One of my Federalist colleagues recently observed that, “When I write pieces that upset liberals, I get angry, personal hate mail. When I write pieces that upset social conservatives, I most often get this: ‘I appreciate your well written article and I will pray for you, sir, that you will find the God who loves you.’”
This absolutely tracks with my experience — and as an atheist, I’ve got a certain track record of writing pieces that upset religious readers. I get the occasional angry or dismissive comment, but on the whole the reaction is an almost annoying amount of Christian charity. Not so when I take on, say, the environmentalists.
Why the difference? Why is the Angry Left so angry?
Some of the Federalist staff were discussing this, and we came up with a couple of possibilities.
Rich Cromwell quipped: “It’s the difference between dealing with those who are certain they’re following the edicts of the one true faith and dealing with Christians.” Heh.
Robert Tracinski, “Why Is the Angry Left So Angry?”, The Federalist, 2015-03-26.
November 21, 2016
October 20, 2016
As a specific genre, the historical novel is only about two centuries old. Historical fiction in the wider sense, though, is at least as old as the written word. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Homeric poems, the narrative books of the Old Testament, Beowulf — the earliest literature of every people is historical fiction. The past is interesting. It’s glamorous and exciting. Perspective allows us to forget that the past, like the present, was mostly long patches of boredom or anxiety, mixed in with occasional moments of catastrophe or bliss. Above all, it’s about us.
Have you ever stared at old family pictures, and had the feeling that you were looking into a mirror? I have a photograph of a great uncle, who was an old man before I was born. I never knew him well. But in that picture, taken when he was about fifteen, he has my ears and eyes, and he’s hugging himself and looking just as complacent as I often do. I have a picture of one of my grandmothers, taken about the year 1916 — she’s photographed against a background of flags and Dreadnoughts. She looks astonishingly like my daughter. It’s only natural that I want to know about them. I want to know what they were thinking and doing, and I want to know about their general circumstances.
For most people, even now, family history comes to a dead end about three generations back. But we are also members of nations, and what we can’t know about our immediate ancestors we want to know about our ancestors in general. You can take the here and now just as it is. But the moment you start asking why things are as they are, you have to investigate the past.
Why do men wear collars and ties and jackets with buttons that often don’t and can’t do up? It’s because our own formal clothing stands in a direct line from the English and French court dress of the late 17th century. Why do we talk of “toeing the line?” It’s because in 19th century state schools, children would have to stand on a chalked line to read to the class. Why does the British fiscal year for individuals start on the 6th April? It’s because, until 1752, we used the Julian Calendar, which was eleven days behind the more accurate Gregorian Calendar; and the first day of the year was the 25th March. Lord Chesterfield’s Act standardised us with Scotland and much of Europe, and moved the first day of the year back to January — but the fiscal year, adjusted for the new calendar, was left unchanged.
Why was Ireland, until recently, so devoutly Catholic? Because the Catholic Church was the one great institution of Irish life that could be neither abolished nor co-opted by their British rulers. Why is the Church losing its hold? Because it is no longer needed for its old purpose. The child sex scandals are only a secondary cause. History tells us who we are. We may feel trapped by it. We may glory in it. We can’t ignore it.
Richard Blake, “Interview with Richard Blake, 7th March 2014”, 2014-03-07.
October 9, 2016
Question: You write that, “There was no rational explanation or single event that triggered this sudden desire to possess Jerusalem. Various Muslim factions had held it for over four hundred years.” So how and why did what later became known as the First Crusade get started?
Answer: From a Western perspective, there was a growing interest in the Holy Land. Pilgrimage to Jerusalem had increased throughout the 11th century. There was more of a focused interest on the historical life of Christ, and as a result on historical Jerusalem, than there had been earlier in the Middle Ages.
From the Eastern perspective, starting in the mid-11th century there was an incursion of, as we like to say in the historical game, “barbarians from the East,” in this case the Seljuk Turks. Their advent — their takeover of Baghdad, their embrace of Sunni Islam — destabilized the region in a way that hadn’t happened in about 150 years.
Mixed into this was the emperor of Byzantium, Alexius Comnenus, who clearly felt endangered on all fronts, [including] from the Turks. He decided that the best way to deal with that was to write to the West and to request mercenaries to help him. He framed his request in semi-religious terms, but what he was really after were hardened professional mercenaries.
Meanwhile, in the West, pilgrims were coming back with horror stories of what they’d encountered in Jerusalem. There was a sense that the city of Christ was in danger and was being polluted by these barbarians whom they barely understood. When the request for mercenaries came from the emperor, which was subsequently given a stamp of approval by the pope, it transformed into a massive military movement fought in the name of holy war.
Virginia Postrel talking to Jay Rubenstein, “Why the Crusades Still Matter”, Bloomberg View, 2015-02-10.
September 13, 2016
David Warren posted this as his September 11 retrospective:
As I suggested above, we are still too close to this event to grasp its full significance; but after fifteen years we in the West are in a much worse position than we were on the 10th of September, 2001. We showed, as the Islamists predicted, that we did not have the stamina to prevail, even against weak adversaries; that America and allies could only fight “Vietnams.” Our will is shaken, and to Salafist delight, we have by now expressed contrition for fourteen centuries of Christian defence against Islamic aggression. We bow respectfully, as our culture is insulted, and as versions of Shariah are imposed. In disregard of our own security, we have thrown our borders open to massive Muslim immigration. We follow, at every junction, the course of sentimentality, and adapt to the certainty of defeat. After each hit we call for grief counsellors.
It is instructive that, in the present circumstances, with Christians reduced to desperation through much of the Near East, we import Muslim refugees almost exclusively. The Christians flee to the protection of the Kurds; not to refugee camps in which they would risk massacre. Western governments take only from those camps; or in Europe, the flotillas launched from Turkey and Libya. The Islamists gloat at this demographic achievement; the Daesh now recruit from the disaffected young in the new Muslim ghettoes of Europe, radicalized in Saudi-built-and-financed mosques. Few directly engage in suicidal acts of terrorism; but those who do are lionized as heroes. Lesser, safer acts, such as rape of European women, and desecration of churches and synagogues, have become commonplace. We are, and we know that we are, as incapable of assimilating these migrants as the Romans were of assimilating the Vandals and Huns through their increasingly porous frontiers.
Crucially, in the mindless fantasy of “multiculturalism,” we refuse to recognize the contradictions between Islamic and Christian teaching, and look the other way, muttering fatuities about “the religion of peace” after each psychopathic explosion. This is just what Osama predicted: the harder the blows, the more docile we would become, and the more complacent in the face of the ancient Islamic demand for submission.
The genius of Osama bin-Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, was to know that the de-Christianizing West would respond in this way. Their propaganda spelt out, from the beginning, the argument for their methods. They called us chestless wonders; they said we would fold under any sustained pressure; that we had lost the confidence of our Christian identity. We are an aging society now, vitiated by abortions, needing immigrants to pay our pensions; a people addicted to drugs, from opiates to iPhones; lapsed in creature comforts, and spineless in the face of adversity.
September 11, 2016
Published on 8 Sep 2016
Professor Sean Gabb, lecturer, political activist and the author of nine historical novels about early years of the Byzantium Empire.
Q: One of the striking aspects of your accounts is how fractious and fragmented the Crusaders were. They come from different places, they’re following different people, and they have somewhat different motives. The divisions reminded me of the various jihadi groups vying to be top dog today. Do we remember the Crusades as more unified than they actually were? Do these divisions tell us anything about the situation today among the other would-be holy warriors?
A: Particularly with the First Crusade, we do tend to remember it as a more unified movement than it was. We assume that when the pope preached his voice rang out with greater authority than it did, and that it would have been better remembered and better understood than in fact I think it was. We don’t have any record of what the pope said at Clermont except for one sentence [about penance]. All the other stuff is people making it up later.
A goodly number of Crusaders from the north had actually fought wars against the popes. They’re not necessarily on the papal side. A lot of people, particularly from the north were inspired by Peter the Hermit, not by the pope — a very different message. When the Crusaders marched through Byzantium, there was extreme mistrust between a lot of the armies, particularly the ones that got there first, and the Greeks whom they were allegedly on Crusade in part to defend. There was this sense that [the Byzantines] aren’t real Christians, that there’s just something wrong about them. There was no leader of the Crusade once it started marching. There was a council of leaders.
That probably parallels a lot of what’s going on with ISIS and al-Qaeda and the way these groups tend to metastasize. It also points out how powerful and uniting the notion of religious warfare can be — that you can have these different groups suddenly coalescing around this idea and against all odds succeeding. The most mind-boggling aspect of the First Crusade is that it succeeded. There’s no reason that this should have worked, that these armies should have survived and gotten to Jerusalem. They somehow did. They held together. This ethos of holy war, which is a fairly terrifying one, can be powerful and effective at holding groups together.
Virginia Postrel talking to Jay Rubenstein, “Why the Crusades Still Matter”, Bloomberg View, 2015-02-10.
August 25, 2016
For the 19th century liberal and historian of ideas William Lecky, the most striking fact about England and France in the 17th century was the decline of belief in the supernatural. And the most striking instance of this fact was the collapse of belief in witchcraft.
At the beginning of that century, belief in witchcraft had been universal and unchallenged. James VI of Scotland (1567-1625) was one of the most learned men of his day. He believed without question in witches, and was a notable persecutor. When he became King of England as well in 1603, he brought his policies with him. It was to gain favour with him that Shakespeare introduced the witchcraft theme into Macbeth.
James procured a law that punished witchcraft with death on first conviction, even though no harm to others could be proven. This law was carried in a Parliament where Francis Bacon was a Member.
The law was carried into effect throughout England, and was especially used during the interregnum years of the 1650s. In 1664, under the restored Monarchy, Sir Matthew Hale — one of the greatest jurists and legal philosophers of the age — presided over the trial of two alleged witches in Suffolk. He told the jury that there could be no doubt in the reality of witchcraft. He said:
For first, the Scriptures had affirmed so much; and secondly, the wisdom of all nations had provided laws against such persons, which is an argument for their confidence of such a crime.
One of the witnesses called for the prosecution was Sir Thomas Browne, one of the most notable writers of the age. Appearing as a medical expert, he assured the jury “that he was clearly of opinion that the persons were bewitched.” They were convicted and hanged.
It was the same in France. In the town of St Claude, 600 persons were burnt in the early years of the century for alleged witchcraft and lycanthropy. In 1643, Cardinal Mazarin wrote to a bishop to congratulate him on his zeal for hunting out witches.
Yet, in 1667, Colbert, the chief minister of Louis XIV, directed all the magistrates in France to receive no more accusations of witchcraft. Those convictions still obtained he frequently commuted from death to banishment. By the end of the century, witchcraft trials had all but ceased.
In England, belief collapsed later, but even faster than in France. The last trial for witchcraft was in 1712. Jane Wenham, an old woman, was accused of the usual offences. The judge mocked the prosecution witnesses from the bench. When the jury convicted her against his directions, he made sure to obtain a royal pardon for the old woman and a pension.
Whatever the lowest reaches of the common people might still believe, belief in witchcraft had become a joke among the educated. And because of the tone they gave to the whole of society, disbelief spread rapidly beyond the educated. Anyone who tried to maintain its existence was simply laughed at. Laws that had condemned tens or hundreds of thousands to death, and usually to the most revolting tortures before death, were now sneered into abeyance.
We should expect that a change of opinion so immense had been accompanied by a long debate — something similar to the debates of the 19th century over Darwinism, or to the debates of the day over the toleration of nonconformity. Yet Lecky maintains that there was almost no debate worth mentioning. There were sceptics, like Montaigne, who disbelieved all accounts of the supernatural, or Hobbes, who was a materialist and atheist. But, while, book after book appeared in England during the late 17th century to defend the existence of witches and the need for laws against them, almost no one bothered to argue that witches did not exist. Lecky says:
Several… divines came forward…; and they made witchcraft, for a time, one of the chief subjects of controversy. On the other side, the discussion was extremely languid. No writer, comparable in ability to Glanvil, More, Cudworth, or even Casaubon, appeared to challenge the belief; nor did any of the writings on that side obtain any success at all equal to that of [Glanvil].
Belief in witchcraft perished with hardly a direct blow against it. What seems to have happened, Lecky argues, is a change of world view in which belief in witches ceased to have any explanatory value. We live in a world where, orthodox religion aside, belief in the supernatural is confined to the uneducated or the stupid or the insane. But if we step outside the consensus in which we live, we should see that there is nothing in itself irrational about belief in the supernatural, nor even in witches. The belief is perfectly rational granted certain assumptions.
Let us assume that the world is filled with invisible and very powerful beings, that some of these are good and some evil, that some human beings are capable of establishing contact with these evil beings, and that some compact can be made in which the power of the evil beings is transferred to human control. Granting these assumptions, it becomes reasonable to ascribe great or unusual events to magical intervention, and that it should be the purpose of the law to check such intervention.
Now, the Platonic philosophies do accept the existence of such beings. That is how Plato reconciled his One Creator with the many gods of the Greek pantheon. This belief was taken over by the Church Fathers, who simply announced that the ancient gods were demons. It then continued into the 17th century. It seemed to explain the world. Doubtless, cases came to light of false accusations and of people convicted because they were ill rather than possessed by demons. But our own awareness of corrupt policemen and false convictions does not lead us to believe that there are no murderers and that murder should not be punished. So it was with witchcraft.
During the 17th century, however, the educated classes came increasingly to believe that the world operated according to known, impersonal laws, and that God — assuming His Existence — seldom interfered with the working of these secondary laws. In such a view of the world, the supernatural had no place. Belief in witchcraft, therefore, did not need opposition. It perished as collateral damage to the system of which it was a part.
Sean Gabb, “Epicurus: Father of the Enlightenment”, speaking to the 6/20 Club in London, 2007-09-06.
August 19, 2016
Published on 30 Jul 2016
Bishops. Manuscripts. Pilgrimage. Wealth. In 793 CE, the island monastery of Lindisfarne thrived in a state of harmony. Then, everything changed when the Viking raiders attacked. Once they discovered Europe’s weakness, not even mighty kings like Charlemagne could stop them. They transformed their power at sea into an avenue for conquest and expansion: the Viking Age had begun.
Troubling omens were recorded in Lindisfarne prior to the Viking invasion on June 8, 793 CE. It was the seat of the bishop for much of Northeastern Britain. Monks in the scriptorium produced some of the most celebrated illustrated manuscripts, and abroad they helped convert the pagans of Britain. Lindisfarne had been the final resting place of St. Cuthbert, so pilgrims often came and enriched the priory and the town. It never occurred to anyone that when strange ships appeared on the horizon, that they might be hostile. The men who disembarked were fierce, unknown, and merciless. They cut down monks in the churches and looted the church… then left. Bishop Higbald survived, and sent the news across Europe. From there, the frequency of raids only increased and raged across all of Europe. The burgeoning flame of Lindisfarne was almost snuffed out. It was the first time in history that the reach of Christianity shrank, rather than expanded. But what about the other side of the story? These “barbarians,” who would become known as Vikings, were striking back at a culture that looked down on them, insulted their faith, and tried to swindle them at trade. They had realized how poorly defended these both the British Isles and mainland Europe were, and how rich they were in fertile land. They put their vast knowledge of shipcraft to work and turned trading routes into raiding routes, finding new lands for them to settle. The Viking Age had begun.
August 11, 2016
Recently returned from a trip to her native Portugal, Sarah Hoyt explains why the stories of Muslim-occupied Iberia being a wonderfully tolerant and humane place are not likely to have been true:
I’ve been reading a debunking of the myths of the “Convivencia” paradise that Al Andalus and generally Islamic Hispania is supposed to have been.
It’s not exactly a shock to me. First of all, my preferred reading, as soon as I could read, was history, most of it written in the early 20th century, and a lot of it local histories or histories of regions of Portugal and Spain. I won’t say that the authors universally rejected the myth of Islam as a civilizing/science-bearing force. I will say that when they applied it (in elementary school we were forced to memorize the improvements the Arabs brought to the peninsula — we did that with each invader, and boy did the area get invaded — almonds, pillows (al-mofadas), the sort of fountains that spout by themselves (you build them by making the water gravity fed from above where you want it to spout. I’m explaining very badly, but I am still not fully sleep recovered, and there’s a hole where the name for the fountains should be, orange trees. There might be something about the way oxen were yoked, but I doubt it. Oh, yeah, the way we write our numbers.) it left me curiously unconvinced.
It was little things, you see, having actually been born/grown up in one of the areas/near the area where this supposed paradise existed. Yeah, sure, the North of Portugal got off lightly. We were freed fairly early on (we were a crusade land and were freed mostly by French crusaders, one of whom, having married a daughter of the king of Castille became father to our first king.)
More specifically, though there are no specific histories of the village (duh) I heard more than once from people I trusted, that we were the sort of place that got by with one or two Berber supervisors, and local toadies… er, I mean functionaries.
But Portugal is a small place, and I went to other places. And there are things…
In a truly multicultural society, with REAL religious tolerance, the local church wouldn’t have been commandeered as a mosque (apparently this was a standard humiliation technique for captive populations.) It was returned to use as a church, and has been such for centuries now, the interior having been ALMOST completely scrubbed clean of arabesque decorations. ALMOST. Why almost, you ask? The wall near the door, around the door, where you can’t avoid seeing them as you leave, was left “decorated.” It was left so that people would never forget.
Then there are churches that were pulled down by the Muslim invaders, and into which people were buried through all the years of occupation. It was the only consecrated ground around, you see. The poor bastards weren’t allowed to have their own religious cemeteries/bury their dead in peace. Oh, and this was often in areas that were considered solid Muslim (this ties in to something else later on, so stay tuned.)
But there is more than that. I never BOUGHT the idea that Muslims were kind and gentle overlords for a more bone-deep reason.
Look, people with ancient cultures all in the same place REMEMBER. They remember in ways that no academic gaslighting, no professorial assurances to the contrary can erase. For instance, do you know how you can tell which Roman emperors were considered decent by the local people? They give their names to their kids. Still. Trajan, for instance. And then there are the bad ones, that are also still remembered, but whose names are given to dogs (Nero.) And then there are the unspeakable ones. Neither child nor dog is named Caligula.
Well, in the local area, you find some kids named Ibrahim (though that is a bit confusing since local custom does weird things to spelling) but NONE named Mohammed. (This might be different now, since the Conquista II — this time we pretend to be innofensive — is in progress.) But back then there were no Moes around.
And that is plain weird in a place that has forgotten nothing. (Seriously, there are still people around named after Roman gods, because the name runs in the family. And Greek Heroes. And Carthaginian heroes, too. My brother went to school with Hannibal, Hasdrubal, and a bunch of Roman historical names — I want to say Cipius, but I’m probably wrong.)
July 30, 2016
Q: What were the long-term effects of the First Crusade?
A: The most immediate long-term effect was that French states were established in the Middle East. People usually think of the Crusades as failures because they did [ultimately] fail, but in fact there were French-speaking states, Christian Catholic states created in the Middle East that lasted for about 200 years. We tend to forget that the West included the Middle East for this stretch of medieval history. If you live in the Middle East it’s more obvious because there are Crusader monuments and medieval-style architectural details everywhere. The entry to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, for example, could be the entry to any ornate 12th-century church in Europe, the styling is so close.
Another impact of it, which I’m beginning to think has been more enduring than is often recognized, is that on the Islamic side, the notion of jihad was dying out [before the Crusade]. Holy war was something that had happened in the past, and there had been this steady state reached in the Middle East. I’m not sure that the Turks saw what they were doing when they were engaging the Byzantines as engaging in jihad. After the First Crusade, within 10 years of it, you get Islamic voices like Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami, in the last document in my source reader, saying we need to revive jihad. He says: The Franks have been waging jihad against us; now we have to get the jihad going back up again.
It also seems to me that the new model of jihad borrowed from what the Crusaders brought. You get the idea of martyrdom — the idea that if you died you would go straight to heaven. You get mythical holy figures appearing in battles that Muslims were fighting against Christians. You get a more poisonous relationship between religion and warfare than existed before.
Virginia Postrel talking to Jay Rubenstein, “Why the Crusades Still Matter”, Bloomberg View, 2015-02-10.
July 20, 2016
Flashman […] describes a scene where an English vicar preached to the sepoys (native Indian soldiers) on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, through a native (Muslim) NCO interpreter, who made fun of the story:
“There was a zamindar, with two sons. He was a mad zamindar, for while he yet a lived he gave to the younger his portion of the inheritance. Doubtless he raised it from moneylender. And the younger spent it all whoring in the bazaar, and drinking sherab. And when his money was gone he returned home, and his father ran to meet him, for he was pleased — God alone knows why. And in his foolishness, the father slew his only cow — he was evidently not a Hindoo — and they feasted on it. And the older son, who had been dutiful and stayed at home, was jealous, I cannot tell for what reason, unless the cow was to have been part of his inheritance. But his father, who did not like him, rebuked the older son. This story was told by Jesus the Jew, and if you believe it you will not go to Paradise, but instead will sit on the right-hand side of the English Lord God Sahib who lives in Calcutta. And there you will play musical instruments, by order of the Sirkar. Parade — dismiss!”
Flashman said he had never felt so embarrassed for his church and country in his life.
John Derbyshire, “A Reader Proposes An Anti-Cuckservative Reading List–Starting With FLASHMAN”, VDARE, 2016-07-05.
June 22, 2016
Her latest column for Taki’s Magazine discusses her own journey away from the Catholic church and the current Pope’s own journey in a similar direction:
Such are the epochal times we’re living in that even timeworn truisms are at risk of obsolescence.
Take “Is the Pope Catholic?” Those of a certain age may prefer Steve Martin’s absurdist gloss — “Does the Pope shit in the woods?” — but the original has been every wise guy’s idea of a witticism for as long as I’ve been alive, and presumably longer.
But I’m not the first to wonder if the election of Pope Francis has rendered the phrase extinct. Great news for anyone whose taste in conversation veers away from the Runyonesque, but obviously not so great news for, you know, the Church.
Years ago, I would have cared more.
I spent much of my career as a semiprofessional Catholic. Besides working in Catholic publishing, such as it is, I’d called my first blog Relapsed Catholic. That was in 2000. When the American priestly sex-abuse scandals exploded shortly thereafter, I was in a uniquely helpful position: Canada had undergone an identical crisis the previous decade, and my blog posts about both found an eager readership. I encouraged others to start their own sites, and eventually an informal network grew up — run by priests, nuns, canon lawyers, laity — which I nicknamed “St. Blog’s Parish.”
I was then, as I am now, the resident brat. When, in 2002, America’s clueless cardinals called for a Day of Reparations — during which the laity would perform penance for what were undeniably clerical sins — I blogged that collective guilt was exactly one of the “trendy modern notions” (like the New Age “therapy” sporadically employed to “treat” pervert priests, and the diocesan deference to secular lawyers’ morally dubious advice) that had exacerbated the corruption. Jesus, I noted, had been bracingly clear on the topic of child abuse: “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck.”
“Implicitly,” I blogged, “someone has to stay dry. And do the tying. I’m delighted to volunteer.”
June 20, 2016
Published on 28 May 2016
We hope this series will serve as a primer to the Christian faith, specifically how it interacted with the Roman Empire – even though we had to simplify many complex theological concepts to fit an introductory series.
James wanted this series to be the primer he always wished he’d had when studying the later history of Rome. Since it was focused on the impact of Christianity upon the Roman Empire, we left out the Gnostic movement which had a greater impact on the Persian Empire. Our history begins with Paul the Apostle, whose fundamental belief was that the sacrifice of Christ erased the sins of mankind and freed them from having to follow the old laws, specifically the Mosaic Laws which Judaism believed were the path to salvation. In abolishing these laws, he emphasized that circumcision would no longer be necessary because Roman men, while perfectly willing to give their lives for a noble cause (and Christianity at the time often required sacrifice), were pretty hesitant to let anyone cut off parts of their penises. Not until Constantine, though, would Christianity be embraced in large numbers – but was Constantine really Christian? Many scholars have suggested otherwise, and it may be hard to say given our current sources, but he did originate as a monotheistic Sol Invictus worshipper and probably saw the political advantage of ruling a people united under one God instead of thousands of cults. He may not have realized the difficulty of that, however, until the Council of Nicaea which brought together many bishops who had been actively persecuted for their faith – hence the eyepatches and missing limbs! – and felt very strongly about how it should be practiced. Even Saint Nicholas, who is the foundation for Santa Claus, supposedly punched Arius during this council over his heretical statements. And they were none too tolerant of each other’s opposing beliefs. Although there were many different beliefs that evolved from monophysitism, miaphysitism being the most common, they were often lumped together as one heretical group. Even in our series, we lumped their beliefs together in a way that made their differences easier to understand, but weren’t entirely accurate. And these divisions persist to today: not until 1994 did the Assyrian and Catholic churches repair the divide from the Council of Ephesus. But while religion is often a contentious topic, we’ve been fortunate to see much thoughtful dicussion in our comments section and want to thank our viewers for that. The history of the faith is a way to understand how it has shaped our history, and it has been the genesis of great acts of charity along with great moments of strife. Understanding and accepting that legacy in all of its complexity is vital to understanding the path that took us here.
June 18, 2016
Published on 21 May 2016
The Council of Ephesus meant to heal a rift between Nestorius of Constantinople and Cyril of Alexandria, but instead it set off a chain of ecumenical councils that disagreed with each other, excommunicated rivals, and ultimately led to more factions within the church.
Disclaimer: This series is intended for students, to give them a broad overview of a complicated subject that has driven world history for centuries. Our story begins and focuses on the Romane Empire.
A centuary after Constantine, the Emperor Theodosius II found himself wrapped up in yet more theological disputes. His chosen patriarch of Constantinople, Archbishop Nestorius, had angered many other church leaders with his teachings that Christ had separate human and divine natures. Cyril of Alexandria wrote to the Pope in Rome for support against Nestorius, and received permission to excommunicate him. Nestorius responded by having the emperor call an ecumenical council, at which he intended to excommunicate Cyril. But Cyril acted first, declaring for the excommunication of Nestorius and forming a majority by pushing the council to begin early before the supporters of Nestorius could gather. When they did, they formed their own council and excommunicated Cyril right back, only to be excommunicated in turn by Cyril’s Council of Ephesus. Theodosius II attempted to resolve this by calling a second council, but this time none of the Western delegates had time to arrive and in their absence, monophysite leaders from the East excommunicated Nestorius again and declared monophysitism the official doctrine of the church. Those who didn’t get to participate called this the Robbers Council and refused to acknowledge it. Then Theodosius II died, and this fight devolved onto his successor, Marcian. Marcian called together the Council of Chalcedon to rule on the previous councils, where it was finally decided that Christ had two unified natures, human and divine, and everyone who’d supported the Robbers Council should be excommunicated. Instead of bringing Christians together under an orthodox theology, they split the faith as those who wouldn’t accept their decisions continued to preach and believe their own doctrines and a multitude of Christian sects became their own separate orders. Ultimately, these new denominations followed regional lines, which meant that different areas of the empire formed distinct cultural identities shaped in part by their faith, and these areas were less connected to Constantinople and became the first to split off as the empire weakened over the centuries.
June 16, 2016
Published on 14 May 2016
The Council of Nicaea convened to decide the guiding rules of the church – and to resolve the questions posed by Arian theology. A deacon named Athanasius set himself against Arius and succeeded in getting his teachings declared heresy.
Disclaimer: This series is intended for students, to give them a broad overview of a complicated subject that has driven world history for centuries. Our story begins and focuses on Rome.
Constantine called the Council of Nicaea not only to address the teachings of Arius, but also to decide basic matters for how the church would go forward. Yet it was the debate over Arian theology which quickly came to dominate the council’s time. The bishops effectively split into two factions, one backing Arius and the other led by a deacon named Athanasius. Athanasius vehemently opposed the Arian teachings and would not allow any compromise to be formed with the other group. Yet he played the politics very carefully, adopting in his own arguments the phrase “homoousian” (or “of the same substance”) to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son, knowing full well that Arius would never accept an agreement which included this idea. Even when others tried to compromise with the phrase “homoiousian” (or “of similar substance”), Arius would not agree. Athanasius used the extra time to make private deals and assemble a majority coalition, with which he successfully caused Arianism to be declared heresy and forced Arius himself into exile. Emperor Constantine was just happy a decision had been reached, but a bishop in his own court would not let matters rest so easily. This bishop, Eusebius, campaigned tirelessly for the restoration of Arius and managed to get Athanasius exiled instead. Constantine himself wound up being baptized by Eusebius, and his son Emperor Constantius II would be a die-hard Arian in his turn. Eusebius even ordained a Goth named Ulfilas to preach to the Gothic tribes, and his sucess meant that the tribes became Arian Christians who would never completely assimilate into the Roman Empire. Thus, despite the firm decree at the First Council of Nicaea, Arian Christianity continued to grow and thrive alongside orthodox teachings.