By Desmond A. Birch
(As Desmond noted about the image, the painting forces one to eventually focus on Emperor Constantine – who thought HE was running the Council – sitting with crown in the foreground. Also to be noted is how the painter took creative license as Constantine actually wore flaming crimson robes. Further, bishops most probably did not yet wear miters until the tenth century. ~BH)
There are two dangerous false premises making the rounds these days, they are;
1. This is the time of the worst crisis in the history of the Church.
2. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI both,
a. Knew about the clerical abuse from the beginning, and,
b. Did nothing about it. [This premise will be addressed in part II.]
FIRST: One counter-example to #1 above:
Beginning in 319 A.D., an Egyptian Deacon named Arius stated, “There was a time when the Father was not yet Father.” What did he mean by that? He meant that the Son, Jesus Christ, was created** by the Father, that Jesus Christ is not Divine, is not God as is the Father. It means that Arius thought the Son, Jesus Christ, was a creature – a being created by the Father. That heresy spread far and wide over the next 50 to 60 years.
In 325 A.D., the Council of Nicea was called – to deal with what had then become the ‘Arian Heresy’, which denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ. To combat it, the Council Fathers composed the Nicene Creed. That Creed clearly states that the Son [Jesus Christ] is “homoousios to Patri”, is, “of the same substance as the Father.” i.e., the Nicene Creed says Jesus Christ is Divine, is God.
Thanks in large part to early interference of the Roman Emperor Constantine, the Bishops faithful to that Creed, faithful to the Divinity of Jesus Christ began over the course of decades to be systematically driven out of their Dioceses. Many of them were sentenced to a living death in the Roman metal mines. Some had their tongues cut out. Some had their Achilles tendon severed so they would walk painfully with a limp for life. Some had their eyes burned out of their sockets. But all of those so harmed refused to abandon their belief in Jesus Christ and His Divinity.
Example: Constantine exiled St. Athanasius several times. Why? Because Athanasius would not approve a watered down Creed – which ‘watering’ would leave the Divinity of Jesus Christ in doubt. [Constantine saw the political effect of the controversy as a point of division in his ‘Empire’ – a division which he decided had to be stopped. Constantine instituted the idea of what is called ‘Caesaro-Papism’ – ‘Caesar is Pope’.]
The apex of all this occurred at the Council of Sirmium in 357 A.D., at which the vast majority of the attending Bishops agreed to void the ‘Nicene Creed’. In other words, they waffled on the Divinity of Jesus Christ. They even put Bishop Ossius on ‘the rack’ to try to torture him into signing the false creed. Ossius was 104 years old at the time.
As a result, St. Jerome wrote a few decades later of those events at Sirmium, “One morning the world awoke and groaned, finding itself ‘Arian’.”
POINT: OURS IS NOT NECESSARILY THE LOWEST POINT IN CHURCH HISTORY. SHE HAS BY THE GRACE OF GOD SURVIVED MANY CRISIS POINTS THROUGHOUT THAT HISTORY! [We’ve still got very many faithful Bishops today – quite a number of them with great courage. Mine is one of them.]
In the Soviet Communist Era of Russia during the 20th century, many faithful Bishops behind the Iron Curtain were unjustly sentenced to concentration camps in Siberia and other remote locations in the Soviet Empire. There, most of them were starved and worked to death. But this was not worldwide. On the other hand, the persecution of faithful Bishops by Arians [heretics] was throughout the known Roman world – heaviest in the East – but was not ‘localized’.
POINT: This is only one of a number of examples one can name throughout Salvation History, which when studied thoroughly – were as bad or worse than it is today.
[I don’t judge anyone who disagrees with this assessment. I simply ‘see’ that the historical facts bear out the assessment given above. There are periods throughout Church History which compare with or are worse than our own – depending upon how you look at them. This is not meant to diminish the current crises! It is to point out that we must all keep our eyes fixed on Jesus’ promise that he would be with us till the end of time, and during that interval, the “Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church”.]
** Arius, imagining himself to be a profound theologian, thought that “begotten” meant “created”.