The first ecumenical Council was called by the Emperor Constantine the Great in 325 A.D. this counsel was the first attempt by all of Christendom to achieve some semblance of unity of doctrine throughout the Roman Empire. In toto, there were seven ecumenical councils. We are not going to discuss all seven. Rather we are going to focus on the first three: Nicaea, Ephesus and Chalcedon. In my opinion, it is these three councils that put Christianity firmly on the road of heresy, although the Church fathers claimed these councils established the true doctrine as preached by Jesus Christ.
We will look at all three in separate posts, doing them in historical order. In our discussions, we will look at the most important decisions made at each of these three councils and relate them to what Jesus actually believed and preached. We will use a number of sources, including but not limited to the canonical Scriptures. It was the Council of Nicaea that established the first canon of Christian Scripture. The Council of Nicaea was in 325 A.D, almost 300 years after the crucifixion. I think it’s safe to say that there were no eyewitnesses to what Jesus did and said present at the Council of Nicaea or any counsel after that. The question then becomes: how did the bishops present at the Council of Nicaea decide what Gospels and letters were authentic and which were heretical? That is a question we will address in the next post, the one on the Council of Nicaea.
As we shall see in our discussions, Christianity, even in the fourth century, was quite diverse in its practices and “doctrines.” There were serious disagreements between the Latin church, the Greek church, the Coptic (North African) church and the Oriental church. These differences led to several major schisms in the Christian community. The Coptic and Oriental churches were the first to split off. Those two were gone after the Council of Chalcedon. That is why we are going to focus only on the first three councils. We need to remember that Christianity started in the Middle East: The Oriental church.
Peter is recognized by most Western Christians as the first bishop of Rome. The historical evidence for that is rather dubious, and therefore I tend to treat that claim as spurious. I had some serious doubts about whether Peter ever made it to Rome. (More on this at a later date) there is historical evidence to suggest very strongly that Peter was the first bishop of Antioch, the center of the Oriental church, especially after 70 A.D. That is assuming Peter survived the Roman destruction of the Temple and the massacre of many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Apparently, James, the brother of Jesus and his successor as head of the Christian community in Jerusalem, did not survive that massacre. Some traditions argued that James was executed some years before 70 A.D. on the orders of the Jewish high priest. However, according to many of the accepted accounts of the crucifixion, Jews, even the Sanhedrin or the high priest, could you not order the execution of anyone. Only the Roman governor could do that. That is why I take the story of the beheading of James with a very large grain of salt. I do think that many of the first followers of Jesus met their deaths during the persecutions by then General Vespasian, later Emperor Vespasian. Apparently, Vespasian did not like Jews or Christians. He is the one who destroyed the Second Temple, whose ruins can be visited in Jerusalem. It is sad that he took that treasures of the Temple and used that treasure to finance the building of the Coliseum in Rome. Maybe that is what happened to the Arc of the Covenant. As good an explanation as any of the others I have heard!
How many of the original disciples actually survived past 70 A.D. is lost in the mists of history and legend. No one knows. You are free to believe whatever legend you choose. For me the question of their survival is open and therefore I can speculate however I wish. Given the fact that there is very little historical evidence to corroborate the legend history presented in the Gospels, I think it would be intellectually dishonest of me not to discuss the possibility that some or even all of the disciples survived past 70 A.D.
If you think I am crazy for suggesting the possibility that the Gospels and perhaps the entire New Testament are, for the lack of a better word, dictions, then let me ask you a question. How many of you believe that the ancient Hindu scriptures, like the Vedas, are historically accurate? How many of you believe that the Norse Eddas are historically accurate? I suspect most, if not all, of you believe they are not historically accurate. But I suspect most of you believe the New Testament to be historically accurate. Right? Why?
On that note, I will close this post by saying that what I believe and what I can prove is true are not the same thing. Unquestioning belief is a dangerous thing. It leads to extreme fundamentalism and the persecution of those who do not believe the same is you. That is never a good thing. Always be skeptical about what you believe. Always leave open the possibility that your beliefs may be wrong. Hasn’t our belief about the shape of the Earth changed in the last 600 years?
Until next time, peace and love!