Delenda Est Carthago

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!


Top Ten Day: My favorite Christian sects

I don't know why I thought of this topic, or if it will be interesting to anyone but me (maybe this guy), but I've always been fascinated by the various divisions in Christianity (being a history major of European history, this is perhaps not shocking), and naturally I have favorites. So here are my ten favorite, in no particular order (except for the first two, which are my absolute favorites!):

1. The Anabaptists. This group, which tried to create some kind of utopia in the German town of Münster in the 1530s, was notable because they believed that infant baptism was invalid and that only adults could receive it. Now, today this might not seem too radical, but back then, despite the Protestant Reformation sweeping Europe, that was crazy talk! In fact, a lot of Protestants persecuted the Anabaptists, because they learned quickly from the Catholics about oppressing people who thought differently than they did. A bunch of Anabaptists took over Münster and tried to create a theocracy, but German princes besieged the city and it turned into a horrific place. Their leader, John of Leiden, legalized polygamy and took 16 wives, and near the end, the townspeople turned to cannibalism. Or did they? Accounts vary. Anyway, this apocalyptic event drove Anabaptists underground, not surprisingly, but their traditions live on with the Amish, Mennonites, Quakers, and, of course, Baptists. I just always thought the Münster rebellion was pretty cool.

2. The Cathars. One of the most depressing spectacles of medieval Europe is the Albigensian Crusade, launched by Pope Innocent III to destroy the Cathars of southern France in the early 13th century. The Languedoc, as the south of France is known, was influenced by Muslim Spain, and was a place of learning and (relative) tolerance, ruled over by the counts of Toulouse, who were often more interested in reading than ruling. Innocent (1198-1216) was flexing papal muscle in these years (he Interdicted England, for crying out loud!), and he didn't like the fact that the Cathars were so powerful in the Languedoc. The Crusade, the first launched specifically against Christians, destroyed the infrastructure of the region, brought it under the sway of the French (Catholic) king, and made Simon de Montfort, an obscure French count, a superstar (until he was killed in a siege). This Crusade also gives us the famous line by the papal legate when asked how to distinguish Cathars from Cathoics at the siege of Béziers: "Kill them all, the Lord will recognize His own." Charming fellow. Anyway, Cathars themselves were influenced by gnostic teachings, believing that all matter was evil and that the divine spirit was trapped in a polluted world. Jesus himself was not a man, but a manifestation of the divine spirit. The Cathars believed that procreation, war, and capital punishment was wrong, which pissed off quite a lot of medieval Christians, who really enjoyed screwing and slaughtering! And, of course, the Cathars were supposed to have the treasure of the Templars, and they hid it from the filthy French! Ha, screw you, Frenchies! Cathars, by the way, have a web site. Check it out!

3. The Nestorians. Back in the fifth century, the archbishop of Constantinople, Nestorius, taught that Christ had two distinct natures - a divine one and a human one, and that they did not mingle. This led him to claim that the divine part of Christ did not suffer on the cross. Boy howdy, this pissed people off, you bet! The Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned Nestorius, but of course a lot of people still believed in that doctrine, and they went off to the East. It reached China still exists today in Iran, Iraq, and India. The Church's unofficial web site is here, and the Catholic Encyclopedia delves very deeply into Nestorianism here. I like the Nestorians because the heresy led, however mistakenly, to the legend of Prester John, which is a very cool story.

4. The Arians. Ah, Arianism. One of the most popular Christian heresies ever, and one that had an excellent chance to be the "orthodox" teaching throughout Europe. But alas! it failed, and has been relegated to the dustbin of history. Arius, the bishop of Alexandria, taught that the pre-incarnate Christ was created by God and did not exist prior to that. The Catholics, if you recall, believe that the parts of the Trinity are equal and have always existed. Splitting hairs, say you? Bite your tongue! Arius was condemned at a rather famous Council at Nicaea in 325 (whence comes the Nicene Creed), but his teachings lived on. Many Germanic tribes adopted Arianism, including the Visigoths, who ruled in Spain until the eighth century (but by then had become good Catholics). Arianism was very popular for centuries, but it eventually fell to the all-crushing Godness of Catholicism!

5. The Monophysites. The Monophysite position was completely antithetical to the Nestorian one - Monophysites argued that Christ had one nature, as opposed to two. This heresy was eventually rejected by the Catholic Church at the Council of Chalcedon of 451. Yes, it's hard to keep up.

6. The Copts. The Coptic Church, which is the dominant Christian sect in Egypt today, is actually monophysite. I guess that I should have distinguished between "heresies" and "sects," but what the hell. Copts don't recognize the Roman Pope, but the head of the their church is the Pope ... of Alexandria. I just find the Christians of Egypt interesting.
[Edit: A few commenters have pointed out that the Coptic Church is not really monophysite. Sorry about that. I knew I shouldn't trust the Internet! I wouldn't want to insult any Copts out there, so I'll just say I was wrong and move on.]

7. The Ethiopian Orthodox. Ethiopia, surprisingly enough, was one of the earliest countries to embrace Christianity (they say they're the oldest; the Armenians disagree). Because of this and the fact that Ethiopia is, to say the least, a bit isolated, means that their form of Christianity is archaic. Plus, the Ark of the Covenant is in a church in Addis Ababa, so they have that going for them.

8. The Mormons. What's so fascinating about the Mormons is they wouldn't be out of place in fourth- or fifth-century Asia, what with the whole origin of the sect and the fervor with which they practice and the persecution and intolerance they faced (and occasionally still face) and the way they quickly turn to oppression themselves when they get the chance. It's all very medieval, but the fact that it's such an American form of Christianity makes it oddly compelling.

9. The Catholics. Well, duh.

10. The Byzantine Orthodox. This refers to the Orthodox Church prior to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, when the Orthodox Church splintered. This is perhaps another no-brainer, as I've always dug the Byzantine Empire, and I just love that the schism between it and the Catholic Church came about from such tiny things, like the "filioque clause." For those of you who don't know Latin, "filioque" means "and the Son," which was inserted into the Nicene Creed, so that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This caused much consternation in the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and helped lead to the break between the two Churches (there were, of course, other reasons, but I love that one). The Orthodox Church today, of course, celebrates Easter at a different time than the Catholic Church does, which I'm surprised hasn't led Benedict XVI promulgating a new crusade. He seems like that kind of guy.

So those are my favorite sects. Like I said, I guess some are technically heresies, but you get the idea. I like others, of course, but those are my favorites. As for the majority of Protestant sects ... boring! When they take over a German town, legalize polygamy, and turn to cannibalism, then come talk to me!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are not Monophysite!!!!

The incarnation of God the Son is primarily for the salvation of the world. Salvation means to restoration of the world to its direct and unimpeded relation with God.

As God made it, the world was very good. But evil came there in it. God who made the world is ever concerned and active to save it from the clutches of evil and restore it to the destiny for which it has been created. Incarnation is God’s supreme act in saving the world.

God the Son entered the earthly realm of existence in a unique way by taking over Himself a perfectly real human life. This is incarnation by which God the Father who created the world through God the Son and perfects it through God the Holy Spirit, manifests through the Son His saving work for the world and completes it in the Holy Spirit. As creation is the work of God, redemption is also God’s work.

God who created the world made man as the crown of creation. Made in God’s image and endowed with creaturely freedom and autonomy, man seeks God and reflects on His being and nature. Through the wrong exercise of man’s freewill there came on him and the world at large misery and suffering as well as sin and evil. The salvation of the wold, therefore, required pre-eminently the healing of man. It is this healing which the Incarnation is believed by the Church to have aimed to accomplish.

In the Incarnation, God the Son united to Himself real and perfects manhood. Conceived in her womb by Mary the Virgin through the work of the Holy Spirit, He was born in the world as a real man. At the very moment of His conception, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, a personal manhood was formed in the Virgin’s womb in union with God the Son. Thus God the Son united to Himself the manhood taken from the human mother and was born as perfect God and perfect man in the real sense.

Jesus Christ, the incarnate God the Son, is one Person, continuous with Godhead and continuous with manhood. In Him Godhead and manhood continue each in its integrity and perfection, in a state of indivisible and unconfused union.

On this ground the Church of Ethiopia, with the other Oriental Orthodox Churches, affirms that Jesus Christ is not two natures, but one incarnate nature of God the Word. The “one” here is not meant to ignore the dynamic continuance of either Godhead or manhood in the one Christ, but to confess a real incarnation whereby God the Son entered the world of ours as a man. He is indeed God the incarnate Son even while He is found to undergo the frailty of manhood.

Living as He did a life of unbroken communion with God, He was absolutely sinless. Maintaining this union in the most inward and real sense, He entered into our battle with sin and evil as a man, and fell a victim to our death. By His suffering and ignominious death on the cross He scored a victory over the forces of evil, and by His resurrection from the dead He lives eternally in His natural unity with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, and in his unbroken and indivisible union with the manhood. In Jesus Christ, then, we have the incarnate, crucified and glorified God the Son, who is Himself our brother, signifying the final destiny awaiting the human race.

Regarding the Person of Jesus Christ also there have been serious discussions in Ethiopia. But the Church holds to the view that He is God the Son in His incarnate state. Born of God the Father eternally as God the Son, He was born of the Virgin Mother as a real man. There are a number of affirmations in the Anaphora regarding Him, some of which may be noted here.

1.Jesus Christ was born of Our Lady Mary for our salvation. He who does not believe in His birth from Holy Mary, let him be anathema.

2. In this way, after being conceived in the womb of the Virgin, God the Son was born as a man. By His conception, God the Son became incarnate “taking our nature.” The Son who is born of the Father without a mother, was born as a man without a Father. “He put on mortal flesh and made it immortal,” and He came truly into the world “clothed in the body which He took from us.”

3. His human birth was a unique event, whereby God the Son “came down through the will of His Father” and was made man. “His humanity was not inferior because He had no Father to be born of His seed.” This is incarnation, whereby God the Son entered the historical realm in order to save it forever.

4. In the Incarnation, God the Son united to Himself manhood and “made it one with his Godhead without mixture or confusion, without division or alternation.” Therefore, “His Godhead was not separated from His manhood, not for an hour, nor for the twinkling of an eye.”

5. God the Son came to us “without being separated from His Godhead.” After being born, “He grew like an infant, and grew little by little until He matured like a man. At the age of thirty He was baptized in the Jordan.” He was tempted by the devil; “He hungered and thirsted,” He went about “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of Heaven.” By this, who is perfect like God the Father and is His image walked among us in our image.

6. He suffered passion and death voluntarily on our behalf and for our sakes. He became hungry as man, and granted food to many with very little bread. He thirsted as a man who dies, but changed water into wine as being able to give life to all.

They bet Him on the head as a servant and He set free from the yoke of sin as Lord of all. He suffered all. He cured the blind with His spittle and gave us the Holy Spirit by receiving the spittle of the unclean. He who forgiveth sin was accused as a sinner by them. The judge of judges was judges by them. He was crucified on the tree to destroy sin, was crucified with the sinner to control with the righteous. He died through His will, and was buried willingly; He died to destroy death, He died to give life to the dead; He was buried to raise those who were buried, to keep the living, to justify the impure, to justify the sinners, to gather together those who were scattered, and to turn the sinners to glory and honour.

Such passages in the Anaphora are too numerous to be reproduced or even noted in the present context. They show that Jesus Christ was at once God and man without division or confusion. The same Christ, God the Son incarnate, expressed the divine actions as well as the human. He is one Christ, in whom God and man are indivisibly united.

7. As to the absolute reality of the suffering and death, there are passages almost without number. We shall reproduce here two of them, one taken from the Anaphora of St. James of Serug, and the other from the Anaphora of St. Dioscorus. The priest who celebrates using the first of these two Anaphora’s says in prayer:

O Lord, Thou wast struck with the hands of a servant, beaten with sticks, pierced with a spear, and they caused Thee to drink a little gall with vinegar. While Thou was God able to prevent them, thou didst not prevent them, Thou didst become patient even to death; all this thou didst accept for the love of man.

The Anaphora of St. Dioscorus contains the following passages bearing on the point at issue in the present context. The priest says there in prayer:

He was laid in the manger of the cattle, received the presents of His kingdom, and wept as infants do, asking for food from the breast of His mother. As to suffering and death in particular, we have passages like the following. They crucified Him on the tree, nailed him with nails, beat Him on the head with sticks, pierced his side with a spear, to Him who gave drink to the Israelites from a rock they gave to drink gall mixed with myrrh in His thirst. The immortal died, died to destroy death, died to quicken the dead as He promised them with the word of covenant.

8. Death was not the end of His dispensation. “He rose from the dead, absolutely without corruption and set is free from the yoke of sin.” The risen Christ ascended into heaven and is with God the Father. He has triumphed over death and decay.

These and the many other passages in the Liturgy show that the manhood of Christ was absolutely real and perfect. But everywhere the emphasis is on the unity of Jesus Christ. It is affirmed that He is God the Son in His incarnate state. As regards the Incarnation, it is clearly shown that He was conceived in the Virgin’s womb, and that He was born as a real man. At the very moment of His conception, through the Holy Spirit, actual manhood was formed from the human mother in union with Himself. It is to Him who was thus conceived that the Virgin gave birth. Therefore, Jesus Christ is indivisibly one. The two natures of Godhead and manhood which came into union in Him continue in the one Christ, each in its absolute integrity and perfection with its respective properties, without change or division. Each of them continues in its dynamic reality, not in a quiescent state, so that Christ is God and man at the same time.

The Church of Ethiopia, with the other Oriental Orthodox Churches, has refused to accept the Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith with the affirmation that Christ is “made known in two natures.” If by the expression the Churches which accept the Definition mean only that Godhead and manhood continue in the one Chris dynamically, this is the teaching of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. On the other hand, if the expression is taken in the sense that Godhead and manhood continue in Christ only in a state of moral union, there is a basic difference on this issue between the churches of the Chalcedonian tradition and the Church of Ethiopia, which should be noted. (1)


8/2/08 12:49 AM  
Blogger Disintegrating Clone said...

I take it conciseness isn't one of the cornerstones of the Church of Ethiopia...

Anyway, Greg, if you haven't read it, you've got to read Q by Luther Blissett (a nom de plume of the Wu Ming Foundation). Q is the story of an Anabaptist being tracked by, and tracking a Papal Spy. It's one of the best books I read last year.

8/2/08 3:04 AM  
Blogger Nader Alfie said...

Greg, Please see the following article as well:

8/2/08 6:55 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Nader: I saw the article on Miaphysitism, but it was late, and I wanted to go to bed. Thanks for pointing it out - I'll have to read up on it!

DC: I own Q, actually, and got it because of its connection to the Anabaptists. I just haven't read it yet. I'm glad it has a strong endorsement!

See, Anonymous's statement is why early Christianity makes my head hurt. And why it still does today. Thanks for the "clarification," Ethiopian, even though I'm not sure if calling a sect "monophysite" is an insult. If the Coptic Church isn't monophysite, that's cool. I happened to read something on-line that appeared very definitive that said it was, but I'm not that hung up on it!

8/2/08 7:06 AM  
Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

Interesting idea, to list your favorite branches of Christianity. I have to object to your statement that the Copts are "monophysite"; they aren't that in the sense usually meant, though the Roman Catholic church thought thhey were and anathematized them. They believe that Christ had the nature of the Incarnate Word: fully human and fully divine. So, yes, "one nature" so you could use the word "monophysite", but that term is usually reserved for those who deny that Christ was both human and divine.

If I were a Copt or an Ethiopian, what you'd said would be fighting words ...

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

9/2/08 8:09 PM  
Blogger Ahistoricality said...

I'd probably have to include the Hussites/Lollards and the Mennonites.

10/2/08 2:22 AM  
Blogger Roger Green said...

I went to a Coptic church, in Albany, 10 years ago. Afterr the service, I was talking theology with one of the parishoners, and ghe told me, in the nicest way possible, that I was going to hell.

11/2/08 7:42 AM  
Blogger Disintegrating Clone said...

- she told me, in the nicest way
- possible, that I was going to hell.

I'm jealous. I collect declarations of eternal damnation from different denominations. Can I swap you five Catholics and a Church of England for your Coptic?

13/2/08 3:06 AM  

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