Notes & Reviews
"The Closing of the Western Mind"
Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia
"We must not see the fact of usurpation;
law was once introduced without reason, and has become reasonable.
We must make it regarded as authoritative, eternal, and conceal its origin,
if we do not wish that it should soon come to an end."
~ Blaise Pascal, "Pensees"
AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State
Moreover, for the first time in a thousand years of Greco-Roman civilization free thought was unambiguously suppressed. Not since the attempt of the pharaoh Akhenaten to impose his god Aten on his Egyptian subjects in the fourteenth century BC had there been such a widesweeping programme of religious coercion.Yet surprisingly this political revolution, intended to bring inner cohesion to an empire under threat from the outside, has been airbrushed from the historical record. Instead, it has been claimed that the Christian Church had reached a consensus on the Trinity which was promulgated at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381. In this groundbreaking new book, acclaimed historian Charles Freeman shows that the council was in fact a shambolic affair, which only took place after Theodosius' decree had become law. In short, the Church was acquiescing in the overwhelming power of the emperor. Freeman argues that Theodosius' edict and the subsequent suppression of paganism not only brought an end to the diversity of religious and philosophical beliefs throughout the empire but created numerous theological problems for the Church, which have remained unsolved. The year AD 381, Freeman concludes, marked 'a turning point which time forgot'.
p.196 CONCLUSION "We must not see the fact of usurpation; law was once introduced without reason, and has become reasonable. We must make it regarded as authoritative, eternal, and conceal its origin, if we do not wish that it should soon come to an end." ~ Blaise Pascal, Pensees p.204 Concluding statement .... "What is certain is that, in the west, the historical reality, that the Nicene Trinity was imposed from above on the church, by an emperor, disappeared from the record. A harmonised version of what happened at the Council of Constantinople, highlighting a consensus for which there is little historical evidence, concealed the enforcement of the Nicene Trinity through the medium of imperial legislation. The aim of this book has been to reveal what has been concealed. Arguably the year AD 381 deserves to be seen as one of the most important moments in the history of European thought."
The Closing Of The Western Mind:
Description: A radical and stimulating reappraisal of the impact of Constantine's adoption of Christianity on the later Roman world
and on the subsequent development both of Christianity and of Western civilisation.
p.267 "When Cyril of Alexandria died in 444 CE one person suggested that a heavy stone be placed on his grave to prevent his soul returning to the world when it was thrown out of hell as being evil even for there." p.340 EPILOGUE "So the point being made here is not that the Christians did not attempt to use reason, but they could never reach an agreed truths any more than there could be, in practice, an agreed formulation of what is meant by Plato's conception of the Good." "As we have seen orthodoxy had eventually to be imposed from above. What seems to have marked the turning point is Constantine's appreciation that the authority of the bishops could be used in support of the empire. However, he failed to appreciate how intractable the doctrinal disputes between the bishops had become and his hope of having the church as a united body brought into the structure of the state by patronage, tax exemptions and toleration soon proved to be a fancy. "You [the bishops] do nothing but that which encourages discord and hatred and, to speak frankly, which leads to the destruction of the human race." he fumed. Hence his intiative in calling the Council of Nicaea to define and enforce a common doctrine. The theological history of the 4th and 5th centuries is largely one of the emperors, under immense pressure from invaders, attempting to achieve a foundation of orthodoxy so that they could preserve a united society. "Despite attempts by the Christians to use reason, it was not an appropriate way of finding theological truths. The frustrations which followed lead to arguments becoming personal and bitter. The texts of a Jerome or an Athanasius are marked by invective at he expense of reasoned argument." CLOSING PARAGRAPH "I would reiterate the central theme of this book: that the Greek intellectual tradition was suppressed and did not simply fade away. My own feeling is that this is an important moment in European cultural history which has for all too long been neglected. Whether the explanations put forward in this book for the suppression are accepted or not, the reasons for the extinction of serious mathematical and scientific thinking in Europe for a thousand years surely deserve more attention than they have received."
Description: The relevance of Christianity is as hotly contested today as it has ever been. "A New History of Early Christianity" shows how our current debates are rooted in the many controversies surrounding the birth of the religion and the earliest attempts to resolve them. Charles Freeman's meticulous historical account of Christianity from its birth in Judaea in the first century A.D. to the emergence of Western and Eastern churches by A.D. 600 reveals that it was a distinctive, vibrant, and incredibly diverse movement brought into order at the cost of intellectual and spiritual vitality. Against the conventional narrative of the inevitable 'triumph' of a single distinct Christianity, Freeman shows that there was a host of competing Christianities, many of which had as much claim to authenticity as those that eventually dominated. Looking with fresh eyes at the historical record, Freeman explores the ambiguities and contradictions that underlay Christian theology and the unavoidable compromises enforced in the name of doctrine. Tracing the astonishing transformation that the early Christian church underwent - from sporadic niches of Christian communities surviving in the wake of a horrific crucifixion to sanctioned alliance with the state - Charles Freeman shows how freedom of thought was curtailed by the development of the concept of faith. The imposition of 'correct belief', religious uniformity, and an institutional framework that enforced orthodoxy were both consolidating and stifling. Uncovering the difficulties in establishing the Christian church, he examines its relationship with Judaism, Gnosticism, Greek philosophy and Greco-Roman society, and he offers dramatic new accounts of Paul, the resurrection, and the church fathers and emperors.