Early Church - Byzantium a - RR160B5a
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God our Heavenly Father, again with thanksgiving we come into Thy presence remembering that all the days of our life Thy hand has been on us for good. We thank Thee that Thou hast ruled and overruled in our lives and guided our feet into the way of righteousness and peace. Thou hast been good unto us who so often cannot be good unto ourselves and therefore our Father we praise Thee and we commit ourselves unto Thee and to a study of Thy workings in generations past that we might guide ourselves aright in the days to come. Guide, bless and prosper in Thy service, in Jesus’s name, Amen.
Tonight we shall consider first of all chapter ten, The Early Church Confronts the World. Not only have I given quite a bit of space to this in our text but also I have dealt with the same period in the Foundations of Social Order and I have tried to avoid overlapping too much the material in those chapters. Now, the early church as it moved out into the Roman Empire had a very serious problem in that first of all the converts came with very often very weak moral characters into the faith. They were people to whom there was no moral wrong in fornication. This was a serious problem as we see in Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians. In those days for many of the cultures into which the Christian gospel was carried what a person did with his body was not a matter of moral concern. Morality was something that was basically concerned with the mind. Moreover these new converts came to the faith with a great many religious and philosophical presuppositions that colored their mind. As a result it was very easy for heresies to move in and lead the people astray because they began with such a faulty background. [00:02:56]
And in our chapter many of these main heresies are...
And in our chapter many of these main heresies are touched on, Gnosticism, Arianism, Pelagianism, and others. Gnosticism basically saw the world as most of these philosophies did, as being divided into matter and spirit and spirit being good and matter evil. Of course as Christians we believe that both matter and spirit were created wholly good by God and both are alike fallen. So that it is not one part of man being good and another part bad, both are alike fallen, both are alike to be regenerated. Both alike have a destiny in the new creation and the resurrection of the body as well as of the spirit makes clear God’s eternal purpose concerning the whole man. Gnosticism in particular tried to bring in the scientific ideas of the day which today would be pure superstition of course, since they are outmoded, and make a scientific kind of religion out of Christianity. Arianism was pure and simple humanism and it approached the matter of subverting Christianity because that was its purpose under the leadership of Arius by attacking the doctrine of God and of Christ. Christ was like a God but not God and God could not reveal himself because God was basically a vague force in the universe, therefore a revelation was impossible. Arianism was really a death of God school of theology. Now Arianism was defeated. The next attack came in the form of Pelagianism, after Pelagius. Pelagianism pretended to proclaim the whole council of God as far as theology was concerned, oh yes they believed that God is indeed God and Christ is very God of very God and very man of very man, they were Trinitarians, they believed in all the things that scripture taught concerning God, but! They subverted the faith and made God unnecessary and Christ’s atoning work unnecessary by turning to the doctrine of man. In other words, the councils had shut the door in their faces with Chalcedon and Nicaea. [00:05:58]
It would be impossible for them to make a head on attack...
It would be impossible for them to make a head on attack on the doctrine of God and of Christ so they started with the doctrine of man. And they picked a particularly easy spot in which to introduce their heresy, a heresy that has plagued the church ever since and still is with us: the innocence of a child. The child is innocent and therefore the child should be regarded as not as these theologians who are so nasty and are such unpleasant people talk about the child as a fallen creature and sharing in total depravity, why, who could look at an innocent little baby and think of anything but the sweetness and the innocence. Well the next step was to say of course the child doesn’t need baptism because there is no sin to be washed away. And of course the child doesn’t need the atoning work of Jesus Christ; His work is only a kind of moral example, so he knows the way in which to walk. And so the humanism of Pelagianism was beginning at the other end of the spectrum. Arianism began with the doctrine of God and of Christ, Pelagianism began with the child and as a result it was far more subtle and it has been a chronic thing like a sliver under the skin of a man which has stayed under the sliver of the church to creep out in a sore periodically and very difficult to deal with, because it sounds so nasty to say something about the fact that the child is a sinner. And so then in the early church no council was called to deal with it unfortunately except a minor council, the council of orange where Saint Augustine’s ideas were expounded against it. I deal with this in the Foundations of Social Order. [00:08:14]
But it was a different thing for head on assault and...
But it was a different thing for head on assault and the church was not able to deal with it, they did indicate publicly more than once, the great theologians, what a heresy it was. At the reformation it was roundly condemned by Luther and Calvin. It was roundly condemned by the Westminster Confession of Faith but Pelagianism has always had a kind of odor of sanctity about it with many people and it is very difficult to make a stand against it without seeming nasty and yet it is all important. And again in our day instead of seeing a head on attack in the latter part of the last century Pelagianism crept in. And the immediate outcome of Pelagianism was Colonel Parker and John Dewey with their ideas of progressive education, because the minute you have Pelagianism the next step is progressive education. The one follows the other inevitably, inescapably. And of course the Pelagianism that crept in after the civil war into American theology has now captured the churches and this is how it came in. It did not come in through the Unitarian or Arian assault on the doctrine of God. That only came in after the Pelagians had won their battle in this country. The Unitarians began in 1850-1820 but by the time of the Civil War it was obvious that the Unitarian church was a failure. It only had a handful of people and to this day it only has a handful of people. It’s been a center of subversion but it is always had only a handful of people. The way the church was subverted was through Pelagianism! So that this was the direction the heretics took after the civil war so that by 1900 it was the sweetness of a child and evangelical Sunday school conferences were burbling about oh what a privilege for your dear sweet souls to work with these dear innocent children. Do you see why they were suckers for Colonel Parker and John Dewey? [00:10:54]
Once that kind of thinking gets in then the church...
Once that kind of thinking gets in then the church is doomed. So we must recognize that heresy always when it fails with a direct assault makes an indirect assault. The councils I have dealt with here, the councils of Nicaea and Ephesus and Chalcedon formulated the orthodox doctrine of Christ and of God. And they made it clear emphatically that Jesus Christ is very God of very God and very man of very man and that there can be no confusion of the two persons of the two natures of Christ. If you confuse them you are saying the humanity can become divine but they were perfectly united without confusion, what does this mean? The fact that there is no confusion of the two means that man can never become God because this is pagan salvation. In pagan doctrines of salvation men become God, the Greek gods were all deified men and salvation was deification but for us salvation is the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. And Chalcedon made it clear there could be no confusion, but with this it struck at statism, because statism is the state playing God, playing the role of savior in man’s life. And emphatically the councils by declaring there could be no confusion, man is never god, God alone is God and the incarnation is a perfect union without confusion, they made it clear that salvation is by Christ, not by the state. They also emphasized the fact that Christ is king of kings, emperor, lord of creation and that the law of Christ must govern men. Now this aspect we have lost but it is very interesting to see how long in the early middle ages and into later middle ages the pictures of Christ show him as a king, a king ruling. For this reason the clergy felt that they could rebuke kings and emperors in the name of Christ. That like Nathan they could say thou hast sinned, thou art the man and for this reason they could rebuke churchmen as well. The word of God was over man in every area, church, state, school, everything, this was their faith and of course it was scriptural. [00:14:00]
Moreover the answer is not in the state but neither...
Moreover the answer is not in the state but neither is it in the church, but rather in Christ, in the triune God and His law word. Now I mentioned just briefly in passing that the early church could have been recognized at any time as a legal religion if they had just applied for a permit. But they refused and they were persecuted, why? Because they would not admit that the state had the right to license churches or to tax them. The tax exemption of the church which we have to this day is their victory, it isn’t because the church is a non-profit agency, it’s because it’s the kingdom of Christ, it is an aspect of the kingdom and the state has no right to tax except as God’s word permits. And so they fought for the independence of the church from the state. They made it clear again and again that they were ready to obey Caesar, that they were his most loyal subjects, the most faithful in paying their taxes, the best soldiers he had. But they would refuse to admit that Caesar had any right to govern or to tax the church of Jesus Christ or to require prior obedience to Caesar above God. Well, the persecution was a bitter one and it is interesting to see what Tertullian has to say on the persecution, how illegal it was, they paid no attention to their own laws in persecuting the Christians. He writes:
“If it is certain that we are the most guilty of men why do you treat us differently from our fellows, that is, from other criminals, since it is only fair that the same guilt should meet with the same treatment. When others are accused on the charges that are brought against us they employ their own tongues and hired advocacies [or lawyers] to plead their innocence. They have full opportunity of reply and cross examination. For it is not permitted to condemn men undefended and unheard. Christians alone are not allowed to say anything to clear themselves, to defend truth, to save a judge from injustice. That alone is looked for which the public hate requires, the confession of the name, that is of Christ, not the investigation of the charges.”
And it is interesting to see and this comes from a...
And it is interesting to see and this comes from a somewhat later period the kind of dishonesty about what the Christians held, Julian the Apostate somewhat later, talking about the worship of Jesus, ridicules it. And his line of reasoning has been followed by liberals to this day, he said:
“But you unfortunately do not, [speaking to Christians] abide by the tradition of the apostles which in the hands of their successors deteriorated into greater blasphemy. Neither Paul nor Matthew nor Luke nor Mark had the audacity to say Jesus is God.”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
“But the worthy John realizing that by that time a vast number of people and many of the Greek and Italian cities were infected with the disease [that is, with Christianity] and hearing I fancy that the tunes of Peter and Paul were being worshiped, privately no doubt, but still worshiped.”
Now see how he introduces an idea? No proof, he says it was privately done I’m sure.
“John I say was the first to have the audacity to make this assertion. This evil was inaugurated by John, but who can find a fitting denunciation of this additional innovation of yours. The introduction of many recent dead bodies besides that original dead body you have filled all places with tombs and monuments, you think that not only the words of Jesus are to be listened to on this question, Jesus says that sepulchers are full of uncleanness, how it is then that you invoke God on them.”
This because they honored the tombs of the martyrs. Sometime back when I was dealing with the Foundations of Social Order I read portions of the Passion of Saint Perpetua but many of you have not heard it. This is an eyewitness account of a girl who very early was among the martyrs and this is the first eyewitness account we have of a number of young people who were arrested and this girl, Perpetua, Vibia Perpetua, of noble birth and well educated, a wife and a mother, she was twenty two years old. And it is interesting; many of these young people would go to meetings with friends in the neighborhood because they were finding life very, very ugly. [00:20:03]
After all, when everyone around them was indulging...
After all, when everyone around them was indulging in what we today call innumerality and wife swapping and husband swapping and everything was thoroughly disgusting if someone told them they could come to a meeting where they would study something about a higher standard it was attractive to young people such as Perpetua, coming from a noble family, and so she went and became a convert. And of course she was arrested with others at the meeting. And she had just had a baby and of course her father, a noble man, came to try and break down my faith, she says, through his affection for me. Father said I, do you see for example, this vessel lying here, a jug, I see it there. Can one call anything by any other name than what it is? No. So neither can I call myself other than what I am, a Christian. Than my father provoked at this word threw himself upon him as though he would tear out my eyes but he only shook me and forewith was overcome with the devil’s arguments. Then she goes on to say later her father comes again just before her case is to be heard and tried to breakdown my faith saying, daughter pity my grey hairs, pity your father if I am worthy to be called father by you, if I have brought you up with my own hands to your present comely age, if I have preferred you to all your brothers, do not make me disgraced before men. Behold your brothers, behold your mother and your aunt, look at your son who cannot live without you. After your determination do not cut us off entirely for not one of us will ever hold up his head again if anything happens to you. Remember they were going to be executed like common criminals in the arena. It was a disgrace to have a Christian in your family because they were regarded as the worst kind of traitors. Unwilling to swear allegiance. But she refused, I was distressed at my father’s state but I comforted him saying this will be done on that scaffold which God has willed, for know that we have not been placed in our own power but Gods and he left me sorrowfully. Then when the hearing came my turn came and my father appeared on the scene with my boy and drew me down from the step, praying to me, pity thy child. Then Helariun the perpetor [sp??] who at that time was administering the government in place of the council, [unknown] deceased, said spare thy father’s grey hairs, spare thy infant boy, sacrifice for the safety of the emperor and I replied: I do not sacrifice. Art thou Christian asked Helariun and I said I am. Then he pronounced sentence against us all and condemned us to the beasts and we joyfully went down to the prison. Then because my child had been accustomed to be suckled by me and to remain with me in prison I sent [unknown] the deacon immediately to my father for the child but he refused to give it up. And somehow God willed it that neither the child any longer desired the breasts nor did they cause me pain and thus I was spared anxiety about the child and personal discomfort. [00:24:00]
Then one of the girls who was arrested with her who...
Then one of the girls who was arrested with her who was younger than she was, her name was Felicity, was quite concerned because she was eight months pregnant and pregnant women were not thrown to the lions, they were held back until they had given delivery and she wanted to go in with the others rather than to wait and go in with common criminals. But respecting Felicity, for her also the Lord’s favor approached in the same way, when she had already gone eight months with child, for she had been pregnant when she was arrested, as the day of the exhibition was drawing near she was in great grief, lest on account of her pregnancy she would be delayed for pregnant women are not allowed to be publicly punished, unless she should shed her sacred and guiltless blood among some who had been wicked subsequently over her her fellow martyrs were painfully saddened lest they should leave so excellent a friend and companion alone in the path of the same hope, therefore joining together their united cry they poured forth their prayer to the lord three days before the exhibition. Immediately after their prayer her pains came upon her and when with the difficulty natural to an eight months delivery and the labor of bringing forth she was sorrowing a certain one of the servants of the [unknown] [those are prison officials] said to her, you who are in such suffering now, what will you do when you are thrown to the beasts who you despised when you refused to sacrifice and she replied: now it is I that suffer that I suffer, but then there will be another by my side who will suffer for me because I shall be suffering for Him. Thus she brought forth a little girl which a certain sister brought up as her daughter. Then the day of their martyrdom came and they were led out and some of the men began to preach to the spectators and when they came within sight of the [unknown] the [unknown] they began with gestures and nods to him to say that you may judge us but God may judge you. This infuriated the people and they demanded that they should be punished with scourges in front of the line of beast fighters. And they only rejoiced because they had attained something even of the Lord’s suffering. [00:26:45]
Well since the time is short very briefly the girls...
Well since the time is short very briefly the girls are tossed to the animals and Perpetua is gored by a wild cow and then Felicity was also gored. And then they were brought back, they were all wounded, and Perpetua began to look around and to the amazement of all said I cannot tell when we are going to be led forth to that cow and when she had heard that it had already happened she did not at first believe it until she saw certain marks of the injury in her body and her dress. Then having sent for her brother she addressed him in the catacium [sp??] saying stand fast in the faith and love one another all of you and be not offended at our suffering. And then they already half dead were laid down with the others in the usual place for the throat cutting and when the people demanded that they should be brought to the midst in order that they might feast their eyes on the sight of the sword piercing their bodies they voluntarily rose up and transferred themselves whither the crowd wished. They had already before this mutually exchanged a kiss in order to complete the martyrdom by the solemn rite of peace. The rest indeed immovable and in silence received the sword. Then to read a little further about the martyrdoms from Foxes Book of Martyrs, very interesting, now you must remember this martyrdom was everywhere in the Roman Empire, it was in England, it was in North Africa, it was in Gaul or what it is France today, it was in Spain and beyond the borders of the Empire the same persecutions were taking place in the Persian Empire, they were taking place among the barbarians everywhere. [00:29:08]
The venerable [unknown] assures us that upon this occasion...
The venerable [unknown] assures us that upon this occasion, this was on June 22, A.D. 287, when a Christian was condemned to death in England. The executioner suddenly became a convert to Christianity and then entreated permission to die for all of them or with them. Attaining the latter request they were both beheaded by a soldier who voluntarily undertook the task of executioner. This happened on the 22nd day of June A.D. 287 at Verulamium, now Saint Albans in [unknown] where a magnificent church was erected to his memory about the time of Constantine the Great. Faith, a Christian female, a [unknown] in France was ordered to broiled upon a gridiron and then beheaded, A.D. 287. Quentin was a Christian, a native of Rome, but determined to attempt the propagation of the gospel in Gaul with one Lucian. They preached together in [unknown] after which Lucian went to [unknown] where he was martyred. Quentin remained in Picardie and was very zealous in the ministry. Being seized upon as a Christian he was stretched with pullies until his joints were dislocated, his body was then torn with wire scourges and boiling oil and pitched poured forth upon his naked flesh, torches were applied to his sides and armpits and after he had been thus tortured he was remanded back to prison and died of the barbarities he suffered, October 31, 287, his body was sunk in the stone. They began to do this to the bodies because the Christians were honoring the graves of the martyrs. Then the tenth great persecution under Diocletian in 303. The fatal day fixed upon to commence the bloody work was the 23rd of February, A.D. 303, this being the day in which the Terminalia were celebrated and on which the cruel pagans boasted they hoped to put a termination to Christianity. On the appointed day the persecution began in Nicomedia, on the morning of which the prefect of that city repaired with a great number of officers and assistants to the church of the Christians where having forced upon the doors they seized upon all the sacred books and committed them to the flames. And he goes on to describe how the purpose was to wipe out all Christians, all their bibles, every record of it. No distinction was made of age or sex, the name of Christian was so obnoxious to the pagans that all indiscriminately fell sacrifice to their opinions. Many houses were set on fire and whole Christian families perished in the flames. [00:32:03]
Another had stones fastened upon their necks and having...
Another had stones fastened upon their necks and having been tied together were driven into the sea. The persecution became general in all the Roman provinces but more particularly in the east and it lasted ten years. It is impossible to ascertain the numbers martyred or to innumerate the various modes of martyrdom. Racks, scourges, swords, daggers, crosses, poison and famine were made use of in various parts to dispatch Christians. And invention was exhausted to devise tortures against such as had no crime but thinking differently from the votaries of superstition. The city of [unknown] consisting entirely of Christians was burnt and all the inhabitants perished in the flames. And he goes on to describe the particularly fearful persecution of some of them that put even the one I mentioned earlier to shame, that they went to to make sure that these Christians suffered to the utmost. It was a fearful trial. With Constantine the church was recognized because the Constantine saw no hope except to use the Christians, the one good element in the empire. However, not too long after Constantine, a generation or so, he was succeeded by a relative and those who succeeded Constantine were Arians so they were persecuting the church. Julian the Apostate who at least was honest in that he was openly pagan came to power and he was clearly trying to return the empire to paganism, but he was not popular, ironically, even with the pagans because he had with him a group of men who formed a secret society and were ruling with their own desires as an elite group, a conspiratorial group and everything was done to make it difficult for the Christians without going back to the full scale persecution. One of the things that Julian did to make life difficult for the Christians actually was very valuable in the long run. And let me quote from this book on Julian the Apostate by Joseph Costello: [00:34:58]
“The framework of the Empire had become loose and tottering...
“The framework of the Empire had become loose and tottering at many points particularly in civil administration. The cities and town which were the primordial cells of the state had many important duties to perform. Among the most important of these were matters of finance and transportation.”
In other words, the civil officials had to provide the financing to the empire and they had to maintain the roads, they had no authority beyond that, everything was centralized in the hands of the emperor and the senate. Under Constantine and still more under Constancies municipalities had functioned poorly largely because of a lack of manpower. To be a member of the municipality was an extremely heavy burden and since it was regarded almost as a punishment it was dreaded by all. The dequarians, [sp??], the officials, had to busy themselves with a little of everything without any remuneration. They had to collect taxes, requisition produce for the state, conduct military levies, look after the garrisons and police and carry out other related duties and for each of these services they were financially responsible. If there were deficiencies in the paying of the troops the dequarians [sp?] had to make them up from their own funds. It wasn’t very advisable to be a public official, you can see. So people were moving out of the cities, the taxes there were impossible and if you were a person of any consequence and made an official think of what a nightmare it was. Without pay you had to do all that work and get those funds in or you might get killed. You were the fall guy as it were. So what did Julian do? Well, the clergy had an exemption from military and governmental service. He made them the dequrians, the government officials, in charge of the cities, in charge of finance and transportation. Which meant in effect you’re going to have to provide the funds even if you use church funds. That was a serious burden for the clergy and a fearful thing for them to assume, but consider the implications of it, because what it meant was in effect that when Julian died in battle against the Persians, more and more the clergy were the power in the empire as the empire began to fall apart as it did in fifty or sixty years. [00:37:59]
After about fifty or sixty years after Julian the Apostate...
After about fifty or sixty years after Julian the Apostate the barbarians conquered Rome. And after that with the empire collapsed it was the clergy who were the government as it were. Now of course this led to the centrality of church in ruling Europe in the latter middle ages but it also preserved civilization, it also made progress possible. So what was a fearful punishment turned out to be ultimately a great boon and a blessing. It would be possible to spend weeks and weeks on the early church but our time is limited and we have a great deal of ground to cover. And we have a good survey I think in this chapter because I think I’ve touched on the essentials there. The next chapter, chapter eleven, is on Byzantium the Eastern Roman Empire. Byzantium, the Eastern Roman Empire, page 93 following. Now Byzantium is a very interesting kingdom, it has a history of a thousand years. It lasted longer than any other great power in history. It was established by Constantine the Great; when he became emperor he did two things of great importance. First he recognized Christianity and made it the religion of the empire really. Now this was important, he was a very wise man although his doctrine was very unsound, but he knew very definitely the best element in the empire has to be recognized and favored and the Christians are the best element. We cannot go on favoring the hoodlums and the welfare mobs. The one good element we have are the Christians and for two and a half centuries we’ve waged war on them. We’ve been exterminating them, let’s recognize them. That was the first great step. The second great step he made was to recognize that the city of Rome was finished. The welfare mobs and all, it was a hopeless thing. And he went to what is now Constantinople and there established a new capitol for the Empire. There to make a fresh beginning because there the economy was more stable and strong. And so he established the Eastern Capitol of the Empire which after the fall of Rome became a separate and a continuing Roman Empire. [00:41:10]
The reason why the eastern empire lasted so long is...
The reason why the eastern empire lasted so long is three fold. First: the emperors, and there were some very good ones and there were some very bad ones, recognized the importance first of all of the army. They kept a good strong army. Second they recognized the importance of the farmers. Whatever they did with business they always made sure the farmers were not overtaxed, the farmers had things their way, the farmers were favored. Because they said you’ve got to have a good army on the field and you’ve got to have food to feed an empire and third they made sure they always had good hard money, gold and silver. And so all over the world far beyond the frontiers of Byzantium the Byzantine coins circulated, it was hard money. Stressing the army, farming, food, and hard money, this is what enabled them to last. It wasn’t without problems, because it was a time when all kinds of barbarian hordes were moving, as various powers in Central Asia collapsed, from Asia and from Northern Europe various barbarian groups were converging on the one place where the wealth and the money was. So you had continually the pressure of huge hordes of barbarians out of Asia, vast numbers, as well as the tribes of Northern Europe. And the life on the frontiers was difficult and these pressures were intense. To give you an idea of what it meant when these groups from Central Asia, for example, began moving: the Slavs had been between Byzantium and the Mongol tribes and now the Slavs began to feel the pressure. The Slavs get their name because they were so commonly slaves. For centuries they were slaves. And their position was a fearful one because you see the areas of southern Russia are open country, that is, level country, there were forests and there were marshes and streams but it was easy country for the cavalry of the various Mongol invaders to move across rapidly. [00:43:33]
And so their life became almost an unbelievable one...
And so their life became almost an unbelievable one, listen to this account which comes from moracius [sp?] writing about that time:
“The Slavs seemed to have been a gentle naïve and unwarlike people whom their marshes and still waters and deep forests made not only sensitive, imaginative and musical, but also well-nigh defensive against the Mongolian nomads from the southern Russian steps, the Scandinavian pirates and the Germans. From their earliest history when raids delivered them to the slave markets of Europe, Asia and Africa, where they gave their name to slavery, until a comparatively recent date they have been in one way or another almost an entirely enslaved people.”