31 March 2009

The Continuing Saga of Trinity Troubles

There is a soap opera here...

The Council of Nicaea and its aftermath had it all. Empire. Emperor. Emperor’s sister. Imperial family intrigues. Poison (maybe). There was probably sex too but no one apparently bothered to write that part down. There was theology too, of course. Copious amounts of it. But if we are to turn this into a Byzantine Dallas we will have to downplay that in the script.

This is seriously wonderful stuff.

Its 325 and Arius, our star heresiarch, is called to Constantinople. At this point he is under suspicion for his views but there is no Creed at this point or at least no universally agreed Creed. Constantine has called these folks together in the first true Council of the church to sort this out once and for all. He very much wanted to hold the church and empire together and Arianism appeared to at least pose a threat to both though how credible is debatable. Two hundred bishops from various parts of the Empire. A bit stacked perhaps on the Trinitarian side but Arius has the strong support of at least 20 of the Bishops… not terrible. Many are wavering on the political winds of the moment. But the outcome is never really in doubt. I mean, the EMPEROR is after his ass. Arius will be cast out. In a sense, Nicaea was as much an exorcism as unifying force of the church and empire.

The big argument was over the word homoouios vs. homoiouios - the presence or absence of that “i” in the middle meant the difference between Trinitarianism and Arianism since homoousios means, generally, same substance, while homoiousios means, generally, similar substance (I’m leaving a bunch of that theology stuff out at this point). The Council decided that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of the same substance, not just similar - which would be the view of Arianism.

Interestingly, various Synods of Antioch in the third century had actually condemned this word in their heresy hearings re Paul of Samosatas who was a Monarchist and precocious Adoptionist to boot. The Arians cited the Synods endlessly against using this word in the Creed but to no avail. Some accounts say the Council actually decided to use this particular word just because the Arians objected so strenuously to it. Nice touch that.

So Arius is found guilty of heresy and is cast out into exile. But he makes a comeback in our next episode after an arch rival at the Council, Eustathius makes a disparaging remark about Constantine’s grandmother… is accused of various things including disrespect of the imperial family and, oh yeah, heresy. Trumped up charges clearly. But the best part, the Emperor's sister, on her deathbed, introduces her Arian chaplain to the Emperor, who proceeds to peddle the big guy the big line that Arius’ beliefs are not really counter to Nicaea.

Stay tuned for our next episode of Trinity Trouble!!!


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