The stereotype of pious, respectful theologians working together to understand and articulate the doctrine of the Trinity looms large in the collective imagination of countless Christians. However, the truth is that defenders of the Trinity doctrine in the fourth and fifth centuries were guilty of hypocrisy, embezzlement, slander, hatred, beatings, kidnappings, and even murder in their herculean effort to force others, content with simpler ideas about God, to believe that Jesus really was on the same level as the almighty, supreme God and that he really was both divine and human at the same time. In the course of this series of articles, we will see bishops and priests act like children, vying for the attention of their emperor in an effort to use their privileged position as their patron’s favorite to undermine, discredit, and exile their theological opponents. As we journey through the historical record, we will look on as myth after myth evaporate like mirages on a desert trek that are convincing illusions when viewed from a distance, but suddenly disappear when one draws near. We will discover why many church history textbooks omit the juicy stories of chicanery, politicking, and megalomania in an effort to cloak this formative period in a conspiracy of silence rather than tell the whole story, warts and all.
“When modern readers are introduced to the theological debates of the fourth and fifth centuries, they are sometimes shocked by the atmosphere in which they took place. Those debates were not carried on by calm scholars sitting in their manuscript-lined studies. From one perspective, the story is one of misunderstandings, vicious personal attacks, distortions, violence, bribes, mutual excommunication, intervention by emperors, and the deposition and exile of bishops and others who lost in the struggle. From another perspective, the story is one of theological creativity that has shaped Christian beliefs for about fifteen centuries.” –Joseph H. Lynch, Early Christianity: A Brief History (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2010), 161.
We will begin our investigation in the early days of the conflict between Alexander and Arius in A.D. 318 at Alexandria, and end in A.D. 451 when the dual-natures’ doctrine was set in stone at Chalcedon. Along the way, I will not be able to cover every important person engaging in the various issues that arose during the time, but will instead focus my attention on the players who most flagrantly flouted Christ’s command to love their enemies in an effort to bolster and impose their own belief on others. I intend to restore some balance to the current, one-sided version of the events students of church history are typically spoon fed. I contend much of what is out there represents only the most digestible chunk of a very fatty piece of meat, which is often pre-chewed and partially digested. So, rather than focusing on the good, what follows will expose the bad and the ugly so that truth-seekers may find themselves better equipped to make informed decisions about the Trinity idea.
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