Origins of the Creed

Discussion in 'Christianity' started by Thomas, Jul 15, 2006.

  1. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    As it is commonly held that the Creed was something that didn't exist before the First Council of Nicea (325), I wanted to post some comments that might help put any discussion in a proper context.

    Council in secular context:
    When Constantine came to power, he effectively ended the persecutions that had afflicted the Church with increasing severity (the later were far more widesread and vigorously prosectued than the earlier) by declaring Christianity the state religion.

    But then he was faced with the problem that dissent threatened to split the church - the dispute centred on the teaching of Arius, a priest in Alexandria, with regard to the divinity of Jesus.

    In an effort to resolve the dispute, which threatened the social order (there were street battles in Alexandria) he offered to call a council of the whole church, something impossible since the time of the apostles, and furthermore offered to pay for it...

    ... contrary to the popular view, Constantine had no say in what the council decided, and nor did he care. He wanted unity, he wanted peace, but what the foundation of that unity was, was a matter for the bishops to decide.

    The Creed - Council in Doctrinal context
    The Creed then, the Symbol of Nicea, was (and is today) a summation of the basics of faith. The very word 'creed' - I believe - says it all. The bishops were invited to come up with some a by which a Christian might travel the length and breadth of the empire, and find Christianity, as he understood it, being preached as the same universal and saving faith as he had been taught, wherever his journey took him.

    The Arian dispute arose when the laity in Alexandria complained to the bishop that Arius was preaching something which was contrary to their catechetical studies, and different from the faith into which they had been baptised.

    The Christian formula for the Creed follows the Judaic precedent of the Shema Israel, and in fact the one can be seen in the other.

    What differs is that the Creed was taken not from a prayer, but from the Rite of Baptism, the initiation 'into' the Faith - and not simply a set of propositions to be believed, but an initiation into a new life, a new birth - Credo in unum Deum actually translates as 'I believe into One God' - and the 'into' is significant in this regard.

    Whilst we have no material evidence of a formal creed prior to Nicea - there wasn't one - we do have written records of the baptismal rites, and the nature of the rite, both in Scripture, in the Gospels and especially Paul to the Church in Corinth, and in the works of the Fathers of the first and second century, and we have evidence enough to show that the Creed was drawn from baptismal and liturgical forms that were instituted by the Apostles.

    Baptism emerged as a threefold immersion: I believe in one God (dunk) in Jesus Christ (dunk) the Holy Spirit (dunk)...

    The Creed then is a profession of faith, not in an abstract sense, but of a religious experience not only of Jesus Christ but in Jesus Christ - in the Spirit. Later developments and refinements were formulated in the face of misunderstanding or error, to clarifiy basic principles without changing or altering the original meaning or message transmitted.

    Arius, for example, taught that Christ was the Son of God, but that there was a time when Christ was not. Orthodoxy held that Son and Father were one in eternity - one substance - homoousios, and as such that there was never a time when the Son was not, the Father was not, the Spirit was not.

    If anyone is interested, we might tackle the Creed verse by verse, and I shall for my part endeavour to highlight certain aspects of the 'disciplina arcana', and show how elements were added or restated to counter specific historical views which threatened to destabilise the nature of the Christian message.

    Thomas
     
  2. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

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    Thank you for this thread, Thomas, and your very nice OP summation. I have been hoping for a thread to discuss the creed and it is helpful to have it put into this historical perspective. I don't have time at this moment to start off further discussion, but I would be interested in participating if you'd like to go through it little by little, or perhaps in the three obvious sections?

    lunamoth
     
  3. AletheiaRivers

    AletheiaRivers Well-Known Member

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    I'd be very interested. As you know, I come from a church that is about as non-traditional as one could get. :rolleyes:
     
  4. flowperson

    flowperson Oannes

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    Thomas:

    Let's do it !

    flow....:)
     
  5. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    OK -

    Before we begin, I'd like to post a note on the 'Canons' (rules) passed by the Council:

    Canons
    1. ... But if anyone in good health has castrated himself, if he is enrolled among the clergy he should be suspended, and in future no such man should be promoted...

    It is noted that those who have been castrated by barbarians, or their masters, should suffer no impediment to promotion, but that the practice of self-castration should cease

    2. Since, either through necessity or through the importunate demands of certain individuals ...

    This was to stop the practice of anyone rising too quickly through the ranks, as it were, and one can see the idea of those with money to entertain their fellows might rise very quickly. It goes on "men who have recently come from a pagan life to the faith after a short catechumenate have been admitted at once to the spiritual washing, and at the same time as their baptism have been promoted to the episcopate or the presbyterate, it is agreed that it would be well for nothing of the kind to occur in the future."

    It goes on to say that if, among the clergy, some vice had bbeen overlooked, they will be suspended.

    Notably Ambrose of Milan, an ex soldier and able administrator of the city, was elected to be bishop from the catechumenate before he was even baptised, and refused the position. The pressure was so great he was baptised and became a bishop eight days later.

    3. This great synod absolutely forbids a bishop, presbyter, deacon or any of the clergy to keep a woman who has been brought in to live with him, with the exception of course of his mother or sister or aunt, or of any person who is above suspicion.

    What is not clear is the position of the wife. We assume that it is a ruling against harems of any sort.

    4, 5, 6 & 7 deal with appointments or suspensions, and methods to prevent private grudge or vindictiveness via a process of appeal.

    8. Concerning those who have given themselves the name of Cathari, and who from time to time come over publicly to the catholic and apostolic church, this holy and great synod decrees that they may remain among the clergy after receiving an imposition of hands. But before all this it is fitting that they give a written undertaking that they will accept and follow the decrees of the catholic church, namely that they will be in communion with those who have entered into a second marriage and with those who have lapsed in time of persecution and for whom a period [of penance] has been fixed and an occasion [for reconciliation] allotted, so as in all things to follow the decrees of the catholic and apostolic church. Accordingly, where all the ordained in villages or cities have been found to be men of this kind alone, those who are so found will remain in the clergy in the same rank; but when some come over in places where there is a bishop or presbyter belonging to the catholic church, it is evident that the bishop of the church will hold the bishop's dignity, and that the one given the title and name of bishop among the so-called Cathari will have the rank of presbyter, unless the bishop thinks fit to let him share in the honour of the title. But if this does not meet with his approval, the bishop will provide for him a place as chorepiscopus or presbyter, so as to make his ordinary clerical status evident and so prevent there being two bishops in the city.

    An interesting one. The Cathari were not the Cathars of the Middle Ages, but a sect of 'The Pure' - what is evident is that he church was willing to accept them as priests on their grounds of their practice, and simply required them to acknowledge the Truths of Faith of the Church.

    9 & 10 - admin matters on ordinations (such as if you lie, the fault lies with you and not the church).

    11. ... Those therefore among the faithful who genuinely repent shall spend three years among the hearers, for seven years they shall be prostrators, and for two years they shall take part with the people in the prayers, though not in the offering.

    Wow, someone took their religion seriously! So for a transgression "though they do not deserve leniency, nevertheless they should be treated mercifully" - we think this was a sop to Constantine, who wanted to use the coucil to get back at the followers of Licinius, whom he defeated to win the empire. The council however, if firm on this point - Constantine considers them beyond leniency, we however, shall treat them otherwise.

    That's twelve years penance before they can recieve the Eucharist!

    12. Those who have been called by grace, have given evidence of first fervour and have cast off their [military] belts, and afterwards have run back like dogs to their own vomit, so that some have even paid money and recovered their military status by bribes — such persons shall spend ten years as prostrators after a period of three years as hearers. In every case, however, their disposition and the nature of their penitence should be examined. For those who through their fear and tears and perseverance and good works give evidence of their conversion by deeds and not by outward show, when they have completed their appointed term as hearers, may properly take part in the prayers, and the bishop is competent to decide even more favourably in their regard. But those who have taken the matter lightly, and have thought that the outward form of entering the church is all that is required for their conversion, must complete their term to the full.

    Again, this covers the followers of Licinius who, having been on the losing side, now try and get back a similar position in the ranks of the winner 'and afterwards have run back like dogs to their own vomit' was obviously Constantine's view of his erstwhile enemies.

    This also counters the assumption that because one held high status in life, one presumes to be awarded with high status in the church. In many cases such men would no doubt have served well, they would be educated and able in administration, but would they be believers?

    13. Concerning the departing, the ancient canon law is still to be maintained namely that those who are departing are not to be deprived of their last, most necessary viaticum.

    This was the annointing of the sick and the dying - 'last rights' by which anyone, regardless of status, might partake of the Eucharist.

    14. Concerning catechumens who have lapsed, this holy and great synod decrees that, after they have spent three years as hearers only, they shall then be allowed to pray with the catechumens.

    15. On account of the great disturbance and the factions which are caused, it is decreed that the custom, if it is found to exist in some parts contrary to the canon, shall be totally suppressed, so that neither bishops nor presbyters nor deacons shall transfer from city to city...

    16 Says you can't be thrown out of one church, and then go and join another.

    17. Since many enrolled [among the clergy] have been induced by greed and avarice to forget the sacred text, "who does not put out his money at interest", and to charge one per cent [a month] on loans, this holy and great synod judges that if any are found after this decision to receive interest by contract or to transact the business in any other way or to charge [a flat rate of] fifty per cent or in general to devise any other contrivance for the sake of dishonourable gain, they shall be deposed from the clergy and their names struck from the roll.

    18. It has come to the attention of this holy and great synod that in some places and cities deacons give communion to presbyters, although neither canon nor custom allows this, namely that those who have no authority to offer should give the body of Christ to those who do offer. Moreover it has become known that some of the deacons now receive the eucharist even before the bishops. All these practices must be suppressed.

    We're not quite sure what's going on here, but the suggestion might be that a deacon (low in the church) might be a local dignitary, whilst a bishop (above him) might be quite lowly in the community. Therefore social pressure is appliers to observe the superiority of social status. This was expressly forbidden.

    19. Concerning the former Paulinists who seek refuge in the catholic church, it is determined that they must be rebaptised unconditionally.

    Paulinus was a clever and erudite man, supposedly a Christian, who filled his house with nubile young women ... 'nuff said ...

    20. Since there are some who kneel on Sunday and during the season of Pentecost, this holy synod decrees that, so that the same observances may be maintained in every diocese, one should offer one's prayers to the Lord standing.

    If one considers these canons, it gives something of the idea of the early church, perhaps as many as 50 million believers, at this time.

    It should be noted that there was in place for the catechumenate a series of degrees, hearer, prostrator, etc ... and all this with regard to the principles rites of the Church, Baptism and the Eucharist. It is from the liturgical practice of these rites that the Creed was drawn.

    Lastly a letter to Alexandria about Arius - I'll precis this later.

    Thomas
     
  6. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    I have read through "The Letter Of The Synod In Nicaea To The Egyptians" addressed to the Church of Alexandria, carried home from the council by its bishop who was presetn there, Alexander.

    It was unanimously agreed that anathemas should be pronounced against his impious opinion and his blasphemous terms and expressions which he has blasphemously applied to the Son of God, saying "he is from things that are not", and "before he was begotten he was not", and "there once was when he was not", saying too that by his own power the Son of God is capable of evil and goodness, and calling him a creature and a work.

    This was the gist of the ruling against the teachings of Arius. The bulk of the letter actuially concerns Melitius, his followers, and those who held authority in his name.

    Melitius was bishop of Lycopolis, and imprisoned by Diocletian during the persecutions. Peter of Alexandra, his neighbour, fled to evade arrest, and continued his ministry from hiding.

    In times of peace, Peter returned, and also welcomed back to the church those who had recanted under threat of persecution. Melitius, on the other hand, saw both Peter and those who recanted as failing in faith, which rendered their authority invalid. He then began to ordain under his own authority, and ordain to ranks in the bishoprics of Alexandria, positions within the gift of Peter, for example, so that two men contended the same position, a position which he sought himself.

    The schism was obvious and undesirable. The Church in North Africa had already appealed to Rome for a decision (an early recognition of the authority of Rome) and the rule was that those who recanted could return to the faith after a suitable penance was observed - in short, the church forgives.

    Melitius was 'retired' - he retained his title, but in name only, and no authority, and was to cease preaching... I think the term 'gardening leave' might apply here ... His consecrations were declared invalid, but those who sought such could be re-instituted again, although no position of authority could be held without the approval of the local bishop.

    Melitius actually appeared again, throwing his lot in with the Arians, contesting the case with Athanasius at every turn, creating more trouble. The sect of his name continued into the fifth century.

    I only add these points to try and offer insight to the church in its day, out of which the creeds arose.

    Thomas
     
  7. Quahom1

    Quahom1 What was the question?

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    Then we need to start at the beginning of the rise of Christianity as a state sanctioned religion, and the orginator himself.

    Upon his death (311 A.D) Galerius, seeing that there was no shortage of "Christian Martyrs", and noting the people of the Empire themselves were sickened by so much blood shed, ordered his final edict of toleration towards the Christians, bringing the last and worst persecutions of Christians to an end in Rome.

    Enter Augustus, Constantius Chlorus, governor of the district of Gaul (and the Bristish Isles). Constantius never pushed persecution of Christians hard, infact suspended all ill treatment of Christians and shewn them signs of favor instead. Why bring up a governor? In 312 A.D. Constantius Chlorus' son, Constantine advanced across the Alps (during the struggle for power of Rome), to remove Maxentius from Italy (and to capture Rome). Maxentius had the superior force, so the move by Constantine was daring and foolhardy. Outside the walls of Rome, and influenced by his own father's affection for Christians, Constantine turned to the Christian God for help.

    In a dream Constantine saw a cross in the sky and the words "In this sign conquer." On 28 October 312 A.D. Constantine defeated Maxentius, soundly and with brilliance. This caused Constantine to consider the might of Christ and soundness of the Christian religion.

    Regardless of political historians' thinking, Constantine's public and private life painted a different picture. From 312 A.D. on Constantine favored Christianity openly. Ministers of Christ had the same rights as pagan priests. Execution by cruxifiction was hence abolished. Gladitorial games for criminal punishment were ended. In 321 A.D. Sunday became a "public" holiday, and the churches began to rise in stature and beauty, due to his support of the followers of Christ.

    He had his children raised as Christians and he himself had his household run based on Christian values. Funny though, Constantine did not receive baptism until shortly before his death (337 A.D.). But once baptised, he never again wore imperial purple. He died and was buried in his white baptismal robes. He ruled for only 25 years, yet look what he started...

    Matthew Arnold (19th century) penned this poem inspired by Constantine's conversion to Christianity:

    "She heard it, the victorious West,
    In crown and sword array'd!
    She fet the void which mined her breast,
    She shiver'd and obey'd

    She veil'd her eagles, snapp'd her sword,
    And laid her sceptre down;
    Her stately purple she abhorr'd
    And her imperial crown."

    Now, I believe the stage is set for the beginnings of the Creed...;)

    v/r

    Q
     
  8. Quahom1

    Quahom1 What was the question?

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    But I must fall back a bit. Because prior to Constantine and his counsil of 325 A.D. there was a creed already in existence. This I believe is the for-runner of the Nicene creed, as you shall see.

    During the second century of Christianity, there was an on going debate between orthodox and gnostic Christians, of which the orthodoxy had difficulty arguing with. Why? The Gnostics claimed secret knowledge, that was not for the eyes of the Jew of the times (the founders of the church). Failing that the gnostics would claim special revelations from heaven to prove their rights.

    Orthodox Christians pushed to subjugate the gnostic view, and in doing so, came up with their own concepts and convictions. The result was the creation of the "Old Roman Creed". It wasn't actually called such at the time, but rather was a confession during baptism:

    "I believe in God Almighty
    And in Christ Jesus, his only Son, our Lord
    Who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
    Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried
    And the third day rose from the dead
    Who ascended into heaven
    And sits on the right hand of the Father
    Whence he come to judge the living and the dead.
    And in the Holy Ghost
    The holy church
    The remission of sins
    The resurrections of the flesh
    The life everlasting."

    Never the less, the template was made and in use apparently as early as 100 A.D.

    my thoughts

    v/r

    Q
     
  9. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Creed - Proposition 1

    We believe in one God the Father Almighty,
    Maker of heaven and earth,
    and of all things visible and invisible.


    This refinement, as Quahom states, was to counter the dualism of the gnostics.

    First off, however, there is the qualification of God as Father Almighty, and not simply as Almighty. This was to emphasise not only the immediate and immanent presence of God, but also affirm that God stood in relation to the Gentile in exactly the same way as He stood in relation to the Jew - there is no distinction in God.

    So whilst the God of the Jews, of Jesus and of the Apostles was, in a sense, 'further away' than the gods of antiquity (who were closer to man in nature), the relation was infinitely personal.

    The second and third phrases or verses, if we might call them that, was in direct response to the inherent dualism of gnosticism - it was a rejection of the common teaching of the demiurge that stood between God and man (although the demiurge in Plato is not so explicitly stated).

    This gnostic teaching generally - and here we must acknowledge that no two doctrines were precisely the same (one thing that all critics noted was that once error creeps in, error proliferates) - is anti-Christian and anti-Hebraic - the gnostic world of matter is essentially a second and subsequent evil creation - albeit a necessity - it is not 'good' in essence as Genesis states.

    The third again reinforces this idea, and again in the face of, as Quahom notes, gnostics who claim to possess either a secret teaching of Christ not made known to Christ's elected 12 (but apparently to the gnostics); or conversely to one of the 12 who chose not to tell it to the others (but to tell it to them); or that Christ was unable to make any of the 12 understand, whilst - to them - the message was clear.

    In short, there is no secret or unseen world, or teaching, that was not revealed by Jesus to the 12, and by the 12 to their successors.

    Thomas
     
  10. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    ... and of course, I've jumped the gun.

    The text quoted is the revised Creed of Constantinople (381) not the Creed of Nicea (325) although the revised text was adopted under the name of Nicea at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

    It should read:
    We believe in one God the Father all powerful,
    Maker of all things both seen and unseen


    mea culpa,

    Thomas
     
  11. flowperson

    flowperson Oannes

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    Thomas:

    I am interested in your next-to-last post in terms of casting Gnostic believers in early Christianity in the role of "conspiracy theorists" in their time. In reading the scholarly works on Gnosticism that have proliferated since the translations of the Nag Hammadi Library, and especially the work of Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton, I didn't get that impression.

    My impression is that they were a non-politicized and disorganized body of believers in the life and works of Jesus who took different approaches to formalizing and passing on their belief dogmas to following generations. Until the Nag Hammadi discoveries most scholars only knew of their activities through the writings of their persecutors such as Irenaeus of Lyon, who were scathing in their denunciations of Gnosticism and fearfully shrill in their disclaiming of Gnostic beliefs and the demonization of Gnostic believers. It was as if the military warfare between Greece and Rome had been transformed into religious dogma battles thru the domination of the Roman Church, the will of Constantine, and the politicized compromises of the conferees at Nicea.

    I am still of the opinion that the council of Nicea, the subsequent creed statement(s), and Constantine's conversion and subsequent imperial guidance of the establishment and growth of Christianity in the 4th century had more to do with political, economic, and military expedience than it had to do with a heartfelt commitment and dedication to Jesus and the principles of Christianity that were emerging in the church thru the adoption of the writings of Paul, and the four synoptic authors. But of course it is impossible to know the real truth of all that. We only know what happened historically and what of that was recorded for us to decipher. The struggles of the powerful to assert political, economic, and military dominance are never clearly stated or seldom openly demonstrated, and are always obscured to the casual observer.

    flow....;)
     
  12. Quahom1

    Quahom1 What was the question?

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    Ah, but let us get into the heart of the matter, and then perhaps we'll see together, whether this is so or not. We may find that Constantine was not as politically minded as many perceive, then again we may find the opposite. ;) Unfortunately I'll have to hold off on my two cents until later this morning as it is almost 3:00 AM my time...:(

    v/r

    Q

    p.s. I think this is great to really examine this era of Christianity.
     
  13. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Hi flow:

    I am interested in your last post in terms of casting Gnostic believers in early Christianity in the role of "conspiracy theorists" in their time.

    The issue between the Christians and the gnostics was not, much as many would like, an issue between Rome and the gnostics - between a closed, institutionalised church - 'Rome' - and the 'free thinkers' on the outside.

    Rather it was a fundamental disagreement between what Christians believed, and what gnostics believed. I was saving this for the Christological discussion on the next bit of the Creed, but we might as well look at it now.

    Although no two gnostic sects taught precisely the same thing (and this was significant for the Christians - if you believe the gnostics, which gnostics do you believe?) what was common was utterly contra to Christian understanding:

    The world is good v the world is evil
    One God v the demiurge
    The unity of soul and body v the duality of soul and body
    The Incarnation v the flesh (gnostics refuted the idea of 'God become man')
    Faith v knowlewdge
    Mercy v knowledge
    Resurrection of the flesh (a gnostic no-no)

    ... gnosticism is as incompatible with Christianity as it is with Judaism, and it is this latter, the incompatibility with Hebraic belief, that we can say it is incompatible with Christian teaching, rather than the theory fielded by many, that gnosticism comprises a true doctrine concealed or destroyed by the church - or that Christ taught 'a gnostic teaching' to a select few ... in fact depending on who your gnostic teacher was determined who Christ is supposed to have passed the secret to ... Mary Magdalene, Judas, Thomas, Paul, Mark, Barnabas ...

    The term 'catholic' came into use not to imply a universal teaching, but that the catholic christian accepted the whole message of scripture, whereas the gnostic cherry-picked the bits that suited.

    My impression is that they were a non-politicized and disorganized body of believers in the life and works of Jesus who took different approaches to formalizing and passing on their belief dogmas to following generations.

    I don't think this is strictly accurate. Rather I would say the gnostics who interpreted the life and works of Jesus according to their own doctrines, be they Platonic, Persian (Zoroastrian or later Manichean), or whatever speculations they chose, rather than reviewing their understanding in light of Christian revelation. The long and short is what they taught is not what Jesus taught - the gnostics refute what is fundamental to Christian belief - but rather distorted Christian belief to fit in with their own teaching.

    Until the Nag Hammadi discoveries most scholars only knew of their activities through the writings of their persecutors such as Irenaeus of Lyon, who were scathing in their denunciations of Gnosticism and fearfully shrill in their disclaiming of Gnostic beliefs and the demonization of Gnostic believers.

    There is a certain mode of expression here, which I would question. The Christians were the ones persecuted (as were the druids) - they were hardly in a position to persecute anyone. Irenaeus was scathing in his denunciation because he saw Christianity being plagiarised and bastardised - one should also compare his texts with other secular texts of the day. What we view as 'scathing' was the common norm ... they did nothing by halves in those days. And I would question 'fearfully shrill' as well. Irenaeus is logical and reasonable ... but he does not shirk from highlighting the fault that he finds. Origen was the same with his refutation of Celsus.

    The Stoics were equally dismissive of the gnostics - I would suggest rather than a 'disorganized body of believers' the problem was a disorganized body of beliefs.

    Gnosticism dies out, as far as I can see, when Christianity was entering a period of increasing persecution, and certainly lacked any 'authority' by which it might 'stamp out' any other system. I think it died out simply because it was untenable, it didn't stand up to philosophical investigation ... its metaphysics was a mess.

    It was as if the military warfare between Greece and Rome had been transformed into religious dogma battles thru the domination of the Roman Church, the will of Constantine, and the politicized compromises of the conferees at Nicea.

    This is where I might suggest your scholarly sources are leading you astray:

    Remember the gnostic dispute was largely 'old news' by the time of Nicea.

    There were only two representatives of Rome at Nicea, and no more than a handful of Western bishops - of the near 300 bishops attending (approx figure - we can't be sure), almost all were Easterners - but somehow 'Rome' emerges as the villain of the piece - and it is this form of polemical scholarship that gets taken as a fact - there was no domination of the Roman Church as Pagels likes to present it, its simply historically untrue. In fact Alexandria and Antioch were far more significant players at this time. These early councils were all Greek and dominated by the Easterners and the theological arguments that followed were almost entirely eastern - there was no western father until Augustine, in North Africa, some 25 years after Nicea - and if you can show one 'politicised compromise' then we can discuss it.

    Irenaeus himself was an Easterner, posted to Gaul.

    I am still of the opinion that the council of Nicea, the subsequent creed statement(s), and Constantine's conversion and subsequent imperial guidance of the establishment and growth of Christianity in the 4th century had more to do with political, economic, and military expedience than it had to do with a heartfelt commitment and dedication to Jesus and the principles of Christianity that were emerging in the church thru the adoption of the writings of Paul, and the four synoptic authors.

    But I honestly don't think that position can be proven.

    For one thing, if Constantine wanted, he might have tried to declare Constantinople the seat of Christianity - rather than Rome which was by then increasing in traditional acceptance - but he didn't. I think everyone likes to think Constantine dictated to the bishops, but I don't see any evidence for it.

    From the Canons we know that an ecclesial structure was in place before Constantine came to power, and that it didn't change in any significant way under his rule. Nor was the council about politics, economics, or the military, per se, although one canon forbids money lending at extortionate rates. The major thrust of the council was to thrash out the Arian problem, was Christ co-eternal with God, or was he not? This was the hot topic of the day, the discussion on every street corner, and the cause of riots in Alexandria. Politics, economics, the military, didn't figure. And I would hazard that Constantine didn't care much either way which way the council decided, as long as it came to a decision.

    Pagels and the like seek to present the 4th century church as a dominant Roman presence because it supports their pro-gnostic argument, but it is simply not true - and gnosticism was already a dead duck by this time anyway. And if we discount Rome, then there's no boogey-man to stamp out the gnostics. The gnostics died out in the second century, when the church was entering a period of increasing persecution, because they could not sustain themselves internally. If anything, the gnostics had the upper hand - they had the advantage of allying themselves with the secular authority of the day.

    Nor is there any evidence of Constantine's 'guidance' of either the establishment or the growth of Christianity. Figures number around 20-50 million adherents by the time Constantine came to power - he certainly made the world 'easier' by allowing Christianity, but that's about it.

    But of course it is impossible to know the real truth of all that. We only know what happened historically and what of that was recorded for us to decipher. The struggles of the powerful to assert political, economic, and military dominance are never clearly stated or seldom openly demonstrated, and are always obscured to the casual observer.

    Another note - the Creed was the secret doctrine of Christianity, which is another reason why it wasn't consigned to paper. Only when the Arian dispute became a public hoo-ha did the creed become the object of common knowledge and discussion.

    The intellectual powerhouse of Christianity at this time was in the East, not Rome. All the councils came from the east, were held in the east, and the 'big thinkers' were easterners, the doctrine proclaimed was was eastern. not Roman ... look at the list of Fathers ... yet Rome is the villain ... I think the conspiracy is a lot closer to our own times ...

    Lots more to say, but time pressing ...

    Thomas
     
  14. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

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    Just want to say that I am following along with interest, even if I have little of scholarly value to add here. Thank you Thomas, Q and flow for your efforts here. It is fascinating to me that so much of the creed is written in such a way as to refute the gnosticism of the day, although it does leave me a little confused as to how it could on the one hand be the already-formed secret/unwritten creed of Christianity and at the same time then be given the wording to refute the gnostic beliefs. However, I'll guess that what you mean Thomas is that all of the doctrines you list in contrast to gnosticism were part of the secret Christian teachings, but then the specific wording was formulated for the first time at Nicea. Is this close?

    The last thing you say above Thomas, about the 'conspiracy' being today's conspiracy, I think is probably closer to truth. Sure, the gnostics and Christians of the first couple few centuries after Christ were all out in the open debating each other. Seems that the door has to swing both ways: gnostics refuting the Christians every bit as much as the reverse. As you point out Thomas those doctrines you list are very very much at odds with each other, and I wonder how many people who are attracted to gnosticism today are actually attracted to those doctrines, and how many are more basically rejecting what they view as the stronghold of the church. Sorry for the fairly blunt assessment here: I've got quite a lot of admiration for the knowledge shown by most of the Gnostics I've seen posting here and elsewhere. But, it also strikes me that modern Gnostics tend to define themselves mostly by what Catholic doctines they do not share, rather than by what they do believe beyond a general idea that they value knowledge and personal understanding of the Bible above all else.

    luna
     
  15. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Hi Luna -

    although it does leave me a little confused as to how it could on the one hand be the already-formed secret/unwritten creed of Christianity and at the same time then be given the wording to refute the gnostic beliefs.

    This was the expansion, as you go on to say - in effect a clarification. The Old Roman expresses a belief in God in one line, Nicea in two, Constantinople in three, the qualifications necessary to ensure absolute clarity. So you're pretty much there.

    On gnostics -

    Contrary to what many might think, I have no ill-regard for gnostics when they stick to their own doctrines, I will argue when they suppose to interpret Christian doctrine, and get it wrong.

    The point you make will, I think, be validated by history. Often so-called gnostics don't understand gnosticism in any great depth, nor Christianity. It's cool because its fun, and makes no moral demand - unlike Christianity and the Great Religions, which do - What they do understand is they don't like authority, and don't see why the church should have any authority over what Christianity is - so the emergence of New Age gnosticism goes along with a general anti-establishmentarianism - to the point where anything labelled gnostic is immediately right, true, etc., whilst anything labelled orthodox is obviously corrupt, in error, etc.

    I'd like to see people exercise the same open minded response to a self-elected surgeon prior to an operation ...
    +++

    Funny enough, I was talking to a theologian about something that struck me about the Reformation - that there was an upsurge in lay piety and mystical works, yet the Reformers stripped the churches of their icons and their symbols - stripped their religions of its mystery. My argument was, as a symbolist, that we need symbols, that without them belief becomes abstract, and distant.

    He agreed, and argued in turn that the upsurge in witchcraft, or paganism generally, was a direct result of this process - that pagan symbols replaced the church symbols - remember that the Calvinists burnt people for placing flowers on the grave of a dead relative ... no such expression was allowed.

    Then jump forward ...

    The Enlightenment (a misnomer if ever there was one) and the belief in the triumph of technology over nature (described as a wanton woman, needing to be tamed) led to the Industrial Revolution, the dehumanising of man, WWI - poison gas, barbed wire, machine guns, trenches. In theology a regime of neo-scholasticism, religion that was an expression of the social order ... the symbols lost their meaning once again ...

    The counter move was by the Romantics, in art and poetry, who revived the interst in the esoteric and the occult throughout Europe. Who wrote Frankenstein and Dracula. Poetry and the Gothic novel. America went in for a more commericalised spiritualism - religious freedom meant God was big business. Wicca revived in England. India was 'discovered'.

    Then we have WWII, the emergence of new economics after the depressions of the 20s and 30s, the affluent young and bang! Hippies and the counter culture, who took to anti-establishment anything, inc. religion, because it was anti-establishment, not because of any profound religious leaning... Timothy Leary was the new guru, LSD was the new religion, then TL 'sold out' to the FBI and the dream began to crumble ...

    After the Reformation was the CounterReformation, and the pendulum will swing again, the seeds of a Catholic revivial are already showing - the media has never shown such an interest in the Church than since JPII - it's only a matter of time before 'Catholics are Cool' (I mean, they will have run out of religions to try).

    God bless,

    Thomas
     
  16. flowperson

    flowperson Oannes

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    Thomas:

    Thank you for your extremely interesting and well-composed reply. Having read most of Pagel's work, and many of the translated texts of the Nag Hammadi scrolls over the years, I am still of the opinion that there is/was more to the Gnostic movements of the past and of the present than has been explained here and elsewhere by learned people of the status quo. Of course this discussion is not pointed towards changing either of our opinions one way or the other. But, rather to educate each other on the finer points of understanding on the boundaries between so-called heretical beliefs and classical Christian thinking and reason.

    My interest in all of this stems from the fact that I have worked very close to the center of scientific and technological progress, and I started upon my seeking journey because I became convinced that classical Christian teachings were simply not sufficient to ethically and morally prepare us all for the future that is roaring down the tracks at us faster each day. I am still of that opinion. However, I am heartened by the commitments that the Catholic Church has made to the progress of science over the years. Pierre Tielhard DeChardin's writings were also very influential in my lay readings into the issues here, even though I realize that he was somewhat presecuted by his brothers in Christ for his beliefs and writings when he was active in the 50's.

    The ethical battles over stem cell research and homosexuality are only isolated facets of this universe of disagreement. There has to be more contemporary understanding found within the ranks of religious orthodoxy and conservatism for the human race to progress as a unity into the future, but I am beginning to doubt that this will ever take place, to our collective peril.

    In place of curiousity about these changes and what they imply for all of us, I instead see know-nothing attitudes, demonzations, and outright social shunning and rejection of those who do so seek genuine knowledge relating to these dilemmas. And, I might add that this is particularly distressing when it comes to our leaders who should be insisting more and more upon such knowledge explorations. Instead they all seem to be imitating the mythically famous three monkeys who do not wish to deal with evil. It is all beyond belief to me.

    While I agree with much of what you have written about the council of Nicea and its workings and machinations, I am still uneasy that this is still one of the prime directives of Christian belief in the 21st century. IMHO it is almost as if it were written back then in anticipation of the situation that we all find ourselves in now. Twenty years ago when I looked around for alternatives and whence they arose, I found Pagels and Gnosticism. And you must admit that the Gospel of Thomas makes a lot of mystical sense in light of the knowledge explosion of the present day, especially when it comes to its comments regarding the nature of sexual differences.

    Again, thank you for taking the time for your extensive reply, and for providing me with an educational experience that I needed to fill-in-some-blanks. Cheers !

    flow....:)
     
  17. Quahom1

    Quahom1 What was the question?

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    Hi Luna,

    It's not that gnostics are a bad lot (not by far). It's just that Jesus didn't teach the good news only to have it secreted away from everyday joe citizen. Kind of counter productive, if you ask me. And please, Catholics hide nothing (can't even hide dirty laundry, let alone the secrets of the Universe)...l:eek: ;)

    v/r

    Q
     
  18. wil

    wil UNeyeR1 Moderator

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    Does this mean they are going to let google post the library? One tech scanning each page will do less damage to the book than one researcher...and once scanned it will never need be opened again....and thousands of researchers will be able to dig....and the rumors and innuendo will be end...unless...
     
  19. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Does this mean they are going to let google post the library? One tech scanning each page will do less damage to the book than one researcher...and once scanned it will never need be opened again....and thousands of researchers will be able to dig....

    What about Minge, J.P.: 'Patrologiae cursus completus. Series graeca'. (vols 1-166), or Minge, J.P.: 'Patrologiae cursus completus. Series latina'. (vols 1-221) ... plenty for scholars to get their teeth into there, if they wanted, and I would dearly love a translation of some of that stuff ...

    ... another problem is the issue that Wikipaedia has seemingly just become aware of, that stuff posted is inaccurate, if not downright 'wrong' - Wikipaedia is a wonderful resource, the problem is one is obliged to cross-check everything before one can assume it's reliable or truthful ... it risks becoming an online encyclopaedia of opinion ...

    and the rumors and innuendo will be end...

    I doubt it. People will just assume the stuff's been sanitised...

    Thomas
     
  20. AletheiaRivers

    AletheiaRivers Well-Known Member

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    Heh. Good point. :rolleyes:
     

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