Now that my talk for the Northwest Family Education Conference is done (it just needs some tweeking and some memorizing on my part for the BIG TALK on Saturday), I am now turning the focus of my life to the early Church Councils.
Why, you may be wondering, am I bothering with that? Well, first and foremost, I’m crazy, and if you know me well enough, that should suffice as an explination. You see, 3 or 4 months ago, I was looking at my summer calendar. Looking at it, it looked particularly dull, empty, and thus boring. So, I decided “I need to do other things!” Thus I am leading a bus trip to the Chemainus Theatre, getting a golf tournament together, a few other things and, most importantly, I said to myself “Hey, wouldn’t it be a great idea to do a four week course on the first four ecumenical councils?!” Great idea, but I forgot about how much work it is to prepare!
As I’ve been researching the topic, I’ve been re-invigerated with their absolute and essential importance. Currently I’m doing some reading on the historical precursors to the council and have come to see that, essentially, Arianism is a sort of synthesis of the varietys of Gnosticism that reigned supreme in the early Church. But, and this is I think the most important thing, we seem to not realize just how important these councils were not just for the Church, but for the world!
One set of talks I have been listening to made a good point: truth hangs by a thread. The truth is so delicate and one mistake one way or another will force the thread of truth to break. When you begin to read early Church history, you are struck by the confusion of the culture and the difficulty of allowing the Gospel to strike its final blow against the pagan worldview. There is a saying, for example: Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the world). It is used in regards to St Athanasius, the great defender of orthodoxy, because it seemed at times that he was the only person in the Church who was fighting for the true position. In the end, his position was the one held, but not without difficulty, exile, and persecution suffered by him.
The essential issue, I am finding, is the disdain the ancient world had with the idea of God taking apart in the messiness of Creation. You see, for example, the argument that it was not in accord to God’s dignity to mingle with that what changes, suffers, and dies. It was seen as a sign of weakness among many people in the ancient world. Furthermore, they hade a hard time reconciling unity and diversity within God. In short, they held eternal things (ie: God) to be beyond humanity and beyond difference. By virtue of this, they were unable to reconcile revelation with their pagan worldview. That Christianity’s positions held ground is, to me, a demonstration of God’s care for the world, to bring the truth forward in the end.
This is important because, really, we face the same issues today. The early Church councils are important to know precisely because they give us the tools to discern between truth and falsehood in our world. We may think that the heresies of the past are gone. They are not. They are alive and well today, and we need the intellectual tools to discern between what is for our sanctification and what will lead us away from Christ. The early Church councils are an important tool in that matter.