Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.
Who was the most evil theologian ever?
That seems like an evil question to me.
Again, you're misrepresenting what I wrote. In that case, discussion becomes pointless indeed.
I'll disregard your supposition that I do not understand what you're saying. Two comments: I do not believe belief can be rational, although it can follow from a rational decision. Belief is not a psychological state, faith is. (But one might discern between believing a person and believing something.)
Although I think ratio involves logic, it seems pretty obvious they're not the same.
That depends on which Roman calender you're referring to. Also, solstice may be dated to 21 December today, celebrations for the return of the sun in midwinter may not have been limited to that specific day. (Roman celebrations or holidays might last a week or even longer, depending on the occasion. The same still holds true for certain Christian, Islamic or other religious holidays.)
More generally speaking, if the Roman calendar counts it 24 December (and thats the one that matters as regards Christianity), that's the "birth of Christ". 25 December would be the birth of Mithras, a rival mystery religion which also used bread and wine and centered on a god dying and resurrected (popular in the army and in the administration, as it excluded women). Another major rival was the Isis cult, whose processions entailed the carrying of a statue representing the Virgin Mother. Although Christianity won out as a state religion, recognizing the emperor - who previously also had his personal cult - as its head, all rivals were outlawed, while succesfully incorporating many of their features as "Christian" ones.
The simplification is yours. I did not say it was or would be simple. There is an entire discipline devoted to the study of mythology, I believe.
Hey, Plotinus, I've been reading about Iustinianus I and came across a reference to a Three Chapters controversy, including a comment that any attacks on Nestorianism were characterized as steps towards Monophysitism by some of the pro-Chalcedon Church hierarchy. Could you tell me what all this brouhaha over the Three Chapters was, and clear up what the Chalcedonian 'middle way' between Nestorianism and Monophysitism actually was?
BEST RELIGION QUESTION EVER!!!!
Sorry for taking a long time over this. I wrote a lengthy reply only for it to be lost when the page re-navigated itself. Then I tried again and the same thing happened again. Evidently God does not want me to reply to these questions. But I will defeat him.
I agree, and I think that this is also connected to evangelicalisms emphasis on the individuals experience, which it inherited from Pietism. Evangelicalism derives much of its power from telling a certain kind of narrative about the individual believer and his or her relationship with God or Jesus. This is why there is so much emphasis within evangelicalism of the conversion experience that is the heart of this narrative. It seems to me that the notion of going to heaven when you die, to be with God, works much better with this individualist narrative than the notion of being part of a general resurrection of everybody at some future time. Perhaps this is one reason why evangelicalism generally doesnt have a very strong emphasis on eschatology at all.
This is a very complex question. For one thing, there are three kinds of questions you can ask about someones reasons for believing something:
(1) Why do they believe it?
(2) Why do they think they believe it?
(3) How do they try to get others to believe it?
These are all quite distinct. Imagine someone who believes something about God. He thinks he believes it because the Bible says so. In fact he believes it because of some deep-seated subconscious neurosis involving his father. And when he talks to other people, he tries to convince them of the same doctrine by using rational argument. So in his case the answers to (1)-(3) are all different.
In the case of the early church, answering (1) is inevitably going to involve speculation. A good example is Arianism, which you mentioned yourself. No-one really knows why Arianism was popular. The traditional view is that it was a very rationalist doctrine, which relied ultimately upon one syllogism: God cannot be begotten. But the Son is begotten. So the Son is not God. But in recent decades, many scholars have come to believe instead that it was soteriologically motivated. The early Arians believed that if Christ was the Son of God by nature, but Christians are sons of God only by adoption, that drives too much of a wedge between Christ and his people. Its better if Christ and Christians are all sons by adoption, because then Christians can hope to become like Christ which ties in with the first fruits analogy of 1 Corinthians 15 which I mentioned before. It was the later Arians (specifically the Anomoeans, Aetius and Eunomius, active in the 360s) who developed the more rationalist version of Arianism, and later orthodoxy simply failed to distinguish between them.
As for (2), people in patristic times invariably believed themselves to be holding the traditional faith of the church. They would never have claimed to arrive at their dogmas, as you put it they would claim to have inherited them from their forebears. They invariably represented their opponents as introducing novel doctrines. So I suppose they believed themselves to be believing what they did on the basis of tradition, including the oral teaching of the church, and the Bible.
As for (3), Christians generally used every kind of argument they could think of to attack their opponents and promote their own views. They used all the arguments you mention and probably more too. As a rule, I think the most common kinds were simply arguments from normal reason, and arguments from biblical exegesis. For example, take a typical piece of patristic polemic, Athanasius On the incarnation of the Word, which argues for the true divinity of the Son, against the Arians. Look at chapter 14:
Here you have what is basically rationalist arguing, using analogies and rhetorical questions. There are a couple of biblical quotes thrown in to support the argument, but the argument does not depend on it.
Now look at chapter 33:
Here the style of argument is different, revolving around the collection of proof-texts that are meant to prove the point being defended. I think this is very typical of patristic arguing styles. Most authors will argue much like chapter 14, in quite a discursive style, using arguments of all kinds, peppering their discussion with short biblical quotes that arent really essential to the argument but which provide some support. They will usually add chapters (or entire volumes) devoted to more extensive proof-texts: either many short texts collected together, as in this example, or longer discussions of particularly important passages. These usually come towards the end of the work and are brain-bendingly tedious.
Thats really interesting. But I think youre interpreting them the wrong way round. The story of the old man surely supports the idea of a physical afterlife ie some kind of resurrection. If the land of the dead is just like that of the living, a physical place where you can travel to without having to die, then its inhabitants must be bodily. But the idea of ancestors being reincarnated as animals takes the opposite view. If I am reincarnated as a snake, then my original body has not been resurrected Im in a new body. This must be because my soul has survived my death and now animates a new body. So this story surely presupposes belief in a soul, not resurrection of the body at all.
Yes, this is true. I think that, traditionally, Catholics have been more comfortable with incorporating non-Christian elements than Protestants have. Or to put it marginally more accurately: Catholic missionaries have often tended to take a relatively liberal line, while the authorities in Rome have not. This has led to major controversies and tensions, the most famous being the Chinese Rites controversy, which lasted for centuries and revolved around the question whether Chinese veneration of ancestors was religious or not (if it was religious it was incompatible with Christianity, but if it was just a show of respect then it was fine). Although it has to be said that Protestants and Catholics alike generally showed more respect to Asian religions than they did to African ones, which were usually dismissed as mere fetishism.
However, youre right that hostility to indigenous religions has often been associated with indigenous Christian denominations. The most interesting example of this was the prophets, a series of movements in Africa in the first half of the twentieth century. One of the key common features of prophets was that they called on people to burn the fetishes (ie, traditional sacred objects). Heres a thing I wrote a while ago about the prophets which mentions this aspect:
Reichsbishof Ludwig Müller.
Perhaps you understand me, but I certainly don’t understand you. Can you define what you mean by the word “belief”? Because I find this use of the word, in which it cannot be rational and is not even a psychological state, totally alien.
Sometimes I wonder why I bother writing things here, given that the same old nonsense just gets trotted out again and again. One more time, then:
(1) 25 of December was not the birthday of Mithras, who as far as we know had no official birthday. It was the festival of Sol invictus. Sol invictus was (obviously) a sun god. Mithras was also a sun god, or at least closely associated with the sun (some Mithraist images seem to distinguish between Mithras and the sun). But they were distinct cults. Now Mithras was sometimes addressed as “sol invictus”. And after 25 December was made the festival of Sol invictus – which happened in the third century CE – no doubt some Mithraists used it as a day of celebration too. But it wasn’t his birthday.
(2) There is no evidence that Mithras was supposed to have died, let alone been resurrected. If you know anything about Mithraism you’ll know that its central image was the “tauroctony”, a relief carving of Mithras killing a bull – not being killed or rising again.
(3) Mithraism was indeed popular in the army, but not in the administration. Apart from Rome itself, Mithraist artifacts are known almost exclusively from border towns of the empire, which were military garrisons. It was a kind of macho boys’ club for soldiers, I suppose.
(4) Mithraism was not a major rival of Christianity. In fact they weren’t rivals at all, because they appealed to almost diametrically opposite sectors of society. One was for men, mainly soldiers (in fact it’s not certain that women were excluded, but they were certainly not important). The other mainly appealed to women. The one met in small caves, the other was a household-based movement. The one was most popular in military towns on the northern fringes of the empire, the other had its strongholds in Asia Minor, Africa, southern Gaul, and the great cities of the empire. Christians and Mithraists would not have crossed each other’s paths very often.
I know less about the cult of Isis, so I can’t say so much on that. However, I would say: (1) calling Isis “the Virgin Mother” is obviously prejudging the matter, since as far as I know such a title is unknown in the literature; (2) whether there was any influence from the cult of Isis to Christianity is almost entirely a matter of pure conjecture, since there is no evidence for it; (3) the supposed similarities between figures such as Isis and Horus on the one hand and Mary and Jesus on the other pale into insignificance compared to their differences. But I said a lot about this a couple of pages ago, so there’s no need to repeat myself now.
This is an enormous over-simplification. First, some of these rivals had pretty much disappeared by the time in question anyway. Mithraism, for example, went into a steep decline in the first half of the fourth century. But it was not until the 390s that pagan religions were outlawed, and in fact these laws were not rigorously enforced until the time of Justinian. Second, while it is certainly true that Christianity incorporated some features from earlier religions, or at least had features in common with them, most of these were not particularly significant. In the case of Mithraism, I don’t know of any good evidence that Mithraism influenced Christianity in any way whatsoever. The similarities that they did share – such as involving ritual meals – were common to pretty much all ancient religions, or indeed modern ones. Any more significant similarities that they might have had could be explained just as well by saying that Mithraism copied Christianity as vice versa. After all, Christianity emerged in the Roman empire before Mithraism did. The idea that Christianity was jam-packed full of things nicked from the Mithraists, so that they were practically the same religion with different names, and it was just a historical accident that one became the state religion and the other was outlawed, is just anti-Christian propaganda that goes back to the long-debunked theories of Cumont and survives only because the Internet has an unfortunate ability to keep rubbish circulating indefinitely.
So the idea here - that the Christians took all the best ideas from the pagans, and then turned on those very same pagans and stomped them out of existence, whilst ironically preserving much of their religion - may be terribly poignant, but it doesn't stand up to much scrutiny.
Also, I doubt that many ancient Christians or even many Byzantine ones would have agreed that the emperor was the head of the church. What do you think Ambrose of Milan would have said to that? In general, the only people who would have agreed with this whole-heartedly were the emperors themselves.
This is possibly the most complex question anyone’s asked so far. The more I research into this, the less I understand it. So here is a very over-simplified explanation.
The traditional, “orthodox” version of events goes like this. The Nestorians believed that Christ was two people, a divine person and a human one, somehow glued together. The Monophysites, by contrast, thought he was one person with a single nature, a sort of divine-human crossbreed. The council of Chalcedon found a middle way by saying that Christ was one person with two natures. So like the Nestorians, Chalcedon recognised duality in Christ, but only at the level of his natures – not his person. And like the Monophysites, Chalcedon recognised unity in Christ, but only at the level of his person – not his natures. The error common to the Nestorians and the Monophysites alike was that they could not distinguish between natures and persons.
However, most people at the time of Chalcedon, and pretty much everyone by Justinian’s time, actually agreed on what Christ was made of (as it were). They all agreed that he consisted of the second person of the Trinity, the Son, and a human mind and a human body. These three elements were glued together to form Christ. What they didn’t agree over was what to call these different elements. The Nestorians believed that the Son on the one hand and the human mind/body on the other should each be considered a hypostasis (that is, an individual existent). They should also each be considered a physis (that is, a nature). The Chalcedonians thought that the Son on the one hand, and the human mind/body on the other, should each be considered a physis. However, there was only one hypostasis. They increasingly argued that this hypostasis was the Son. The human physis was united to this hypostasis, so that Christ had a single hypostasis which was identical with one physis and had the other physis united to it. And the Monophysites thought that there was only one physis and only one hypostasis.
This was because no-one could agree on what these terms meant. The Monophysites thought that physis meant pretty much what the Chalcedonians meant by hypostasis, namely an individual existent. So they thought that anyone who said there were two physeis in Christ was basically saying that there were twohypostaseisin him – which was Nestorianism. And the Nestorians were all speaking Syriac anyway, so they weren’t even using the same terms to start with.
The idea behind the “Three Chapters” business was to try to convince the Monophysites that their interpretation of Chalcedon was mistaken, and that in fact the Chalcedonians were not Nestorians at all. The Three Chapters were selections from the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and Ibas of Edessa. All three had been fifth-century theologians associated with Nestorianism. Theodore of Mopsuestia had supposedly been Nestorius’ cousin, and was a major theologian of the early fifth century, although he died before the Nestorian controversy occurred. Theodoret was also an important theologian and a dogged supporter of Nestorius during the controversy, but he eventually agreed to condemn Nestorianism. Ibas of Edessa is rather more obscure – he wrote a letter setting out Nestorian ideas. All three were considered orthodox by the Chalcedonians. Theodore of Mopsuestia was revered by the Nestorians as the greatest of the church fathers (they liked Theodoret very much too). So Justinian thought that by condemned the works of these somewhat Nestorian figures, he might convince the Monophysites that the Chalcedonians were definitely not Nestorian. Of course it didn’t work. Many people were extremely unhappy about the notion of condemning long-dead theologians, which had never been done before. Many were especially annoyed at the condemnation of the letter of Ibas, since that had beencommended at the council of Chalcedon. The Monophysites, meanwhile, were not remotely convinced. Eventually Justinian himself converted to a form of Monophysitism (Aphthartodocetism, a rather obscure doctrine associated with Julian of Halicarnassus).
How so, exactly?
Once again, your claim is a personal one, while the inference is that it is a universal one, which it is not. (Anyway, I do not find it surprising that an agnostic needs belief to be rational or a psychologichal state. But I see no need to repeat what I said earlier.)
It's good to know one can always rely on you to unsimplify matters. However, some details seem inaccurate. For instance: Christianity was similar to Mithraism in many respects for instance the Ecclesiastical calendar retains numerous remnants of pre-Christian festivals, notably Christmas, which blends elements including both the feast of the Saturnalia and the birthday of Mithra.
I have no idea what Ambrose of Milan would have said. Perhaps you could enlighten us with a quote of the good fellow? Once again, however, you return in your remarks to comments made earlier by me, which have however no bearing on the matter at hand. Your conclusions, for instance, do not follow from anything I recently posted, nor can this claim that "Mithraism influenced Christianity" be inferred from what I've posted.
And for one criticizing my knowledge of the musings of Jesus, I find such generalizing statements as "I doubt that many ancient Christians or even many Byzantine ones would have agreed that the emperor was the head of the church" quite acerbic and equally lacking in sources. Where there any polls to this effect held by the Greek Orthox church? Or is this just some personal idea of yours? I merely stated the official position taken by Constantine at the first ever official concile, which he personally oversaw and led, that the emperor was the head of the church. No bishops contradicted this view at the time, regardless of your vehement claims to the contrary. In fact, the whole issue was redone in the West, where the Holy Roman Emperors failed to assert their authority in this matter; the pope retained authority in matters religious, whereas the emperor (and by inference all monarchs) held sway in matters politic. But that is another matter, Sir.
Wow, Plotinus, thanks. All these physes and hypostases are kind of confusing, but I get the gist of what's going on. So was the difference between Severan Monophysites and the other Monophysites that the Severans had a bit more flexibility on the definitions?
He was one of those German Christians (they actually had a separate name for themselves), a group within Protestantism in Germany that basically was the Nazi sockpuppet church. They were into the Christ-as-Aryan idea, for example, and were virulently anti-Semitic. This Müller scrub helped Hitler worm his way into German politics by having some meet-and-greets, and his quid pro quo was that he got to be the head of Hitler's 'Protestant Reich Church'. After the Third Reich bit the big one, he committed suicide.
Wait a minute, you're quoting Wikipedia as a superior source of theological information to a professional, published theologian? I love that site to death, but using encyclopedias as definitive sources of information is wrongheaded in the first place, and using Wikipedia specifically is doubly so.
I did not say that a belief "needs" to be rational - only that it can be.
A belief is a psychological state. It is the state of holding something to be true. If, for example, I think that the sun is hot, I believe that the sun is hot. This is a psychological state - it is a state of my mind. What else could it possibly be? I may hold this belief rationally or not.
The standard philosophical approach to these matters since Hume is to recognise two main categories of psychological states - beliefs and desires. Beliefs tend to mirror the world, at least in theory. Desires tend to change the world. For example, I see an ice cream. I believe that it is good. I desire to eat it. The belief is a passive recognition of the way things are. The desire is an active tendency to change the way things are.
This isn't my "personal" view. This is how the words are actually used. As I said before, if you have an alternative definition, please provide it so we can stop talking at endless cross-purposes.
I do not recognise Wikipedia as a reliable authority, and absolutely not for subjects such as this. As I said before, the main reason these ridiculous old lies about religious history continue to float around is that people repeat them on the Internet. In fact the quote from Wikipedia you give is a good example of how misleading it is about this sort of thing. The Christian calendar does retain "numerous elements of pre-Christian festivals", but it's hard to see what that's got to do with Mithraism, given that - as far as I know - we know nothing about the Mithraist calendar.
If you must look up this sort of thing on the Internet, one site that I have found to be sensible and reliable is this one. Note in particular the section on "what Mithraism isn't".
Ambrose believed that the emperor had only temporal authority - as he is supposed to have put it, the emperor is "in the church", not "head of the church". Ambrose took it upon himself to criticise the emperor, which he did frequently - most famously when reprimanding Theodosius I, first for attempting to repay Jews who had their synagogue burned down, and second for massacring thousands of people at Thessalonica. Ambrose believed that the church is superior to the state, and that a lay person such as the emperor was subject to the authority of a bishop such as himself. Here is part of his Letter 21, to the emperor Valentinian II, who had summoned him to a theological debate. He refers in it to a saying of the emperor Valentinian I, who had stated that as a layman, he had no business ordering bishops about:
This was not an isolated view. Of course the Donatists believed that all state officials were basically on the side of the devil, but similar views can be found among Catholics throughout the period. Look up Lucifer of Cagliari, for example, who spent most of his career writing suicidally vitriolic pamphlets attacking the emperor Constantius II. However, I think that few people really theorised about this sort of thing. In general, Christians of whatever stripe were willing to praise the emperor when he did what they thought was right, and they criticised him when he did what they thought was wrong. They did both in the most exaggerated fashion typical of late ancient rhetoric. This is why I say that I don't believe that many of them would have agreed that the emperor was the head of the church. They simply didn't theorise to that extent. And the reason I say that is not because any "polls" were conducted but simply that that is the impression I get from reading the works of people of that time. I'm sorry I can't provide any more definite sources than that, but when people aren't explicitly addressing a particular issue, that tends to be what happens.
Well, I wonder then what your point actually was in citing these supposed parallels between the religions.
Are you talking about the council of Nicaea? This was not the first official council of the church - it was the first ecumenical council, that is, the first council of the whole church (although in fact it was mostly just eastern bishops). Constantine did not oversee or lead the council: he merely presided over its opening and closing sessions. His Greek would not have been good enough to participate in its main business. The council did not state that the emperor was the head of the church. You can read the canons of Nicaea for yourself here. As you can see, the only statement about Constantine that appears there is that he is "our most religious sovereign".
You can also read the speech which Eusebius of Caesarea ascribes to Constantine at the opening of the council here. Eusebius was an enthusiastic supporter of Constantine who was largely responsible for much of the mythology surrounding the emperor and his conversion to Christianity. If anyone were to claim that the emperor was now the head of the church, it would be Eusebius. You can see, however, that he ascribes no such claim to Constantine, and he makes no such claim anywhere else in his description of the council (although he does suggest that it was the emperor who led the theological discussions, which is very unlikely). For example, here is the final paragraph of Eusebius' Panegyric on Constantine, which was probably the most euphorically pro-imperial piece ever produced by a patristic author:
Very laudatory, but again, even Eusebius doesn't say that Constantine was the head of the church. Although the degree of his praise for Constantine is extreme, Eusebius' general approach to this issue is utterly typical. He praises Constantine's person constantly, dwelling on his character and his actions. But it doesn't seem to occur to him to say anything about Constantine's office. This is typical of patristic writers. When they hated the emperor, they generally harped on about how wicked he was and what terrible things he did to the faithful (ie, themselves). They didn't argue that he had no right to do so or that he was abusing his office.
Indeed it is. But I don't think this was a matter of an old system falling into abeyance and new one being forged to replace it. There wasn't an old system at all - the new one that developed was the first one, as it were.
If you actually read what you're quoting, you'de note that I quoted sourced referenced statements.
Sir, we aren't discussing random beliefs, we're talking religion here. And equating religion with beliefs is, I believe, a simplification. Now a (random) belief may be a psychological state or state of mind, religion is not.
See response above. (The references are to Encarta and the Encyclopedia Brittanica respectively, not some obsure Mithras site with no references.)
Interesting, but irrelevant: the emperor summoned and presided over the Nicaean council, so de facto presided over the church. (Ofcourse he summoned mostly sicophantic bishops, as he wanted the Arian question settled, but this actually further confirms the emperors authority over the church. What bishops, donatists or laymen might say or write hardly matters; the facts do.)
Supposed parallels, you say - where I merely pointed out similarities. If these documented parallels are "supposed", I'd gladly see some references to the contrary.
What more evidence do you need to confirm that the emperor is sovereign? And why would any bishop state the obvious, i.e. that the emperor is sovereign in the empire? (He always was.) QED.
Both general knowledge encyclopedias, which was half of my point.
Did you look at the references, tho?
The "references" are to other secondary sources, which give no ancient reference for their claims. Unless the authors of those secondary sources have a time machine, they have no direct way to know what happened. The fact is that the ancient sources do NOT contain these claims about Mithras.
Did you look at the discussion of the EB in the Wikipedia talk page? Did you look at the EB page? Because the EB claims are NOT referenced; and the statements made are twaddle, as the other Wikipedians observed.
If you want to persist with these claims about what the cult of Mithras involved in ancient times, then you need to produce ancient evidence for them. There is none.
The council was already assembling at Ancyra, when Hosius of Cordova persuaded the emperor to host it and pay the bills, so that western bishops could attend. He then sent out invitations, which permitted them to use the postal system to get there. The emperor did not preside, although it isn't quite clear who did.
The logical fallacy of this leads to mildly amusing conclusions, if we look for similar examples. Do we also suppose Gordon Brown presides over the USA, because of the G20 meeting in London?
Erm, do you have ancient evidence for this claim? Or are you repeating hearsay, or just making it up yourself?
The bishops at Nicaea bore the marks of the branding iron on their faces, for refusing to accept the authority of an emperor.
All the best,
I entirely agree with you. There is far more to religion than belief. But I don’t see how this affects the point I was making. It sounds like now you’re agreeing with me that beliefs are, or at least may be, psychological states (although what else they may be, I cannot imagine), and you’re just saying that there’s more to religion than that. But I’m sure I never said otherwise.
I did look at the references, and I wasn’t impressed. The Encyclopaedia Britannica article was especially disappointing.
It says, for example, that one of Christianity’s unique appeals was its “demand for a noble effort of faith in Jesus’ blend of divinity and humanity”. Well, Christianity certainly didn’t teach that Jesus was, or instantiated, a “blend of divinity and humanity”. In fact that doctrine was expressly and explicitly condemned as heretical at the council of Chalcedon in 451. So the author of this article obviously isn’t very well informed on that subject. He also ends in the following astonishing way:
Passing over the notion that “orgiastic rites” “spoil” a religion – not exactly an objective view – it’s puzzling how anyone can think that Roman pagan religion was “tolerant” and committed no atrocities. I’m sure that those Christians who were roasted alive, put in nets to be trampled by bulls, and soaked in blood in front of screaming mobs would have had a different assessment of it. In fact they did, as anyone will know who has read Tertullian or Cyprian – the latter who was, of course, beheaded for his disagreement with that “tolerant religion”.
The point I’m trying to make here is that the article is basically an apologia on behalf of Roman paganism, full of value-laden language which (perhaps ironically) would contravene Wikipedia’s standards. That’s not an objective source. More fundamentally, it is, as Roger Pearse pointed out, a secondary source. That is not very authoritative. I have tried to give quotations from or references to primary sources where possible. In the case of the council of Nicaea, for example, I have given the canons of the council and Eusebius’ description of it, and commented on them. I could have done so at much greater length, too. That is a “documented source”. A link to one online encyclopaedia citing another online encyclopaedia, containing demonstrable errors of fact, authorial bias, and no citation of primary sources, is not.
You’re absolutely wrong here. As Roger Pearse has pointed out, it is a gross simplification to say that Constantine “summoned and presided over” the council of Nicaea; and even if it were perfectly true, that would prove only that Constantine had, or believed himself to have, the power to summon church councils. It would not mean that he was the head of the church. Indeed, if he had regarded himself as head of the church, you’d think that would make him less likely to call such councils. Why bother summoning bishops to debate theology when he could just tell them what he wanted them to do?
Now Constantine’s son, Constantius II, did behave rather like that. He was quite capable of putting all the bishops under effective house arrest at councils until they endorsed the position he wanted. At the council of Milan in 355, for example, he interrupted proceedings and told the bishops what decision to reach. One protested: “This is against the canon!” The emperor retorted: “I am the canon!” So the story goes, anyway.
Thus did caesaropapism begin to develop; but even so, it would be stretching things to ascribe a fully fledged claim to headship of the church even to Constantius II. He just did what emperors usually did – order people about until he got what he wanted. To call that a worked out theory or doctrine about his own power would be to over-intellectualise it. More importantly, I cannot think of any evidence to support the notion that either Constantine or the church in general shared even Constantius’ attitude. On the contrary, all the evidence indicates that when he or other emperors tried to boss the church about, the church protested, just as that bishop did in 355. The letter from Ambrose of Milan that I quoted before is entirely relevant to this. If you look at it carefully you’ll notice that he doesn’t merely insist that the emperor is subject to the church in religious matters. He says:
When have you heard, most gracious Emperor, that laymen gave judgment concerning a bishop in a matter of faith?
who is there who can deny that, in a matter of faith,—in a matter I say of faith,—bishops are wont to judge of Christian emperors, not emperors of bishops?
In other words, the notion that the emperor is in charge of the church is not just wrong – it is unheard of. Even Constantius didn’t exactly assert such a view.
Now it was of course standard patristic polemical practice to assert that one’s opponents were introducing some wild, fantastic, new-fangled idea that radically departed from the faith of the forefathers. So the fact that Ambrose says this doesn’t necessarily make it true. However, I don’t know of any evidence against it. Let me cite Eusebius again. A couple of passages in Eusebius that I forgot about before come in his Life of Constantine (I 44 and IV 24) and are quite notorious, to the extent that some scholars have argued that the book cannot really be by Eusebius, because it has such a high view of the emperor’s authority. In these passages, Eusebius states that Constantine was effectively a bishop:
Let me repeat: this is the pinnacle of pro-Constantinian rhetoric in Constantine’s most extreme supporter. This is, as far as I know, the most extreme expression of the emperor’s authority over the church that any fourth-century theologian wrote. But again, it falls short of the claim that Constantine was the head of the church. All we have here is the claim that Constantine acted like a bishop – to the extent that he could be considered a bishop alongside the “real” bishops. In the first passage, then, Constantine is not in charge of the bishops – he is one of them. The second passage suggests that Constantine’s episcopal authority extended only outside the church, in contrast to the “real” bishops who were in charge inside the church. That would suggest that the emperor’s role complemented that of the bishops, not that he was in charge of them.
This is nonsense. The emperor was the “sovereign”, in other words, the ruler of the empire. He was “religious”, in other words, a pious Christian. Of course the bishops addressed him in this way. What does that prove? Ronald Reagan held prayer meetings at the White House. Did that mean that the president was the head of the American church?
Why would a bishop state the obvious? That’s how people referred to the emperor. When emperors were pagans, that’s the sort of language that pagans used to refer to him as well. You might as well wonder why Americans address the president as “Mr President”. Why state the obvious? Of course he’s the president.
Finally, thank you to Roger Pearse for those comments! He maintains an excellent website on Tertullian at www.tertullian.org and is extremely well informed on this subject (much more so than me). By coincidence, just the other day I was reading an article in a theology journal on the differences between traditional print sources of patristic scholarship and online sources, which used Tertullian as a test case, and which was full of praise for both Roger Pearse’s site and his expertise.
[EDIT] I forgot to reply to Dachs:
I don't think it was quite as simple as that. As far as I can tell, the Severans and other moderate Monophysites were just as inflexible abuot terminology as everyone else. Severus himself was certainly pretty hardline on this matter. Now what the differences were between the moderate Monophysites and the more extreme ones, I'm not entirely sure. I think no-one is entirely sure, to be fair. Severus, for example, was engaged in a fairly bitter controversy with Julian of Halicarnassus, who could be called an extreme Monophysite, but it's not entirely certain what Julian taught. He seems to have taught that Christ had certain human properties only at will. So, for example, he could suffer, but only because he chose to be able to suffer. This wasn't exactly the same as classic docetism (according to which Christ wasn't really human and didn't suffer at all) but Julian's opponents such as Severus thought it boiled down to the same thing. The "archetypal" extreme Monophysite was Eutyches, who had been condemned at Chalcedon in 451 for saying that he recognised two natures before the union, but only one after. But what he meant by that is uncertain. His opponents interpreted him as meaning that the incarnate Christ had only one nature, namely a divine nature, and his humanity was completely swallowed up in it. He may in fact have meant that Christ was fully human and fully divine but that these nevertheless constituted only a single composite nature. Whatever the case, moderate Monophysites agreed with the Chalcedonians that Eutyches had been wrong.
So I would say that there do seem to have been material differences between Severus and other moderate Monophysites such as Timothy Aleurus ("the Cat") or Peter the Fuller on the one hand and extreme Monophysites such as Julian of Halicarnassus and (perhaps) the Eutycheans (if indeed there were any actual Eutycheans in the sixth century) on the other - although it's not entirely clear what those material differences were. But I find it very hard to see any real material differences between Severus and neo-Chalcedonians such as Leontius of Byzantium; it seems to me that the differences there were mostly just verbal. That doesn't mean that either party was prepared to budge, though.
Whoah. With the guest posting by Pearse, this thread is really great. Plotinus, thank you very much for investing so much time and effort here, it's a pleasure to read.
Thanks for the elucidation on these heresies, Plot; these early formulations of Church doctrine can get really confusing, especially the niggling little differences between the various opinions. Another question on Monophysitism, though: how important to the revival of the heresy was Jacob Baradaeus' mission in the 540s? Did it have as big of an impact as is often claimed?
While not technically a theological question, you seem to know a lot about church history, so you're as good a person to ask as any: Did the Orthodox split from the Catholics, or vice versa?
Fourthed just doesn't work!
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