This is our final article dealing with modern theories denying the resurrection of Christ, though we will have some concluding arguments and my understanding of how we use this information. Still, lets end on a note of Triumph. During Easter, we often greet each other with the statement, “He is Risen” with the answer, “He is risen indeed.” When the left tells us to question our faith, to claim that no one has a market on truth, the positive case is a shield that demonstrates solidity of the Christian faith, and which we can use offensively, to demonstrate that their arguments against Christianity lack credibility and rationality. We cannot claim to have proven the faith, but we can demonstrate that our faith is reasonable. When the left therefore says, “He is not risen” our answer will ever be, “He is risen indeed.”
Last time, we completed our discussion of gnostic beliefs and the gnostic gospels. Now we will discuss one of the major pillars that the gnostic origin theorists discuss. At some point in their discussion, most gnostic origin proponents will start explaining the importance of the Council of Nicea. To listen to the gnostic origin theorists, Nicea is a scandal akin to Watergate, and was ultimately a political takeover by a group of “fascists.” They specifically believe that the church became dominated by “proto Catholicism” during Nicea, and then eliminated the gnostic sects.
Their argument consists of two major parts. First, they believe that the period before Church history was very open with a wide variety of interpretations of Christian beliefs being considered valid, similar to the nature of the various gnostic sects. Over time, one group of these early sects began to became more rigid and less willing to accept other points of view, and evolved into the early orthodox party. Second, they claim that the early orthodox party came to power during the council of Nicea and began to use political pressures of the Roman empire under Constantine to declare orthodoxy as the only type of Christianity (Christian writings from the period after Nicea are fairly full, but don’t indicate any presence of Gnosticism. Therefore, one cannot argue for an orthodox takeover after this point in time). As there are two components to this belief, we will deal with these two ideas individually.
The argument that the early Church had a tolerance of various sects
While it is true that there were divergences between various “Christian” sects in the early part of the first and second century, there is no trace in the literature of the early Church to this period of “tolerance.” Within the first century, Paul had made several arguments indicating that other groups were not to be tolerated as Christian. Thus, the early orthodox party must go back as far as Paul’ writings, at least to the middle of the first century. As we have noted in our previous two issues, there is no evidence of Christian Gnosticism before about AD 85. The early Church fathers were opposed to Gnosticism, claiming that it was a change from the earliest teachings of the Church. Of course, the conspiracy theory argument remains. Most gnostic origin theorist claim the orthodox party would later purge the Scriptures. This argument is raised without evidence to support the point and is a violation of Ockham’s razor.
The history of the period of Church history immediately following Nicea is quite different from what was suggested by the gnostic origin theorists. The council of Nicea was convened over the controversy with the Arians, regarding the deity of Christ. The council of Nicea did not actually end the Trinitarian controversy. In many ways, Nicea was the beginning of the controversy. After Nicea the orthodox party was persecuted by the Arians for decades. Constantine, after backing the Trinitarian party at Nicea, immediately began to back the Arians and was later baptized by an Arian bishop. Between he and his immediate successors, Athanasius of Alexandria (the leader of the Trinitarian party) was banished from Alexandria on five separate occasions. One of the western Church Trinitarian leaders, Hillary of Portiers was banished three times. In both cases, it was not the Trinitarians involved in politicizing the issue.
The orthodox party did come to dominate the church, but it was a process that took a century, as God’s truth prevailed. While Nicea was a victory in defining orthodoxy, it did not end the controversy. Nicea was momentous for defining (not creating) orthodoxy. Gnosticism, while still present in some quarters, was not a major force in Christianity those days. In short, the ideas of the Gnostic Origin Theorists fall short of being convincing once the facts are examined.