Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christianity without Constantine

(wow, today's been a great day for clearing out my pending folder...)

Think about it.  After the crucifixion of Jesus, Christianity spread to new areas.  Over time, the people directly associated to Jesus died off.  The message, however, did not.  In a culture steeped in oral-tradition methodology, the stories of Jesus were preserved.  Like twelve blind men trying to describe what an elephant is, based on their reference point, the word of God was transmitted to the dispersed congregation.  All of the messengers described the elephant, but emphasized those portions most important to the audience the message was spread to.

As a result, Christianity had Jews in Judea seeing Christianity as Judaism with an enhancement.  Many of them continued to practice Jewish customs, but incorporated Christian thought into their lives.  Gentiles in Europe who were taught God’s message is for everyone, not just for the Jews.  The learned that God’s love did not require conforming to Jewish customs.  In all cases, God’s message was foundational.  The extra tidbits were there to help the locals digest the message.

Hence, it is reasonable to see how, over the years, numerous writings were made to put to paper, that which had been transmitted by oral tradition and how the writings, while very similar (they were skilled oral traditions), would have regional variations.

Jump forward a few centuries.  The year: 325. The place: Nicea.  Constantine wanted to unify the Holy Roman Empire.  He wanted peace within his borders and wanted to be the head of all important things within his empire.  He sees various diverse groups of Christians and says to himself: “Self, I need unity in my land and these Christians are not unified.”  So, what does he do?  He calls a council of “all” church leaders to unify the religion.  Of the hundreds of church leaders, a vast majority came from lands held within the Holy Roman Empire.

In the years preceding the council, different Christian groups held differing opinions on the deity of Jesus.  The Romans were Trinitarians.  Ethiopians held that Jesus was purely god with not human aspect.  In Alexandria, Jesus was seen as purely human, albeit divinely inspired and in perfect lock-step with God’s will.

So, when Constantine assembled the church leaders, he loaded the group with Roman church leaders.  His reasoning, I presume, is he was more concerned with unifying his empire and his empire’s Christian groups than he was about the religion itself.  Hence, bring in the congregations within the borders of the Holy Roman Empire and get them to agree to a single version of Christianity.  Oh, and bring in a handful of outsiders who seem to take an opposing stance on a topic of the day.  Opposing, meaning they did not agree with the Roman Christianity perspective.

The Arian question remained alive, despite the creation of the Nicean Creed.  Arius was invited back into the Christian fold.  Christian groups outside the Holy Roman Empire continued to believe in non-Trinitarian beliefs.  There are still, to this day, people who consider themselves Christian without accepting the Trinitarian solution.
Does not accepting the Trinitarian solution make these people something other than Christian?  Is God’s message to us is we are to believe in three (and only three) beings all homoousian?  Was Constantine motivated by God to draw Trinitarian leaders to confirm the deification of Jesus, or was he simply unifying his lands?

If Constantine had not brought together the council, what would Christianity be like today?  Would we have agreed to disagree on issues of the deification of Jesus and concentrated on the message of love and compassion?  Or would we have broken down into internal squabbles and have God’s message lost to the history of time?  Can a person be a Christian without buying into a consubstantial theory?

To me, the point is the message.  The message is God’s love.  If a group is living and transmitting God’s message, does it matter what other stuff is mixed into their belief system?  I say it doesn’t matter, provided God’s message is clear and is provided center stage in the theatrics called a church service.  


  1. Without Constantime- Christianity would have remained a religion for the few and less educated.

    And you would not have been born in "Gods Country", as another religion would have ruled the western world.

    1. This is likely true. Christianity needed a royal lift to give it the broad audience is now has. However, the price of the process was at a cost of christianity's acceptance for diversity.

      Constantine demanded uniformity and squashed diversity. He was unsuccessful in squashing diversity, instead succeeding in creating an environment which encourages hatred and outrage for those who see things differently.

      How often in history has one christian fought and killed other christians over theological differences? Why do some people on one form of the faith say to others of a different denomination "Unless you are a , you're not a christian."

      Did Constantine's action preserve "God's Country" or simply expanded the awareness of a few facets of the faith? Is killing (or disrespecting) another person really "God's Country"?