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Doctrine and Power

Doctrine and Power: Theological Controversy and Christian Leadership in the Later Roman Empire

Carlos R. Galvão-Sobrinho
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Doctrine and Power
    Book Description:

    During the fourth century A.D., theological controversy divided Christian communities throughout the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. Not only was the truth about God at stake, but also the authority of church leaders, whose legitimacy depended on their claims to represent that truth. In this book, Galvao-Sobrinho argues that out of these disputes was born a new style of church leadership, one in which the power of the episcopal office was greatly increased. The author shows how these disputes compelled church leaders repeatedly to assert their orthodoxy and legitimacy—tasks that required them to mobilize their congregations and engage in action that continuously projected their power in the public arena. These developments were largely the work of prelates of the first half of the fourth century, but the style of command they inaugurated became the basis for a dynamic model of ecclesiastical leadership found throughout late antiquity.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95466-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This study began as an attempt to understand a baffling chapter in the religious history of the fourth century, the so-called Arian controversy. My interest in the subject began many years ago when I first read the ecclesiastical histories of the fourth century for a graduate seminar on late antiquity. Like the emperor Constantine, when he came to learn of the dispute, I, too, was struck by the magnitude and severity of the conflict over a seemingly trivial matter.¹ In its duration, acrimony, and divisiveness, the Arian controversy surpassed all other, earlier or contemporary, Christian disputes. Far from being a...


    • [PART ONE. Introduction]
      (pp. 11-14)

      Sometime in the mid-240s a Christian priest set out from Palestine on a journey eastward across the Judaean desert to Arabia. The priest, a native of Alexandria now living in Palestinian Caesarea, was also a well-known scholar whose reputation for wisdom and piety had spread widely in the eastern Mediterranean among educated circles, Christian and non-Christian alike. His erudition had oft en taken him places—twice before to Arabia, once at the invitation of the Roman governor, who wished to learn about Christian philosophy. The empress herself was reported to have once summoned him to court to lecture about God...

    • 1 Christian Leadership and the Challenge of Theology
      (pp. 15-22)

      “Your church must not differ from the other churches in opinion,” stated Origen at the opening of the debate with Heracleides, “because you are not the false church.”¹ The bewildering diversity in Christian thought and practice presented a constant dilemma to theorists and intellectuals in early Christian communities.² There was only one true, orthodox church. On this, most third-century Christians could agree, and there were plenty of reasons for doing so. Uniformity of faith was at the center of Christian teaching going back to Paul: “For just as in a single human body there are many limbs and organs, all...

    • 2 “Not in the Spirit of Controversy”: Truth, Leadership, and Solidarity
      (pp. 23-30)

      When accused of heresy, church leaders reacted by defending their views, even if that defense led to further conflict and division in the community.¹ Heracleides did so, as did Paul of Samosata, who stubbornly stood by his teachings, taking many of the faithful with him. Church leaders often had to defend themselves, as Celsus and others noted.² If disputes concerned not only the truth, but also qualification for leadership, bishops could not afford to vacillate. “Urge them and argue with them,” Paul recommended. “And speak with authority: let no one slight you.”³ Cyprian of Carthage, perhaps the greatest theorist of...


    • [PART TWO. Introduction]
      (pp. 31-34)

      Constantine had just defeated licinius and begun a tour of the Eastern provinces when he received news that Christians in the East had been drawn into a bitter dispute over the teachings of Arius, a priest in the church of Alexandria.¹ The dispute had begun a few years earlier as a quarrel among Alexandrian clerics on the subject of God, but it had since spread far and wide, dividing the Christian community of Alexandria and other cities throughout the East.² By the time Constantine set foot in Asia, every attempt to settle the dispute had failed, unity had been broken,...

    • 3 Precision, Devotion, and Controversy in Alexandria
      (pp. 35-46)

      The sequence of events leading up to the turmoil in the Alexandrian church in the wake of Arius’s teachings is likely to be forever a subject of controversy.¹ Contemporary sources are few and partisan.² Ecclesiastical historians, writing in the late fourth and fifth centuries, drew heavily on Nicene sources or on equally biased non-Nicene authors—sources that tell little about the Alexandrian church before Constantine.³ Documents, letters, and decrees pertaining to the early phase of the dispute must also be interpreted with caution, because most of them have come down to us embedded in the sectarian narratives they were used...

    • 4 Making the People a Partner to the Dispute
      (pp. 47-65)

      The progressive theological polarization in Alexandria dramatically increased the involvement and participation of the faithful in the controversy. Virtually all our sources emphasize the people’s engagement in the dispute and the impact of their engagement on its course. Given the traditional lack of interest in the affairs of the people on the part of the literate classes, Christian and pagan, it is impressive how well represented ordinary Christians are in the evidence. No other doctrinal dispute of the pre-Constantinian era can provide us with such a wealth of information about popular action and its role in shaping a controversy; no...

    • 5 “For the Sake of the Logos”: Spreading the Controversy
      (pp. 66-77)

      Inevitably the controversy spilled over into other sees, engaging bishops outside Egypt. The issue was no longer simply the fate of a rebellious and heretic priest, as Alexander had insisted, but the orthodoxy of the bishop of Alexandria. Did the great See of St. Mark have a heretic at its helm? Was Alexander of Alexandria a new Paul of Samosata? Although these questions were never posed so bluntly, they could be read between the lines of Arius’s correspondence with bishops overseas, which, according to Sozomen, began after Arius was expelled from the church.¹ Sozomen reported that after his excommunication, Arius...

    • 6 “To Please the Overseer of All”: The Emperor’s Involvement and the Politicization of Theology
      (pp. 78-94)

      Nicetas Choniates tells us that Constantine came to know of the Arian controversy through the bishops, but it is more likely that he was first informed by secular officers, as had been the case with the Donatist affair in North Africa.¹ Local authorities in Alexandria would have been aware of the dispute from the popular unrest in the churches.² Alexander tells us that the Arians had taken the matter before the secular courts, complaining perhaps of persecution at the hands of the bishop.³ Constantine would have had informants, in Alexandria, Antioch, and other cities, reporting to him on church affairs,...


    • [PART THREE. Introduction]
      (pp. 95-98)

      Soon after the celebrations ended, it became clear that Nicaea had failed to unite the church. Although the majority of participants seemed to agree with Alexander and subscribed to the creed, several bishops had done so because of imperial pressure.¹ Many Christians also felt uneasy about using an unscriptural term to define Christ. Others found unsettling the attempt to turn a creed of faith into an official document and public decree to mark the boundaries of orthodoxy.²

      To make matters worse, as they brought the new creed to their congregations, church leaders disagreed on how to interpret it. Some prelates,...

    • 7 Claiming Truth, Projecting Power, a.d. 325–337
      (pp. 99-124)

      The dispute erupted again as soon as prelates returned to their sees following Nicaea. Dissatisfaction with Nicaea provoked disturbances in many places. As the faithful were asked to recite the creed in prayers, doxologies, and worship, church leaders found themselves having to justify their subscriptions to the Nicene formula to their congregations.¹ Even before returning home, Eusebius of Caesarea wrote to explain to his flock why and under what conditions he had agreed to the creed—not “sameness” of essence, but “similarity in all things,” he glossed thehomoousios,offering an interpretation of Nicaea that Alexander of Alexandria or Eustathius...

    • 8 The Challenge of Theology and Power in Action: Bishops, Cities, and Empire, a.d. 337–361
      (pp. 125-152)

      Constantine died in May 337 in Nicomedia on his way to the Eastern front to lead an invasion of Persia.¹ His death put the plans for war on hold, and the empire was subsequently divided among his heirs—his three sons, Constantine II, Constantius, and Constans, and nephew, Dalmatius. In the months that followed, however, Dalmatius and other members of his family were murdered, possibly on the orders of Constantius, heir of the East, and in September of that same year, Constantine’s sons became the new masters of the Roman world.²

      Church leaders did not take long to realize the...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 153-160)

    In the summer of 355, following the Council of Milan, Eusebius, bishop of Vercelli, was exiled to Scythopolis with a handful of priests and deacons. Like other Western bishops, Eusebius had resisted Constantius’s imposition of the creed of Sirmium and refused to subscribe to Athanasius’s deposition.¹ Scythopolis in late antiquity was a large and prosperous city and a major manufacturing center with a substantial pagan population.² When Eusebius arrived, the local church remained in the hands of Patrophilus, the venerable anti-Nicene bishop who had occupied the episcopal chair of Scythopolis since the early years of the Arian controversy. According to...

  9. Appendix
    (pp. 161-182)
  10. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 183-186)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 187-272)
    (pp. 273-288)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 289-310)