Don Edwards Literary Memorial

July 28, 2007

Thin Threads

As you know, LeRoy, I have been doing research involving the early Church, the relationships and beliefs of Christians and Jews at various times. For the first couple of centuries after Jesus’ death, beliefs were fluid. This is demonstrated by the many gospels written, Mark’s thought to be the first which established the basic three year events in Jesus’ life.

Several interesting things, unknown to me at least, immerged during the research. The first was the likely error on the part of the writer of the Matthew Gospel. The Aramaic word for “virgin” is more likely translated as “young woman.” The Greek text, from which the prophesies of Isaiah was evidently taken, was translated as “virgin.” That being said, as far as is known, no other text up to that time had any reference to a virgin birth. So enter the busiest angel of all time: Gabriel. Of course he had to tell Mary. Then Joseph. Then the writer of Matthew manufactures the slaughter of the innocents. No other historical document mentions anything like that. Gabriel comes again, says to hightail it for Israel until things calm down. This makes Jesus come from out of Egypt, another Isaiah prophecy.

The changeable nature of beliefs during the first two centuries were legion. Some believed Jesus was God, some didn’t. Some demanded adherence to dietary laws, many didn’t. Scripture is not known for its humor, but the censors missed this one. Prophets, when in trouble, invariably have a vision. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter had a dream. He is told to go to Caesarea to baptize Cornelius, the Centurion. He does so, comes back to Jerusalem and is given grief by his followers about eating with an uncircumcised gentile and eating non-kosher food. Here comes the vision. Peter said God Himself said, “What God has cleansed, do not call common.” That shut them up alright. It’s hard to find a convincing rejoinder to visions

But passionate beliefs can be dictated to be “truth.” The first major “heresy” was that of Marcion who manufactured two gods, one for the Old Testament and one from the New Testament, with the New Testament god being the more powerful. Just as the victors write the history, a heresy is the ideology which lost. Sometimes heretics were excommunicated. At various times they were killed, during the Inquisition for example.

A century later, Constantine called for the Council of Nicea. He was much in need of a unifying religion to help him manage the empire. The two primary factions attending were headed by Alexander, the Trinitarian, and Arius who believed that Jesus, though the Son of God, was subordinate and therefore was not God. It is not know if Constantine favored one or the other, but given the tradition of emperors declaring themselves gods, some historians think Constantine had much to gain if the “messiah” was also God. Arius lost his case at the Council of Nicea, albeit narrowly. Had his doctrine prevailed, we would certainly have a very different church today.

If the mythology surrounding the Battle of Milvio can be believed, next to Paul the apostle, the most important person in all of Roman Catholic history would be Helena, the mother of Constantine. He won the battle so, the story goes, he kept his promise to her, took a persecuted minor sect and made it the religion of the entire empire.

And the bishop of Rome, the Sweet Christ on Earth, wasn’t all that important anyway until much later. The most powerful prelate by far during the reign of Theodosius at the end of the fourth century was Ambrose, bishop of Milan.

So here we are two millennia after Jesus. The doctrine of his divinity, coupled with the “Holy Spirit” also being God, presented a monotheistic conundrum that even the best logicians in the world couldn’t rationalize convincingly. It became a “mystery,” a dogma of Faith, heretical to disbelieve. I think the thin thread you mention broke completely at that time, the thread between Jesus and the pontiffs, the thread between his ideas and the evolving behemoth, the church.

Of course, the current pope, Benedict XVI, trying to put the genie back in the bottle, and having been the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith….the modern office of the Inquisition….he would know the genie well. Now we have open criticism of Islam, Latin Masses, and the doctrine of Roman Catholic supremacy. At the very least, not very ecumenical, not in the spirit of Vatican II, not in the spirit of John Paul II, and I suppose most of all, not at all in the spirit of Jesus.

If “heresy” is the ideology of the loser, then it is clear if Jesus were to come back in these times, he would likely be denounced as a heretic. So much for threads.

As Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim would say, “So it goes.”

Filed under: DON POSTS — Don @ 1:19 am

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