Archives For Roman Empire

What is Heresy??

December 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

Many people throughout church history have been put to death because of heresy. But, just what is heresy? That is what this post will be about. Many church leaders have charged others with heresy many times in its history. The most recognizable instances are the inquisitions, post-Constantine period, the Crusades, and of course Galileo and Joan of Arc.  Of this list I am the most familiar with the post-Constantine period. It is estimated that about 25,000 Christians were put to death for heresy during the two centuries after the Roman King Constantine made Christianity a State religion. That number far surpasses those put to death by the Romans in the Coliseum.

Let’s look at the definition of heresy:

1.  opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system.

2.  the maintaining of such an opinion or doctrine.

3.  Roman Catholic Church . the willful and persistent rejection of any article of faith by a baptized member of the church.

4.  any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.

Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith tells us that heresy is a man-made invention that came about many years after the first Christians.

In the last few decades, however, all these assumptions have proven erroneous. The following are now evident. First, there never was a single “early Christianity” there were many, and the idea of “heresy” was unknown. Second, it was not the apostles themselves, but subsequent generations who invented “apostolic authority,” and both creeds and hierarchies emerged much later than had been thought. Third, an essential key to comprehending the earliest Christians, including those who wrote the New Testament, is to see their movement as a self-conscious alternative to the empire that tyrannized them. And the best way to understand the succeeding generation of Christian leaders is to notice how they reversed course and gradually came to admire and emulate that empire.

It turns out that heresy is almost exclusively about beliefs and has nothing to do with “being” a Christian. Why does this problem between beliefs vs being crop up so frequently in the church?  I think much of it has to do with the power structures built up by the church and of course the egos that go along with  that power. No, the church is not exempt from the old saying that Power corrupts and absolute power absolutely corrupts. Throughout its history the Christian church has had a very vertical hierarchy. As a result almost all change comes from the top down. Grass roots change is very rare among any Christian church structure both before and after the Reformation.

Since God is obviously not in the refereeing business, or he would have taken care of this long ago, he leaves it up to us to work out. Obviously we are not good at it at all! Too many egos in play. It just seems difficult for Christians to allow diversity of beliefs to exist in Jesus’ church

More about that in the next post.

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The Beginnings…..

September 3, 2012 — Leave a comment

Time Period:  573BC

I am about three weeks into my study of the parallels between Christian church history and the history of the Roman empire. I was hoping to find a “people’s history” of Rome for a source but have been unsuccessful in that regard. I now have about five sources of info but there really is little documented evidence of how the common man lived during this time. There are a few accounts from Roman soldiers but they are pretty much limited to their time in the military.

Here is what Simon Baker in his book Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire says about that:

Modern professional historians tend to stress how little we know about the Roman world. True, we are almost completely in the dark about what life was like for the slum dwellers of the city (though we can make a fair guess!) or for peasants struggling to find a livelihood in the countryside. And we are not much better off when it comes to understanding the feelings of women or slaves, or how the Roman empire’s balance of payments actually worked, or – for that matter – what Romans wore under their togas or how they disposed of their sewage (the miracles of Roman drainage have, I am afraid, been grossly exaggerated). 

As is common with many historical accounts Roman history is primarily focused on the wars fought and not the citizens themselves. This hampers my ability to see any parallels between Roman citizens and Christians. So, although I will lack some comparisons at the people level I still will be able to try to see just what was happening in the Roman Empire from their beginning and how they were grappling with their little Jesus followers problem later on.

Lets start out with this study of Rome here with some origin stories.

The Roman state was unofficially founded in 753BC by two brothers Romulus and Remus. These two brothers were at the head of a small band of renegades who were dug into a defensive position in a tiny village. It seems that for some reason the two brothers quarreled and Romulus killed his twin brother.  Romulus then opened up his camp for all comers including exiles, runaway slaves and criminals. So, according to this story Rome was  originally a city populated almost entirely by asylum-seekers and almost all of them were men.

Mr. Baker said early in his book said this about this story:

We have no idea how much of this lurid tale is actually true. The precise date of 753 is the result of an elaborate and frankly unreliable calculation more than five hundred years later by Roman scholars…

When I read this story I immediately thought of about closely relates to the first two brothers in the Jewish Torah or Old Testament as we Christians call it.   Here is that account:

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.  Genesis 4:8

Much like many of the early stories in the Old Testament the story of Romulus and his brother is thought to be myth that was passed down by mouth from generation to generation before being finally recorded.

Next time we will move on to when Rome was ruled by kings.

I know in the introduction to this study I said I would not be following a timeline but instead be giving you a mosaic. But after thinking about it for a while now I have decided to do the timeline approach. In addition to a time line I have decided to try to interweave it with the history of the Roman Empire. I know this is a very ambitious undertaking and right now I just don’t know how successful I will be but I am never one to shrink from a challenge.

Two things make me change direction here. One is that I really have never studied just what happened to the mighty Roman Empire. I know it, like the U.S. today was the superpower of its day. But I am really not versed in how the rise to power happened or  how the decline came about so quickly. I have prided myself on my diligent lifelong study of U.S. history but have never delved much beyond our shores.  This is a unique opportunity to widen my historical horizons.  There seems to be many analogies between what happened to Rome and what we as a country are currently going through. It will be interesting to try to discover those parallels as well.

The second reason for this change of heart is that I am critically aware of  the links between Christianity and the Rome. It will be interesting to see just what was going on in the empire when significant event occurred in the church.  I don’t think you can really understand one history without understanding the other. I will be on the lookout for these types of links as we study this dual path of history. In order to accomplish this I will need to do a number of posts on Roman history before we actually get into the Christianity aspect of the study.  I think this is proper in order to try to understand how the Roman Empire got to where they were as that little rag-tag group later called Christians came on the scene.

I hope that you are not disappointed with the dual approach. Since I am doing posts only about a week or two before they are put on-line I really don’t have a good idea right now just when different time periods will be covered. I will talk about each period until I am satisfied that we know enough about it to see the links between the Roman State and the Christian church. For a number of years I know they are very intrinsically linked. Way too much so for my tastes. This makes for a more ambitious study than I originally intended but as I said at the beginning of this post I feel I am up to the challenge.

So, come back soon for the next phase of this study. I think it will be very interesting to me and I hope you will enjoy it also. This new approach might throw my usual Monday and Thursday posts out of whack for a little while. I will decide that as I go….