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by Robert Dean
Conference at Tucson Bible Church
Series:History of Christianity (1991)
Duration:55 mins 2 secs

History of Christianity—2

 

The period of the ancient church was a time of theological definition, a time of defining what they believed and what they understood the Scripture to mean. Beginning in 600 and the medieval church there would be a time of darkness that would descend upon the church, and then a time of restoration in the Reformation church. The first period we have been looking at, the period of the ancient church, was divided into four periods: the period of the apostolic age—33-100, the period of the apostolic fathers—100-150, the age of the apologists—150-300, and the age of the theologians—300-600. We are now in the middle of this last period, the age of the theologians.

 

There were three great questions that they needed to answer during this time. First, who was Jesus before He came? That was the area of controversy. Arius taught that there was a time when Christ was not. The answer to Arianism was formulated in the Nicene creed. But that did not win the battle. Athanasius just after that was appointed bishop of Alexandria. Five different times in his life he was exiled. The trouble with Nicea was that it was an ecumenical council called by the authority of the emperor. As we all know political power shifts and changes and when political power lies behind theological decisions then when that political power shifts the theology shifts. Through the coming years after Constantine died and as those theologians who had the ear of the emperor changed the theology changed. For a while Arius's theology would come back into power and domination and then it was rejected again. Each time Athanisius would be exiled—five different times. Finally in the Council of Constantinople in 381 victory was secured for the truth, that Jesus Christ was eternal along with the Father.

 

The second question that they had to answer was: what was Jesus when He came? That was the issue of the hypostatic union. How does the deity and humanity of Christ relate? Finally they articulated in the fact that they were merged but not mixed, it was a union of the two persons, the two substances, humanity and deity—the hypostatic union of Christ, that He was fully God, undiminished deity, and completely man or true humanity.

 

The third question was: what did Jesus do when he came? This was the Pelagian controversy, it involved an understanding of the doctrine of sin and grace, it involved the nature of man and an understanding of what faith truly is. It answers the question, how is a man saved? Does regeneration precede faith or does it come after faith? How can a spiritually dead man even understand the gospel? If he cannot understand the gospel how can he be regenerated without already being saved? Is redemption chiefly a work of God or chiefly a work of man?

 

Augustine was the bishop of Hippo which is in Carthage in North Africa. He fought a number of theological battles. He argued very strongly that man has free will and it is because of man's exercise of his free will or volition that sin or evil entered into the universe. Man used his will to disobey God and that is how evil entered the universe. Then when he came into controversy with Pelagius he said something that we might have a little difficulty with. That is why we must understand his view on free will first. What he believed was that before the fall Adam had free will, he had a choice between good and evil. He could choose to eat or not eat the fruit. Once he chose to eat the fruit he longer had complete freedom, could no longer choose to do absolute good or perfect righteousness. All he could do because he was a sinner, a spiritually dead unregenerate man, was choose to do sin—no matter how good it was in relative terms it was still sin. Therefore after the fall man no longer has complete free will. Only work of God upon his heart—common or efficacious grace—could bring about salvation. Augustine's doctrine of regeneration in terms of Romans chapter five was that before salvation he will only choose evil, he cannot choose good, but after man is saved, because of regeneration and the indwelling Holy Spirit, he now has the ability to perform good. So true freedom is once again restored to man after regeneration. That is Augustine's view on the will.

 

Let's see how this is played out within the context of the controversy. Augustine taught that Adam's sin affected the entire human race so that everyone was guilty. The effect is not simply a disease, not just that man was weakened by sin, but that it is a defect; man is born with a nature that can do noting but sin. Infants are morally, spiritually and physically corrupt. Augustine did not teach this on his own but in response to this British monk named Pelagius who came down from England to Rome and began teach his false doctrine. Pelagius taught that each man is born innocent as Adam when he was first created, that Adam's sin had no consequence on anybody but Adam. Adam's fall affected no one. Against that Augustine taught that man was born spiritually dead and that Adam's sin affected the entire race. Pelagius taught that every man had a completely unhindered will, the power to will and to do perfect righteousness; man was absolutely free. Augustine said that man's freedom was restricted because he was spiritually dead and blinded to truth. Regarding grace Pelagius taught that man had the ability to will and to do without any help from God; man could save himself. If was possible in Pelagius's theology for a human being, because he hadn't been affected by human sin, to make good decisions and never sin. Augustine taught that as far as grace is concerned that there was an inward, secret, wonderful and efficacious act of God upon a man that wooed him to salvation. It is not a forcing but it is a love, a wooing to salvation.

 

Regarding predestination Pelagius taught that God chose men because men chose God. Augustine said that predestination is based on God's love because in eternity past God specifically chose who would be saved and who would not. What Augustine is basically saying is that everybody deserves Hell; nothing demands that God save anybody, so God chose to save a few. In Augustine's theology he held to a doctrine called double predestination: some were predestined to salvation and those would trust Christ as their savior; that God chose some for heaven and some for Hell. That is extreme Augustinianism. Pelagius's doctrine was that you were a sinner because you sinned. Augustine taught that you sinned because you were born with a sin nature, and you were a sinner. Pelagius taught that Adam was created mortal and that he would have died no matter whether he had sinned or not; he taught that Adam's sin only injured Adam and affected no one else; he taught that the law would save as well as the gospel; he taught that there were men before the time of Christ who lived without sin; he taught recently born infants are in the same neutral state as Adam, so they could live to; he taught recently born infants are in the same neutral state as Adam, so they could live to perfection; he taught that the whole of mankind is not did not die in the fall of Adam, nor does it resurrect in the resurrection of Christ; he taught that man if he would could live without sin; he taught that un-baptized infants would be automatically saved; he taught that the rich who were baptized would have no merit, nor would they inherit the kingdom of God if they did not renounce their possessions; he taught that sin consisted of individual acts, not in a constitutional problem or a sin nature.

 

In a solution to this controversy at the Council of Ephesus in 431 Pelagianism was condemned as heretical. Historically it is this that creates a shift to Roman Catholicism. The two extremes: Augustine taught that salvation is totally and causally of God. He believed in double predestination. Pelagius taught that salvation was totally and causally of man. John Cassianus came long with his development and understanding. He said that salvation originates in God but preceded by man. Man's volition therefore returns to its significant place. Each person must believe in Christ and although God originates salvation man believes in Christ. He also denied predestination of the unbeliever. That became standard dogma from 529 on. Then another view came along which emphasized a cooperative work between man and God: salvation originates in man and proceeds by man and God. That is clearly wrong. Salvation originates ultimately in God and the foreknowledge of God. This led to a works salvation: that man and God cooperate together, putting the emphasis on human works. It is semi-Pelagianism that slowly begins to work into the church. Even though in terms of the creeds semi-Augustinianism was adopted it began to be watered down, emphasizing human works. The result was Roman Catholic theology.

 

Now we come to the second period in the church, the age of the medieval church—600-1500. There was a time of decline organizationally and morally, as well as to some degree theologically. In our perspective the whole period is a decline theologically. So when there are ups and down it has to do with the church in terms of power and authority, and the morality of the church as opposed to their theology. There is a decline from 600-950; there is a resurgence from 950-1200. One of the signs of it was when Henry II was emperor of the Holy Roman Empire is forced to come crawling on his knees before the pope for forgiveness. That shows the power that the popes had by 1200 AD. Then it began to decline again until it is just in a tremendous mess both theologically and morally by 1500, which necessitated the Reformation under Martin Luther.

 

Four A's to remember: Augustine, Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas—four of the key people in the middle ages in Roman Catholic theology. 

 

The period of the medieval church really begins in 600 with Gregory the Great. To back-track a little, in the previous two or three centuries five major cities dominated Christianity in the Roman empire. Jerusalem by virtue of its position in that it was where Christ was crucified. There was Antioch in Syria, the first place where believers were called Christians and where Paul and Barnabas were sent out as missionaries. Then there was Alexandria in Egypt which became a major center of theology and theological development, and it was very influential in sending missionaries out throughout North Africa. There was Constantinople as the capital of the Roman empire, then there was Rome. In the Roman empire Rome was the seat of the emperor until Constantine. Constantine moved the capital of the empire to Constantinople. The empire as the hoards of barbarians were constantly coming in waves invading the Italian peninsula and eventually Rome was sacked, the western Roman empire fell into decay and dissolution. This was the situation at the time of Gregory the Great.

 

He was born into an aristocratic family in Rome. During his upbringing he was given legal training, not a theological training. He was trained to work within the political environment of Rome. The emperor appointed him to be the mayor of Rome. As such he excelled in administration. At that time he was a believer, his gifts were no overlooked by the church in Rome and he was appointed a deacon. He was sent as an ambassador from Rome to Constantinople as a representative of the church in Rome not only to the emperor in Constantinople but was also a representative to the patriarchs in Constantinople. By this time differences were developing between the eastern church and the western church; that which was mostly Greek and that which was mostly Latin. While he was there Gregory recognized that the true task for the west does not lie in unity with the east, he did not like what they were doing. He began to draw away from them. He returned to Rome at the age of 50 when he was a rather balding man, a very frail man, he was appointed to be the bishop of the church. He was a very humble man and did not want to be the bishop of the church in Rome but he accepted the position. They primarily wanted him because of his administrative ability, and he was the first man to function as a pope. He calls up armies, he delivers people.

 

Over the two or three hundred years prior to this time many noblemen, wealthy people died and had left their lands to the church, hoping they would get a little more forgiveness from God. The whole idea of penance had entered into the church by this time and people thought they could buy some extra divine forgiveness and grace. So the church had become fairly wealthy. Gregory administered all of those lands, received a lot of revenue from those lands, so when the people had suffered from the plagues and the floods he was able to distribute money to people, and his prestige and power grew. When the barbarians again sought to invade it was Gregory, not the emperor, who called up the army and went out to protect Italy and defeat the enemy. So he began to operate not just as a religious leader but as a secular leader. He had a conflict with John IV, the patriarch of Constantinople, who wanted to assume the title "Universal Bishop." Gregory fought him on that; Gregory did not want to be the pope. He was a humble man but he used his position as a powerful pope, so he was really the first true pope.

 

Theologically he is very significant. He had a semi-Pelagian view of man. He believed that Adam's fall weakened man but it didn't destroy him; he was sick but it was not a defect. What does that mean? If man is sick and it is not a defect then man can do something to cooperate with God. So works comes into the Roman church. Baptism remits sin. How are you saved? By baptism into the church because man cooperates with God. He introduced the whole concept of confession. What do you do about post-salvation sin? You have to do penance. You pray to the saints; he introduced the concept of the intercession of the saints. Of worshipping holy relics, purgatory, the mass and transubstantiation. Transubstantiation is at the core of Roman Catholic theology. This was introduced by Gregory but it does not dominate the western church.

 

Many people ask when Roman Catholicism began. It is a tough question to answer. In terms of a system, the church and the power of the pope, it begins with Gregory, but it is not until the 12th century when all of this works theology is finalized that the Roman Catholic church officially adopts a works view of salvation.

 

In the doctrine of the Lord's supper, in the early church they saw it as a sacrifice of praise to God. This is clear from Clement of Rome, the Didache and Justin Martyr, the apostolic fathers. During the next period of time it was viewed as a sacrifice that was both sacrificial and praise. This appeared in the writings of Iranaeus, Origen and Cyprian. The seed-bed is transubstantiation as found in their writings. By the time of the Middle Ages Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, it is a sacrifice that is sacrificial praise, and meritorious. See how it changes from just a sacrifice of praise to a sacrifice that is sacrificial praise and meritorious. You gain merit before God from the Lord's table by partaking in the elements.

 

So Gregory is important because of his administration gifts and how he organizes the western church, and also for the heretical doctrines such as transubstantiation, purgatory, prayers for the saints and his works-oriented salvation that he introduces into the church.

 

The second thing that happened in the Gregory period was that papal authority was expanded by two important documents that surfaced. Many years later they were discovered to be forgeries but were unknown to be forgeries at this time. The Donation of Constantine is a donation of land that supposedly goes back to Constantine that includes the Vatican. Much of central Rome, according to this document, was given to the pope. Secondly, the Isidorian Decretals were supposed to give the bishop of Rome supreme authority over the church in the west. It was these documents, as well as the things that Gregory did, through which the Roman church became a central power and laid the power base in western Europe.

 

Physically they began to grow. The major loss during this time was in North Africa. Mohammed had lived and died by now and the Islamic hordes had expanded across the Middle East and North Africa. North Africa was lost to the Christian church, an area where there had been a strong Christian church. At the same time there were missionary expansions that take place throughout Europe. In Britain there was a Celtic church affected by missionaries in the early first century. They had their own traditions and their own theology. By the fifth century there was a you8ng man by the name of Patrick whose father was a deacon in the Celtic church. Patrick was captured by Irish pirates and hauled off into slavery in Ireland. While in Ireland he was mistreated but he developed a love for the people in Ireland. He finally escaped from Ireland, made his way back to receive some theological training, and went back to Ireland as a missionary. His theology was Celtic, not Roman. The Romans have adopted him as their saint but he did not have a Roman theology or a Roman view of salvation. He had a grace-oriented view of salvation and he established a strong church in Ireland that sent missionaries out throughout the rest of Europe.

 

After Patrick died and within a century later from the strong church in Ireland was sent forth one of the men who was related to the king who had the name of Columba. He was a string-headed young man and at one time got into a disagreement with his cousin who was the king of Ireland, and he raised his own army in northern Ireland and attacked and defeated the king. He felt so guilty afterward (he was a priest) because of the loss of so many lives in that battle that he decided to become a missionary and try to save as many souls as had been killed in the battle. He left with some of those he had trained to a small island called Iona. There he established a monastery that was well known for the next 150 years because they sent missionaries throughout the northern part of England. They sent missionaries down into Britain and they eventually clashed with Roman missionaries coming up from Rome. Eventually Roman theology won over Celtic theology and the British Isles became Roman.

 

Two missionaries were sent forth from the Celtic area. A man named Willibrord went to the Dutch and another man by the name of Boniface who worked with Willibrord for a while among the Frizians and then went to Saxons in Germany where he had a very difficult time. But he was a very bold and courageous man. They worshipped a number of different nature gods. What Boniface did was come with an axe to a huge tree that they worshipped and he chopped it down.  They all thought he would die immediately, and he didn't. So he chopped up the tree and took all the lumber from the tree and built a church. That was the first church among the Germans. Boniface is considered the apostle to the Germans. He is also important during this time because he came back, and Charles Martell is now the king, and Charles Martell's son, Pepin the Short, is now the king of the Franks. When Charles Martell died Pepin the Short was crowned king of the Franks by Boniface. This was important because due to this the church was assuming more and more power, empirical power over the rulers, of the state, and they began to see this terrible idea of the church ruling over the state.

 

Through all of these missionaries the church expands and grows, and through this time more controversies developed. The first was the Philiotes controversy. In one of the ancient creeds is the statement: "We believe in God the Father, the Holy Spirit and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father." At the Synod of Toledo they wanted to add the phrase that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son. The eastern church had a view of the truth that once you wrote it, it could never be changed again. They almost elevated it to the position of Scripture. The eastern church became so upset by the addition of this clause at the Synod of Toledo that it was one of the major reasons that there was a split between the east and the west. That would eventually come about in the tenth century, at which time the Roman pope excommunicated the patriarch in Constantinople who returned the favor and excommunicated the pope in Rome. To this day both churches have excommunicated each other. This was a period of decline within the western church. 

 

Then there was a period of resurgence and the Roman church grew. During this time as the Roman church grows they incorporate the northern European countries and send missionaries up into the north. One of the motives of the Vikings was to send out the gospel. They sent out colonists to Greenland and to Iceland, among whom were Eric the Red and his son Lief Ericsson. When Lief Ericsson came back to Scandinavia he met a German warrior who had a red cloth painted on his tunic. He asked him what the significance of the cloth was and the German soldier witnessed to him and told him the gospel, then led Ericsson to the Lord. Ericsson then returned with troops to Iceland and established a church. He led many people to the Lord there in Iceland and then left to go to North America where they tried to establish a colony, but it never really took root at that time.

 

During this period of the development of Rome its political power increased. The investiture struggle was whether the king received his power from the church or on his own. Finally the pope gets the power to invest and he is all ready to invest bishops, and there was an authority difference between the pope and the state. The state finally gets a little more authority during this time but the state is not allowed to get to appoint or give any power to bishops. That was reserved for the pope.

 

The next point is the division of the church. This is where they lose a lot over issues like when Easter should be observed, the whole issue of papal authority, the Philiotes clause as well as celibacy. In the eastern church pastors were to be married but bishops were to be celibate. Because of these differences the east split from the west in 1054, and then the high point is under Innocent III. The first thing that took place during their increase of power was the crusades, which were horrendous. Their desire was to win back militarily the Middle East. Many Europeans were making pilgrimages. They got special forgiveness from God if they went to the Holy Land and visited the place where Christ was crucified and the empty tomb, and there were being taken captive and murdered and robbed along the way by the Muslims. So the pope called for a crusade against the Muslims to take back Jerusalem. That began about 1071. There were really eight crusades, each of them is more tragic than the previous one, and some of them never got anywhere. In one of them they ended up not even making it to the Middle East because they captured Constantinople. By doing so they weakened the defenses of Constantinople and for about 100 years the Muslims were able to defeat and take Constantinople. The worst of the crusades was the children's crusade where they thought that the spiritual influence of children would easily give them the power to run the Muslims out of the Middle East. So like the Pied Piper they went throughout Europe calling for children to come with them on this wonderful crusade and that God's power would go before them like it went before the Egyptians at the parting of the Red Sea. They marched down to the toe of the boot of Italy and the Mediterranean didn't split. So they finally hired some ships to take them across the Mediterranean. They fell in with thieves who took the children, loaded them on the boat and took them to Egypt and sold them all into slavery in North Africa.

 

Then there was the rise of scholasticism. This was the development of monasteries in Rome. They become the seats of learning. They were the only place where there were books. From the monasteries many went out to teach into the local schools associated with the cathedrals. Those cathedral schools eventually became major centers of learning which then developed into universities. As the Muslims were invading from Turkey the Greeks were leaving and taking with them many ancient manuscripts that had been lost. Europeans had no knowledge of them for centuries. They brought with them ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, of Plato and Aristotle, and there was a resurgence of learning and knowledge in the west.

 

Two people of note during this time were Anselm, the first person to really set forth a theology of the substitutionary view of the atonement. In Anselm's view God is righteous, sin is man's problem; man needs a substitute to die in his place, and that is why Christ died, to pay a penalty—not to ransom man from Satan but to pay the penalty for man.

 

The next great figure in this period was Abelard. He is really important for a number of reasons. Because of his teaching methods in the cathedral schools it was really Abelard that is the founding father of the whole university system. He instituted a whole system of dialectic and question and answer in the classroom. He is also known for the love side in his life. He fell in love with the daughter of a man he was tutoring. She became pregnant. The uncle got mad at Abelard because of that and with some of his men went after him and emasculated him. Abelard then went into a monastery and had no more love interest after that. He is best known because he said that man's need was more a moral impetus; he wasn't a sinner, he just needed a moral push. So Christ died just as a good example. So Abelard introduces the example view of Christ's death.

 

The other important movements at this time were the rise of monasticism, the rise of the various orders within the Roman Catholic church—the Dominicans, the Farnciscans, the Augustinians; these are their missionaries, teachers that go out; all beggars. From them an education system was established throughout Europe. All of this brings the Roman church to the pinnacle of its power during the twelfth century. Then things began to decline. It was almost a tragedy as the nations and the kings, especially in France, wanted to keep their power over the pope. They kidnapped the pope and for seventy years the pope had to live in France. The papacy was under the power of the French king. To try to come out of that they tried to appoint another pope who was not influenced by the French. Now there were two popes, and they both had the keys to the kingdom! This went on for several years and then they said neither of these were popes and they appointed a third one. But the two they wanted to resign so they ended up with three popes. Finally they were able to fire all the popes and they instituted the college of cardinals which appointed another pope and tried to bring some order into this collapse that had occurred within the church.

 

Ultimately and theologically what we find here in this time, in summary, is that man is viewed as a sinner but he could help God. He does not have a defect; he is simply sick, not dead. So man works with God, there is cooperating grace. Thomas Aquinas taught that life began at birth, it didn't begin at conception. This is known as creationism. The soul is imputed to the new-born baby at the time of birth. In his writings Aquinas said: "It is [can't hear the word used] to believe that the material introduced the immaterial, that the mortal introduced the immortal. How can the physical produce a soul or a spirit?" In spite of Aquinas's reasoning for that the Roman Catholic church has rejected his views on that particular point. But Aquinas taught that the church imparts grace, you are only saved in the church, and that submission to the pope is necessary for salvation. After you are saved, if you sin, you must perform penance and also buy indulgences for people who have already died.