Sunday, December 12, 2010

When The Compromisers Come: Contra Mundum

AthanasiusThe Church has been faced with various heresies since the start; be it the Judaizers who were said to be "believers" (Acts 15:5) but advocated Christians must hold to overall Judaism, or whether it be the Gnostics, or the Arians, or the worse heresy; hyperpreterism. The Church as a whole has always stepped up to the challenge...eventually. But often leading up to the time when the Church actually deals with the heresy there comes compromisers; people claiming to be Christians who really want to simply placate the heresy and accept it as much as possible. This is most pointed in the Arian heresy.


If you will recall, the Arian heresy flared up in the 4th century A.D. when an Egyptian presbyter named Arius began teaching that Christ is not God. Eventually a council was called, not by Rome (the fact is Sylvester 1 - bishop of Rome didn't even attend) but by Constantine, the Roman/Constantinople Emperor. Arius' regional bishop, Alexander of Alexandria Egypt had been long opposing Arius' heresy as Arius attempted to spread it in Egypt.

In 325AD the Council of Nicaea concluded Arius' teachings were heterical. Interestingly enough, many modern Christians, and heretics think that this is when the concept of the Trinity was imposed on the Church. Nothing can be further from the truth. But for example, hyperpreterist leader Samuel Frost in attempt to advance hyperpreterism said concerning this issue:
“Now my question is when did we do this for the second coming of Christ? When have we had these councils & Arius that came up & said ‘Hey, ‘, because afterall we became Trinitarians because there was a guy named Arius who stood up & said, `Hey I think Jesus was the first created being. I don’t think he was an eternal being.’ Then you had a lot of people begin saying, ‘Now wait a minute here.’ & they began to go back to the Scriptures & they began to fight for hundreds of years & they finally came out with what you know we have at know Nicean Chalcedon. But somebody rose their hand up & said, ‘Hey can I challenge this?’ & that’s all..that’s what I’m doing I’m asking, ‘Can I challenge this? Can I question -he shall come again and judge the living & the dead- Can we…can I question that? ‘ (actual audio of Frost — source)
Yet let's see what Martin Luther says:
"It is evident, too, that what I undertook to show is true, viz., that this council neither devised nor established anything new, but defended the old faith against the new error of Arius." ("On the Councils and the Church" -- Luther source)
As Luther makes clear, there is no "organic development" of the doctrine of the Trinity but rather the council came together to defend the old faith against a new error. It is then ironic if not providence that the leading "scholar" of the heresy of hyperpreterism wants to compare his movement with the operation of the Arian heresy.

But perhaps what Frost is talking about is what happened AFTER the Nicene Council. You would have thought the matter settled once and for all but no, the Arian heresy would flare up again. In 335AD yet another council was held, but this one was against the chief opponent of Arianism, Athanasius.


Athanasius, was a deacon and served as the secretary to bishop Alexander of Alexandria and helped in the council of Nicaea to bring about the condemnation of Arianism. When Alexander died, Athanasius took over as the bishop of Alexandria. Athanasius spent much of his time opposing the remaining Arians, even being accused of abusing them. (sound familiar?)

Also, the Arians were busy appealing to the bishops and to the emperor, appearing as if there had merely been a misunderstanding and as if they actually did adhere to Jesus being God and to the Trinity. Many bishops were fooled and the emperor too and called for Athanasius to reinstate Arius. Athanasius, seeing through the lie refused.

Eventually, enough charges were brought against Athanasius that the Council of Tyre was called, once again by Emperor Constantine in an attempt to resolve the matter. Athanasius was condemned but he fled to Constantinople. The council of Tyre overturned the heretical charge against the Arians.

Athanasius sought a private meeting with Constantine at Constantinople wherein Constantine heard Athanasius and dropped all charges against him but one, which is not theological in nature but had to do with cutting off grain supplies from Egypt to Constantinople. However, Athanasius did not return to his bishopric in Alexandria until after Constantine's death.

Within a year after his resumption of the bishopric, Athanasius was once again banished by the new emperor and Constantine's son, Emperor Constantinus II.

Athanasius fled to Rome for protection. Several Roman councils were called which found Athanasius innocent of the charges against him and called for his reinstatement as the bishop of Alexandria. By 346AD Athanasius was once again reinstated but by 350, emperor Constantinus who favored the Arians banished Athanasius yet again.

Now, I don't know about you but with this much compromise going on, I think if I was Athanasius, I'd just said forget it and go live a quiet life somewhere. But thankfully Athanasius didn't cave when all his friends failed and it looked as if Christianity itself had given into the compromisers.

This back and forth continued several more times where Athanasius was banished and reinstated by various emperors as they came and went. Eventually, while still instated as bishop Athanasius peacefully died after his long and devoted opposition to the Arian heresy.

For all his effort against the Arian heresy, Athanasius's name is often associated with the phrase; contra mundum or "against the world". Because while it seemed at times the entire world was against Athanasius while he fought this heresy, he continued on no matter how many compromisers came and went.

Oh that we would have even a tenth of the determination of Athanasius, instead so many are willing to turn at the simple bat of an eye or smooth and flattering words. Yet heresies abound as these Arian-like compromisers slake their throats with self-congratulatory remarks of the supposed end of their own Athanasius'. Truth always wins out in the end. Pleasure and evil for a season but God's justice always prevails.

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