- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; First edition (July 10, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156013150
- ISBN-13: 978-0156013154
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 207 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #337,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome First Edition
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"A splendidly dramatic story . . . Rubenstein has turned one of the great fights of history into an engrossing story."-Jack Miles, The Boston Globe; author of God: A Biography
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“If in this city you ask a shopkeeper for change,” he complained, “he will argue with you about whether the Son is begotten or unbegotten. If you inquire about the quality of bread, the baker will answer, ‘The Father is greater, the Son is less.’ And if you ask the bath attendant to draw your bath, he will tell you that the Son was created ex nihilo [out of nothing].” (6)
Key issue - Son created or eternal?
“Gregory’s wry comment is fascinating both for what it says and what it implies. It suggests that ordinary tradespeople and workers felt perfectly competent—perhaps even driven—to debate abstract theological issues and to arrive at their own conclusions.’’ (6)
This seems. . .different to the modern ear. Analysis, meditation, careful reasoning - what a thought!
“It reveals that disputes among Christians, specifically arguments about the relationship of Jesus Christ the Son to God the Father, had become as intense as the centuries-old conflict between Christians and pagans.’’ (6)
“And it implies that Arianism, which orthodox Christians now consider the archetypal heresy, was once at least as popular as the doctrine that Jesus is God.’’ (6)
“Gregory’s shopkeeper questions whether Jesus Christ is “begotten or unbegotten”—that is, whether he is a creation of God or the Creator Himself. The bath attendant says that he was created “from nothing,” meaning that he was brought into existence like the rest of God’s creatures. And the baker asserts that Christ is separate from and lesser than God. All these are Arian positions, so called because they were developed in sharpest form by an Alexandrian priest named Arius. The ill-fated George was also an Arian: one who believed that Jesus Christ was, indeed, the holiest person who ever lived, but not the Eternal God of Israel walking the earth in the form of a man.’’ (6)
Rubenstein writing as a historian, not a theologian. Hence, although explaining the doctrinal, Biblical, religious ideas carefully and clearly, most of the focus is the political, personal, military, economic influences.
Arias and his fundamental arguments likewise are drawn quickly but throughly. For example. . .
“Was Christ, then, to be considered human? In one sense, the answer was yes. Jesus of Nazareth was a real man, not some divine apparition or mask of God. But his moral genius and the importance of his mission raised him high above even the greatest prophets. The Savior was sui generis. Many Arians believed that the Eternal had somehow conceived him (or conceived of him) before time began, and used him as an instrument to create the rest of the universe.’’
Jesus vital in god’s purpose. Nevertheless. . .
“Even so, they insisted, he could not possibly be God Himself. How could an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good Creator experience temptation, learn wisdom, and grow in virtue? How could he suffer on the Cross and die the death of a human being? Surely, when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” he was not talking to himself! When he admitted that nobody knows the day and hour of Judgment, “not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only,” he was not just being modest. And when he told his disciples that “the Father is greater than I,” he meant exactly what he said. (6)
This presentation is countered with clear explanation offered by Athanasius. . .
“Yet he had to be both fully human and fully divine, argued Athanasius. Could the death of a mere human being redeem our sins, grant us immortality, and, eventually, resurrect our physical bodies? Of course not! But could Omnipotent God, the Beginning and the End, suffer for our sake without becoming human? The answer was equally plain. Therefore, whether or not it seemed “reasonable” to people schooled in Greek philosophy, Jesus Christ was both true man and true God. Hosius would surely have found this exposition convincing. His people—the people of western Europe—would not accept a Jesus who was too much like them. They knew they were feeble sinners, struggling to survive in a hostile environment. The Christ they wanted and needed was a High God who could save them by His grace and comfort them through the ministrations of His Church.’’
This was one objection. In fact, many Christians still accept this. There was another. . .
“In fact, Arian theology implicitly reduced the role of the institutional Church. If Jesus’ life and character were supposed to serve ordinary Christians as a usable model of behavior, the principal mission of the clergy would be to help people transform themselves, not maintain theological and political unity throughout the empire. This was another reason Constantine would probably favor the doctrine of Alexander and Athanasius. The Church he needed was one that would help him keep order among ordinary folk: people who would never become immortal unless God decided for reasons of His own to save them.’’ (62)
Desire for power, control, authority, was probably decisive.
An Incident in Alexandria
The Silence of Apollo
A Quarrel in God’s House
The Great and Holy Council
Sins of the Body, Passions of the Mind
The Broken Chalice
Death in Constantinople
East against West
The Arian Empire
Old Gods and New
When Jesus Became God
Rubenstein’s sociological foundation shows here . . .
“One underlying question was this: To what extent were the values and customs of the ancient world still valid guides to thinking and action in a Christian empire? Some Christians, among them Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia, had a stronger sense of historical continuity than others. Those whose ideas and social relationships were still shaped to a large extent by the optimistic ideals and tolerant practices of pagan society, and for whom Christianity seemed a natural extension of and improvement on Judaism, tended to be Arians of one sort or another.’’ (73)
‘Christianity as extension of Judaism’ is obvious. Jesus was a Jew!
“By contrast, the strongest anti-Arians experienced their present as a sharp break with the past. It was they who demanded, in effect, that Christianity be “updated” by blurring or even obliterating the long-accepted distinction between the Father and the Son.’’
‘Update Jesus!’ What???
“From the perspective of our own time, it may seem strange to think of Arian “heretics” as conservatives, but emphasizing Jesus’ humanity and God’s transcendent otherness had never seemed heretical in the East. On the contrary, subordinating the Son to the Father was a rational way of maintaining one’s belief in a largely unknowable, utterly singular First Cause while picturing Christ as a usable model of human moral development. For young militants like Athanasius, however, ancient modes of thought and cultural values were increasingly irrelevant. Greek humanism and rationalism were shallow; Judaism was an offensive, anti-Christian faith.’’ (73)
The key issue, the decisive idea, was to turn eyes away from the human messiah. Why? Focusing on a mystery, an incomprehensible puzzle, left priests and the church to intercede. Power is good, more is better.
Along with the exposition of the ideas, Rubenstein devotes many pages to analysis of the personalities. Constantine, Arius, Athanasius, Eusebius, etc.,etc.. Outstanding!
Includes a list at the end. Lists about forty names. Excellent!
Two-hundred fifty nine notes. One map. No photographs. Eleven page index (links worked great).
About the author -
“RIchard E. Rubenstein is professor of conflict resolution and public affairs at George Mason University and an expert on religious conflict. A graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, he was a Rhodes Scholar and studied at Oxford University.’’
For those looking for a detailed account of what happened at the Council of Nicea, you'll likely be disappointed as the council itself is covered rather briskly. However, the events leading up to the council are covered in great detail. For those who believe that Nicea ended the controversy over Arianism, you'll discover that it really was one event, however momentous, in a very long battle that culminates with the concept of the Trinity.
I only graded this book down one star because the "new" book that was sent to me had been heavily thumbed through.