27 May 2011


Several decades ago I was in Jordan to supervise a $2.5 million airborne geophysical survey.  While there I was invited to an embassy dinner in Amman, where I encountered my first Catholic priest in quite a long time.  His name was William J. Fulco, S.J., a Jesuit who by his own admission was an agnostic.  He was a scholar and professor at Berkeley in archeology - specialty ancient coinage.  We hit it off - we had Berkeley and archeology and the same irreverent sense of humor in common, and he had a pungently-expressed dislike of the Israelis who occupied the West Bank at the time (they returned the dislike with frosting).  After awhile Father Fulco and I got onto religious topics, and the first time I saw him get serious was when he told me that as a Mormon, I was an Arian, and therefore my baptism didn’t count in an era where the Catholic church was beginning to accept protestant churches’ baptisms.

This didn’t really throw a damper on our conversation - I was less than uninterested in Catholic baptism.  Because there were no communication links between Jordan and Israel at the time - they were technically at war - I couldn't easily get there, nor make reservations ahead of time.  Fr. Fulco gave me abundant advice on how to get to Jerusalem (“take the absolute bare minimum - no more than a briefcase”, and "be prepared for the closest feely search of your life."), and how to negotiate a room for several nights in the White Sisters Convent in Jerusalem after I got there.  He told me to beg and grovel and insist on talking with the Mother Superior, who he said always caved in because she had such a kind heart.  This gave me my one opportunity to spend several days in and around Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the Garden Tomb.  The price I paid was $5/night - and being chewed to pieces by mosquitoes all night long as I looked from my bed through a windowless opening in my wall on the flood-light-lit walls of the Old City.

In 325 AD, the Roman emperor Constantine convened a gathering of Christian bishops.  There were altogether too many different beliefs in the Godhead at the time - primarily over the nature of Christ - and therefore furious arguments, and Constantine demanded a consensus.  What the Emperor wants, the Emperor gets.  He didn’t particularly care what that consensus was, as he was largely uninformed about Christianity, even though he had made it the faith of the Empire.

The argument went on for over two months, mainly between Arius, and St. Alexander, two bishops of Alexandria.  You can guess who won.

Arius claimed that the Son of God was a creation, made from nothing, that he was the first “thing” that God had created before time began; and that everything else was subsequently created through the Son. Arius also held that Christ was capable of His own free will of right and wrong, could make mistakes, and was a finite being.

Alexander held that God the Father and Christ were co-equal, and had always existed together, and that Christ could not err.  Despite getting to fisticuffs (Nicholas of Myra, later canonized as a saint, at one point slapped Arius in the face) a compromise was reached. Constantine then stepped in and forced upon the rest of the church the dogma now known as the Nicaean Creed.  This included a declaration that the Father and the Son are of the same substance and are co-eternal, basing the declaration in the claim that this was a formulation of traditional Christian belief handed down from the Apostles.

Arius and a few devoted followers were excommunicated, exiled to Illyria, and their books were burned.  Anyone found possessing books somehow missed and not burned were to be executed.

I reassured Father Fulco that no, I was NOT part of “The Arian Heresy” as I had been taught that it was called in Catholic school as a child.

Can you distinguish what is taught by the Nicaean Creed and subsequent convocations, from what you believe?  Catholic dogma, and subsequent break-offs, have evolved over time. You may wish to explore these evolutionary changes: they are interesting, to say the least. Even more interesting: to learn about the people and the politics behind those various changes.


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