Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Controversies about Christ in the early church, part II: The hybrid Jesus and the Second Council


Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr, the Christian philosopher, about to say something profound about the Logos

This post follows from “Who do you say that I am: Controversies about Christ in the early church“:

[The following paragraph is adapted from an appendix to Philip Jenkins’s fascinating new book, Jesus Wars:How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years. I do think this subtitle is significantly misleading–these decisions were in fact made “ex corde ecclesia”–out of the heart of the church. But Jenkins tells a rollicking tale, and with scholarly care–a rare combination]

The emperor Theodosius I called the second ecumenical council of the church, called the First Council of Constantinople, in 381. This council met mainly to settle continuing debates concerning the Trinity. Arianism remained powerful long after the Council of Nicea, while some groups denied the full divinity of the Holy Spirit. The Council of Constantinople tried to resolve these issues, and it defined the role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity. Continue reading

Debunking the Protestant “T” word part IV: How sausage was made


It's not pretty, folks!

This article is continued from “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ word: An edifying tale, part I,“ Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part II: How to spot a heresy, and “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part III: What was the beef at Nicea?

This was the sort of problem that was on the minds of bishops all over the empire when Constantine stepped in and invited them to his summer palace in Nicea for this major meeting. At least 200 bishops attended, mostly from the Eastern part of the empire, but some from Italy, North Africa, and other Western places. Counting all the bishops’ fellow presbyters and deacons, scholars believe there were close to a thousand people at that meeting. The sheer size of this assembly had no precedent in church history.

If you think about it, this must have been just an awe-inspiring gathering for those simple pastors. Most stunning was that just over a dozen years before the council, the largest persecution in the history of the early church had been raging. In fact, some of the bishops at Nicea had been tortured during that persecution. Some bore horrible scars; some were even missing eyes. And here they were, summoned by the emperor, with all their expenses paid, laden with the traditional gifts that followed an invitation to the imperial court. Some, legend has it, received the kiss of peace from Constantine himself. It must have been just a breathtaking moment for those who had remained faithful through the recent persecution and now saw God working in this amazing way. Continue reading

Debunking the Protestant “T” Word part III: What was the beef at Nicea?


The emperor Constantine and the council of Nic...

The Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, with Arius's books being burned, below. (Drawing on vellum. From MS CLXV, Biblioteca Capitolare, Vercelli, a compendium of canon law produced in northern Italy ca. 825.)

This article is continued from “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ word: An edifying tale, part I“ and Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part II: How to spot a heresy.“

Now, before Nicea, there had been many councils. But they had been regional affairs, to deal with this or that issue—sometimes a heresy, sometimes a question of church order, and so forth. But the church had not yet seen something as widespread and threatening as the Arian heresy of the late 200s and early 300s. So let’s look now at how that started, and how it was resolved at the Council of Nicea.

To understand the significance of the Council of Nicaea, we need to enter into the minds of those involved and ask why so much bitterness and confusion had been caused by one apparently simple question: “In what way is Jesus divine?” Continue reading

A few illuminating glimpses into medieval theology and theologians–thank you, David Bell


All of the following come from David N. Bell, Many Mansions: An Introduction to the Development and Diversity of Medieval Theology (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1996). This is a splendid book–a sort of sequel to Bell’s Cloud of Witnesses, on early Christian thought.

Many thanks to my t.a., Shane Moe, for transcribing these. In each case, the page number of the quotation appears at the beginning of the line. The quirk of lowercasing adjectival forms of proper nouns is Bell’s or his editors–not mine:

[For more “glimpses,” from Jaroslav Pelikan, see here.]

(20): [re: Major developments in European intellectual history from 6th century onwards] There are five mile-stones to mark our way: (i) the pontificate of Gregory the Great from 590 to 604; (ii) the Carolingian Renaissance of the late eighth and ninth centuries; (iii) the papal reform movements of the eleventh century; (iv) the renaissance of the twelfth century; and (v) the rise of scholasticism and the universities in the thirteenth century. Continue reading

Pope Benedict XVI says Shroud of Turin the real deal


Unlike his predecessor John Paul II, Benedict XVI has now affirmed the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. It is, he says, “an icon written in blood,” the very grave-clothes of Jesus of Nazareth.

To me, the 13th-14th century provenance claimed by the carbon-daters makes more sense: that was a period of intense interest in the actual events of Christ’s life and, especially, of his Passion. For more on that, see my article for CT on late medieval Passion devotion.

This also seems a bold move by a pope–to declare something authentic that it is well within the realm of science to later declare a fraud (though so far no conclusive proof has been given).

What do you guys think?

Mary: Exploring the church’s thought on the mother of Jesus


As Christian History & Biography was preparing to put out issue #83 on “Mary in the Imagination of the Church,” I spent some quality time poring over sources on the mother of our Lord. As usual, a few of those were culled out for the issue’s “Recommended Resources” section. Here they are:

[On why evangelical Protestants should even care about Mary in the first place, see here.]

Mary: Recommended Resources
A few good places for Protestants to explore the church’s thought on the mother of our Lord.
Steven Gertz and Chris Armstrong

Those looking for a starting place for a thoughtful modern Protestant reclamation of Mary may wish to browse Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary, a compact set of scholarly essays on the subject edited by Beverley Roberts Gaventa & Cynthia L. Rigby, eds. (Westminster John Knox, 2002). For those wishing to cut straight to the most highly contested points of Marian doctrine, a stimulating read is Mary: A Catholic-Evangelical Debate (Brazos Press, 2003), by an articulate and sometimes passionately opposed pair, Dwight Longenecker & David Gustafson. Continue reading

Jesus: The man, the movie, the historical reality


It’s great when pop culture creations push us back to our history. In fact, such times are for many of us amnesiac American Christians the ONLY times we think about our history! So when Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ appeared in theaters around 5 years ago, sparking again century-old questions about the historical Jesus, this historian rejoiced:

Christian History Corner: Just a Closer Walk … with the Historical Jesus
Mel Gibson’s movie raises again the question: How much can we know historically about Jesus’ life and times?
By Chris Armstrong

The Passion of the Christ looks to have secured its place financially among the movies that have grossed the most during their opening week. Its $23.5 million first day‘s take puts it in the company of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” series and the latest “Star Wars” movies.

While it is a good bet that many of those attending the movie this week are Christians, it is also a good bet that many do not share Gibson’s conservative Catholic piety or evangelical Protestants’ theological commitment to seeing Jesus’ act as one of substitutionary atonement. Continue reading