How little things change

But Augustine wanted Truth, not cheap success: such a pressure-cooker psyche can settle for nothing less. He soon abandoned the simple, emotional Catholicism of his mother and adopted something more exclusive and recherché: the religion of Mani, a Persian syncretist who had taken this and that from here and there and come up with something that can only strike us as a California cult — a little Christian symbolism, a large dose of Zoroastrian dualism, and some of the quiet refinements of Buddhism. It was called Manicheism. For a while, it let Augustine off the hook. For one thing, it absolved him from any responsibility for his raging lusts: in Mani’s system, Good was passive, unable to battle the gross and fleshly evils that raged against it. It was a made-to-order religion for a smart young provincial who needed to explore every dark corner of the boiling city and experience every dark pleasure it had to offer — and at the same time think himself above the herd. But it couldn’t keep up with Augustine’s fearlessly inquiring mind. Like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormonism, it was full of assertions, but could yield no intellectual system to nourish the intellect. (Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, p. 49)

Visit to the Antiochian Village

The family and I met up with John (Jnorm888 at Ancient Christian Defender) at the Antiochian Village on Tuesday. It was great to hang out, to visit the museum, and, of course, to pray at the tomb of St. Raphael of Brooklyn. Many thanks to John for driving all the way out there to see us and for putting this great video together!

Building on sand

If Jesus was a legitimate claimant to the throne, it is probably that he was supported, at least initially, by a relatively small percentage of the population — immediate family from Galilee, certain other members of his own aristocratic social class, and a few strategically placed representatives in Judea and the capital city, Jerusalem. Such a following, albeit distinguished, would hardly have been sufficient to ensure the realization of his objectives — the success of his bid for the throne. In consequence he would have been obliged to recruit a more substantial following from other classes — in the same way that Bonnie Prince Charlie, to pursue a previous analogy, did in 1745. [Baigent et al., The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, preface]

One must admire that first “If,” which is the keystone holding up what follows. Then we have “it is probable.” Why is it “probable”? Why is he of the “aristocratic” class? Why a few “strategically place” representatives? Why not many? Why not none? If it was many, then why not enough to realize his objectives? If. Probable. Would. Would. Each possibility is banked, turning into a probability upon which the next mini-hypothesis rests. The whole thing is like this, built brick by unreliable brick. (David Aaronovitch, Voodoo Histories: The Rhole of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History, 207-8)

I’ve made exactly this point dozens of time in discussions and debates to a fairly wide variety of individuals, though probably far less eloquently and precisely than does Mr. Aaronovitch here. Everybody whose beliefs require an alternative history finds themselves doing exactly this. I’ve seen it done by Baptists and Presbyterians who realize that they can’t find their own Calvinist beliefs in the early Church and I’ve seen it done by atheists and neo-pagans (like Baigent & co.) who want to try to discredit the claims of Christianity. But no matter who is doing it, it is absurd and ultimately reveals the weakness of their own claims.

It is working the opposite direction of the way credible historians work; rather than working with the facts of history these people attempt to impose their own belief systems on history, working backwards to prove their own presuppositions. When they can’t find real history to back these presuppositions, they then subtly invent some, such as the “secret Protestants” of the early Church who, although completely and incomprehensibly invisible to history, were the “true Christians” all along. They begin with a hypothesis and support this with another hypothesis and this new hypothesis with yet another hypothesis and so on ad nauseum until the whole nonsensical scheme collapses under the weight of lack of any real evidence.

Such statements would be laughable if they weren’t just sad.

History of Christianity 3: Age of the Martyrs

Transcript and suggested reading:

The third century opened on a high note for the Christian Church. Although there were still heresies to fight against and pockets of persecution throughout
the Roman Empire and elsewhere, the Christian Church was largely at peace in and experiencing new levels of toleration and even acceptance by the non-Christian
world around it. In fact, one Roman emperor, Philip the Arab, had such a favorable stance toward Christians that rumors circulated claiming that he himself
was a Christian! The Church was also experiencing unprecedented growth during this time, converting even high-ranking members of the Roman government and
military and building large churches across the landscapes of cities and countrysides all over the Roman world and beyond.

This period of peace and toleration gave Christian intellectuals a new and unprecedented opportunity to try their minds and pens at biblical interpretation,
philosophy, and answering hitherto unanswered, and thus far largely unasked, questions in Christian theology. More than a few of these Christian
intellectuals used this opportunity to produce prodigious works of scholarship. Perhaps the most prominent of these intellectuals, and almost certainly
the one who has had the largest and longest lasting impact, was Origen Adamantius.

Origen, the son of a Christian martyr, had been selected as the leader of the Catechical School of Alexandria after the death of his teacher, St. Clement
of Alexandria. During his life, he produced an amazing amount of texts on every subject of relevance to Christians of his day. It is said that a team of
scribes followed him around wherever he went and he would dictate to them as he went about his daily tasks, writing multiple books on different topics
simultaneously. Perhaps his most monumental work was the Hexapla, a side by side, verse by verse comparison of six different versions of the Old Testament
in both Greek and Hebrew.

Unfortunately, Origen became a very controversial if nonetheless influential figure even during his own lifetime and he is probably best known today for
his theological errors. Largely as a result of his allegorizing tendencies in Old Testament studies, he made far too many concessions to the Gnostics
during the course of his disputes with them. He came to assert that human beings were originally made purely spiritual and that the material world was a
result of the Fall. As a result of this scheme, he also came to the conclusion that all humans would eventually be restored to God and none would be
damned. For these and other errors, he would later be condemned by numerous Church Fathers and Church Councils, including, most famously, the Fifth
Ecumenical Council in 553. His influence persisted nonetheless and he was a major influence especially on the Fathers of the Fourth Century, who heavily
borrowed from his methods and terminology, even while rejecting many of his ideas and conclusions.

Christian intellectuals like Origen also took advantage of the relative peace of the early third century to begin exploring many thus far unexplored
corners of Christian theology. Although Christians had held to beliefs such as the Trinity and the simultaneous divinity and humanity of Christ since
the days of the Apostles, more and more Christians began to ask for more precise definitions of exactly what these beliefs meant and consisted of; and
they received a great variety of answers. Sabellius, a priest in Rome, proposed that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three “masks” or “modes” of a
single Divine Person. To others, such as Tertullian of Carthage, this sounded blasphemous; these instead asserted that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
were three Persons sharing in a single divine nature. And still others proposed instead that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three different gods.
The relationship of the Persons of the Trinity to each other was also questioned. Some proposed that Father and Son were equal, others that the Son was
divine like the Father but somehow a step below him in rank. A further question was the relationship of the Persons of the Trinity to humans. Just how
divine is Christ? Just how unknowable is the Father? Just how human is Christ? And who or what is the Holy Spirit?

To provide answers to these new questions, Christian theologians and philosophers drew on the writings of the Apostles and friends and disciples of the
Apostles for answers, trying to find solutions to these problems that accorded completely with what these holy men of the earliest Church had taught about
God, about Christ, and about man. Many of the answers were obvious and quickly entered the lifeblood of the Church, others were more difficult and would
take time, in some cases even centuries, to fully explore and resolve.

Unfortunately, the peace that produced scholars like Origen wasn’t to last. In 249, the Roman emperor Decius ascended to the throne. He had never been
friendly toward the Church, always being conscientious about excluding Christians from his inner circle, but his possession of the imperial throne brought
out the worst in him. The year following his accession, 250, he launched the first empire-wide persecution of Christians. Decius issued a decree that all
people within the Roman Empire must offer a sacrifice and worship before the image of a pagan god. To ensure that his order was carried out, he dictated
that each citizen would be issued a certificate after the completion of this act and that those without this certificate would be punished.

Hundreds of Christians gave up their lives in the persecution rather than offer sacrifice and worship to a pagan idol. Amongst the Christians who were
martyred included many prominent figures, including Origen Adamantius, St. Cyprian, the famous Church Father and Bishop of Carthage, and St. Fabian, the
Bishop of Rome. As a result of the general anti-Christian attitude that this new persecution engendered in the Roman populace, there were also
anti-Christian riots in Carthage and Alexandria.

In 260, the persecution was repealed by Decius’ son Gellienius. Although official empire-wide persecution was ended, relationships of pagans with
Christians remained tense, often breaking out into acts of violence and occassional persecutions. In 284, a vehement anti-Christian, Diocletian,
acceded to the Roman imperial throne; he removed all government officials and members of the military who professed Faith in Christianity; at the beginning
of the Fourth Century, he would launch the greatest persecution that the Christian Church had ever endured up to that point in history.

Although many Christians went willingly to martyrdom for their Faith in Christ during these persecutions, there were also many who chose to save their
lives by sacrificing to the pagan gods, thereby apostasizing from Christianity. Many of these people, called the “lapsed,” were later to repent of their
apostasy and seek to rejoin the Christian Church. As a result, a major dispute arose in the Church over how readily these individuals should be
re-received. Most of the Church was understanding of the pressure that these individuals had faced and required only minimal penance before their official
re-reception. Some in the Church, however, especially the Christians of Africa, who had been hit the hardest by the persecutions, opposed this lax policy
and demanded much stricter requirements for re-reception; some of these even went as far as to claim that apostates could never return to the Christian
Faith at all!

As a result of these differences in opinion over the re-reception of the lapsed, the first major schism from the Christian Church took place. Novatian, a
priest in Rome, disputed with the Bishop of Rome, St. Cornelius, on the matter, proclaiming that the lapsed could never be re-received into communion with
the Church and that all heretics who came to the Church had to be re-baptized and not just chrismated. Eventually, he set himself up as an alternative
Bishop of Rome and set up his own Church-in-resistance, taking a large portion of the Roman Christians with him. The schismatic Novatianist sect was to
continue for several centuries.

Also during this time, the great tradition of Christian monasticism began to be established. Since the days of the Apostles, there had been Christians
throughout the Church who had chosen to live in lifelong celibacy, dedicating themselves entirely to God and to the Church, as well as those who had chosen
to take vows similar to the Nazirite vows of the Old Testament. In the mid-3rd century, however, these special Christian devotions began to take on a new
form to more firmly establish itself in the life of the Church.

The earliest known Christian hermit, though there were almost certainly others before him, is St. Paul the Hermit, who took up the life of a hermit in the
Egyptian desert sometime in the middle of the 3rd century.

The most famous Christian hermit, though, who is generally known as the founder of Christian monasticism, is St. Anthony the Great. Upon hearing the words
of Christ in Matthew 19:21 to “go, sell all you have, give it to the poor, and, come, follow me,” Anthony did just that. He sold the entire inheritance
which had been given him by his rich parents, gave all the money to the poor, commended his younger sister into the care of a community of celibate
Christian women, and went himself into the desert to battle the demons and devote his life to Christ in prayer and fasting.

Anthony spent most of his time in the desert living in a cave, constantly praying, fasting, and fighting the various demons who assaulted him through
temptation and even physically. Eventually, many people began traveling to the desert to see this holy man for themselves and to speak with him; many of
them decided to stay there and imitate Anthony’s way of life. By the end of the following century, men and women would flock to the Egyptian desert in
droves to take up the monastic way of life.

All in all, the third century was the most difficult era that the Christian Church had yet endured. While it had opened with great promise, as the
Christian Church experienced previously unknown levels of toleration and growth, it had, by mid-century, descended into terrible persecution, such as that
under Decius, and seemingly irreperable schism, such as that of Novatian. Nonetheless, the Christian Church persisted through each of these struggles,
always coming out stronger at the end. In spite of the accession of the anti-Christian Diocletian to the Roman imperial throne, Christians had great
prospects of a brighter future. But none expected the upheavals that were to come. As the Church entered the 4th century, its 300th year of existence,
it would experience both the greatest trials and the greatest triumphs in its history.

“Now, driven by love towards all the saints, we have arrived at the essence of the Tradition which is proper for the Churches. This is so that those who
are well informed may keep the Tradition which has lasted until now, according to the explanation we give of it, and so that others by taking note of it
may be strengthened against the fall or error which has recently occurred because of ignorance and ignorant people, with the Holy Spirit conferring perfect
Grace on those who have a correct Faith, and so that they will know that those who are at the head of the Church must teach and guard all these things.”
– St. Hippolytus of Rome, The Apostolic Tradition, 1

Although there are many who believe that they themselves hold to the teachings of Christ, there are yet some among them who think differently from their
predecessors. The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down thorugh an order of succession from the Apostles, and remains in the Churches even to
the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition. – Origen, Fundamental
Doctrines, 1, Preface, 2

Certain ones among the Christians, from a desire of excelling in chastity, and in order to worship God in greater purity, refrain even from such physical
pleasures as are in accord with the law. – Origen, Against Celsus, 1, 26

Let no one mislead the brotherhood with a lie, let no one corrupt the faith by a faithless perversion of the truth. The episcopate is one, of which each
Bishop holds his part within the undivided structure. The Church also is one, however widely she has spread among the multitude through her fruitful
increase. – St. Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church

Although you sent me a letter in which you ask that consideration be given your desire that, after the persecution is over and we begin to gather together
again and to meet together with the clergy, peace be then extended to the lapsed, those [aforemention priests] have dared, — contrary to the law of the
gospel, contrary even to your respectful petition, before penance has been done, before confession of the most grave and extremest sin has been made, before
a hand has been imposed in penance by the bishop and the clergy, — to offer on their behalf and to give them the Eucharist; that is, to profane the holy
Body of the Lord. – St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter in reply to certain Martyrs and Confessors

Lawrence and Ignatius, though they fought betimes in worldly camps, were true and spiritual soldiers of God; and while they laid the devil on his back with
their confession of Christ, they merited the palms and crowns of the Lord by their illustrious passion. We always offer sacrifices for them, as you will
recall, as often as we celebrate the passions of the martyrs by commemorating their anniversary day. – St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter to his Clergy and to
All His Poeple

Nor was the Lord then forgetful of Antony’s wrestling, but was at hand to help him. So looking up he saw the roof as it were opened, and a ray of light
descending to him. The demons suddenly vanished, the pain of his body straightway ceased, and the building was again whole. But Antony feeling the help,
and getting his breath again, and being freed from pain, besought the vision which had appeared to him, saying, ‘Where wert thou ? Why didst thou not
appear at the beginning to make my pains to cease?’ And a voice came to him, ‘Antony, I was here, but I waited to see thy fight; wherefore since thou hast
endured, and hast not been worsted, I will ever be a succour to thee, and will make thy name known everywhere.’ Having heard this, Antony arose and prayed,
and received such strength that he perceived that he had more power in his body than formerly.And he was then about thirty-five years old. – St. Athanasius
of Alexandria, Life of St. Anthony

“Dionysius to his brother Novatian, greeting. If it was against your will, as you say, that you were led, you will prove it by retiring of your free will.
For you ought to have suffered anything rather than divide the Church of God and to be martyred rather than cause a schism would have been no less glorious
than to be martyred rather than commit idolatry, nay in my opinion it would have been a yet greater act; for in the one case one is a martyr for one’s own
soul alone, in the other for the whole Church” – St. Dionysius of Alexandria, Letter to Novatian

“No road, no highway, no alley was open to us [Christians], either by night or by day; always and everywhere, everybody was shouting that anyone who did not
join in their blasphemous chants must at once be dragged away and burnt.” – St. Dionysius of Alexandria, Letter to Fabius of Antioch

In this video, we take a look at the Church of the third century, learning about the rise of Christian scholars like Origen Adamantius in Alexandria, Egypt, the terrible persecutions of Christians under Roman emperors like Decius, and the rise of Christian monasticism in the Egyptian deserts, largely thanks to the devotion of one man: St. Anthony the Great.

Suggested Reading:
“Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew” – Bart D. Ehrman
“Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into the New Testament” – Bart D. Ehrman
“From Jesus to Christianity: How Four Generations of Visionaries & Storytellers Created the New Testament and Christian Faith” – L. Michael White
“Heretics for Armchair Theologians” – Justo L. González & Catherine Gunsalus González
“The Story of Christianity: An Illustrated History of 2000 Years of the Christian Faith” – David Bentley Hart
“Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol iii: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian; I. Apologetic, II. Anti-Marcion, III. Ethical”
“Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol iv: The Fathers of the Third Century; Tertullian IV. More Ethical Writings, Minucius Felix, Commodian, Origen”
“Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol v: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novatian”
“Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol vi: Gregory Thaumaturgus, Dionysius the Great, Julius Africanus, Anatolius and Minor Writers, Methodius, Arnobius”
“Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol ix: Gospel of Peter, Diatessaron, Testament of Abraham, Epistles of Clement, Origen, Miscellaneous Works”
“History of the Church” – Eusebius of Caesarea, translated by G.A. Williamson
“From Memory to History: Using Oral Sources in Local Historical Research” – Barbara Allen & Lynwood Montell
“Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations” – Martin Goodman
“Early Christian Doctrines” – J.N.D. Kelly
“The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation” – Justo L. González
“How We Got the Bible” – Neil R. Lightfoot
“The Faith of the Early Fathers, volume 1” – William A. Jurgens (ed)
“Whose Bible Is It? A Short History of the Scriptures” – Jaroslav Pelikan
“The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine; Volume 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition” – Jaroslav Pelikan
“Early Christian Attitudes Toward Images” – Steven Bigham
“The Nag Hammadi Library” – James M. Robinson (ed)
“The Inner Kingdom: Collected Works, vol i” – Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Suggested Primary Sources:
“History of the Church” – Eusebius
“Life of St. Anthony the Great” – St. Athanasius of Alexandria
Pistis Sophia (Gnostic)
“Refutation of All Heresies” – St. Hippolytus of Rome
“De Lapsis” – St. Cyprian of Carthage
“De Unitate Ecclesiae” – St. Cyprian of Carthage
“Concerning the Trinity” – Novatian
“Declaration of Faith” – St. Gregory Thaumaturgus
“Against the Sabellians” – St. Dionysius
various writings of Tertullian of Carthage and Origen Adamantius

Works quoted in this video:
“The Apostolic Tradition” – St. Hippolytus of Rome
“Fundamental Doctrines” – Origen of Alexandria
“Against Celsus” – Origen of Alexandria
“On the Unity of the Church” – St. Cyprian of Carthage
Letters of St. Cyprian of Carthage
“:Life of St. Anthony the Great” – St. Athanasius of Alexandria
“Letter to Novatian” of St. Dionysius of Alexandria
“Letter to Fabius of Antioch” by St. Dionysius of Alexandria
“Church History” – Eusebius of Caesarea

Prayer in the morning

“The only means by which you can spend the day in perfect holiness, peace, and without sin, is the most sincere, fervent prayer as soon as you rise from sleep in the morning. It will bring Christ into your heart, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and will thus strengthen and fortify your soul against any evil; but still it will be necessary for you carefully to guard your heart.” – St. John of Kronstadt.

Theophilus against predestination

“But some one will say to us, Was man made by nature mortal? Certainly not. Was he, then, immortal? Neither do we affirm this. But one will say, Was he, then, nothing? Not even this hits the mark. He was by nature neither mortal nor immortal. For if He had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God. Again, if He had made him mortal, God would seem to be the cause of his death. Neither, then, immortal nor yet mortal did He make him, but, as we have said above, capable of both; so that if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God; but if, on the other hand, he should turn to the things of death, disobeying God, he should himself be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free, and with power over himself. That, then, which man brought upon himself through carelessness and disobedience, this God now vouchsafes to him as a gift through His own philanthropy and pity, when men obey Him. For as man, disobeying, drew death upon himself; so, obeying the will of God, he who desires is able to procure for himself life everlasting. For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption.” – St. Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, II, 27