By Vexen Crabtree 2008
The first Christians were Jewish converts to Christ, known as Ebionites. They followed Jewish laws, and accepted Jesus as the prophesized Jewish saviour. As a religious group, they are closest to the religion of Jesus himself. But Judaism has strict laws, and the Greek Christianity that arose through Roman contact with Jews was to drop all of the Jewish elements of Christianity, and create a religion that was easier to follow. But in doing so, they realized a problem. If Jesus wasn't just the Jewish messiah, then, what was he? Moses preached a strict monotheism, and on this even the early Greek converts to Christianity agreed. There was one god. But Jesus had a special relationship with this one god. They took the Jewish belief that Jesus was a prophet, and extended the idea to coincide with prevalent Greek ideas about the relationships between gods and men: Jesus was the son of God, another divine god-man like Dionysus, and a saviour like Mithras.
Jesus was created from nothing, meaning that he "was brought into existence like the rest of God's creatures. [...] Christ is separate and lesser than God. [...] Jesus was a person of such sublime moral accomplishments that God adopted him as His Son, sacrificed him to redeem humanity from sin, raised him from the dead, and granted him divine status. [...] Because his merit earned the prize of immortality, the same reward was made available to other human beings, provided that they model themselves after him. From the Arian perspective, it was essential that Jesus not be God, since God, being perfect by nature, is inimitable"3.
“Jesus of Nazareth was a real man, not some divine apparition or mask of God. But his moral genius and the importance of his mission raised him high above even the greatest prophets. [...] Many Arians believed that the Eternal had somehow conceived him (or conceived of him) before time began, and used him as an instrument to create the rest of the universe. Even so, they insisted, he could not possibly be God himself. How could an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good Creator experience temptation, learn wisdom, and grow in virtue? How could he suffer on the Cross and die the death of a human being? Surely, when Jesus cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" he was not talking to himself! When he admitted that nobody knows the day and hour of Judgement, "not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only," he was not just being modest. And when he told his disciples that "the Father is greater than I," he meant exactly what he said.”
"When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome" by Richard E. Rubenstein (1999)3
But Christians in the Western half of the empire had been swayed by the arguments of Athanasius, who was to become the arch-enemy of Arianism. He divided Christianity into two by making stark contrasts between Arians and Nicenes; he called all those who did not agree with him satanic devil-worshippers and enemies of Christ. He believed in the older pagan ideas of a dying-and-resurrecting god-man. Athanasius, despite defending pagan ideas, calls Arian Christianity 'pagan'. Arians explain the opposite:
“Athanasius argues that God the Father is also God the Son. He says God actually became Jesus despite the fact that, throughout the Gospels, the Son describes himself as being other than the Father and less than Him. He ransacks the New Testament for evidence to support his position, but the only texts that he can find are two lines from the Book of John: "I and the Father are one," and "He who has seen me has seen the Father." But it is perfectly clear from the context of these statements that Christ is talking about representing God, not about being him. [...]
Can He choose to be evil or ignorant? Could He be the devil - or nothing at all? No, the Christian God is the Eternal God of Israel, Creator of the Universe. Athanasius maintains that this utterly transcendent God transformed Himself into a man, suffered, died, and then resurrected Himself! Doesn't this mixture of Creator and creature sound pagan? [Athanasius Christians say] that God did not create Jesus, as the Arians believe, or adopt him as His Son, but that he "begot" him out of his own nature. As he says, the idea of God fathering offspring with human beings by natural means is too disgusting for any Christian to contemplate.”
"When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome" by Richard E. Rubenstein (1999)3
Both forms of developing Christianity contained pagan ideas, because Roman and Greek converts were ex-pagans who still saw the world in terms of pagan (non-christian) philosophies and idea. The idea that God has a son is thoroughly pagan (it certainly didn't arise from Judaism). Once you developed Christianity from the original Ebionite Jews, there was no escaping paganism either in Athanasius Christianity or Arian Christianity.
“One underlying question was this: To what extent were the values and customs of the ancient world still valid guides to thinking and action in a Christian empire? Some Christians, among them Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia, had a stronger sense of historical continuity than others. Those whose ideas and social relationships were still shaped to a large extent by the optimistic ideals and tolerant practices of pagan society, and for whom Christianity seemed a natural extension of and improvement on Judaism, tended to be Arians of one sort or another. By contrast, the strongest anti-Arians experienced their present as a sharp break with the past. It was they who demanded, in effect, that Christianity be "updated" by blurring or obliterating the long-accepted distinction between the Father and the Son.”
"When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome" by Richard E. Rubenstein (1999)4
We shall see that although the Emperor initially supported the "blurred" view of Jesus and God, the actions of the anti-arians soon changed his mind as to which side of the debate he considered more Christian.
By the beginning of the fourth century theologians distinctions between those who believed in Jesus as a separate person to God were being challenged by those who no longer considered Jesus to be a Jewish man. Eusebius of Nicomedia was bishop of Nicomedia from 317CE and bishop of Constantinople from 337CE; he voiced Arianism and was a principal organizer of the Arians. By these dates, Christianity had flowed into a junction, with many in the West thinking more of a complex, pagan god-head with a saviour who was a god in disguise, and those in the East thinking of Jesus as a saviour who showed humankind 'the way' to salvation through his actions.
Emperor Constantine initially favoured the anti-Arians because to him, Arianism sounded like anyone could raise themselves up, through moral effort, to be saved. The proto-Nicene division, on the other hand, held that Jesus was God, and that essentially, it was still the central divinity that done the saving. If the State and the Church were to unite the people, then salvation had to come from the center, not from the individual. Therefore, the empire would be held together better if people looked to the Alexandrian Bishop for saving, not to themselves. To keep people in the system, for the good of the empire, Arianism had to give way.5,6. In 325 the Emperor tabled a council of Christian Bishops, with the intent of enforcing Alexandrian Christianity on the Arian Christians, by getting them all to sign an anti-arian creed. The council was heavily weighted against the Arians by the Emperor. Many Arian bishops did not turn up, let alone debate against the Emperor himself.
The Nicene Creed of 325 was signed by most. Some Arians signed it because its ambiguous wording could still be interpreted in an Arian fashion7. Many others were forced to sign it. Although 250 bishops attended this council, that still left half of all bishops in non-attendance.
“The Council of Nicaea, then, was not universal. Nevertheless, it is everywhere considered the first ecumenical (or universal) council of the Catholic Church. Several later gatherings would be more representative of the entire Church; one of them, the joint council of Rimini-Seleucia (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 result - the adoption of an Arian creed - was later repudiated by the Church.”
"When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome" by Richard E. Rubenstein (1999)8
This forced council enjoyed, as we saw above, only a short-lived authority, and later much more representative councils repeatedly affirmed that Arianism was the true Christianity. On street-level, the Roman populace was equally divided between Arian and Nicene Christianity3. Nicene Christianity was only forced (ineffectually) upon the Empire for 10 years before the greater will of the Christian church triumphed. In the interim, sectarian fighting amongst Christians had been gradually increasing. Normal roman citizens, who had previously, as pagans, tolerated each other's widely varying choice of gods, were now Christians engaged in mob violence against one-another based on technical theological differences.
“In little more than a decade, Christianity had been transformed from a persecuted sect into the religion of the imperial family. [... Constantine's true goal] was to unite the empire's diverse, quarrelling peoples in one huge spiritual fellowship. Paganism was now clearly decadent, but once upon a time it had served this purpose. Why shouldn't the new religion play an equally vital and creative role? [...]
This unseemly doctrinal squabble between Eastern bishops and priests would have to end, and end quickly. [...] The emperor made it plain that he considered the escalation of doctrinal conflict among high-ranking Christians not only disruptive of Church unity, but disreputable and almost certainly unnecessary. Christ's enemies rejoiced at this disorder. Pagans openly taunted Christians about their internal battles. Now that Christianity had finally emerged into the light - now that it might well be on the way to becoming the Roman religion - it seemed absurd that the unity of Christendom should be fractured by squabbling theologians.
Clearly, the emperor saw the quarrel jeopardizing his own dreams. His plan from the start, he wrote, had been "to bring the diverse judgments formed by all nations respecting the Deity to a condition... of settled uniformity," [...]. Why put all this at risk by fighting about abstract, technical questions that nobody could answer with real certainty? One side said Christ was "begotten"; the other said "created." One declared him "divine by nature" and the other "divine by adoption." These differences were essentially trivial. Christian thinkers should imitate the Greek philosophers, who had tolerated disagreements far more profound than this without calling each other devils or organizing factions to suppress each other's opinions. [...]
The Emperor had taken the position that the Arians should be readmitted to the Church because, theological niceties aside, they were Christians at heart. Their subordinationist views were traditional in the East and shared by a great many devout Christians, including a large number of bishops.”
"When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome" by Richard E. Rubenstein (1999)8
Arians had accepted the principal of sharing Christendom with Athanasius's Nicene Christianity. The anti-Arians, led by Athanasius, were the sectarians: when Athanasius was commanded by the Emperor to allow exiled Arian priests back to their churches, Athanasius said that Arians were "enemies of Jesus Christ" and that the Church had no place for them. Athanasius commanded small armies of riotous mobs to do his bidding including beatings, church burnings and murder. Emperor Constantine had to put up with constant complains and frequent court cases to do with this bishop's immoral behaviour. The Nicene fundamentalists were revealed as the more disruptive faction, and the Emperor no longer tolerated them.
Arian Christianity replaced the openly revolting and divisive Nicene Christianity for two generations. It had made itself distinct from Jewish Christianity through its declaration of Jesus' special relationship with God, and yet still didn't accept any of the prevalent pagan ideas about gods fathering human children, nor about gods having multiple personalities. It officially declared itself to wish to share Christianity with those Christians who did think of God such half-Christian, half-pagan terms as such people were still 'Christians at heart' like the Emperor had said. But the anti-arians continued to take part in violent street clashes with the Arians.
Not only was Arianism the natural development in the Eastern half of the empire, but, surrounding tribes were also converted to Arianism. The Visigoths remained Arian Christians for the next two centuries. Other tribes converted, including the Ostrogoths, Burgundians, and Vandals9. Arian kingdoms survived in Spain, Africa and Italy10. The Gepidae, Heruli, Alans and Lombards joined the Goths as Arians, and such tribes remained variously Arian until the 8th century10.
Arianism was supplanted by a new form Cappadocian Christianity. How did the religion of the Roman Empire suffer such a fate? It began with the death of Constantine in 337CE.
A rise in anti-Christian forces within the Empire stripped the church of some of its power. Emperor Julian, after seeing Christianity at work, wanted paganism back. He wanted to liberate the empire from the burdens of "the cult of the Galilean" and set out to do so11.
Exiles could return after the death of the emperor who exiled them. Athanasius (a violent anti-arian) returned to Alexandria where, according to his enemies, "he seized the churches... by force, by murder, by war". Christianity was suddenly torn apart by a new violence; cities' populaces were so divided by fiery Christian denominational debates that many cities were in a state of virtual civil war12. Arian theology itself became divided between radical, moderate and liberal Arians. "No doubt, the initial enthusiasm for Julian among some of the common people reflected their 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'"11.
An Arian emperor that followed Constantine was killed, and the Eastern empire's army was destroyed. It spelled the end of Arian power in the Roman Empire.
A change in mentality occurred amongst the Roman populace. The Arian doctrine that Jesus was a man who others could imitate, who had shown people the way, depended on the idea that mankind could rise itself up to new standards of security. But now the empire was collapsing and the church was fragmented, this mentality didn't seem appropriate to the masses13.
“[This] inclined Christians to accept the new Trinitarian theology. This is not to say that the Cappadocian doctrine was false, only that it corresponded to deeply felt needs for physical and spiritual security. The same sense of vulnerability and unworthiness that included Romans to seek the protection of powerful patrons and the intercession of saints (a new cult practice) led them to worship a Christ who was no less mighty than God. [...] Others hoped than an all-powerful Jesus would give pious generals the victories denied to Julian, Valens and other heterodox leaders. In any case, the vision that now seemed less relevant was that of Arius's Jesus: a beacon of moral progress sent not so much to rescue helpless humans as to inspire them to develop their own potential for divinity.”
"When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome" by Richard E. Rubenstein (1999)13
“More important even than the Vedic and Zoroastrian influences, the Mithras cult had a strong impact on Christianity. Mithras was the son of Ormuzd, and as a god of light himself, he engaged the powers of darkness, Ahriman and his host, in a bitter struggle. Mithras triumphed and cast his adversaries into the nether world. Mithras, too, raised the dead and will find them at the end of time. He, too, will relegate the wicked to hell and establish the millennial kingdom. [...]
Drews, too, believes that it was the influence of Persian, notably Mithraic, thought which led to the gradual transformation of the human figure of Jesus into a Godhead. Robertson thinks that the rock-tomb resurrection of Jesus is a direct transference of Mithras' rock birth, and that Jesus also became a sun-god like Mithras, so that they share their birthday at the winter solstice.”
Political and social events, and the outcomes of war, ended the power of Arianism with the Roman Empire. Three Cappadocian friends were set to write a new theology for the Christianity church, fusing a new idea into the existing godhead of the Son and the Father: The Holy Trinity arrived on the scene. The clever theologians arranged problematic Greek words into a Creed that was to form the basis of the Roman Catholic Church (and also cause the Eastern church to eventually split off as the Orthodox Church).
From November 380CE, the new Emperor of the East, Theodosius, came out as a staunch Nicene Christian. The intolerant nature of the Nicene attitude shone through, and aggressive, strict, and heavily anti-Arian doctrines emerged that expelled Arians, forbid them to meet each other, and made ownership of Arian texts illegal. Over the decade such decrees got more and more severe. The great "heresy" hunt had begun anew, and opinions and thoughts that were not sanctioned by the church were now thoroughly illegal. Inquisitors were set up to investigate groups' beliefs, all pagans were forbidden to practice their own religions, and other Christians such as the remaining Manicheans were also oppressed and killed. The Emperor ceased punishing mob violence if it happened to be against non-Nicene Christians. Jews and 'heretics' were both fair game.15
“A long wave of religious violence followed. Bands of wandering monks attacked synagogues, pagan temples, heretics' meeting places, and the homes of wealthy unbelievers in Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and North Africa. Theophilus, the fire-breathing bishop of Alexandria, incited local vigilantes to destroy the Temple of Seraphis, one of the largest and most beautiful buildings in the ancient world, with 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.”
"When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome"
Richard E. Rubenstein (1999)16
The eventual victory of the Cappadocian Nicene faith from 380CE meant that as the Empire collapsed, the Christianity that was left behind was the dark, violent, centralized type that did not tolerate dissent. By the late fourth century, a recognizable Roman Catholic Church had emerged. The doctrine of the Trinity had been created, and the vengeful violence of Nicene Christianity was in full, open, bloody view. Anti-semitism was given its official sanction. The edited Nicene Creed was the only form of belief that was to be tolerated. Inquisitors began reviewing religious beliefs, condemning victims to imprisonment, torture and public execution for failing to believe the right things. This state of affairs persisted and plunged Christian societies into a 1000-year long dark ages. If the Arians had survived the onslaught and been the religion that the Empire left behind, we would have been left with a Christianity that would have left a glowing legacy of Jesus. Instead, the Nicene's violence and intolerance won out, and the 'ages of faith' that resulted darkened humanity from the fifth until the fifteenth century.
Many scholars and academics have noted, sometimes with worry, sometimes with glee, that there is no certain comment in the New Testament and certainly not in the gospels, that give weight to the idea that Jesus is part of the godhead. Conversely, there are numerous occasions when Scripture says otherwise, and many more times when it could have easily affirmed the trinity, but, specifically didn't. Alfred Reynolds devotes the first two chapters of his "Jesus Versus Christianity" (1993) to these facts.
Exodus 33:20 states that no-one can see God's face, "You cannot see my face, for no man shall see me, and live". The Christian Jesus can't be God, as it says in Christian scriptures that many people saw Jesus' face. John 1:18 says that no-one has seen God, but the begotten son (i.e., not eternal) has 'declared' God.
Numbers 23:19 says that God is not a human, "God is not a man [...] nor a son of man".
The temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13) only makes sense if Jesus is not God. If Jesus was the eternal creator, there was no point in Satan offering him the world, and, no point in saying that Jesus was tempted. This important part of Christian mythology only makes sense if Jesus is not god.
In Matthew 19:17, Jesus says "why do you call me good? No one is good but One, this is, God". If Jesus is God then Jesus couldn't have said that (unless he was lying).
In Matthew 24:36, Jesus says that he doesn't know when Judgement day will come. He says "Nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father". Clearly such epistemology only makes sense if Jesus is not god.
Mark 1:24 says Jesus is of God, and doesn't say that Jesus is God.
Mark 13:32 says that only the Father, but not the Son, knows the time of judgement.
John 1:18 says "No man has seen God at any time", but according to the gospels, plenty of people have seen Jesus. Therefore Jesus isn't God.
In John 5:19-30, John 7:16, Jesus makes multiple distinctions between "the son" and "the father", and says that "I do not seek my own will but the will of the father who sent me" and that the doctrine "is not mine, but his who sent me"; such comments make no sense if Jesus is God, sent by himself, and therefore doing his own will according to his own doctrine.
John 14:28 had Jesus state that "My Father is greater than I"; which must mean the Arian doctrine that the Father is Greater than the Son is true. Either that, or the Bible quotes Jesus wrongly (multiple times!).
John 17:3 says that god sent Jesus (it doesn't say God sent himself).
John 20:31 summarizes by saying that "these have been written down that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God".
1 Corinthians 11:3: The Father is greater than the Son.
Colossians 1:15 calls Jesus "the firstborn of all creation" because he was God's first creation.
2nd Century BCE+: Mithraism and Christianity1st Century: The Ebionites
Jewish Christianity - the OT laws must be upheld1st-7th Century: Gnosticism
The inferior OT god is subverted by the True God1st-14th Century: Adoptionism
Jesus was only human until his baptism1st-7th Century: Docetism
Christ only appeared human but was divine2nd-8th Century: Arianism
The Father is Greater than the Son2nd-5th Century: Marcionites
Jesus came to overthrow fake God of the OT4th Century: The rise of modern Christianity
Cappadocian, Nicene, Pauline and Trinitarian Christianity
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. Book Review.
The Catholic Encyclopedia. 15 volumes were produced between 1907 and 1912. Updates occurred in 1914 (an index) and 1914 (supplementary volumes). Published by the Robert Appleton Company, New York, USA (later renamed to The Encyclopedia Press). Reproduced on newadvent.org.
Mackenzie-Hanson, Rev Dr
(2005) On www.arian-catholic.org, accessed 2008 May 12.
Rubenstein, Richard E.
(1999) When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome. Paperback book. First Harvest edition, 2000. Published by Harcourt, Inc. Orlando, USA.