After Constantine moved his capital to Constantinople, there was no Emperor in the West. The Senate was still there, but no head of the Empire. It is true Constantine was Emperor of the world, but having left Rome, there was a void.
The bishop of Rome tried to fill the gap, but he was more interested in building his power, invoking councils and crushing Arians.
Historians give a number of reasons why the Western Empire fell. I will list them without comment -- antagonism between the Senate and the Emperor, a decline in morals, political corruption, expansion of the Empire, barbarian invasions and the cost of military spending, failing economy, unemployment of the working classes (the plebians), the cost of circus games, slave labour, natural disasters and plagues. 1 And Christianity. 2
One writer said the following regarding the last point, which is close to the truth, “While the spread of Christianity may have played a small role in curbing Roman civic virtue, most scholars now argue that its influence paled in comparison to military, economic and administrative factors.” 3
What about the Eastern Empire? Why did it last another 1000 years?
Again, there are a number of reasons. Constantinople was advantageously situated on a peninsula that could be fortified and easily defended -- water on three sides and a protective wall on the fourth.
Further, because Constantinople was located on the frontiers of the Empire, Imperial armies could respond more easily to external attacks or threats.
The Emperors in the East could count on the support of the Patriarch in Constantinople almost all the time. This gave additional stability as the Empire could use the resources of the Church for the State in times of dire need. 4
The East differed from the West in a number of ways. It was a blending of Greek and Middle Eastern culture dating back to the conquests of Alexander the Great. “It was more commercial, more urban, and richer than the West, and its emperors, who in the Hellenistic tradition combined political and religious functions, had firmer control over all classes of society.” 5
Perhaps the biggest difference was the type of Christianity that developed in the East. It was more liturgical and ceremonial than Roman Christianity, especially the Greek Orthodox. And the Coptic Church even more so than the Greek.
The Ethiopian Church (also called Abyssinian) believed it had the original ark of the covenant, and it still does today. 6 It is kept in the town of Axum and brought out for church festivals.
The church in Abyssinia was a great missionary church, travelling all over the world, including China, to share the truths of God’s Word. 7
The Church in the East has always been less unified and not one big church. It was kept as separate entities over many years by ethnic differences.
The Chaldean Christians, called by their opponents Nestorians, are the most remote of these old separations. The Armenians are by far the most powerful group. Their home is in the mountains that encircle Ararat. The Church of Syria is the oldest of all the Gentile Churches, and the Church of Egypt is a monument of Christian antiquity.
A reverence for every type of religious feeling, based on the rights of conscience, “led them (the East) to extend kindly patronage to forms of faith most removed from their own.” 8
“The gentle spirit of the Greek Fathers has granted to the heroes and sages of heathen antiquity a place in the Divine favour, which was long denied in the West.” 9
A respectful reverence for religious feeling has withheld them from violent attacks on the rights on conscience. “No martyrs have darkened the history of any of the nobler portions of Eastern Christendom.” 10
Both the Eastern and Western Church have a visible head. In the East he is called the Patriarch. It is a conciliar role, rather than absolute, as with the Pope in the West. 11
Conciliation is to ‘bring opponents into harmony’.
“The Eastern Churches have no teaching authority corresponding to the Catholic magisterium. Therefore they have no official catechism or statement of their fundamental beliefs binding on all members of Eastern Churches.” Yet they have many generally accepted doctrines and positions. 12
The East celebrates Easter according to Passover, unlike the West.
Another controversy was the use of leavened bread in the East and unleavened bread in the West. The East believes that because the Lord’s Supper and Passover are two separate meals, the Lord’s Supper should have leaven as it typifies the New Covenant.
It taught the lesson of Christ reproducing His character in the lives of Christians, similar to leaven reproducing itself in the dough. The East also dipped the bread into the wine, repugnant to the West. 13
Another difference is the belief that Mary is the ‘Christ-bearer’ as Nestorius taught, and not the ‘Mother of God’ as taught by Cyril in the West. Nestorius, who was condemned as a heretic at the Council of Ephesus, brought about the Nestorian Schism.
Those churches supportive of Nestorius, especially in Persia, were severed from the rest of Christendom. They became known as Nestorian Christianity, the Persian Church or the Church of the East, whose present-day representatives are the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Syrian Church, the Ancient Church of the East, and the Chaldean Catholic Church. Nestorius himself retired to a monastery, always asserting his orthodoxy. 14
The East has married priests; the West celibate. In the beginning all priests and bishops were married, however, at the council of Nicaea, the ruling was given that “after ordination a priest could not marry.” 15 This was not obeyed in the East and not fully in the West. In Rome it continued to be ignored until Gregory VII deposed all married bishops and priests in 1074.
The Church in the East retained baptism by immersion, while the West gradually moved to sprinkling.
The Eastern Churches hold to the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, but reject the additions on the Holy Spirit made at the Council of Toledo in AD589. The words were added ‘and from the Son’, known as the filioque, a Latin word meaning ‘from the Son’.
The East will accept that the Holy Spirit proceeds ‘from the Father through the Son’, but not from the Father and the Son. The council added the filioque to safeguard against Arianism. 16
The doctrine of the Trinity, although believed by the Eastern Churches, maintained a difference from the West.
“The Celtic, the Gothic, the Waldensian, the Armenian churches and the great Church of the East, as well as other bodies, differed profoundly from the Papacy in its metaphysical concepts of the Trinity....” 17
John Wand stated in his book ‘The Four Councils’ that Nicaea attached to the doctrine of God “metaphysical conceptions”, by adding homoousios and its connotations, to make God the Father and His Son one substance. 18
It was stated at Fuller University, in the presence of Bob Thiel, that “the vast majority of bishops who attended the Council of Nicaea were not Trinitarian or Unitarian…. (They) were semi-Arian, essentially meaning that they accepted the divine personhood of the Father, but not the Holy Spirit.” 19
“The dominant position of the Eastern bishops is best described as moderately Arian during these years.” 20
A Catholic priest stated, “Remember the example of St. Athanasius, the great champion for the true Faith in the 4th-Century crisis concerning the Person and nature of Jesus Christ. St. Athanasius stood up against 90% of all the bishops in the Church, and even endured the appearance of being excommunicated by Pope Liberius…” 21
This claim that 90% of the Greco-Roman bishops did not accept the fullness of the Nicaean Trinity, supports statements by others, particularly regarding the Churches in the East.
Obviously everyone at the Nicaean Council was carried along by the charisma and enthusiasm of Athanasius to have them all, except two, sign the creed. While they may have not agreed with the orthodox understanding, they voluntarily signed the creed. We can well understand why many bishops had second-thoughts later.
The churches throughout the East were mainly patterned after the church in Jerusalem, in practice as well as belief. Judean Christianity prevailed so widely that it reached far into Africa, even Abyssinia.
Later, the Western Church began to use Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, instead of the ‘original’ Bibles scattered throughout the East.
These included the Peshitta Bible, the Italic Bible, the Waldensian Bible, the Gallic, the Gothic Bible, the old Syriac Bible, the Armenian Bible (of which there are 1244 still in existence), and the Palestinian Syriac Bible.
Eventually, Lucian’s text “… became the form which displaced all others in the Eastern churches…” 22 Lucian’s New Testament was the oldest Greek New Testament, even with the great mass of Greek manuscripts available.
Another difference with the churches in the East, was that most still kept the seventh-day Sabbath, stretching from Palestine to India.
During the first four centuries they only kept the seventh day, but gradually the first day of the week was added as a day of worship.
The historian Socrates wrote in AD391. “For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries [the Lord’s Supper] on the Sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, refuse to do this.” 23
The historian Sozomen, a contemporary of Socrates said, “The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria.” 24
When the delegates met at Nicaea, most of the churches represented were keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. Some may have been keeping Sunday as well, not as a Bible command, but a civil one. 25
“The primitive Christians had a great veneration for the Sabbath, and spent the day in devotion and sermons.” 26
“The ancient Christians were very careful in the observation of Saturday, or the seventh day… It is plain that all the Oriental churches, and the greatest part of the world, observed the Sabbath as a festival…” 27
Why did the West not keep the Sabbath?
The Latin Church had come to accept the philosophy of Alexandria, and although this city was in the East, its allegorical and mystical teachings were accepted by the Roman Church. A number of its bishops became bishops of the West. 28
Rome took the pagan temples and made them into Christian churches. She took the pagan statues and turned them into Christian icons. All the pagan symbols and rituals were changed into symbols and rites of the Christian Church. Easter, Lent, Christmas, holy water, incense, prayer beads, were all pagan, but Rome said, “The church… can convert heathen appointments into spiritual rites and usages….” 29
By the third century, the foundation was well established.
The Catholic World wrote, “The Church took the pagan Sunday and made it the Christian Sunday… There is, in truth, something royal, kingly about the sun, making it a fit emblem of Jesus the Sun of Justice. Hence the Church in these countries would seem to have said, ‘Keep that old pagan name. It shall remain consecrated, sanctified. And thus the pagan Sunday, dedicated to Balder, became the Christian Sunday, sacred to Jesus.” 30
The following month, the same publication added, “Sunday is a Catholic institution and its claim to observance can be defended only on Catholic principles..” 31
Another Catholic statement shows the audacity of the Papal See. “All dogmatic decrees of the pope, made with or without his general council, are infallible. Once made, no pope or council can reverse them. This is the Catholic principle, that the church cannot err in faith… ” 32
Realising that the Eastern Church still had services on Sabbath, the Catholic Church deemed it necessary to issue a Canon forbidding it.
In AD364, a council was held in Laodicea in which 60 Canons were enacted. Canon 29 stated: “Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday, but shall work on that day; but the Lord’s Day they shall especially honor, and, as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.” 33
To give a further incentive to refrain from Sabbath worship, the Church commanded the day be a fast. Socrates wrote, “The Latins kept the Sabbath as a fast, the Greeks as a feast...” 34
Bishop Athanasius, known as the ‘Father of Orthodoxy’, was quoted by another saying, “Athanasius likewise tells us that they held religious assemblies on the Sabbath, not because they were infected with Judaism, but to worship Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath; Epiphanius says the same.” 35
At the same Council of Laodicea, Canon 16 stated, “The Gospels are to be read on the Sabbath, with the other Scriptures.” 36 Services were forbidden on Sabbath, but not Bible reading.
The historian Neander stated, “... it was a custom in many parts of the ancient Church to keep every Saturday as a feast in commemoration of the Creation.” 37
It is true that as the centuries rolled on many of the Eastern churches fell from their high calling of truth. Many of the symbols were accepted by the Churches of the East.
In AD800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne (King of the Franks) as the Holy Roman Emperor. The Patriarch of the East was very upset, as it made his position redundant.
Charlemagne refused to recognise him. 38
The King of the Franks was already a powerful Emperor, but on the advice of his counsellors he accepted Leo III’s offer to crown him, for “by the power of the pope (he) would be Emperor of the West, of Rome, of Britain, of Constantinople, of the Holy Lands, of Africa, of Asia, of Europe, of the whole world.” 39 According to his advisors, he would “unite all Europe and give them hope.” 40
“Charlemagne also discerned that the Church was necessary to unify the various Germanic tribes in his Empire, help establish his authority over those tribes and revive the law and infrastructure of the Roman Empire, which was one of the goals of his reign. Through the crowning of Charlemagne, both men gained authority and power in their respective roles.” 41
Relations between the East and West continued to deteriorate, and the two church entities became more and more distant from each other. The East gave up the Latin language, choosing rather to use the Greek, so that eventually, the Patriarchs in Constantinople could not read Latin.
Finally, the differences pushed the two churches apart, and in 1054 a mutually agreed split took place. It is known as the Great Schism. The Eastern Church became known as the Orthodox Church, and the Western Church became known as the Roman Catholic Church. For the East, all ties with the West were broken. 42
While we may know many names of Church Fathers in the Western Church, we would have a hard time even naming one in the East. But over the mountains are unbroken successions of bishops and long lists of holy men unknown in the West.
During the 4th century, the church witnessed major changes.
· Empire Persecutes Church
· Empire Tolerates Church
· Empire Challenges Church
· Empire Adopts Church
· Church Challenges Empire
· Church Persecutes Opponents
“By the end of the century, the persecuted church had turned into a persecuting church…. It saw itself as combating heresy, false religion and evil forces. In many ways it was a different church and a different world at the end of this century.” 43
We have seen that many who were persecuted became persecutors themselves. When Theodosius elevated the Nicene belief and called the Western Church ‘Catholic’, the distinction became clear. The dominant portion of the church would be the authority, and for over one thousand years, anyone who disagreed paid for it with their lives.
Many do not realise how important Nicaea is to the Catholic Church, not only for the ‘Mother’, but also for her ‘daughters’, the Protestant Churches. The Anglican Church, although not claiming to be Protestant, also ascribes to the Nicene Creed.
The importance of Nicaea in the eyes of the churches cannot be overstated. Even if the Council of Nicaea and the Nicene Creed are not recognised, but there is a Trinitarian belief, it holds the highest place in the doctrine of that church
The Catholic Church states. “The mystery of the Holy Trinity is the most fundamental of our faith. On it everything else depends and from it everything derives. Hence the Church’s constant concern to safeguard the revealed truth that God is One in nature and Three in Persons.” 44
Any contrary belief is regarded as an attack on the doctrine of the Trinity – Arianism, Unitarianism, Monarchianism, Subordinationism, Tritheism, God as three personifications of the divine attributes, Sabellianism, and any other variant.
The 4th Lateran Council stated, “The Father is from no one; the Son is from the Father only; and the Holy Spirit is from both the Father and the Son equally. God has no beginning; He always is, and always will be. The Father is the progenitor, the Son is the begotten, the Holy Spirit is proceeding. They are all one substance, equally great, equally all-powerful, equally eternal.” 45
The Churches of the East would agree with everything in the above statement except “the Holy Spirit is from both the Father and the Son equally.” 46
And it is their right to disagree.
God has given every human being freedom to choose for himself what he believes, based on his own conscience.
Sadly, the day is coming when the Church will again employ the State to compel every man, woman and child “to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” Revelation 13:16.17. Luke 6:5.
In that day, the issue will be worship, for “as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.” Revelation 13:15.
The State has no right to issue laws to compel men and women to worship or not to worship, when or how they should worship. “The freedom to choose and practice your own religion without government interference is a fundamental human right.” 47
The governments of the world will be used by the Papal Church to compel the world to worship on Sunday the first day of the week. It is the day designated by the Magisterium, the infallible teaching authority of the Pope.
God’s day of worship is the seventh-day of the week. It is sacred,
holy time for His people to spend time with Him, study His Word and fellowship with other believers. The seventh day is a memorial of God’s creative work, a continual rebuke to humanistic evolution of which the Papal head of the Catholic Church is pushing upon the world. Genesis 2:1-3. Exodus 4:8-11.
The Sabbath is also a sign of the work of God in the lives of surrendered Christians. “Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.” Exodus 31:13.
But as important as the seventh day Sabbath is to God and His people, it is far deeper than a day. Ultimately, it is who we worship. Is it the God of the Bible or a counterfeit?
We need to stand as did Luther before the Diet of Worms, and with conviction say, “I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything... God help me. Amen.” 48
May it be so for you dear Reader.