I’ve spent the last fortnight or so trying to get my brain cells around 450 years of early church history (to be precise, the doctrinal issues discussed at seven Ecumenical Councils dating from 325 to 787 AD). ‘Discussed’ is perhaps not the right word since interference from Roman Emperors, starting with Constantine, usually meant that those who disagreed with the majority consensus ended up deposed from their bishoprics, exiled or worse.
I wonder how things would go with us now, if the church had the armed forces of the state standing ready to enforce the decisions of the Governing Body or General Synod? Silly question, I suppose, since we only need to look abroad to see what can still happen when the state interferes in church matters.
It’s one way of settling what the church believes, or thinks it believes. As far as I’m concerned, by this morning my brain was in rabbit-staring-into-headlights-of-approaching-pantechnicon mode. Which is probably how many of the early church bishops felt as they saw Roman soldiers/hordes of monks/rioting mobs [delete as appropriate] invading their cathedrals and threatening them with being exiled, imprisoned or torn limb from limb.
Well – the exam is done and now I know all about Arians, Adoptionists, Monophysites, Apollinarianists, Donatists, Nestorians, Patripassians, Sabellians and a whole lot more besides. I think I even know the difference between homoousios and homoiousios, though I’m still not sure about anomoios.
I just wish they’d been more imaginative about their names. Was it really necessary to have a pope called Anastasius as well as two emperors? – two bishops called Alexander, and two called Apollinaris? – two bishops and an emperor called Basil? – six emperors and a pope called Constantine? – two Cyrils, four Dionysiuses, four Eusebiuses … I could go on. But I’ll spare you the three Georges, seven Leos and umpteen Johns.