I was watching Faith Under Fire the other night, and the host, Lee Strobel, read a letter he had recʼd that conveyed no argument, just attitude. Lee donned the martyrs cloak after reading it, and said, “We must be doing something right,” or a similar phrase. But why waste air time reading such a non-comment when Lee must have received other emails that at least contained an argument or two?
That incident sums up the state of the media today, even the state of a Christian apologetics TV program. Faith Under Fire seeks the “fast-paced, face-off format of Hardball or The OʼReilly Factor,” to quote one of the segment producers who contacted me months ago. In a way that is not just the mediaʼs fault, because conservative Christianity also help reinforce the alpha-maleness of our culture in general. In this corner we have Satan, and in the other we have God, in an Armageddon duel to the death. The OʼReilly Factor on steroids.
After watching Faith Under Fire, I decided to send them a few comments of my own. The program I decided to respond to was on The Trinity, and it featured a debate between Rabbi Singer of Jews for Judaism who explained what the Hebrew Scriptures say, and the well known Christian apologist William Lane Craig, who has the same Howdy Doody profile as Tim LaHaye and Kent Hovind, which is mere coincidence Iʼm sure, but nonetheless struck me as funny. (Unrelated to the Faith Under Fire program, but related to Judaism, has anyone seen the new “KewlJu” products “for the 21st Century Jew?” They seem to be a take off of the “WWJD” bracelets. Google “KewlJu”).
Here are the comments I sent Faith Under Fire
Dear Faith Under Fire,
Your program about the U.S. being a “Christian nation” featured David Barton, someone who has admitted to using “unsubstantiated” quotations in his videos and books. Historians of America and of American Christianityfind Bartonʼs research and arguments less than well-informed. See James H. Hutson, ed. Religion and the New Republic: Faith in the Founding of America. Lanham, Md., and Oxford, England: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000, featuring the article, “Why Revolutionary America Wasnʼt a ‘Christian Nation” by Jon Butler, the William Robertson Coe Professor of American Studies and History at Yale University. Asking if late eighteenth-century America was a Christian country, Butler proposes to “look at government, society, and people to recover what men and women of the time did and believed” (p. 189). He discovers that the answer to his question is complicated.
In some ways, America on the eve of the Revolution was more religious than it had been in the seventeenth century. Revivalism and denominational expansion during the eighteenth century caused a tremendous growth in the number of congregations. Moreover, the “state church apparatus” (p. 189) was also becoming stronger, with seven of the thirteen colonies giving legal support to a single Protestant church. Even in colonies without an establishment, Catholics, Jews, and blasphemers frequently endured legal discrimination and penalties.
But despite congregational growth and legal support for churches, most eighteenth-century Americans remained indifferent to religion. Before the Revolution, about eighty percent of adults did not even belong to a church.
America was only nominally and formally Christian. Indeed, Butler argues that the laws establishing state churches and favoring Protestant Christianity were needed “precisely because actual Christian adherence in the population was relatively weak” (p. 191).
After the Revolution, denominational rivalries and Enlightenment objections to religious coercion led states “to withdraw from or greatly reduce government involvement with religion” (p. 192). In state after state, single-church establishments fell after religious pluralism provoked bitter political squabbles over tax support and legislative favoritism. The culmination of Americansʼ increasing suspicion of government partiality in religion was the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. Going far beyond the prohibition of an established church, the First Amendment “banned government activity in religion generally” (p. 196).
Revolutionary Americans understood that theirs was “a society where Christianity was important yet not ubiquitous” (p. 197). It was not a Christian nation. There was too much indifference, heterodoxy, and atheism to call it that. Given their religious diversity and its potential for turmoil, Americans realized that they could preserve civil peace and promote spiritual renewal only by keeping government from meddling in religion. If the United States were ever to become a Christian nation, it would do so as “a matter of practice, not law or governmental encouragement” (p. 198).
Looking back, Butler marvels at the “remarkable risks taken by remarkable men and women in remarkable times” (p. 189). In separating government and religion, they boldly devised an arrangement that was, in its day, virtually unprecedented and that became, in the days to follow, notably successful. As Butler comments, their risks and their achievements still “challenge modern Americans who would pretend to exercise equal leadership on still difficult questions of religion, the state, conscience, and faith” (p. 189).
Even some of his fellow fundamentalist Christians find Bartonʼs arguments to be simplistic and miss the forest for the trees. Fundamentalist Christian author, Dennis Woods, a political pollster with credentials in journalism, education and theology, in his book, Discipling the Nations—The Government Upon His Shoulders, poses the question, “Why are documented historical facts routinely being revised and distorted…by evangelical Christians?” This fundamental question leads to a host of other questions that are in turn addressed by the book. For example….
If the U.S. Constitution is a Christian document why does it contain no substantive references to God?
Why do the Federalist Papers contain no references to the Bible and almost 30 references to the governments of pagan Greece and Rome?
Why does the U.S. Constitution deny a religious test for public office, when almost all of its colonial forerunners required such a test?
Why does the Constitution rely on “we the people” to “ordain and establish this Constitution” rather than God, as did nearly every one of its predecessors?
What is the critical difference between government by social compact and government by Biblical covenant? Which one is the U.S. Constitution?
Why were the state legislatures excluded from a part in confirming the U.S. Constitution, as required by the Articles of Confederation? (p. 33)
Why did strong Christian statesmen such as Patrick Henry, John Hancock and Samuel Adams explicitly refuse the invitation to attend the Constitutional Convention?
Why was the convention shrouded in secrecy, with all notes sequestered until after the death of the last delegate?
Why did James Madison believe that Christianity was a source of faction rather than the unifying factor in civil government?
The author believes that the naïve or simplistic responses typically offered by Evangelicals like John Eidsmoe, David Barton (WallBuilders), Peter Marshall, and D.James Kennedy damage the credibility of the very cause they are trying to defend.
Also, I visited a website at Yale University that features the “Treaty of Tripoli.” If Barton cares what the original treaty said, he should read it, “ARTICLE 11. As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”
Edward T. Babinski (author of Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former
Fundamentalists, Prometheus Books, paperback 2003)
On The History Of Trinitarian-Related Theological Disputes
(and Books by Ex-Jews for Jesus members)
Your program on the Trinity could have included some historical background on the question, especially since the Arian and Athanasius conflict was perhaps the biggest feud in early Christianity, a conflict that arose because Christians could not agree how to understand and define Jesusʼs connection with “God.” Different theologians stressed different Scriptural passages as proof of their views. In the end, Emperors exiled bishops and burned the books of the opposition, as if that “settled” the question. But the question arose again during the Reformation, when Unitarianism was born. In America around the time of the American Revolution half of the Congregationalist churches in Boston converted to Unitarianism. Some of Americaʼs earliest founding fathers and presidents were Unitarians, as well as Florence Nightingale (founder of modern nursing) and Clara Barton (founder of the American Red Cross). In the 1920s a Unitarian minister of one of New York cities largest churches debated a well known Baptist in Carnegie Hall (during the era of fundamentalist-modernist controversy that split so many churches and denominations in America in the 1920s). Besides Unitarians there are other Bible believing religious denominations that have rejected the Trinity and argue their rejection on Scriptural grounds.
There are even former fundamentalist Christians who have gotten hooked on Moses and formed the “Bʼnai Noah movement.” They no longer call themselves “Christians,” but “God-fearers,” or, “Noachides.” Jesus is revered by “Noachides” as a great prophet, but not worshipped as “God.” They are convinced that the early Christian deification of Jesus was an error, due to pagan influences creeping into Judaism at that time and place in history. Instead of believing in the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the saving power of Jesusʼ sacrifice; they believe in the “one God” of Israel, repentance for forgiveness of sins, and following the moral commands that God gave to Noah for all mankind. Members of this movement have orthodox rabbis preach at their conferences and help them study “The Torah.” They also sell books and tapes that defend their beliefs and point out errors in orthodox Christian beliefs.
Skip Porteusʼs testimony was also varied, he went from being a secular Jews to becoming a Pentecostal Christian minister, then left Christianity to become an anti-Religious Right activist (and author of Jesus Doesnʼt Live Here Any More: From Fundamentalist to Freedom Writer), but then returned to the faith of his fathers, Judaism.
Speaking of Jews for Jesus, at least two of them have written books about their experiences in Jews for Jesus and why they left. One of them was even a poster child for the organization. Both found the organization to have cultish overtones. See: Jo Ann Schneider Farrisʼs book, Sentenced for Life - A Story of an Entry and an Exit into the World of Fundamentalist Christianity and Jews for Jesus. Also see the story of former poster child for Jews for Jesus, Ellen Kamentsky, whose smiling face appeared in a “Jews for Jesus” advertisement in Newsweek magazine (Dec. 7, 1987), who wrote in her book: “I handed out thousands of pamphlets and gathered hundreds of phone numbers praying that God would send open victims across my path. I was a religious fanatic. I believed all people who did not accept my truth were going to Hell. Mine was no nine to five calling. I was always on call, praying, preaching, looking for converts… Members of Jews for Jesus are masters of disguise. They hide their true nature (sometimes even from themselves) and present a carefully contrived image to the world. Groups like them work by preying on our religious doubts and exploiting our insecurities. They seek simple answers to complex questions. They use dogmatism to produce certainty. Today, I revere reasoning and celebrate my Jewishness. I hope this book encourages people to find and celebrate their own truth. Know yourself, discover your own truth, so when someone approaches you hawking God, you can say, ‘Thank you very much, but Iʼm finding my own way.”
Also google: ex-Jews for Jesus, or, Former Jews for Jesus
Lastly, there are numerous Bible scholars who study the Bible historically, and who doubt that Jesus said the words in the fourth Gospel that Trinitarians rely on. Such scholars present obvious reasons for doubting the authenticity of the words that appear in Jesusʼs mouth in the fourth Gospel. At the very least their reasons make the fourth Gospel the most suspect of the four, historically speaking.
Edward T. Babinski (author of Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists, paperback ed., 2003)
P.S., In case you have not yet run across it, I have commented on your program in a newsletter produced by one of your guests, Dr. Michael Shermer:
Also, if you have time I suggest reading one particular work on the web by a former Christian. The work is called, Beyond Born Again, written by Dr. Robert M. Price, who now has two Ph.D.s, one in N.T. history and the other in N.T. theology. His book comments on the apologetics of his generation. Many of the apologists whom he cites in his book were the equivalent (in Dr. Priceʼs generation) of ones you interviewed in your own series of books.
On the Laws Made by Christian Emperors to Enforce the Trinity
The necessity of belief in the “Catholic” church, and the “Trinity” was placed at the head of the Justinian Code, and everyone in the Empire who disagreed was judged “demented and insane,” and subject to the Emperorʼs wrath.
The Justinian Code incorporated the earlier Theodosian Code from the century before that legalized and institutionalized intolerance of thought for centuries, something even the Romans had never done (they restricted their intolerance to rituals, not thought). Calvin and Luther and the Catholics all cited the Theodosian and subsequent Justinian code to justify their own intolerant excesses in the realm of religious belief, like executing people, most prominently, the Anabaptists and members of smaller Christian sects that were neither Calvinist nor Lutheran. As for the other laws of both of those Christian codes, the basic laws that regulate interpersonal relations, they were already in use by the Romans, and many of them resembled common sense laws, except of course for the religious laws which lead off the Code:
The Code of our Lord the Most Sacred Emperor Justinian. Second Edition.
Book 1. Title 1. Concerning the most exalted trinity and the catholic faith and providing that no one shall dare to publicly oppose them.
1. The Emperors Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius to the people of the City of Constantinople.
We desire that all peoples subject to Our benign Empire shall live under the same religion that the Divine Peter, the Apostle, gave to the Romans, and which the said religion declares was introduced by himself, and which it is well known that the Pontiff Damascus, and Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic sanctity, embraced; that is to say, in accordance with the rules of apostolic discipline and the evangelical doctrine, we should believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute a single Deity, endowed with equal majesty, and united in the Holy Trinity.
(1) We order all those who follow this law to assume the name of Catholic Christians, and considering others as demented and insane, We order that they shall bear the infamy of heresy; and when the Divine vengeance which they merit has been appeased, they shall afterwards be punished in accordance with Our resentment, which we have acquired from the judgment of Heaven. Dated at Thessalonica, on the third of the Kalends of March, during the Consulate of Gratian, Consul for the fifth time, and Theodosius.
2. The Same Emperors to Eutropius, Praetorian Prefect. Let no place be afforded to heretics for the conduct of their ceremonies, and let no occasion be offered for them to display the insanity of their obstinate minds. Let all persons know that if any privilege has been fraudulently obtained by means of any rescript whatsoever, by persons of this kind, it will not be valid. Let all bodies of heretics be prevented from holding unlawful assemblies, and let the name of the only and the greatest God be celebrated everywhere, and let the observance of the Nicene Creed, recently transmitted to Our ancestors, and firmly established by the testimony and practice of Divine Religion, always remain secure.
(1) Moreover, he who is an adherent of the Nicene Faith, and a true believer in the Catholic religion, should be understood to be one [pg. 10] who believes that Almighty God and Christ, the son of God, are one person, God of God, Light of Light; and let no one, by rejection, dishonor the Holy Spirit, whom we expect, and have received from the Supreme Parent of all things, in whom the sentiment of a pure and undefiled faith flourishes, as well as the belief in the undivided substance of a Holy Trinity, which true believers indicate by the Greek word These things, indeed do not require further proof, and should be respected.
(2) Let those who do not accept those doctrines cease to apply the name of true religion to their fraudulent belief; and let them be branded with their open crimes, and, having been removed from the threshold of all churches, be utterly excluded from them, as We forbid all heretics to hold unlawful assemblies within cities. If, however, any seditious outbreak should be attempted, We order them to be driven outside the the walls of the City, with relentless violence, and We direct that all Catholic Churches, throughout the entire world, shall be placed under the control of the orthodox bishops who have embraced the Nicene Creed. Given at Constantinople, on the fourth of the ides of January, under the Consulate of Flavius Eucharius and Flavius Syagrius. Source: Corpus Juris Civilis (The Civil Law, the Code of Justinian), by S.P. Scott, A.M., published by the Central Trust Company, Cincinnati, copyright 1932, Volume 12 [of 17], pages 9-12, 125.
On The Theodosian Code
In 436, the lawyers of Theodosius II (408-450), the grandson of Theodosius I, met in Constantinople to bring together the edicts of his Christian predecessors in a single book. The subsequent Theodosian Code appears in 438.
When early medieval Christians looked back to Rome, what they saw, first and foremost, was not the “Golden Age” of classical Rome (as we would tend to do). The pagan empire did not impress them. It was the Theodosian Code that held their attention and esteem. It was the official voice of the Roman Empire at its greatest, that is, when it was the Roman empire as God always intended it to be — a Christian empire. The Code ended with a book On Religion. (The later Justinian Code BEGAN with religious laws) This book, in itself, signaled the arrival of a new attitude to religion. Religious belief as such was not treated as a subject for legislation. As we have seen, Roman had always been concerned with the correct performance of religions, with the maintenance of traditional rites. But this attitude had been replaced by the new definition of “religion” which, was we saw, had emerged in the course of the third century A.D. Now it was “thought-crime” itself — wrong view on religion in general, and not simply failure to practice traditional rites in the traditional manner — which was disciplined. In the Theodosian Code, extracts from the laws issued from the reign of Constantine to that of Theodosius II were arranged in chronological order. They communicated a rising sense of governmental certainty. There was to be little place, in the new Roman order, for heresy, schism, or Judaism, and no place at all for “the error of stupid paganism.”
- Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd Ed., (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p. 75
Edward T. Babinski (author of Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists, Prometheus Books, paperback, 2005)
“Who” and or “What” was Jesus?
The Arian-Athanasian Controversy, during which more Christians killed Christians than Romans killed Christians during the previous 250 years.
The First Ecumenical Church Council—Held at Nicea
From the very first the Church was faced with the task of establishing dogmas. For Christianity abounds in problems more hinted at than answered in the New Testament.The first ecumenical church council, the Council of Nicea, assembled in the year 325 in the imperial palace of the first Christian emperor, Constantine. Once the discussions started the participants threw their episcopal dignity to the wind and shouted wildly at each other. They were concerned primarily with improving their positions of power.
[(Concerning such “power”) we must remember that Constantine built some impressive churches and they did not stand alone. They usually stood in a complex of buildings that included an audience hall in which the bishop presided as judge, an extensive bishopʼs palace, warehouses for supplies for the poor, and, above all, an impressive courtyard, of the sort which stood in front of a noblemanʼs town house. Such building complexes made palpable the emergence of a new style of urban leadership. Christians themselves built countless other churches of more moderate size, that reflected the ability of the local clergy to mobilize local loyalties and to appear to local pride. Bishops and clergy received immunities from taxes and from compulsory public services. In each city, the Christian clergy became the only group that expanded rapidly, at a time when the strain of empire had brought other civic associations to a standstill. Bound by oath to “their” bishop, a whole hierarchy of priests, deacons, and minor clergy formed an ordo in miniature, as subtly graded as any town council, and as tenaciously attached to its privileges. Furthermore, Constantine expected that the bishop would act as exclusive judge and arbiter in cases between Christians, and even between Christians and non-Christians. Normal civil litigation had become prohibitively expensive. As a result, the bishop, already regarded as the God-like judge of sin among believers, rapidly became the ombudsman of an entire community. Besides this, the imperial supplies of food and clothing, granted to the clergy to distribute to the poor, turned the ferociously inward-looking care of fellow-believers for each other, which had characterized the Christian churches of an earlier age, into something like a public welfare system, designed to alleviate, and to control, the urban poor as a whole.
—Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd Ed., (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p.78]
Thus at the Council of Nicea diplomacy was wielded as a weapon, and intrigues often replaced intelligence. There were so many ignorant bishops that one participant bluntly called the council “a synod of nothing but blockheads.”
[The bishops at the Council of Nicea condemned and forbade kneeling at prayer on Sundays, and also on any day between Easter and Whitsunday.]
Walter Nigg, The Heretics
The Major Theological Debate that Took Place at the Council of Nicea
At the Council of Nicea a theological debate took place that set the stage for disputations and even riots between Christians in the following centuries. Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria defended his own teaching that Jesus was of the same exact essence (Homoousios) as the Father. Taking the other side of the debate, bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia endorsed the position of a theologian named Arius (who saw himself as defending the position of early church fathers like Origen and Tertullian, who did not speak of Jesus being of the same exact essence as the Father.) As with all theological debates, the council reached a deadlock.
It was at this point that the Emperor Constantine, who had convened the council, stepped in and sided with Athanasius. He argued that everyone present should sign the new creed that stated Jesus was of the same exact essence (Homoousios) as the Father: “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten not made, by the Father as his only Son, of the same essence (Homoousios) with the Father, God of God, Light of Light.” Constantineʼs desire to deify Jesus was not in the least surprising. It was a natural carry over from his pagan past when he had his father, Constantius, deified. It is thus natural that he would want to see the founder of his new religion put on the same pedestal as well. Constantine added that whoever agreed to the new creed would be invited to his twentieth anniversary celebration, while those who did not agree would face immediate banishment. As a result, all but seventeen die-hard Arians signed the new creed. One can only speculate how many of the bishops signed due to Constantineʼs threat. We do know that many of the bishops who agreed initially, due to the emperorʼs threat, withdrew their agreements after returning to their own cities. Thus Eusebius, one of the signatories to the new creed, wrote (on behalf of himself and two other bishops) to Constantine upon return to Nicomedia: “We committed an impious act, O Prince, by subscribing to a blasphemy for fear of you.” Whatever may be the reaction of the bishops who signed the formula unwillingly, the emperor was quick to act. He ordered the banishment of Arius and the burning of his writings. The leading Arian bishops were also deposed.
“The Arian Controversy” [Online at The Rejection of Pascalʼs Wager]
“If any treatise composed by Arius should be discovered, let it be consigned to the flames, in order that no memorial of him may be by any means left. This therefore I [Constantine] decree, that if any one shall be detected in concealing a book compiled by Arius, and shall not instantly bring it forward and burn it, the penalty for this offence shall be death; for immediately after conviction the criminal shall suffer capital punishment.”
Letter of Constantine To the Bishops and People, c. 333 A.D. in which he proscribed the works of Arius [a Christian] and in which he also proscribed the works of the pagan scholar Porphyry [who questioned Christianity], as cited in A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337, Ed., J. Stevenson, newly revised by W. H. C. Frend
The Trouble With Scripture
Both Arius and Athanasius thought the Scriptures could settle their disagreement. The Arians quoted a text from Proverbs to support their view:
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.
- Proverbs 8:22
To the modern scholar, the “me” refers to a pre-Christian notion of Godʼs Wisdom, but to the Arians and Athanasians alike, many Old Testamentʼs verses were interpreted as being about Jesus, and this passage, they agreed, referred to Jesus. The difference came in their interpretation of its meaning. The Arians claimed that the passage proved Jesus was created by God. But the Athanasians argued that the word “create” did not mean “coming into being.” To them the passage referred to the creation of all mankind through the resurrection of Jesus.
Another passage the Arians quoted was from the gospel of Luke, which referred to the growth of Jesus:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man
- Luke 2:52
The Arians argued, God obviously could not have “increased in wisdom and stature” for he is a perfect being. Jesus, because he could increase in wisdom and stature, could not be God. The Athanasians countered by saying that the Scriptures contain a “double account” of Jesus Christ. Some passages refer to Jesus as man, and others refer to him as God. The passage from Luke refers to the part of Jesus that is a man; so said the Athanasians.
Wilken, The Myth of Christian Beginnings, p. 90-93
As is now widely recognized, the Scriptures and their interpretations were the source of the “Arian controversy.”
As Robert C Gregg and Dennis E. Groh have observed, “It has been easy to overlook the degree to which appeal to the Scriptures was fundamental for Arius,” and, it might be added, the later Arians. R. P. C. Hanson in particular has said in The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, “When arguing about the career and character of Jesus Christ himself depicted in the Gospels,” the Arians “are usually on much firmer footing than their [‘orthodox’] opponents,” in fact, “both Athanasius and Hilary are driven to take refuge in the most unconvincing arguments.” Ambroseʼs [‘orthodox’] interpretations are also, in general, “fantastic nonsense woven into purely delusive harmony.” The Arian exegesis of the first three Gospels is “confident” and “embarrassing” to their [Athanasian] opponents who treat the crucial verses in those Gospels in “uncertain” and “strained” ways. Maximinus even told the church father, Augustine, “The divine Scripture does not fare badly in our [Arian] teaching, such that it has to receive correction [Latin, ‘emendationem’] from us.”
Kevin Madigan, “Christus Nesciens? Was Christ Ignorant of the Day of Judgment? Arian and Orthodox Interpretation of Mark 13:32 in the Ancient Latin West,” Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 96, no. 3 (2003)
“Arianism” Used to be Just as Popular as the Doctrine that Jesus is Fully God
Arianism, which orthodox Christians now consider the archetypal heresy, was once at least as popular as the doctrine that Jesus is God. Ordinary trades people and workers felt perfectly competent—perhaps even driven—to debate abstract theological issues and to arrive at their own conclusions. Disputes among Christians, specifically arguments about the relationship of Jesus Christ the Son to God the Father, had become intense. [p.7]
The anti-Arians demanded that Christianity be “updated” by blurring or even obliterating the long-accepted distinction between the Father and the Son. From the perspective of our time it may seem strange to think of Arian “heretics” as conservatives, but emphasizing Jesusʼs humanity and Godʼs transcendent otherness had never seemed heretical in the [Eastern half of the Roman Empire]. [p.74]
The Great Council of Nicea was the largest gathering of Christian leaders, up to that time with 250+ bishops in attendance, almost all of them from the Eastern Empire. To some extent, this Eastern predominance can be attributed to the westernerʼs lack of interest in the Arian controversy, which still seemed to them an obscure “Greek” matter. [The controversy over Arianism was most virulent in Greek-speaking areas, where the language lent itself to fine distinctions, and the involvement of the emperors, whose aims were usually social unity rather than theological truth, complicated matters. Often the churchmen who prevailed were those who had the emperorʼs ear. It is only with hindsight that bishops can be readily assigned to one or the other camp in the controversy: there were many gradations within the “Arianizing” outlook.—Desmond OʼGrady, Beyond the Empire: Rome and the Church from Constantine to Charlemagne (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2001), p.16]
The Council of Nicea, then, was not universal. [There were in fact over 1800 bishops in the Christian church and only 250-300 of them attended the Council of Nicea].Several later gatherings would be more representative of the entire Church; one of them, the joint council of Rumini-Seluicie (359), was attended by more than five hundred bishops from both the East and West. If any meeting deserves the title “ecumenical,” that one seems to qualify, but its results—the adoption of an Arian creed—was later repudiated by the Church. Councils whose products were later deemed unorthodox not only lost the “ecumenical” label but virtually disappeared from official Church history. [p.74]
[After the Council of Nicea, Constantine exiled Arian theologians.] But within three years, Arius, Eusebius, and their fellow exiles would be forgiven by Constantine and welcomed back to the Church. Eusebius would become Constantineʼs closest advisor, and would insist that Athanasius, now bishop of Alexandria, readmit Arius to communion in that city as well. A decade after that, Bishop Athanasius himself was exiled, and Arianism was well on its way to becoming the dominant theology of the Eastern Empire. [p.84]
The Council of Nicea was the last point at which Christians with strongly opposed theological views acted civilly toward each other. When the controversy began, Arius and his opponents were inclined to treat each other as fellow Christians with mistaken ideas. Constantine hoped that his Great and Holy Council would bring the opposing sides together on the basis of a mutual recognition and correction of erroneous ideas. When these hopes were shattered and the conflict continued to spread, the adversaries were drawn to attack each other not as colleagues in error but as unrepentant sinners: corrupt, malicious, even satanic individuals. [p.84-85]
Athanasiusʼs ambition was endless; and he was very much at home in the “real” world of power relations and political skullduggery. Athanasius would soon be recognized as the anti-Ariansʼ champion. But first, he had to become bishop of Alexandria. [p.104-105]
Athanasius sent gangs of thuggish supporters into the Melitian Christian district, where they beat and wounded supporters of the Melitian leader, John Arcaph, and, according to Arcaph, burned churches, destroyed church property, imprisoned and even murdered dissident priests. [p.106]
Constantine ordered a council of bishops to meet in Tyre [concerning charges leveled against Athanasius]. Athanasius reacted with desperation. He had his agents terrorize those who might have provided evidence against him and prevented them from leaving the country. The pro-Athanasius bishops who attended the council at Tyre behaved so disruptively that the council later cited their activities as proof of Athanasiusʼs unfitness for office. The debate at the council was stormy, with many witnesses contradicting each otherʼs stories, and much name calling. After weeks of squabbling the bishops decided to send a commission to the region to interview witnesses there and the decide the truth of various accusations. The investigative commission left for Egypt accompanied by a company of imperial troops. For the next two months Egypt was in an uproar. The Athanasians charged that the commission was obtaining evidence by means of threats and torture. The commissioners charged that Athanasiusʼs supporters were intimidating and kidnapping witnesses. By the end of the investigation it was clear that the commissionʼs report would indict Athanasius, who fled the city by night. The Bishops in Tyre condemned Athanasius for specific acts of violence and disobedience. [p.123-125]
When Constantine convened the Great Council of Nicea, he could not have imagined that the bishops would be meeting almost every year to rule on charges of criminal activity and heresy. Partisan control of these gatherings virtually guaranteed that condemned churchmen would attempt to rehabilitate themselves and punish their enemies by denying the authority of “illegitimate” councils and convening new ones. The emperor probably considered this a temporary problem. Surely, after blatant troublemakers and fanatics like Bishops Athanasius and Marcellus were removed from office, reasonable churchmen could learn to live together despite occasional differences of opinion! But this was to repeat the original mistake made at Nicea. It was to assume that doctrinal differences among Christians were not that important, that they did not reflect serious divisions of class, culture, and moral values within the community, and that they could be resolved by discovering the correct form of words. [p.133]
[More and more Christians started disavowing the “Nicene creed,” and Arianism experienced a resurgence. By the year 329 Arianism had such widespread support that Constantine became persuaded that his earlier decision was a mistaken one. In 336, the former exile, Arius, on the eve of being readmitted to membership in the church at Alexandria, was found dead on the floor beside a toilet. Poisoning is one possibility to account for the timing and manner of his passing.] However, Athanasius used Ariusʼs death as a public relations opportunity. He announced that the cityʼs prayers had been answered and “the Arian heresy was unworthy of communion with the Church.” Most telling is the language Athanasius used in describing the manner of Ariusʼs death: “Arius urged by the necessities of nature, withdrew, and in the language of Scripture, ‘fell headlong, and burst asunder in the midst,’ being deprived of both communion and his life together.” [The Biblical reference Athanasius employed was to Judasʼs death, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, Acts 1:18] [p.137]
[Even after Ariusʼs death, Arianism remained, for there remained other more influential Christian leaders who dominated the movement.] Moreover, another death was of greater consequence than Ariusʼs. The death in question was Emperor Constantineʼs. Eusebius [an Arian Bishop] heard the Emperorʼs confession, and administered the last rites and a decree was made that permitted all exiled bishops to return to their sees. Athanasius [who was in exile at that time] returned to Alexandria after making a political tour of several provinces. Everywhere he rallied the anti-Arian forces and helped return exiles to power, organized opposition to “heretical” bishops, and intervened actively in local disputes. Violence dogged his steps, since both sides had organized popular support and were quite ready to use angry mobs to expel churchmen they despised or defend friendly incumbents. The result in a number of key cities was something close to civil war. Finally, Athanasius returned to Alexandria where, according to his enemies, ‘he seized the churches by force, by murder, by war.’” [p.141-142]
Soon afterwards a large council of bishops met in Antioch [in 338] to declare that Athanasius had committed new atrocities. The leaders of the church met again in Antioch in the winter of 338-339. With the new Emperor, Constantineʼs son, Constantius [who openly embraced Arianism] in attendance, they convicted Athanasius of violence and mayhem, and ordered him deposed. Warned by his agents, Athanasius fled, and rioting and arson (which had also accompanied his return) erupted across the city. The Church of Dionysius was burned, a number of people on both sides were injured and killed, and fighting even broke out on Easter Sunday in the Church of Quirinius. Several weeks later, the mobs supporting Athanasius had been suppressed, at least for the time being.
What really happened in Alexandria during this stormy month? Athanasius in a letter charged that “Arian madmen” incited pagans, Jews, and “disorderly persons” to attack the faithful, set churches on fire, strip and rape holy virgins, murder monks, desecrate holy places, and plunder the churchesʼ treasures. He presents pictures designed to horrify and madden his readers: Jews, for example, are presented as cavorting naked in the churchesʼ baptismal waters. And, of course, he says nothing about any violence that his own supporters may have offered in his defense or in opposition to the installation of the new bishop.
Athanasius had always had a following in Alexandria, but Arius was also an Alexandrian with his share of supporters. The truth seems to be that in Alexandria and many other cities large groups of militant fighters could be mobilized by both sides, and that both sides made frequent use of them in the confused period following Constantineʼs death. What is most striking is the closeness and bitterness of the conflict in important cities like Constantinople, Antioch, Ancyra, Caesarea, Tyre, and Gaza. [p.143-144]
[Probably more Christians were slaughtered by Christians in two years [A.D. 342-343, during the Arian controversy] than by all the persecutions of Christians under the Romans during the previous three hundred years.—Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 4, The Age of Faith] But what caused this deep division?.The split between Nicene and Arian Christians seems to reflect a rough division between those more in need of a powerful, just ruler and those more in need of a loving advocate and friend. Neither side in the controversy could afford to turn its back entirely on either image: the Athanasians therefore called Jesus “God from God.” And the Arians called him “a paradigm and an example.” Each side put its primary emphasis on one image while paying lip service to the other, and each side was prey to fears that the other side was aiming to obliterate “its” Jesus. While Athanasians denounced the Arians for lowering Christ to the point that his majesty and saving power would be lost, the Arians accused Athanasius and Marcellus of raising him to the point that his love (and Godʼs majesty) would be lost.
The violence in the Eastern cities ended for the time being with the forcible eviction of major anti-Arian bishops and their exile to the Western half of the Roman Empire. Many were arriving in Rome, where Athanasius had already fled. But the uncalculated efforts of these deportations would be to make the Pope of Rome a major participant in the controversy, to embroil the Western bishops, and, finally, to dive a wedge between the Christian churches of the Greek East and the Latin West [which latter would excommunicate each other]. [p.146-147]
[The Arians split into three factions: the Anomeans, the extreme party which stressed the difference between Father and Son; the Homoeans, which simply affirms that the Son is similar to the Father “in accordance with the scriptures”; and the Semi-Arians which favored the term homoiousion (Greek for “of like substance”) as expressing both the similarities and the differences between Father and Son. In 359 two simultaneous councils were held; one for the eastern bishops (in Seleucia) and one for the western bishops (in Ariminum). Both councils adopted the Homoean formula. However, this victory for Arianism frightened the Semi-Arians back into the ranks of the Athanasian fold. The death of Constantius in 361 also deprived the Arians of political support and they began to lose ground to the Athanasians.—Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church, p.33.]
[It was at this time, 361 A.D., that the Emperor Julian “the Apostate,” though raised a Christian, came to power and declared himself a pagan.] He reflected the common peopleʼs distaste for the scandalous disunity of the Church. Christianity had conspicuously failed to bring the empire together or to secure it from enemy attack. As the contemporary historian Ammianus said, “no wild beasts are such enemies to mankind as are most Christians in their deadly hatred of one another.” He deprived the Christian clergy of the special privileges [and tax exemptions] bestowed on them by his predecessors, and also took steps to re-inflame the Arian controversy by permitting Athanasius and other anti-Arians to return from exile. Violence between competing Christian groups broke out almost immediately. Bishop George of the city of Alexandria was murdered [along with several of his fellows].by a mixed mob of pagans and anti-Arian Christians. The Bishopʼs body paraded through the streets on the back of a camel and burned. [p.195] Back around 150 A.D., Christians in Alexandria, inspired by anti-Jewish preaching, had rioted against the Jewish community. Two hundred years later those who called Jesus “Lord” were battling each other in the streets and lynching bishops. By the time bishop George of Alexandria met his grisly death, religious riots had become commonplace throughout the region. [p.6]
[In 363, after reigning a mere three years, Julian “the Apostate” was killed in battle, after which Christian Emperors were once again the rule, one of the most intolerant of whom was Emperor Theodosius] Theodosius banned Arianism and officially declared Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. [p.226]
[In his edict of 378, Theodosius issued an order compelling all people under his rule to embrace the Catholic faith. (Codex Theodosianus XVI, I,
2) Any doctrines deviating from the Churchʼs teachings were declared criminal, those responsible for such doctrines deserving punishment.—Gustav Mensching, Tolerance and Truth in Religion, trans., Hans-J. Klimkeit (Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 1971), p.44.]
[And in 380 A.D. a decree from Theodosius read: “We shall believe in the Holy Trinity. We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative, which We shall assume in accordance with the divine judgment.”
—J. N. Hillgarth, The Conversion of Western Europe]
Since Arianism was now identified with the “barbarians” who were its main advocates, the remaining Arians within the empire, now split into small, powerless sects, were also fair game for Christian avengers. And the struggle to uproot paganism, conducted sporadically ever since the days of Constantine the Great, now resumed in earnest.
Was the Arian controversy resolved?.Unresolved issues, appearing in changed form, continued to produce serious religious conflicts that ended in the Great Schism separating the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. [p.226-227]
In the Greek-speaking lands, the end of the Arian controversy triggered more than two centuries of intense conflict [over the question of the relationship between Jesusʼs human and divine natures]. Once again, bishops met in councils to proclaim the orthodoxy of their views and to excommunicate their opponents. Once more the East knew depositions and exiles, riots and assassinations. Each side accused the other of Arianism. The Second Council of Ephesus (449) condemned the school of Antioch; the Great Council of Chalcedon (541) condemned the Alexandrians; numerous emperors intervened on one side or the other; and the controversy did not end until the one-nature “Monophysites” were driven from their own churches, many of which exist to this day.
Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christʼs Divinity in the Last Days of Rome
It was only later agreed, by the victorious “Nicene” party, that Athanasius had been the hero of a Christian orthodoxy laid down once and for all at Nicea. But the story of Athanasius and of his defense of the “Nicene Creed” gained in the telling. It did so especially in the Latin West. By the end of the fourth century, the “Arian Controversy” was narrated in studiously confrontational terms: it was asserted that “orthodox” bishops had defeated “heretics;” and, in so doing they had offered heroic resistance to the cajolery and, at times, to the threats, of “heretical” emperors. This view of the “Arian Controversy” was constructed after the event. It contains little truth.
- Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd Ed., (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p.80
The winners even made a few changes to Scripture to help cement their view of the truth. See The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament by Bart D. Ehrman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993)
Fourth and Last Comment Sent to Faith under Fire, Unrelated to the Trinity, but Broaching a Whole New Subject
Since “In God We Trust” is already on our money, and people are demanding the “Ten Commandments” be displayed on government property (funny, they never seem to want to display the “Beatitudes”), why not go all the way and put “In God We Trust” on our tanks and missles too?
- Edward T. Babinski
Amount of money that the United States Defense Department has lost track of, according to a 2000 report by its inspector general:
$1,100,000,000,000 (One trillion, one hundred billion dollars). That is not the amount the Defense Department spent, but merely the amount they “lost track of.”
Source: U.S. Department of Defense
Ratio of the above amount to the rest of the worldʼs military budgets combined: 2:1.
Source: International Institute for Strategic Studies
- Harperʼs Index, August 2003
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21. The United States, the most Christian nation on earth, has placed its treasure in destruction and death. As Associated Pressʼ Dan Morgan reports (June 12 2004, Tallahassee Democrat), the Pentagon “plans to spend well over $1 trillion in the next decade on an arsenal of futuristic planes, ships and weapons with little direct connection to the Iraq war or the global war on terrorism.”
The 2005 defense budget - the word “defense” has become a joke in the post Cold War world - will reach $500 billion (counting the CIA), $50 billion higher than 2004. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that over the next ten years, the armada of aircraft, ships and killer toys will cost upwards of $770 billion more than Bushʼs estimate for long-term defense. Morgan reports that Bush wants “$68 billion for research and development-20 percent above the peak levels of President Reaganʼs historic defense buildup. Tens of billions more out of a proposed $76 billion hardware account will go for big-ticket weapons systems to combat some as-yet-unknown adversary comparable to the former Soviet Union.” The mantra heard in Congress, “we canʼt show weakness in the face of terrorism,” fails to take into account the fact that when the 9/11 hijackers struck, the US military—the strongest in the world—failed to prevent the attacks. So, logically one would ask, how does a futuristic jet fighter defend against contemporary enemies, like jihadists who would smuggle explosives into a train station or crowded shopping mall?
— 2006 Pentagon Budget as Sacrilege — Bush Invests National Treasure in Death and Destruction by SAUL LANDAU, Counterpunch, June 25, 2004
“One industry that has done particularly well during the Bush administration has a strong interest in the outcome: the arms industry. A new report from the World Policy Institute tracks how this critical sector has exerted influence over administration policies, and how it is ‘voting with its dollarsʼ in the 2004 campaign.
“These have been boom years for the arms industry, with contracts for the top ten weapons contractors up 75% in the first three years of the Bush administration alone,” notes William D. Hartung, the co-author of the study and the director of the Instituteʼs arms project. “While some of this funding is related to the war in Iraq or the campaign against terrorism, much of it relates to Cold War relics like the F-22 combat aircraft or nuclear attack submarines that have little or no application to the threats we now face or the wars we are now fighting.”
— Arms Industry Influence in the Bush Administration and Beyond: A World Policy Institute Special Report by William D. Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca, October 2004
More than 100 countries have military budgets of less than $1 billion, roughly what the Pentagon spends in one day. The U.S. and its allies, including Australia, account for more than 70 percent of the worldʼs military spending whilst so-called “adversary” powers—Iran, Iraq, North Korea—account for an absolutely trivial amount.
Graph showing annual military expenditures of U.S. and allies in proportion to the annual military expenditures of communist and “rogue nations.” Be prepared to be surprised.