64 C.E.—The Burning of Rome—When Nero blamed Christians for the burning of Rome in 64 C.E., he incited the first imperial persecution of Christians and set the tone for imperial relations with Christians for future Roman Emperors. The Neronian Persecutions were followed by four major waves of imperial persecution (under Septimius Severus’s reign from 193-211 C.E., under the reign of Decius beginning in 250 C.E., under the emperor Valerian beginning in 258 C.E., and under the reign of Diocletian beginning in 303 C.E). Ironically, such persecution aided church growth after the waves died down because of the courage that Christians showed in the face of violence.
70 C.E.—The Fall of Jerusalem—The fall of Jerusalem—especially the destruction of the Jewish Temple—that ended the First Jewish-Roman War would drastically alter Judaism by removing one of its two pillars (Temple & Torah). This event would be seen as a vindication for Christians because many of them interpreted the event as punishment on the Jews for rejecting Jesus as their Messiah in according with prophecies attributed to Jesus by early gospel writers.
313 C.E.—The Edict of Milan—Following Constantine’s vision before the decisive battle of his campaign in 312 C.E. against Maxentius (who controlled Italy and North Africa after the division of the empire by Diocletian known as the tetrarchy or “rule of four”), Constantine decided to join forces with Licinius (the emperor in the east). Together they issued the Edict of Milan in 313 C.E., granting freedom of religious practice to Christians and ending the early waves of imperial persecution but also marking the beginning of imperial intervention into the controversies of the Christian church.
325 C.E.—The Council of Nicaea—In response to Arian’s teaching that the Son was not eternal (a teaching received from Lucian, bishop of Antioch, who was executed under the emperor Constantine in 324 C.E.)—“there was a time when the Son was not”—a council was called to meet in Nicaea (a summer resort near the emperor’s court in Nicomedia) and presided over by the emperor Constantine. Arius’ teachings were decisively condemned and Constantine himself is credited for introducing the word homoousios (“same substance”) to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son, and followed Tertullian who first used the term trinitas for God and described it as three persons of one substance. The view of God endorsed by this council would be considered by many as the touchstone orthodox Christian doctrine and lead to centuries of persecutions between followers of Arius and followers of the Nicene Creed.
367 C.E.—Deciding the Canon—After Christians had over two hundred years to respond to the challenge of Marcion’s proposed canon (144 C.E.), Athanasius writes a letter in which he commends a certain list of books to be the authoritative body of literature for Christians. Not only was Athanasius’ letter the first time the word “canon” is applied to such a list, but his proposed list eventually became accepted by most Christians and remains today the widely accepted content of the Christian canon—the New Testament.
451 C.E.—The Council of Chalcedon—Questions left unanswered by the Council of Nicaea about how the human Jesus could also be considered God led to the condemnation of Apollinaris (forerunner of one-nature Monophysitism) by the Council of Constantinople in 381 and Nestorius (who supposedly separated the two natures of Christ) at the council of Ephesus in 431. This controversy culminated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 C.E. where Eutyches (exponent of Monophysitism) was also condemned and the explanation of Leo’s Tome, which posited Christ’s having two united natures (divine and human, each of whose characteristics were distinct), was endorsed. The decision of the council would become known as “The Chalcedonian Definition,” and the relationship of Christ’s natures as delineated by this council would be called a hypostatic union. This decision would lead to centuries of persecution for non-Chalcedonian Christians.
589 C.E.—The Third Council of Toledo—After many years of pressure from Catholic Franks on the Arian Visigoth kings of Spain, when the Visigoth king, Reccared, converted to the Catholic faith in 587 C.E. he called together the Third Council of Toledo of 589 C.E. in which anathemas were pronounced against Arianism afresh. Unfortunately, however, while reaffirming the Nicene Creed, the council took the liberty to endorse the view that the Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son (a view later strongly endorsed by theologian Isidore of Seville in the Fourth Council of Toledo in 633 C.E.). Since by inserting this word filioque (“and the Son”) the Western church had tampered with the Nicene creed and endorsed a view not shared by the Eastern churches without an ecumenical council, this fueled the already existing tensions between the Eastern and Western churches culminating in The Great Schism of 1054.
610 C.E.—The Rise of Islam—610 C.E. would mark the year that Muhammad would begin to receive direct revelations from the angel Gabriel who told him to “recite” the very words (Qur’an means “to recite”) that would comprise the Qur’an. The result of Muhammad’s preaching a message of submission (Islam means “to submit”) to only one God (Allah means “God”), along with an organized military force that reduced Christians to the humble status of dhimmi communities, eventually led to a succession of Islamic Dynasties ruled by Caliph’s (“deputies” or “successors”) encompassing nearly half of the previously Christian world by the year 750 C.E., stretching from the Indus River in the East to Spain in the West.
800 C.E.—The Coronation of Charlemagne—Following the example of his grandfather Charles Martel and his father Pepin who formed alliances with the pope’s of Rome, by the time Charlemagne went to Rome to strengthen connections with the Pope he had (by his success against the Saxon’s to his north and east, the Spanish to his west, and the Lombards to his south) become the ruler of much of Europe. The crowning of Charlemagne as the new Augustus (evoking the majesty of the old Roman Empire) on Christmas day of 800 C.E. by Pope Leo III illustrates how the wake of the expansion of Islam turned the attention of the popes from the East to the North for political alliance (realizing that the emperor in the East could not necessarily secure Europe against Islam), signaled the papal willingness to give up on the ideals of a Mediterranean centered Empire and look for a similar Empire in the North, and helped lay the foundations for shaping the vitality of Christian existence in Europe for almost 800 years that would become known as “Christendom.”
1054 C.E.—The Great Schism —When the Normans took Leo IX captive for seeking alliance with the Eastern Emperor and Leo sent three envoys to Constantinople led by Cardinal Humbert to pursue negotiations, the fierce debate between these envoys and the Eastern theologians over longstanding political, cultural, and theological differences led Humbert to charge the Greeks with an assortment of heresies and draw up a bull of excommunication against Patriarch Cerularius. The patriarch responded by excommunicating the papal legates, illustrating the great distance that had developed in the Latin and Greek traditions over the past seven centuries that would be intensified by this mutual excommunication and even moreso by the sack of Constantinople by western crusaders in 1204.
Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, second ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007.
Dale T. Irvin & Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement, Vol. 1: Earliest Christianity to 1453. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006.
Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1996.
Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1984.
I see you mention Tertullian in your segment on Nicaea, but no mention of the Cappadocians? WTF? =)
The Cap’s were followers of Tertullian. They were Tertullianists! LoL!
Huh? Why would a couple of the most virtuous and intellectual minds in the history of Christianity–men who were Greeks, don’t forget–follow a Latin lawyer fellow down in North Africa. Especially such a radical minded fellow who was a schismatic that spent his latter days outside the Church. Furthermore, a fellow who was not and has never been, nor could be a saint in the eyes of the Eastern churches.
Regarding #5, I often think it audacious how church historians like to find the single extant record of something and say “see this is where this or that doctrine originated. We cannot find anybody else in history that believed this. And because this one fellow had so much influence on the entire world all the churches in all of the lands of all of the foreign tongues accepted it whole-heartedly.”
Thanks for the interesting post.
Thanks for your comments.
Well … Tertullian is the first to speak of a trinitas and explain it as one essence and three persons. Regardless of what he did in his later days and whether he ever became a saint—this notion (first found in his writings) eventually became the hallmark of the Christian understanding of God. The Cappadocian fathers clarified, defended, and further expanded this notion with much greater clarity than Tertullian, but Tertullian originated the notion (at least as far as historical documents go). Therefore, I think he’s more important (from a purely historical perspective) than those who follow him who expound on these notions. That’s a personal judgment call on my part, but it shows that I think those who originate doctrines are more important (from a historical perspective) than those who later champion them—even if those who later champion them are more “orthodox” or articulate or brilliant, or become saints, etc.
On #5, I never said what you say “church historians” like to say. All I said was Athanasius’ list is the first one that appears (as far as historical documents go) with the exact same list that was eventually accepted as the NT canon (at least in the West). That’s a much more modest claim than saying that no one else had his list and that he had any influence over such a list’s becoming widely accepted. But … he is the “first” to produce the list that was eventually widely accepted. Since he is the first, he is original. (He also happened to be very influential, but I won’t make the claim that his list was widely accepted merely because he was so influential).
P.S. I didn’t mean by my title “Deciding the Canon” that Athanasius decided it for everybody else, but that his letter was written during a time when the great church was trying to “decide the canon,” and eventually the great church decided to adopt the very same list Athanasius decided on.
Interestingly Tertullian wrote Adversus Praxean after he had left the Church for the heretical Montanist sect. He must have sent a copy to some of his old friends in the Catholic Church.
I appreciate your comments. If memory is correct Schaff mentions another fellow that used the equivalent term of trinitas prior to Tertullian. I think he was a Greek fellow. I’ll just say that Tertullian was formulating things the best he could at the time based on the work of prior persons in the Church. Sort of like building on the foundations of the Apostles and the Prophets–hopefully not with wood, hay and stubble.
I’m sorry about #5. I wasn’t commenting about your stance here. I was observing how originality is so easily attributed to certain people in church history because that is the only documentation that now exists, and we fail to attribute the work of those who proceeded them. Sort of like when you get a PhD in the Church. Programs commend people for originality, and students strive to find “new things.”
For example, I’m not convinced that Athanasius’s letter had such a great impact on the churches in India at that time and their decision to use a certain canon.
Again, keep up the good reviews and postings.
Occidental gazing Orient,
Thanks for your thoughts. If you come across the guy who used the word “trinitas” in Schaff, I would absolutely LOVE to research it, so please let me know if you find it.
By the way … who are the top 5 most important Eastern theologians in your opinion?
See ANF02. Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria.
“Theophilus [of Antioch] to Autolycus” Book II, Chapter XV–Of the Fourth Day.
Theophilus states, “In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity , of God, and His Word, and His wisdom. ”
584 Τριάδος. [The earliest use of this word “Trinity.” It seems to have been used by this writer in his lost works, also; and, as a learned friends suggests, the use he makes of it is familiar. He does not lug it in as something novel: “types of the Trinity,” he says, illustrating an accepted word, not introducing a new one.]
585 [An eminent authority says, “It is certain, that, according to the notions of Theophilus, God, His Word, and His wisdom constitute a Trinity; and it should seem a Trinity of persons.” He notes that the title σοφία, is here assigned to the Holy Spirit, although he himself elsewhere gives this title to the Son (book ii. cap. x., supra), as is more usual with the Fathers.” Consult Kaye’s Justin Martyr, p. 157. Ed. 1853.]
You asked, “who are the top 5 most important Eastern theologians in your opinion.”
My first thought is “what is a theologian.” Ask this of an Orthodox Christian and you will likely hear the words of Evagrius of Pontus (Treatise On Prayer, 61). Here are Fr. Stephen Freeman’s recent comments on the statement:
It is said proverbially in Orthodoxy that “one who prays is a theologian and a theologian is one who prays.” This intends fully to say that an unlettered peasant may be a greater theologian than someone who holds many degrees and can offer page after page of published articles. There is only one reason this is so: theology is about God as reality and not God as a concept. Subtlety was an ascription given of the serpent, not applied particularly to God. That which is difficult about God is in the human heart. We find God difficult to know or understand because our hearts are hard. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
Only three person have been recognized in the East with the title of “Theologian:” John the Theologian, Gregory the Theologian, and Symeon the New Theologian.
On matters like this my “opinion” means nothing.