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Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Epic Story of the Early Church - The Heretics


Dear readers, congratulations, you are helping me to study tonight. It's a marathon weekend, It's been a marathon week. I didn't get enough done last week when I was off for the Holy Days, so here I am, cramming for tomorrow's test. My test from last night went decently...I got 4 wrong, so an 84%, which is fine because I got 100% on the my standing remains good in that class. (And 3 of those 4 questions were dumb answers, one of which I changed and got wrong. The other of which I changed...and got right.) I don't know how I did on the take-home test I emailed in on Thursday.

But tomorrow's test promises to be brutal because I can't separate the heresies, which are all about seperating the Trinity. So, dear, dear readers, thank you in advance for allowing me to fool myself psychologically by pretending to blog when I'm really studying for tomorrow's test. As a disclaimer, all that is about to be posted is not's just to help me get this info into my head and sort out the various heresies that are similar.


I have a dream...I want to write a novel on the Early Church, from Acts onward, revealing the truth of Christianity in story form...and then turn it into a screenplay. This movie would be EPIC. And you'll see why in a moment.

I'm starting in here with the Trinitarian Heresies of Sabellius, Arius, Euchtyches, and Nestorius. Our heroes are the Cappodocian Fathers (St. Gregory of Nazienzen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Basil), St. Athanasius, St. Flavian (martyred, St. Augustine, St. Cyril and Pope Celestine.


Sabellius inagurated "modalism", which saw God as 3 modes: Creation, Redemption, and Santification. He did not distinguish between the PERSON of Christ from the PERSONS of the Father and the Holy Spirit. This heresy would mean that God the Father suffered and died on the Cross, which caused this sect to be called Patripassians (Passion of the Father). Church Fathers Dionysius the patriarch of Alexandria, and Pope St. Dionysius laid the smackdown on Sabellianism which condemned both it and Arianism.

Arius fell into a common error of trying to rationalize the incomprehendable; the Mystery of the Trinity. Through his fault of pride, he took his rationalization and decided that Jesus had no divinity of his own, he was not equal or consubstantial with the Father, he did not have equal glory, and in fact, placed Jesus as a lesser divinity. That meant that his doctrine was a sort of polytheism. Arius held that Jesus was foreign in substance to the Father, was not co-eternal, God was not a trinity, and the Son was adopted; he in fact, was not impeccable and did not comprehend the Father.

In the early Church, Constantine was an important figure, as he legalized the religion, and even called a council. Unfortunately, although he started out to do some good things, he fell for Arius's little idea we like to call "heresy" and became an Arian. Oh, the betrayal!

It was unfortunate, but this heresy was a terrible one that insipidly crept throughout the Church and corrupted many. Indeed, our Church Fathers were quite alarmed at the souls being lost through this demonic treat, and several of them stepped in to combat the dangerous ideology.

The Council of Nicea formulated the Nicene creed, declaring that Christ was "consubstantial" (homo-ousious) with the Father, and sharing in the same divine nature. At this council, the sympathizers of Arius postured and acquiesced, choosing to define the terms according to their own chosen understanding; giving a pretense at obedience and agreement while working out their treachery in dark corners. Sadly, Arianism continued to deprive many souls of the Grace of God.

St. Athanasius, in his Discourse against the Arians revealed that the Arian doctrine implies that before the "creation" of the Word, God would have been deprived of being Wisdom, Word, and Life, for Christ is the Word and Wisdom of the Father and the Life. "For let him understand well who dares to say, 'Once the Son was not', that he is saying, 'Once Wisdom was not", and 'Word was not,' and 'Life was not.'"

The Council of Constantinople
in 381 completed the statement of the Trinitarian doctrine by definining the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and at that point, it was adopted to enlarge the Nicene Creed.

The Council of Rome of 382 confirmed the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is one substance and power with the Father and the Son, and that there is one Divinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and three persons. It also rejected in one fell swoop the heresies of Sabellius, Arius, and Eunomius, by names and by descriptions.

St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazienzen, and St. Gregory of Nyssa (The Cappodocian Fathers) worked out the terminology capable of clearly communicating the orthodox doctrine, properly distinugishing between the natureof essence and the person. Through this, they were able to defend the divinity of the Holy Spirit against the Arians. They defined God as 1 nature in three persons, with no separation in the Godhead. This was infallibly sanctioned in the Council of Constantinople and confirmed by Rome.

(NOTE: in the early Church, there were often not terms readily available to adequately discuss the theological issues they were facing. The fact that terms came into being doesn't deny the existance of the beliefs and doctrines prior to the formal definition of the terms.)

Then came along Apollinaris of Laodicea, who made a serious Christological error closely related to Arianism. His position was that the Logos (Word) inhabited Christ by taking the place of a rational soul. He suggested that Jesus Christ was comprised of Logos and a body, an idea that arose out of inadequate philosophy and rationalism.

The Cappodocian Fathers refuted this heresy by pointing out that, had Christ not had a rational human soul, then He was not really a man and could not redeem our souls. Jesus redeemed what needed to be redeemed, both soul and body in full integrity. "That which he has not assumed, he has not healed." Jesus united Himself to what is common, that being body and soul. Had Jesus not done this...we would not have been redeemed. (Isn't that a horrifying thought?)

Now comes one of my favorite parts of Church History, and one of my favorite scenes in the movie I haven't written yet:

Nestorius denied the unity of the person in Christ and rationalized it to remove it from the Mystery of the Trinity. On Christmas Day, he declared that Mary was not the Mother of God because God had no origin and the Blessed Mother was not the mother of divine nature. His problem was that he was unable (or unwilling) to distinguish between the Person and the Nature of God.

The people in his cathedral did not handle this well, as you can imagine. It would be the same if a Bishop today stood up and declared the same thing. But this heresy and blasphemy was combated in a dramatic way:

On the Feast of the Annunciation in 429, Bishop Proclus opposed Nestorius in his own Cathedral by preaching eloquently on the Theotokos (God-bearer):

The Self-same was in the Father's bosom and in the womb of his mother. He lay in a mother's arms, while He walked upon the wings of the wind. He was adored by angels while He sat at meat with publicans. The Cherubim durst not behold Him, while Pilate condemned Him. The servant smote Him, and creation shuddered. He hung upon the Cross, but He was not absent from the throne of glory; and, while He lay in the tomb, He was sprading out the heavens like a curtain. Oh! What Mytery! I see miracles, and I prolcaim the Godhead. I behold the sufferings, and I deny not hte manhood. What clearer proof could I want that Mary is the Mother of God?"

St. Cyril of Alexandria reacted immediately to the heresy and wrote a Paschal letter to the monks in Egypt, answering Nestorius by pointing out that although the divine nature of God is not capable of suffering, his human nature did so and was, obtained through Mary in order to suffer for us. Additionally, he informed Pope Celestine, who in turn declared the doctrine to be heretical. Pope Celestine gave St. Cyril the authority to carry out the rest of the matter. At the Council in Ephesus, called by St. Cyril in 431, held in one day, approved the 2nd letter of St. Cyril to Nestorius an the 12 Anathemas of Cyril, declaring that the hypostatic union and reaffirming that Mary is the Mother of God.

This is turning into a serious Action Flick:

The heresy Monophysitism declared that Christ was of or from 2 natures, and after the Incarnation, had only 1 nature. Eutyches, an elderly abbott in a monastery in Constantinople, held that Christ was consubstantial with the Father in divinity, but not with us in humanity, which was a denial of Christ's fully human nature. (He was later willing to agree that Christ did have a human nature.) Further, he claimed, through misunderstanding of terms that this was the doctrine of St. Cyril and St. Athanasius (which was not true), and that Jesus was consubstantial with the Father in divinity but not with man in humanity.

His views were brought before a local Council in Constantinople under the Patriarch St. Flavian , and Eutyches was summarily condemned for holding that Christ had 1 Nature instead of 2.

Eutyches appealed to the Pope and obtained the support of the Patriarch of Alexandria, Dioscuros (the successor to St. Cyril). A general council was called in Ephesus in 449, which was described in great detail by Cardinal Newman. He described the zealous monks who supported Monophysitism, those who attended to Dioscros, and armed forces. They broke into the Church upon the call of Dioscorus; Flavian was thrown down and trampled.

St. Flavian died of his injuries three days later. As for the rest, those Bishops that were not trampled (including the Pope's legates) escaped.

Those Bishops who did not escape were forced to sign a blank paper, which afterwards was filled in with condemnations of Flavian. At the end of the proceedings, Dioscorus excommunicated the Pope (yes you read that correctly), and an Emporer issued an edict approving the decision of the Council.

But wait...there's MORE!

Another Council was called in Chalcedon, and 630 Bishops, and the Roman legates (authoritative representatives of the Pope) opened the Council. Dioscorus was charged with having presumed to hold a Council without the authority of the Apostolic See, and for not having the Letter of the Pope read to the Council (which would have been the Tome of St. Leo.) The Tome was read during the Council of Chalcedon and affirmed by the Bishops as being the faith of the Apostles; they declared anyone anathema who did not hold to the faith of the Apostles.

Dioscorus was condemned and dishonorably deprived of his "Episcopal dignity and every sacerdotal ministry." (He was defrocked) Take THAT HERETIC! YEAH!

There was another very similar heresy which continued: Monothelitism. This heresy declared that Christ had one Will and operation after the Incarnation. In reality, we understand that Christ has two wills, human and divine, although his human will was always in harmony with his divine will.


So...although that's not the end of the information for my test, nor is it exactly how I will answer the questions that may arise, doesn't it just whet your appetite to learn about the Early Church Fathers? Can't you just see how awful it was? Wouldn't the real drama of our roots make an incredible movie???

The deception of the heretics, the betrayals, the heartbreak, the murderous intentions, the disobeience, the political posturing...


Melody said...

There is nothing new under the sun; all of those misunderstandings of the nature of Jesus are still around in some form today. It is easy to see how Sabellius got off on the wrong track; because the Father surely did suffer along with His Son, in the way any parent suffers when a child dies a horrible death. (Except God is infinite so the suffering would be infinite). Glad I don't have to sort it all out, I'd likely get it wrong! Good luck on the test.

Ray from MN said...

The Council of Nicea At this council, the sympathizers of Arius postured and acquiesced, choosing to define the terms according to their own chosen understanding; giving a pretense at obedience and agreement while working out their treachery in dark corners.

It appears that our liberals/modernists/progressives of today did not invent that technique. As Melody said, "There is nothing new under the sun."

uncle jim said...

i haven't heard anyone use the word / term homo-ousious but a couple of times since i took a course on the 'creeds' 17 years ago ... and now you've brought it up all over again.

Anonymous said...

I am studying vicariously through you. God bless you. You are getting an education many of us wish to have. God be with you!

Adoro te Devote said...

Melody ~ Yup, we've been talking all the way through this class about the modern-day forms these heresies have taken. All the way back to the beginning.

Ray ~ Yeah..the "enlightened ones" of day are actually 2,000 years behind.

Uncle Jim ~ I hope it's not a traumatic thing for you!

Tertium Quid ~ Well, I'm happy to be useful! :-)

To all...I bombed the test. My mind went blank. I couldn't remember the councils, I couldn't remember the Saints, I couldn't remember the basic facts you see up in this post!

So...I'm chalking today up to an exercise in humility (and frustration...)

Anonymous said...

Adoro, what a great idea!
A book about the early Church including the heresy's would be so worthwhile! How many times have I heard (from my university professors who should know better) misunderstood and ignorant claims about the Catholic Church?
Too many!

Good luck!


Maureen said...

Melody -

God as God can't suffer. God as God doesn't have emotions, because God as God doesn't change. He is love and nothing but love. This is why God is called "impassible".

Now, this doesn't mean that God doesn't care -- I mean, He went to a lot of trouble so that the Son could get a human part of Himself that could suffer, even. You can use words about feelings as an analogy to what's going on with God, so you can talk about "God's wrath" and "God's laughter" and so on, just as the Bible does. That covers all practical purposes, since we pretty much have to use approximate language about God.

But the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Son in His divine nature, doesn't/don't really have emotions, per se. It's literally not in God's nature.

This is the part where your brain is supposed to go all hurty, so don't worry about it.

Adoro said...

Maureen ~ That was the problem Nestorius had...he was trying to rationalize the Trinity. They all tried to rationalize the Trinity. And went off the rails.

God cannot suffer in his Divinity, however, He DID suffer in his Humanity. Jesus has 2 natures; Human and Divine (the hypostatic union). It was in his human nature that our suffering was dignified and elevated. It is why we can be united to the suffering of our Lord on the cross, for He did indeed suffer.

My brain didn't freeze over brain froze over things in general on the test. And in all our talk about the unfathomable Trinity in two classes, all the philosophy...yeah, that's brain freeze territory. But all the things you bring up, I learned a year ago, but never had a problem understanding.

But the Trinity...oy vey! LOL!

adoro said...

Oh, anyway, I meant to preface most of my last comment by saying that this stuff causes brain freeze. :-P Without that comment the rest o fmy comment sounds illogical. And also...I froze on the test on the easy questions!