The Monetization of Religion and the Betrayal of St. Athanasios

This post can be an extension of the a prior, Taxes and the Incarnation of God, where the idea that a tax exemption for a religion as a corrupting element is introduced.   Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, paid the tax of His time then to serve as an example for us in our time. However the true story that follows can also be taken at face value about the history of early Christianity and provide insight into the propagation of heresy, and how seeds were sown for times that followed, including our own.  The history of the time is well-documented in many references but the particular details come from the reference, The Place of the Patriarchs of Antioch in Church History, by Exarch Elias B. Skaff, 1993,  Sophia Press.

With the Edict of Milan in 313, Emperor Constantine ended the official persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. In fact the Edict gave freedom to all religions while it ended all ordinances hostile to the Christian religion. Constantine also gave the Church a tax-exemption status.

Meanwhile a disseminating heresy, formalized by Bishop Arius, resisted the idea that Jesus Christ is God as God the Father.  This heresy was addressed at the Council of Nicea in 325, where the defense of the co-substantial nature of Jesus with God the father (Greek term: homo-ousios) was championed primarily by Saint Athanios, a deacon from Alexandria, and Saint Eustathius, Bishop of Antioch.  The Arian heresy was important to counter, because anything less than the co-equal Divine Nature of Jesus Christ with God (the Father and Holy Spirit) meant a return to the monotheism of Judaism or monotheistic variants where Jesus was less than God.  Jesus is the eternally-begotten Divine Son of God the Divine Father. Eternally begotten also means that there never was a single point in time when He was begotten, before which the Father was alone without Him. He was, is, and by the definition of the word eternal, will always be begotten [1][2].

The condemned Arius was present at the Council of Nicea and his followers were influenced to sign the Nicean Creed at the urging of the sister of Constantine, Constancia. Within a few years, Constancia’s influence on the Emperor resulted in the re-admitting of Arius into the Church.  Bishops leading the Arian heresy regained imperial favor which resulted in the replacement of Saint Eustathius, Bishop of Antioch, with an Arian.  A persecution of Athanios began. A slow and labored fracturing at the Church of Antioch was started, whose first Bishop was the Apostle Peter.  Antioch is also known as the seat of the famous Bishop and martyr St. Ignatius in the 2nd Century.  At one point,  the majority of bishops in both eastern and western churches followed the Arian heresy.  Even after Arianism waned, divisions among the orthodox prevailed at Antioch and despite the works of Saints Basil and Chrysostom, the center of eastern orthodoxy shifted to Constantinople.   Antioch continued in orthodoxy, with the Melkites dividing off to formally recognize the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the 18th Century.

The sequels of the Arian heresy may not be obvious to the casual observer of history and for our time. Consider however the following quote from the monotheistic religion of Islam:

“He, God, is one! God, the Eternal One! He will not generate, nor was he generated, and none is equal to him!” (Koran, 112, 2,4).

And for the Christian in the current age, are there heresies or unorthodox teachings, such as those for contraception that are related? Consider again the following quote by Saint Athanios about an Arian Bishop of Antioch, Leontius, who sterilized himself to live with a woman:

“How can sterile and ignorant persons understand the eternal birth of God?”

Note carefully. Baptism imparts the pro-creative Nature of the Trinity on us. Even without us physically procreating. In fact much more so than procreating. Meet the only religion of God, the ONLY religion compatible with our physiology.

Can then the dilution and weakening of Christian teachings then be related to the influence of government or empire?  Is one mechanism of influence of empire over the Church that of tax-exemption?  Do Christians have to oscillate from persecution and physical martyrdom to heresy of teachings during “official” offers of freedom of religion but with outside influence?  Can the worship of “officialdom” in our time explain the lukewarmness and even doublespeak of bishops and shepherds? Note that it only took a a generation for the persecutions of Christians to resume under Constantine’s nephew, Julian the Apostate.

[1] With the Incarnation of God in the flesh, His eternal begotten nature becomes manifest in the flesh through the Virgin Mother. The Eternal has now entered the physical realm.  That is why she is ever-virgin, and mother of the new eternal race.

[2] This understanding of the eternally begotten nature of Christ (past, present, and future) has the potential to solve the Filioque controversy, since the Holy Spirit, with the same eternal nature has to exist (in mystery and outside the constraint of time) in the “was”, “is”, and “will always be” begotten nature of the Son.  Only in the “will be begotten” understanding of the Son, can we see how the Holy Spirit can proceed from the Father alone.

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