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"A splendidly dramatic story… Rubenstein has turned one of the great fights of history into an engrossing story." –– Jack Miles, Boston Globe; author of God: A Biography. The life of Jesus, and the subsequent persecution of Christians during the Roman Empire, have come to define what many of us know about early Christianity. The fervent debate, civil strife, and bloody riot "A splendidly dramatic story… Rubenstein has turned one of the great fights of history into an engrossing story." –– Jack Miles, Boston Globe; author of God: A Biography. The life of Jesus, and the subsequent persecution of Christians during the Roman Empire, have come to define what many of us know about early Christianity. The fervent debate, civil strife, and bloody riots as Christianity was coming into being, however, is a side of ancient history rarely described. Richard E. Rubenstein takes the reader to the streets of fourth-century Rome, when a fateful debate over the divinity of Jesus Christ is being fought. Ruled by a Christian emperor, followers of Jesus no longer fear for the survival of their monotheistic faith. But soon they break into two camps regarding the direction of their worship: Is Jesus the son of God and therefore not the same as God? Or is Jesus precisely God on Earth and therefore equal to Him? With thorough historical, religious, and social research, Rubenstein vividly recreates one of the most critical moments in the history of religion.


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"A splendidly dramatic story… Rubenstein has turned one of the great fights of history into an engrossing story." –– Jack Miles, Boston Globe; author of God: A Biography. The life of Jesus, and the subsequent persecution of Christians during the Roman Empire, have come to define what many of us know about early Christianity. The fervent debate, civil strife, and bloody riot "A splendidly dramatic story… Rubenstein has turned one of the great fights of history into an engrossing story." –– Jack Miles, Boston Globe; author of God: A Biography. The life of Jesus, and the subsequent persecution of Christians during the Roman Empire, have come to define what many of us know about early Christianity. The fervent debate, civil strife, and bloody riots as Christianity was coming into being, however, is a side of ancient history rarely described. Richard E. Rubenstein takes the reader to the streets of fourth-century Rome, when a fateful debate over the divinity of Jesus Christ is being fought. Ruled by a Christian emperor, followers of Jesus no longer fear for the survival of their monotheistic faith. But soon they break into two camps regarding the direction of their worship: Is Jesus the son of God and therefore not the same as God? Or is Jesus precisely God on Earth and therefore equal to Him? With thorough historical, religious, and social research, Rubenstein vividly recreates one of the most critical moments in the history of religion.

30 review for When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome

  1. 5 out of 5

    Eric_W

    Read this with The Subversion of Christianity by Jacques Ellul. Rubenstein describes the battle between the Arians and the Athanasians, a dispute finally resolved by Constantine in the 4th century. The alliance with Constantine's political force then made orthodoxy and heresy possible. Levy's book on the history of Blasphemy: Verbal Offense Against the Sacred from Moses to Salman Rushdie is also a really good companion book) The Arians, lead by Arius, believed that it was crucial that Jesus was h Read this with The Subversion of Christianity by Jacques Ellul. Rubenstein describes the battle between the Arians and the Athanasians, a dispute finally resolved by Constantine in the 4th century. The alliance with Constantine's political force then made orthodoxy and heresy possible. Levy's book on the history of Blasphemy: Verbal Offense Against the Sacred from Moses to Salman Rushdie is also a really good companion book) The Arians, lead by Arius, believed that it was crucial that Jesus was human and not God, otherwise his death and resurrection were meaningless. Athanasius, leader of the Nicene Christians, promoted the belief that Jesus was always divine. The book is quite a page-turner and you realize how much Christian thought had to evolve and change during the first three centuries; an evolution that was a much politically driven as theological Update: Found my original review, written several years ago: Rubenstein is an American Jew who specializes in conflict resolution. Several years ago he became interested in the great Arian heresy, the debate over whether Jesus was simply a great prophet or, in fact, divine. The outcome of this debate, which occurred some three hundred years after the crucifixion, had profound implications for Western society and the relationship between Christians and Jews. Before its resolution, dialogue existed between the two religions; afterwards, “the closeness faded,” heresy became rigidly defined and was prosecuted vigorously and harshly. Gregory of Nyssa, writing around 380 C.E. reveals in a sermon that the debate over Christ’s divinity was a subject for common discourse. He spoke of ordinary tradesmen, not just theologians arguing the matter. Arianism was at least as popular a belief as the doctrine that Jesus was, in fact, God; or, to put it another way, “whether he is a creation of God or the Creator himself.” The intensity of the argument reflected its importance. What today might seem obviously heretical was not at all at that time. The decision, to some extent, was in the hands of the laity. Whichever way they could be persuaded would determine the future doctrine of the relatively young church. Eminent churchmen discovered they were leaders of politically potent mobs. By the beginning of the fourth century, Christianity had become more than just a minor new cult. It no longer consisted of wild-eyed madmen eagerly awaiting the end of the world and more than willing to sacrifice themselves on the cross. Church leaders had become institutionalized, future-minded, and willing to compromise. The Great Persecution under Diocletian was Rome’s last attempt to limit Christianity’s expansion. Not just slaughtered wholesale, Christians were afforded the option of sacrificing to pagan gods, and ordered to turn over their relics and sacred texts in return for their lives. Many church officials cooperated; those who did not became heroes and the justification for much of what was to follow. The Donatists, followers of Donatus, one of those priests who did not cooperate and who survived Roman torture, demanded that “corrupt” priests should not be allowed to return to their former positions of leadership in the church. This led to basic adoption of the principle that the office held was sacred even though the humans who filled that position might not be. The feeling remained strong enough that even St. Augustine, a century later, urged the massacre of all Donatists. When Constantine gained power following the death of Galerius and Diocletian, he was concerned by the growing rifts in the Christian church. Having adopted Christianity, he was reluctant to see these disputes threaten his political power. The followers of Arius were growing in number and added additional themes to the Donatist debate. Was a worldly organization and hierarchy compatible with the goals of the church? What standards should be required of church leaders? Was Jesus’ life to be emulated or was this possible only for saintly individuals? The Edict of Milan in 313, in promising freedom of religion, created an environment that encouraged more open debate. The dispute in Egypt over Christ’s divinity was getting out of hand, however, and Constantine sent his trusted bishop, Hosius, to mediate. Constantine considered the argument as basically trivial. He wanted the name-calling and violence stopped, suggesting that surely they could debate the issue sensibly much like the Greek philosophers had. Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, also known as “papa” or Pope to his many minions, was very powerful. The position of Arius, that Christ was created, represented a challenge to his temporal authority. In 318, Arius was called before a council to defend his position. He was ex-communicated and prohibited from taking communion. Being a wily fellow, he garnered his old friend Eusebius and other bishops to his position — all bishops were considered equal at this time. Eusebius was highly respected and he gathered his own council at which Arius’s views were proclaimed “orthodox.” This was truly schismatic. The great Council of Nicaea suggested by Hosius was held in that place at the request of Constantine. It is interesting to note that the Arians were considered to be the conservatives because they were trying to preserve the distinction between God and Jesus that made sense to those coming from Jewish roots. The anti-Arians thought this belief was outmoded. Many now considered Judaism to be anachronistic — Constantine hated Jews — and they believed that while moral development was important, security was more so and only a strong God, strong Church, and strong empire could provide that security. Naturally, Constantine concurred with this position. He planned to imbue the Church with “the Roman virtues of law, order, and efficient administration.” Ironically, the Council at Nicaea was not ecumenical. It also did not result in the rapprochement that Constantine hoped for. Instead, a Greek word that he suggested meaning “essence” was to cause all sorts of trouble. He was appalled by the diversity of tradition and belief that seemed to thrive in the early Christian church. Rules for priests varied, church holy days were not consistent, penances for sins were harsher in some parishes than others. Nicaea became a sort of watershed, the last time Christians with opposing theological beliefs acted civilly toward each other. Positions hardened, heresy became more rigidly defined — and became linked to temporal power — and those in opposition became subject to persecution as the Church allied itself with the state. It was only a short leap from anti-Christian to satanic and evil and soon the power of the Roman state became available to enforce the majority view. After the death of Constantine, the empire was split between Constans in Rome, a supporter of the anti-Arians, and Constantius, in Constantinople, more favorably inclined toward the Arians. The distinction became less clear with time and by allying themselves with different political loci the religious factions often condemned themselves to assorted political whims. The eventual outcome was a split between east and west, between Greek and Latin churches. For a concise summary of the debate between the two factions, see pages 115-119. Rubenstein, being an expert in conflict resolution, uses the debate to illustrate several principles of conflict resolution including, “false consensus may be more productive of conflict than honest disagreement.” This is a fascinating book that reveals how much the Church’s alliance with the power of the state influenced eventual Church doctrine.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    How is Christian doctrine defined? Certainly not by scripture or prophecy. Christian doctrine is defined by self-interested emperors and bishops, whose positions are more political than ecclesiastical. And, of course, this doctrine is enforced by violence. But I'm not cynical or anything... How is Christian doctrine defined? Certainly not by scripture or prophecy. Christian doctrine is defined by self-interested emperors and bishops, whose positions are more political than ecclesiastical. And, of course, this doctrine is enforced by violence. But I'm not cynical or anything...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Read this on the recommendation of a friend, and it was an amazing find. The Council of Nicea and the Arian heresy had been on the fringes of my consciousness, but I never really understood their significance. Much like Misquoting Jesus did, this book shows how arbitrary much of current Christian theology is. The Arian heresy could well have become the dominant belief, but the Trinity conception triumphed thanks to intrigue, murder, and politics. Any Christians who feel morally superior to Islam Read this on the recommendation of a friend, and it was an amazing find. The Council of Nicea and the Arian heresy had been on the fringes of my consciousness, but I never really understood their significance. Much like Misquoting Jesus did, this book shows how arbitrary much of current Christian theology is. The Arian heresy could well have become the dominant belief, but the Trinity conception triumphed thanks to intrigue, murder, and politics. Any Christians who feel morally superior to Islam would do well to read how various sides in this debate killed their opponents with elan. The book strikes a very difficult balance as well between making the people of the past come alive vividly, while not (in my judgment) exceeding what could reliably be known about different incidents and personalities. The author admits when he is speculating and often says how he knows certain things. This is popularizing decades of scholarship on the ancient world in the last days of Rome, and it is remarkably well done. You will leave this book with a much better understanding of why Catholics venerate Mary, and why the Eastern and Western churches split.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    Scholarly development eschews sensationalist title.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alisha

    I inherited a few nonfiction books from my grandfather years ago, this among them. I'm finally getting around to reading a couple of them to see what I want to hold on to. This book added somewhat to my knowledge of the Council of Nicea and its aftermath, of which I really knew nothing. However, it was rather dry and I probably would have been at least as enlightened, if not more, by reading a condensed article. I was interested in the subject! But I guess I like my history humanized a bit, and t I inherited a few nonfiction books from my grandfather years ago, this among them. I'm finally getting around to reading a couple of them to see what I want to hold on to. This book added somewhat to my knowledge of the Council of Nicea and its aftermath, of which I really knew nothing. However, it was rather dry and I probably would have been at least as enlightened, if not more, by reading a condensed article. I was interested in the subject! But I guess I like my history humanized a bit, and this didn't work for me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    This is not an easy book to read. Mostly because there are dozens of people involved--including Roman statesmen, their friends and foes, and Christian bishops and their followers and foes. It's pretty hard to keep track of them all. But there is list at the back of the book to help you out. This is the sad but true story of the conflict known as the Arian controversy. You see, for the first 300 years after the death of Jesus, those who tried to follow his teachings were divided about who Jesus w This is not an easy book to read. Mostly because there are dozens of people involved--including Roman statesmen, their friends and foes, and Christian bishops and their followers and foes. It's pretty hard to keep track of them all. But there is list at the back of the book to help you out. This is the sad but true story of the conflict known as the Arian controversy. You see, for the first 300 years after the death of Jesus, those who tried to follow his teachings were divided about who Jesus was. Some thought he was God, some thought he was a man, some thought he was somewhere in between. Was Jesus divine, human, both, or something else? No one could come up with an answer that satisfied everyone. Then Constantine became the Roman emperor and decided to use Christianity as a tool to unify his empire. So he called for a council of bishops to come up with a creed that everyone in the empire would have to accept--or else. It turned out that one meeting wasn't nearly enough. I'm sure most Christians would like to think that those men of God came together in a spirit of prayerful discernment with the intention of glorifying God and honoring Jesus by seeking truth in the spirit of brotherly love. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. From 325 to 381 the religious controversy became so political that is was hard to tell whether or not anyone had a just motive for their arguments. There were bloody street riots and mysterious murders as bishops and priests on all sides of the issue scrambled for political favors and power. As the leadership of Rome changed hands (amid bloody wars and coups), different leaders came out on different sides of the issue, so from one day to the next, it was hard to know exactly which belief the augustus or caesar or whoever was in charge expected the people to pledge themselves to. Religious leaders sent into exile by one augustus were brought back into power and favor by the next, then exiled again by the next. The divide between the Eastern bishops and Western bishops began in earnest during this time, as each side offered their own creeds, which were inevitably rejected by the other side, then revised, then offered and rejected again. It was one of what would become many horrible episodes in Christian history during which the major players completely ignored the command to love one another in their efforts to prove that their own theology was the "only" truth. I was reminded of a quote by Albert Camus in The Fall which said, "too many people now climb on the cross merely to be seen from a greater distance, even if they have to trample somewhat on the one who has been there so long." The result was what we now know as the Nicene Creed, and the definition of Jesus as fully human and fully define, and the definition of Trinity (God in three persons). The result was also that Christianity became a strong weapon used by both the Church and state to keep people in line. Anyone who would not confess to believe the newly defined official religion of state could be seen as an enemy of the state--as well as a heathen or blasphemer. I think the author could have summarized the political wars and leadership changes a little more succinctly. But then, it is probably important to understand just how much politics played in what--by today's standards--should have been a strictly religious dilemma. I was disheartened to see just how much of the controversy was driven by some of the same attitudes we see in religion and politics today, especially a society where the separation of church and state should mean that religion is not politicized, and yet it is. So, even though getting through this isn't an easy read, I think it's well worth the time. Despite all the twists and turns, I think the author (a Jewish American scholar who specializes in the study of religious conflicts) did a pretty good job of bring the facts and figures to life and showing the deeply emotional, spiritual, and psychological aspects of the controversy, as well as the political ones.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Historygirl

    When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome is ideal for those who have an interest in early Christianity, but are not experts in theology. It takes one theme from the history of the early Christian church, Arianism, to define a crucial development. By the end of the debate and the political events around it, Christianity was a monotheistic religion with a trinitarian focus: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As such it made its final divergence When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome is ideal for those who have an interest in early Christianity, but are not experts in theology. It takes one theme from the history of the early Christian church, Arianism, to define a crucial development. By the end of the debate and the political events around it, Christianity was a monotheistic religion with a trinitarian focus: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As such it made its final divergence from Judaism. Later, Islam adopted the more familiar focus on one God plus the Prophet. Rubinstein makes the differentiation and its political setting clear, but he is not a classicist. Interestingly, his field is conflict resolution and thus his observations on the controversy and the numerous attempts to resolve it are insightful. In terms of the Roman Empire both Constantine, the first Christian emperor and his son, Constantius (who did not serve consecutively), sought to resolve the theological debates, both because it fomented civil unrest and because the effort to make Christianity a state religion depended on the authority of the Emperor. There was no Pope and limited church structure, therefore the Emperor convened counsels and encouraged consensus documents, including the earliest version of the Nicene Creed. However, the fall of the Roman Empire left the church on its own to develop governing structures. The split into Eastern and Western churches mirrored the situation of the empire as well as intellectual debates compromised, but not resolved, in the early councils. The common people are the least represented in the primary sources, but in the larger cities such as Alexandria, people were quite knowledgeable. Street rioting often accompanied changes in bishops with differing views. Oppression by emperors less sympathetic to Christianity led to mutilation, death and martyrdom. And finally, the definition of heresy gained ground to justify violence among Christians of divergent viewpoints. The book is not new (first published 1999) and it leans heavily on secondary sources, but in a short, crisp narrative it paints a vibrant picture of crucial change.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Watson

    A sad and compelling read of how Christianity started to lose the plot.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Robert Schut

    I thought it might be interesting to see how a Jewish writer would portray the divinity of Jesus so I bought this book. Since I am a Christian writer and teacher I also need to stay aware of other works in this field. I was surprised to hear his portrayal of early church history. It is sometimes difficult to separate history from the author's opinion and that was true in this case. Fortunately, I am well read on this subject and felt that he cheated his readers out of a fair analysis of the subj I thought it might be interesting to see how a Jewish writer would portray the divinity of Jesus so I bought this book. Since I am a Christian writer and teacher I also need to stay aware of other works in this field. I was surprised to hear his portrayal of early church history. It is sometimes difficult to separate history from the author's opinion and that was true in this case. Fortunately, I am well read on this subject and felt that he cheated his readers out of a fair analysis of the subject. He portrayed the doctrine of Jesus' divinity as a result of the war between two equal parities: Arian and Athanasius. The title of this book already portrays his misunderstanding of the claim. No one is claiming that Jesus became God. The actual claim of the New Testament and the Church is that God became Jesus. This makes a big difference in how the subject should be approached. It is true that there was a lot of confusion in the early church, but that can be said of all religions. No religion is in perfect agreement on major issues and has perfect unity--even the author's. This does not mean that the truth was a result of which side won the argument. Whatever church councils declare as heresy or orthodoxy is only tentative. The truth must stand on its own. If the author's goal was to show the disunity of the early church, he succeeded. If it was to show that the divinity of Christ rested with the church councils, he failed. He only shows that there were different theologies at the time when the church was trying to merge their theology and their philosophy. They are still struggling with this process and will continue to struggle as long as they try to understand and define Christ through the eyes of philosophy. Such a subject really takes a lifetime to understand so many books should be referenced before you take this at face value. There is a great mystery that lies in the teaching of the NT on this subject and I don't believe any one book can either prove it or disprove it. It was never the intention of the NT writers to prove Jesus' identity with God--only to witness to it. One sobering question I would ask is, "If Jesus were God, how would the NT writers have explained this any differently than they did?" In the end I agree with the author that Jesus did not become God, but this was never Jesus' claim, the New Testament writers' claim, nor the church's claim. It was that God loved the world so much and wanted to bring forgiveness to mankind that he expressed himself as Salvation. I can't completely blame the author for misunderstanding this since even today's church struggles with the idea. It simply doesn't fit into today's philosophical model. But I have to say that I would not recommend this book. There is only a little value in his portrayal of early church history that can be better seen in other works on the subject. Instead, I do recommend Larry Hurtado's book, "How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?" You will enjoy this book much more and get more of a true perspective of the early church and NT times. Grace & Peace

  10. 5 out of 5

    DROPPING OUT

    This book is engagingly written. That's about the best thing I can say about it. The book's Preface gives the sub-text. The author (whose books, Aristotle's Children and Thus Saith the Lord I admired) conceived of writing this book over 30 years ago. Having researched it to satisfy his curiosity, he ought to have stopped there. Otherwise it is a re-hash of secondary literature and primary documents in translation. The Preface tells us that Professor Rubenstein, as a Jew, had long been fascinated This book is engagingly written. That's about the best thing I can say about it. The book's Preface gives the sub-text. The author (whose books, Aristotle's Children and Thus Saith the Lord I admired) conceived of writing this book over 30 years ago. Having researched it to satisfy his curiosity, he ought to have stopped there. Otherwise it is a re-hash of secondary literature and primary documents in translation. The Preface tells us that Professor Rubenstein, as a Jew, had long been fascinated by the Arian Controversy that rocked the Christian world (and the Roman Empire by extension) during the 4th century. The book's dust jacket describes him thus: "he specializes in analyzing violent social and religious conflict." Clearly, the Arian Controversary would be grist for his mill. But he also tips his hand when he openly alludes to the fact that had Arius and his view held the day, then the centuries of emninty and animosity between Christianity and Judaism would not have occurred. As a result, rather than a semi-popular/scholarly presentation, we receive a partisan exercise in wishful thinking. The book's dust jacket, movover, bears an encomium by the Miost Reverend John Shelby Spong, which is a clear indication of just how "un-orthodox" this book is. Finally, the title is off-putting, even provocative, but I suspect it was meant to. The author also lets us know that this had long been planned as its title. Seriously, the editor and publisher ought to have known better.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lee Harmon

    After nearly three hundred years of persecution, Christianity made a breakthrough in 324, when Constantine became emperor of Rome. Led by two charismatic priests—Arius, who preached that Jesus is subject to God, and Athanasius who argued that Jesus is God himself in human form—the debate over Jesus’ degree of divinity escalated from heated argument to violence and bloodshed. Rubenstein guides you through the power struggles of the time, concluding in the year 381, when the Council of Constantino After nearly three hundred years of persecution, Christianity made a breakthrough in 324, when Constantine became emperor of Rome. Led by two charismatic priests—Arius, who preached that Jesus is subject to God, and Athanasius who argued that Jesus is God himself in human form—the debate over Jesus’ degree of divinity escalated from heated argument to violence and bloodshed. Rubenstein guides you through the power struggles of the time, concluding in the year 381, when the Council of Constantinople affirmed that Jesus Christ was… the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, homoousios with the Father, through Whom all things came into existence. Theodosius left no doubt about the church’s official stance by demanding, We now order that all churches are to be handed over to the bishops who profess Father, Son and Holy Spirit of a single majesty, of the same glory, of one splendor, who establish no difference by sacrilegious separation, but [who affirm] the order of the Trinity by recognizing the Persons and uniting the Godhead. Arianism was officially denounced, and possession of Arian writings would become crimes punishable by death. Jesus Christ was pronounced God. This book is the story of how Christianity reached this conclusion.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tobinsfavorite

    I read this a decade ago, and I find that I recommend it to people once or twice a year. I've just been reading some of the reviews here on Goodreads, and some people seem very concerned that the controversy explored in this book is over the divinity of Christ. I would point out that it's much more the one-in-body vs one-in-purpose argument, are God the Father and God the Son the same personage? Anyone who believes this question is settled, popularly, in the present day, is mistaken. I know of a I read this a decade ago, and I find that I recommend it to people once or twice a year. I've just been reading some of the reviews here on Goodreads, and some people seem very concerned that the controversy explored in this book is over the divinity of Christ. I would point out that it's much more the one-in-body vs one-in-purpose argument, are God the Father and God the Son the same personage? Anyone who believes this question is settled, popularly, in the present day, is mistaken. I know of at least two widely-recognized religions that proclaim the divinity of Christ and reject the mystery of the Trinity. (Yes, I belong to one of them.) I learned a lot from this discussion of the historical background that resulted in a decision to define belief in Christ more narrowly than it had been. This may be a 4-star book, but I'm giving it 5 because it's an entertaining way to learn about a topic I consider very important.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rev. Sharon Wylie

    I would give this book five stars if you have an inherent interest in the formation of the Nicene Creed and the details of the Arian controversy of the early Christian church. This book is immensely accessible, reading like a historical potboiler, while providing thorough examination of fact and reasonable supposition, with a clear identification of which is which. But if you don't have that inherent interest...whew, this topic can wear you out. Answering the seemingly simple question of whether I would give this book five stars if you have an inherent interest in the formation of the Nicene Creed and the details of the Arian controversy of the early Christian church. This book is immensely accessible, reading like a historical potboiler, while providing thorough examination of fact and reasonable supposition, with a clear identification of which is which. But if you don't have that inherent interest...whew, this topic can wear you out. Answering the seemingly simple question of whether Jesus was human or God almost destroyed the early Christian church and, over a 40-year span, resulted in multiple exiles (and returns!) and excommunications for priests and bishops on both sides of the debate, the involvement of multiple Roman emperors (also on both sides of the debate), riots, deaths, councils, and creeds. Anyone who thinks that the Bible and its teachings are straightforward or beyond debate should read this book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    I belong to a book group at church that reads about church history and many of the authors that are getting people all riled up these days -- Bishop Spong, Marcus Borg, etc. I affectionately refer to us as "Heretics Anonymous". This is our latest choice. It's really a gripping story of the Christian church in the 4th century and how the Council of Nicea came to be, which led to the Nicene Creed, which "settled" the question of who Jesus was, his relationship to God (and the Holy Spirit), and that I belong to a book group at church that reads about church history and many of the authors that are getting people all riled up these days -- Bishop Spong, Marcus Borg, etc. I affectionately refer to us as "Heretics Anonymous". This is our latest choice. It's really a gripping story of the Christian church in the 4th century and how the Council of Nicea came to be, which led to the Nicene Creed, which "settled" the question of who Jesus was, his relationship to God (and the Holy Spirit), and that whole messy bit about the nature of his divinity. It's written almost like a murder mystery (with body counts from the riots sparked by the bishops), it keeps you going that way. Vibrant characters, dramatic developments, historical significance, pathos, it's all there. I couldn't put it down. Though I'll never be able to recite the Nicene Creed with a clear conscience again.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jim Razinha

    Quite interesting look at the Council of Nicea, the opposing factions of early Christianity and the political maneuvering that resulted in the doctrine of Jesus' divinity as opposed to him being just the son of God. Not for light reading, this is a dry read for a casual historian, but it portrays the story behind the events that kept apologists employed trying to explain the trinity. Quite interesting look at the Council of Nicea, the opposing factions of early Christianity and the political maneuvering that resulted in the doctrine of Jesus' divinity as opposed to him being just the son of God. Not for light reading, this is a dry read for a casual historian, but it portrays the story behind the events that kept apologists employed trying to explain the trinity.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    It wasn't as good as other books I've read covering the same historic period. The author seemed to scatter his telling, making it hard to follow, and was perhaps too reverent to his subject. It wasn't as good as other books I've read covering the same historic period. The author seemed to scatter his telling, making it hard to follow, and was perhaps too reverent to his subject.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Marti Martinson

    Fascinating. I feel so sorry for those low-church, Protestant, fundamentalists who think Christianity was just Jesus and John Calvin.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dominic Foo

    First details upon the form of the book itself before going into its contents. This book is by a non-specialist academician writing outside of his area of expertise. It is however a well researched book and highly readable with an easy flowing narrative of the events of the Arian controversy, from the Christian persecutions preceding Constantine to its conclusion with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381. While not exactly a scholarly work, it however organises in a succint and clear manne First details upon the form of the book itself before going into its contents. This book is by a non-specialist academician writing outside of his area of expertise. It is however a well researched book and highly readable with an easy flowing narrative of the events of the Arian controversy, from the Christian persecutions preceding Constantine to its conclusion with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381. While not exactly a scholarly work, it however organises in a succint and clear manner the timeline of events and the major players in the controversy and gives one a basic feel and orientation of the developments of the controversy. There is a lot which I've already known before I opened the book, how the fortunes of the theological parties were more or less tied to their ability to manipulate polities and secure the favour of the reigning emperor, etc. All the worse excesses of skullduggery are here, rabble rousing, assasinations, trumped up charges, even an amusing story of how an Arian bishop got two of his priests to hire a prostitute to sneak into a Nicene bishop's room to ruin his reputation. But of course, all for the greater glory of God for whom no means are too underhanded to secure the defeat of those hell bound heretics and agents of the devil. The author however has two overarching theses which I think is worth mentioning. First is that the triumph of Nicene Orthodoxy effectively meant the severance of the Christian faith from all other religions in the world. Both Jews and pagans acknowledged one supreme God but differed on how he has acted on or relates to this world. Christianity used to be part of this civil dispute and discourse with the others as to where and how God has acted and related to us. However with Nicene Orthodoxy, this "common ground" in singular supreme God was lost, it is not so much that Jesus became God but that God became Jesus, with the meaning and person of God necessarily bound to the Trinity, any commonality that we occupy a world of one common supreme God, was irrevocably lost as the Trinity became a part of the essence of God, without which God was no God at all. From a civil and political point of view, this effectively meant the death of any form of tolerant civil religion. It is either the Trinitarian God, or thorough-going secularism and the abandonment of God completely from the civil sphere. The unfortunate intolerance of the new Nicene Orthodoxy can be seen in this passage: "Not long after the emperor outlawed Arian religious worship, a violent and revealing incident occurred in Callinicum, a Roman frontier town in Mesopotamia. A Christian mob led by monks burned both a Jewish synagogue and a chapel used by the Valentinians, a tiny sect of heretical Christians. It is not clear whether there were worshipers in these buiildings at the time; such "details" were seldom reported. Theodosius responded as one would expect a responsible ruler to respond: he ordered the local bishop to make restitution to the injured parties and to punish the mob's ringleaders. But before the order could be carried out, Ambrose of Milian, the self-appointed guardian of Western orthodoxy, objected strongly. Why should Christians be penalized for attacking Jews and heretics? Ambrose complained. Had the pagan emperor, Julian, punished his people when Christians were attacked? Theodosisu's intervention against Christ's faithful servants was nothing less than sacrilegious. The fact that imperial officials in Mesopotamia were calling for the protection of Jews and heretics was irrelevant. Unless the emperor repented, Ambrose warned, he could hardly offer him Holy Communion in good conscience... The threat of possible excommunication struck home. Theodosius revoked his command." Thus does "St" Ambrose set a holy and godly example for the Church. This is of course not forgetting the fact that Theodosius had by then actively persecuted and outlawed Arianism from the empire through a combination of inquisitions, dispossession of church property and offices and criminalisation of advocacy of Arianism. It would take the bloody conflicts of the Protestant Reformation, and the exhaustion of perpetual religious conflict before tired Christians formulated deism as an attempt to both retain civic public religiousity and to prevent doctrinal squabbles over minute theological points from causing civic disruption. This is encapsulated perfectly in Locke's Letter concerning Tolerantion based firmly upon the Protestant doctirine of the Two Kingdoms and that civic power is distinct from ecclesiastical power while still adamant that atheism are not to be tolerated in the commonwealth. His second overarching thesis is his account for the decline of Arianism. According to the author it has fundamentally to do with two different types of Christ which suited different socio-political conditions. The "Arian" Christ, who is by definition more "human", was more optimistic about humanity and the human capacity. Christ is the perfect human, even divinised, he is an inspirational example for our imitation. Not being infallibly God by nature, he is holy by his will and actions and thereby provides the hope of our own sanctification and reformation through fath and good works. Also being fully human or at least a fellow creature, he is a friend, an intimate companion who truly understands us, with no divine glory blasting out of his outworldly eyes. The "Nicene" Christ, who is unambiguously the Almighty God, was a god fit for a civil religion. He is not a mere creature amongst creatures or a finite delimited entity, but he as vast and boundless as the Almighty God himself, having power over mysterious macro-forces beyond our control. Thus, the Nicene Christ was more fitted to a less secure empire under constant threat from political and natural disasters. When your survival is at stake, whether from hording barbarians, civic disorder and chaos or famine and starvation, what you need is an Almighty Christ, armed to the teeth with divine substance and power, not some inspirational example of a mere holy man who is morally perfect but gets crucified in the end. This is why towards the end of the Arian controversy, after the empire was threatened by the Huns and after having suffered breaking losses from the Visgoth invasions and destructions, Arianism as a way of life and theological system, even if the imperial persecutions did not happen, lost its appeal throughout the empire from its sheer inability to serve as the civil religion of the land. The Arian Christ was simply not Almighty enough for us to pray to to defend the empire from the barbarian hoarde for the secure the peace of the land. However, the need for the Arian Christ still lingered on in that while a personal relatable Christ was not suited to be the defender of the realm, religious life has advanced such that the old esoteric pagan gods could not longer meet the humanistic spiritual needs which such a compassionate loving, and most of all, really human Christ provides. Even as Nicene Orthodoxy triumphed and Christ ascended to divinity, the church adapted to the spiritual vacuum left behind by the ascended Christ by elevating the Virgin Mary to fill the gap left behind by the compassionate and relatable human Christ. Now the Mother of God is the one who lovingly comforts us, and along with her pantheon of other human saints, they provide the existential human needs and sympathy which a fuilly divine Christ could no longer provide. Whether or not you agree with his overarching theses, I would still recommend this book to read for its sheer accessibiltiy and organisation of the developments of the Arian controversy. It is a very good introduction to the issues and a springboard for further reading.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mike Lund

    An excellent history of the evolution of Christian philosophy, especially the concept of the Trinity (God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost being a single entity) and Jesus as God Incarnate, versus Jesus as part man, born of woman and becoming god (Arian heresy). Not only a good history of church politics and the infighting between the rival groups within the Christian Church, but also the Roman Empire during the 4th century and how the different philosophy’s were supported by the different Roman Empero An excellent history of the evolution of Christian philosophy, especially the concept of the Trinity (God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost being a single entity) and Jesus as God Incarnate, versus Jesus as part man, born of woman and becoming god (Arian heresy). Not only a good history of church politics and the infighting between the rival groups within the Christian Church, but also the Roman Empire during the 4th century and how the different philosophy’s were supported by the different Roman Emperors. I had thought the issue of a Trinity Godhead was settled in 324 AD, with the Council of Nicaea and although it was further discussed as a fringe issue in later councils, it was more or less a settled issue. The truth is, both sides had strong support within the church and the issue was hotly debated, with one side then the other gaining acceptance. In truth the issue wasn’t settled until the Council of Constantinople (381) which denounced Arianism. Then in 382 Theodosius accepted the council’s findings. Theodosius declared that true Christians were those who believed in “the single divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within an equal majesty and an orthodox Trinity” and made possession of Arian writings punishable by death. I gave it 4 stars because I usually find Roman Empire history with all the similar names and all the shifting of power a little tedious to read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Len Knighton

    The mysteries of faith have been with us for centuries and are with us still. The second part of the title of this book tells us that. The issue of Christ's divinity has been a struggle the Church has waged for almost two thousand years. There are many who would say "The Bible says clearly...", but in this case the Bible is not clear. Thus, we had several theologies and/or Christologies dating back to the Third Century, all competing to be the official doctrine of the Church. Richard Rubenstein The mysteries of faith have been with us for centuries and are with us still. The second part of the title of this book tells us that. The issue of Christ's divinity has been a struggle the Church has waged for almost two thousand years. There are many who would say "The Bible says clearly...", but in this case the Bible is not clear. Thus, we had several theologies and/or Christologies dating back to the Third Century, all competing to be the official doctrine of the Church. Richard Rubenstein chronicles these arguments and those who championed them. What is clear is that this was (and is) a very emotional debate that was not only religious but also political, with the fame and fortunes of many dependent on which doctrine was favored. Indeed, this is the primary focus of the book as we learn of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, her allies and foes. I would have liked to have read more theology and the ancient writings, including Scripture, that the theologies were based on. I do believe this book to be an important resource for those seeking more information and insight into this continuing controversy. Three stars waxing

  21. 5 out of 5

    Andres

    A very thorough treatment of the final transformation I've always been fascinated by the Church's early history, especially how a relatively minor, apocalyptic preacher from a backwater like Galilee ended up becoming "God" . This fantastic book provides some of the details on this final transformation. By the time the book begins, Constantine is being converted to Christianity, heralding the ascension of the once persecuted religion into the official State Religion of the Roman Empire. The only im A very thorough treatment of the final transformation I've always been fascinated by the Church's early history, especially how a relatively minor, apocalyptic preacher from a backwater like Galilee ended up becoming "God" . This fantastic book provides some of the details on this final transformation. By the time the book begins, Constantine is being converted to Christianity, heralding the ascension of the once persecuted religion into the official State Religion of the Roman Empire. The only improvement possible to this book would have been to start the tale earlier, immediately after the crucifixion. I think showing us how Jesus became a god would have been a better start, and not skipping ahead to when he became God. But that's a minor quibble. Ehrman has done a great job showing the initial transformation from man to godling in his books. I'd recommend reading one of those first.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ionia

    If you are interested in the history of Jesus, and early Christianity, this will be an enormously useful book. I was pleasantly surprised by the way the author went so deeply into the roots of the Arian Conspiracy and explained how the events that would later change the face of the West as we know it now occurred. This is a very detailed account of the happenings after the death of Jesus and how the ideals of the individual sects of Christians eventually became melded together to form the doctri If you are interested in the history of Jesus, and early Christianity, this will be an enormously useful book. I was pleasantly surprised by the way the author went so deeply into the roots of the Arian Conspiracy and explained how the events that would later change the face of the West as we know it now occurred. This is a very detailed account of the happenings after the death of Jesus and how the ideals of the individual sects of Christians eventually became melded together to form the doctrine we have today. I thought the author did a good job of remaining impartial and reporting the facts as they have come down to us, making this a relatively non-biased account based on historical accuracy rather than theological idealism. That seems to be increasingly difficult to find these days. I definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about this fascinating period of upheaval.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Margie Dorn

    Everything you always wanted to know about the Nicene Creed and the Arian Controversy. I've read a lot about this era, and this book is the one I recommend. Well researched, well written, balanced, accurate as can be for events that occurred two millennia ago. And it's not even overly long, at 235 pages of reading. Rubenstein comes at the issue from the perspective of a professor of Conflict Resolution. The topic is still appropriate at a time when, despite American assumptions of the "separatio Everything you always wanted to know about the Nicene Creed and the Arian Controversy. I've read a lot about this era, and this book is the one I recommend. Well researched, well written, balanced, accurate as can be for events that occurred two millennia ago. And it's not even overly long, at 235 pages of reading. Rubenstein comes at the issue from the perspective of a professor of Conflict Resolution. The topic is still appropriate at a time when, despite American assumptions of the "separation of Church and State" it is still sometimes difficult to draw a line. Because the Arian controversy is a very specific one, I would not recommend this book to anyone, but for those with interest in these topics, and how theologies affect a populace, this is your book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Corriher

    I found this book to be magnificent. It casts light on a topic that is oft-ignored by the modern church, and one that most Christians know little about. Most Christians either believe that Christ is God, or that he is the son of God. Few ever consider the other side's arguments, or realize that this debate was silenced by violence. It should be read by all. I found this book to be magnificent. It casts light on a topic that is oft-ignored by the modern church, and one that most Christians know little about. Most Christians either believe that Christ is God, or that he is the son of God. Few ever consider the other side's arguments, or realize that this debate was silenced by violence. It should be read by all.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Robert Kauffman

    An Excellent Overview of Religious and Historical Facts. I have been interested in this particular time period, especially, the birth and growth of the Christian movement ; what influenced and shaped its growth. I found what I had been looking for in an entertaining and well written book. Mr. Rubenstein is an exceptional author.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shelley Alongi

    Action packed definitely reads like a college textbook that holds the interest. I found it interesting they were arguing that divinity rather than the purpose of his death and resurrection. I would keep this book for reference especially because of that. Reading list to a bibliography

  27. 5 out of 5

    Matt Hale

    It was well written and provided much of the basic narrative, but it also had some easily avoidable factual errors. Moreover, there was very little insight on the nature and origin of religious conflict, which was promised at the beginning of the book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Johannes J Smith

    Solid, entertaining factual When last have i enjoyed a book like this one. To the point, well indexed, well documented, soberly objective. A must read for every person who has a bible

  29. 5 out of 5

    Maryann Corbett

    A very useful look at late antiquity and at how close we came to defining dogmas in a very different way--and at how very violent people were in their feelings on both sides.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mike Carpenter

    Gripping and highly informative narration.

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