed bishops, in North Africa, the west and especially the east.
3. Donatist Controversy – took place in North Africa after the Diocletian persecution (4th century) regarding the same issue, how those who had lapsed were to be restored to the church. The occasion for this controversy was the vacancy of the important bishopric of Carthage. The persecution had been especially violent in that region and led to a large number of those who yielded under the pressure. Again, this was done in varying degrees by both bishops and lay people. Some bishops had handed over heretical books leading the authorities to believe they were Christian Scriptures. Others claimed it was their responsibility as pastors to turn in Scriptures in order to prevent bloodshed. However many of the clergy and lay people succumbed to the pressure to worship the gods. Other Christians endured the suffering of imprisonment and torture receiving the honorary title, “confessors,” while others were martyred.
During the third century, the confessors opposed to Cyprian had been more lenient in allowing the lapsed back into the church without consulting the church authorities. Now the confessors took the opposite position and believed there needed to be stricter requirements for reentry into the church. When the bishopric of Carthage opened up, Caecilian was elected to the position, but was unpopular with the more stringent people regarding how to restore the lapsed. They in turn elected their own bishop, Majorinus to be his rival; however when he died shortly afterwards, the party elected Dontus from whom the name of the schism is derived. The election of two bishops was a great disturbance to the rest of the church and led to the involvement of Constantine (concerned for unity in his empire), who sided with Caecilian. Only those bishops who joined him would receive the benefits he provided the church (tax exemption for the clergy, etc.). The argument against Caecilian was that one of the three bishops who had consecrated him had been a traditor, having delivered the Scriptures over to the authorities, making his consecration invalid. His party denied the accusation against the bishop but also claimed that even if it was true, the worthiness of the bishop was not a concern since, for example, the sacraments are valid regardless of the spiritual state of the one administering them. Gonzales writes on this: “The Donatists, on their part, insisted that Caecilian, whose consecration had been flawed by the participation of a traditor, was not really a bishop, and that for that reason all those whom he ordained were false ministers, whose sacraments had no validity.” (153-54). While Constantine and the church would side with Caecilian, the controversy would continue for years to come.
lapsed – those who weakened under persecution: either sacrificed to the gods or handed over Scriptures (traditores)
libellatici – those who attained false witness that they returned to paganism
traditores – the ones who handed over > Scriptures or names of other Christians, sacred articles, etc.
confessors – those who had suffered under torture for their faith and survived; they confessed Christ
These various schisms over whether or not to receive the lapsed back into the church and how to do so raise important issues of authority in the church and who could make decisions, affecting the over all unity of Christians.
C. Canon of the NT – determining which books were authoritative Scripture was important, since only those should not be given up on pain of death (Diocletian persecution especially). However the development of the canon (=general law, rule, principle; from Greek word meaning rule, standard – Galatians 6:16) had been substantially determined by the end of the second century and recognized among most of the church. This was in part, a response to both Gnosticism and the heretic, Marcion(see below), who made up his own list of authoritative books (A.D. 140). It was also necessary that the church affirm which books were acceptable for use in worship. This “rule of faith” that would be recognized (canon) would become the NT.
The Jewish Scriptures of the Old Testament were always accepted by the church as inspired. Both Jesus and the apostles bore witness of them and those Scriptures foretold the coming of Israel’s Messiah, which Jesus fulfilled. In addition to this, the early church also accepted the NT writings by the apostles or their close associates as equally authoritative. By the end of the second century, most of the twenty-seven books in the NT were widely in use and accepted by the church as authoritative.
1. Marcion Canon (ca. A.D. 130-140) – included an edited copy of Luke (he deleted all references to the OT and Judaism; e.g. chs. 1-3) and ten of Paul’s epistles (also edited from what he deemed to be later additions; e.g. 3:16-4:6). The Pauline epistles included are (in order): Galatians, 1&2 Corinthians, Romans, 1&2 Thessalonians, Laodiceans (Ephesians?), Colossians (w/Philemon), Philippians. Marcion, because of his heresy, rejected the entire OT and the remaining Gospels and letters of the NT, along with the parts of Luke testifying to His resurrection. This provided more resolve for the early church to affirm all four Gospels, giving consensus from the entire apostolic tradition. In showing the diversity of witnesses to Christ being in harmony on the main issues and that their doctrine was not based on a single Gospel or apostle, a more convincing argument was made.
2. Muratorian Canon (A.D. 180) – discovered by Lodovico A. Muratori (1672-1750) in the Ambrosian Library in Milan. Included twenty-two books of the NT, leaving out: Hebrews, James, 1&2 Peter, 3 John
3. Eusebius (d. A.D. 340) – considered “the father of Church History” and was bishop of Caesarea in Israel (A.D. 315-340). He designated twenty NT books as “Homologumena” = books of the NT acknowledged as canonical and authoritative from early times. He includes the following books as in general use after the middle of the second century, considered to have apostolic origin and be inspired by the Spirit of Christ (Schaff): four Gospels, Acts, thirteen Pauline letters, 1 Peter, 1 John. These books were supported by important church writers, including Justin Martyr (d. A.D. 165), Tatian (d. A.D. 172), Theophilus of Antioch (d. A.D. 180-202), Irenaeus (d. A.D. 190?), Tertullian (d. A.D. 220-240), Clement of Alexandria (d. A.D. 215) and Origen (d. A.D. 254).
The books he designated “Antilegomena” = books of the NT whose canonicity was not accepted but in dispute for a time, included (in order from greater acceptance to less): Hebrews, Revelation, 2 Peter, 2&3 John, James, Jude. The difficulty in accepting most of these was doubt regarding genuine apostolic (origin). Eusebius also classified a second group of “Antilegomena” as spurious, including: the Epistle of Barnabas, the 1st Epistle of Clement (of Rome) to the Corinthians, the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Gospel of Hebrews – read in some churches but later separated from the canon.
4. Two oldest Greek manuscripts of the NT (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus – early 4th century) include all twenty-seven books (Sinaiticus), or most of them (Vaticanus is missing the final chapters of Hebrews, 1 Timothy-Philemon and Revelation).
V. Heresy – Threat from within
A. Legalism – originated from those converts of a Jewish background, which held to salvation by works. Many carried their old ideas into Christianity. During the early 2nd century, Ebionites persisted to be a problem in Israel and beyond. They insisted that the Jewish Law was still in force and binding on all Christians – Jew and Gentile, as the highest expression of God’s will. They believed Jesus was Joseph’s biological son who attained a degree of divinity at His baptism when the Holy Spirit came upon Him. They used Matthew’s gospel but did not like Paul’s writings.
B. Intellectualism – originated from those converts of Greek philosophy, leading to philosophical perversions.
1. Gnosticism – the name comes from the Greek word, “gnosis” = knowledge. Gnostics taught that they possessed secret knowledge (revelation), a mystical knowledge reserved for those with true understanding. This knowledge was necessary for salvation. They taught that all matter was evil and spirit was good. Since God could not have created this evil world, they posited a host of spiritual beings, generated from the supreme God; one of these lesser beings (with enough spirit in him to have power to create, but enough matter in him to be evil), created the material world. This “demiurge” (lesser god) was identified with Jehovah of the OT, leading Gnosticism to reject the OT. They instead developed their own literature to explain the origin of the visible world and the universe and also how to attain salvation by the special “gnosis.” This salvation would free the elect souls, or “bits” and “sparks” of the eternal spirit now imprisoned in a human body, from “the powers of darkness and return to the realm of the highest God.” (Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, 76). In their teachings, they not only utilized the writings of the NT, interpreting them in a special manner to fit their views, but also wrote their own gospels and other literature as a rival to the NT. The “Gnostic gospels” for example, propose “secret” teaching that Jesus kept from the public and gave only to His most trusted disciples (e.g. Mark 9:9; Acts 1:3). Many of these deal with His teaching between the resurrection and ascension, of which the NT says little, or other reports communicated only to them.
Dualism – Sharp separation between the spirit as good and matter as evil, rejecting the physical world as foreign to the true God. Leads to one of two extremes: asceticism in denying the body’s needs and desires or libertinism, indulging the desires of the body.
Docetism – Christ did not have a human body, since as absolute spiritual good He could not join with material evil, but only seemed to have one. Jesus was believed to only appear in a human body, like a phantom; or that the Christ came upon the human Jesus at His baptism and departed before the cross. In Christian Gnosticism, Christ is the messenger Who would teach this special, spiritual knowledge so man could save himself through an intellectual process.
2. Marcion – Grew up Christian, but with a strong dislike of Judaism and the material world, leading to understanding Christianity as being anti-Jewish and anti-material. After going to Rome in A.D. 144 and being rejected by the church leaders. He developed his own form of Christianity in which he believed that since the world is evil, then the god who created it must be evil or ignorant. He therefore posited that the God and Father of Jesus was different from Jehovah, the God of the OT who created it.
Gonzales (Vol. 1, p. 61) writes: “This means that the Hebrew Scriptures are indeed inspired by a god, although this is Jehovah, and not the Supreme Father. Jehovah is an arbitrary god, who chooses a particular people above all the rest. And he is also vindictive, constantly keeping an account on those that disobey him, and punishing them. In short, Jehovah is a god of justice–and of an arbitrary justice at that.”
In contrast to Jehovah is the God of Christians: not vindictive, but loving; not requiring obedience but love; giving everything, including salvation freely. He sent His Son, Jesus to save us, Who was not the son of Mary but appeared suddenly as a grown man. There will be no judgment in the end. Since Jehovah gave the OT Scriptures, then Marcion rejected them and everything in the NT that related to them, which is why he made a list of what he considered the true Christian Scriptures – “Apostolikon” (see above).
3. Manicheanism – founded in c.a. 240-41by Mani (A.D. 216-276) in India, who was from Persia. He combined elements of Christianity with other oriental religions such as Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. Similar to Gnosticism, he developed a dualistic, philosophical teaching in which two opposing, eternal principles are present in every person: light which is spiritual and darkness which is matter. Since man’s soul linked him to the kingdom of light, but his body was in bondage to the kingdom of darkness, salvation involved liberating the light in his soul from his body so he can return to the realm of pure spiritual light. This liberation could be accomplished by exposure to the Light, Christ. Mani taught that a long line of prophets had taught this doctrine including Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus and himself, who he claimed to be an apostle of Christ and the Paraclete, promised by Jesus, or that the Paraclete spoke through him. The belief posited two groups within its teaching, the “elite” or “perfect” among them served as a priestly caste, who lived ascetic lives and performed various rites to help release the light. The second group consisted of the “auditors” or “hearers,” who supplied the physical needs of the elect group and shared in their holiness. His teaching led to the prohibition of procreation, viewing the sex instinct as evil and the further mixing of the two principles. They rejected the OT as the word of the eternal light and that evil was not a creation of it, but of the principle of darkness. Manicheanism would thrive in Persia and across the Roman empire but slowly die off. An important disciple of this teaching would be Augustine (A.D. 354-430) during his search for truth. After his conversion he would spend much energy refuting their teachings.
4. Neoplatanism – originated in Alexandria during the third century its early proponents included Ammonius Saccas (A.D. 174-242), born of Christian parents; and Plotinus (A.D. 205-270) who taught the doctrine in a school in Rome. Porphory (A.D. 232-305) compiled the “literary statement” titled Enneads, drawing from the writings of Plotinus. It is both a philosophy and religion, teaching a metaphysical monism as opposed to the dualism of Gnosticism and Manicheanism. Asserted that the “Absolute Being”or the “One” is the transcendent source of all that is and that all reality is derived from a series of emanations from him. The further removed those emanations are from the “One,” the more inferior they are; this is the answer for the origin of evil = “not a ‘thing,’ but rather a direction away from the goodness of the One” (Gonzales). Man was created from these emanations “as a reasoning soul and body” (Cairns). The goal of man is to “reach the ineffable One” through “study, discipline and mystical contemplation” (Gonzales), so as to be reabsorbed “into the divine essence from which all had come;” this was “a metaphysical type of mysticism in which the spiritual essence of man is thought to be absorbed mystically into the divine being in occasional experiences here and now.” Then after he dies, “man’s spirit becomes a part of the divine being” (Cairns). The highest state, and so goal for a man to enjoy was to reach a state of ecstasy, as a person became lost in rational contemplation through mystical intuition in order to know God and be reabsorbed into the “One.” Philosophy contributed significantly to this contemplation. This system of belief would leave a permanent imprint upon Christianity, becoming very popular during the fourth and fifth centuries among intellectuals. In addition to “shaping Christian thought in general,” it also contributed significantly to “Christian mysticism” (Latourette). This teaching would be problematic for the church fathers, corrupting their teaching.
C. Theological Errors
1. Montanism – founded by Montanus in Phrygia (Asia Minor) after AD 155 (his conversion to Christianity). He was opposed to the formalism of the church dependent on human leadership, such as the rise of the bishop, rather than the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This led him to emphasize the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and Eschatology (Cairns). He is said to have spoken in tongues at his baptism and began to prophesy that the Paraclete of John’s gospel spoke through him (Latourette). He sought to revive the prophets of the early decades of the church and along with two women, Priscilla and Maximilla, that immediate and continuous inspiration was being given through him as the Paraclete, or His mouth piece, in the same way God spoke through Paul and the apostles. They predicted the soon return of Christ to set up His kingdom (New Jerusalem) at Pepuza in Phrygia. He understood that he and his followers were being used to commence a new age, in which the last days were now beginning, despite the NT teaching that they had begun at the time of Christ (Hebrews 1:2; cf. 1 Peter 1:20). Just as Jesus had begun a new age with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Montanus was beginning a “newer age” in which the Spirit being poured out and calling them to a more rigorous moral life (Gonzales). In preparation for the end of the age, they lived a strict ascetic life, denying remarriage after the death of a spouse, observing fasts and eating dry foods (Cairns). They also encouraged celibacy and held martyrdom in high honor (Latourette). The church rejected Montanism, especially the teaching that another new age had begun with the giving of the Spirit to its followers, thereby diminishing the significance of the NT events and making the gospel one more stage in salvation history (Gonzales). However this teaching would persist into the fifth century, being strongest in Phrygia and Carthage (North Africa), though spreading to Rome and other parts of North Africa. It’s most famous convert would be Tertullian, who joined the Montanists in his middle life, in the early third century. Cairns cautions (p. 102): “The Montanist movement was and is a warning to the church not to forget that its organization and its formulation of doctrine must never be divorced from the satisfaction of the emotional side of man’s nature and the human craving for immediate spiritual contact with God.” The Pentecostal and Charismatic movements may be modern equivalents at points.
2. Monarchianism – two forms of this teaching were developed, both of which sought to guard the unity of God against three separate persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), yet leading to a denial of One God as three Persons (the Trinity). Rather than a Biblical assertion of Monotheism, it resulted in an ancient form of Unitarianism, denying the deity of Christ (Cairns). The first form of this is called “Dynamic” or “Adoptionist” Monarchianism, teaching that Christ was merely a good man, not divine. By His own righteousness and the divine Logos coming upon Him at His baptism (or after His resurrection), he achieved deity and saviorhood. The proponent of this was Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch in the third century (A.D. 260), who would preach “with violent bodily gestures and asking for applause and for the waving of handkerchiefs.” And “On occasion he had a female choir sing hymns praising him.” (Cairns, 102-03). The second form of this teaching is called “Modal” Monarchianism or Sabellianism, named after its main proponent, Sabellius (A.D. 200/260). In an effort to avoid tritheism (three gods), He taught that the one God manifested Himself in three different personalities, or modes – the Father in the OT times, the Son to redeem man and the Holy Spirit after the resurrection, rather than three Persons in the one Godhead. It also is known by the name Patripassianism, the doctrine that the Father suffered the passion. Noetus and Praxeas (who may actually be Callistus, the bishop of Rome – A.D. 217-222), taught that the Father was born as Jesus Christ, became the Son and died and raised Himself from the dead. Callistus declared that the Father and Son are the same and the Holy Spirit, Who became incarnate in Mary, is no different from the Father (Latourette). Monarchianism continued in Rome and in Asia Minor and especially Egypt into the fifth century.
Tertullian wrote in his treatise, Against Praxeas, who had also “curtailed Montanist influence in Rome . . .: ‘Praxeas served the Devil in Rome in two ways: expelling prophecy and introducing heresy, evicting the Spirit and crucifying the Father.’” (Gonzales, 77)
This teaching is found today in the Oneness Pentecostalism, or Jesus Only movement (baptism in the name of Jesus only).
VI. Apologists and Polemicists
Summary – The Christian writers of the second and third century produced literature to either defend the faith against a hostile government and show the superiority of Christianity over Judaism, paganism and state religion (apologists); or else attack the heretical teaching and false teachers (polemicists). Both groups of writers were found in the Eastern and Western parts of the empire. Their writings were necessarily directed to leaders of the Roman state or else heretics, rather than to fellow Christians (as in the case of the Apostolic Fathers).
A. Apologists – negatively, they attacked paganism and the immoralities of the gods as depicted in
mythology; showed the inconsistencies of polytheistic worship (Latourette), refuting pagan writings against Christianity. They defended Christianity against the false accusations of cannibalism, incest, atheism and other anti-social action. This was derived from misunderstanding Christian practices of communion, which only those baptized were allowed to partake of, or addressing one another as “brother” and “sister,” among other practices. Positively, they presented Christianity as the oldest (Pentateuch predates the Trojan wars) and “highest philosophy,” since Christ is the fulfillment of the OT prophecies; “. . . because whatever truth could be found in Greek thought was borrowed from Christianity or Judaism.” (Cairns).
1. Eastern Apologists
a. Quadratus – one of the two earliest apologists in the second century; a disciple of the apostles who wrote during the reign of Hadrian (AD 117-138). His Apology is lost, possibly titled: To Diognetus.
b. Aristides – the other early apologist of the second century; an eloquent philosopher at Athens before conversion. His Apology (ca. 138 or 140) is lost, except for a fragment in an Armenian translation, also addressed to the emperor Hadrian (or perhaps Antoninus Pius – Cairns). He presents a Biblical view of God and Christ, writing of the death and resurrection of Christ and the apostles as His messengers.
c. Justin Martyr (ca. 100-65) – the most important apologist of the second century who derives his name from his notable martyrdom under Marcus Aurelius. Having been born of pagan parents, he followed Stoic philosophy, Plato’s ideals, Aristotle and Pythagorus’ numbers philosophy. Upon finding the peace he sought after in Christianity, he called it “the true philosophy,” proceeding to show the connection between classical wisdom and Christianity. Thus he sought to do what he called “Christian Philosophy.” Unlike Tertullian, who argued for the total incompatibility between Christianity and pagan culture, believing many heresies were the result of combining Christian doctrine with pagan philosophy, Justin claimed there were many points of contact between the two. Some philosophers argued for a supreme being from which all other beings derive their existence, Socrates and Plato affirmed life after death, Plato argued for another world of eternal realities, etc. (Gonzales). While Justin did not deny the differences, he believed that their glimpses of truth were derived from the doctrine of the Logos, meaning both word and reason. Since Jesus is called the Logos in John (1:1, 14), then any truth in Socrates or Plato came from Christ; thus they “were Christians.”
First Apology – written to Antoninus Pius and his adopted sons, urging the emperor to examine the charges against Christians and free them, proving they were not atheists or idolaters, discussing the morals, teachings and Founder of Christianity and providing an exposition of the worship of Christians. His conclusion is that such an examination will prove the innocence of Christians and why they should not be persecuted. (Cairns)
Second Apology – a sort of “appendix” to the First, citing illustrations of cruelty done to Christians and comparing Socrates to Christ, arguing the good in men is from Christ.
Third Apology/Dialogue with Trypho – sought to convince the Jews of Jesus as the Messiah, using an allegorical interpretation of Scripture and emphasizing prophecy. He develops three ideas, the decline of the law compared to the rise of the gospel, linking the Logos/Christ with God and calling Gentiles to be the people of God.
Against Heresies (lost)
Against Marcion (lost) – personally opposed Marcion
d. Tatian (ca. 110-72) – Justin’s disciple; wrote An Address to the Greeks attacking all the Greeks considered valuable, while defending “the ‘barbaric’ Christians,” extolling the origin of Christianity as barbaric over against the classical Greek philosophy and culture (Gonzales). Tatian argued that all the Greeks have of value was taken from barbarians: astronomy from the Babylonians, geometry from the Egyptians and philosophy and religion from Israel, since the writings of Moses predate Plato or Homer. Agreement between Greek culture and the barbaric religion of the Hebrews and Christians is the result of the Greeks learning from them, though they misunderstood it and twisted it.
e. Athenagoras – wrote Plea for he Christians (ca. 177) in which he refuted the charge of atheism against Christians and showing the pagan gods are human creations and “guilty of the same immoralities as their followers.” He argued that Christians are not guilty of incest or eating their children in sacrificial feasts and so they should receive clemency (Cairns). He also wrote a treatise On the Resurrection of the Dead
f. Theophilus of Antioch (?-181-185) – converted after 180 by reading the Scriptures. He wrote Three Books/Apology to Autolycus who was a learned pagan magistrate. In it he addresses the doctrine of God, interpreting Scripture, comparing the weakness of the pagan religion to Christianity; and the Christian life, answering objections to the faith. “He was the first to use the word trias of the Trinity” (Cairns).
2. Western Apologists
a. Tertullian (ca. A.D. 150-220/240)
A native of Carthage in North Africa, he was the foremost apologist of the Western church, having been trained in Greek and Latin and a proficient lawyer, teaching law in Rome. He was converted to Christianity and became a Montanist in around 202, devoting himself to “a sound Western theology and the defeat of all false philosophical and pagan forces opposed to Christianity.” (Cairns) He has been called “the father of the Latin Theology and church language” (Schaff) and “the founder of Western theology” (Gonzales). His primary apologetical writing is Apology or Apologeticus, in which he writes to the Roman governor of his province defending Christianity against such charges as sacrificing babies in communion or being incestuous. He asserted that Christians were “loyal citizens of the empire” (Cairns) and that persecution only leads to further growth of the church. His famous saying: “the blood of the martyrs is seed” refers to the growth of the church through persecution. He utilized his legal training to argue that the state was persecuting the church on “dubious legal grounds” (Cairns), since Christian morals, doctrines and associations were more noble than those of the pagans. He is credited with coining the term “Trinity” and wrote much to advance the orthodox position on the nature of Christ and God as three Persons.
b. Minucius Felix – wrote “Octavius” (ca A.D. 200) intended to win Caecilius, his friend to Christianity.
B. Polemicists – these writers of the late second century and early third, wrote from a Christian background and determined to confront heresy and the heretics who taught the false teaching, condemning them. The polemicists in the East took a different approach from those in the West, focusing on metaphysical disputes and speculative theology, rather than errors regarding church polity (West). The polemicists emphasized the teaching of the NT more than the OT (apologists) in their efforts to present true Christian doctrine.
1. Eastern Polemicists
a. Alexandrian School – Pantaenus (early leader). The school developed an allegorical approach to interpreting Scripture, in which they sought to determine the deeper or hidden meaning of the text. In going beyond determining the one meaning of the text based on the plain sense of it (grammatico-historical interpretation – determining the intent of the original Spirit inspired author to whom he wrote), they arrived at multiple meanings. They relied on Greek philosophy in the formulation of Christian theology.
b. Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 150-215) – a student of Pantaenus, Clement was born in Athens to pagan parents but converted as an adult. He became a presbyter in Alexandria in about A.D. 189 and took over the Alexandrian school for Pantaenus, teaching from 190-202, when the persecution under Septimius Severus forced him to leave. He finished out his life traveling along the Eastern Medditeranean, especially in Syria and Asia Minor (Gonzales). He is called “the father of the Alexandrian Christian philosophy” (Schaff) and aimed at demonstrating “Christianity was the great and final philosophy” (Cairns). He sought to convince pagan intellectuals of the reasonableness of Christianity.
Exhortation to the Pagans (Protrepticus) – written about A.D. 190/195, seeks to show how the doctrine of Christianity is supported by the philosophy of Plato and is superior to the pagan beliefs, so they might accept it, rather than believe it is for the superstitious and ignorant. His premise is that any truth in Plato is already found in Jesus Christ and Scripture, because “there is only one truth” (Gonzales).
Paidagogos (Tutor) – written about A.D. 198, giving instructions on a moral treatise for young Christians.
The Stromata (Miscellanies) – written about A.D. 198-203, presents Christianity as true knowledge and
asserting that the truth of Greek philosophers was borrowed from the OT in preparation for the gospel. It went on to show the superiority of Christian morals over paganism, explained Christian marriage and developed the Christian religious life.
c. Origen (ca. A.D. 185-254) – Schaff calls him “the greatest scholar of his age, and the most gifted, most industrious, and most cultivated of all the ante-Nicene fathers.” He took over for the care of his family of six at age sixteen, when his father was martyred (ca. 202); he was brilliant and the greatest student of Clement. In 203, he was chosen by Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria to succeed Clement and become the leader of the school, first training baptismal candidates (catechumens), then lecturing on philosophy. He became famous throughout Egypt, attracting heathens and heretics to the church, including the wealthy Gnostic Ambrosius who liberally donated to him providing a costly library and copyists for his dictations. Origen continued as head of the school until 231. After conflict with Demetrius (from his envy, arrogance and zeal for orthodoxy) Origen moved and settled in Caesarea, writing and teaching for twenty more years. He was imprisoned under the Decius persecution and died from his torture upon being released. He was a prolific author writing some six thousand scrolls. In addition to writing polemics against heretics and several commentaries on various Bible books, he also produced the Hexapla, which is the early example of textual criticism, with the Hebrew and Greek placed in columns side by side (one Hebrew version, a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew and four Greek translations; in addition, he added symbols to indicate variant translations, omissions and additions to the text). Similar to Clement, he sought to relate philosophy such as Neoplatonism to Christianity. He was very ascetic, having castrated himself and slept on the bare ground. He held several unorthodox views, including the subordination of the Son to the Father (opening the door to the heresy of Arianism), two different stories of creation (rather than harmonizing Genesis 1-2), the preexistence of the soul (derived from Platonism), Christ’s death as a ransom to Satan, the doctrine of purgatory, denial of a physical resurrection, salvation of Satan (later modified) and all individuals (Universalist) and the possibility of a new material world with a new fall. He believed his tentative speculations however were not to be held on the same level of authority as the doctrines of the church; yet while rejecting the teaching of the Gnostics and Marcion that the world is created by a lesser god, he concludes it is the result of sin.
Against Celsus – confronts charges of the Plataonist Celsus against Christians
De Principiis (On First Principles) – first Christian systematic theology, including a development of the allegorical style of interpretation.
2. Western Polemicists
a. Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 115/125-190)
Born in Smyrna, influenced by Polycarp’s preaching of whom he was a disciple and became bishop in Lyons (Southern France) around 178. Philip Schaff (Vol II, p. 747) places Irenaeus last among “a luminous succession of divines and confessors who in the first three quarters of the second century reflected the light of the setting sun of the apostolic age, and may be called the pupils of St. John.” That list included Polycarp and Papias, who we learned about earlier, along with others (see Section I). However Schaff (p. 748) proceeds to identify “Irenaeus, the first among the fathers properly so called, and one of the chief architects of the Catholic system of doctrine.” He wrote against Gnosticism in his primary work, Adversus Haereses, or “Against Heresies.” Schaff (p. 750) calls him “. . . the champion of orthodoxy against Gnostic heresy, and the mediator between the Eastern and Western churches.” In Against Heresies, written about 185, he used Scripture and tradition to refute Gnostic doctrine, providing the best ancient source on Gnostic teaching (Book I). His polemic is philosophical and particularly directed against Valentinian, the head of the Gnostic school in Rome. He emphasized the unity of God over against the Gnostic teaching on the demiurge, being distinct from God (Book II). In Book III, he refutes Gnostic teaching with Scripture and “relevant tradition” (Cairns, 110); some of which argues for the unity of the church via apostolic succession among leaders, traced back to Christ and a rule of faith. He placed greater emphasis than the Biblical writers Paul or John, on “the outward visible church, . . . and the sacraments; and his whole conception of Christianity is predominantly legalistic” (Schaff, 751). Book IV condemns Marcion with the words of Christ shown to be in opposition to him and Book V vindicates the doctrine of the resurrection against the Gnostic understanding of the evil material body being associated with the good spirit. Since Irenaeus merely sought to set for the faith he had received from his teachers, his writings provide a helpful resource for learning the teaching of the church at the end of the second century. He held to a pre-millennarian view (along with Papias and others of his age) and Schaff identifies him as “the most orthodox of the ante-Nicene fatehrs.” Whereas the apologists predominantly quoted from the OT and citing the Lord’s words in the gospels, Irenaeus demonstrated the unity of the OT and NT in refuting Gnosticism, which separated the two testaments, as he made use of all four Gospels and most of the epistles, in contrast to the mutilated Marcion canon. He was very learned in the Greek and philosophy which he combined with practical wisdom.
His Writings: (See Schaff, pp. 752-55)
Against Heresies (originally titled: A Refutation and Subversion of Knowledge falsely so called)
Demonstration of Apostolic Faith – providing instruction for his flock on Christian teaching
On the Unity of God, and the Origin of Evil – letter written to Florinus, an older friend of Irenaeus who was a presbyter in the church at Rome before being removed for apostasy to follow the Gnostic heresy
On the Ogdoad – written against the belief in Aeons by Valentinian, in which the number eight is given mystic meaning
On Schism – written to Blastus who was the head of the Montanists in Rome
b. Tertullian (ca. 150-220/240)
See above under “2. Western Apologists.” In addition to his apologies, he also wrote Against Praxeas around 215, in which he uses the word “Trinity” (chapters 2-3) and made a distinction between the Persons of the Father and the Son. Unlike Irenaeus, who Schaff (p. 750) describes as “neither very original nor brilliant, but eminently sound and judicious;” Schaff writes the following (pp. 822-23) “Tertullian was a rare genius, perfectly original and fresh, but angular, boisterous and eccentric; full of glowing fantasy, pointed wit, keen discernment, polemic dexterity, and moral earnestness, but wanting in clearness, moderation, and symmetrical development. . . . He was a man of strong convictions, and never hesitated to express them without fear or favor.” (See the footnote in the middle of p. 826)
His Writings: In addition to Apologeticus (See Schaff, pp. 830-32)
On the Prescription of Heretics – provides the basic principle of the church in addressing heresy and especially attacks the Valentinian Gnostics and Marcion (against whom he wrote three works in 208).
On Baptism, On the Soul, On the Flesh of Christ, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Against Hermogenes and Against Praxeas – Tracts addressing particular errors in these areas or important doctrinal matters
On Prayer, On Penance, On Patience, Ad Martyres, De Spectaculis (against visiting theaters, viewed as “the pomp of the devil”), De Idololatria (against any sharing in worship of idols, either directly or indirectly) – Treatises on practical or ascetic matters contrasting the moral life of the early church with the immorality of the heathens
De Pudicitia (against the restoration of the lapsed), De Monogamia (against second marriages), De Exhortatione Castitatis (against flight in persecutions), De Cultu Feminarum (against display of dress in females) – these and other pro-Montanistic writings are written against the catholic church vindicating Montanist views.
c. Cyprian (ca. 200-258) – see above under “IV. Results of Persecution B. 1.” He was born of wealthy parents in Carthage, North Africa (same as Tertullian) and educated in rhetoric and law. He did not become a Christian until about 246 at age forty, though he became the bishop of Carthage in 248 where he continued until his martyrdom. He “opposed the claims” of the bishop of Rome named Stephen, who argued for “supremacy over all bishops” (Cairns, 113). Though he looked up to Tertullian, calling him “the master” (Gonzales, 88), he was calm rather than passionate (Cairns). He particularly paved the way for future Roman Catholic teaching, marking out a clear distinction between the bishop and elder, understanding the bishop to be “the center of unity in the church” (Cairns) and necessary to guarantee against schism. He taught the primacy of honor as going to Peter in tracing apostolic succession through early church history; this led to the primacy of honor being granted to the bishop in the Roman church. He also taught that the priests sacrificed Christ’s body and blood in communion, which would lead to the view of Transubstantiation. Schaff (p. 845) calls him “the greatest bishop, of the third century.”
His Writings: (See Schaff, pp. 848-49)
De Unitate Catholicae Ecclesiae (Unity of the Church) – directed against the schism begun by Novatian over not restoring those who lapsed during persecution, which Cyprian viewed as destroying the unity of the church. Though Cyprian was also strict on this issue, Novation was more so and fought for a pure church.
Epistles – eighty-one letters written to various bishops, clergy and churches in Africa and Rome, the confessors and the lapsed, providing a picture of his pastoral ministry and the church of that day.
De Lapsis – written against loose discipline for the penitent
On the Grace of God, On the Lord’s Prayer, On Mortality, De Habitu Virginum (against worldly-mindedness and pride of dress in consecrated virgins), De Opere et Eleemosynis (an exhortation to liberality) – these were “moral works” (Schaff)
De Bono Patientice, De Zelo et Livore – written during the controversy with Stephanus exhorting patience and moderation
De Idolorum Vanitate – written aainst heathenism and borrowed from Tertullian and Mincius Felix
Testimonia adversus Judaeos – written against Judaism, providing Scripture proofs of Jesus as the Messiah and divine
The Influence of the State . . . The Progress of Doctrine
I. The Emperor Constantine (ca 274-337)
During the reign of Diocletian (284-305), he divided up the rule of his kingdom among four emperors, reserving ultimate power for himself. He himself ruled in the East and Maximian in the West, both of whom held the title “augustus.” Under Diocletian was another emperor, named Galerius and under Maximian was Constantius Chlorus, both of whom held the title “caesar.” In organizing his government this way, Diocletian hoped to provide a smooth succession of power with the “caesar” following the “augustus.” Constantine was the illegitimate son of Constantius Chlorus. It was during this time that the worst persecution the church had ever known took place (beginning 303). In 305, both Diocletian and Maximian abdicated their positions, raising both Galerius and Constantius Chlorus to the positions of “augustus,” with two new, but weak “caesars” under them (Severus and Maximinus Daia). Due to the popularity of the sons of Maximian and Constantius Chlorus however (Maxentius and Constantine) with many in the legions, this new arrangement was not well received. So when Constantius Chlorus died in 306, the troops refused to obey Galerius and chose Constantine as their new “augustus.” Civil war ensued in the empire during this time, with so many “claimants to various parts of the Empire” that Gonzales writes, “were too numerous to list here” (Gonzales, p. 106). While Constantine waited out the civil wars to end, he strengthened his positions in Gaul and Great Britain and along with Maxentius (who had taken Rome and gained his position over Severus, who committed suicide), they controlled most of the Western portion of the empire. In 311 however, Galerius suddenly became sick and was persuaded to grant an edict of toleration to the Christians (April 30, 311),dying five days later. This effectively ended persecution for Christians in the West and parts of the East. Constantine then gathered his troops and crossed the Alps to attack Rome, where Maxentius ruled. On the night before the battle, Constantine claimed to see a vision in the sky with the words: “in this you shall conquer.” He commanded his troops that they place the Greek letters chi (X) and rho (P) on their shields and standards; the first two letters for the name “Christ.” The next day Constantine defeated Maxentius on the Milvian bridge giving him sole authority in the Western half of the empire. He then met with Licinius in Milan, who had become the new “augustus” in the East, forming the Edict of Milan in 313, requiring the persecution of Christians to stop and their churches, cemeteries and other properties be returned to them. Shortly after, Licinius would defeat Maximia Daia when the latter invaded Licinius’ territories, leaving the entire empire under control of Constantine and Licinius. Licinius ruled the area East of Italy and Egypt and Constantine ruled Italy, all Western Europe and North Africa. Eventually Constantine would defeat Licinius and grant him his life in exchange for his abdication and Constantine ruled the whole empire beginning in 324 until his death. He was viewed as “the defender of Christianity” and “the emperor whom God loved” (Gonzales, 117).
Despite Constantine’s favorable stance toward Christianity and supposed conversion to it on the Milvian bridge, he maintained the position of “Pontifex Maximus” or “chief priest of the pagan state religion” (Cairns, 124), over which he continued to preside thereby maintaining “good relations with those who followed the ancient religions, and most especially with the Roman Senate.” He continued “worshiping the Unconquered Sun” and was not baptized until on his death bed (Gonzales, 107, 121, 123). Still the history of Christianity is dramatically impacted from this point forward as a result of the policies of Constantine and his sons after him.
In addition to the favorable requirements granted Christians at the Edict of Milan, Constantine also set apart the “Day of the Sun” as the day of Christian rest and worship (=Sun-day), granted subsidization to the church by the state and “exemption of the clergy from public service” (Cairns, 124). Constantine founded the city of Constantinople in 330 which would become the center of political power in the East when the Western part of the empire fell to the Germanic tribes in 476.
Constantine took the position of “theological leadership” at both Arles in 314, to address the Donatist controversy and at Nicea in 325 (see below). His sons proceeded to go even further in their policies, with “edicts banning pagan sacrifices and attendance at pagan temples.” There would be a short setback however under the emperor Julian (“the Apostate” 361-363), who stripped the church of “her privileges and restored full freedom of worship,” seeking to spread pagan philosophy and religion. He was the cousin of Constantius and had rejected Christianity. Later rulers also continued to grant favors to the church until Christianity became the official “state religion;” and under Theodosius I in 380-81, Christianity became “the exclusive religion of the state” (Cairns 124-25).
The end result of the state favoring the church carried both positive and negative consequences. Positively, persecution from the state was no longer a concern and the morality of the state was elevated: gladiatorial shows eliminated, dignity of women raised, better treatment of slaves and a more just Roman legislature. In addition, missionary activity was able to spread more easily. Negatively however, the government now demanded the right to arbitrate or intervene in spiritual matters of the church and the church became as much a persecutor or paganism as the pagan state had been of the Christians. As Cairns writes: “It would appear on balance that the rapprochement between church and state brought more drawbacks than blessings to the Christian church.” (p. 125)
Note: In the interest of this study, we won’t review the widespread missionary efforts of the church (Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia, Frumentius of Ethiopia, Martin of Tours with the Burgundians, Gregory of Tours with the Franks, Patrick of the Celts in Ireland, etc.); nor will we review the significant military conquest of Rome by the Germanic tribes in 410 (King Alaric of the barbarian Visigoths) and in 455 by the Vandals.
II. Doctrinal Controversies (325-451)
During these years, four important “universal or ecumenical councils of leaders of the church were held to resolve conflicts.” (Cairns, 131)
A. Nicea (325) – council called by Constantine (concerned for unity in the empire) to be held in Nicea (Asia Minor), particularly in order to settle the dispute raised by Arius. Arius had spoken out boldly against Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria when he preached on “The Great Mystery of the Trinity in Unity” (Cairns, 133); he believed that Alexander had not upheld the distinction of persons in the Godhead, leading Arius to assault the deity of Christ. The council was the first of its kind, gathering together notable Christians who had greatly suffered under persecution. Of some three hundred bishops, only ten were from the Western part of the empire, however Eusebius (of Caesarea) writes of this: “Constantine is the first ruler of all time to have gathered such a garland in the bond of peace, and to have presented it to his Savior as an offering of gratitude for the victories he had won over all his enemies.” (Gonzales, 163). The council discussed various legislative matters concerning readmitting those back into the church who lapsed during persecution, providing standard procedures for this process; along with those for the election of presbyters and bishops and their ordination (Gonzales, 163). Latourette writes the following regarding some of these other matters:
“The Council of Nicaea embraced the opportunity to settle some other issues which were troubling the Catholic Church. The time for the observance of Easter was agreed upon and made uniform, thus attempting to ensure accord on what had been a subject of controversy. . . . Steps were also taken to end the Meletian schism [similar to the Donatist schism over a rigorous standard to restore the lapsed, but
taking place in Egypt] . . . but in vain, for the Meletians persisted for at least a century longer. Several canons, or rules, were adopted for the administration and discipline of the Church, among them one which required at least three bishops for the laying on of hands, namely, the consecration of a bishop, regulations for the treatment of those who had fallen away during the recent persecutions, for a uniform handling of the excommunicated, and for improving the morals of the clergy and the bishops . . . by prohibiting the clergy from exacting usury, and by keeping other women than near relatives from their homes.” (A History of Christianity, Vol. 1, 156-57)
The most important matter however concerned the views of Arius, who though not allowed to be in the council since he was not a bishop, was represented by Eusebius of Nicomedia.
Arius taught that Christ was of a different (heteros) substance from the Father, being created out of nothing and not coequal, coeternal or consubstantial with Him. This view was countered by the young Athanasius of Alexandria and quickly condemned by the council.
Athanasius defended the orthodox view, though he also was not allowed in the council, being only a deacon and not a bishop. Therefore, Alexander of Alexandria provided the defense of this view, arguing that Christ is of the same (homoousios) substance, or essence as the Father, having existed with Him from all eternity. He is therefore coequal, coeternal and consubstantial with the Father, though with a distinct personality. Athanasius argued that if Christ is not fully God, then He could not be man’s Savior from sin (Cairns, 134), since only God could take upon Himself the infinite punishment due for sin.
Eusebius of Caesarea proposed a third view, intended to be a compromise between the first two of Arius and Athanasius. He offered the creed used in the church in Caesarea, which suggested Christ was not created but “begotten of the Father before time in eternity;” thus Christ had a beginning point and was like (homoiousios) the Father with a similar substance, or essence. This view was favored by the majority of the council, though with further clarifications and additions. They also included a clear anathematizing of statements of Arius.
Aftermath of Nicea – the influence of the emperor in spiritual matters was now established, as he and his predecessors would continue in this role. Constantine sided with the majority view (#3 above), commanding that all Arius’ books be burned and the death penalty be leveled for disobeying his order. He also banished Arius and his followers and deposed Eusebius of Nicomedia from his position, along with another bishop. This would be short-lived however and both would be restored by Constantine in 327. Thus began a thirty year struggle between Arius, Eusebius and their followers with Athanasius and those representing the orthodox view (335-365). Many bishops would be banished and Athanasius himself would be exiled five different times (335, 338, 356, 362, 364), after becoming the bishop of Alexandria, upon the death of Alexander in 328. Due to the continued involvement of the emperors, first Constantine, then his sons, another pagan emperor (Julian – see above I. The Emperor Constantine) and finally Valens (brother of Valentinian I), depending on their theological persuasion, one side or the other would gain the upper hand. Oftentimes, upon the death of one emperor, the bishops would be allowed to return under the new ruler. (See Latourette, pp. 158-60)
Such influence of the state is in part why Cairns writes (p. 135): “Nicaea cost the church its independence, however, for the church became imperial from this time and was increasingly dominated by the emperor.”
B. Constantinople (381) – considered the Second Ecumenical Council (after Nicea) was called by Emperor Thodosius I (also called, “the Great”) to be held in the city of Constantinople in May, 381 and lasted three months. It was presided over by the bishop of Constantinople, Gregory of Nazianzus. The emperor was raised in Spain and educated in the Nicene (orthodox) faith and held to the same convictions. During his reign (379-395), he expelled all the Arians in high positions of authority which they had used to further Arianism in the city. He required all his subjects to confess the orthodox faith in and edict issued in 380, threatening the heretics with punishment. After forty years of the Arians reigning in the capital city, he drove them out of the churches, providing the triumph of orthodoxy.
The council was focused on sanctioning these laws and restoring unity of the church in the empire. The council consisted of one hundred and fifty bishops from the East, with none represented from the West; thirty-six Semi-Arian bishops (also called Macedonians, Pneumatomachi or Tropici) also attended for part of the council. The main doctrinal issued settled was the heretical view of the Holy Spirit held by the Arians and Semi-Aians. The former party asserted that the Holy Spirit was the first creation of the Son, thereby subordinating the Holy Spirit to the Son and both the Son and the Holy Spirit to the Father, denying the coeternal, coequal and consubstantial nature of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son (as they had formerly denied concerning the Son with the Father). Schaff writes (Vol. III, 663) “The Arian trinity was therefore not a trinity immanent and eternal, but arising in time and in descending grades, consisting of the uncreated God and two created demi-gods.” As at Nicea, the views of the Arians, this time concerning the Holy Spirit, were condemned. The Semi-Arians also denied the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and instead affirmed Him to be created.
The council also reaffirmed the doctrine of Nicea concerning the Son’s deity, so that the orthodox doctrine of the trinity (Father Son and Holy Spirit as coequal, coeternal and consubstantial”) was finally settled (largely credited to the Great Capadocian Fathers – Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus, who had argued for years against the Arians before the council devastating their position – “Thus the heretical party was already in reality intellectually and morally broken,” Schaff, 638). The council added to the Nicene Creed a fuller, orthodox statement of the Holy Spirit (though without the “filioque” clause to be added in 589 at the Council of Toledo, which would be the theological spark leading to the split between East and West on June 16, 1054). The statement added was as follows of the Holy Spirit: “. . . the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father [‘and the Son’ was a later Western addition], who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.”
Another doctrinal issue was brought out by Apollinaris, Bishop of Laodicea, who though he opposed Arius and defended the Nicene position, confused the two natures of Christ. He argued that Jesus had a human body and a divine mind (but not a human intellect), thereby undermining the full and true humanity of Christ. Since Christ came to save man from his sin, this lack of humanity would keep Him from being man’s savior. This doctrine was also condemned at the council. It also asserted that the patriarch (or bishop) of Constantinople (considered the “new Rome”), which was the capital in the East, was superior to that of Alexandria and second only to the bishop of Rome, the capital city in the West (yet there is still no idea of the papacy at this time). Other groups condemned at this council were both the Novations and the Montanists.
C. Ephesus (431) – this council was called by the co-emperors, Theodosius II in the East and Valentinian III in the West, being presided over by Cyril of Alexandria. Beginning with one hundred and sixty bishops, it expanded to one hundred and ninety-eight, including “papal delegates from Rome, who were instructed not to mix in the debates, but to sit as judges over the opinions of the rest.” (Schaff, 350). The doctrinal issue addressed at this council concerned the faulty views of Nestorius, who represented the Antiochene school (emphasizing the humanity of Christ – see on Apollinaris above) and was also the patriarch of Constantinople (see Gonzales, 252-254 for the political conflicts). Nestorius asserted that Mary should not be called “theotokos” (=bearer of God), but instead, “Christotokos” (=bearer of Christ). The debate did not center on Mary however, but on the nature of Jesus’ birth and how to speak of it. Nestorius meant to emphasize that one must make a distinction between his humanity (of which his birth by Mary may be applied to) and his deity. This led Nestorius to posit “two natures and two persons” in Jesus, undermining the unity of His person. “The human nature and person were born of Mary; the divine were not. What he meant by this is not altogether clear, . . .” (Gonzales, 254). Cyril of Alexandria was a better politician and theologian and attacked this position – with “the support of the West, for which the doctrine of two persons in Christ was antathema, as well as of emperors Valentinian III and Theodosius II, . . .” (Gonzales, 254). The primary supporter of Nestorius was John of Antioch, who with his supporters showed up over two weeks after the council was to convene; before they could arrive, the several dozen bishops at the council denounced Nestorius as a heretic and did not allow him to defend himself. Gonzales (p. 255) writes what happened next: “John of Antioch and his party arrived a few days later, and they then convened a rival council . . . declared that Cyril was a heretic and reinstated Nestorius. . . . Finally, Theodosius II intervened, arrested both Cyril and John, and declared that the actions of both councils were void. Then followed a series of negotiations that led to a ‘formula of union’ . . . It was also decided that the actions of Cyril’s council against Nestorius would stand.”
D. Chalcedon (451) – the Fourth Ecumenical Counsel, called by Pulcheria, the sister of Theodosius II (who had unexpectedly and suddenly died from falling off his horse), at the request of Leo of Rome. The theological issue had been raised by a monk in Constantinople named Eutyches, who asserted that Christ was not of the same substance as man. He argued that the two natures of Christ (divine and human) were fused into one nature, the divine. This view (also took the name of Monophysite=one nature) was condemned at this counsel, which proceeded to set forth a Biblical statement of the two natures (see below). However, due to political unrest with Armenia (which was invaded and overrun by the Persians when the new emperor of Rome failed to send the promised aid from Theodosius II), this view flourished in the Eastern empire, especially in Egypt and Syria to this day (see Gonzales, 261-62).
The Chalcedon “Definition of Faith” affirmed the statements of the previous three councils (Nicea: 325, Constantinople: 381 and Ephesus: 431) and especially rejected the view of Eutyches. It was largely accepted in the West and in most of the East.
“Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all with one voice teach that it is to be confessed that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same God, perfect in divinity, and perfect in humanity, true God and true human, with a rational soul and a body, of one substance with the Father in his divinity, and of one substance with us in his humanity, in every way like us, with the only exception of sin, begotten of the Father before all time in his divinity, and also begotten in the latter days, in his humanity, of Mary the virgin bearer of God [Theotokos]. This is one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, manifested in two natures without any confusion, change, division or separation. The union does not destroy the difference of the two natures, but on the contrary the properties of each are kept, and both are joined in one person and hypostasis. They are not divided into two persons, but belong to the one Only-begotten Son, the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. All this, as the prophets of old said of him, and as he himself has taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers has passed on to us.” (Gonzales, 257, brackets added)
E. Three Notable Theologians
1. Pelagius (360-420) – “man is well” (Pelagian). Pelagius was a British monk and theologian, noted for his pious and simple life. He posited that every person is created free, as Adam was, being uncontaminated by original sin. As such, man’s will is free and he enters this world able to choose either to sin or not; children therefore become sinners when they choose, of their own free will, to sin. Being able to choose either good or evil, then man may cooperate with God in salvation. Since man has not inherited original sin (from Adam), then infant baptism is not essential for salvation. His views were condemned at the council of Ephesus in 431.
2. Augustine (354-430) – “man is dead” (Augustinian). Augustine was the bishop of Hippo (North Africa) and taught the polar opposite of Pelagius. He taught that man was made in the image of God and Adam was free to choose good or evil. As the representative head of humanity however, his sin caused all mankind to come into bondage. As such, man’s will is utterly corrupted and is totally “depraved.” Though he taught man’s will was free (as Pelagius did), after the fall it is only free to choose to sin. However after conversion, man’s will is placed into a new state in which it is free to choose to sin or not to sin. In heaven, it will still be free, but only free to not sin. Man in his sinful state is unable to exercise any choice in the matter of salvation and can only respond to God’s irresistible grace. This grace is only granted to those He has elected for salvation, which is initiated by an act of God and not human decision.
3. John Cassian (360-435) – “man is sick” (Semi-Pelagian). John was a monk, who in an effort to pose a middle position between Pelagius and Augustine, taught that though all men are sinful due to the fall of Adam, the will is not totally corrupt, but weak. As such, man is able to cooperate with God in salvation, as his free will works with God’s grace in the process. His view was condemned at the Synod of Orange in 529, in favor of Augustine’s position of God’s grace as primary. Arminian theology teaches this same doctrine and many would argue Roman Catholicism does as well, though they deny this.
F. Results of Doctrinal Controversy (see Cairns, 138)
Positively, the controversies tended to preserve the unity of the church, as Christians could now appeal to the authoritative statements or creeds that explained how to interpret Scripture regarding important doctrinal issues. Negatively, however, the free spirit of the early church was no longer allowed for; and the greater emphasis on doctrinal precision was not always matched by godly living, leaving Christians who held to orthodox positions, but without the conduct that should characterize their faith. Furthermore, violence or persecution was seen as a legitimate means for keeping the faith pure and the emperors arbitrating and holding differing view points at the councils, ended the separation of church and state, as they could assert their power in religious matters (in support of one position or another).
III. The Post-Nicene Fathers (325-451)
A. Eastern Fathers
1. Chrysostom (347-407) – nicknamed “golden-mouthed” after his death for his eloquence in preaching, he is considered the greatest preacher ever known in the Eastern church. Chrysostom was born into a wealthy, aristocratic family of Antioch and was trained in rhetoric and the Greek classics under Libanius (a sophist), giving him a good foundation for his speaking ability. Up until his baptism in 368, he practiced law, after which he became a monk and lived in a cave near Antioch until 398. He was extremely ascetic for a time (374-380), being ordained in 386 and preached some of his best sermons from then until he became a patriarch of Constantinople in 398. He continued in that position until being banished in 404 and died in exile. He lived a very simple life, was given to mysticism and taught that both morals and religion go together. He preached mostly on Paul’s epistles, with 640 of his sermons still in existence today.
2. Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428) – born into a wealthy family, he studied the Scriptures for ten years under Diodorus of Tarsus (as had Chrysostom for some years). He was ordained as a presbyter in Antioch in 383, becoming bishop of Mopsuestia (Cilicia) in 392. In keeping with the Antiochene school of interpretation, he opposed the allegorical approach to interpreting Scripture and insisted on a proper understanding of the grammar and historical background of the text. He was “an able commentator and theologian” (Cairns, 142) who wrote commentaries on books of the NT, such as Colossians and the Thessalonian epistles.
3. Eusebius of Caesarea (265-339) – considered the “Father of Church History,” he was educated by Pamphilus at Caesarea, who he helped build up his library. He quoted extensively from both secular and sacred literature, preserving much of ancient literature as a result. He was gentle and possessed an agreeable spirit, disliking the quarrels raised at Nicea over Arianism. Being given a place of honor at the Council of Nicea next to Constantine, it was his middle position between the theological extremes of Athanasius and Arius, as set forth in the Caesarean Creed that was modified and adopted by the council. He produced the most important history of the early church (in terms of our source of knowledge during the first three centuries), titled Ecclesiastical History. This survey of the church from the time of the apostles until 324, recounts the past struggles of the church up to the “beginning of its era of prosperity,” utilizing “the best and most reliable of the primary sources that were available to him. Cairns, 143). He also wrote the Chronicle, recording history from the time of Abraham until 323 and also Life of Constantine, giving praise to Constantine for his dealings with the church. However his effort to be both objective and honest in the uses of sources makes his work invaluable for the church. His two successors, Socrates and Sozomen continued his work, carrying the story of Christianity from 305-439 and 323-425 respectively.
B. Western Fathers
1. Jerome (347-420) – after his baptism in 360, Jerome was a student for several years in Rome and Gaul and then visited Antioch, where he lived the monastic life and learned Hebrew. In 382 he became the secretary to the bishop of Rome, Damasus who suggested he begin a new translation of the Bible. However after his death in 384, Jerome traveled to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, then visited the Alexandrine scholars in Egypt and the dwellings of the monks in the desert, before returning in 386 to Jerusalem. From that point forward, Jerome took up the monastic life along with Paula, a wealthy Roman lady to whom Jerome had taught Hebrew. In Bethlehem, they began two monasteries, one for women to be led by Paula and the other for men under the leadership of Jerome. Here he pursued more studies in Hebrew in preparing for translating the Bible and also taught Latin to children and Greek and Hebrew to the nuns under Paula’s care. His great work, by which he would be known throughout history, is his Latin translation of the Bible called the Vulgate. After completing a revision of the Latin translation of the NT (by 391), he proceeded to make a direct Latin translation of the OT from the Hebrew (not the Greek Septuagint) which was completed by 404/05. This translation of the Bible became the standard Bible for the Latin (Western) speaking church and was the official Bible of the Roman Catholic church from the Council of Trent until recent history. Jerome also wrote many commentaries on the Bible that have proved helpful into modern times and his work titled De Viris Illustribus provides biographies of leading Christians (and bibliographies of their works) from the days of the apostles until his own.
2. Ambrose of Milan (340-397) – his father held the high position of prefect of Gaul and his family was known in the imperial circles of Rome. As such, Ambrose was educated in law for a political career and became the imperial governor over the area around Milan. However upon the death of the bishop of Milan in 373/4, he attended the election where both Arians and the orthodox determined to place one of their own. Being popular among the people, during the heated discussion he addressed the crowd and calmed the tempers, after which the suggestion of a child saying “Ambrose bishop” caught the attention of the crowd. Despite attempting to dissuade the people and depart from the city, being supported by the emperor he was unanimously voted to fill that position. So believing God was calling him to it, he surrendered his high position, gave his money to the poor and accepted the role of bishop. Though he was only a catechumen (not yet baptized), he was soon baptized and rose “through the various levels of ministerial orders” within eight days (Gonzales, 190). He then devoted himself to the study of the Scriptures and theology, also proving himself to be a fearless administrator of the church. He spoke out against the Arians and also emperor Theodosius, who had ordered the massacre of the people of Thesslonica (7,000) for the slaying of their governor. Ambrose refused him communion until he publicly repented. Despite being of the Alexandrian school of interpretation and employing the allegorical method, he was a good preacher and theologian, being instrumental in bringing Augustine into a knowledge of Christianity that contributed to his salvation; Ambrose would then baptize him.
3. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) – he was born in the North African town of Tagaste to a Roman official and a devout Christian mother named Monica. He learned Latin in school but hated Greek, which he never learned to use in a proficient manner. After being sent to a nearby school in Madaura, he left for Carthage to study rhetoric (how “to speak and to write elegantly and convincingly. Truth was not at issue.” Gonzales, 208). It was here that he began to live a worldly life of seeking pleasure, taking a concubine to himself by whom he fathered a child named Adeodatus in 372. As he began to search for truth however in 373, he joined the Manicheans with whom he remained for nine years (only as a “hearer,” never a “perfect” see Manicheanism in notes, p. 11 under “Heresy”), but eventually embraced Neoplatonic teaching upon moving to Milan, after reading Cicero’s writing, Hortensius. He taught rhetoric in Tagaste, Carthage and Rome before going to Milan in 384. In Milan he worked through his theological and intellectual difficulties with Christianity, abandoning Manicheanism and Neoplatonism. This was in large part due to listening to the most famous preacher in Milan, Ambrose (see above) and the ongoing prayers of his mother. Concluding he would become a Christian, he realized he had a major difficulty if he were to fully commit himself to the faith, which he was determined to do. Besides giving up his career in rhetoric, his monastic ideal persuaded him he must also give up his pursuit of ambitions and every physical pleasure. His common prayer at this time was “Give me chastity and continence; but not too soon.” (Gonzales, 211) After learning of a famous philosopher publicly professing faith in Christ (Marius Victorinus, who had translated the works of Neoplatonism into Latin), along with two high civil officials who abandoned their career and honors in order to follow the hermit life of Athanasius (having read his Life of Saint Anthony), Augustine escaped to a garden away from his friends. It was here, in 386, as he was meditating on his spiritual need and contemplating his unclean lifestyle (“How long, Lord, how long? . . . Why does my uncleanliness not end this very moment?” Gonzales, 207), that he heard a child’s voice come from over a fence, repeatedly saying, “Take up and read.” Turning open his Bible to Romans 13:13-14, Augustine read the verses and was converted. Both he and his son were then baptized by Ambrose and Augustine prepared to return to North Africa. He dismissed his concubine of many years, however on the return trip home, his mother Monica became ill and died. Upon arriving in Tagaste, he settled in the city of Cassiciacum with his son, who also died shortly afterwards. His intent was to settle down and live like the monks of the desert, without “unnecessary comforts: and focused on meditation, study and devotions, while continuing to write on the “philosophical life.” (Gonzales, 212) He was continuing to appreciate the differences between what Neoplatonism and the Christian faith taught. However in 391 he visited the town of Hippo and attended church, when the bishop, Valerius preached and persuaded the congregation to urge Augustine to be ordained and serve with him (against Augustine’s will). Four years later in 395/6, he would be consecrated a joint bishop with Valerius, who after dying a short time later, left Augustine as the bishop. Augustine focused his energies on his pastoral responsibilities, but also on refuting the teaching of the Manicheans and many issues raised by the Donatist controversy (see notes, pp. 7-8, “Results of Persecution”). His most important theological works however, were written in response to Pelagius (see above, under “Doctrinal Controversies” E. “Three Notable Theologians”). Augustine would become “one of the most influential figures in the entire history of Christianity.” (Gonzales, 207) He is considered by Protestants as “a forerunner of Reformation ideas in his emphasis on salvation from original and actual sin as a result of the grace of a sovereign God who irresistibly saves those whom He has elected.” (Cairns, 149) However the Roman Catholic church acknowledges him as “the father of Roman ecclesiasticism;” particularly in refuting the claims of the Donatists and Pelagians. For example, Augustine helped develop the doctrine of purgatory and the emphasis on the two sacraments of baptismal salvation and sacramental grace; his teaching also contributed to the Church of Rome as the only church and postmillennialism, since the church would conquer the world (Cairns, 149). Gonzales (p. 216) sums up his chapter with the words: “Thus, Augustine, variously interpreted, has become the most influential theologian in the entire Western church, both Protestant and Catholic.”
Confessions – this is a spiritual autobiography written as a prayer to God. In it Augustine recounts what his life was like before conversion (Books 1-7), the events surrounding his conversion (Book 8) and his life after conversion (Books 9-10). In Books 11-13 he also provides a commentary on the opening chapters of Genesis. His oft quoted line is also contained in this book: “Thou madest us for thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in thee.”
Retractationes (Revisions) – this book, written shortly before his death, is a record of how he had changed his mind over time, looking at each of his writings in chronological order. He especially changed in regard to his connection with pagan philosophy earlier in life.
De Doctrina Christiana – this work recorded his views on hermeneutics (how we interpret writings) and he particularly developed his idea of “the analogy of faith;” that the interpretation of any given passage of Scripture should be in harmony with the rest of Scripture. He produced many commentaries on the Old and New Testaments with this principle in view.
De Trinitate – this is one of the most important of his many theological treatises in which he develops the doctrine concerning the Trinity.
Enchiridion ad Laurentium – contains his theological views, which together with Retractationes provides a well rounded view of his theological positions.
De Civitate Dei (The City of God) – considered by many his most important writing of all, which he himself also believed, it is an apology defending Christianity from the charge of being the reason for the sacking of Rome by Alaric in 410. The Romans charged that Rome had fallen for adopting Christianity and abandoning the classical Roman religion. In the apology, Augustine provides a philosophy of history in which he writes of two different cities. The City of God is the city that consists of both human and heavenly beings united in love for God and seeking His glory. The City of Earth consists of those who love themselves and seek only their own glory and good. After tracing the growth and progress of each city, both face judgment, with the members of the City of God going onto eternal happiness and the members of the City of Earth going into eternal punishment. In it he develops the idea that the present age of the church is the Millennium.
Precursors to the Medieval Church
A. Definition – relates to monks and nuns in their way of life, “especially in being austere or celibate”
Concise Oxford English Dictionary
Gonzales, 137 – “the monastic life: to flee from human society, to leave everything behind, to dominate the body and its passions, which give way to temptation.”
1. A view of the flesh and spirit as representing that which is evil (flesh) and good (spirit); this dualistic view of human nature came into the church from Gnosticism and Neoplatanism. Therefore, by fleeing from the world, the individual could focus on developing his spiritual life through meditation and asceticism, thereby crucifying the flesh.
2. Scriptures that encourage being separate from the world, such as the celibate life of 1 Corinthians 7 (see verses 1, 7-8, 32-35, 37-38, 40; Matthew 19:12c-d) or the simple life of 1 Timothy 6:7-8.
3. Psychological factors – the harsh realities of life and moral corruption of society led some to escape, practicing asceticism in place of martyrdom which was less likely, as a pledge of their sincere faith. This also offered a more individualistic approach to the spiritual life, than being a part of corporate worship.
4. Historical factors – the large number of barbarians coming into the church brought pagan practices and moral corruption that more puritanical individuals opposed.
5. Geographical factors – the origins of monasticism was found in Egypt, due to its pleasant climate (warm and dry) and the caves found along the bank of the Nile river. This provided a source for food and growing gardens.
1. Ascetic practices in the church
2. Withdrawal of many to live like hermits, who by their holy lives attracted others to join them, coming to live in caves and looking to them for leadership in a laura.
3. A cloister would be built for common exercises
4. A monastery would form for individuals to live in a commune
D. Monastics of the East
1. Anthony ( 251-356) – considered the founder of monasticism, who at age twenty sold all his possessions and gave the money to the poor. He then went to live in a solitary cave for the sake of meditation, but his reputation for a life of holiness attracted others to come live in caves near by him. Though never forming a community, each one lived in his own cave as a hermit.
2. Saint Simeon Stylites (390-459) – at first he lived buried up to his neck in the ground for several months, then later sought “to achieve holiness by becoming an ecclesiastical ‘pole sitter.’ He spent over thirty-five years on the top of a sixty-foot pillar near Antioch.” (Cairns, 153)
3. Various others lived in fields and grazed on grass, wandered naked around Mt. Sinai for fifty years or in the case of Ammoun, never changed clothes or bathed after becoming a hermit, for which he gained a special “reputation for sanctity.” (Cairns, 153)
4. Pachomius (290-346) – lived twelve years with a hermit after serving as a soldier, then in 320 organized the first monastery on the East bank of the Nile river in Tabennisi. Several hundred monks from Egypt and Syria were under his leadership, focussing on the simple life, including work, obedience and devotion.
5. Basil of Caesarea (330-79) – after a formal education at Athens and Constantinople, he abandoned his worldly ambition at age twenty-seven in order to pursue the ascetic life. He became bishop in Capadocia in 370 and continued in it until his death. He was more utilitarian in his approach to this life in that he required his monks to read the Bible, pray and do good works, while discouraging extreme forms of asceticism.
E. Monastics of the West
1. Unlike those in the East, the unpleasant and much colder climate forced the monks to organize themselves into communes and storing up food for the winter. It avoided emphasis on ascetic acts in favor of work and devotion.
2. Athanasius (295-373) – normally considered to have introduced monasticism in the West during one of his five exiles from Alexandria. It was popularized by Martin of Tours, Jerome, Augustine and Ambrose who wrote favorably of it and Jerome’s writings on asceticism were ranked alongside of the Bible and Benedict’s Rule (see below) in the Monk’s library of the Medieval church (Cairns, 154).
3. Benedict of Nursia (480-542) – considered the greatest leader of Western monasticism, he went to live as a hermit in the caves east of Rome in 500, after witnessing the vice of Rome. In 529 he founded Monte Cassino, a monastery that remained until its destruction during WWII. He oversaw several monasteries which followed “his plan of organization, work, and worship, that is, his Rule.” (Cairns, 154) The Rule was among the most important during the Medieval church, focusing on poverty, obedience and chastity. Monks were allowed to eat plenty of fish (but little meat), along with fruit and vegetables, butter, bread and oil. In the West it became the standard rule by year 1000.
1. They served as a model for farming methods of agriculture, clearing forests, making roads, draining marshes improving seeds and breeding livestock.
2. Kept scholarship alive during the Dark Ages of the church (500-1000) due to barbarians overtaking the Roman empire. Monks provided education and collected, translated and copied Biblical and other valuable manuscripts (patristic and classical literature). One example of this is The Book of Kells, a manuscript of the Gospels in Latin beautifully illuminated done by Irish monks. They also wrote historical records of this period providing primary resources for history.
3. Monks were very active in missions work, especially in Britain during the Medieval church, founding new monasteries as centers for entire tribes won to Christianity. For example, Columba from Ireland won over the Scots, his follower Aidan won over northern England; though much of their mission work was tainted due to their mass methods of conversion. One example is when a ruler was converted, both he and all his people were baptized regardless of their understanding of the gospel or the meaning and implications of Christianity for their lives.
4. Monasteries provided a place of refuge for the outcasts of society, hospital services for the sick and a place for weary travelers to rest and eat.
5. Negatively, many of the best leaders in the world (men and women) were lost to the monasteries as their abilities would never be maximized. Also, by remaining celibate and avoiding marriage, they could not rear up children to continue their work, which also led to a dual standard of morality: one for he monk or nun and one for the ordinary person. Monasticism also lended itself to spiritual pride in ascetic acts for their own benefit and the wealth produced would yield laziness, gluttony and greediness or materialism. Monasticism also led to the establishing of the hierarchy in the medieval church, as the monks were bound to superiors, who were in turn bound to their allegiance to the pope.
II. Hierarchy and Liturgy
“Between 313 and 590 the Old Catholic church, in which each bishop had been an equal, became the Roman Catholic church, in which the bishop of Rome won primacy over other bishops. The ritual of the church also became much more elaborate. The Roman Catholic church in its structure and canon law reflects imperial Rome.” (Cairns, 157)
A. The Contributing Factors to the Rise of the Roman Bishop
1. The need for cooperation and efficiency demanded the centralization of power and the bishop guaranteed orthodox doctrine. Individual bishops also took advantage of this time to increase their power. Leo I (The Great) would especially claim his superiority over other bishops in 440.
2. The events transpiring elevated the reputation of the bishop in Rome. Since Rome had been the center of authority for the Roman empire for five hundred years and was the biggest city in the West, once Constantine moved the capital to Byzantium in 330 (which he renamed Constantinople), then the bishop was left alone as the most powerful leader in Rome. People therefore naturally looked to him for both spiritual and temporal leadership whenever crisis came. When Rome was sacked by Alaric and the Visigoths in 410, it was the Roman bishop who led the diplomacy to save the city from total destruction. Likewise, when it was sacked again in 476 and other cities in Italy held earthly power, the bishop was again looked to for spiritual and political leadership.
3. Apostolic succession, based on the supremacy of Peter as the lead apostle over the other eleven – “ecclesiastical primogeniture”– derived from such Scriptures as Matthew 16:16-18 and John 21:15-17, came to be universally accepted by 590. This belief that Peter’s superior position had been passed on to the succeeding bishops of Rome had been developed throughout the previous centuries (beginning with Clement of Rome, though there’s no proof Peter ever led the church in Rome, only that he was martyred there). Furthermore, such notable theologians in the West as Cyprian, Tertullian and Augustine had been under the leadership of the Roman bishop and Rome had always held to the theologically orthodox positions, unlike those that divided the East.
4. Among the five primary centers for early Christianity, only Rome and Constantinople remained significant by 590. The bishop of Jerusalem lost prestige after the rebellion against Rome in the second century (Bar Kochba Revolt of 132-36); and Alexandria and Antioch never rose to the prominence of Rome or Constantinople, permanently losing importance during the seventh century when the Muslims overran them. Only the bishop of Rome and patriarch of Constantinople lived in cities of importance by the sixth century. At the Council of Constantinople in 381, the primacy of the Roman bishop had been acknowledged as first with Constantinople as second; and in 445, Emperor Valentinian III acknowledged the supremacy of the Roman bishop in spiritual affairs in an edict. Whatever he enacted was to be “law for all.”
5. The missionary work of monks loyal to Rome also enhanced the Roman bishop’s authority, as the monks would direct their converts to pledge allegiance to him. The leader of the Franks named Clovis, who was the kingdom’s political and religious founder (Wikipedia) was one example of this. He would go on to provide the defense for the papacy against temporal foes and gain its territories (Cairns, 182).
6. Many capable bishops ruled during these years (4th-5th centuries), strengthening their power. Among them were Damasus I (366-84), Leo I (440-61) and Gelasius I (492-96). Damasus I described his see as the “apostolic see;” Jerome translated the Vulgate at his request adding more prestige to his position. Damasus claimed that “the chair of Peter is the rock on which the church was built.” (Cairns, 159). Leo I was the most capable of all the Roman bishops until Gregory I (the Great) rose to power in 590. He popularized the use of the title “papas” from which we derive “pope.” He persuaded Attila the Hun in 452 to leave Rome alone and negotiated with Gaiseric, the leader of the Vandals from North Africa, in 455 to spare the city from total destruction in exchange for two weeks of plundering. In his famous work, Tome, Leo wrote against heresies such as the Manicheans and the Donatists; and during his bishopric he wielded the power and made similar claims to those popes who would come after him. He was dubbed “the Great” because of his many abilities. In 494, Gelasius I wrote that God had given sacred power to the pope and royal power to the king, but since the pope would give an account for the king before God, then the pope’s power was more important and earthly rulers should submit to the pope.
B. The Role of the Liturgy, Festivals, Sacraments, Mary veneration
1. With Constantine uniting the state and the church during his rule, this led to the secularization of the church under him and his successors. With the patriarch of Constantinople under the control of the emperor, “the Eastern church became a department of the state” (Cairns). The “paganization of worship” then began with a large population of pagans enter the church, many nominal if not unconverted due to mass conversion. The church then called upon the state to enforce punishment for ecclesiastical offenses, but also began to accommodate worship for the pagans to feel comfortable. This included the use of images “to materialize the liturgy to make God seem more accessible to these worshippers.” (Cairns, 159) The use of statues, pictures and relics were venerated, along with angels and saints; and a distinction began to be observed between the laity and clergy, with colorful forms taking after the secular state.
2. Sunday was especially set apart under Constantine as a day of worship and the number of holy days began to expand. The date of Christmas was set in December (mid 4th century) to replace the pagan festival; the feast of Epiphany to celebrate the Magi visit to see Christ (Western church), or else to remember His baptism (Eastern church) was set on the calendar, along with numerous other events from both the Jewish sacred year and gospel history, along with remembering saints and martyrs.
3. The seven sacraments were all recognized and in use by the end of the sixth century. Below is a list of those sacraments and important theologians who proposed them.
a. marriage (Augustine)
b. penance (Cyprian)
c. ordination (due to the increased distinction between laity and clergy)
d. confirmation (400)
e. extreme unction (400)
f. infant baptism (Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine; especially in view of the doctrine of original sin)
g. Lord’s supper/Mass (Cyprian, Gregory I) – Cyprian believed the priest acted in Christ’s place in communion and that he offered “a true and full sacrifice to God the Father.” Gregory I put forth the Canon of the Mass, emphasizing “the sacrificial nature” of the Lord’s supper (Cairns, 160)
4. The Veneration of Mary – her title as “Mother of God” (Theotokos) as raised in the Nestorian controversy (see under “Council of Ephesus”) entitled her to special honors. “Clement, Jerome and Tertullian ascribed perpetual virginity to Mary;” (Cairns, 160). Augustine believed she was sinless (as the mother of the sinless Christ) and the emphasis of monasticism on the virtue of celibacy (and hence, virginity), further supported this veneration. What began with special honors however soon led to “belief in her intercessory powers . . . the Son would be glad to listen to the requests of His mother.” (Cairns, 161). She was placed at the head of the saints by the mid fifth century and festivals to her arose during this time: The Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th), Candlemas (February 2nd – her purification after Christ’s birth), Assumption (August 15th). The veneration of saints also arose during this time out of a desire to honor the martyrs during the days of persecution of the church. This was also done to accommodate the pagans who had come into the church who were accustomed to honoring their heroes, for which the saints became a natural substitute. Prayers for the souls of the saints which were made at the graves up until 300, by 590 became “prayer to God through them.” (Cairns, 161). Churches built over their graves, along with festivals tied to when they died, purported miracles that had taken place and collecting relics (bones, teeth, hair, etc.) were all common in the church. Furthermore, worship was expanded by the use of pictures and images, in which worship was directed to God through them, but easily confused so that reverence reserved for God was given to the images. Pilgrimages to Israel, as well as the graves of noteworthy saints became popular, as did the building of church buildings (basilica with two aisles).
The Medieval Church: Understanding Roman Catholicism
I. The Role of the Pope
While the word “pope” simply means “father” and was used of various important and respected bishops earlier in church history, such as Cyprian in Carthage and Athanasius in Alexandria, in the West it came to be used exclusively for the bishop of Rome. During the fifth and sixth centuries however, the authority this bishop would come to wield over the entire church came into being and continues to this day (see A. The Contributing Factors to the Rise of the Roman Bishop, 1-6 above). While many consider Leo I (“the Great”) the first official Pope in the modern sense we understand this role, others identify Gregory I (also called “the Great”).
Gregory I (540-604) – though born into a family of the old Roman aristocracy and given a legal education preparing him for government service, he was made a deacon by Pope Benedict in 570 (Cairns, 167), making him “a member of Benedict’s administrative council” (Gonzales, 245). Shortly after this, he gave up his fortune inherited from his family and became a monk. Under the next Roman bishop (Pelagius II) between 578-586, Gregory served as an ambassador for Rome in Constantinople, involved with theological controversies and political matters. After returning to Rome in 586, he was made abbot of Saint Andrew’s monastery, which he had founded (Cairns, 167). At this time, Rome was experiencing great turmoil due to the Lombards (Germanic people) united and intending to conquer all of Italy. In addition to this, an epidemic broke out in Rome, after floods had destroyed a large amount of the store of food (Gonzales, 246). At this time, Pelagius himself also became sick and died, leaving the bishopric of Rome open and Gregory was elected to fill the position. Though he was reluctant to accept the position, he went about his new post with great zeal. He organized food distribution among the needy, guaranteed shipment of wheat from Sicily, oversaw the rebuilding of the aqueducts and defense of the city. He negotiated directly with the Lombards (in the absence of assistance from Constantinople) and he secured peace. In acting in these ways, by default he was recognized as the ruler of Rome and the surrounding areas. However Gregory was also humble and by giving away his fortune he impressed the people. He was devoted to missionary work (especially in England) and also an able theologian, though in his writings he merely sought to restate what other great teachers had said, especially Augustine. Though he is considered among the four great doctors of the church, along with Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine (Cairns, 169), he modified Augustine’s views on salvation, setting aside predestination (reserving it only for the elect) and irresistible grace. He also taught that while man inherited sin from Adam, he did not inherit guilt and that man’s will is free. While Augustine had speculated about possibility of purgatory, Gregory developed the doctrine of it, understanding that man must go to purgatory when he dies if he has not offered satisfaction for all his sins through confession, penance and absolution by a priest. He also taught that the living could help the souls in purgatory to be released by offering masses for them. Gregory also taught that in the mass, Christ was re-sacrificed anew. While he held to the verbal inspiration of the Bible, he also granted tradition an equal place of authority. In addition, he emphasized the need for good works and the assistance of the saints. In addition to this, he organized the Gregorian Chant as a part of worship, was a good preacher focusing on humility and piety and wrote a notable commentary on the book of Job, titled Magna Moralia. He also wrote a book on pastoral theology titled Book of Pastoral Care. Under his leadership, the bishopric of Rome became extremely wealthy.
Cairns concludes his chapter with the following words (p. 169): “The pontificate of Gregory is indeed a landmark in the transition from ancient to medieval church history. Later successors built on the foundation that he had laid as they created the sacramental hierarchical system of the institutionalized church of the Middle Ages. He systematized doctrine and made the church a power in politics.”
II. The Distinctive Beliefs of Roman Catholicism
Understanding Roman Catholicism
Roman Catholicism, Loraine Boettner. P&R Publishing Company, 1962
The Gospel According to Rome, James G. McCarthy. Harvest House Publishers, 1995
I. Authority – while accepting the sixty-six books of the Bible as we do as authoritative, three additions to it are equal to, if not of higher stature than the Scriptures.
A. Apocrypha – the fourteen (or fifteen) books written in the inter-testament time, providing helpful Jewish history at many points, but never recognized as having the same authority as the thirty-nine OT books.
B. Tradition – all that has been produced through the ages – the writings of the Greek and Latin church fathers
C. Church – the declarations of the pope (papal decrees when he speaks ex cathedra) and collection of pronouncements from the church councils. This includes the Magisterium which together with the Pope are considered infallible.
“In professing to interpret the Bible in the light of tradition, the Roman Church in reality places tradition above the Bible, so that the Roman Catholic is governed, not by the Bible, nor by the Bible and tradition, but by the church itself which set up the tradition and says what it means.” (Boettner, 76-77)
II. Salvation – comes by means of the Seven Sacraments; only through the Catholic church is it perfectly and completely attained. Each sacrament is a “channel” imparting the necessary “actual” grace (supernatural assistance to do good and avoid evil) thereby assisting a person to attain salvation. “Sanctifying” grace (also called justifying grace) is received through the sacraments. Roman Catholicism teaches that Jesus established all seven of the sacraments: Baptism, Penance, Eucharist, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders and Anointing the sick (also called extreme unction). Three of these, Eucharist, Penance and Anointing the sick are given together to the dying to prepare the soul for heaven (or in some cases for physical healing) and called last rites. While sanctifying grace is initially given at baptism, it may be lost when a person commits mortal sin (serious, conscience and deliberate), leading to being what may be called “dejustified” (see McCarthy, 76).
A. Baptism: this is the sacrament first given to babies to remove original sin and infuse sanctifying grace (see above; this is the divine life that made Adam and Eve holy and just in the sight of God but was lost at the fall). The baby is thereby granted new birth and adoption as God’s child, placing the child into a “state of grace” in the church. The baby is granted a spiritual transformation, or justification, defined as “. . . a transition from that state in which a person is born as a child of the first Adam to the state of grace and of adoption as children of God through the agency of the second Adam, Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Council of Trent, Session 6, “Decree on Justification” cited in McCarthy, 28)
Note: Limbo is the place of departed, un-baptized babies where there is natural happiness but God is not present. It is believed to be somewhere between heaven and hell, though it is not an official doctrine but neither is the belief denied (McCarthy, 26-27).
B. Penance (reconciliation/confession): this is the necessary sacrament to restore a baptized Catholic who has committed mortal sin (see above under “Salvation”), restoring sanctifying grace to the soul. This in essence “rejustifies” the catholic after the loss of initial justification first received at baptism. Forgiveness is not granted however apart from confession of the mortal sin(s) to a priest and an act of contrition: a demonstration of true sorrow and a commitment not to do the sin again. The priest then administers absolution to the parishioner, whereby he is set free from the consequences of guilt and an act of penance must be performed. This may include prayers, such as “Our Father” or “Hail Mary” but also can require various acts: fasting, charitable gifts, self denial, etc.; something that is in keeping with the nature of the sin and the ability of the individual.
Note: Venial sins, unlike mortal sins, do not kill the spiritual life in the soul and so do not need to be confessed to a priest, but directly to God. These are less serious sins don without full knowledge and/or consent of the will. Venial sins make one more susceptible to mortal sin.
C. Holy Eucharist: this is considered the “most blessed sacrament” because it is understood as receiving Christ Himself. Though it is the equivalent of the Protestant communion or Lord’s Supper, in Roman Catholicism it takes on a greater significance in that it imparts both actual and sanctifying grace. As the climax of the Mass, it contributes to salvation and catholics are required to partake of it every Sunday and on feast days, so long as they believe in the real presence of Christ. As such, the bread becomes the actual body of Christ and the wine His actual blood (Transubstantiation = the elements transform into the body and blood though they maintain the same outward appearance). Since it is believed to be the actual body and blood of Christ, it is to be worshipped and promoted through annual feasts and special orders of men and women dedicated to continual adoration of the elements.
Note: Apart from baptism and penance, preparation is mandatory to receive grace from a sacrament, requiring the participant to have sanctifying grace, a believing heart and reflection.
1. Two important passages
a. Matthew 26:26-69
b. John 6:50-56 (*51, 55)
2. Six Characteristics
b. God and Man
c. Whole and Entire
f. Real Sacrifice
i. Immolation – sacrificial killing of a victim – contrast with Romans 6:9; Hebrews 9:22 w/Leviticus 17:11
ii. Re-presentation – Christ is offered again as an acceptable sacrifice – contrast with Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10
iii. Appeasement – each mass is propitiatory = satisfies God’s wrath against sin – contrast with Hebrews 10:14, 18
iv. Application – the merits of the cross come through the Mass – contrast with Ephesian 1:3; Romans 3:26, 28; 4:1; 5:1; 8:1
3. Seven Problems
a. No indication of real change in the elements, so that all of Christ is in every part, crumbs and leftovers
b. Actual eating of human flesh and drinking human blood
c. Jesus was present with the disciples when He spoke to them
d. Confuses John 6 (how unbelievers may receive eternal life through faith) with Matthew 26 (last supper = a memorial meal for believers)
e. Deception of receiving eternal life through a physical act of eating a small wafer and drink
f. Idolatrous worship
g. Christ died once for all and forever lives, never to be sacrificed again; no more sacrifice is required – Hebrews 2:17; 7:27; 9:12; 10:10; cf. John 19:30
D. Confirmation: this act is usually received by an individual at age 12, upon completing a course on doctrine. It provides special strength by the Holy Spirit to resist temptation and also defend and promote the church (McCarthy, 334). It is administered by a deacon or his delegate, who dips his right thumb in holy oil and anoints the candidate on the forehead, making the sign of the cross.
Note: Together with Baptism and the Eucharist, these three sacraments are the means to be initiated into the Catholic faith.
E. Anointing of the Sick (extreme unction): the purpose of this sacrifice is to provide spiritual and physical strength to those who are extremely sick or dying, thereby preparing the soul for death (or in some cases to provide physical healing).
Note: Together with Penance, these two are sacraments of healing; but they are normally offered with the Eucharist and together called “last rites.” See above under II. Salvation
F. Holy Orders: these refer to the three places of service into which men (and in some cases women) are ordained and incorporated: the episcopate as bishops, the presbytery as priests or the diaconate as deacons.
G. Matrimony: through Roman Catholic marriage, the union of the couple is made holy and granted special grace for the married life.
Note: These last two sacraments together are sacraments of service.
III. Mary and the Saints – Unbiblical Assertions
A. Mary’s Immaculate Conception – she was preserved from the sin of Adam and remained sinless throughout her earthly life.
B. Mary’s Perpetual Virginity/Mother of God – she remained a virgin even after Jesus was born and throughout her entire earthly life. As the Mother of God, she was not defiled by sex. See the “Council of Ephesus” in AD 451 and the discussion of “Theotokos.”
C. Mary’s Assumption – she was taken directly into heaven by God at the end of her life, thereby escaping physical death. God then crowned her “Queen of Heaven and Earth” (see next point).
D. Mary’s Co-Redeemer Role – she assists Christ in accomplishing our redemption on the cross; as such she is the “co-operatrix in man’s redemption” and “coredemptor” (McCarthy, 202). She is thus the “Queen of Heaven and Earth” and the “Mediatress of all Grace;” the one through whom “Christ ‘grants all graces to mankind’” (McCarthy, 204). Irony of Jeremiah’s reference to the Queen of Heaven in Jeremiah 7:18.
E. Mary’s Veneration – she is granted “Hyperdulia,” which is the highest veneration given to any created being (it is one step under “Latria,” adoration reserved for God alone). This is expressed in the Hail Mary prayer. Prayer is offered to Mary who in turn prays to God for Catholics.
F. Saints’ Veneration – they are also granted adoration, called “Dulia”though this is a simple form of veneration and lesser than “Hyperdulia,” granted only to Mary. As with Mary, the prayers of the “saints” are more effective than those who are not canonized as “saints.”
The Religion of the Sword: A History of Islam
Unveiling Islam, Ergun Mehmet Caner and Emir Fethi Caner (Kregal Publications, 2002)
Answering Islam, (Updated and Revised), Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb (Baker Books Publishers, 2002)
A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Islam, Patrick Sookhdeo (Christian Focus Publication and Isaac Publications, 2001)
Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects, and World Religions (Revised and Updated), Larry A. Nichols, George A. Mather, Alvin J. Schmidt (Zondervan, 2006)
I. The Life of Muhammad (570-632 A.D.)
A. His Early Life (Birth-25 years of age)
1. Birth in Mecca
2. Difficult Childhood
3. Experience on the caravan trade route
4. Service to the rich widow – Kadjah
B. His Middle Years (age 50-62)
1. His Happy Monogamous Marriage (age 25-50)
2. His Visions (Beginning in 610 A.D.)
C. His Latter Years (age 50-62)
1. His flight to Medina – the Hijra (622 A.D.) Marks the beginning of Islamic calendar
2. Support of the Jews assists his facilitation of power
3. Gathering and unifying his followers
4. Raids for power
5. Polygamous marriage
6. Conquering Mecca (January, 630 A.D.)
7. His sudden death (June 8, 632 A.D.)
II. The Spread of Islam (632-1919 A.D.)
A. The Four Caliphs (recognized leaders)
1. Abu Bakr (632-634 A.D.)
2. Umar (634-644 A.D.)
3. Uthman (644-656 A.D.)
4. Ali (656-661 A.D.)
a. origin of Sunni and Shiites (imams; political and religious distinctions)
b. Numerous challengers
B. Conquering the Western World (632-750 A.D.)
1. Dome of Rock and Great Mosque
2. Expanded Boarders
C. Significant Historical Milestones (632-1919 A.D.)
1. The loss at the battle of Tours – Charles Martel (732 A.D.)
2. The Golden Age – Baghdad
3. The Bloody Crusades (1095-1291 A.D.)
4. Genghis Kahn (1162-1227 A.D.)
5. Loss to Isabelle and Ferdinand in Spain (1492 A.D.)
6. The immense success of the Ottoman Empire (Turks: 1453-1915 A.D.)
7. The other notable empires
III. Islam Today
A. Caliphates in History – “A caliphate is an Islamic state under the leadership of an Islamic steward with the title ‘caliph’” Wikipedia, 2020 “Caliphate”
1. Rashidun (632-661)
2. Umayyad (661-750)
3. Abbasid (750-1258)
4. Ottoman (1517-1924)
“The Sunni branch of Isla stipulates that, as a head of state, a caliph was a selected or elected position. Followers of Shia Islam, however, believe a caliph should be an Imam chosen by God from the Ahl al-Bayt (the ‘Family of the House’, Muhammad’s direct descendants).” Wikipedia, 2020 “Caliphate”
B. Shi’ites and Sunnis at War
1. Ayatollah Khomeini – Shi’ite (1979)
2. Saddam Hussein – Sunni (1991-2006)
3. Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden – Sunni
4. Terrorism – Hesbola, Hamas, PLO, Insurgents, ISIS, etc.
C. Islamic Militancy and renewed goal of domination
IV. Islamic Authority
A. The Koran
1. First Meccan Period (611-615)
2. Second Meccan Period (616-622)
3. Medina Period (623-632)
B. Method of Revelation
1. Direct from Jibril (Gabriel) to the illiterate Muhammad
2. Seven forms of wahy = divine inspiration
C. Highest Honor and Adoration
D. The Sunnah and Hadith
1. Sunnah – life of Muhammad illustrated
2. Hadith – commands of Muhammad explained
V. Islamic Faith and Practice
A. God – Allah is not the God of the Bible. The rejection of the Trinity is asserted along with a strict monotheism.
B. Sin – no original sin, no sin nature, but humans remain sinless until they rebel against Allah (similar to Pelagianism). People should use their free will to live in submission to Allah.
C. Salvation – comes through believing the teachings of the Koran, obeying Allah and doing his will (works salvation). People must make atonement for their own sins through confession and good works, so salvation is uncertain and in the end determined by Allah. Only martyrs may be guaranteed salvation and so it leads to great effort to perform the prescribed works.
D. Eternity – often viewed as a garden paradise, especially for men who receive beautiful young virgins.
E. Jesus Christ – one of many prophets, not the Son of God or Savior. He did not die on a cross but was taken up to Allah; nor did He rise again from the dead. He was ultimately a good Muslim (Caners, 215)
F. Five Pillars – five main duties of religious practice in Islam that lead to salvation
1. Shahadah – Creed = confession of Allah’s unity and Muhammad his messenger
2. Salat – Prescribed prayers said five times a day facing Mecca – must be recited in Arabic following rigorous rules
3. Zakat – Giving alms to cleanse of greed and selfishness
4. Sawm – Annual fast during the month of Ramadan (only during daylight hours, allowing for early morning and evening feasting – includes food, drink, smoking and intercourse; to break a day is unforgivable and cannot be redeemed by making up another day)
5. Hajj – Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Ka’aba at least once in a lifetime
Post-Denominational Cults: Mormonism –
Were the Latter-Day Saints ever saints?
Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects, and World Religions (Revised and Updated), Larry A. Nichols, George A. Mather, Alvin J. Schmidt (Zondervan, 2006)
Find It Quick Handbook on Cults & New Religions, Ron Rhodes (Harvest House Publishers, 2005)
10 Questions & Answers on Mormonism, Bill McKeever – Founder and Director, Mormonism Research Ministry (Hendrickson Publishers, Rose Publishing, 2006)
A. Defining a “cult”
“. . . it claims to be Christian but denies one or more of the essential doctrines of historic Christianity; these doctrines focus on such matters as the meaning of faith, the nature of God, and the person and work of Jesus Christ.” Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis, 43
B. Criteria for study of False Religions/Cults
1. A clear rejection of one or more important doctrines of the historic Christian faith
2. A large membership nationwide (over ½ million)
3. A group of particular interest for some unusual reason (eg Branch Davidians)
C. Important cults and date of origin
Baha’i (1863/U.S. 1912)
Jehovah Witnesses (1870)
Christian Science (1879)
Unity School of Christianity and Association of Unity Churches (1886)
Unitarian Universalist Association (1961)
D. Current Membership of Latter-Day Saints
December, 2019 = 16,565,000+
Arizona = 436,521 (approximately 6% of population; 4th in the US after Utah, California, Idaho)
E. Cultural Acceptance
Mormon Tabernacle Choir
The Osmund Family
F. Controversial History
Founder – Joseph Smith (1805-1844) – claimed to be visited by God the Father and the Son instructing him not to join any church because all were corrupt, assured him of his salvation; was later visited by an angel named Moroni who revealed to him a book written on gold plates in Reformed Egyptian and where to find it; recorded the everlasting gospel that had been preached to early inhabitants on the North American continent; he married 30-40 wives between 1841-1843 (many still married to other husbands); died with his brother Hyrum in a gun battle in Nauvoo, IL (June 27, 1844)
Successor (2nd President) – Brigham Young (1801-1877) – polygamy officially instituted and he fathered 47 children by 20 wives (married as many as 55); led the majority of Mormons on a difficult journey from Illinois (and Missouri) to Salt Lake City, UT; increased political power and violence against non-mormons (“Mountain Meadows Massacre” of 1857)
Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (“Community of Christ,” 2001) – splinter group founded by Joseph Smith III, son of Joseph Smith Jr. Led a contingency of followers to remain in Missouri and Illinois and claimed to be the rightful successors. Maintain their headquarters in Independence, MO.
G. Mormon Scriptures (Authority)
1. KJV Bible – “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” (The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, #8). Their bigger concern lies in their understanding of a faulty “transmission” of the text (copying it into the same language), rather than the translation (see the pamphlet, “10 Questions & Answers on Mormonism” by Rose Publishing, 2006)
2. Book of Mormon – end product of the golden plates shown to Joseph Smith and revealed by Moroni. Tells the story of Jesus Christ coming to the America after His resurrection to preach to the Nephites (former inhabitants of America). The Nephite Scriptures were recorded on the golden plates.
3. Doctrine and Covenants – published in 1876, contains further revelations of Smith (135 sections) and one by Brigham Young which includes the vision of Smith instituting polygamy (chapter 132); also the famous manifesto of 1890 of a revelation by President Wilford Woodruff prohibiting polygamy.
4. Pearl of Great Price – written by Smith containing further revelations, including his account of the first vision from God the Father and Jesus (the accepted account over the other version) and Articles of Faith.
5. Other Written Sources – Journal of Discourses (Brigham Young), Gospel Principles (LDS Manual, 8th ed.)
6. Continued Revelation – given through the current president in areas of faith and practice.
7. Priestly Orders – Melchizedek Priesthood (males, minimum age 19), governs the spiritual affairs of the church and includes the “First Presidency” (President and his two counselors – three high priests) who have supreme authority in the church in matters of life, faith and doctrine; and Aaronic Priesthood (males, minimum age 12), governs temporal affairs of the church and includes offices of priest, bishop, deacon and teacher.
H. Challenges to Mormon Authority
1. The Spaulding Theory
2. Unstable nature of Continued Revelation
3. Internal Contradictions (in their writings)
4. Plagiarism of the Book of Mormon
5. Continuation of Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthook
A. God – God was once a man like us and progressed to become God, an exalted man. “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! . . . He was once a man like us . . . God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth.” (“King Follet Discourse” in the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 1958). “God has a body that looks like ours . . . a tangible body of flesh and bones” (D&C 130:22). Compare Isaiah 43:10, 13; 44:6-7; Deuteronomy 6:4; Hosea 11:9; Numbers 23:19; John 4:24; Malachi 3:6
B. Jesus – He is the “Son of God” but his equality with God is denied. He was “begotten” as the first spirit child of Elohim and is brother to all the angels, including Lucifer (the devil) as well as to humans. He progressed over a long period of time to a state of godhood, though before the incarnation was Jehovah (distinct from Elohim)
Compare Isaiah 44:24 w/John 1:1-3, 14; 17:5; Revelation 1:8 w/22:12-13; Isaiah 43:11 w/Titus 2:13-14
C. Sin – man is not guilty of original sin but is innocent until the age of accountability (8 years old). Sin is not an offense against the Holy God but wrong judgment or a mistake, imperfection, mitigating the moral aspect of sin. Compare Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Ephesians 2:3; Romans 3:23
D. Salvation – attained through one’s merits; the atonement of Christ only satisfied the sin of Adam, providing “general salvation” and “resurrection” but not “individual salvation.” General salvation means that all creatures are immortal, but individual salvation is achieved by adhering to Articles 3 &4 in the “Articles of Faith” (found in the Pearl of Great Price). Compare Ephesians 2:8-10 w/Titus 3:5-6
E. Afterlife – the vast number of humanity will spend eternity in one of three places, depending on their worthiness. 1) the celestial kingdom – faithful Mormons, 2) the terrestrial kingdom – unfaithful Mormons and non-Mormons who live moral lives, 3) the telestial kingdom – those who have lived carnal and sinful throughout life.
A. Blood Atonement
B. Celestial Marriage
C. Baptism for the Dead
D. Temple Rituals
Witnessing to Mormons
A. Bible – Show them from the Bible the true identity of God, man, Christ and the way of salvation – they reject the doctrine of justification by faith
B. Salvation – Challenge Mormons on the certainty of their salvation, since most have not attained to being worthy of eternal life
C. Doctrine – Confront their doctrinal inconsistencies within their own writings
D. History – Expose the historical inconsistencies of their faith and the difficulties with Smith’s character and teachings
See “Scripture redi-reference guide when speaking with Mormons” (mrm.org; Mormon Research Ministry)