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    Jun 24, 2016

    Class 4: The Church at War

    Series: Church History

    Category: Core Seminars, Church History, Church Leadership, Church Government, Early Church History, Government


    Last week we considered a brief period of time (300-450). We looked at how Christianity wrestled with some major theological questions of the Trinity, as well as how the church confirmed that humanity and divinity of Christ worked in union, in one person, in one substance (i.e. ‘hypostasis’). Today, we will move forward from those four councils, the last of which was in 451, to 1054. We are covering six hundred years – a huge chunk of history. What we’ll do is to move through these six hundred years, but will only drop down in a few places to see what’s going on and get a sense for how things are changing over this period.




    CHURCH AND STATE – We talked about last week the relationship between church and state. Constantine made Christianity ‘legalized’ in 312/313 with the Edict of Milan. What happens is you get this tight relationship that develops between church and state that hadn’t existed before, because Christianity was by and large a persecuted religion. Today we'll see how church and state become more bound together.


    CHURCH AND WORLD – Two, we see the relationship between the church and the world. We will observe this through the monastic movement, how the growth of monasticism said something about how the church understood its place in the world.


    EAST AND WEST – Third, we will look at the relationship between the East and West. In 451, you have one united Christian church at Chalcedon. Six hundred years later, it split into two divisions – East and West. Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople in AD 330. This is an important shift. The capital is moved, by the emperor, from the West to the East. Over time, theological divisions, centered on questions both serious and trivial, contribute to the great schism of 1054.





    Let's talk about the new political divisions of the early middle ages. The barbarian invasions of the 4th and 5th centuries reshaped dismantled the Roman Empire and in their place, barbarian kingdoms took root. The Huns are north and they start moving south. What happens is they push these ‘tribes’ – these barbarians (they’re outside the Roman Empire) – into what we know today as Western Europe. They’re all filtering down, and the Roman Empire actually gives them some opportunity to move in. Think of the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Anglo-Saxons, etc. They’re all moving on in. In 410, Rome is sacked by Alaric the Visigoth. This was functionally the ‘beginning of the end’ for the Roman Empire in the West. We end up with all these barbarian tribes. The Hun threat disappears and these tribes develop their own little ‘kingdoms,’ if you will. You have all these different kingdoms, and there is no longer a centralized power in the West.


    Meanwhile, in the East (Constantinople), the emperor remains in power. It remains a united political system under him. The point here is that we have this major political, geographic world division that is developing between West and East. The West is decentralized, and the East is centralized. The Roman Empire is strong in the East, weak in the West. This is the political division.




    Now, let’s go on to the ‘church division.’ What’s going on with the church in Christianity at this point? We talked about last week in 451, in Chalcedon, the big theological debate is about how the humanity and divinity of Jesus work together. What does that look like? It’s a huge debate between Antioch and Alexandria – these bishops are really going at it, hammer and tongs. They meet at Chalcedon in 451 to try to reconcile this dispute. The solution actually comes from Rome. Leo, the bishop in Rome, sends a letter that’s adopted as the answer to this question. The moral of the story for our purposes is this: the question of Christology is settled in the West. It continues in the East. My point is that moving forward, if you think of the theological big picture, the bishops in the East are still focused on this question of Christology, while in the West they have settled this question and then go on to inquire into the nature of salvation. This distinction is important. In the West, the question is all about Augustine and the nature of salvation. We need to understand what this question looks like, what this debate looks like.


    This is important for us today. Our theological foundation today – what we understand about soteriology – is grounded in Augustine. We understand the nature of salvation largely because of him, and primarily his application of the Bible to the question.


    Let’s step back to last week, to Pelagius. Does anybody remember who he was? Anyone? Anything about him at all? He was a precursor to Arminians. He was a British monk. He’s the precursor to Arminianism. He was born in 354, the same time that Augustine is born. He and Augustine have this big debate. Pelagius argues that when it comes to the nature of salvation, we are not born with a sinful nature. Sin is something we ‘learn.’ We sort of exist in the world, this ‘sin incubator.’ Sin is thought of as a habit that we pick up. We are not, in our nature, evil and prone to sin. Sin is a learned habit. Therefore, all we need to be saved is the law of God. We just need the rules, because we can learn to follow them. That is Pelagius.


    On the other side, you have Augustine, born in 354. He was in North Africa. Augustine recognizes that Pelagius is way off base. We talked about this last week. Augustine can look to Scripture – e.g. Rom 3 (‘no one does good’); Matt 15:19 (‘evil comes out of the heart’); John 8:34 (‘we are all slaves to sin’) – to recognizes that we are by our very nature sinful. This is not something we can change. It’s not a habit or addiction that we can break through a seven-step process. It requires more than the law. It requires the sacrifice of Christ. So that’s really what’s at stake here. If Pelagius is right, then Jesus’ death on the cross is all for naught, because all he needs to do is teach us the law. According to Pelagius, he didn’t need to die in our place. It’s a really important distinction.


    Pelagianism is rightly condemned as heresy in the Council at Ephesus in 431. The West condemns Pelagianism, but we see moving forward that, though they condemned it, they actually adopted it in practice. What develops is known as Semi-Pelagianism, which you can note on the handout. Semi-Pelagian soteriology is not saying that we are born good and that we learn to sin. Rather, Semi-Pelagianism says that we human beings take the first step towards God. It holds that we take that step, and God then responds with his grace. You can see the important difference.


    We are the ones who take the initial step. The grace of God is thereby ‘merited’ by what we do, by our ability to take that step towards God, by desiring God.


    Augustine would argue precisely the opposite. He rightly believed that we cannot take that step. After all, we are dead in our sin. God, in his grace, has to call us to himself. That’s the difference. If you want to frame them up in theological categories, Augustine is arguing for what we call ‘monergism,’ and Semi-Pelagianism argues for ‘synergism.’ Think of ‘synergy’ – i.e. ‘working together,’ man and God working together in the process of salvation. Augustine believed in ‘monergism’ – that is, one direction, only by the grace of God as he calls us to himself. We are the passive agents. It is a question of human agency. According to monergism (Augustine), we are totally passive, and God is totally active – in salvation and in history. Does that distinction make sense?


    Q&A: There is indeed a response on our part in repentance, but in all of that, it is the agency of God initiating and driving that. It is not us. We don’t have it in our nature to do that.


    So, Semi-Pelagianism is developing, but it is actually condemned at the Synod of Orange in 529. Understand that Semi-Pelagianism on paper (de jure) is heretical, as marked out by the West. But that doesn’t stop it. It continues as a practice. It continues endorsed by the church. We will see what that looks like. In the East, they are not really talking about Augustine. They are just outright Semi-Pelagian. They don’t condemn it at all. So in both East and West, you see semi-Pelagianism in practice, even though one is condemning it and one is not.




    Let’s now leap forward to the sixth century. I think a fun way for us to compare East and West in the sixth century is to look at two principal figures. In the East you have Justinian, and in the West you have Gregory. If you look at the handout, you’ll notice Justinian the Great embody the philosophy of Caesaropapism, and Gregory the Great embody the idea of the papal monarchy. We’ll unpack this distinction as we go through this.


    Let’s start in the East with Justinian in the sixth century. Justinian is the emperor, from 527. He’s in Constantinople and starts a period of political restoration. He argues for Caesaropapism whereby he argues that he legitimately has a concentrated authority over both church and state, and says that this mandate comes down from Constantine. You bring the emperor in to enforce the state’s authority over the church. Justinian continues this argument. He argues that Caesaropapism rules over all. The pope is ruled by Caesar, which was the old title for Emperors. The Byzantines referred to themselves as Romans, the idea of the grandeur of Rome was still very much internalized by the Byzantine state.


    To this end, Justinian feels its his duty to restore lost territory of the Roman Empire, and wages an enormous campaign to try and reconquer the Roman Empire. He pushes into the West, successfully taking back North Africa from barbarian tribes, as well as Southern Spain and Italy. He reclaims a lot of the former glory of the Roman Empire. But shortly after his death in 565, his gains mostly vanish, and the empire shrinks back to the East. It’s just a momentary ‘blip’ on the radar. But Justinian also pushes this cultural restoration. They’re building cities and walls and dams. He builds the Hagia Sophia, an enormous church. The point is that, in the East, things are centralized in terms of power. There is order in place, but they have a rising threat out on the periphery. By the early 7th century, Islam is beginning to develop down in what is now Saudi Arabia (Arabian Peninsula). It’s good to know what the East is going to face in the future.




    Justinian dies in 565. Mohammed is born in 570, five years later. When he is about 40, as a merchant, he retreats to a cave to meditate. While he meditates, he claims to receive a new revelation from God, which he writes down in the Qur’an. He gathers a band of followers around him in Mecca. At the time, in Arabia, it’s very polytheistic. Each tribe has its own god; the political structure is disunified, tribal. The authorities of Mecca are not on board with the monotheism that Mohammed argues for. They persecute him, running him out of down. He travels to Medina and gathers a whole lot of followers there, returns to Mecca in 630 with a huge army, and conquers the city. From there, he spreads out, conquering most of the Arab world.


    Within ten years, he and his followers have taken Syria, Palestine, and large parts of Persia. It’s a huge army. In a hundred years, they conquered Egypt, the rest of North Africa, southern France, parts of Spain, and they’re laying siege to Constantinople, which is the capital of the Roman Empire. This is all within a hundred years! So in the sixth century, things in the East were looking good – civilization and order – but the rising threat of Islam soon posed a significant threat to authority that eventually conquered the majority of the Roman Empire within a hundred years.




    What about the West? It’s the exact opposite. In the West, the guy who’s in charge isn’t the emperor, but rather the pope (or the ‘bishop in Rome’). That’s why we speak of ‘papal monarchy.’ It’s basically the pope who rules over what will become Western Europe. What things look like is the Western Empire is divided into kingdoms – the Ostrogoths in Italy, the Visigoths in Spain, the Angles and Saxons in the British Isles (the Anglo-Saxons later on), the Franks are in Gaul. It’s the development here of what we now know as Western Europe. These tribes are creating their own ‘kingdom.’ But there are all these different kingdoms. And there’s a lot of disorder. So we have a power vacuum. They needed someone to provide order, someone to create mechanisms to distribute food, provide protection and medical care, to draw up treaties. People in search of that authority turned to the church. That’s how the bishop of Rome gathers so much power at this time. The bishop steps into the power vacuum and becomes a source of authority. Bishops then, drawing on the theology of Irenaeus and others, look to Rome as the source of their authority. This is the opposite of what we see in the East.


    The embodiment of the papal monarchy in West in this period is Pope Gregory “the Great,” who John Calvin later called “the last good pope.” Why would he say this? Gregory did subscribe to the idea of the Pope having a special authority, but he was not abusive of it. Gregory was heavily missions-minded, and wrote that the sight of blond-haired slaves from England paraded in the Roman forum moved him to think that there were people outside culturally Roman areas who needed the Gospel. In some ways he is a bridge between the Roman and Germanic cultures Secondly, Gregory was did not display a lot of the pomp and ceremony of other popes of his day. He came from a monastic background and aspired to live simply, mourned the loss of his prayer time that being Pope necessitated. Lastly, he was very concerned with pastoral ministry and how to do it well, his Pastoral Rule became a classic work for ministry. He writes in it: “how often do men who have no knowledge whatever of spiritual precepts fearlessly profess themselves physicians of the heart.”[1] As we will see later, Gregory is also concerned with making the idea of grace very visible to the common, Biblically illiterate man.


    How does this disordered civilization in the West affect what’s going on with Christianity and the church in the West? It has some significant impacts. Let us observe two. The first is monasticism and the second is invisible grace.




    The first monastic movement was centered in Egypt in the early 300s. Many people fled into the wilderness after reading Athanasius' biography of St. Anthony, a rich young man who sold everything he had to become a monk. Lots of monks flocked to Egypt and Palestine on an ascetic quest for holiness. In time it developed even into an extreme examples of ascetic, self-depriving behavior such as Simeon the Stylite, who lived for 40 years on a platform atop a 50 foot high pillar.


    The monastic movement in the West picks up steam during the sixth century. There is one particular monk – St. Benedict of Nursia – who writes a handbook (now known as “The Rule of St. Benedict”  for how to be a monk, for how to have a monastic order. Gregory endorses that. It becomes popular. Monasticism continues to grow. The monastic movement’s goal is to pursue a kind of pure spiritual life, to purify oneself, to remove oneself from the contamination of the surrounding material world into a kind of sanctuary where you can focus on self-denial and denying the world and concentrate on pursuing God. That is the purpose. There is no private ownership. There is a rigorous life of prayer (usually 7x times per day, including waking in the middle of the night), Bible study, they remain celibate (denial of worldly pleasures) as they focus on their pursuit of God. So here also you see the influence of Pelagianism.


    Why does this pick up steam at this point in history? There are a couple of reasons. First, there is no persecution anymore. Christianity had by then become an endorsed religion in the Roman world. This is one way to ‘persecute yourself’ – to pursue that life of self-denial. This monastery life becomes popular. You can thereby test your devotion to Christ, since no one else is doing it to you. Secondly, there was the popular teaching at the time to subdue the body in order to purify the soul. You deny the material world in order to purify that which is within in. Thirdly, consider what this world looks like! There are barbarian tribes, disorder, and chaos – it’s a far cry from a perfect world! It’s not a bad time to pull away into some buildings off in the hills to get away from all of it.


    Considering this monastic life, what are the pros and cons? I will briefly mention four pros. (i) It does enable this kind of ‘focus on Christ’ and this ‘attempt to rebut temptation,’ to move away from the temptation of the world to focus on the Lord. (ii) Evangelism. If you look at this period in time, you have a lot of monks who are going out among these barbarian tribes to share the gospel. Patrick goes to Ireland (think St. Patrick’s Day). St. Martin of Tours, St. Boniface in Germany. There is an evangelistic drive as these monks are moving out into these tribes throughout Western Europe. (iii) These monasteries preserve orthodox theology for us. They preserve the ancient civilization during a time of illiteracy and total chaos. These monks come together and copy down Scripture and other ancient texts, thereby providing a warehouse library for us. (iv) They provide a lot of community service. They teach children, build homes, provide medical care, grow food, and the like.


    What are the cons? (i) Soteriology. You can imagine how this would drive you into a semi-Pelagian world, a synergistic view of salvation. After all, you are working so hard to merit God’s grace. You see yourself as cooperating with God in order to save yourself. It promotes this kind of soteriology. (ii) It raises the question of our engagement with the world. Is it right for us as Christians to totally withdraw from the world, to turn our backs on it? No, not really! When we look at Scripture, we can see that God calls us to be salt and light in the world, to steward our creation, to love our neighbors, to share the gospel across the world. In some sense, this is a really extreme wrong turn, to simply discard the world, for our own personal pursuit of salvation. This is not a good move by monks to abandon the world. (iii) It is fertile ground for corruption. There is a lot of power being concentrated in these monasteries. They are growing food and providing goods to the community. They become markets of sorts, they are controlling land, and the sacrament of penance develops where people give of their goods and lands to the church as a means of being ‘penitential’ for their sins. They are collecting all these goods and services which allows them to have greater power moving forward. It creates a fertile ground for corruption.




    What about this issue of visible grace? I think this part is really fascinating. You think again about the shape of society at this period in time – total disorder, dirt farming, people aren’t reading or writing or going to school. They’re not studying Scripture for themselves. The church, and Gregory in particular, drive this effort for how they’re going to communicate Christianity to people, since they’re not reading or understanding theological concepts. It’s just uneducated disorder. His solution is, ‘Let’s make it more visible.’ One thing he does is make extensive tours around Europe so that people can see the Pope and hopefully that produces a connection to the church.


    Other churchmen sought to provide more ways for people to see grace working itself out in their lives. We thus see the development of a number of Roman Catholic sacraments and practices.


    To name a few, consider the Lord’s Supper and the doctrine of transubstantiation – the bread and wine are actually the body and blood of Christ. You are literally consuming Christ in the Lord’s Supper, as they understood. It’s a visible manifestation of God’s grace being imparted in your life.  We end up with this cult of saints as well as the veneration of Mary. Jesus seems remote, he’s in that book that I can’t read, but the saints are much closer. These were people that were walking the earth and are now with Jesus. I can pray with them and they can work on my behalf with Jesus. Mary can do the same. She’s his mother. And people are worshipping pagan gods. The church says, ‘Instead of worshipping that pagan god, why don’t you try directing your worship towards this saint or that relic?’ Imagine going down to the American History museum on the mall and observe Abraham Lincoln’s stove pipe hat. You can say, ‘Wow, that’s his hat!’ It’s awesome, almost as though it has some power to it! That’s Abe Lincoln’s hat! It’s the same general principle. There is saint so-and-so’s cane, and it’s got this kind of power to it, and I can pray to it or I can touch it, and it will somehow impart some power to me or the grace of God to me. Another is penance. How are we going to make grace visible? People can actually participate in this practice of telling the bishop or the local cleric about their sins, and he can impart forgiveness to them from God. Again, they’re really just participating, they’re able to ‘see’ it.


    And perhaps most fascinating, you see here that these are the seeds of the Protestant Reformation. If you look at Martin Luther – what was he frustrated by? He was seeking to be the perfect penitent to this God who condemns sin, and he’s praying all the time and going through all these acts and doing all these things to get God’s grace, but it doesn’t seem to be working. He’s upset about Teztel who’s selling indulgences, where you give money to the church, and there’s a kind of merit that’s stored up and giving to you because you’ve given money. All of this is developing in the Roman Catholic church at this point, and will lead us to the Protestant Reformation – to the ‘right return,’ to the fact that salvation is by grace alone, not by participating in these sacraments.


    So much for the sixth century from the East to the West.




    Let’s now fast forward to the ninth century. What’s going on? In the East, they’re shrinking (the Muslim invasions). By this point in time, the Muslims are at the gates of Constantinople, and the Eastern Empire is losing lots of its power, influence, and land to Muslim invasions. At the same time, they’re sending missionaries into the Slavic land. We see this missionary effort taking place. That’s the East. What’s going on in the West? As the East is decentralizing, or at least changing dramatically as they lose power and order, the West is actually consolidating. We have all these barbarian tribes, these ‘kingdoms,’ and the power has been slowly consolidating as different kings and tribal leaders seek to work together. Ultimately, over time, there’s the king of the Franks who becomes the major figure for all of what will become Western Europe. He and the pope are working together a lot to protect one another, to reinforce one another’s authority. They’ve got this give-and-take, where the pope (Pope Leo III) runs into problems with these nobles in Rome who are going to beat the tar out of him, so he seeks refuge with Charles I, the King of the Franks. Charles then comes to Rome, and apparently Charles comes to Rome and attends mass, and apparently, all of a sudden, Leo III crowns him Emperor of Rome. He’s just hanging out, and then boom, there’s a crown on your head – and you’re the emperor, Charlemagne the Great~! This is the beginning of Europe as we know it.


    What do we have again?


    1. Political division. We have the church and state, butting heads. You’ve got the king and the pope. The pope plays a card on the king, and suddenly he says ‘I’ve got the authority to crown you emperor.’ The pope is trying to get authority back for the church from the state. They’re going back and forth. But the moral of the story is that we have this centralization of power taking place, and the beginning of a European identity developing. That’s what’s happening in the East and West. That’s the political scene. There's also the iconoclasm controversy in the East (explain) which the West wades into, makes the patriarch of Constantinople mad.


    What about the issue of papal division? Let’s consider what the church’s political structure looks like. In the East, there are a lot of bishops (Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople). No one bishop has more power than another bishop. They kind of work together as a council. In the West, it’s the total opposite. In the West, there is one bishop in Rome who claims to be the pope. He claims to have sole authority, because he holds the seat that was Peter’s, who was the bishop of Rome, and which has passed on to the current bishop of Rome. He claims to have total authority over the church. So there’s one bishop in the West, and all these bishops in the East fighting it out. So in the 9th century the Eastern church sends missionaries into Slavic areas and the Western church gets angry, says, “hey, that's our territory.” The distinction in church order (ecclesiology) is obvious.


    1. Soteriological division. What about issues of theological division? The big picture is that in the West they’re really focused on Augustine and a kind of modified Augustinian soteriology, where they’re saying ‘We condemn Semi-Pelagianism,’ and yet they’re really practicing it. In the East, they’re looking more to Origen as their adopted ‘church father,’ and they’re overtly Semi-Pelagian. That’s the big picture. Soteriology is interesting. In the West, the nature of salvation is understood as moving from a state of sin to a state of grace. There is a point of conversion in which you move from being condemned in sin to the grace of God where you lead a life of repentance. There’s a shift, a legal shift – guilty to not guilty. In the East, it’s more of a process of deification. You kind of work through this process over time where humanity blends with divinity. They don’t it as some transition that occurs. It’s something that you work through throughout your life.


    1. Authoritative division. As we mentioned, theology in the West is propositional – true and false declarations. It’s saying, ‘These things are true, those things are false.’ There are clear statements – legal statements, in a sense. In the East, theology is grounded in liturgy, it’s about mystery and paradox. When we think of Eastern religions (including Eastern Orthodoxy), they’re kind of mystical. In the East, they’re saying, ‘Look, you can’t talk about God with words, since there’s no way to express who God is.’ It’s captured in the mystery of the liturgy. There aren’t propositional statements. This is the big picture on how the East and the West have gone in two very different directions. In the West, Scripture is authority, creeds (texts) are authority. In the East, the authority is in the liturgy and tradition, in practice. They looks back heavily to the great fathers of the Eastern church like Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa. It’s very paradoxical and mysterious.


    The point is that the East and West have gone in totally different directions – politically, culturally, ecclesiologically, theologically. So what is it, then, that causes the break? How do we end up with the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church?




    There were many controversies over the centuries that added pressure – such as arguments over the date of Easter, disagreements on Christology, East's unhappiness with papal claims to universal authority over the churches. But the greatest persistent force that drove the two apart was the filioque. The word is Latin, meaning ‘and the son.’ So how does this one little word divide all of Christianity into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church? If we think back to the Council at Nicaea, the point in question dealt with the interaction among the persons of the Trinity? What does it look like for the Father, Son, and Spirit to interact? Arius argued that Jesus was created – there was a time when ‘the Son was not.’ The Nicene Creed was formulated as a way to recognize the fact that Arius was wrong, that Jesus is eternal and immutable, one with the Father. The Trinity is one substance, one God, but there persons. In the West, they add a phrase to the Nicene Creed. Observe the end of the creed: ‘the Lord and Life-giver, who proceeds from the Father AND THE SON’ (‘filioque’). The question is whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son in addition to the Father. In the West, Augustine had recognized that the Holy Spirit is the ‘love between the Father and the Son,’ so in that sense, the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son. In Scripture, you can observe in John 15:26, God says that he will send the Holy Spirit, who will proceed from the Son. The West progressively, disparately adds this phrase to different creeds to clarify how the Trinity functions.


    You can look at your handout to see how the filioque functions in the Western revision ofthe Nicene creed in 381.


    The East gets really upset. ‘Hold up, there ya’ll go again – you think you’ve got one pope and you can do whatever you want, and you up and change the creed! We’ve got all these bishops over here, and say you can’t change the creeds!’ The West replies: ‘This is true and accurate. It needs to be in there!’ They really go at it, back and forth, and ultimately, in 1054 AD the patriarch of Constantinople declares the bishop of Rome a ‘heretic.’ He essentially excommunicates the bishop of Rome from the church. Actually, in this case, the straw that breaks the camel's back is a letter sent from the Patriarch of Constantinople to all the Western bishops, criticizing them over the use of unleavened bread in communion. In response, tensions build to a head, Pope Leo IX (the bishop of Rome) excommunicates the patriarch (or bishop) of Constantinople. They just excommunicated one another from the church! And that’s where it stands today. They say, ‘That other church is heretical, and we cannot be in communion with them.’


    That’s how you end up with the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.







    The church, especially in the East, took some bad turns during this time. In the west, political chaos produced a role for the church that went beyond being God's appointed role of making disciples. In both cases, we see a departure from what God's Word calls the church to be. This erroneous trajectory, as we will see next week, continued throughout the high middle ages.


    [1]              Gregory, Pastoral Rule, 1