Jesus proclaimed God

Jesus proclaimed God in the 4th C. AD

 

In 301, Grigor Lusavorich (Saint Gregory the Illuminator) converts the Armenian King Tiridates IV to Christianity, and Christianity is declared – in this country the first in the world – State religion. In 326, Christianity became likewise State religion in Iberia (East Georgia), under king Mirian III and queen Nana. In the Roman Empire, persecution of Christians by Diocletian (303-305) and (305-311) comes to an end. In the first centuries of Christianity there was an incredible exchange of ideas, by writings such as of Irenaeus of Lyons and of the more Aryan tinted Alexandria school, and of numerous encounters. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote his Against Heresies (Five Books) c. 175-185 CE. His work is invaluable to modern scholarship in the attempt to recover the content of Gnostic teachings in the second century. Irenaeus also provides the first explicit witness to a four-fold gospel canon. In those times, the bishops also represented temporary power so that the first four ecumenical councils were convened by the Emperor on duty and not by the Pope.

During the reign of Constantine the Great, religious freedom is declared in 313 by the edict of Milan. In fact, from that moment on, other religions than Christianity became at a disadvantage. At the time of the Edict of Milan probably only 10% of the population of the Roman Empire was Christian, but 40 years later that was up to 50%. The short-lived efforts of Emperor Julian the Apostate to stop the Christian expansion, ran out on a failure. Under Emperor Theodosius I , Christianity in 380 had become at such an advantage that we can speak of it as a state religion. All other religions are prohibited from 392. At the death of Theodosius I (395) is the Roman Empire finally split in the Western Empire with Rome as capital, and the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as Byzantine Empire), with as capital Constantinople. Parallel herewith a splitting occurs in the coming centuries between western and eastern Christianity. 

The fourth century, as a decisive period for Christianity, still began with persecution under the Emperor Diocletian. During his reign Mithraism was still confirmed as the State religion. The turnaround began with the arrival of Constantine as Emperor of the Western Roman Empire. He defeated his rival Maxentius at the Pons Milvius in 312. A legend has it that Constantine on the eve of this decisive battle saw in a dream a vision of the Christian cross. In 313, with the Edict of Milan, he announced in his empire freedom of religion. In the year 324 Constantine defeated his co-Emperor Licinius in the East, and from that moment his empire had again, after long time, one ruler.

The Council of Nicaea

Emperor Constantine wanted to provide sustainability to the unity of his empire by one religion. Mithraism, that held that women be kept out of the initiatory path, seemed to him to be not suitable for this unity. Christianity that, although in many forms, was already widely spread in his realm, offered better prospects. To align the many currents of belief, he invited the Bishops of the main currents to come together in Nicaea (present-day Iznik, Turkey) in 325, close to the Byzantine capital, which would be called Constantinople after him. The popes and bisshops of that time occupied also a high position as secular  19 June 19 of that year, started there the first Ecumenical Council, led by the emperor himself. The main objective was to formulate a Credo (= I believe) in which the common truths of faith would be logged.

The Nicaean Creed

The spectrum of ideas that was represented at Nicaea, was strongly colored by the influence of Irenaeus and his successors and very much inspired by the Gospel of John. The battle focused mainly around the divinity of Jesus. The Alexandrian group, under the direction of Bishop Alexander, defended the full divinity of Jesus (the homo-ousion = same equality), opposite the position of the Arians, supporters of the Libyan priest Arius, who deemed Jesus less divine than the father. Eventually a majority turned out to support Alexander's vision and this was chosen for the formulation that Jesus is ‘God from God, light from light, true God from true God, born, not made, one with the father'. This was a matter of majority of voices.

The battle between the Christian currents was still by no means settled, in the course of the decades after Nicaea, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, became the main protagonist of the Nicene Creed. Because the Arian ideas were still embraced by a large majority of priests and bishops, he was even several times banned from his city. For the first time, in 380, Orthodox (= Nicene) Christianity was declared by Emperor Theodosius as State religion. From that time on, many different ideas were contested, sometimes with heavy fighting with words and swords. This meant not only the end of religious freedom, it also meant the end of the tolerant Roman culture. It formed the death blow for the development of philosophy and science. According to the prevailing views in the year 476 at the fall of Rome, it might be more appropriate to let the middle ages start at an event like the storming and destruction of the Serapeion, with its huge library, in Alexandria in the year 391 by fanatical, fundamentalist, Orthodox Christians, incited by the local bishop. Many treasures of ten centuries of science of the ancient Greeks to the modern Hellenic scholars were destroyed in flames. Several years before, in 367, Bishop Athanasius had an Easter letter to all Christians in Egypt in which he lists the official canonical books of the Bible and at the same time a ban on all other Scriptures. In a monastery of Pachomius at Chenoboskion (near the current Nag Hammadi) the monks decided to bury underground, for better times, a number of texts in a jar. The Thomas-Gospel and many other gospel texts went underground as apocryphal writings.

 

Importance for the interreligious dialogue

The centuries-long tradition that Jesus Christ was honored and worshipped as God by almost all Christian Churches is the main reason that there is no real progress in the dialogue between Christianity and the world religions. In the evolution of billions of years of humanity there is a undeniable development towards cooperation, uniformity and final unity in all areas of human society. This is especially clearly visible in our world since the end of WII with the creation of dozens of international organizations and mergers in the economic, financial and even political world. Among the founders of the world's religions, Christ is the only one who has been worshipped as God. The no longer accepting of the dogma of and faith in the deity of Jesus Christ will take away the main obstacle to real interreligious dialogue. Prepare the faithful for this saying goodbye to the belief in the deity of Christ is, with words and writings, the work of theologians, exegetes and specialists in comparative religion.

 Lucien Cosijns, Binnensteenweg 240/A26, 2530 Boechout, Belgium

T. +32 3 4556880   lfc.cosijns@gmail.com

www.interfaithdialoguebasics.info

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