We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A History Lesson, Part 4

After Constantine’s conversion he convened general councils to settle major troubling issues. In 314 he convened a general council of the west at Arles, and in 325 he convened the first General Council of the whole church at Nicea. It was at the Nicene council that a policy of patriarchates was established, where the administration of the church affairs would be by bishops from three or four major cities. Alexandria, Rome and Antioch were preeminent in their areas, while Jerusalem was granted an honorary primacy.

In AD 330, Constantine moved his capital east from Rome to the town of Byzantium, and renamed it Constantinople, but it was also known as “New Rome“. This shifted the political center of the empire to the east, and in turn the bishop of Constantinople became the focus of spiritual and doctrinal leadership.
While the favoring of the Christian faith brought advantages, it also brought about great disadvantages.  “Constantine ruled Christian bishops as he did his civil servants and demanded unconditional obedience to official pronouncements, even when they interfered with purely church matters. There were also the masses who now streamed into the officially favored church. Prior to Constantine’s conversion, the church consisted of convinced believers. Now many came who were politically ambitious, religiously disinterested, and still half-rooted in paganism. This threatened to produce not only shallowness and permeation by pagan superstitions but also the secularization and misuse of religion for political purposes.”  (Shelly, p.96)  “…the result was a decline in Christian commitment. The stalwart believers whom Diocletian killed were replaced by a mixed multitude of half-converted pagans. Once Christians laid down their lives for the truth; now they slaughtered each other to secure the prizes of the church.”  (p.118)

There was an underlying cultural problem which helped cause divergence between the two halves of the empire: while the Western church was linguistically Latin, the Eastern church was Greek. When Constantine died in 337 and left his empire divided between his two sons, the divergence grew.

In 380 Emperor Theodosius made belief in Christianity mandatory, under the name of “Catholic Christians.” His imperial command said, “The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative, which We shall assume in accordance with divine judgment.”  As Shelly points out, “Theodosius takes for granted the close link between his own will and God’s. It was a connection implicit in the Christian empire.” (p.97)

In 381 Theodosius called a council in which he said that the bishop of Constantinople was to take precedence immediately after the Roman bishop, because Constantinople was the New Rome. This didn’t set well with Rome, and the following year the Roman bishop Damasus declared for the first time that Rome was of primacy because, as he claimed, Jesus said he built His church on Peter, and Peter founded the Roman church.

Under Theodosius church structure began centering on powerful positions. The bishops of leading cities and imperial provinces became known as archbishops, and the center of his jurisdiction became known as the see. Shelly tells us, “Those bishops in the premier cities of the empire - Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch - were considered highest of all and were called patriarchs. Throughout the fourth and fifth centuries these four powerful patriarchs were attempting to extend the prestige and power of their spiritual offices.”  (p.111).  Rome was now influential in the western empire while Constantinople was influential in the east.

The bishop of Constantinople came to rely on the church’s political position, and religion and politics became so entwined that the bishop began losing his independence from the emperor. Meanwhile, Damasus in Rome was subjected to weakened political control and began asserting the primacy claimed by Damasus’ appeal to Peter’s position.

When Theodosius died in 395, the Eastern part of the empire was ruled by his son Flavius Arcadius until he died in 408, while the Western part of the empire was ruled by his son Flavius Honorius until he died in 423. The leadership of the empire continued changing over the next few decades, and church leadership continued to be more and more focused at the two capitals.

In Rome the church leadership passed through seven bishops after Damasus until Leo 1, who became bishop in 440. Leo immediately preached on the issue of the authority of the church resting in the bishop of Rome by virtue of the authority of Peter’s position as the rock on which Christ said his church would be built (which was a gross misapplication of Scripture).  This erroneously assumed any authority given to Peter thereby became the authority of the bishop of Rome.

The claim by Leo was made into an official imperial claim when, in 445, Emperor Valentinian III “issued a decree instructing Aetius, the Roman commander in Gaul, to compel the attendance at the papal court of any bishop who refused to come voluntarily. … The imperial document ran: ‘As the primacy of the Apostolic See is based on the title of the blessed Peter, prince of the episcopal dignity, on the dignity of the city of Rome, and on the decision of the Holy Synod, no illicit steps may be taken against this See to usurp its authority. For the only way to safeguard peace among the churches everywhere is to acknowledge its leadership universally.’” (Shelly, p.138)

At the council of Chalcedon in October 451, although Leo was the dominant figure, the council ended up giving the bishop of Constantinople the same authority as Leo’s, so that now there were indeed two sole and independent leaders - the bishop of Rome in the West and the bishop of Constantinople in the East. Leo’s representative protested but the 350 bishops meeting at the council did not alter their decision. 

Next time: Attila the Hun and the Vandals change the political and religious status of Rome.


Doug Evans said...

I love these history lessons! I am a nut for Roman history, my first touch of Rome was the Roman city gate at Trier in Germany, then a Roman built arena still used for bull fighting in Spain, and the next year I even went AWOL to visit the city of Rome. While TDY to Turkey I considered taking time to travel to Istanbul to see the city walls and the Hagia Sophia.

Rome's history is so fluid and complex and weird! If you have the time listen to The History of Rome podcast, do it! - Mike Duncan set the standard for educational podcasts for the 21st century.

Personally I disagree with Edward Gibbon's assessment that the Roman Empire "fell" in the 450's just because one weak willed bureaucrat conceded to a bunch of illegal immigrants. The City of Rome had not been the capital of anything for centuries; Hadrian was constantly on the move and the government had to uproot and follow him and that became the norm for decades. In Constantine's time the empire was split into three pieces and Constantine ruled Britan, Spain, and Gaul from Trier. The main seat was actually in Milan for a century before Constantine moved the capital to Constantinople.

Gibbon was an atheist, he didn't like the turn Rome took when Constantine converted the empire, and to top it off, while he was fluent in Latin, he could barely understand Greek. He got tired of writing about it, so he and historians of his era just called it Byzantium and ignored the last 1000 years of the Empire.

To me, and many others, the Roman Empire started in 127 BC when Rome conquered Greece and Carthage fulfilling the definition of an empire, and ended on May 29th, 1453 when the last remnant of Rome in Constantinople was crushed by Islamic warriors. The people of Rome didn't stop calling themselves "Romans" just because some guy 300 years in the future called them Byzantines. When you look at it that way, the Roman Empire spanned 1,580 years.

Also, Romans always considered themselves Greek, or descendants of the Greeks (Greekish?), so when they conquered Greece, they were simply Going Home. They considered the Greek and Roman empires to be the same. And when you look at it that way then just maybe the last empire in Daniels prophesy was not Rome, but the Ottoman empire, it certainly fits.

Or not, these are just ideas I chew on. I can't wait for the next thrilling episode!

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I've read various commentaries as to what was the ultimate cause of the fall of Rome, but I think all the different ideas combined becomes the real main reason -- no single event led to the fall.

Outside of theology, history is my favorite subject for study. Fascinating learning about the past (as long as you don't get revisionist history!).

Jesse said...

Boniface III was the first pope!!!

Glenn E. Chatfield said...


We aren't there yet. :)