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Not Traditional, Original

11.76 The Waldenses, Why Believers Complied With Roman Catholic Doctrine, Bans on Reading the Bible, The Inquisition and other Repressive Measures

Waldo (also called Valdez) was a prosperous merchant of Lyons in 1176 AD. At that time, he was affected by the song of a wandering minstrel who was singing about the best way to God. He was affected by this verse:

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  (Mat 19:21 WEB)

This verse struck right at the heart of Waldo. He set up modest funding for his wife and daughters to live on and gave the rest to the poor. He then left his family. He wore poor raiment. He chose to live by whatever people gave him and went away preaching.

Remember that Western Bibles then were written in Latin, of course, while Eastern Bibles were mainly Greek. Waldo was not trained to read these languages, but he got clergymen friends to make translations for him of at least portions. These are what are known as vulgar translations. A vulgar translation is something that is translated into the ordinary, common language of the day which for Waldo was that of southern France around the end of the 12th century.

Waldo procured his vulgar New Testament and proceeded to study it intently as well as spread around copies. Within a year he was joined by both men and women and they all set out to preach repentance, calling themselves “poor in spirit”.

In 1179 they asked the third Lateran Council for permission to preach. The Council didn’t consider them heretical at that point but they did take them as ignorant laymen and Pope Alexander III denied permission.

Let’s compare the response of Pope Alexander III and the council to that of Annas the high priest and the Jewish leaders in the book of Acts:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and had perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled. They recognized that they had been with Jesus…They called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.  (Act 4:13 WEB)

There is a pattern here.  Both the high priest with Jewish leaders and the pope with council leaders elevated the importance of intellect and tradition above following the simplicity that is in the scriptures.  They only respected intelligent, learned people.  Common people without higher education in the field they called ignorant and rejected them.  This was their standard and while they may have been aware that these ignorant people were doing something spiritually significant, they didn’t respect it and dismissed them as ignorant.

And it’s not that Waldo was able to see the way back to everything in the apostles’ tradition. There’s no evidence that Waldo’s followers manifested Holy Spirit, believed in the baptism of the Spirit even, or prophecy. They still kept the rituals of confession and communion as well as Orthodox doctrines like the deity of Christ. But it was a start. They saw some things that they recognized as unbiblical and they sought the change them.  That’s how all reformation and restoration movements are. People’s eyes are opened that something or some things in the current system are not the word of God, and they seek to change to a better practice that is more biblical.

Just as the Roman Catholic Church has incrementally built up a system over many centuries that has moved away from the purity of the word of God people have instituted reform and restoration incrementally. Waldo was just one in a line of men like Jan Hus and John Wycliff that were addressing deviations from Scripture before the major reformers. Their work culminated in men like Martin Luther and John Calvin bringing the process into fruition by redefining for people concepts such as redemption, grace, and faith and starting churches that taught those things.  With the reformers came the desire and drive for the people in the church to return to Scripture as the authority for faith and practice.

It’s awesome what all these men started. But their work was just the start. While Waldo did follow a model of universal priesthood, Luther and Calvin did not abandon the clergy/laity distinctions and a lot of the other unbiblical practices. They did not embrace speaking in tongues and the manifestations of the spirit in their practice, rather crediting those practices just to the original apostles’ time. Luther certainly challenged the role of philosophy in the church but he still accepted philosophy as part of theology. All of these men are part of the start of the return to original Christianity, but the church is still far from it.  Reformation and restoration has been an incremental process, and it is still going on. Waldo was an early leader.

Waldo and his followers considered the pope’s refusal false in the eyes of God and chose to continue preaching their message to the people. Pope Lucius III excommunicated them in 1184.

Waldo’s group came to be called the Waldenses.  They were later lumped into the group of heretical groups by the Church, but they weren’t dualists, believing in multiple gods, or living licentious lives like a number of the other groups. In fact, they would be considered as orthodox as any Protestant church today.

Waldo and his small group were soon growing a considerable following who chose to leave the Roman Catholic Church. Another group called the Humiliati was also interested in living a life that was common and penitent.  They also were excommunicated by the pope and now joined the Waldenses.

Very important to us, the chief tenet of the Waldenses was that the Bible, especially the New Testament, was the sole rule of belief and practice for the church. They sought to follow it to the letter. According to New Testament teaching, they went out two by two, living on the gifts of the hearers. They rejected the mass and prayers for the dead, they denied purgatory. They rejected most sacraments. They defended lay preaching. They ordained bishops, priests, and deacons from their own ministry. They denied the privileges of the priest’s office and proclaimed that any righteous man could perform the duties in alignment with the priesthood of all believers.

The Roman Church’s position at this time was that only Roman Catholic ordained priests could perform the sacraments, and it didn’t matter whether they were worthy or not, the sacraments would still be valid. The Waldenses objected to this doctrine

They had both a large following in public, and a number of secret followers who appeared to remain loyal to the Roman Catholic Church but were supporting the Waldenses.

Conflicts of opinion between the original faction of the Waldenses and the Lombard branch grew and resulted in a split by 1210 A.D. The group was not able to resolve the differences. In 1208 Pope Innocent the third had countered by organizing the pauperes catholici, a new religious order under the strict oversight of the Roman Catholic Church that had some similarities to the Waldenses. This was successful in retrieving some of the previously excommunicated people from the group, but by no means, all.  This new group did not last long though.

The Waldenses was an attempt like others for believers to get back to the word of God.  They didn’t go all the way back to scripture in everything but they were moving in the right direction and the Catholic church continued making moves to stamp it out. Missionary efforts failed, and Innocent III started an actual crusade against them in 1209 A.D. This resulted in 20 years of warfare!

In 1229 a synod was held in Toulouse. That synod went to the extreme step of forbidding the laity to even possess the Scriptures except for a few items used in services. All translations were denounced. While no universal ban was formally issued against Bible reading by the laity this tactic was used in other places and served as a deterrent.

The synod at Toulouse is also significant because it is credited with being the beginning of the Inquisition. The topic of the punishment of heretics had been an ongoing debate in light of the Waldenses as well as other previous groups such as the Cathari and the Manichaeans. While higher-ups in the church didn’t always support killing heretics the death penalty was clearly established for this crime (heresy) by Roman law. In recent times heretics had been killed by fire or at the hands of mobs. Peter I of Aragon had formally ordered the execution by fire of heretics in 1197. Pope Innocent III had declared that heresy, as treason against God was worse than treason against king or government. So, all of those kinds of punishments for heresy were already in play by the time of the synod at Toulouse.

The synod at Toulouse decided to start the systematic investigation and punishment of heresy, the start of the Inquisition. Inquisitors from the Dominican order were drafted. A papal bull by Innocent IV empowered the inquisitors with the power to torture. They were also allowed to confiscate property which was then distributed among lay authorities. Both the Cathari and the Waldenses were greatly repressed in the century following the start of the Inquisition.  However, the Waldenses did survive in pockets, mainly the Alps, until the Reformation when they began to practice more freely.

For the Protestant and Restoration worlds, this lesson explains the difficulty in even attempting to return to the word of God in life and practice and why it has been so hard for so long. Doing something for so long in the culture also makes changing it a hard habit to break. Right or wrong, it becomes ingrained in the fabric of people’s lives. Roman Catholic tradition was beaten into the fabric of Christian culture for most of the life of Christianity. And what were people going to compare Roman Catholicism to? Even reading the bible was a dangerous activity in many of those times.

Yet the Waldenses sprang up.  The Waldenses’ first priority was striving to follow the teachings of the New Testament. They challenged the sacraments, the teachings,  the authority of the Roman Church to decide such matters.  Starting with Roman government involvement in the running of the church the punishment for disagreeing with the established church was life-changing, to say the least, and not in a good way. Besides the death penalty mentioned above, if they did let you live, you could lose your job whether in the church or not. You could lose your possessions. There was the death penalty.  And a group that succeeded in spite of those weapons could see war waged against them.

Forced compliance with Roman Catholic doctrine resulting in various severe punishments started all the way back to Constantine and escalated to the Inquisition where Bishops were charged with rooting out heresy and removing it or they could lose their jobs as well as be punished.  The Inquisition brought a new level of persecution to those who disagreed with Roman Catholic doctrine. Inquisitors who were allowed to remain anonymous started a reign of terror where they tortured people for their disagreement with the supposedly apostolic decisions of the church.  Remember so many of these decisions were called apostolic, even the decision to have these punishments and the Inquisition.   Confiscating heretics property which different parties could get a share of added fuel to the fire.

The Roman Catholic Church used the big carrot of proclaiming themselves the continuation of Jesus’ and his apostles’ ministry in everything they did, but they carried a huge stick for anyone who disagreed with them as seen in the penalties they inflicted on those they proclaimed heretical.

In the Roman Catholic Church, there was no right to free speech even to people that didn’t seem that heretical like the Waldenses.  The Roman Catholic Church policed what people said, what they read, employed extreme measures, including starting crusades against groups proclaimed heretical as well as the Inquisition, in order to maintain its grip on controlling what was taught about anything Christian.

And, as far as the Waldenses, the Roman Catholic Church sent an army after these brave believers who only wanted to get away from the increasingly unbiblical practices of the Catholic Church and return to the simplicity of the Bible. Only a small fraction of them survived until the Reformation.

Bibliography

A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker , Scribner, New York, 1958, p. 229-232

HERESIES, Heresy and Orthodoxy In The History Of The Church, Harold O. J. Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass, 2000, p, 262-264

The Story Of Christianity, Justo L. Gonzales, Harper one, New York, 2010, P. 358, 363, 367

Encyclopedia Brittanica, Waldenses religious movement, Waldenses | Description, History, & Beliefs | Britannica

last edited 8/17/2021

August 16th, 2021 Posted by | Movements | no comments

03.25.1 The Great Councils Continued, Finishing the Development of Trinitarian Doctrine and Related Issues; Over 500 Years of Debate on the Nature of Christ and the Trinity

This article does not include a comparison to original Christianity in the matters discussed.  It presents what happened in these matters along with occasionally reporting what the writers of these histories deemed important for our understanding.  Remember the point of this website is to see how different doctrines developed over time, and how they compare to original Christianity in order to understand how we got so many divisions and what we must do to restore the church. This article continues to look at how the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, and Mary as the Mother of God became part of Christianity.  Later articles will discuss how these concepts align with the tradition of the apostles in original Christianity.  The goal here is for the reader to be able to review the historical material and start evaluating for themselves whether God ordained each of the decisions and decrees.  One of the questions of this website is where did the seeds for all this division come from?  What patterns of thinking allow for all the division we have in the church?

Remember, that by the time of Nicea I a major shift had occurred where Christianity was now being discussed much more philosophically and intellectually than in New Testament times. (See Philosophy in Christianity – Welcome Addition or Intrusion of Worldly Reasoning?) The previous article on this topic talks about how the previous councils had debated these issues to this point. In the seventh century, the issues of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity were still not totally resolved.

So, accordingly, in the seventh century, a group called the Monothyletists held that Jesus’ will was a single will, a merger of Jesus’ human nature with his divine nature.  However, this was at odds with this more dominant ideology (called Dyothelitism) that Jesus had two wills, both a human will and a divine will that was needed to make sense of the Trinity.  That prevailing ideology eventually won the day and it was declared that Jesus had two wills, a human will, and a divine will.  Constantinople III declared just that. Part of the doctrines of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity is that Jesus had both a human will and a divine will. The sixth Great Council and the final one on the development of Trinitarian doctrine (with some exceptions) was Constantinople III in 680 AD.

The issue is named Monothelitism, a fancy word meaning “one will”.  The question was how many wills did Jesus Christ have? You or I may only have one will but as far as Jesus Christ is concerned there was a great debate.

The Bible doesn’t say much about Jesus’ will except for this verses like these:

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. (Joh 6:38 WEB)

That is one reference to Jesus’ will. It talks about one will. So, there is no biblical teaching here that says Jesus had two wills.  Or look at this famous verse:

saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luk 22:42 WEB)

Here we have two wills, but they are not both Jesus’.  This verse contrasts Jesus’ will and the Father’s will.  Look at what happens next:

An angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. Being in agony he prayed more earnestly. His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. (Luk 22:43-44 WEB)

Do you think that it was easy for Jesus to face what he was faced with?  No, Luke writes his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down.  That is some intense trepidation!  An angel was sent to strengthen Jesus to be able to do the will of the Father.

Jesus wanted to always do the will of the Father, but we read here that if he had his preference it would have been done some other way.  In any event, this verse only supports him having one will.

Nevertheless, Ligonier.org says that the Dyothelytism doctrine was simply derived this way.  Jesus had two natures, ergo he must have two wills.[1] Another site writes:

Brilliant theologians of that time understood the great importance to theology that Jesus possesses two wills, one divine and one human, since he is truly God and truly human. All branches of Christianity have embraced this doctrine as important and orthodox theology.[2]

No biblical exegesis there, just a statement that brilliant theologians understood it so it must be so. See the acknowledgment that this doctrine was created purely because it was needed to make the Trinity work.  And there is that claim that this is universally accepted so it must be true. (It may be universally accepted among Trinitarians. Unitarians and Bitarians may differ.)

Basically, what it boils down to is this concerning the Trinity:  If Jesus was God then he had to have the will of God.  Here’s the conundrum: if Jesus only has one will and if Jesus is God and if God cannot be tempted and Jesus was tempted, then there is a contradiction as Jesus had to have the will of God.  So Jesus also had to also have a human will that could be tempted. The website explains, “the two-wills model (Dyothelitism) is more accurate to the biblical and theological evidence for the incarnation.”  So, it comes down to the two wills model is the one that fits with the Trinity even if there is no scriptural support.

As there is no scriptural record of Jesus having two wills and no discussion of his will being any different than other person’s will in scripture this is another extrabiblical element of the Trinity.  It is an example of inductive logic being used to explain scripture in light of the a priori assumption of a Triune God with Jesus being God the Son, and thus explaining how his will must work to fit with what scripture says about him.

Does it fit with good hermeneutics?  It’s questionable. It certainly is different than the way “will” is used in all the other places.  “Will” in the verse is the Greek word thelema (Strong’s G2307) which means choice, decision, will and is derived from G2309, meaning determination. By this doctrine, Jesus having two wills is the only case in the bible of a person having two wills.

As an aside it must be noted that the word “will” is used in English translations many times in the sense of something happening in the future, i. e., will sue, will forgive, will profess but the word is produced in English because it indicates future action (tense).  Those verses do not have the corresponding Greek word.

But, in talking about Jesus’ will, it is only talked in the singular. So, it is unique to the Trinity to have two wills in one person in Scripture

Not that everyone had been in unison on this or any of the issues. Throughout the centuries Popes and bishops were condemned for taking the wrong side. Part of the findings of Constantinople III was the condemnation of a prior pope, Honorius I, for believing Jesus had just one will, the current issue, just as the council at Ephesus condemned Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, and Nicea 1 condemned Arius, Eusebius of Caesarea and many other bishops including Lucian of Antioch and Paul of Samosata over issues that were ruled against them.[3]

According to Belitto in The General Councils Monothelitism was the last great issue that needed to be resolved in order for the church to have an adequate understanding of the nature of Christ, the Trinity, and Mary’s standing as the Mother of God. According to him, it took six Great councils, numerous local synods, and councils, and at least 355 years of councils to develop these doctrines to the true apostolic faith.

So, in review, we’re going to look at what is known as the Chalcedon Definition which encapsulates definitions decreed in the previous general councils concerning these doctrines that are relegated to the highest importance in the church.

“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 you 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.

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 he himself has taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers has passed on to us.

This definition is an amalgamation of decrees ironed out in the councils at Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon.

Of course, those are the general councils, and it would be remiss to not mention that between the general councils were numerous synods and smaller councils that were also working on these very issues over these hundreds of years. In the case of Constantinople III, Pope Agatho first called for local synods to address the issue.  Two known local synods were Milan and England. The findings of those synods were discussed in a Roman synod. Then the Pope consulted with Emperor Constantine IV and General Council Constantinople III was convened.[4]

That is a lot of people talking in a lot of meetings over a lot of years to iron out that short statement.

For insight on how some historians view these developments I’m going to quote Justo L Gonzalez. Gonzalez in his book, The Story of Christianity, acknowledges that the goal of these decrees was not purely biblical, rather, in setting the limits for what these doctrines teach they discuss things outside the realm of biblical thinking. First, he writes:

 “It will be readily seen that this Definition does not seek to “define” the union in the sense of explaining how it took place, but rather in the sense of setting the limits beyond which error lies. Thus, it rejected the notion that the union destroyed “the difference of the two natures” and also the view that the Savior is “divided into two persons” – thus rejecting the most extreme Alexandrian and Antiochene positions.”

Gonzalez acknowledges the extrabiblical nature of the decrees.  Extrabiblical refers to things outside the Bible. ApologeticsIndex.org defines extrabiblical as “Information or content outside the Bible. Thus, any form of knowledge or experience which gives us information concerning God, His Work or His Will, which is not directly quoted in scripture.”[5] Gonzalez is clear that this manner of speech, the way things were spelled out by the Councils, was far different from the scriptures.

Gonzalez here, as do others,  acknowledges that these decrees go outside the pure framework of Scripture. The Deity of Christ, the Trinity, and Mary as God’s mother were generated with extra-biblical patterns of thought, mainly philosophy, and were the result of many years of intellectual, theological debate.

“But, given the manner in which the issue was posed, it is difficult to see what else the bishops gathered at Chalcedon could have done in order to safeguard the reality of the incarnation.”[6]

This statement nevertheless defends the methods used to arrive at these decrees as one of necessity. The implication is that these doctrines are too important to be limited by the Bible.  These doctrines, the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Theotokos, are too important to be restricted to biblical thinking only.   In the common vernacular Gonzalez is saying that the end justified the means.

And, at least among the religious elite, these decrees became new scripture.  In fact, Pope Gregory I declared the first four general councils to have the same authority as the four Gospels.[20]

Next, for more context, we are going to look at the development of the doctrines of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity prior to the councils because these issues didn’t just pop up around 325 AD.

Williston Walker in A History of the Christian Church describes the process of resolving the issues of the deity of Christ and the Trinity as one of a long intellectual development and debate among various people and groups starting with Hermas around 140 AD and then Tertullian around 195 AD.  Tertullian first talked about three persons in one Godhead distributing the unity into a Trinity.[7] But, prior to Tertullian, adoptionist Christology (Jesus as an adopted son) was dominant as late as 140 Ad with Hermas.[8]  At that time a Trinity meant three Gods.

About the same time, the Montanists’ embracing of the gospel of John and the doctrine of the Logos as an outpouring of Spirit saw an opposite reaction from the group called Monarchians (rejecting the Logos as God maintaining the One God single personhood of the Father.).

That sprung up two group viewpoints; dynamic Monarchianism and modalistic Monarchianism.  Dynamic Monarchianism was more popular in the East.  Paul of Samosata was a famous representative of this.  He described the Logos as the Son of God, but also an impersonal attribute of the Father.  No Trinity there, in his view.  Eventually, Paul of the Samosata was ex-communicated for his views.

An overall more numerous group than the dynamic Monarchians was the Modalistic Monarchian group.  Their perspective was that with all the pagan gods competing in the religious marketplace it was of primary importance to emphasize the unity of God. Noetus, an example of the Modalistic Monarchians, taught that the Son was actually the Father himself, and it was, in fact, the Father who was born as Jesus, suffered and died on the cross.[9]

A very famous member of this group, Sabellius, taught that the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit were just three names of the same God. Sabellius was pretty much flatly rejected in Rome but found a following in the East.  This belief came to be known as Sabellianism.

Of course, the losing side in these debates was labeled heresy, and their proponents were called heretics, and as a result, they suffered in various forms including removal from their positions.

Justin Martyr around 150 A.D. was one of the first to teach what is called the Logos Christology. In the Logos Christology Jesus Christ always existed, but before his actual birth, he existed in the mind of God. (Jesus was not co-eternal at that time.) Hippolytus, around the beginning of the third century A.D. was a great advocate of the Logos Christology and a great opponent of the Monarchians, both kinds, in this intellectual battle. Justin Martyr is assumed to have died a martyr, and his successor, Kallistos, tried to find a compromise to Justin’s ideas and continue his work. His compromise was to call Father, Son, and Logos all just names of one indivisible God. According to him, the Father is invisible, the Son is visible, while the Father is the Spirit in the Son.[10] A side effect of this stance is that while previously the Logos was considered starting with Jesus’s birth, now the Logos was considered eternal. Here we have the switch from a beginning for the Logos to being co-eternal with no beginning.

Kallistos’ Christology was “a compromise which recognized a preexistent Logos in Christ, even if it identified that Logos with the Father; it insisted on the identity of that which indwelt Jesus with God; and it claimed the human Jesus, raised to divinity by the Father, and made one with him, thus really showing a distinction between the Father and the Son, while denying in words that one exists.” This compromise was taken by Tertullian, further refined, and called the Trinity in his treatise called Against Praxeas.

What we see with all of this is one viewpoint after another trying to exactly understand  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit considering the concepts of John chapter 1 with other verses that talk about Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This debate allowed for extra-biblical content, and the use of philosophy to come to conclusions.  And as we are seeing, there were many competing viewpoints in a heated debate over the centuries.

While Catholic theologians depict the 355 years between Nicea I and Constantinople III as the period of development of the doctrines of the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and Theotokos, what we’re seeing is that the debate actually started almost 2 centuries before Nicea I. The change from Jesus being considered a man, the only begotten son of God with a beginning, to Jesus being considered God the Son, co-eternal with the Father and Holy Spirit with two natures and two wills took about five and a half centuries of debate and decrees. And it was quite a debate.

Along the way it was confounding, it was confusing, and it left a lot of Christians, including bishops and popes, wondering which side to take. For example, let’s look at the period around Hippolytus, circa 200 AD.  Hippolytus was considered the most learned Christian writer in Rome of his day. He was a “commentator, chronicler, calculator of Easter dates, apologists, and opponent of heretics”[11]. Notice the intellectual capacities that are being praised there with no mention of the Spirit. This was an intellectual debate among the finest thinkers in the church. Hippolytus did not agree with either of the Monarchian schools of thought and was at the forefront of a hotly waged battle over these ideas. Bishop Zephyrinus, Pope at the beginning of the third century, according to Walker, “hardly knew what to do, although he leaned toward the Monarchian side”.  So, the Pope around 200 AD hardly knew what to believe.  The leader of the Roman Catholic Church, a learned man, was unable to make a decision on the matter, it was so confusing.

Further developments kept coming for Kallistos’ compromise of Christological concepts. Novation around 240 A.D. wrote the treatise Trinity in Latin but it was little more than Tertullian’s concept although he did present it as the “only normal and legitimate interpretation of the apostles’ Creed.[12] Novation also used the terminology “communion of substance” describing the relationship between the Father. and the Son. So, centuries after Christ’s death we see the introduction of the idea “of the same substance” which played a key role at Nicea.

Gradually over this long period of time, a cohesive opinion among the elite thinkers and church leaders came into being. It’s important to recognize that it was cohesive but not universally accepted, or even in the majority. The majority of Christians at this time were Unitarian, not Trinitarian.[13]   Thus, Walker documents this intellectual debate going on for over a century and a half before Nicea. But, by the time Nicea comes around, there is this cohesive theological compromise with a lot of the details of the Nicene Creed. Jesus is of one substance with the Father.  As the Logos Jesus is coeternal with the Father.  The groundwork had been done for a  doctrine to be named to end the debate despite intense, fiery, intellectual debate going on for nearly two centuries before Nicea I.

Nevertheless, despite what appears to be a dominant pro-Trinity ideology, in reality, Trinitarians were far outnumbered by Unitarians at the start of the third century.  The Unitarians (God as one person) were numbered among mainly two groups, the Adoptionists, and the Modalists.  And people on both sides of the disagreement looked to different philosophies for support.  The Adoptionists used Aristotelian philosophy for support, the Modalists looked to Stoic philosophy while the Trinitarians used Plato’s philosophy. Still, the Unitarians had a large majority.[13]  This is documentation that Greek philosophy was instrumental in the formulation of these doctrines.

Next, we will look at the role of Emperor Constantine in this matter.  You can’t talk about the Council of Nicaea without talking about the man who convened the Council, Constantine the Great, and both his religious and political machinations. The beginning of the fourth century A.D. marks a groundbreaking time in the history of Christianity. In the latter half of the third century the number of Christians had continued to grow and efforts to eradicate the faith through persecutions, while popping up, had proven futile in the Empire.

However. in the year 303 AD the terrible persecution by Emperor Diocletian happened. Terror reigned for Christians. There was imprisonment, torture, and killing. The tombs of martyrs were desecrated. Books were burned. Churches were destroyed. And it wasn’t over shortly. After Diocletian left office in 305, Galerius and his nephew Maximinus continued this reign of terror until 311.

Then Galerius, before his agonizing death, issued an edict of eliminating the requirement for Christians to worship Roman gods. What all this did was remind the Christians that they were just a small group whose legal standing was iffy depending on the emperor.

But that all changed with the appearance of Constantine the Great. A great commander he was able to unify the Empire by winning the Civil War that ensued when Constantius died in 306. Before defeating Maxentius Constantine had a dream to paint the Christian symbol, chi-rho, in one version of the story, and in another version of the story Constantine’s troops saw a great cross in the sky before the battle. From that point on Christians had an advocate who was at the top of the Roman Empire, the actual Emperor, and everything changed.[14]

To some Constantine was an apostle whose efforts to build Christianity Empire-wide were evangelical. He moved Empire funds from pagan religions to Christianity to fund massive programs. He built churches, he provided for the poor, the sick, widows, and orphans. He worked to bring the governmental policies of his empire more in alignment with Christian teachings. He was an advocate of the most powerful kind determined to bring Christianity into prosperity in the Empire.

For example, Eusebius of Caesarea, a contemporary of Constantine, accredited Constantine with God working directly in his life on behalf of Christians. He wrote that Constantine and his subordinate Licinius were led by God to declare war against the evil tyrants and led them to a glorious victory.[15]  Eusebius credited Constantine’s power to win as being God-given. He wrote how Constantine credited God as the author of all his success. Eusebius writes glowing praise of Constantine as an instrument of God to bring peace to Christians in the Empire in the chapter entitled “Constantine And Peace” in his Church History. Eusebius gives Constantine the title “friend of God” and calls him “the emperor beloved of God”.[16]

Others point out that Constantine was not the saint that many proclaimed him as. He could be brutal in enforcing decrees. Some sources say he called for the murder of his wife Fausta and son Crispus in 326.[17]

That was the thinking in calling Nicea I anyway, but as we have said, it took more of that kind of debate for about three and a half centuries to get close to calling it done.  And, even then, challenges to the Trinitarian doctrine reared their head from time to time. Unitarian and Bitarian proponents seem to have always been around despite the church using unscriptural extreme measures including the death penalty to attempt to force compliance. Unitarians and Bitarians exist to this day, even if in the minority.

Gonzales in The Story Of Christianity writes that the conversion of Constantine was critical to resolving all the confusion and myriad debates over issues because it was now possible for the government to intervene and resolve the disputes once and for all. “The state soon began to use its power to force theological agreement upon Christians.”[18]

But, Constantine and the Roman Empire needed a unified Christianity, not one embroiled in a heated debate about the nature of the Savior.  Thus, Constantine called the Nicea Council to decide it once and for all.  At least, that was the hope.

And lastly, it must be mentioned that while these decrees and all general council decrees, for that matter, are acknowledged as having extra-biblical thought material, they are credited by Catholic and Orthodox theologians as part of the true apostolic faith by the doctrine of apostolic succession. (See Apostolic Succession – Biblical or Not?) Bishops, according to apostolic succession can call a synod where their true faith will prevail in declaring the true doctrine, and also the heretic will be declared.  Anyone not espousing the true doctrine they determine will be anathema (cursed).[19]

It cannot be underestimated how important this doctrine of apostolic succession is.  How authoritative are these Council decrees as compared to Scripture? Yes, Pope Gregory I declared the first four general councils to have the same authority as the four Gospels.[20]  In Catholic theology, just as the authenticity of the New Testament is given by the authorship of those documents by the apostles or their agents, the same authenticity of the council decrees is guaranteed by the doctrine of apostolic succession.  It’s as if the apostles wrote the decrees themselves in the eyes of the Catholic Church and its theologians, and many others.

The first six general councils, Nicea I through Constantinople III developed the doctrine that resolved the disputes over the nature of Christ, the Trinity, and the status of Mary as Mother of God in the eyes of Catholic and Orthodox theologians.  As stated above it is acknowledged that extra-biblical reasoning and centuries of debate among philosophically oriented intellectuals were used to resolve these issues. But, because of its belief in apostolic succession, the Catholic church confidently declared these issues resolved in the true apostolic faith. And again, the decrees of the councils, especially the first four, and even though they include extra-biblical material and reasoning were declared as authoritative as the Gospels.

[1] Does Jesus Have One or Two Wills?, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/does-jesus-have-one-or-two-wills/

[2] https://equip.sbts.edu/publications/journals/journal-of-theology/a-model-of-jesus-christs-two-wills-in-view-of-theology-proper-and-anthropology/

[3] A Chronology of the Arian Controversy (legalhistorysources.com)

[4] The General Councils, A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicea to Vatican II, Christopher M. Belitto, Paulist Press, New Jersey, 2002, P. 29

[5] Extra-Biblical extrabiblical (apologeticsindex.org)

[6] The Story of Christianity, Justo L Gonzalez, Harper Collins, New York, 2010, p. 301-302

[7] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, p. 66

[8] Walker, p.67

[9] Walker, P. 69

[10] Walker, P. 70

[11] Walker, P. 70

[12] Walker, P. 71

[13] The Encyclopaedia Britannica Vol.23 :  Internet Archive p.963

[14] The Story Of Christianity, David Bentley Hart, P. 50-53

[15] Eusebius, The Church History, Translation and commentary by Paul L Maier, Kregel,

[16] Eusebius, The Church History, Translation and commentary by Paul L Maier, Kregel, P. 331 – 333

[17] https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/S0017383500029156#:~:text=Constantine%20did%20kill%20his%20wife,father%20he%20punished%20his%20son.

[18] The Story Of Christianity Justo L Gonzalez, HarperOne, New York, 2010, P. 181

[19] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepursuitofholiness/2020/09/1198-apostolicsuccession/

[20] The General Councils, A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicea to Vatican II, Christopher M. Belitto, Paulist Press, New Jersey, 2002, P. 27

last edited 11/11/21

July 23rd, 2021 Posted by | Movements | no comments

03.25 The Great General Councils Begin for the Purpose of Doctoral Development and Other Issues

This is just an overview of the beginning of the movement in the church to have general councils without addressing how they compare to original Christianity.

325 AD marks the year of the beginning of this movement in the Church, the great General Councils of the church.  It marks Nicea I as the first general council since Jerusalem around 50 AD.

Interestingly, the eight general councils from Nicea I to Constantinople 3 are considered as a unit in the development of the church. The reason for this is because they are considered to be a series of meetings from which the essential Christian doctrine was developed. They are also considered to be a unit because, despite the decrees issued at each one, the issues being discussed were never fully resolved as new questions and issues arose with each decree. The task of these councils was to “hammer out in words the central mysteries of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, of the Trinity’s essence, and Mary’s relationship to Jesus as God and human being.”[1]

These councils are the story of how the above doctrines were decided, became so precisely defined,  and became so dominant.

The problem was that the precise nature of our Lord Jesus Christ was not agreed upon, and this lack of unity meant that there was not one church with one body of doctrine that the Empire could call Christianity.  The councils began with the mission to resolve that problem.  It was decided to develop the doctrine to decide on clear answers.

These first eight councils span about 355 years to resolve these issues above.  No matter how clear the decrees were from each Council obstacles arose after each one. In fact, some of the decrees were completely reversed, and even re-reversed. For example, after Arius was condemned as a heretic for not agreeing that Jesus was co-equal with the Father, there were groups that praised him as a hero, and his opponent, Athanasius, was exiled a number of times from his bishopric as these reversals happened.[2]

It is important to note that opposed to the first council at Jerusalem there were no prophets and apostles attending the General Councils as those offices were considered replaced by bishops in Catholic doctrine.  The emperor often convened the council while the Roman empire was in power.  Bishops presented theological arguments.  Theological concepts down to precise vocabulary were battled over until a precisely worded decree might be issued.   And if it was issued, it would also be declared that it was anathema to speak or even think against it.  Yet, the disputes continued, and decrees were even sometimes reversed.  That is the legacy of the first General Councils, especially in the first millennium.

It is important to note that this process was started by none other than Constantine the Emperor himself as he called the Empire’s bishops together at Nicea I where he led with a strong hand.  Whereas later canon law now dictates that only a Pope can convene a council, the Pope at that time, Sylvester 1, didn’t even attend the council although he did send representatives.  This set a precedent that continued at many of the councils in the first millennium. The head of the government, not the bishops, called and ran much of the councils. [3]

It must also be noted that Constantine by 325 A.D. was decidedly Christian, but it had been a slow process. As Emperor his concern was the unifying of the Empire and that included religious unification. Previously, it had been the policy where all gods (plural) were to be acceptable in the Empire. (Christianity was illegal because it didn’t allow for other gods.) There’s not a lot written about Constantine’s Christianity before 325 A.D. other than he appears to be have been making stormy progress towards Christianity. He’s described as “passionate, turbulent, and superstitious”, and he had professed allegiance to the sun God up until about 323 A.D, hardly making him an experienced Christian theological scholar.[4]

This new dynamic of Christian acceptance, however, was a radical departure from the first centuries of Roman rule where the Emperor and his government persecuted Christians.  And the result was that Christians were able to live their lives without persecution.  And that was celebrated.

Of particular note at Nicea I, is the use of a non-biblical Latin word, homosousias, in Athanasius’s statement defining the nature of our Lord. Homosousias means “of the same substance”. This word, not found in the Bible, was used to establish that Jesus is coequal with his Father and co-eternal with him.  Also, part of the logic given with that was that if only God could save human beings and Jesus isn’t God, then Jesus didn’t save human beings.  The finest theological minds in the empire presented their arguments, and a decision was made.  Anyone disagreeing at that point was declared a heretic.  The majority held that Athanasius was right. The very powerful emperor was impressed with Athanasius’ argument also.  Arius and the minority of bishops disagreeing with Athanasius were declared heretical.

Despite what is written in some historical accounts, Nicea I church fathers “had only said that they believed in the Holy Spirit, without applying any of the language used to describe the Father’s relationship with the Son to the Spirit.” So, no, the doctrine of the Trinity was not developed at Nicea. (It wouldn’t be until Constantinople I where they defined the Spirit as “proceeding forth from the Father, co-worshiped and co-glorified with the Father and Son.”[5])

Theological language, vocabulary, and logic were at the center of the issue.  Also, western bishops spoke mainly Latin while Eastern bishops spoke mainly Greek and there isn’t always a one-to-one correspondence in translation to boot.

Again, Nicea I didn’t really resolve the issue of who Christ was exactly. The Arian camp still had followers and started promoting the words “homoios” which means “like the father” and “homoi-ousios” also indicating Jesus was like the Father to combat the Athanasian term that was so well received.   Then, after Constantine, the empire was divided among his three sons. The sons allowed the exiled bishops to return. At one point, an Arian bishop, Gregory of Cappadocia, was installed in Alexandria in place of the now exiled Athanasius. This was quite the political quagmire because the empire was now divided under different emperors and the different factions were divided over the Arian controversy.[6]  From this, we see that this issue was so important and had to be decided, as far as the Empire was concerned, because the dispute was part of what was destabilizing the Empire.

As a result, the next council, Constantinople I, picked right up again on the controversy.  One major effort of that council was to reestablish the Nicene creed as the official creed of the church.  According to Belitto, the concept of the holy spirit was advanced closer to the concept of “Homo-ousios”, of one substance with the father, but was not identified at that point as on the level of the Father and the Son.[7]

Walker in his work describes the issue as intellectual with the ultimate Nicene victory as an “intellectual victory.”[8]

The next council was at Ephesus. After Constantinople I, the Bishop of Constantinople, Nestorius tried to reconcile the resulting questions of how the human and divine natures worked. After all, now Jesus is both God and man. And how does that work with his mother, Mary? Nestorius said that Mary was the mother of the human Jesus, but not the mother of God. Cyril of Alexandria disputed that view saying that made Mary only the mother of half a person. The Council at Ephesus condemned Nestorius calling him “a new Judas”.

Cyril had made his proclamation, however, without any of the Eastern bishops or the Pope’s delegates attending.  The Eastern bishops turned around and condemned Cyril.  Then the Pope’s delegates came and nullified both councils with their proclamations.

Negotiations continued over the next two years. The result of the negotiations was a proclamation condemning Nestorius again. In the proclamation, Mary was for the first time recognized as the “theotokos”, the mother of God as Jesus’ divine nature and human nature still only represented one person.

Statement by statement these doctrines were developed.  For example, the proclamation also declared that it was Jesus’ human nature that suffered, but that his divine nature could not suffer.   And the Ephesus Council developed the concept of the “hypostatic union” by which Jesus is human and divine natures were fused into one person.[9]

Look at this carefully worded result:

“… We do not say that the nature of the word was changed and became flesh, nor that he was turned into a whole man made of body and soul. Rather do we claim that the Word in an unspeakable, inconceivable manner united to himself hypostatically flesh enlivened by a rational soul, and so became man and was called son of man, not by God’s will alone or good pleasure, nor by the assumption of a person alone. Rather did two different natures come together to form a unity, and from both arose one Christ, one Son. It was not as though the distinctness of the natures was destroyed by this union, but divinity and humanity together made perfect for us one Lord and one Christ, together marvelously and mysteriously combining to form a unity.”[10]

The Council of Chalcedon in 451AD further refined the delicately worded concepts of who Christ is in his humanity and divinity.

“… We all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the Virgin God bearer, as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, acknowledged into natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the two natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person in a single subsistent being; he is not parted were divided into two persons, but is one in the same only begotten son, God, word, or Jesus Christ…”[11]

And as other councils the Chalcedon Council participants thought that their work was done, and issued a statement like other councils that it was forbidden to even think other than what the council declared:

“Since we have formulated these things with all possible accuracy and attention, the sacred and universal synod decreed that no one is permitted to produce, or even to write down or compose, any other creed or to think or to teach otherwise.”[12]

The next council really shows a lot of how integrated politics, government, and church doctrine were in these days of the church councils. The Council of Constantinople II was called by Emperor Justinian. Amazingly, Justinian’s wife, Empress Theodora, had favored Monophysitism, and even helped get the Vigilius elected pope in hopes of reversing Chalcedon!  Monophysitism is one of the doctrines that had been labeled a heresy in these discussions in previous councils. It basically states that Jesus just really just had a divine nature, but there was still a strong contingent for it.   Again, the emperor, not the pope, convened the council. Again, the pope did not attend, and Justinian reconfirmed the previous doctrine of the hypostatic union of two natures in one person.  Also, numerous condemnations were issued about both people and doctrines.  But the pope refused to comply!  This initiated a standoff between the Emperor and the Pope.  As usual, the emperor prevailed and the pope backed down.

The issues evolved but the councils continued in a similar fashion. There were a lot of politics as especially in the first millennium the emperor often ran the Council which consisted of a lot of hammering out concepts not precisely defined in the scripture down to precisely defining the meaning of words. With those decrees came more decrees that if you didn’t agree with them, you became a heretic. This shows the workings of the Churches’ development of doctrine through the Councils for many centuries. There are 21 General Councils overall and this brief overview shows the nature of them, especially of the first millennium.  General Councils have continued in the Roman Catholic Church until Vatican II in 1965.

More will be covered on this movement in future articles,

[1] THE GENERAL COUNCILS, Christopher M Bellitto, Paulist Press, New York, 2002, P. 15

[2] Ibid, p. 19

[3] Ibid, p.18

[4] THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1984, P. 484

[5] THE GENERAL COUNCILS, p.21

[6] A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959. P.113-114

[7] THE GENERAL COUNCILS, p.21

[8] A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, P.117

[9] THE GENERAL COUNCILS, p.23

[10] ibid., P. 24

[11] Ibid, p.26

[12] Ibid

May 24th, 2021 Posted by | Movements | no comments

21.1.2 One Benefit of All These Divisions in the Christian Church

The focus of this website is looking at original Christianity and how it has progressed from then until now into a myriad number of denominations.  One tenet of original Christianity is unity of mind and judgment.  In fact, there is one verse that may be quoted more than any other on this site:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.  (1Co 1:10 ESV)

Paul is writing in the time of original Christianity, and there were already divisions then, just not the huge amount of them that there is today.  And the point is and always has been that the best state for all Christians is one body united with one mind and judgement.

So, a question might be; is there any benefit to having all this division?

When I was a very young kid I had this naïve thought.  I thought that what we needed was a government based on God, a Christian government, if you will.  I spoke that rash thought and was assaulted with history lessons of all the disasters caused by all the theocracies in the world.  More specifically, in the USA, this country was founded, in part, to free itself of governments that were rife with the integration of the Christian church and state. 

England, the sovereign nation over the colonies, specifically, was a monarchy with a Christian state religion.  In the early 17th century the Puritans disagreed with the state of Christianity in England and pushed to “purify” the religion to biblical norms, hence the name Puritans.  They pushed to remove things like the cross, the priest’s vestments, and perhaps even the altar from the church.   And they argued that the episcopacy, the rule of the church by bishops was not biblical, and therefore not a divine right, and many Puritans argued for a Presbyterian form of church government, as presbyters are found in the New Testament.[i]

In fact, it was the intent of James 1st of England to use the church to increase his power which he thought was his right as king.  He is said to say, “Without bishops, there is no king.”[ii] Like many places in the Western world, Christian doctrine was a matter of government policy. So which forms of Christianity were to be allowed was a matter of Government interest.   For James, Anabaptists were to be persecuted, Catholics treated as traitors, and anything Calvinist was seen as friendly.  The Puritans were basically Calvinists so at this time they fared well in England.

But things were not great for all puritans.  One of the issues brought up by the Puritans was whether the church should be separate from the state.  The Puritans pushing for separation were called separatists.  The problem was that separating from the Church of England was considered treasonous.

Some of these separatists migrated to Holland, and then to the new world on the Mayflower.  And they certainly brought the concept of separating church and state functionality with them.

After James came King Charles 1.  Charles’ wife was Catholic and Charles swung to the Catholic side which meant poorer times for the Puritans as well as other Protestant factions.

In the middle of these times, actually 1618-1648, came the 30 Years War, a terrible waste of life and limb that was started by rivalry between the Protestants and the Catholics.  While other issues came to bear in the dispute, this started as Christians fighting Christians over doctrine.

Furthermore, religious wars were so commonplace in European history that the Encyclopedia Britannica has a section called The Wars of Religion.[iii]  Look at the article to see things like “cuius regio, eius religio” (whose realm, his religion) applied as the resolution to some of these conflicts, which basically meant that whoever was the ruler got to dictate the beliefs of the people.  Also in the article are examples of religious support for groups in order to get political or military advantages, like the “Catholic king Henry II of France, supported the Lutheran cause in the second Schmalkaldic War in 1552 to secure French bases in Lorraine”.[iv] France had religious wars that ran off and on from 1562 to 1598, in all religious and political interests were intertwined.  The end result of a conflict might be that a ruler would change faiths as did Henry II accepting Catholicism.

The problem with national religions is that they are run by secular leaders with the apparent mindset that they have the God-given right to tell people what to believe, whether it be Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or no-religion in communist or fascist countries.  Within the Catholic-Christian European landscape, with the emergence of the Reformation, as new denominations grew the chances grew for political upheaval and war. But the point of the reformation or even just of Christianity, the spread of the word of God in the message of salvation brought by Jesus Christ was not the point of these political maneuverings; it was the pursuit of political power that seems to be the base of all these religious wars.

If this looks like a terrible picture that’s the point!  A major portion of this misery happened because of Government control of the churches in different countries.  At that time there were an increasing number of denominations but nothing like we have today.

Fast forward to now with our tens of thousands of denominations and “non-denominational” groups.  At the same time the decision for even having a national religion in a lot of these countries have been changed to “no”.  The Church of England remains the state church of England, but the United Kingdom as a whole has no official religion as is the case with Spain, France, Germany and a number of the countries involved in the religious wars of Europe.

Interestingly, Italy only stopped having Roman Catholicism as its national religion in 1984.[v] It has taken many centuries but now in the 21st century, the Vatican’s power and control have finally waned to where it can’t control countries and their populations politically or otherwise like it once did.

With so many churches with varying beliefs in extant today it is much harder to coerce one denomination over another.  In other words, all these divisions have made it easier for Christians to be able to worship without interference in a lot of places.

However, we know that there are still a number of countries where Government policy dictates which faiths are acceptable.  (And we are not talking here just about Christianity.  For example, we know that Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Kuwait are Muslim countries.  Bhutan and Sri Lanka are Buddhist countries.  In all those places the government has a say in what is acceptable as far as faith[vi]

We also know that there are governments who persecute certain religions, Christianity not being the least of them.  We must never cease from praying for those countries, that the believers there are blessed and protected, and that the countries themselves change to allow religious freedom.

But, for a lot of us, especially in the western world, the abundance of Christian Groups works against one group being powerful enough to persecute those who disagree with their tenets.  That is one benefit of having all these divisions, freedom of religion is more available now.

Praise the Lord that some of us, at least, are free to pursue God without being forced to cower before authorities.  Praise the Lord for the freedom of religion where it exists, and we pray for the spread of the word of God in those areas where it does not currently exist.

And I pray in the name of Jesus Christ that the need for a lot of divisions continues to lessen and that the number of divisions decreases so that the whole body of Christ grows to that model of having one mind and one judgment.


[i] THE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY, Vol 2, Justo L Gonzalez, Harper Collins, New York, 1985, p. 150-151

[ii] Ibid, p. 152

[iii] Encyclopedia Brittanica, The Wars of Religion at https://www.britannica.com/topic/history-of-Europe/The-Wars-of-Religion

[iv] Ibid

[v] The New York Times as found at https://www.nytimes.com/1984/02/19/world/italy-abolishes-state-religion-in-vatican-pact.html

[vi] Which Countries Have State Religions, Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/3710663/Barro_WhichCountries.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

June 5th, 2019 Posted by | Divisions, Movements | no comments

01.50 Marcion the Heretic is the One who Names the Old and New Testaments And Starts the Process to Canonize a List of Acceptable Scriptures, The First Creed

As the old saying goes, Marcion was the son of a preacher man.  Actually, his father was Bishop at Sinope.  But Marcion’s upbringing in the Church did not lead him to accept the orthodoxy of the times.  He was a wealthy shipowner and merchant who evidently pondered the religion of his father with the religions he saw in the places he traveled to. He made friends with a Syrian named Cerdo who apparently was a follower of the Gnostic Simon Magus.

Marcion didn’t like Jews, and he saw evil in materialism. He was convinced the world was evil, and he blamed the God of the Old Testament for that. That is indicative of Gnostic influence. 

Marcion started preaching with success. He was a master church planter. The church excommunicated him for his views. Marcion differentiated between the God of the Old Testament and the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Marcion concluded, in simple terms, that the Old Testament was bad, and the New Testament was good.

To Marcion, the God of the Old Testament was cruel. One reason he was cruel is that he selected one people above all the rest.  He set his chosen people to massacre other peoples.  The penalty for some sins was death.  In contrast to that, the Father of Jesus was inclusive, he made Christianity available to everyone. This showed a loving God, full of compassion and mercy.

Marcion concluded that Jesus couldn’t have been born of the genealogies that came out of the Old Testament and that evil god. So he simply appeared as a grown man!

This all may sound definitely off to many of you, but Marcion founded a church that lasted for centuries.  He was a persuasive preacher and church builder.  One reason was that he taught that there was no judgment; all would be saved.

Now, since the Old Testament was bad those books couldn’t be included in the list of books to be read in the churches. That’s why Marcion had to label Old Testament books and New Testament books to recognize which were the good ones to him and his followers. Apparently, our divisions of Old and New Testaments come from Marcion.

Marcion was perhaps the first to make a list of New Testament books. To Marcion, Jesus was the Son of God, and the Apostle Paul was his chief spokesman. So Marcion’s list consisted just of the epistles of Paul and the gospel of Luke.  The rest of the books in what we call the New Testament had too much of the Old Testament in them to support Marcion’s view of scripture.

Of course, the mainline Christian churches had to respond to Marcion’s list (as well as his church).  Orthodox churches began to compile their own lists, and uniformly, they included the Hebrew Scriptures.  As lists were developed it was common to include more than one gospel because it became common knowledge that no one gospel had the complete story. Other writings were gradually added to various lists compiled by different people.

Gnostic groups also began compiling Scripture lists of their own, but they also claimed books like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Truth of the Valentinian and other Gnostic writings.

So there was a debate growing among various groups as to which list contained the list of true Scriptures. Orthodox churches, as they made contact, compared lists and slowly began building a consensus that led centuries later to the Canon of Scripture that gave us the 66 books in the Protestant Bible.

And as far as the response to the teachings of these heretical groups, there were several things done. One was the formations of the Apostle’s Creed.  This is also thought to be done in Rome circa 150 AD.[i]  It was an affirmation of orthodoxy against heresy.  The Apostles Creed is something of a misnomer in that it implies and some mistakenly believe that the Apostles wrote the creed.  On the contrary, the creed was what mid-2nd century church leaders believed that the Apostles would affirm.

Here is that original creed (notice it is different than modern versions that I have seen) formulated into a trio of questions to be presented to a candidate for baptism:

Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty?

Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Ghost and of Mary the Virgin, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose again at the third day, living from among the dead, and ascended unto heaven and sat at the right of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead?

Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Church, and the resurrection of the flesh? [ii]

You can see that this creed is directed against the Gnostics and Marcionites in the use of the word “Almighty”. The word is usually translated “all ruling” and so it rules out the multiple gods of Marcion’s preaching.

Additionally, the creed specifies that Jesus was born, not just living a spiritual existence. This speaks against the heretical influences of Jesus just existing spiritually.  It specifies Pontius Pilate to give a historical reference point showing that he lived a physical life in the real world.

Also in response to Marcion and others, several early teachers in the church, including Iranaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen of Alexandria wrote refutations against the heresies.  But in so doing the writings caused a change in perspective.  Before the writings of Paul and those in the decades following the writings were more simple and concrete.  Now the teachers had to expound on Christian doctrine and show the failings of the heresies.  That is certainly a godly enterprise, But, also in that process, some of these refutations made claims that original Christianity would not such as Christians find truth in philosophy as well as the Bible, i.e. there is more than one source for truth.  New claims also included that Christianity is a systematic theology with multiple levels of meanings, not just the simple sayings of uneducated men like in the first century, and it is a compatible and comparable philosophy to philosophers like Plato’s writings.


[i] The Story Of Christianity, Volume 1, The Early Church To The Dawn Of The Reformation, Justo L Gonzalez, HarperOne, 2010, p. 73-77

[ii] Ibid, p. 77

THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress House, Philadelphia, 1984 p. 212-217

May 31st, 2019 Posted by | Heresies, Movements | no comments