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The Building of Christendom (A History of Christendom, Vol. 2)
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The Building of Christendom > Chapters 1 and 2

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message 1: by Leslie (last edited Oct 22, 2016 02:13PM) (new) - added it

Leslie | 359 comments Greetings everyone!

I am only going to post my comments for Chapter 1 initially. My grandmother passed away and I have more pressing issues to deal with, but will post Chapter 2 shortly thereafter.

Chapter One

I had forgotten what it was like at times to read these narratives. Newbies - please don't feel discouraged if you are feeling lost in all of the names and foreign places. The past volume helped, but if you just follow the narrative you will be fine.

So, our saga picks up with continued religious persecutions of Christian followers as well as the ongoing raging debate among various parties, divided along both religious, as well as political, lines. Everyone had their own horse in the race and it's My way or the Highway time. I feel torn between feeling like I should be praying for these people, feeling like I should pray for our modern equivalents, and feeling ashamed of all. Christ was not that far off in memory, yet His teachings were getting lost in the clamor for who best understood Him.

I won't go line by line through our history here, but I am curious to hear of your reactions to these accounts. For me, I felt like you could almost see God's hand in Constantine's fate as he was led by so many miracles and signs to take Rome, take a momentous step into history and so wholeheartedly attempted to bring forth peace in his kingdom with the early council. Sadly, the council, with time, proved to be his own undoing. I think it was the right idea, but very quickly we see the background maneuverings as opponents aligned with trusted family members. In short order, he became victimized by the lies and wrongdoings of opponents and ordered his own son's execution. It's as if you can see the evil web trapping him and then further pulling him in to next kill his wife. It is so sad, the depths to which people are willing to sink to have their way. And, silently in the background we hear of Helena, his mother, steadfast in her prayers and leadership. It seems that his moment in time began to slip away from him. Certainly he did not go away, but his hold over his personal and professional life waned considerably. To me, it felt like a lesson in blame and judgement - for family members, religious leaders and politicians. It was a lesson that was seriously misunderstood by many. Following God has never been easy and we are each challenged seriously in our own, unique way to stand firm in our faith. I feel like Constantine did sincerely wish to bring forth God's word in the world and he certainly did so at a very important turning point. There is no dounbt in my mind about the power of his mother's prayers. She was the one who came to know the truth of her grandson's fate and that of her daughter-in-law. Maybe I'm just in a reading this deeply mood, but I felt God reaching out to her with the truth and bringing this back to him. Things improved for awhile and certainly he did maintain his faith. With time, Constantine did become a full fledged member of the church, although I don't think he ever found peace from the deaths of his family.

As his life unraveled, some questioned the meaning of his late baptism. I wonder if it was I just haven't gotten around to that, or if was a way of aligning with the greatest number of people in his kingdom.

The initial council was followed in short order but a long series of behind-the-scenes and obvious attempts to discredit opponents. It became Pick Your Team time and the stakes were horribly high. We witnessed the early church struggling to maintain credibility and stature, then fall completely under political hostage by the end of our chapter.

My sadness settled in hard when Bishop Ossius at age 100 was captured, tortured and forced to turn against his will. What a dark moment in time!

And the irony when we see this crazy raging religious-political battle raging inside the lines of civilization, while the barbarians living just outside become Christenized!!! Furthermore, we find them strong in their faith and able to withstand the not-so-petty fighting raging within.

I'll leave it here for now, but will be back shortly with Chapter 2. :-)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments Leslie, my condolences on the passing of your Grandmother. I will keep you and your family in my prayers.

message 3: by Susan Margaret (last edited Oct 23, 2016 01:18AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments Not only was the calling of the Council at Nicea an effort to keep peace and settle the Arian heresy, but it also gave Constantine a chance to insert himself in Church affairs. Constantine's baptism on his deathbed was not an uncommon practice. Many early Christians delayed baptism because they believed that sins could not be forgiven if they were committed after baptism. In the minds of some early Christians, being baptized on your deathbed guaranteed salvation.

message 4: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments Leslie, My deepest sympathies.

message 5: by Leslie (last edited Oct 23, 2016 12:47PM) (new) - added it

Leslie | 359 comments Thank you ladies. Yes, some people did delay their baptism, but many others didn't. Given his long tutorial with Bishop Ossious, it seemed interesting. Yes, I do know that there was a thought of wanting to leave with a clean slate, but my understanding was that this became more prominent in much later times. Dr. Carroll seemed to find it noteworthy. Anyway....

Chapter Two

For me, this was a difficult one to work through. The times were depressing, gruesome and rough. Bathing in bull blood vs. eating dogs! Clearly, these were tumultuous years in the church. We see Arian moving in and out of favor faster than some people change cereal. The perspective on the Huns was interesting. And, we see St. Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine moving into our timeline. The church reclaims some footing only to lose it all over again. Meanwhile, in the backdrop we know the end of the Roman empire is nearing. I loved learning about the important role of the monks in saving our church during this time. These silent players in the background bubble up to the surface now and again, like St. anthony in Egypt in the last chapter.

I'm looking forward to moving on in time!

Mike Leslie, very sorry to hear of the passing of your Grandmother. Her as well as you will be in my prayers.

Mike I think that living for so long under the threat of persecution took a toll on the Catholic/Orthodox church; the leaders did not get together and discuss what was happening in the different parts of the Roman world. Heresies, such as Arianism, subsequently were allowed the time and space to grow and spread. Realistically, it would have been impossible to gather 300+ Church leaders in one place during the year 305, during a very intense persecution. Yet, in 325, a mere 20 years later, the council of Nicaea did exactly that. Having the Emperor on your side, no matter how briefly or insincerely can make a world of difference.

The council was held to put an end to the arguments and fighting taking place in the eastern portions of the Roman Empire regarding the divinity of Christ. Arius and his followers did not believe in the Divinity of Christ. They professed that Christ was merely a creature made by God the Father. This was counter to the belief system of the Catholic/Orthodox Church. Arius was not the first to challenge Christ’s divinity but now that Christianity had support from the emperor the power structure could inflict far more damage on the church’s belief system. A quote from Dr. Carroll ‘Both the humanity and the divinity of Christ are utterly and equally central to the reality of the Incarnation. Without the Incarnation there is no salvation; without salvation there is no hope.” This concise quote demonstrates why history written with a Catholic perspective not only records that yes, there was a council held in Nicaea during the year 325, but here the quote demonstrates why it was important.

As we leave this first chapter we have 90% or more of today’s Nicene Creed. On Sunday when we recite the Creed we need to stop and give thanks to churchmen like Bishop Alexander, Bishop Ossius and Bishop Athanasius. They fought and maintained the doctrine supporting the divinity of Christ. Athanasius spend 45 years as the Bishop of Alexandra; during which time the Arian bishops of the east had him exiled by the emperor 5 times. While his enemies wanted him dead; his parishioners and the desert monks made sure he was protected. During the four years he spent in Rome under the protection of the pope, Athanasius was accompanied by a few desert monks. The churchmen in Rome were so impressed by these monks that interest in monasticism began to sprout very humble roots. Also, over the course of his exiles Athanasius was able to pen the life of Anthony the desert monk. This became a very popular work and played a very important role in the spread and growth of monastic communities. He was also able to publish papers and dissertations regarding the Trinity. These are read even today along with the writings of other church fathers.

Constantine at least lifted the persecutions but in my opinion was the first in a long line of kings and politicians who only wanted to use religion to control the population. I can’t see what was in his mind but based upon his actions and behavior he apparently believed in nothing and would do anything for power.

message 8: by Galicius (last edited Oct 24, 2016 08:14AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Galicius | 460 comments Chapter 1 “Christ is God!—The Arian Crisis (324-357) (pages 9-33)

Thank you for excellent inputs Leslie, Susan Margaret, and Mike. The late baptism clarifies a mystery for me. I agree with your opinion on Constantine Mike. His combining of warfare and power with Christ perplexed me immediately.

I was eager to get a better understanding of this curious history of the Arian heresy because I came across it many times in Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, volumes 2-3 but it was hard to see what was going on through the huge struggles the way Gibbon describes it. I was mostly puzzled why it became such a big issue for Christianity. I could not imagine a heresy like that gaining any ground in more modern times. The times were certainly different and our modern age has different types of problems with respect to religion, or should I say that religion became less relevant to take an interest in what was a theological argument? Just the thought that a deacon or even a bishop, no matter how eloquent and appealing, would contrive an idea that “God has not always been a Father” (p. 10) and started holding lectures and attract a great following would be absurd now.

Another group discussed Hilaire Belloc’s “The Great Heresies” in which Belloc has a chapter on the Arian heresy that clarified the heresy for me very well. He describes the Roman Empire people—many nations and classes—each with their different interests. He calls Gibbon a disciple of the French skeptics. I got the sense that Gibbon was writing with a degree of irony about the issue. Gibbon has little sympathy for the Church. Belloc makes a lot of sense when he writes in the in introduction “A man who thinks, for instance, that Arianism is a mere discussion of words, does not see that an Arian world would have been much more like a Mohammedan world than what the European world actually became.” If the Arians turned Christianity into rejecting Christ, as God there is no telling what kind of a future would come about.

Mike Galicius wrote: "Chapter 1 “Christ is God!—The Arian Crisis (324-357) (pages 9-33)

Thank you for excellent inputs Leslie, Susan Margaret, and Mike. The late baptism clarifies a mystery for me. I agree with your op..."

I am so glad that you read Belloc and brought him up here; he is a writer with a Catholic point of view. Gibbon can not contain his dislike of Catholicism.

You very accurately expressed the damage that Arianism would have done in the long term, basically an end to Christianity,

message 10: by Leslie (last edited Oct 24, 2016 05:44PM) (new) - added it

Leslie | 359 comments Galicius, I want to thank you as well for your comments. I haven't read Belloc, but am aware of that book and it's on my To Read list. Last summer I read a terrific book that did a wonderful job of moving through a vast amount of time in a concise, easy to read format.

The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity The First Thousand Years A Global History of Christianity by Robert L. Wilken

I highly recommend it.

I was also thinking about the heresies in today's time. I don't know. The news is so freaking crazy it wouldn't surprise me to see something like that out there and for it to gain a following. What was especially interesting was the comment about can God create/become evil? You know, these aren't stupid questions. I mostly feel sad that people weren't able to sit and discuss faith, religion, and God with openness. I wish they could have wondered without criticism and opposition. Even worse, in my eyes, is that Christ's messages were lost as a battle raged over theology. The practical, real world way of living the life God calls us to live was lost as people found brutal, savage ways of destroying anyone with a differing opinion in person, and behind one another's backs.

Like Mike, I find myself thinking about these things as we move through our daily Mass.

message 11: by Galicius (last edited Oct 25, 2016 07:27AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Galicius | 460 comments Chapter 2: “Athletes of Christ” (357-397) (p. 45-75)

St. Anthony of Egypt just died in 356 when this chapter begins. St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria was exiled to year 361. Carroll tells us that St. Anthony instructed St. Athanasius in his youth. St. Athanasius lived for another twenty years after St. Anthony’s passing and wrote a wonderful “Life of St. Anthony of Egypt”. It deals with both saints’ struggles with Arianism. St. Carrolls tells us that Anthony traveled from his hermit’s mountain to Alexandria to warn the Christians of the city against the “impious Arians”. The Doctor of the Church, bishop of Alexandria, exiled by Roman Emperors, including Constantine, writes about the first of the Desert Fathers of Egypt. The author recounts what St. Anthony preached. This especially in the long chapter entitled “His address to monks, rendered from Coptic, exhorting them to perseverance, and encouraging them against the wiles of Satan.” We almost hear St. Anthony’s voice. It also sounds like St. Athanasius preaching at length until we come again to descriptions of an attack of St. Anthony by the devils.

This biography reads like a word from an original source. The temptations described reminded me of “Temptations of St. Anthony” by Flaubert. That’s a description of one night’s devil revelry (that took the author Flaubert some thirty years to write) whereas St. Athanasius describes several temptations that St. Anthony goes through in his spiritual journey.

message 12: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments Galicius wrote: "Chapter 1 “Christ is God!—The Arian Crisis (324-357) (pages 9-33)

Thank you for excellent inputs Leslie, Susan Margaret, and Mike. The late baptism clarifies a mystery for me. I agree with your op..."

Actually, Arian's Christology is still very much alive today. It is the Christology we find in the theology of the Mormon church.

message 13: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Here are a few more comments I would like to make about chapter 2. We all can see that by the middle of the fourth century (350+) Rome was irrevocably on the path to ruin. I don’t want to review the immorality, lusting for power, murders and open dishonesty that made Rome a good place to leave and an easy target for anyone looking for a city or society to plunder.

But coming out of this rubble there was a vein of gold waiting to be mined. That source of gold was the ascetical dessert monks. These were people, both male and female, who simply could not stand to live in the moral decay any longer. The noise and stench proved to be too much, they wanted the quiet and purity of the desert. The desert of Egypt became dotted with monasteries and hermitages. Dr. Carroll estimated that during the fourth century the number of monks in the desert increased from a few to tens of thousands. These monks prayed, memorized scripture, read the apostolic fathers and contemplated. In the first chapter of this book we heard of St. Anthony, who is called the father of monasticism. St. Athanasius wrote his biography, the “Life of Anthony”, and stayed in some of those monasteries during good potions of his times in exile. The “Life of Anthony” was very popular reading and played a large role in the growth of monasticism; people yearned for the peace of contemplation. We see St. Athanasius being influenced by the desert monks, also St. Jerome spent a few years working on the bible in the desert. After St. Jerome left the desert he went to Bethlehem and started a new monastery where he spent the rest of his life in writing and prayer.

St. John Chrysostom spent six years in a desert monastery, he memorized the scriptures while in exile. Another important pair to spend time in Egyptian desert monasteries was St. John Cassian and his companion Germanus. These two spent ten years, or more, moving around the desert and living in perhaps as many as fifteen monasteries; their purpose was to learn the ascetical practices of the monks and bring these back to the west. St. John Cassian wrote a number of books but two of them, “The Conferences” and “The Institutes” were read closely by St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine Order. Benedict required his monks to study both of these.

Finally, on their way home Cassian and Germanus went to Constantinople to spend time with St. John Chrysostom who had been recently returned to his bishopric, this was prior to his final exile during which he was killed by the Arian bishops of the east. They wanted to learn more and be better prepared when the returned to their religious orders.

We can see how this thin thread started by Anthony and Athanasius ended up touching so many religious leaders who in turn professed the faith to many, many others. A very big impact by thousands of monks who spent their days in silence.

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments Monks were considered ascetics. In another book that I am reading, the word “ascetic” is defined as a Greek word, which means athletic training. So I think it very appropriate that the monks of the fourth century were described as “Athletes of Christ”. They were the ones who practiced self-discipline, spent hours in prayer and meditation, taught others, held fast to their beliefs and did not give in to the Arian heresy. They were the defenders of the faith. Also interesting is the definition of heresy that Dr. Carroll gives on page 48, “The very word “heresy” means to cut away, to divide.” Dividing and separating were exactly what the Arians were doing.

message 15: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Since a fair amount of time was spent on the Creed, I would like to recommend a book by Luke Timothy Johnson, it is

"The Creed, What Christians Believe and Why It Matters". ISBN: 0-385-50248-6.

He deals with the Creed in small sections which allows it to sink in.

message 16: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments My favorite book on the Creed is The Creed by Berard Malthaler.
The Creed: The Apostolic Faith in Contemporary Theology

message 17: by Leslie (new) - added it

Leslie | 359 comments My book club read Like Timothy Johnson's book and we LOVED it. :-)

Thank you all for the excellent book recommendations. I love seeing what everyone is reading. I definitely want to read more on St. Anthony.

A good friend of mine visited these desert lands described in these passages and I was lucky enough to sit down and look at photograph after photograph. I highly recommend pulling up some pictures from these areas. The landscape is so very unique in these cities and one can easily picture how a monk would live in isolation with prayerful meditation.

message 18: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3892 comments Mod
Mike wrote: "Since a fair amount of time was spent on the Creed, I would like to recommend a book by Luke Timothy Johnson, it is

"The Creed, What Christians Believe and Why It Matters". ISBN: 0-385-50248-6.


I too read Luke Timothy Johnson's The Creed a couple of years ago. It was excellent. Everything you wanted to know about the Creed.

message 19: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Irene wrote: "My favorite book on the Creed is The Creed by Berard Malthaler.
The Creed: The Apostolic Faith in Contemporary Theology"

I have just started to delve into Malthaler's book, so far it looks good , thank you for the recommendation.

message 20: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments You are welcome. I hope you like it. He was a pretty scattered lecturer, but a very kind person.

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