Archives for category: Early Church

Here’s almost everything the Ante Nicene Father had to say on the subject of the shape of the earth:

The Flammarion (colourized 1)

The world, being made spherical, is confined within the circles of heaven.
Athenagoras (c. 175, E), 2.132.

Without a doubt, the world is beautiful. It excels as well in its magnitude as in the arrangement of its parts—both those in the oblique circle and those about the north, and also in its spherical form. Yet we must not worship the world, but rather its Artificer.
Athenagoras (c. 175, E), 2.136.

There was a time when the whole globe underwent change, because it was over- run by all waters. . . . Even now, her shape undergoes local changes.
Tertullian (c. 200, W), 4.6.

Let us first lay bare . . . the theory of the Chaldeans and the Egyptians. They say that the circumference of the universe is likened to the turnings of a well-rounded globe, the earth being a central point. They say that since its outline is spherical, . . . the earth should be the center of the universe, around which the heaven is whirling. . . . They say that surely the earth originally consisted in a state of chaos and disorganization.
Methodius (c. 290, E), 6.340.

The philosophers fancied that the universe is round like a ball. They also thought that heaven revolves in accordance with the motion of the heavenly bodies. . . . For that reason, they constructed brass globes, as though after the figure of the universe. They engraved upon them certain monstrous images that they said were constellations. . . . But if this were so, the earth itself must be like a globe. . . .
However, if you ask those who defend these marvelous fictions why everything does not fall into that lower part of the heavens, they reply that such is the nature of things. They say that heavenly bodies are carried to the middle and that they are all joined together towards the middle, just like spokes in a wheel. . . . I am at a loss as to what to say concerning those who, once they have erred, continue in their folly, defending one vain thing by another vain thing.
Lactantius (c. 304–313, W), 7.94, 95.

In the first place, indeed, the world itself is neither right nor left. It has neither upper nor lower regions, nor front nor back. For whatever is round and bounded on every side by the circumference of a solid sphere, has no beginning or end….
Accordingly, when we speak of the right or the left side, we are not referring to any- thing in the world, which is everywhere very much the same. Rather, we refer to our own place and position.
Arnobius (c. 305, E), 6.477.

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I have spent years in personal study of Church history. I left the faith because of it. If Christianity got something wrong then I want to know about it. I will no longer defend it a priori. I will subject it to the same critical investigation I subject any other religion or truth claim to. But that also means I must be willing to accept it if something is proven true about its claims.

Similarly I will not tolerate it when lies are spread about it. Not because I must defend a dogma or am emotionally committed to it, but because I want the truth. Even if the truth of the particular issue does nothing to convince me of her central claims. I spent too many years digging into Church history to give into conspiracy theories and Fundamentalist agendas. I spent too many years agonizing over the sea of contradictions that engulf Christian claims. I want the truth and I will follow that truth wherever it leads. So far it has led me far from the gates of the Church and at this point I see nothing pointing me back there. But I remain open minded.

Brace Yourselves The 'Easter is Pagan' Posts Are Coming

As it is coming up to Easter I am beginning to see the usual anti-Christian “Easter is Pagan” memes. I used to see them promoted by rabid anti-Catholic Fundamentalist Evangelicals (I used to be one). Then I became more moderate and liberal and they died away. But as I left the faith and began making connections with atheists, skeptics and agnostics I began to see them bandied about again. And from the very highest authorities right down to the average skeptic who is just fed up of the bullshit.

it must be said right off the bat that all reliable sources point very strongly to the fact that Easter did originate as a Christian holiday. We have Melito in 150 speak of Pascha as something well established and practiced worldwide by the Catholic Church. This is a mere 50-70 years after it is thought the last Apostle died. One generation. It is therefore clear that it was the central holiday of Christendom since the very beginning. It was simply a continuation and “fulfillment” of the Jewish Passover. This is the most widely accepted theory. The one that fits all of the facts the best. Sure, that version may be wrong, but I generally try to listen to what the experts are saying, and in this case the jury seems to be in. Yes, there was evolution. Christianity has evolved since the beginning and continues to. Another reason I rejected it. The claims are that it is the faith once delivered to the saints. It is supposedly eternal and unchanging, but history tells us a very different story.

The reason I reject Christianity is because of the inherent uncertainty in its historic claims coupled with the absolute demands of the religion under threat of eternal hellfire. The threats do not match the level of certainty and the difficulty level at which its truth claims are discovered. Faith is a completely unreasonable demand upon which to base your eternal welfare on. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have my opinions on the history of Christianity or on the Bible. I rejected Christianity in major part to allow me to fully question and test it without fear of hell. If at some point I come back to believe it is true then well and good. If some god out there damns me to eternal flames for wanting actual evidence for the things I believe then screw that god. And I seriously doubt a being capable of creating this universe is so small minded and simply wicked as that.

Atheists and skeptics are usually the best when it comes to analyzing the claims of religion and demanding evidence in support of these claims. But to often they give into wild theories about the origins of Christianity. Sad to say but this is simply because they want it to be true. Some claim, for example, that the central figures from the New Testament are stolen from previous cultures, Mary/Isis, Jesus/Horus, Lazarus/El-Azarus,” It just shows me how unaware of the facts these people are and how willing they are to believe a lie when it suits their agenda. Perhaps this phenomena is not just a religious one. Confirmation bias can happen to anyone at anytime. The supposed Jesus/Horus connection, which Bill Maher regurgitates in his otherwise insightful documentary Religulous, is completely without evidence in the slightest. There is simply no evidence to suggest any of the things said about Horus are true. I haven’t looked into the other supposed connections, but I have a strong suspicion based on what I do know that they are also made up.

From the beginning the festival was called Pascha (which is derived from the Aramaic word for Passover) and still is in most non-English countries.. The name Easter is of somewhat uncertain origin, but is most likely Northern European and refers to the goddess Eostre, who was mentioened by Bede in the 8th century. Most scholars feel that Bede had no reason to make this up as it did not help the image of Christianity at all. The month that Pascha fell on was “Oestre-month”. Exactly like how Thursday is named after Thor’s Day. There really is not much more to how Pascha got called Easter than that. The connection to a pagan goddess is incidental and only because she had her name attached to a month. So these critics of Christianity have misunderstood where the true connection lies. It refers to the time of the year.

There may be some connection between Eostre and Ishtar. I have not found any evidence as of yet to suggest this. But even if there was it would only suggest that the worship of a pagan goddess made its way from the Middle East to Northern Europe at some point in the ancient past. No big deal there. Scholars since the 19th century have understood there may be a possible proto-indo-european link between the various “dawn” goddesses (Eostre is derived from the word dawn).

Did pagan accretions add up over time? Most likely. The connections are mostly local customs that grew up slowly and quite apart from any official attempt by the Church to “paganize” Christianity.

Much of the confusion surrounding these issues was first brought upon us by Fundamentalist Evangelicals attempting to discredit the Roman Catholic Church and skeptics have simply fallen into it because they think it helps their cause. Many of the connections are simply not there or are misunderstood.

Constantine gets blamed for a lot of things he didn’t do. He didn’t change the Bible, he didn’t introduce the Trinity, he had very little to do with the Gnostics, he didn’t introduce Christmas and he didn’t change Easter from a pagan festival to a Christian one.

The issue Constantine dealt with regarding Easter was one of dates and times. The Quartodecimans celebrated it on the 14th of the month (quarto=4, deciman=10) in keeping with the Jewish Passover, which they believed was the Apostolic practice. Wikipedia says:

“Constantine enforced the prohibition of the First Council of Nicaea against celebrating the Lord’s Supper on the day before the Jewish Passover (14 Nisan) (see Quartodecimanism and Easter controversy). This marked a definite break of Christianity from the Judaic tradition. From then on the Roman Julian Calendar, a solar calendar, was given precedence over the lunisolar Hebrew Calendar among the Christian churches of the Roman Empire.”

If I’m not mistaken the East still celebrates on the Jewish day, while the West celebrates on the Sunday after it. The East says there way is the Apostolic way and is the very day Passover was celebrated, the West says Jesus rose on a Sunday (the change was also encouraged by strong anti-Semitic feeling).

After reading this I’d recommend you read another article called Easter Is Not Named After Ishtar, And Other Truths I Have To Tell You. It’s another critique of the modern skeptical enthusiasm to show the pagan origins of Christianity that simply do not exist.

One rule of thumb is that with any historic claim go to the sources. If someone is claiming to be relying on sources ask to see them and read them for yourself. This usually dismisses most outlandish claims.

As skeptics we must test all claims not just the ones we don’t like. We accuse the religious of confirmation bias and in most cases rightly so. We should therefore not be found guilty of it ourselves.

The Council of Nicea and the reign of Constantine are fascinating subjects, but not for the reasons that Evangelical Fundamentalists and ill-informed skeptics think so.

Constantine changed the face of Christianity and the world. But he did not introduce any religious holidays. He did not tamper with the Bible. He did not invent the Trinity. He did not give us the Roman Catholic Church. He did many things, but he didn’t do any of that.

There are a couple of resources I would recommend. On the top of my list would be A. H. M. Jones’ Constantine and the Conversion of Europe. One of the best books I’ve ever read. Period. A joy to read. I have it in paperback, eBook and audiobook. It’s one of the few book I’ve ever reread.

The next book I’d recommend might be Decoding Nicea by Paul Pavao. If you can pick out the religious leaning then I think that book might be interesting as it deals with he primary sources of the council and addresses the misconceptions and lies that have gone around about it.

I know the author personally though we have parted ways since I left the faith. He doesn’t like engaging with me anymore.

Once you read these two books you could then read the sources for yourself and they should make a lot more sense to you.

The website https://fourthcentury.com hosts all the primary sources for Nicea under it’s councils section.

This is a response to a person who assumed I was a Catholic simply because I defended the position that Church history mostly favours Catholicism (and even then it is more favourable to Eastern Orthodoxy than Catholicism)
“It seems you assume much without knowing my story or the true facts of Church history. Just to make things very clear I am a non-believer. A very honest and emotionally painful journey to find the truth of Christianity eventually led me out of it. I was taught and I believed not to trust in man’s opinions, but only God’s truth. But no matter where I turned all I saw was man’s interpretations. How to determine man’s opinions from God’s truth? I didn’t seem to be able to find an infallible rule for doing this. And the further back I went all I saw were more opinions. But those opinions were very different from the ones today. Until it dawned on me that all of “God’s truth” is simply man’s opinions, set in dogmatic stone. Yet, this unchangeable truth changed! There is no scientific method in theology. Only opinions. That’s why we have 40000 denominations, with more every week and an ever evolving theology going in ever wider variants.
Call Catholicism heretical if you wish, and indeed it does include many modern innovations not found in the first 300 years, but I challenge you to show me any Christian before, say, Tyndale, who didn’t believe in Baptismal Regeneration. When you don’t, ask yourself why no Christian after the death of the last Apostle and for the following 1500 years until around the time of the Reformation (except for Gnostics) taught salvation alone apart from works.
 
You are left with three possible explanations.
 
1. The Church failed and disappeared immediately after John died and was only revived after Luther reformed the Church. This is known as Restorationism and forms of it are taught by various Christian groups such as Mormons. The problem with this view is that from a spiritual perspective it would appear to make Satan victorious over Christ as Christ declared that the gates of Hades would not prevail against His Church. Of course that is not the only way to interpret that verse, as gates are not known to be offensive but defensive and so a more logical interpretation is that of an offensive Church breaking down hell’s gates and releasing the captives. Still, if Evangelical doctrine is the pure doctrine and salvation is as they teach then there was no Church to attack hell for 1500.
 
2. The true Church only survived underground very soon (though not immediately) after the death of the last Apostle. The date typically given is around the time of the Nicean Council, though it is taught that Catholicism was already growing into the monster it would become when Constantine supposedly took the helm of the Church in 325. This view was made popular by authors such as J. M. Carroll’s Trail of Blood and E. H. Broadbent’s The Pilgrim Church. It assumes that Evangelical doctrines were taught by the Apostles but that Satan moved immediately to start corrupting them. Proponents of this view point to the Corinthian and Galatian churches and to Gnosticism as a general movement as very early examples. It is then taught that Roman Catholicism then began to take grip and eventually smothered the true Church. So that it had to go into hiding. Groups such as the Montanists, Novatianists and Donatists are used as early examples of this pure church. Later groups such as the Paulicians and Bogomils are used then as well as the Waldensians, Lollards and Moravians later still.
 
You even have KJV Onlyists latch onto this view and say that the true Church also kept the true Bible preserved all those years in the Alps. They have gone so far as to say the Waldensians were actually direct descendants of the Apostolic Churches and went into hiding in the Italian mountains for centuries and centuries. Preserving the Latin Vulgate along the way until it could get into the hands of the godly reformers and eventually translated into the infallible KJV! This is how desperate people get when history and facts don’t go their way.
 
The problem with this view is that all of these groups were widely divergent in their beliefs against one another. The earliest groups were all essentially Catholic in their beliefs, just like the main Church itself. There is no Evangelical church to be found during that time. The problems they had were with orthopraxy. Almost any group today would be far too lax in comparison with the main Church of that day, never mind the strict Novatianists. The Paulicians and Bogomils were Neo-Gnostics. The Waldensians still believed in many central Catholic doctrines when they formed, but did evolve slowly. The Reformation can, in many ways, be seen to start with John Wycliffe, culminating in Luther’s act of revolt on 31st October 1517.
 
Both of these positions suffer irreparably from what we can actually know about history.”

In the main, Evangelicalism claims to be THE orthodox body of Christian belief on the earth today. Yet, with a little bit of research it can be easily determined that is very far from the case.

Many Evangelicals claim perspicuity of the Bible. Yet, they all get the Trinity wrong according to the understanding of the early Church.

Many claim that the Holy Spirit teaches true Believers the truth, yet He seems to have failed to teach them that.

The only recourse is to claim the early Church got it wrong and modern Evangelicalism got it right. But this presents huge problems for any Evangelical who wants to claim their brand of Christianity is the original Apostolic brand and is therefore superior.

We know that Protestantism got much of its theology via the Roman Catholic Church whom we have to thank for the modern version of the Trinity here in the West. And a lot of that theology comes from the middle ages.

Also if some Evangelicals are willing to go as far as to say that Christianity was corrupted very early and restored only at the Reformation then they are just like the Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists they revile for saying the same thing.

Evangelicalism is just slightly more in line with historic Christianity than these other “Restorationists” and they’re also a much larger movement (being so spread out among all the various denominations). This gives them the false impression that their religion is historic and the genuine thing.

Reading stuff into the Bible is easy, and I am convinced that 90% of theology is just this. Much of what passes for pure Biblical doctrine in the eyes of its adherents is late, very late from a New Testament time frame and would have been thrown out as heretical by the early Church. Calvinism for example comes via Gnosticism and Augustine. Interesting that Augustine was a Manichean before he became Catholic. “Augustine’s position raised objections. Julian, bishop of Eclanum, expressed the view that Augustine was bringing Manichean thoughts into the church.” (Chadwick, Henry (1993). The Early Church. Penguin.) Yes, he was a dyed in the wool Catholic. He is famous for his little phrase “In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In everything love”. Yet can it be doubted that his version of what constituted essentials and non-essentials would have differed very much from what Evangelicals today consider to be such? Augustine believed in Baptismal Regeneration. He believed infants who had not been baptized would go to hell. That sounds like an essential to me. Yet this is anathema to all Evangelical, especially to those Calvinists who hold him up as their patron saint (almost). What is also interesting is that you do not find anything like the determinism taught in Calvinism anywhere in the early Church prior to Augustine. This is why it was never accepted by the Church at the time. It was an innovation. Yet for some reason Augustine was never condemned for it. Maybe because he was held in such high regard. But the Roman Church has surely regretted not doing so, since the child of that theology was born at the Reformation and has grown into a giant today. The only place you find determinism of any description in the early Church prior to Augustine is in Gnosticism.

This post has gone on long enough. Armininians will love reading about Gnostic Calvinism, unfortunately they run into major problems too when examining Christianity from an historic point of view. Some have actually tried returning to “Pure Christianity” including me, but serious problems arise at every turn. My conclusion is that whatever primitive Christianity was, it is lost. Irretrievably lost. Jesus has failed. It would seem to me that the gates of Hades have prevailed.

Below is Tozer giving the standard Evangelical definition of the Trinity. Did you know the early Church did not define the triune nature of the Christian God in this way? The Evangelical version is much more confusing. “He exists in three Persons” Who exists in 3 persons? The Father? The Son? The Holy Spirit? How can one person exist in 3 distinct persons? Tozer is considered one the foremost Evangelical theologians of the 20th century, yet he seems to have gotten the historic Trinity totally wrong.

Historically the Father was indeed seen as the One True God. Christ and the Spirit being sorts of emanations from Him. The Father was the sun and Jesus (and the Spirit) was the beam. Since Jesus was of the same uncreated essence he therefore was God. But He was not the One True God. I could go on, but I won’t bore you. But this version actually makes WAY more sense and would clear up a lot of confusion for folks who seem to think they can get clear knowledge of God from the Bible, yet get basic things like God’s nature all confused. That’s because in spite of their very definite claims to the contrary they actually do get a lot of their information about the Bible second hand from “expert” sources. Tozer did, and he got it wrong.

“God is one—He is one in nature, one in substance, one God in His unitary being, but He exists in three Persons—if I might use the word, all rooted in this one Being; so there are not three Gods, but one God. There are not three substances, but one. Not three divine natures, but one divine nature—only one God.”