When Jesus Became God- by Richard E. Rubenstein Page 2
“The bishops and their retinues began arriving in early May. Constantine welcomed them warmly and housed them...either in the palace or in one of the numerous outbuildings rimming the lake. A good many of them bore the scars of past persecutions: eye patches covering lost eyes, limps produced by severed hamstrings or Achilles tendons, backs deformed by hard labor in Phoenician mines...Some bishops apparently believed they had already entered the Kingdom of Heaven or at least a well-furnished anteroom.” Not only had they been invited to an emperor’s home but he was going to pay their travel and living expenses for several months. Many thought they were living a miracle!
Rubenstein has managed to unearth the nuts and bolts of this conference and describe the goings on as if they were a suspense novel. I am reminded of the board game Clue in which you must determine who was the murderer in what room with what weapon. Surrounding the Nicene council you have crime, cover-up, motive, dangerous ambition and power-mongering. You have fear, intimidation, intrigue, back stabbing, conniving, bludgeoning, and terrorizing. Did I mention violence?
The bishops got right to work sorting out the Arian controversy. The word “homoousios had been kicking around Eastern theological circles for some time, but most churchmen did not like it, since it was a Greek philosophical term not found anywhere in Scripture.” Stay with me here as I attempt to explain why this is important. It forms the linchpin of orthodoxy. This word was used in a letter read out at the council. Some “observers testify that the document was torn into pieces in the presence of all the bishops as an expression of their disapproval...One passage in the letter mentions homoousios scoffingly, in order to show how ludicrous it was to equate the Son with the Father: Imagine! Some fools maintain that Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, and the omnipotent, unknowable Creator are made out of the same essential stuff...No idea could be more absurd!”
“This rhetoric (or something like it) gave Alexander and Athanasius the weapon they were looking for. Homoousios — the ‘absurdity’ — would become a test of faith and a method of smoking out those unable to accept Jesus’ identity with God” (emphasis added). Chaos ensued. The crackdown was to issue an anathema (a formal curse or condemnation and excommunication) to any and all disbelievers. From such appalling stuff is orthodoxy born.
“A look into the future, then, shows us Nicea as a watershed. While it looks forward to the ultimate resolution of the Arian controversy from the Catholic point of view — the identification of Jesus Christ as God — it also represents the last point at which Christians with strongly opposed theological views acted civilly towards 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.”
I think that it is important to see who the Arians were up against. Their chief opponent was Athanasius. Rubenstein quotes Barnes to give us a picture of this man: “In Alexandria itself, he maintained the popular support which he enjoyed from the outset and buttressed his position by organizing an ecclesiastical mafia. In later years, if he so desired, he could instigate a riot or prevent the orderly administration of the city. Athanasius possessed a power independent of the emperor which he built up and perpetuated by violence. That was both the strength and the weakness of his position. Like a modern gangster, he evoked widespread mistrust, proclaimed total innocence — and usually succeeded in evading conviction on specific charges.” Rubenstein goes so far as to say that: “For a similar combination of theoretical acumen, dogged adherence to principle, and political ruthlessness, one would have to await the advent of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Vladimir Lenin.” Athanasius became Bishop of Alexandria and “was reported to be maintaining power by intimidating and terrorizing his opponents.” It was said that he engaged in financial extortion and that he sent violent gangs to beat Arians. Frankly, a pretty filthy foundation for one’s faith!
My thanks and gratitude to Richard Rubenstein for his exposure of the roots of Trinitarian dogma, which has not only survived but remains the governing force of orthodoxy and which will continue to pronounce an anathema upon you if you question any or all of it. As for the very dear ones who are a part of this system but do not agree with those anathemas, my greatest service to you would be to discourage your confidence and faith in a “church” that could show itself so violent and hateful. When dissenters are bludgeoned into submission, this should be a great revelation as to the identity of the “thugs.” (“By their fruit you will recognize them...” Mat. 7:16.)
The Council of Nicea, with all of its ramming through of dogma, still left many in confusion. “What was needed to clear up this confusion was something that the Nicene Creed alone could not supply: a doctrine explaining how God could be one and yet consist of two or three separate entities. And the development of this doctrine...could not take place without new language. It was necessary to create a new theological vocabulary capable of going beyond the bare statement that the Father and Son were of the same essence (homoousios). That term expressed the oneness of God, but how to express His multiplicity as well? The answer was to clarify or redefine key words.”
Gregory of Nyssa: “Do not be amazed if we declare that the same thing is united and distinct, and conceive, as in a riddle, of a new and paradoxical unity in distinction and distinction in unity.” He said, according to Rubenstein, “If this seems paradoxical, so be it.” Say what?!
Note well: “There were other objections as well. The doctrine was too novel, too paradoxical, too mystifying, too clever by half...but, to many skeptics, the new theology’s most troubling feature was that, in redefining the relationship of the Father to the Son, it altered the Christian understanding of God” (emphasis added).
“Doctrinally, this is the point at which Christianity breaks decisively with its parent faith and with other forms of monotheism that, insofar as they use family metaphors, consider God a Father and persons created in His image sons and daughters” (emphasis added).
I would like to ask what kind of childish game was being played at the Council of Nicea with adults acting as terrorists and thugs. How is it that 1700 years later we are still cowering under their very faulty leadership and the unscriptural “rules” they made up as the trinity was “invented”? I beg you not to be content with such shoddy workmanship. When we are being invited to accept a paradox, we are being asked to accept square circles or, as Webster’s says, something absurd.
In When Jesus Became God, Richard Rubenstein writes well on a very volatile subject. His calm and rather unbiased perspective sheds light on the dark days in which was born what is now regarded as Christian orthodoxy regarding Jesus Christ. Rubenstein helps his readers better understand how a multi-person view of God would eventually triumph over the earlier monolithic view of the One God of the Bible.