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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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. In its duration, acrimony, and divisiveness, the Arian controversy surpassed all other, earlier or contemporary, Christian disputes. Far from being a limited or regional ecclesiastical affair like the Paulist or Donatist schism, it divided Christian communities in the empire’s Eastern half into theological camps, making them rivals and hostile to one another. For two or three generations without interruption, the controversy engaged church leaders in a vicious struggle concerning the definition of the truth about God and for the leadership of Christian congregations. Especially intriguing to me was the vast number of people involved, of high and low station, inside and outside the church, from the woman in the street to the emperor himself, as the dispute spread from a “little spark into a large fire throughout … provinces and cities.”

Why was the Arian controversy so extensive and so incendiary? And why did it last so long? Contemporaries could answer these questions with stunning clarity. The dispute was the work of the devil, who could not bear the sight of a triumphant church and the happy state of Christian affairs. Only sheer evil could sow hatred and division in this manner and wish to bring ruin to the church. This explanation should not be dismissed too readily, nor should we take it too metaphorically, not least because getting rid of that evil often meant getting rid of its . . .

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