Dividing Eastern and Western Christianity is Not Patristic

Today we Christians often think of Christianity as “Eastern or Western” and assume that it’s always been that way. Nope. Not really.

In the first 900 years of Christianity, over 50 Popes were Greek. Greeks and Latins criss-crossed freely. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (modern France) was Greek. Saint Theodore of Canterbury (England) was Greek.

After Gregory the Great (d. 604), every single Pope for the next 200 years was Greek. These were native Greek speaking Popes celebrating Latin liturgy in Rome.

Even the Pope that crowned Charlemagne (Saint Leo III) was Greek.

Art, hagiography, architecture, liturgy, chant, music, monasticism – all of it was criss-crossing back and forth between East and West. Christianity was Christianity.

It wasn’t until the 1000s and then especially in the 1200s that the cross-pollination ceased.

If the Eastern Orthodox returned to full union with Rome, I would suspect that after many decades, there could be Greek Popes again and that art, theology, liturgy, etc. would continue to cross-pollinate. It’s natural. It’s normal. It’s healthy for Christians everywhere.

In a future post, I will explore the tradition of loooong interregnums between Popes.

11 Unusual Facts about Constantine the First Christian Roman Emperor

Constantine gets a bad rap. He’s Saint Constantine in the Eastern Churches, but just plain ol’ “Constantine” in the West. Is he an apostolic saint or an opportunistic sinner?

In the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on Constantine. I’ve taught a course three times in Rome called “History and Theology of Rome,” which touches on Constantine and his legacy. I’ve written a book The Eternal City which also explores his impact on Christianity (I was much more pessimistic about him in the book than I am now). Moreover, Constantine is a major literary character in my historical fiction Trilogy: Sword and Serpent: Trilogy.

[PS: Book III in the Sword and Serpent Trilogy is now complete and in the final editing stages – and young Constantine heavily present in the final novel.]

Since we live in times of political and ecclesiastical ambiguity, here are 11 facts about Constantine to help you see that God can use imperfect politicians (and imperfect bishops) to bring about great good:

  1. He was divorced and remarried. His first wife was Minervina, and he divorced her to marry his second wife was Fausta.
  2. Constantine killed his second wife. In AD 326, he had his first son Crispus (from his first marriage) killed. He also had his second wife Fausta killed. Both names were removed from public documentation. After Constantine had his second wife killed, he never married again until his death at age 65. (It was rumored that his son Crispus had an affair with his stepmother Fausta and that this revelation and their ordered deaths haunted Constantine to the grave.)
  3. During his early life, the Roman Empire was divided into a Tetrarchy of four emperors: two senior emperors with the title “Augustus” and two junior emperors with the title “Caesar.” Constantine’s father Constantius was the “junior emperor” or “Caesar” of the Western half of the Empire.
  4. Constantine spent his early life held captive in the East (away from his father in the West) by the senior emperor Augustus Diocletian (a great persecutor of Christians). Constantine escaped the Eastern emperors by night and fled to his father. It is said that he hamstrung every horse along the way so that he would not be caught! Constantine joined his father Constantius in York in Britain. His father died in 306 and his son Constantine was acclaimed “Augustus” or senior emperor of the Western Roman Empire by his soldiers.
  5. But Constantine needed to prove his title. Before defeating Maxentius in AD 312, Constantine saw the cross in the sky above the sun with the words “in touto nika” or,  “In this sign, conquer.” Lactantius (who tutored his sons) says Constantine was instructed to conquer under the sign of the cross during a dream. Eusebius records that it happened during the day at noon and that all the troops saw it. Either way, Constantine is said to have placed the sign of the cross or a Chi Rho on the shields of his men. Scholar Peter Weiss suggests the public “sun miracle” happened in Gaul in AD 310 and the dream happened in AD 312 before the Battle at the Milvian Bridge. That in AD 310, Constantine began to shift to monotheism based on “Sol Invictus” and that by AD 312, this monotheism had become (or was becoming) Christian monotheism.
  6. Constantine legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan in AD 313, but he began to remove pagan symbols from imperial coins beginning around the year AD 318. He gave the Lateran Palace to the bishop of Rome in AD 324. His conversion seems gradual and is in full display after about 10-12 years of rule.
  7. Constantine didn’t likely convert for political reasons as most high school history teachers will tell you. The demographics were against him. It is estimated that in AD 312, Christians composed only 10-15% of the Roman Empire’s population and fell into the lowest levels of education, wealth, and political power. The influence, wealth, and political power were still held by those checking the box labeled: “Jupiter, et al. Give me that old school Roman religion.”
  8. In AD 325, he called the first Catholic and Ecumenical Council of Nicea, which condemned the heresy of Arius falsely teaching that the Son of God was created and not eternally begotten of the Father.
  9. Constantine left three living sons (each born from Fausta):
    Constantine II (Catholic and anti-Arian). The first born.
    Constantius II (Semi-Arian). The most powerful and through his influence, Semi-Arian theology spread.
    Constans (Catholic and anti-Arian and anti-Donatist). Constans was rumored to be a man of unnatural vices.
  10. Constantine did not divide the Roman Empire into “East and West.” That had already been accomplished fully by Diocletian. Constantine, in a sense, re-united the entire Roman Empire under himself as one household or oecoumenos.
  11. Constantine fell ill and personally selected the Semi-Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia to baptize him just days before his death. He died on Pentecost AD 337.

Whatever your opinion of Constantine, it’s a historical fact that Christianity was spread to more souls by Constantine than by Saint Paul himself. This is why the Eastern Churches hail him as the “Thirteenth Apostle.” I’ll admit that this title is overly ambitious, but my opinion is that he was genuinely apostolic despite him being obviously imperfect.

Depending on your perspective: pray for Constantine’s soul or ask him to pray for you!

Catholic Theology Video: St Justin Martyr and His Heretic Disciple Tatian

I recently fielded a question about rigorist Christians (even Catholics) who believe that Adam and Eve would have never had physical marital relations had it not been for original sin.

This belief goes back to the heretical Encratites. The Encratites were a rigorist Christian sect that condemned not only sexual relations within Christian marriage (that is, that said that even married people must abstain after baptism), but they also condemned the consumption of alcohol – even omitting wine in the Eucharistic liturgy.

This latter point is ironic since Jesus turned water into wine at a marriage.

Perhaps the most infamous Encratite was Tatian – the disciple of Saint Justin Martyr. This proves that even the greatest theologians and teachers can have disciples that become heretics!

So since today is the feast of Saint Justin Martyr, here is a free Catholic Church History lesson from the New Saint Thomas Institute:

Catholic Course on Saint Justin Martyr and Tatian the Heretic:

If you’d like to join thousands of other online students, and take online classes in Catholic history, theology, apologetics, philosophy, Church Councils, Christology, Mariology, etc. please sign up and begin one of our curricula at the New Saint Thomas Institute.

124: Heretic Nestorius: Is Mary Mother of God? Are there 2 Christs? [Podcast]

My goal this week is to introduce to 6 of the world’s greatest heretics and how we can avoid their heresies and errors for our time. Today we study Nestorius – the man who denied the unity of Christ and denied that Mary is the Mother of God. Join Dr Marshall for this fascinating episode of heresy in Catholic history:

The image above depicts Nestorius. Note the x on his mitre – this signifies that he is a heretical bishop.

124: Heretic Nestorius: Is Mary Mother of God? Are there 2 Christs? [Podcast]

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The Horrific Dream of the Wife of Pontius Pilate (about the Nicene Creed)

Let’s examine at the tradition of Pontius Pilate’s wife and the horrific dream that she had in Matthew 27 and how it relates to the Apostles and Nicene Creed.

St Claudia Pontius Pilate

In our New Saint Thomas Institute Catholic Church History series on the Arian Heresy Controversy and the Council of Constantinople, our student Alicia asks:

Is there a reason why the name of Pontius Pilate was included in the second creed?

Pontius Pilate’s name is in the Creeds because it anchors the life of Christ into human history, specifically Roman history. If you interested in the redemptive meaning of Rome, the Roman Pontius Pilate, and the Roman cross of execution in the redemption of man by a Jewish Messiah, please see my book The Eternal City: Rome and the Origins of Catholicism. 

There is a “tradition” that Pontius Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula had a dream of billions of people chanting “sub Pontio Pilato” over and over and over.

What she was hearing was the billions of Christians who recite “He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.”

Most woman would be honored to know that their husband’s name would be on the lips of billions over a period of 20 centuries. But in the case of this Prefect of Judaea, it is the notorious reputation of being the remote efficient cause of Christ’s crucifixion.

The dream of “Claudia” is referred to in Matthew 27:19:

While Pilate was sitting in the judgment hall, his wife sent him a message: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, because in a dream last night, I suffered much on account of him.”

If the tradition is true, she dreamed of the countless recitations and liturgical chants of “under Pontius Pilate.”

Origen is the first to mention that she converted to Christianity. She is a saint. In art, she is depicted as whispering into the ear of Pontius. Mel Gibson’s Passion depicts Claudia giving linens to the Blessed Mother to collect the Blood of Christ from the scourging.

St Claudia cloths to Mary

Saint Claudia, pray for us.

If you’d like to take our courses on Historical Theology, the Creeds, the Councils, and Catholic Tradition, please sign up with us at newsaintthomas.com.

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Martyred by Freezing to Death: 40 Martyrs of Sebaste

The glorious catalogue of the martyrs of Christ retell their macabre deaths as being roasted, boiled, decapitated, crucified, starved, strangled, and hung-draw-quartered.

Today’s saints received the crown of martyrdom through the pain of ice. Dante places punishment by cold and ice at the bottom of hell. He perceived it as the worst punishment, and he even describes Satan as frozen at the waist inside a block of ice, as in the illustration below:

Dante's Lucifer Frozen in Ice taylor marshall

The earliest account of the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste is found in a sermon  by Saint Basil of Caesarea (370–379). They were 40 Roman soldiers in AD 320 who refused to renounce Christ. They were stripped naked and tied down to a frozen lake near Sebaste (present-day Sivas in Turkey). They were instructed that if they renounced Christ, they would be freed and taken to a hot bath nearby in order to recover.

Consider for a moment, the feeling of your skin and body being overtaken by frost bite. All you need to say is, “I reject and renounce Jesus Christ,” and you’d be sitting in a warm hot tub.

The 40 soldiers persevered until one man relented. He renounced Christ and was taken to the hot baths to warm up, leaving 39 soldiers on the ice. However, one of the guards watching the 39 was allowed to see the supernatural glory resting on these 39 confessors of Christ. Desiring to receive that same glory, he stripped naked and joined them on the ice, thereby restoring the number to 40.

The traditional icon of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste always shows the apostate running away into warm bathhouse, while another man removes his clothes to join the 39. See the icon image below:

40 martyrs of sebaste

In the morning, the stiff bodies (some were still alive) were cast into fires and their bodies burned. The faithful collected their ashes as relics.

The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste were popular in the East and they symbolized for monastics the tight bond of brothers in co-suffering for Christ.

The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste Today: Iron Sharpening Iron

Proverbs 27:17 reads, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” These men were each blessed to know at least 30 friends who were willing to die for Christ. Every Christian suffers. How much sweeter it would be if we had friends with which to suffer. Pray for faithful and holy friends. Nobody goes to heaven alone. Nobody goes to hell alone. We travel as pilgrims in a collection. If you need advice or help on finding solid Catholic friends, please consider listening to this podcast I recorded: Finding Friends Like Samwise Gamgee.

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Give Up Heresy for Lent says Pope Saint Leo the Great

In order to prepare for Lent, I was looking at the Lenten sermons of Pope Saint Leo the Great (died AD 461).

In his Sermon 46 on Lent, he exhorts the faithful to fast from food and luxury and vain thoughts. And then he goes further and exhorts them to give up heresy for Lent:

For the mind then only keeps holy and spiritual fast when it rejects the food of error and the poison of falsehood, which our crafty and wily foe plies us with more treacherously now, when by the very return of the venerable Festival, the whole church generally is admonished to understand the mysteries of its salvation.

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What’s the historical background here? Pope Saint Leo the Great was battling a heresy called Monophystism in the Eastern Church that falsely taught that Christ’s human nature was absorbed or mixed into His divine nature so that Christ only had a single (mono) divine nature (physis). The human nature was no longer there. This essentially means that Christ is no longer human but only divine.

[To learn more about these ancient heresies and how the Popes and bishops refuted them, please explore the New Saint Thomas Institute’s Online Video Classes on Church Fathers and Catholic Ecumenical Councils by clicking here.]

These heretics were backed by the Emperor, the political strongholds of the time, and by the Patriarch of Alexandria. It was a time of schism, infighting amongst bishops, and confusion among the laity. The temptation for Pope Leo and others was to compromise the Catholic Faith in order to keep the Empire and the Church united under a false theology. This Pope Leo refused to do. He called a council (Chalcedon in AD 451) and issued his orthodox “Tome of Leo” which explained how Christ’s divine nature and human nature were united in His one divine Person or in Greek, His divine hypostasis.

Pope Saint Leo labored to defend and explain the Truth because the truth sets us free from sadness, error, and sin. In order to live right, we need right morals and right thinking (which is one reason why the Catholic Tradition is rich in education and in the establishment of schools and universities.) 

Christ our Lord and Savior taught that it was not food or drink entering the mouth that justifies or condemns a man, but rather the thoughts and words that come from his mouth (Matthew 15:16-20). We need to habituate right thinking.

The Greek word for “orthodox” is ὀρθοδοξία (orthodoxia) and it literally means “straight thoughts.” Similarly, an orthodontist provides you with “straight teeth,” and an orthopedic doctors are those that originally made sure that children (pedi-) developed straight (ortho-) bodies. Let’s go to the Doctors of the Church and acquire “straight thoughts” regarding God, salvation, and morality.

Giving Up Sinful Thoughts Against Morals and Against Faith

We often think of sinful thoughts as angry thoughts, lustful thoughts, and covetous thoughts. These are the kind of thoughts that we so often confess in the confessional. These are our thoughts against Catholic morals.

However, we might also serious thoughts against Catholic faith. We may even be repeatedly tempted to entertain these thoughts. This is what Pope Saint Leo warns us about in particular in his Sermon 46.

How do we combat these thoughts against faith and doctrine? Saint Leo provides the answer by exhorting us “to understand the mysteries of its salvation.” We must labor to understand the beautiful mysteries that Christ left for us within His Church.

Here are three ways that we can begin to grow in “understand[ing] the mysteries of salvation.”

  1. Read the New Testament daily:
    Read 1-3 chapter(s) every morning. The Catholic Church holds that Sacred Scripture is “the very soul of sacred theology” (Dei Verbum 24). Moreover, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” (Saint Jereome). And Pope Benedict XVI taught that “the normative theologians are the authors of Holy Scripture.” And if you’ve never read the New Testament, it’s time to read the whole thing. Lent is a perfect time to establish this goal. Right theology begins with a knowledge of the New Testament.
  2. Read books by the Saints:
    People ask me all the time about the best and latest books on theology. My rule of thumb is if you haven’t read the top ten classic works of Catholic Patristic Theology and the Summa theologiae, you probably shouldn’t be reading new theology. Build a foundation first. Here are some recommendations (most these books are under 200 pages):
    1. St Augustine Confessions
    2. St Athanasius On the Incarnation
    3. St Basil On the Holy Spirit
    4. St John Damascus Three Books on the Divine Images
    5. St Ignatius of Antioch Epistles
    6. St John Chrysostom On Marriage and Family Life
    7. St Cyril of Alexandria On the Unity of Christ
    8. St John Chrysostom On the Priesthood
    9. St Gregory Nazianzus Sermons and Letters
    10. St Leo the Great Letters and Sermons
  3. Take a theology class or course:
    Enroll in a theological class at your parish, at a trusted university, or somewhere else. Here’s a sample class from the New Saint Thomas Institute on Pope Saint Leo the Great in 10 Points. I hope you will be encouraged and filled with hope as you discover the Pope to be given the title “the Great.” We all need to foster a devotion to this great theologian and Pope: Saint Leo the Great.You’re always invited to watch video lessons on Philosophy, Historical Theology, etc:

Have a happy and holy Lent!

Pope Saint Leo the Great, pray for us!

Godspeed,
Taylor Marshall

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Is there literal physical fire in Purgatory? Video and Thomas Aquinas

The Eastern Orthodox often reject the Latin doctrine of Purgatory based on the Latin tradition of “physical fire” purifying souls in purgatory.

The Latin phrase used by Thomas Aquinas and others is “corporal fire.” For example:

I answer that, In Purgatory there will be a twofold pain; one will be the pain of loss, namely the delay of the divine vision, and the pain of sense, namely punishment by corporeal fire. (STh Supp. App I. q. 2, a. 5)

The Latin is ignis corporalis. The “corporeal fire” of Purgatory is one of the doctrines that the Greek Orthodox objected to during the Second Council of Lyons (1274). Saint Thomas Aquinas was discharged to defend the doctrine at this council, but he died on the way. Saint Bonaventure was sent in his stead (and Bonaventure died at the end of Council).

I very rarely disagree with Saint Thomas Aquinas, but I do disagree here – but I will offer a Benedict XVI suggestion that might provide a unique solution.

How can “corporeal fire” purify an immaterial non-corporeal soul in Purgatory? This is a metaphysical problem. You cold corporeal fire under an immaterial soul all day long and it would not touch the soul. And yet Thomas is insistent on the fire of Purgatory (and Gehenna) as corporeal.

Pope Benedict, in his Encyclical Spe Salvi, writes:

Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves (Pope Benedict, Spe Salvi 47).

This goes along with the teaching of Moses that “the Lord your God is a consuming fire” (Deut 4:24). If Christ Himself is the purifying fire, then here’s the twist: Christ is corporeal! He is resurrected. So a Christian might in fact say that the fire of purgatory is “corporeal” if in fact we are referencing the resurrected corpus Christi.

burning bush icon

Is the particular judgment when we stand face to face with the resurrected Christ the burning fire of love that hurts, burns, cleanses, and restores the soul alive with sanctifying grace but lacking full sanctification at death. I think so.

I think all of this can be held along with holding (as do I) that Purgatory is “located” not in Heaven with the Beatific Vision but in the Infernus or Sheol.

Here’s my video on Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Four Regions of Hell:

Question: Comments are open. Please share your thoughts. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The Pope That Rejected Christ: Pope Marcellinus

According to legend, Saint Marcellinus was like Saint Peter in three ways:

  1. He was a Pope
  2. He denied Christ publicly
  3. He repented and died a martyr’s death
Pope Marcellinus offering incense with Saint Peter behind him.

Pope Marcellinus offering incense with Saint Peter behind him.

Lets take a look at his life:

  • The Liber Pontificalis records that during Diocletian’s persecution (AD 303) Marcellinus was captured and commanded to offer incense to the Roman idols.
  • Fearful of death, he scattered incense to the false gods.
  • Remorseful after a few days, he confessed his faith of Christ.
  • He was captured again, stayed true to Christ and received martyrdom.
  • Marcellinus was buried on 26 April 304 in the cemetery of Priscilla, on the Via Salaria, 25 days after his martyrdom.

These details are hotly debated. For example, Saint Augustine of Hippo (died AD 430) denies that Pope Marcellinus offered incense to idols – although he knows of the story and the accusation (see St Augustine, Against Petilian 2.202). The Church Historian Eusebius does not mention it at all.

However, scholars have noted that the pontificate of “Marcellinus” is notably omitted in the Roman “Chronograph” of AD 336. He had undoubtedly been the bishop of Rome, so this absence on the list reveals some doubt about his status as Bishop of Rome.

I wish that we had a way to know the truth of the matter.

I incorporated Pope Marcellinus into my best-selling historical fiction novel: Sword and Serpent: A Historical Retelling of Saint George and the Dragon. The novel features Saint George visiting Pope Marcellinus hiding in a cavern-like catacomb and receiving a sword from him (which will eventually become the sword of King Arthur). The novel has received great reviews and a shining endorsement from Father Dwight Longenecker. I hope you enjoy it. You can get a copy on amazon.com (or check out the 340 reviews) by clicking here.

sword and serpent look inside

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I am not worthy to untie his shoe-latchet, according to Origen

I continue to read and study Origen and I was recently impressed with his spiritual interpretation of the words of Saint John the Baptist regarding Christ:

john-the-baptist

“I baptize with water, but in the midst of you stands one whom you know not, even He who comes after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose.” (Jn 1:26)

According to Origen, John the Baptist is here confessing his amazement over the incarnation of the Divine Logos. Origen interprets:

…he goes on: The latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose. By which he conveys, as in a riddle, that he is not fit to solve and to explain the argument about Christ’s assuming a human body, an argument tied up and hidden (like a shoe-tie) to those who do not understand it—so as to say anything worthy of such an advent, compressed, as it was, into so short a space. (Origen, Commentary on John, Book 6, Ch. 15)

If you’d like to take my online class on Origen and see my full online Church History Certificate syllabus, please click here and explore Module 4.

Origen holds that John the Baptist indicates that he can cannot untie the mysterious knot that the Logos can possess a physical body by which to fill a shoe or sandal.

How wonderful and mysterious that the eternal Son of God became man? He came not only to wear a simple shoe on his incarnate foot, but also to receive the cleansing baptism of water in the Jordan River upon his anointed body. And even more to die on a cross and rise again.

John the Baptist is stunned. It is as if John the Baptist might say: “Look guys. I’m the last prophet of the Old Testament and I’m not worthy to untie the mystery of His incarnation. I’ll leave that the next seven Ecumenical Councils to untie over time.

If you’d like to take my online classes on the Ecumenical Councils and their theology and see my full online Church History Certificate syllabus, please click here and explore Module 6 “Christology Controversy“.

While Origen is not a saint and not a doctor of the Church (and has some theological oddities), his exegesis is fascinating and helpful. Even in something in small as the shoe-latchet saying of John, he has something beautiful to draw out. As we say in Texas: That’ll preach.

Godspeed,
Taylor Marshall