Christianity just after the Council of Nicaea and the Donation of Constantine was a rather multifaceted, for the lack of a better word, religion, even more so than it is today. Christianity existed in north Africa, Asia minor, the Middle-East, and of course in Western Europe. It had not yet spread to the Slavic countries. There were basically three major branches of Christianity in the fourth century: what we now call Roman Catholicism, what we now call Coptic Christianity in North Africa, and what can best be described as a Jewish form of Christianity in the Middle East.
With the Donation of Constantine, giving the Western form of Christianity legal status and a bit later making it the official religion of the Roman empire, at least the Western portion of the Empire, there was a push on the part of the powers that be to standardize Christianity in terms of what it believed, what it taught, and what it preached. That was the purpose of the Nicene Creed: to start this process of standardization. Much of the bureaucratic standardization of Western Christianity followed the model of the Roman bureaucracy. That meant the centralization of power and authority in the Bishop of Rome as Pope and the local bishops gained a great deal of authority, especially in matters of faith and practice. Since the bishops were generally appointed by the Roman authority and/or the Pope, the bishops tended to support the power of the central bureaucracy. Any resistance to this bureaucracy was most often branded as heresy, even if there was no real heretical belief system fueling the resistance to the bureaucracy. The church used the full power of the Roman authority, especially the Roman army, to stamp out any form of heresy, real or imagined. This led many of the heretics in the West, such as Pelagius, to flee to the Middle East or to north Africa. That is why so many of the Gnostic and other heretical books are found in archaeological sites in North Africa and the Middle East. There seems to have been a concerted effort in the West to destroy any evidence of the diversity of Christian belief that was branded as heresy. The only evidence we have of these heresies is what is presented by the early Christian apologists such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Augustine.
The orthodoxy taught and preach by the apologists like Augustine especially were heavily influenced by Neo Platonist philosophy, a dualistic worldview that really is alien to the teachings of Jesus. Remember that Jesus was first and foremost a Jew, and early Judaism was not dualistic, but rather monistic. The first Christian writer to start converting Christianity to a dualistic worldview was St. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. No surprise there since Paul, according to Christian tradition, was at least half Greek and half-Jew. I am inclined to think that he was more Greek than Jew, and perhaps even Paul was to people rather than one. More on this in a future post.

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