Threatening Others In the Name of God

Threatening Others in God's Name

The history of “Christianity” appears to be, among other things, the history of conflicts too numerous to mention:

Even during the persecutions of the Romans against the Christians, churches were cleft by rivalry and schism.

- Samuel Laeuchli, The Serpent and the Dove: Five Essays on Early Christianity

[Christians and their churches were cleft by rivalries and schisms even before the persecutions if you read Acts and the Letters in the New Testament. - E.T.B.]

Constantine [the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity] united the whole Roman Empire under his rule and reigned for twenty-five years. He brought up his sons to be pious Christians, and the last of them reigned for another twenty-five years, having ultimately reunited the empire under his rule. During that half-century the Church had enjoyed imperial protection and paganism had been viewed with disfavor. Christians had been promoted and pagans frowned upon. With only two short-lived exceptions no pagan was to reign as Emperor after Constantine.
- A. H. M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe

A spirit of scornful tolerance breathes through not a few of his [Constantineʼs] edicts. As the years passed, toleration of paganism gave place to active repression; the emperor felt that he was strong enough to advance to a frontal attack upon paganism. The important fact to realize, however, is that this alteration in policy entailed no change of spirit, only a change of method. What Constantine would have recommended in 323 he later felt free to proclaim as the imperial will.
- Norman H. Baynes, Constantine the Great and the Christian Church

Constantine…banned the construction of new pagan temples, the consulting of oracles, and animal sacrifices. That these decrees were enforced sporadically did not detract from their symbolic value. With the old faith in decline, new converts poured into the Christian churches.
- Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christʼs Divinity in the Last Days of Rome

Constantineʼs allegiance to his God was backed by massive patronage. Emperors had always honored their favored gods with benefactions and buildings. Constantineʼs patronage was so lavish that he had to strip resources from pagan temples to fund it. One of his early foundations in Rome was the church of St. John Lateran, whose apse was to be coated in gold. Around 500 pounds of it was needed...Another 3,700 lbs was required for light fittings and another 400 pounds of gold for fifty gold vessels.
- Charles Freeman, “The Emperorʼs State of Grace,” History Today, January 2001

Edward Gibbon On Constantine And The Church

The grateful applause of the clergy has consecrated the memory of a prince, who indulged their passions and promoted their interest. Constantine gave them security, wealth, honors, and revenge; and the support of the orthodox faith was considered as the most sacred and important duty of the civil magistrate. The edict of Milan, the great charter of toleration, had confirmed to each individual of the Roman world the privilege of choosing and professing his own religion.
  But this inestimable privilege was soon violated: with the knowledge of truth the emperor imbibed the maxims of persecution; and the sects which dissented from the catholic church were afflicted and oppressed by the triumph of Christianity. Constantine easily believed that the heretics, who presumed to dispute his opinions or to oppose his commands, were guilty of the most absurd and criminal obstinacy; and that a seasonable application of moderate severities might save those unhappy men from the danger of an everlasting condemnation.
- Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 21

The privileges that have been granted in consideration of religion must benefit only the adherents of the Catholic faith. It is Our will moreover, that heretics and schismatics shall not only be alien from these privileges but shall also be bound and subjected to various compulsory public services.
- Letter of Constantine to his Vicar of the Praetorian Prefect, 326 A.D.; as cited in A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337, Ed., J. Stevenson, newly revised by W. H. C. Frend

The First Ecumenical Church Council At Nicea And The Arian Controversy

From the very first the Church was faced with the task of establishing dogmas. For Christianity abounds in problems more hinted at than answered in the New Testament...The first ecumenical church council, the Council of Nicea, assembled in the year 325 in the imperial palace of the first Christian emperor, Constantine. Once the discussions started the participants threw their Episcopal dignity to the wind and shouted wildly at each other. They were concerned primarily with improving their positions of power. Diplomacy was wielded as a weapon, and intrigues often replaced intelligence. There were so many ignorant bishops that one participant bluntly called the council “a synod of nothing but blockheads.” Constantine, who treated religious questions from a political point of view, assured unanimity by banishing all the bishops who would not sign the new profession of faith hammered out at the council. In this way unity was achieved.

[The Christians at Nicea displayed their shrewd theological insight by condemning and forbidding kneeling at prayer on Sundays and also between Easter and Whitsunday. - E.T.B.] The council also pronounced a Christian theologian named “Arius” to be a heretic. People who owned his writings were ordered to deliver them up on pain of punishment. Arius was banished.
- Walter Nigg, The Heretics

If any treatise composed by Arius should be discovered, let it be consigned to the flames, in order that no memorial of him may be by any means left. This therefore I [Constantine] decree, that if any one shall be detected in concealing a book compiled by Arius, and shall not instantly bring it forward and burn it, the penalty for this offence shall be death; for immediately after conviction the criminal shall suffer capital punishment.
- Letter of Constantine To the Bishops and People, c. 333 A.D. in which he proscribed the works of Arius [a Christian] and in which he also proscribed the works of the pagan scholar Porphyry [who had written numerous works that questioned Christianity, all of which were destroyed]; as cited in A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337, Ed., J. Stevenson, newly revised by W. H. C. Frend

Probably more Christians were slaughtered by Christians in two years [A.D. 342-343, during the Arian controversy] than by all the persecutions of Christians under the Romans during the previous three hundred years.
- Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 4, The Age of Faith

In the century opened by the Peace of the Church [after the first Christian Roman Emperor began his rule], more Christians died for their faith at the hands of fellow Christians than had died before in all the persecutions.
- Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

Arianism, which orthodox Christians now consider the archetypal heresy, was once at least as popular as the doctrine that Jesus is God…Ordinary tradespeople and workers felt perfectly competent - perhaps even driven - to debate abstract theological issues and to arrive at their own conclusions…Disputes among Christians, specifically arguments about the relationship of Jesus Christ the Son to God the Father, had become…intense. [p.7]

The anti-Arians…demanded that Christianity be “updated” by blurring or even obliterating the long-accepted distinction between the Father and the Son. From the perspective of our time it may seem strange to think of Arian “heretics” as conservatives, but emphasizing Jesusʼs humanity and Godʼs transcendent otherness had never seemed heretical in the [Eastern half of the Roman Empire]. [p.74]

The Great Council of Nicaea…was the largest gathering of Christian leaders, up to that time with 250 bishops in attendance, almost all of them from the Eastern Empire…To some extent, this Eastern predominance can be attributed to the westernerʼs lack of interest in the Arian controversy, which still seemed to them an obscure “Greek” matter.

The Council of Nicaea, then, was not universal…Several later gatherings would be more representative of the entire Church; one of them, the joint council of Rumini-Seluicie (359), was attended by more than five hundred bishops from both the East and West. If any meeting deserves the title “ecumenical,” that one seems to qualify, but its results - the adoption of an Arian creed - was later repudiated by the Church. Councils whose products were later deemed unorthodox not only lost the “ecumenical” label but virtually disappeared from official Church history. [p.74]

[After the Council of Nicaea, Constantine exiled Arian theologians.] But within three years, Arius, Eusebius, and their fellow exiles would be forgiven by Constantine and welcomed back to the Church. Eusebius would become Constantineʼs closest advisor, and would insist that Athanasius, now bishop of Alexandria, readmit Arius to communion in that city as well. A decade after that, Bishop Athanasius himself was exiled, and Arianism was well on its way to becoming the dominant theology of the Eastern Empire. [p.84]

The Council of Nicaea was the last point at which Christians with strongly opposed theological views acted civilly toward each other. When the controversy began, Arius and his opponents were inclined to treat each other as fellow Christians with mistaken ideas. Constantine hoped that his Great and Holy Council would bring the opposing sides together on the basis of a mutual recognition and correction of erroneous ideas. When these hopes were shattered and the conflict continued to spread, the adversaries were drawn to attack each other not as colleagues in error but as unrepentant sinners: corrupt, malicious, even satanic individuals. [p. 84-85]

Athanasiusʼs ambition was endless; and he was very much at home in the “real” world of power relations and political skullduggery…Athanasius would soon be recognized as the anti-Ariansʼ champion. But first, he had to become bishop of Alexandria. [p. 104-105]

Athanasius sent gangs of thuggish supporters into the Melitian Christian district, where they beat and wounded supporters of the Melitian leader, John Arcaph, and, according to Arcaph, burned churches, destroyed church property, imprisoned and even murdered dissident priests. [p. 106]

Constantine ordered a council of bishops to meet in Tyre [concerning charges leveled against Athanasius]…Athanasius reacted with desperation…He had his agents terrorize those who might have provided evidence against him and prevented them from leaving the country…The pro-Athanasius bishops who attended the council at Tyre behaved so disruptively that the council later cited their activities as proof of Athanasiusʼs unfitness for office…The debate at the council was stormy, with many witnesses contradicting each otherʼs stories, and much name calling…After weeks of squabbling the bishops decided to send a commission to the region to interview witnesses there and the decide the truth of various accusations…The investigative commission left for Egypt…accompanied by a company of imperial troops…For the next two months Egypt was in an uproar. The Athanasians charged that the commission was obtaining evidence by means of threats and torture. The commissioners charged that Athanasiusʼs supporters were intimidating and kidnapping witnesses. By the end of the investigation it was clear that the commissionʼs report would indict Athanasius, who fled the city by night…The Bishops in Tyre condemned Athanasius for specific acts of violence and disobedience. [p.123-125]

When Constantine convened the Great Council of Nicaea, he could not have imagined that the bishops would be meeting almost every year to rule on charges of criminal activity and heresy. Partisan control of these gatherings virtually guaranteed that condemned churchmen would attempt to rehabilitate themselves and punish their enemies by denying the authority of “illegitimate” councils and convening new ones. The emperor probably considered this a temporary problem.
  Surely, after blatant troublemakers and fanatics like Bishops Athanasius and Marcellus were removed from office, reasonable churchmen could learn to live together despite occasional differences of opinion! But this was to repeat the original mistake made at Nicaea. It was to assume that doctrinal differences among Christians were not that important, that they did not reflect serious divisions of class, culture, and moral values within the community, and that they could be resolved by discovering the correct form of words. [p.133]

[The former exile, Arius, on the eve of being readmitted to membership in the church at Alexandria, was found dead on the floor beside a toilet. Poisoning is one possibility to account for the timing and manner of his passing. However, Athanasius used Ariusʼs death as a public relations opportunity.] He announced that Alexandriaʼs prayers had been answered and “condemned the Arian heresy, showing it to be unworthy of communion with the Church.” Most telling is the language Athanasius uses in describing the manner of Ariusʼs death: “Arius…urged by the necessities of nature withdrew, and suddenly in the language of Scripture, ‘falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst,’ and immediately expired as he lay, and was deprived of both communion and of his life together.’” [The biblical reference is to Acts 1:18 - the manner of death of Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus.] [p. 137]

[But even after Ariusʼs death, Arianism remained, for there remained other more influential Christian leaders who dominated the movement.] Moreover, another death was of greater consequence than Ariusʼs. The death in question was Emperor Constantineʼs…Eusebius [an Arian Bishop] heard the Emperorʼs confession, and administered the last rites…Following Constantineʼs death a decree was made that permitted all exiled bishops to return to their sees…

Athanasius [who was in exile at that time] returned to Alexandria after making a political tour of several provinces. Everywhere he rallied the anti-Arian forces and helped return exiles to power, organized opposition to “heretical” bishops, and intervened actively in local disputes. Violence dogged his steps, since both sides had organized popular support and were quite ready to use angry mobs to expel churchmen they despised or defend friendly incumbents. The result in a number of key cities was something close to civil war…Finally, Athanasius returned to Alexandria where, according to his enemies, ‘he seized the churches…by force, by murder, by war.’” [p.141-142]

Soon afterwards a large council of bishops met in Antioch [in 338] to declare that Athanasius had committed new atrocities…The leaders of the church met again in Antioch in the winter of 338-339. With the new Emperor, Constantineʼs son, Constantius in attendance, they convicted Athanasius of violence and mayhem, and ordered him deposed…Warned by his agents, Athanasius fled, and rioting and arson (which had also accompanied his return) erupted across the city…The Church of Dionysius was burned, a number of people on both sides were injured and killed, and fighting even broke out on Easter Sunday in the Church of Quirinius. Several weeks later, the mobs supporting Athanasius had been suppressed, at least for the time being.

What really happened in Alexandria during this stormy month? Athanasius in a letter charged that “Arian madmen” incited pagans, Jews, and “disorderly persons” to attack the faithful, set churches on fire, strip and rape holy virgins, murder monks, desecrate holy places, and plunder the churchesʼ treasures. He presents pictures designed to horrify and madden his readers: Jews, for example, are presented as cavorting naked in the churchesʼ baptismal waters. And, of course, he says nothing about any violence that his own supporters may have offered in his defense or in opposition to the installation of the new bishop.

Athanasius had always had a following in Alexandria, but Arius was also an Alexandrian with his share of supporters…The truth seems to be that in Alexandria and many other cities large groups of militant fighters could be mobilized by both sides, and that both sides made frequent use of them in the confused period following Constantineʼs death…What is most striking is the closeness and bitterness of the conflict in important cities like Constantinople, Antioch, Ancyra, Caesarea, Tyre, and Gaza. [p. 143-144]

But what caused this deep division?…The split between Nicene and Arian Christians seems to reflect a rough division between those more in need of a powerful, just ruler and those more in need of a loving advocate and friend. Neither side in the controversy could afford to turn its back entirely on either image: the Athanasians therefore called Jesus “God from God.” And the Arians called him “a paradigm and an example.” Each side put its primary emphasis on one image while paying lip service to the other, and each side was prey to fears that the other side was aiming to obliterate “its” Jesus. While Athanasians denounced the Arians for lowering Christ to the point that his majesty and saving power would be lost, the Arians accused Athanasius and Marcellus of raising him to the point that his love (and Godʼs majesty) would be lost…

The violence in the Eastern cities ended for the time being with the forcible eviction of major anti-Arian bishops and their exile to the Western half of the Roman Empire. Many were arriving in Rome, where Athanasius had already fled. But the uncalculated efforts of these deportations would be to make the Roman pontiff [the pope] a major participant in the controversy, to embroil the Western bishops, and, finally, to dive a wedge between the Christian churches of the Greek East and the Latin West. [p. 146-147]

[It was at this time that the Emperor Julian “the Apostate,” though raised a Christian, came to power and declared himself a pagan.] He reflected the common peopleʼs distaste for the scandalous disunity of the Church. Christianity had conspicuously failed to bring the empire together or to secure it from enemy attack. As the contemporary historian Ammianus said, “no wild beasts are such enemies to mankind as are most Christians in their deadly hatred of one another.” He deprived the Christian clergy of the special privileges [and tax exemptions] bestowed on them by his predecessors, and also took steps to re-inflame the Arian controversy by permitting Athanasius and other anti-Arians to return from exile. Violence between competing Christian groups broke out almost immediately…Bishop George of the city of Alexandria [and several of his fellows]…were killed by a mixed mob of pagans and anti-Arian Christians, his body paraded through the streets on the back of a camel and burned. [p. 195]

In the second century, Christians in the city of Alexandria, inspired by anti-Semitic preaching, had launched one of the earliest riots against the cityʼs Jewish community. Two hundred years later those who called Jesus “Lord” were battling each other in the streets…and lynching bishops. By the time bishop George of Alexandria met his grisly death, religious riots had become commonplace throughout the region. [p.6]

[Julian “the Apostate” was killed in battle which led to a string of more Christian Roman Emperors, one of the most intolerant of whom was Theodosius] Theodosius banned Arianism and officially declared Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire…[p.226]

- Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christʼs Divinity in the Last Days of Rome

Theodosius passed a decree in 380 A.D. that read: “We shall believe in the Holy Trinity. We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative, which We shall assume in accordance with the divine judgment.”
- J. N. Hillgarth, The Conversion of Western Europe

[During the reign of Theodosius] bands of wandering monks attacked synagogues, pagan temples, hereticsʼ meeting places, and the homes of wealthy unbelievers in Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and North Africa. [Also during his reign] the bishop of Alexandria incited local vigilantes to destroy the Temple of Serapis [also known as the Serapeum], one of the largest and most beautiful builds in the ancient world that also housed a library donated by Cleopatra. Alexandrian Christians whipped up by Bishop Cyril rioted against the Jews in 415, and then murdered Hypatia, a wise and beloved Platonic philosopher. Since Arianism was now identified with the “barbarians” who were its main advocates, the remaining Arians within the empire, now split into small, powerless sects, were also fair game for Christian avengers. And the struggle to uproot paganism, conducted sporadically ever since the days of Constantine the Great, now resumed in earnest.

Was the Arian controversy resolved?…Unresolved issues, appearing in changed form, continued to produce serious religious conflicts…which ended in the Great Schism separating the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. [p.226-227]

In the Greek-speaking lands, the end of the Arian controversy triggered more than two centuries of intense conflict [over the question of the relationship between Jesusʼs human and divine natures]. Once again, bishops met in councils to proclaim the orthodoxy of their views and to excommunicate their opponents. Once more the East knew depositions and exiles, riots and assassinations. Each side accused the other of Arianism. The Second Council of Ephesus (449) condemned the school of Antioch; the Great Council of Chalcedon (541) condemned the Alexandrians; numerous emperors intervened on one side or the other; and the controversy did not end until the one-nature “Monophysites” were driven from their own churches, many of which exist to this day.

- Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christʼs Divinity in the Last Days of Rome

The Donatist Controversy

[After the persecution of Christians by pagan Emperors ended, Christians in North Africa debated whether or not priests that had recanted their faith under threat of persecution should still be recognized as valid members of the priesthood.] This issue [among others] led to a schism between Donatist Christians and mainstream Christians of North Africa. Saint Augustine advocated violent suppression of the Donatists, justifying massacres in the name of Christian unity. Armed groups, called the Circumcellions, formed to defend the “pure” [Donatist] churches, and perpetrated acts of terrorism in their name, and some committed mass suicide rather than yield to the forces they identified as Antichrist. The virtual civil war among North African Christians would not end until the fifth century, when invading Vandals suppressed all the churches, Donatist and orthodox alike. [p.39]
- Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christʼs Divinity in the Last Days of Rome

At the church council held at Ephesus in 449 the discussion became so inflamed that the delegates went at one another with clubs, until one party held the field and could enforce the decree it desired. Fanatical bands of monks terrorized the assembly of Church notables. Envoys from the church at Rome were set upon and soundly thumped. Leo the Great called it “The Robber Council,” nor was this the only one of its kind. There were other councils at which the Church Fathers became so incensed that they hurled the Bible at each otherʼs heads.
- Walter Nigg, The Heretics

After one “election meeting” in a church, in October 366, the “ushers” picked up from the floor one hundred and sixty Christian corpses! It is sheer affectation of modern Roman Catholic writers to question this, as we learn it from a report to the emperor of two priests of the time. The riots of the Christians that filled the streets of Rome with blood for a week, are, in fact, ironically recorded by the contemporary Roman writer, Ammianus Marcellinus.

In one day the Christians murdered more of their brethren than the pagans can be positively proved to have martyred in three centuries, and the total number of the slain during the fight for the papal chair (in which the supporters of Pope Damasus literally cut his way, with swords and axes, to the papal chair through the supporters of the rival candidate Ursicinus) is probably as great as the total number of actual martyrs. If we add to these the number of the slain in the fights of the Arians and Trinitarians in the east and the fights of Catholics and Donatists in Africa, we get a sum of “martyrs” many times as large as the genuine victims of Roman law; and we should still have to add the massacre by Theodosius at Thessalonica, the massacre of a regiment of Arian soldiers, the lives sacrificed under Constantius, Valentinian, etc.

This frightful and sordid temper of the new Christendom is luridly exhibited in the murder of Hypatia of Alexandria in 415. Under the “great” Father of the Church, Cyril of Alexandria, a Christian mob, led by a minor cleric of the church, stripped Hypatia naked and gashed her with oyster shells until she died [though I have read that she was clubbed to death before her flesh was stripped off her bones - E.T.B.]. She was a teacher of mathematics and philosophy, a person of the highest ideals and character. This barbaric fury raged from Rome to Alexandria and Antioch, and degraded the cities with spectacles that paganism had never witnessed.

Salvianus, a priest of Marseilles of the fifth century, deplores the vanished virtue of the pagan world and declares that “The whole body of Christians is a sink of iniquity.” “Very few,” he says, “avoid evil.” He challenges his readers: “How many in the Church will you find that are not drunkards or adulterers, or fornicators, or gamblers, or robbers, or murderers - or all together?” (De Gubernatione Dei, III, 9) Gregory of Tours, in the next century, gives, incredible as it may seem, an even darker picture of the Christian world, over part of which he presides. You cannot read these truths, unless you can read bad Latin, because they are never translated. It is the flowers, the rare examples of virtue, the untruths of Eusebius and the Martyrologies, that are translated. It is the legends of St. Agnes and St. Catherine, the heroic fictions of St. Lawrence and St. Sebastian that you read. But there were ten vices for every virtue, ten lies for every truth, a hundred murders for every genuine martyrdom.
- Joseph McCabe, How Christianity Triumphed

Art, philosophy, literature, the very psychology of Western man, all suffered by the victory of the bishops.
- John Holland Smith, The Death of Classical Paganism

The Christian zealots for conversion took to the streets or criss-crossed the countryside, destroying no doubt more of the architectural and artistic treasure of their world than any passing barbarians thereafter.
- Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire

Institutions of higher learning had been largely destroyed. The [Christian] emperorsʼ attacks had centered on the chief of them, Athens and Alexandria, in the late fourth century and were turned against them again toward the end of the fifth and in 529 [the year that the School of Athens was closed by the decree of the Christian Roman Emperor Justinian. - E.T.B.].

As to the initiators of the persecution, the [Christian] emperors themselves, a steady decline in their level of cultivation has been noticed. Thus books and philosophy were bound to fade from sight.

After Constantine there existed an empire-wide instrument of education: the church. What bishops, even emperors, made plain, and what could be heard in broader terms from every pulpit, was an agreed upon teaching. Every witness, every listener should know the great danger to his soul in Platoʼs books, in Aristotleʼs, in any of the philosophical corpus handed down from the past. The same danger threatened anyone using his mind according to their manner, with analytical intent, ranging widely for the materials of understanding, and independent of divine imparted teachings.

Another factor that arose specifically out of the ongoing conversion of the empire was the doctrine of demonic causation. The belief in the operation of maleficent forces on a large scale had to await Christianity; and it was of course Christianity that was to form the medieval and Byzantine world.

Satanic agents were to be seen as the cause not only of wars and rebellions, persecution and heresy, storms at sea and earthquakes on land, but of a host of minor or major personal afflictions. So, in consequence, Christians were forever crossing themselves, whatever new action they set about, and painted crosses on their foreheads too, responding to their leadersʼ urging them to do so. It would protect them against all evil.
- Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

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