What’s Wrong with the World

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Technology ain’t always so bad.

I have grave doubts about the true value of technology, like any good Conservative. This position is strained by discoveries like this. Last night our esteemed Mrs. McGrew pointed out that Google Books includes William Muir’s classic The Life of Mohamet, right there in a reading format. Then I read a vigorous and wise statement by Touchstone’s James Kushiner:

I propose that no bishops be consecrated in any church unless they have studied and inwardly digested the full ecclesiastical history of the fourth century, beginning with the mass persecutions, then on to Nicaea, the Arian-inspired exiles and persecutions, and beyond. They should be rigorously quizzed on the names, the dates, the documents, the accounts of the martyrs, and then sign a form (in triplicate, of course!) saying they will faithfully walk in the steps of these orthodox bishops (and saints), and defend, to their last breath, that which was handed on from the apostles, and if not, then get a real job.

— Which, in turn, sent me off on a search which produced this. So there. Technology ain’t all bad.

Comments (9)

Maybe all men being prepared for consecration to the episcopate should be required to learn how to use Google books. :-)

Hugo Rahner's Church and State is also a great resource...

Many, many thanks for this link. I'm kind of a historical fiction nut, and the Arian/Athanasian dispute has loomed large in a couple of recently read books:

(1) City of Splintered Gods - by George Faludy, a Hungarian poet of undoubted genius.

(2) Raptor - by Gary Jennings, an American popular novelist whose prurience greatly exceeded his talent.

Different as they are, the two authors agree in this: that Arius and the Arians were just as tolerant as could be, while Athanasius and the orthodox Catholics were, more or less, proto-totalitarians.

I've been wanting to read the other side of the story, but didn't know where to look.

Ha! How typical.

The Arians began with a denial of the equality of God the Father and God the Son -- the latter was the greatest of all creatures, but still a creature -- and they ended by arguing that Jesus is just another wandering genius of a religious leader.

I can't say for sure which party was the more "tolerant" one, but this being the Roman Empire of late antiquity, the notion of anyone being tolerant as our Liberals understand it strikes me as borderline comical.

I second Paul's remarks, and I would have to say that any historical fiction that treats the Arians so well is probably rather more fictional than historical. No Christian confessional party in late Rome or Byzantium was tolerant of what it considered doctrinal error. The various groups of Arians throughout the fourth century were aiming for vindication and the condemnation of their opponents' doctrines, just as the Nicenes were seeking to do to the Arians. Naturally, there is some tendency today to view the Arians more favourably or sympathetically because they ultimately lost in a big way (unlike some later Christological heresies, Arianism as such is dead, though it has its latter-day admirers and would-be revivers). There is no shortage of scholarship reminding us that the category "Arian" was one constructed by their enemies, and most of the information we have about them comes from hostile sources, etc, so it is very fashionable (even Dan Brown does it!) to make "poor" Areios and company into the victims of a mean, old authoritarian plot. The trouble is that they very much wanted to be the people in charge, but they lost, and I think we are better off for it.

It might be tempting for counterfactual and fiction writers to play the "what if" game with the course of Christian history. I have seen the argument made, though I am not entirely persuaded by it, that Arian subordinationism meshed with Eusebian ideas of imperial monarchy better and Eusebius' treatment of imperial authority is tied to his conception of the superiority of the Father. I doubt that theological claims of this kind can be so readily related to political theory, and Eusebian ideology continued to have an influence long after 381, but it seems possible that a triumph of Arianism would have introduced an even *more* starkly autocratic, Near Eastern style of government into Byzantium and could have fostered a culture that would not have had any sense of cosmic redemption or the deification of man. The dignity of the human person could have very easily been reduced in an Arian-dominated Christianity, and it is conceivable that such a Christianity might have been much more vulnerable to the claims of Islam. If Christ is not God, but only the first among the creatures, there are certainly fewer major obstacles to accepting Islam, and if there is no doctrine of the Trinity (and the Arians did not accept any Trinitarianism that we would recognise) Islamic monotheism might have made deeper inroads. This is all speculative, of course, and might well have turned out quite differently from what I have sketched above. Still, I wouldn't be shedding too many tears over the fact that Eunomios and Makedonios did not prevail. A victorious Eunomian heresy (which does not refer to the name of my blog!) would have introduced a hyper-rationalist theology into the Church and might have turned Christian teaching into not much more than Neoplatonism lite.

During the fourth century, both sides of the dispute had the upper hand at one time or another and used it to depose rival bishops and excommunicate those whom they considered heretics. Particularly under Valens, persecution of Nicene Christians was intense. The Arians did more of the persecuting, but mainly because they had more of the emperors in the fourth century for more of the time (even St. Constantine was not terribly vigorous in going after them and entertained semi-Arian bishops and intellectuals at court). Generally, persecution in this period was not violent as far as state executions and the like went (only Manichees received the death sentence for their errors), though it could give rise to riot and public disorder if members of the confessions encountered each other in the streets during processions.

I also note that the one book, Raptor, sets its story in Ostrogothic Italy, where the "tolerance" of Arian Goths had a lot to do with the combination of relative Gothic theological illiteracy and the fact that they were vastly outnumbered by Nicene Christians whom they could not really afford to alienate. They had also technically taken control of Italy as agents of the Eastern emperor and risked creating a rift with Constantinople if they made life too difficult for the Catholic-Orthodox population. As far as these things went, the Ostrogothic Arians were probably the least bad, especially when compared to the Vandals. It wouldn't be fair to the Eastern Arians to condemn them for the excesses of the Vandals or to credit them for the relative mildness of the Ostrogoths. When Arians who fully understood their theological position had the chance, they went for total victory over their adversaries, as any confessional group would have done at the time.

Glad to see that Google Books is a hit -- and my apologies for having made Dr. McGrew a bit of a widow on that account this summer.

Another resource worth keeping in mind is the Internet Archive. Though the text holdings are not so extensive as those of Google Books, they are still pretty extensive and are generally of a higher quality: the pdf files at IA are layered, with pretty good OCR embedded allowing searches within texts one downloads, whereas for Google Books the scans are not layered and one must use the "view plain text" option while online.

As Paul says, this technology thing ain't always so bad!

Thanks, Tim.

Internet Archive, which I understand to be a Library of Congress operation, also contains a massive archive of Grateful Dead live shows -- hundreds of them, all recorded from the soundboard. Some are classic shows.

Ya know, if you like that sort of thing.

Okay, Sweet Thang, youse found one or two reasons fer technology, but youse right ter keep yore eyebrow lifted whenever somebody wants ter sell ya' on the idea of technosalvation...technology is a cruel god indeed.

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