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An Introduction To Early Church History


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#21 Evangelion

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Posted 27 July 2004 - 02:22 PM

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Timeline of Early Church History -

Key People; Key Events

AD...

367 - A letter of Athanasius lists the 66 books of our modern canon

373 - Athanasius dies

379 - Basil the Great of Cappadocia dies

379 - Theodosius becomes Emperor; he establishes Christianity as the official religion of the Empire, prohibits any form of pagan worship and declares that non-Christians are “loathsome , heretics, stupid and blind”

381 - The Cappadocians formulate a new creed at the Council of Constantinople ; while theologically superior to the Nicene Creed, it is logically incomprehensible

383 - Ulfilas dies

386 - Augustine is converted


'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#22 Evangelion

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Posted 27 July 2004 - 02:25 PM

By 367, the interest of Christian scholars in the Biblical canon was beginning to show positive results. Athanasius lists all 66 books of our modern canon and explains that this is the most widely accepted collection of his day. While alternative canons would continue to circulate for many centuries, Athanasius was satisfied that his was correct.

Athanasius died before Theodosius came to the throne, but had he lived long enough, he would have liked what he saw. Theodosius took Constantine’s policies to their logical conclusion: instituting Christianity as the official religion of the Empire.

It had taken more than three centuries, but at long last Christianity had finally prevailed over paganism. Under Constantine, the pagans had been disparaged but tolerated; under Theodosius, they received no such clemency.

Although he stopped short of actual persecution, Theodosius certainly made life very hard for the pagans. He prohibited the Olympic games and cracked down hard on civil disobedience; in Thessalonica alone, he massacred 7,000 people after one of his garrison commanders was killed during a riot.

For the church, it was business as usual.

The bishops got back to the important task of excommunicating each other, the academics got back to the important task of trying to write a Creed that would define the nature of Christ once and for all, and the punters settled back to enjoy the show.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#23 Evangelion

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Posted 27 July 2004 - 02:27 PM

In 381, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzus formulated a new Creed at the Council of Constantinople. This one – they believed – was sure to be a winner.

By combining the most complicated aspects of Hellenic philosophy with the most unbiblical statements ever conceived by mortal man, the two Cappadocians had succeeded in creating a definition of Christ’s nature that was so sophisticated as to be totally incomprehensible.

Just to give you a taste of their work, I’d like to quote Gregory of Nyssa.
Bear in mind that this is supposed to be an explanation of the new formula, not the actual formula itself – which was a great deal more complicated.

Gregory writes:

The difference of the hypostases does not dissolve the continuity of their nature, nor does the community of their nature dissipate the particularity of their characteristics.  Do not be amazed if we declare the same thing is united and distinct, and conceive, as in a riddle, of a new and paradoxical unity in distinction and distinction in unity.


In case people found this confusing, Gregory of Nazianzus had his own explanation. He described the Trinity as…

A Monarchy that is not limited to one Person, for it is possible for Unity if at variance with itself to come into a condition of plurality; but one which is made of an equality of Nature and Union of mind; and an identity of motion, and a convergence of its elements to unity-a-thing which is impossible to the created nature – so that though numerically distinct there is no severance of Essence. 

Therefore Unity having from all eternity arrived by motion at Duality, found its rest in Trinity.  This is what we mean by Father and Son and Holy Spirit.


It should come as no surprise to you that entire books have been written on the question of what exactly these two guys meant, and whether or not they even knew what they were talking about.

Reading these words, many Christians were horrified, believing that the Gregories had turned one God into three...
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#24 Evangelion

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Posted 27 July 2004 - 02:28 PM

In 386, Augustine of Hippo was converted – and a new era of Christian theology began. It was he who invented the doctrine of “Original Sin”, which teaches that we are sinners as soon as we’re born because we’ve all inherited the original sin of Adam and Eve.

As a consequence of this (according to Augustine) God the Father is so angry that He wants to kill us all – but God the Son (a far more likable chap) offered to be killed in our place. God the Father agreed with this, and so we are saved by the death of Christ.

If Augustine’s theology was correct, John 3:16 would read like this:

God the Father was so enraged by the sins of the world that He could barely restrain Himself from destroying His own creation.  Grappling desperately for a solution, He hit upon the happy expedient of pretending to kill God the Son, who came to Earth in a lump of flesh and pretended to be human for 33.5 years.

At the end of this time, God the Father nailed God the Son to a cross and vented His eternal fury upon one third of His own being.  The mortal body which God the Son had temporarily inhabited, was destroyed.  God the Son went back to heaven and rejoined God the Father.

God the Father then announced that by pretending to kill one third of His own being He had successfully purged Himself of His eternal wrath.  Throughout the entire fiasco, God the Holy Spirit looked on in silence.


Frankly, I prefer the original version.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#25 Evangelion

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Posted 27 July 2004 - 02:30 PM

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Timeline of Early Church History -

Key People; Key Events

AD...

390 - Leo the Great is born; he argues that the bishop of Rome should have total supremacy and negotiates successfully with Attila the Hun

393 - The New Testament canon is recognized at the Council of Hippo - as a local council, it influence is purely regional and consequently, the rest of the church continues to do its own thing

397 - The Council of Carthage agrees with the Council of Hippo on the New Testament canon, but differs slightly on the Old

401 - Augustine publishes an autobiographical work entitled The Confessions of Augustine , which becomes an instant best-seller

410 - Rome falls to Alaric and the Visigoths


'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#26 Evangelion

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Posted 27 July 2004 - 02:31 PM

Near the end of the 4th Century, Leo the Great began to push the idea that the bishop of Rome should be head of the church. Of course, it was only by sheer coincidence that he happened to hold this position at the time…

In Hippo, the New Testament canon was recognized by a local council – but nobody really seemed to care.

The Council of Carthage was equally unspectacular.

By the start of the 5th Century, Augustine had written a book. He called it The Confessions of Augustine – a clever marketing ploy which guaranteed huge sales.

Of course, when people read it, they found that Augustine was merely confessing his belief in Christ – but even this was enough to keep his book at the top of the charts for months on end.

While Augustine’s fortunes were going up, Rome’s were going down; the Germanic tribes (originally hired as mercenaries by Theodosius) had become bored and restless. Looking around for entertainment, they decided to overrun the empire – which was now too weak to resist them.

Meanwhile, back in Africa, the Arian Vandals were doing exactly the same thing.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#27 Evangelion

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Posted 27 July 2004 - 02:32 PM

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Timeline of Early Church History -

Key People; Key Events

AD...

429 - Arian Vandals cross into Africa ; the Western Emperors become puppet rulers under German generals

430 - Augustine dies

431 - In response to Nestorianism (which taught that Jesus was two persons in one) the Council of Ephesus declares that Jesus is one person only, whose mortal body was united with his divine nature

448 - Leo writes an epistle to the Patriarch of Constantinople, encouraging him to remain firm against the heretics who seek to define the nature of Christ; this epistle eventually becomes known as The Tome of Leo


'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#28 Evangelion

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Posted 27 July 2004 - 02:33 PM

Augustine managed to escape most of the action by dying in AD 430 – but he didn’t miss much.

Just when everyone thought they’d got it all sorted, a fresh theological controversy broke out in 431. Strange as it may sound, people had actually been rather confused by the Creed which the two Gregories had written, and novel attempts to redefine the nature of Christ (yet again) broke out all over the place.

Since nobody could think of any new ideas to add, they began recycling the old ones – and instead of talking about Christ’s nature, they decided to speculate about his will (of all things.)

Nestorius decided that if Jesus had two wills (as many people believed by this time) then he must be two separate persons; a human and a god.

The Council of Ephesus cleared everything up by stating that Jesus was only one person with two natures – a mortal nature and a divine one – which were so perfectly joined together that it was impossible to tell where the one left off and the other began.

Leo the Great endorsed this idea in a massive epistle to the Patriarch of Constantinople. The letter was so large that subsequent generations referred to it as a book – The Tome of Leo.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#29 Evangelion

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Posted 27 July 2004 - 02:35 PM

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Timeline of Early Church History -

Key People; Key Events

AD...

449 - The Latrocinium Council declares that Jesus has only one nature and deposes the Patriarch of Constantinople

451 - The Council of Chalcedon declares that Jesus has...

two natures; the divine of the same substance as the Father,

the human of the same substance as us,

which are united unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably

... a statement which immediately plunges the church into 200 years of political chaos, sectarian division and theological controversy


'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#30 Evangelion

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Posted 27 July 2004 - 02:35 PM

By the middle of the 5th Century, a group of rogue bishops had succeeded in holding a new council to push their own views into orthodoxy. The meeting was punctuated by censorship and violence.

The secretaries of the attending bishops were physically restrained so that they could not take notes, while several leading churchmen were so overcome by the passion of debate that they began to fight one another in the midst of the proceedings.

Order was restored when the military police arrived at the summons of the ringleaders – and most of the signatures on the new Creed were obtained at the point of a sword. Those who did not sign were turned out of the council, and signatures forged in their absence.

Two years later, the Council of Chalcedon came up with yet another formula, which was – predictably enough – more controversial than all of the others put together.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#31 Evangelion

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Posted 27 July 2004 - 02:36 PM

By way of emphasizing just how far the church had wandered from her historical roots, I would like to close by describing the early Christian message as represented by inscriptions and paintings on the walls of the Roman catacombs.

In the catacombs, Christ is always the predominant character and most frequently portrayed as the Good Shepherd. In these images he bears a lamb on his shoulders, signifying a Christian who was lost but recently found.

Christ is also represented as a man who cares for his fellow men; there are pictures of Jesus anointing the eyes of the blind man, multiplying bread, turning water into wine, and raising Lazarus from the tomb. In these and many other images, he is distinctly portrayed as one of us – a mortal man, subject to our own weaknesses, yet rising above them by a supreme act of will.

We also find paintings of Jesus as a child, with his mother; in some he is accepting gifts from the Magi; in others he rests in the manger while a miraculous star shines above. The Christian ritual of baptism is clearly depicted, along with images of fishermen drawing their catch from the water.

Memorial suppers are shown; in these we can see a table with bread, fish and a flask of red wine, around which sit a small number of Christians. In a space next to this picture, we find a painting of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah – demonstrating that the early Christians understood the spiritual significance of this trial.

There is nothing complicated about this early theology. It is free from philosophical speculation, political manipulation and ecclesiastical power-plays. It is refreshingly Biblical – the simplest Christian message, expressed in the simplest possible way.

The message to which we inevitably return when we come to study early church history.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#32 Evangelion

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Posted 27 July 2004 - 03:16 PM

Early Church History – Recommended Reading List



Barrett, David V. (1996), Sects, ‘Cults’ and Alternative Religion

Baus, Karl (1980), History of the Church

Bercot, David W. (1998), A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs

Bray, Gerald (1984), Creeds, Councils & Christ

Chadwick, Henry (1984), The Early Church

Chadwick, Henry (1988), Atlas of the Christian Church

Dunn, James D. G. (1980), Christology in the Making

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History (available online)

Guthridge, Ian (1999), The Rise and Decline of the Christian Empire

Hall, Stuart G. (1991), Creeds, Councils and Controversies

Hall, Stuart G. (1991), Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church

Hanson, R. P. C. (1988), The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381 AD

Hillar, Marian (2000), Numenius and Greek Sources of Justin’s Theology (available online)

Horner, Timothy J. (1997), The Jews in Early Christian Texts

Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses (available online)

Jaeger, W. (1961), Early Christianity and Greek Paideia

Kelly, Joseph F. (1992), The Concise Dictionary of Early Christianity

Kelly, J. N. D. (1978), Early Christian Doctrines

Markus, R. (1974), Christianity in the Roman World

Martyr, Justin, First Apology (available online)

Martyr, Justin, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (available online)

McDowell, John C. (1994), Arius: A Theological Conservative Persecuted? (available online)

Mircea, Eliade (1994), Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics

Pelikan, Jaroslav (1997), Christian Tradition - a History of the Development of Doctrine Christian Doctrine & Modern Culture, since 1700

Reynolds, S. (1977), The Christian Religious Tradition

Rubenstein, Richard E. (1999), When Jesus Became God

Runia, Klaas (1968), I Believe in God…

Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church (available online)

Tertullian, Adversus Praxean (available online)

Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History (available online)

Wand, J. W. C. (1974), A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500

Williamson, G. (1989), Eusebius – the History of the Church from Christ to Constantine

Young, Frances (1993), The Making of the Creeds

Edited by Evangelion, 10 September 2005 - 05:46 AM.

'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.




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