Archive for January, 2023

Christian Heresies and Schisms in the First Five Centuries

Below are some of the specific heresies in the first five centuries since Christ, and also the response of the Early Church Fathers. Ironically, much of Christian doctrine in the Early Church was developed to refute early heresies.

  FounderDatesName of MovementType of Heresy
Simon Magus1st century Gnostic
Valentinus2nd century Gnostic
Marcionc. 85-c. 160 A.D. Gnostic
Montanusc. 156 A.D. Schismatic
Mani216 – 276 A.D.ManichaeismGnostic
Donatusc. 314 A.D. Schismatic
Ariusc. 250 – 336 A.D.ArianismSchismatic
Pelagiusdied 418? A.D.PelagianismSchismatic
Nestoriusdied 440? A.D.Nestorianism 

Simon Magus

Several of the Early Church Fathers, including Iranaeus, Hippolytus, and Justin Martyr believed that Christian Gnosticism started with Simon Magus (see Acts 8:9-24). The quote below is from Iranaeus’ Against Heresy:
“Simon the Samaritan was that magician of whom Luke, the disciple and follower of the apostles, [spoke]…Such was his procedure in the reign of Claudius Caesar, by whom also he is said to have been honored with a statue, on account of his magical power. This man, then, was glorified by many as if he were a God; and he taught that it was himself who appeared among the Jews as the Son…Now this Simon of Samaria, from whom all sorts of heresies derive their origin…” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Chapter 23)

Valentinian Gnosticism

“…Valentinus, who adapted the principles of the heresy called “Gnostic” to the peculiar character of his own school…” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 11)

One of the most influential of the early “Christian” Gnostics was Valentinus (c. 137), who established schools in Egypt, Cyprus and Rome. His teachings were later spread by his student Ptolamaeus. According to Tertullian, Valentinus was denied the sought-after post of Bishop, and then turned against the established church:
“Valentinus had expected to become a bishop, because he was an able man both in genius and eloquence. Being indignant, however, that another obtained the dignity…he broke with the church of the true faith. Just like those (restless) spirits which, when roused by ambition, are usually inflamed with the desire of revenge, he applied himself with all his might to exterminate the truth; and finding the clue of a certain old opinion, he marked out a path for himself with the subtlety of a serpent. Ptolemaeus afterwards entered on the same path…” (Tertullian, Against the Valentinians)
It would be difficult to describe the complicated theology of Valentinus in a short space, so we will suffice to describe some of the main characteristics of his Gnostic views:

  • The physical Universe was created on account of an error of Sophia (“Wisdom”).  The Creator-God (the Old Testament God) created the evil material world.
  • The Eternal Being produced emanations in the universe; as the distance between the emanations and the Eternal Being increased, knowledge of him lessened (this was to explain why evil could exist in the cosmos)
  •  The aim of Gnostics was to escape the bodily prison, and return to the Eternal Being (“The redemption of the inner spiritual man”)
  • Christ the redeemer shows the way back to the Eternal Being (through gnosis)
  • Jesus was pure spirit (Docetism).  If matter is impure, God could not become incarnate.
  • Valentinus believed that redemption is pre-ordained, and that only those towards the top of a hierarchy of mankind/cosmos would be redeemed:
  • Pneumatics – the Gnostic initiates; the elect
  • Psyche – ordinary church members, with no gnosis
  • Choics – the majority of people with no hope of salvation


“Marcion expressly and openly used the knife, not the pen, since he made such an excision of the Scriptures as suited his own subject-matter.” (Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics”)

Marcion (c. 85 – c. 160 A.D.) was a Gnostic ship owner, who believed that there were two Gods in the universe (dualism) – the God depicted in the Old Testament, and the God represented by Jesus in the New Testament. He believed that the God of Goodness took pity on man and sent his Son to rescue him from the evil god. He believed also that Jesus was a spirit (docetism) and did not appear in the flesh. As such, he rejected the infancy narratives about Jesus, as well as the crucifixion and resurrection. On this topic, Tertullian wrote:

“…it was that Marcion actually chose to believe that He was a phantom, denying to Him the reality of a perfect body. Now, not even to His apostles was His nature ever a matter of deception. He was truly both seen and heard upon the mount; true and real was the draught of that wine at the marriage of (Cana in) Galilee; true and real also was the touch of the then believing Thomas…” (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul)

To accommodate these (and other) Gnostic beliefs, Marcion created a list of books that he considered authoritative. These included a condensed version of the Gospel of Luke (lacking the Nativity and Resurrection scenes), and 10 of Paul’s letters.

While the gnostic theology of Marcion was roundly condemned by the Early Church Fathers (such as Tertullian above), his list was the first known attempt at defining a New Testament canon, and it prodded the Early Church Fathers to give greater consideration to those books that should be considered authoritative.

Marcion was excommunicated in 144 A.D., and his sect died out by the end of the 3rd century. According to Tertullian, Marcion attempted to reconcile himself to the church before his death:

“Afterwards, it is true, Marcion professed repentance, and agreed to the conditions granted to him — that he should receive reconciliation if he restored to the church all the others whom he had been training for perdition: he was prevented, however, by death”. (Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics)

Response of the Church to 2nd Century Gnosticism

The response of the established church to early “Christian” Gnosticism was to solidify a creed, or basic statement of beliefs, that was in marked contrast to Gnostic beliefs. The resulting Apostles Creed came out of the 2nd century church, starting out as a baptismal liturgy, and eventually became the standard statement of Christian belief. In the chart below, notice the Gnostic ideas that are refuted by the Creed:

Apostles CreedGnostic Idea Refuted
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earthONE God, not two; God made material as well as heavenly things
Born of the virgin MaryJesus was NOT just a spirit
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buriedChrist was a real person, who existed in historical time
I believe…in the resurrection of the bodyMaterial things are not innately evil (see also Gen 1:31)

Also, in the aforementioned books written against heresy by Early Church Fathers such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Justyn Martyr, etc., other key points were made that rejected heresy, such as:

  • There was no hidden teaching in Christianity, or else the Apostles would have passed it on to their successors in the churches (Irenaeus himself was in a direct line of succession from John the Apostle, through St. Polycarp)
  • The New Testament and Apostolic Tradition constitutes the faith of Christianity (Luther and Calvin would later disagree with the latter)

Montanist Heresy

Around c. 156 A.D., a self-styled prophet named Montanus started to attract followers in Phrygia, Asia Minor. Montanus wasn’t a heretic in the sense of the Gnostics, but he did preach a doctrine that conceivably could have been threatening to the established church. Among the characteristics of Montanism:

Like the followers of Peter Waldo and St. Francis in the Middle Ages, Montanus wanted a return to simpler church, as well as a more ascetic focus for believers (fasting, celibacy, separation from the world)

  • Like the later Protestant Reformers, he questioned the authority of church hierarchy, and believed that the Word of God was the only true authority, revealed through the prophets
  • He fostered a very charismatic environment, and believed that the Holy Spirit spoke directly through him, and his followers

So what was the problem, as far as the established church was concerned? The main issue seemed to be about the fact that the Montanists believed that they were receiving Divine Revelation, like the Old Testament prophets. Some of the bishops of the time (such as Serapion, bishop of Antioch) were concerned that such prophesizing might be viewed on the same level as Holy Scripture – and could interfere with people’s understanding of the core message of the Scriptures.

Around c. 190 A.D., Montanus was excommunicated, but his movement (which included Tertullian at one point) forced the established church to examine the role of the Holy Spirit in the contemporary church. In time, the response of church was that revelation ended with the Apostolic Age. Those with the gift of prophesy after the Apostolic Age were simply explaining the already existing Word of God – not adding to it.
The sect had pretty much died out by end of 4th century, although there is some evidence that it still existed in small pockets as late as the 8th century.

Origen: On the Borderline

Origen (185? – 254? A.D.), an Early Church Father, was Presbyter of Alexandria. And yet some of his theological views were condemned by Church councils (400, 543 A.D.), hundreds of years after his death. Among his views and/or his much later Origenist followers:

  • Jesus is divine, but subordinate to the Father (John 14:28).  (This view would later be mirrored by Arius in the 4th century, and lead to the creation of the Nicene Creed as a counter measure.)  Because of this view, he thought that prayer should only be offered to the Father.
  • Every human soul has existed eternally – and bodily existence is a result of pre-bodily sin
  • All souls would ultimately be saved


Manichaeism was one of the most influential Gnostic movements of the first several centuries A.D., and it survived well into the Middle Ages in one form or another. Its Persian founder Mani (216? – 276 A.D.) created a religion that was a curious blend of Gnosticism, Christianity, and the teachings of Persian Magi. Among the characteristics of Manichaeism:

  • All religions are equally valid
  • Dualist – two cosmic kingdoms, which included a Kingdom of Light (the Primal God) and the Kingdom of Darkness (Satan)
  • Accepted as prophets: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Paul, Mani
  • Docetic – Christ was “a divine being clothed in the semblance of man”
  • Had five grades or levels of believers (similar to the three of Valentius)
  • Believed in cycles of life (reincarnation)
  • Preached strict asceticism

The most famous convert to Manichaeism was St. Augustine, who repudiated Manichaeism in 384 A.D., and later stated:

“THROUGH the assisting mercy of God, the snares of the Manichaeans having been broken to pieces and left behind, having been restored at length to the bosom of the Catholic Church, I am disposed now at least to consider and to deplore my recent wretchedness. For there were many things that I ought to have done to prevent the seeds of the most true religion wholesomely implanted in me from boyhood, from being banished from my mind, having been uprooted by the error and fraud of false and deceitful men.” (St. Augustin, On Two Souls, Against the Manichaeans, translated by Albert H. Newman, D.D., Ll.D.)

There is some evidence that Manichaeism thought survived well into the Middle Ages, where it ran afoul of the Inquisition in the 13th century. The target of the Inquisition was a group of people known as Cathars (also known as the Albigensians), which comes from the Greek word katharoi, meaning pure.

The Cathars

Like their Gnostic forebears, the Cathars were dualists – they believed that there were two creator Gods – a pure God that created the heavens and things spiritual, and an Evil God that created all things physical and temporal. They generally associated the Evil God with the God of the Old Testament.

They were also docetists – they believed that Jesus was a spirit, not a flesh and blood human being. Thus, they rejected the doctrine of the death of Jesus on the cross, and His subsequent resurrection. They also seem to have adopted the views of the 4th century Presbyter of Alexandria Arius (see upcoming section) that stated that Jesus, while an exalted being, is not on the same level as the Father. The Cathars seem to have believed in reincarnation, as they viewed that the souls of men are trapped in evil physical bodies, and are released only after multiple iterations.

The Cathars were considered such a threat to the established church in the Middle Ages that both a Crusade and the Papal Inquisition were launched against them. The Albigensian Crusade (so named, because the French city of Albi was a Cathar stronghold) was launched against the Cathars in Southern France in 1209 by Pope Innocent III. The Crusade lasted for 20 years, and was marked by astonishing violence, the most famous example being on July 22, 1209, when the city of Beziers was sacked, with over 20,000 men, women and children killed by crusaders. Those Cathars that survived the Crusade were wiped out in the Papal Inquisition that followed in 1227, capped by the burning of 215 Cathar leaders at the Castle of Montsegur in 1244. The Cathars were, for all intents and purposes, extinct by the beginning of the 14th century.


The roots of the Donatist schism date back to the 3rd century. In c. 250 A.D., Roman Emperor Decius ordered the persecution of Christians. As a result of this persecution, the Bishop of Rome Fabianus was murdered, and Church Father Origen was jailed. Many Christians (including some priests and bishops) committed apostasy – denying Christ to save themselves from persecution. After the persecutions ebbed in 251 A.D., the question was asked “Should priests that committed apostasy be allowed back into the church?”

Roman churchman Novatian (c. 200–258 A.D.) argued against admitting those that committed apostasy back into the church. After losing the election to fill the vacant position of Bishop of Rome in 251 A.D., Novatian and his followers split away from the Catholic Church. Among their views:

  • Priests who had apostatized in the face of Roman persecution should not be allowed to dispense the sacraments
  • Sacraments administered by the unworthy were invalid
  • A holy church could not contain unholy members

By 254 A.D., however, when it was clear that Novatian was not receiving support from outside his circle of followers, many of the followers of Novatian had fled, or desired (re)entry into the Catholic Church. This led the established church to have to confront the issue of whether those that had been baptized by Novatianists could be accepted into the Catholic Church without being rebaptized.

A great debate was waged between Bishop (254-56 A.D.) Stephen of Rome and Cyprian of Carthage (c. 195–258 A.D.), who argued that baptisms given by schismatics were not real baptisms at all. Stephen, whose view ultimately prevailed noted that baptism belongs to Christ, not the church, and the standing of the baptizer is not the relevant issue.

A similar situation arose in the early fourth century. Emperor Diocletian had ordered the persecution of Christians throughout the empire (303 – 306 A.D.), and many Christians (including some bishops and priests) had committed apostasy. After Constantine came into power, the question of the mid-third century remained – what to do about those that had committed apostasy? The situation boiled over at Carthage in 311 A.D. when an archdeacon named Caecilianus was ordained by a bishop that was suspected of having committed apostasy during the Diocletian persecution. In retaliation, the Donatists set up a rival Bishop of Carthage (Majorinus in 311 A.D.; Donatus in 315 A.D.).

In time, the Donatists became a schismatic sect, claiming that they were the only true Christians. The Donatists refused to accept baptisms performed in the Catholic Church, claiming they were invalid. The Donatists also insisted that a baptism performed by an “impure” priest was not valid.

While Donatism was condemned at the Council of Arles in 314 A.D., it continued to flourish. Beginning in 393 A.D., St. Augustine, the great theologian of the early Catholic Church, turned his skills of eloquence and logic against the Donatists. Augustine argued (like Bishop Stephen before him) that baptism is of Christ, not of the baptizer. Therefore, “reformed” Donatists that wished to return to the Mother Church did not need to be rebaptized. Among Augustine’s many statements on the topic:

“It is true that Christ’s baptism is holy; and although it may exist among heretics or schismatics, yet it does not belong to the heresy or schism; and therefore even those who come from thence to the Catholic Church herself ought not to be baptized afresh.” (The Seven Books Of Augustin, Bishop Of Hippo, On Baptism, Against The Donatists, p. 780)

The Donatists were banished by emperor Honorius in 412 A.D., and completely disappeared by end of 7th century.


The great theological debates of the 2nd century centered on exactly who Christ was, and what manner of being he was. In the early 4th century, the debate switched to what the relationship was between Christ and God the Father. Some church officials, such as a presbyter in Alexandria named Arius (c. 250 – 336 A.D.) argued that Jesus was divine, but on a lower level then the Father. Arius started with this premise:

“One God, alone unbegotten, alone everlasting, alone unbegun, alone true, alone having immortality, alone wise, alone good, alone sovereign.”

From this starting point, Arius ended up with the view that Christ was an intermediary distinct from the Father (or that there was a difference of substance (homoiousia), or essential being between the Father and the Son.)
On the other side of the issue was Athanasius, (c. 296-373 A.D.), later Bishop of Alexandria, who argued that the Word (John 1:1-18) became man – the Word did not come into a man. Thus, Christ is fully God and fully man.

High Noon occurred in 325 A.D. when Constantine, emperor of the Roman Empire ordered that the debate be settled once and for all. A great church council was ordered, and it took place at Nicea (in Bithynia). Arius lost the debate, and the view of Athanasius became the view of the church. The doctrine of homoousios was affirmed – that Christ was of one (or the same) substance with the Father. Out of the Council came the Nicene Creed – one of the two Creeds recognized by almost all of Christianity today. The original version (it was expanded in 381 A.D.) stated:

“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things both visible and invisible; and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Only begotten of the Father, that is to say, of the substance of the Father, God of God and Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, both things in heaven and things on earth; who, for us men and for our salvation, came down and was made flesh, was made man, suffered, and rose again on the third day, went up into the heavens, and is to come again to judge both the quick and the dead; and in the Holy Ghost.”  (emphasis added)

Arianism was perhaps the greatest threat to the Early Church out of all the schisms and heresies. By some estimates, almost half of all Christians were Arians at its peak in the 4th century. Although condemned by the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., it didn’t die out completely until the 8th century. However, there are still groups today (such as the Unitarians) who, like Arius, reject Trinitarianism.


Two more heresies/schisms would appear in the post-Nicene period – not everything was settled at the Council of Nicea. One of these heresies was promulgated by a monk named Pelagius.

Pelagius (c. 354 A.D. – after 418) was a British Monk who was horrified by the seeming lack of piety and purity practiced by Christians in Rome c. 380 A.D. He felt that the laxness of Roman Christians grew partly from the prevailing doctrine of Grace, which stated that humans on their own are incapable of purity, and can only be saved by God’s grace.

Pelagius and his followers (one student named Coelestius was especially influential) denied predestination, original sin, and the doctrine of Grace, maintaining the humans are not tainted by the sin of Adam and Eve, and that babies are born pure. As a result, humans have the free will to choose to live sinless lives. (In his somewhat confused theology, though, Pelagius still maintained that babies needed to be baptized.)

The main opponent to Pelagianism was St. Augustine of Hippo (who also combated the Donatists). Augustine wrote at least thirteen works and letters against Pelagius, and firmly entrenched in Catholic theology the doctrines of:

  • Salvation through Grace
  • Original Sin
  • The necessity of baptism for salvation
  • The damnation of unbaptized infants

Among Augustine’s writings about Pelagius:

“A NECESSITY arose which compelled me to write against the new heresy of Pelagius. Our previous opposition to it was confined to sermons and conversations, as occasion suggested, and according to our respective abilities and duties; but it had not yet assumed the shape of a controversy in writing. Certain questions were then submitted to me [by our brethren] at Carthage, to which I was to send them back answers in writings: I accordingly wrote first of all three books, under the title, “On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins,” in which I mainly discussed the baptism of infants because of original sin, and the grace of God by which we are justified, that is, made righteous; but [I remarked] no man in this life can so keep the commandments which prescribe holiness of life, as to be beyond the necessity of using this prayer for his sins: “Forgive us our trespasses.” It is in direct opposition to these principles that they have devised their new heresy.” (St. Augustine, A Treatise On the Merits and Forgiveness Of Sins and On the Baptism Of Infants)

Pelagius was excommunicated in 418 A.D. Pelagianism was declared heretical at Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.).


The final schism/heresy that we’ll examine in this study is Nestorianism. It was founded by two men – Theodoren (d. 428 A.D.; Bishop of Mopsuesta, 392 A.D.) and its namesake Nestorius (d. 440? A.D.; Patriarch of Constantinople, 428 A.D.). Among the arguments of Nestorianism:

 There were two separate natures in Christ.  Christ was a “Man who became God” rather than “God who became Man”.  As such, Jesus of Nazareth and the Word were united.

  • Therefore, Mary was not the “Mother of God”
  • Tended to view Christ as a prophet and teacher, inspired by an indwelling logos
  • Christ was the first “perfect man”

These viewpoints were declared heretical at Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.) and Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.). The latter created a Creed which stated:

“We confess one and the same our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in godhead, the same perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, the same of rational soul and body.”

Nestorius himself was exiled to the Egyptian desert in 435 A.D., and Nestorianism diminished in popularity in the 5th century. However, there are still Nestorian churches in Iran and Iraq. And many Kurdistan Nestorians moved to San Francisco after World War I.

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The Edict of Milan – AD 313 Christian Persecution by Rome Ends

The persecution of Christians ended in the Roman Empire on 26 June 313 when Constantine I of the West and Licinius of the East proclaimed the Edict of Milan, which established a policy of religious freedom for all. This is an English translation of the edict.

Constantine Augustus and Licinius Augustus

When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I, Licinius Augustus, fortunately met near Mediolanurn (Milan), and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule. And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts) may show in all things His usual favor and benevolence. Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation. We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.

Moreover, in the case of the Christians especially we esteemed it best to order that if it happens anyone heretofore has bought from our treasury from anyone whatsoever, those places where they were previously accustomed to assemble, concerning which a certain decree had been made and a letter sent to you officially, the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception, Those, moreover, who have obtained the same by gift, are likewise to return them at once to the Christians. Besides, both those who have purchased and those who have secured them by gift, are to appeal to the vicar if they seek any recompense from our bounty, that they may be cared for through our clemency. All this property ought to be delivered at once to the community of the Christians through your intercession, and without delay. And since these Christians are known to have possessed not only those places in which they were accustomed to assemble, but also other property, namely the churches, belonging to them as a corporation and not as individuals, all these things which we have included under the above law, you will order to be restored, without any hesitation or controversy at all, to these Christians, that is to say to the corporations and their conventicles: providing, of course, that the above arrangements be followed so that those who return the same without payment, as we have said, may hope for an indemnity from our bounty. In all these circumstances you ought to tender your most efficacious intervention to the community of the Christians, that our command may be carried into effect as quickly as possible, whereby, moreover, through our clemency, public order may be secured. Let this be done so that, as we have said above, Divine favor towards us, which, under the most important circumstances we have already experienced, may, for all time, preserve and prosper our successes together with the good of the state. Moreover, in order that the statement of this decree of our good will may come to the notice of all, this rescript, published by your decree, shall be announced everywhere and brought to the knowledge of all, so that the decree of this, our benevolence, cannot be concealed.

   From Lactantius, De Mort. Pers., ch. 48. opera, ed. 0. F. Fritzsche, II, p 288 sq. (Bibl Patr. Ecc. Lat. XI).

   Translated in University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]), Vol 4:, 1, pp. 28-30. This text is in the public domain.


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St. Athanasius: “Defines the New Testament Books Accepted as Canonical by the Church – AD 367”

From Letter 39 – St. Athanasius’ Paschal Letter of AD 367

(For 367.) Of the particular books and their number, which are accepted by the Church. From the thirty-ninth Letter of Holy Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, on the Paschal festival; wherein he defines canonically what are the divine books which are accepted by the Church…

“5. Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John.” (bold italics mine)

The Complete Works of St. Athanasius (20 Books): Kindle Edition.

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The Edict of Thessalonica – AD 380 Christianity becomes the State Religion of the Roman Empire

The Edict of Thessalonica, also known as Cunctos populos, was an edict jointly issued by Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II on 27 February 380 that ordered all subjects of the Roman Empire to profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria. The edict made Nicene Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.

Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II

It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our Clemency and Moderation, should continue to profess that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition, and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since, in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give to their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation and in the second the punishment of our authority which in accordance with the will of Heaven we shall decide to inflict.

—Codex Theodosianus, xvi.1.2


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Rohr: “Finding God in the depths of silence”

Fr. Richard Rohr OFM, a Sojourners contributing editor, is founder of the Centre for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
This article was first published in the March 2013 edition of Sojourners
Reprinted with permission from Sojourners, (800) 714-7474,

BY Richard Rohr OFM

When I first began to write this article, I thought to myself, “How do you promote something as vaporous as silence? It will be like a poem about air!” But finally I began to trust my limited experience, which is all that any of us have anyway.

I do know that my best writings and teachings have not come from thinking but, as Malcolm Gladwell writes in Blink, much more from not thinking. Only then does an idea clarify and deepen for me. Yes, I need to think and study beforehand, and afterward try to formulate my thoughts. But my best teachings by far have come in and through moments of interior silence – and in the “non-thinking” of actively giving a sermon or presentation.

Aldous Huxley described it perfectly for me in a lecture he gave in 1955 titled “Who Are We?” There he said, “I think we have to prepare the mind in one way or another to accept the great uprush or downrush, whichever you like to call it, of the greater non-self”. That precise language might be off-putting to some, but it is a quite accurate way to describe the very common experience of inspiration and guidance.

All grace comes precisely from nowhere – from silence and emptiness, if you prefer – which is what makes it grace. It is both not-you and much greater than you at the same time, which is probably why believers chose both inner fountains (John 7:38) and descending doves (Matthew 3:16) as metaphors for this universal and grounding experience of spiritual encounter. Sometimes it is an uprush and sometimes it is a downrush, but it is always from a silence that is larger than you, surrounds you, and finally names the deeper truth of the full moment that is you. I call it contemplation, as did much of the older tradition.

It is always an act of faith to trust silence, because it is the strangest combination of you and not-you of all. It is deep, quiet conviction, which you are not able to prove to anyone else – and you have no need to prove it, because the knowing is so simple and clear. Silence is both humble in itself and humbling to the recipient. Silence is often a momentary revelation of your deepest self, your true self, and yet a self that you do not yet know. Spiritual knowing is from a God beyond you and a God that you do not yet fully know. The question is always the same: “How do you let them both operate as one – and trust them as yourself?” Such brazenness is precisely the meaning of faith, and why faith is still somewhat rare, compared to religion.

And yes, such inner revelations are always beyond words. You try to sputter out something, but it will never be as good as the silence itself is. We just need the words for confirmation to ourselves and communication with others. So God graciously allows us words, and gives us words, but they are almost always a regression from the more spacious and forgiving silence. Words are a much smaller container. They are always an approximation. Surely some approximations are better than others, which is why we all like good novelists, poets, and orators. Yet silence is the only thing deep enough, spacious enough, and wide enough to hold all of the contradictions that words cannot contain or reconcile.

We need to “grab for words”, as we say, but invariably they tangle us up in more words to explain, clarify, and justify what we meant by the first words – and to protect us from our opponents. From there we often exacerbate many of our own problems by babbling on even further. In Matthew 6:7, Jesus had a word for heaping up empty phrases: paganism! Only those who love us will stay with us at that point, and often love will also tell us to stop talking – which is precisely why so many saints and mystics said that love precedes and prepares the way for all true knowing. Maybe silence is even another word for love?

Most of the time, “to make a name for ourselves” like the people building the tower of Babel, we multiply words and find ourselves saying more and more about less and less. This is sometimes called gossip, or just chatter. No wonder Yahweh “scattered them”, for they were only confusing themselves (Genesis 11:4-8). Really, they were already scattered people: scattered inside and out because there was no silence.

We are all forced to overhear cell phone calls in cafés, airports, and other public places today. People now seem to fill up their available time, reacting to their boredom – and their fear of silence – often by talking about nothing, or making nervous attempts at mutual flattery and reassurance. One wonders if the people on the other end of the line really need your too-easy comforts. Maybe they do, and maybe we all have come to expect it. But that is all we can settle for when there is no greater non-self, no gracious silence to hold all of our pain and our self-doubt. Cheap communication is often a substitute for actual communion.

Words are necessarily dualistic. That is their function. They distinguish this from that, and that’s good. But silence has the wonderful ability to not need to distinguish this from that! It can hold them together in a quiet, tantric embrace. Silence, especially loving silence, is always non-dual, and that is much of its secret power. It stays with mystery, holds tensions, absorbs contradictions, and smiles at paradoxes – leaving them unresolved, and happily so. Any good poet knows this, as do many masters of musical chords. Politicians, engineers, and most Western clergy have a much harder time.

Silence is what surrounds everything, if you look long enough. It is the space between letters, words, and paragraphs that makes them decipherable and meaningful. When you can train yourself to reverence the silence around things, you first begin to see things in themselves and for themselves. This “divine” silence is before, after, and between all events for those who see respectfully (to re-spect is “to see again”).

All creation is creatio ex nihilo – from “a trackless waste and an empty void” it all came (Genesis 1:2). But over this darkness God’s spirit hovered and “there was light” – and everything else too. So there must be something pregnant, waiting, and wonderful in such voids and darkness. God’s ongoing – and maybe only – job description seems to be to “create out of nothing”. We call it grace.

God follows this pattern, as do many saints, but most of us don’t. We prefer light (read: answers, certitude, moral perfection, and conclusions) but forget that it first came from a formless darkness. This denial of silence and darkness as good teachers emerged ever more strongly after the ironically named “Enlightenment” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Our new appreciation of a kind of reason was surely good and necessary on many levels, but it also made us impatient and forgetful of the much older tradition of not knowing, unsaying, darkness, and silence. We decided that words alone would give us truth, not realising that all words are metaphors and approximations. The desert Jesus, Pseudo-Dionysius, The Cloud of Unknowing, and John of the Cross have not been ‘in’ for several centuries now, and we are much the worse for it.

The low point has now become religious fundamentalism, which ironically knows so little about the real fundamentals. We all fell in love with words, even those of us who said we believed that “the Word became flesh”. Words offer a certain light, but flesh is much better known in humble silence and waiting.

As a general spiritual rule, you can trust this one: The ego gets what it wants with words. The soul finds what it needs in silence. The ego prefers light – immediate answers, full clarity, absolute certitude, moral perfection, and undeniable conclusion – whereas the soul prefers the subtle world of darkness and light. And by that, of course, I mean a real interior silence, not just the absence of noise.

Robert Sardello, in his magnificent, demanding book Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness, writes that “Silence knows how to hide. It gives a little and sees what we do with it”. Only then will or can it give more. Rushed, manipulative, or opportunistic people thus find inner silence impossible, even a torture. They never get to the “more”. Wise Sardello goes on to say, “But in Silence everything displays its depth, and we find that we are a part of the depth of everything around us”. Yes, this is true.

When our interior silence can actually feel and value the silence that surrounds everything else, we have entered the house of wisdom. This is the very heart of prayer. When the two silences connect and bow to one another, we have a third dimension of knowing, which many have called spiritual intelligence or even “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). No wonder that silence is probably the foundational spiritual discipline in all the world’s religions at the more mature levels. At the less mature levels, religion is mostly noise, entertainment, and words. Catholics and Orthodox Christians prefer theatre and wordy symbols; Protestants prefer music and endless sermons.

Probably more than ever, because of iPads, cell phones, billboards, TVs, and iPods, we are a toxically overstimulated people. Only time will tell the deep effects of this on emotional maturity, relationship, communication, conversation, and religion itself. Silence now seems like a luxury, but it is not so much a luxury as it is a choice and decision at the heart of every spiritual discipline and growth. Without it, most liturgies, Bible studies, devotions, ‘holy’ practices, sermons, and religious conversations might be good and fine, but they will never be truly great or life-changing – for ourselves or for others. They can only represent the surface; God is always found at the depths, even the depths of our sin and brokenness. And in the depths, it is silent.

It comes down to this: God is, and will always be, Mystery. Only a non-arguing presence, only a non-assertive self, can possibly have the humility and honesty to receive such mysterious silence.

When you can remain at peace inside of your own mysterious silence, you are only beginning to receive the immense “Love that moves the sun and the other stars”, as Dante so beautifully says – along with the immeasurable silent space between those trillions of stars, through which this Mystery is also choosing to communicate. Silence is space, and space beyond time. Those who learn to live there are spacious and timeless people. They make and leave room for all the rest of us.

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Christian House Church of the Early 3rd Century

Earliest identified example of a house church house was found at Dura-Europos, near modern Salyihé, Syria

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Gifts of the Holy Spirit

From NT Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, 13 & 14

Romans 12:6-8Ephesians 4:111 Corinthians 12:1-14
Word of Wisdom
Word of Knowledge
Discernment of Spirits
Speaking in Tongues
Interpretation of Tongues
Working of Miracles
Gifts of Healing

Apostle: One sent by God with a holy mission to fulfill; and the supernatural power and spiritual gifts to fulfill the mission. Known by the fruit of the spirit overflowing. Apostolic ministry involves laying foundation. In the case of Paul and Barnabas, we see this expressed in ‘church planting’ by preaching the Gospel in new areas. Apostles in scripture worked in teams. An apostolic team shared a ‘measure of rule’ in churches started through their ministry in regions where they are the first to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. (II Corinthians 10.)

Prophet: One who speaks, or communicates a message, authoritatively, as moved by the Holy Ghost.  Known by their good fruit.

Evangelist: Someone who desires that all should come to know the truth that God loves everyone so much that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for their redemption, or someone who is gifted to proclaim this message.

Pastor: A word that means ‘shepherd.’ Pastors are gifted to lead, guide, and set an example for other Christians.

Teacher: Someone able to understand the more difficult things of God and explain them in a way that is easy to understand and live by in daily life.

Ministry: Supernatural ability to do for others whatever needs to be done.  Divine ability to carry another burden or task without notice or earthly reward.

Exhortation: the ability to motivate Christians to do the works of Christ.

Giving: being blessed by God with resources or time and being able to give them where and when they are needed with a cheerful heart.

Leadership: God-given insight into when something needs to be done, who can do it, how it can be completed, and how to lead those people to get it accomplished.

Mercy: A heart to care for and encourage those who are not able to care for themselves and whom no one else would care for.  Knowing who to help and when to help.

Word of wisdom: A message, concept, or bit of wisdom that God reveals supernaturally to the recipient. It may or may not be shared with others.

Word of knowledge: A message, concept, or bit of knowledge that God reveals supernaturally to the recipient. It may or may not be shared with others.

Discernment of Spirits: Supernatural ability to know what is from God and what is not from God. Divine ability to reveal a demonic spirit or influence and bring God’s power (Jesus’ blood) and God’s love (Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection) in its place.

Speaking in Tongues: First use is a supernatural ability to speak another language not known by the believer speaking it. Second use is a supernatural ability to speak another language not known by the believer speaking it; to build up the body of Christ when the message is interpreted. It is the language of the Holy Spirit.

Interpretation of Tongues: Supernatural ability to make tongues a clear message to all that are present to edify, exhort and comfort the body of Christ.

Prophecy: Supernatural ability to receive a message from God to edify, exhort and comfort the body of Christ or a believer. To speak as moved by the Holy Spirit. Not all prophecies contain predictions about the future.

Faith: Knowing what you hope for, having a conviction about things you cannot see, trusting God, believing God’s Word, and obeying God. (See Hebrews 11)

Working of Miracles: The ability to perform supernatural acts by the Spirit of God.

Gifts of Healing: Supernatural ability to bring or release healing to a person in their body or soul.

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Murray: “Christendom”

According to Stuart Murray*, Christendom is the creation and maintenance of a Christian nation by ensuring a close relationship of power between the Christian Church and its host culture.1  Murray summarizes Christendom values as: a commitment to hierarchy and the status quo; the loss of lay involvement; institutional values rather than community focus; church at the center of society rather than the margins; the use of political power to bring in the Kingdom; religious compulsion; punitive rather than restorative justice; marginalization of women, the poor, and dissident movements; inattentiveness to the criticisms of those outraged by the historic association of Christianity with patriarchy, warfare, injustice and patronage; partiality for respectability and top-down mission; attractional evangelism; assuming the Christian story is known; and a preoccupation with the rich and powerful.2

The emerging church seeks a post-Christendom approach to being church and mission through: renouncing imperialistic approaches to language and cultural imposition; making ‘truth claims’ with humility and respect; overcoming the public/private dichotomy; moving church from the center to the margins; moving from a place of privilege in society to one voice amongst many; a transition from control to witness, maintenance to mission and institution to movement.

* Stuart Murray is Oasis Director of Church Planting and Evangelism and Lecturer Spurgeon’s College, London, England

  1. Stuart Murray, Post Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strangle Land (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2004) 83-88.
  2. Ibid, pp. 83-88, 200-202.

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St. Athanasius: “For he was incarnate that we might be made god”

St. Athanasius, also called Saint Athanasius of Alexandria or Saint Athanasius the Apostolic, (born c. 293, Alexandria—died May 2, 373, Alexandria), theologian, ecclesiastical statesman, and Egyptian national leader. He was the chief defender of Christian orthodoxy in the 4th-century battle against Arianism, the heresy that the Son of God was a creature of like, but not of the same, substance as God the Father. His important works include The Life of St. AntonyOn the Incarnation, and Four Orations Against the Arians.

“Therefore, just as if someone wishes to see God, who is invisible by nature and not seen at all, understands and knows him from his works, so let one who does not see Christ with his mind learn of him from the works of his body, and test whether they be human or of God. And if they be human, let him mock; but if they are known to be not human, but of God, let him not laugh at things that should not be mocked, but let him rather marvel that through such a paltry thing things divine have been manifested to us, and that through death incorruptibility has come to all, and through the incarnation of the Word [Logos-Λόγου] the universal providence, and its giver and creator, the very Word [Logos-Λόγος] of God, have been made known. For he was incarnate that we might be made god; and he manifested himself through a body that we might receive an idea of the invisible Father; and he endured the insults of human beings, that we might inherit incorruptibility.” [Brackets and underline mine].

On the Incarnation (Footnote 54)

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