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 →
Icon of the First Council of Nicea
Once in a while I get to talk to a group of Protestants about one of our shibboleths, the “T word”–that is, tradition. And I make the case that tradition is not the sort of extra- and anti-biblical “rules of man” thing that they think it is. It’s not “stuff added to the Scripture to which the consciences of good Christians have been bound by an evil hierarchical church.”
In fact, tradition has been for 2,000 years the stuff of the faith of quite possibly the majority of world Christians. And it was the stuff of the faith of almost every Christian not just before the Reformation, but right through the Reformation, including the thought and commitments of Luther, Calvin, and other great Reformers. Calvin’s Institutes are full of footnotes to the church fathers. Why do that if Scripture is your only authority and is perfectly clear on all matters? Continue reading →
Over at Internet Monk, an excellent review of a book on classic Christian spirituality, Gary Thomas’s Sacred Pathways, has stirred up a heck of a hornet’s nest. A couple of critics are insisting at some length that contemplative prayer of the sort Thomas, Foster, Willard, and others recommend is “syncretistic” and thus dangerous.
Here is an excerpt from the review:
If you’ve read anything else by Gary Thomas or checked out his website, you know that unlike some evangelicals he believes that the Holy Spirit has been active throughout Christian history, not just since 1517. Continue reading →
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Patron Saints for Postmoderns, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged Bible, contemplation, Council of Chalcedon, evangelicalism, Incarnation, prayer, Spirituality, Tradition, Trinity, worship
These are brief excerpts and quotations I marked while reading Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300), Vol. 3. in his series The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978).
As with the David Bell “glimpses” posted yesterday, I thank my t.a., Shane Moe, who transcribed these and inserted brief contextual tags where helpful. Page numbers are at the beginning of each excerpt. The designation “Q” means I wanted to save the text as a quotation, for use in teaching and writing. “D” means a definition of a term. “Use” means I want to use an idea or statement in my teaching:
Q, 3: “The Middle Ages may be seen as the period when the primary focus of Christian thought about Christ shifted from what he was to what he did, from the person of Christ to the work of Christ.” Continue reading →
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged Abelard, Anselm of Canterbury, Augustine of Hippo, authority, Berengar of Tours, Bernard of Clairvaux, Christology, Christus Victor atonement theory, divinity of Christ, doctrine, Eucharist, heresy, humanity of Christ, Jaroslav Pelikan, Medieval, Middle Ages, sacraments, Saints, soteriology, the crucifixion, the Victorines, the Virgin Mary, Theology, Tradition, Trinity
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 →
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged Abelard, apophaticism, Aristotle, denominations, Eastern Christianity, Franciscans, Jesus Christ, Mary, negative theology, philosophy, Plato, Pseudo-Dionysius, realism, Sabellianism, scholasticism, the Affirmative Way, Theology, Thomas Aquinas, Trinity, universities
I suspect this post will make some readers mad. Good! Respond to the post, and let’s talk about it! My own parents disagree with it too. But today’s world of gentle, neighborly, non-doctrinal churchmanship (sorry, churchpersonship), in which you can believe almost anything and still be considered a member in good standing of most churches, has missed a very important point:
In matters of belief, souls are at stake.
If we don’t believe that, then we may as well pack it in. Because as Paul said, if the resurrection (to take one important example) hasn’t happened, then we Christians are of all people most to be pitied. We’re just fooling ourselves. There’s no logical reason we shouldn’t stay home every Sunday, crack open a cold one (or a case of cold ones) and enjoy ourselves in front of the TV set:
Tangling with Wolves
Why we still need heresy trials
Originally published in Christianity Today, summer 2003.
United methodist bishop Joseph Sprague publicly denies that Jesus rose bodily, that he is eternally divine, and that he is the only way to salvation. He has been charged four times with teaching heresies, and four times denominational representatives have acquitted him.
This is not a lone incident. Continue reading →
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Arianism, Arius, church discipline, divinity of Christ, ecumenical councils, heresy, heresy trials, Inquisition, orthodoxy, resurrection, Trinity
It’s tough for us to appreciate what a threat the Arian heresy was to the church in the 4th century. Basically, it had people worshiping Jesus even though they were convinced he was a fellow creature and not God–nothing short of idolatry according to the God of the Old (and New) Testament!
The Council of Nicea in 325 was supposed to slap down this mis-reading of Scripture, but for decades all it seemed to have done was stir up a hornet’s nest of controversy. For example Bishop Athanasius, the staunchest defender of orthodoxy at Nicea, was exiled by various Arian emperors no fewer than five separate times after the council was over.
Into this boiling pot of theological and spiritual confusion came three men of holy habits and clear thought: the Eastern trio now referred to as the “Cappadocian Fathers.” My friend Edwin and I engraved a cameo of each for Christian History a few years back:
Three Wise Men from the East
The Cappadocian Fathers brought the best gift of all: a powerful scriptural defense of the Trinity and Christ’s divinity against the Arian heretics.
Edwin Woodruff Tait and Chris Armstrong
Basil of Caesarea (“the Great”)
Pugnacious saint and theologian of the Spirit
Mention the “church fathers” to a Western Christian, and Basil the Great is not usually the first name to come to mind. Yet even for the Roman Catholic Church, Basil ranks with his friend Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom as one of the great propounders and defenders of the faith.
Born around 330, Basil grew up in a world where Christianity was recognized by the Roman government but divided between those who believed in the full divinity of Christ and the Arians who did not. For much of the fourth century, the Arians would enjoy the support of the emperors. The struggle between Christianity and the empire had not ended with Constantine. Continue reading →