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New translation, the Magna Carta

‘heresy’, authority,

   quarrels and words [1]

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Ideas of multiple gods are rather redundant in that they track human categories, but the idea of a single, unknowable, ever-present god has the useful effect of emphasising the unity of what is. As soon as separations are introduced, the function of the concept starts to lose usefulness and begins to import human vanities. With those vanities ride both disputes and authoritarianism.

Maintaining balance and flexibility in thinking, and transferring fluently between the ‘whole’ and any defined ‘parts’ while giving no great attachment to either, is the route to sanity.

Various confusions of ideas, aggravated by the priorities of local power seekers, are interestingly illustrated by the notion of ‘heresy’. An important by-product of the ever-growing complexity that develops around the theology of religion is an increasingly sophisticated analysis of language that is generated as thinkers attempted to rationalise the ridiculous.

What is heresy?

An element of the accusation of heresy is the ‘sin’ of pride. Pride consists of setting one’s judgement against that of ‘authority’.

‘Authority’ sets up categories of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ according to the interests of that authority. Authority tends to control land and other goods; thus ‘laws’ that make ‘property’ sacrosanct always loom large.

‘Morality’ looks entirely different to the lord of the castle and to the starving people at the castle gate attempting to feed the children. In the latter’s terms, as provocatively expressed by Proudhon, ‘property is theft’. [2]

Categories follow purposes. Faced by situations that are uncomfortable for them, people call situations ‘evil’ or ‘wrong’ and those people seeming to cause those situations, or merely to benefit from them, are labelled sinners and a variety of other unpleasant names.

Organised religions are a form of social control masquerading as ethics. Religions seek to explain behaviours in myths designed to manipulate and control. ‘Explanation’ is a form of rigid dogmatism intended to set in amber the fleeting changes and interests of the current world. ‘Explanation’ is a substitute for description and exploration. ‘Explanation’ is a primitive response to a frightening world, for explanation gives an, albeit false, feeling of understanding. Institutional religion is, as Marx (and Charles Kingsley) put it, ‘the opium of the people’.

For simple ‘explanations’, the world is divided into twos: ‘evil’ and ‘good’, a ‘person’ or a ‘god’, real or ‘unreal’ – otherwise stated as material or ‘immaterial’.

Click for gothic cathedral and church construction in France.'Y'
What is ‘heresy’?
Problems with words
On Persons
On Nature/essence/form
‘Heresies’ concerning christianism to the rest of the index
the Aliquid issue
‘Heresies’ concerning trinitarianism
     I Sabellianism
Other ‘heresies’
    Montanists, Meletians, Tertullian
    Zoroastrianism, Bogomilism, Catharism
Greater than is a relative concept
  (specialists may find it useful to scan this last section prior to reading the main body of this document) return to index
Endnotes (with bibliographic references)

Problems grow when words and the objects to which they point are thought to be static and reliably unchanging. Problems grow as one attempts to apply more than one word to supposedly one thing. Is ‘christ’ a ‘divine’ person or is he a ‘divine’ thing and a man? Both lines, as we shall see, cause considerable difficulties.

People do naughty things, so church myth decides that people are born with ‘original sin’. Naturally, freethinking people who care about such matters dispute this slur. Authorities, who want all to pull together in the advancement of war and other productivity, or those seeking personal political advantage, tend to dream up a label to describe the miscreants. It always helps to have a them and an us and humans just love simplistic boo words to malign and dominate their rivals. It matters not what the myths are, as long as all support the home team. Meanwhile even good loving christianists, including popes, need someone to hate or despise.

So the authorities pick on an influential but vulnerable rival, some clever dick who questions the dogma and then names a new word after them. Note that the pattern continues into the present with terms such as Quisling and McCarthyism.

In our first case, the lucky fellow to be nominated was Pelagius [2a], a Welsh cleric, active in Rome, North Africa and the Middle East at the beginning of the 5th century. So the ‘heresy’ was named Pelagianism. He denied the transmission of original sin and denied that baptism is necessary to be freed from it.

Authority can remove ‘original sin’ by a little mumbo jumbo that only the duly appointed authorities can perform. To suggest that ‘original sin’ does not exist is to attack the power structure. Without ‘original sin’, where is the call for the magic ceremony to cancel it out? Pelagius went further by suggesting that humans can do good of their own volition without constant ‘grace’ from ‘god’, again mediated by the authorities through rituals they call ‘sacraments’. Naturally, that further undermines the need for the shamans.

Just to add to the fun, Pelagius also held the view that man can take the first steps to his own salvation with-out the assistance of divine grace; such dangerous views became one of the principal targets of Augustine who had the doctrine declared heretical in 416. In more recent times, many among the protest-ant groups of the ‘reformation’ have been accused of Pelagianism. This ‘heresy’, like most heresies, reappears regularly.

There was also a supposed compromise version called semi-Pelagianism, which, for a while, was held in some respect in 5th century France, and remains common even to this day. Some say this is even too hard to recognise as Pelagianism. While often the subject of learned rants by some theologians, semi-Pelagianism has never been anathematised or declared a heresy.

Another lot, who rather took the whole sacrament business seriously, made the claim that only priests, who were in good standing with god as evidenced by their pious and exemplary frugality of lifestyle, could do effective spells. Again, with the priests and other authorities living rather ostentatious and wealthy lives, this view was also seen as a threat, so they condemned that too and called it Donatism after Donatus who died AD 355. Donatus was also against state interference, never the best way to stay healthy. It is useful to keep in mind that priests are more or less entirely drawn from the children of the ruling classes. As it used to be said, the first son inherits, the second becomes a soldier (‘officer’ of course) and the third goes into the church.

return to index

Problems with words

Humans differ from other animals in two important attributes, they wear clothes and they speak a complex language. Such novelty causes humans much confusion and distress. Calling things by names has often led to great confusion, and even wars and other persecution. To describe an object, it is considered that the object has the quality named. For example, ‘Jo has a neat personality’: what we tend to mean is that the object labelled ‘Jo’ enhances my interests, that I find Jo to be useful. Thence we imagine that some ‘thing’ ‘exists’ out there in the real world called a ‘personality’, but what really exists is our response to particular behaviours exhibited by particular objects or that we like the green reflection from grass.

Certainly, if we are to be practical, ‘something’ does exist out there. What exists is a person behaving in various ways, but to say that the person has or possesses ‘a’ personality is to be too careless with language. Thus, there is an object behaving in a manner, that object behaving in some manner, we call a ‘personality’. However, there is no ‘personality’ somehow apart from the object behaving.

To aggravate mis-communication further, people imagine that objects and concepts related to those objects may be defined without overlap, as if a smile can be separate from a pain or a leg, or either may be happily ‘separated’ from the living human body. Further aggravation is generated by imagining that ‘states’ can be perfectly ‘opposite’, either you are happy or you are unhappy, whereas it is of course quite possible to exists in states where feelings are neither stable nor unmixed.

People often imagine that they are in dispute merely because each person uses differing internal meanings for words, despite maybe believing similar things; but they still fight in the belief that they ‘disagree’. So you are cautioned to check most carefully your understanding of the meanings of others and, even then, maintain caution. These disputes continue to the present time. It is important to realise that language has developed greatly in subtlety over the centuries. While highly intelligent, the writers of two or three thousand years ago had language with a much more limited word-set than we have today. That resulted in words having to do much more work for their living. It is, therefore, even more difficult to understand subtleties of meaning when expressed with such a limited vocabulary. John of Salisbury warned his contemporaries thus:

That which is written should be studied with sympathetic mildness, and not tortured on the wrack, like some helpless prisoner, until it renders what it never received.[3]

This remains most sound advice to this day.

The neurotic drive for tidy categories led to the attempt to make lists under ordered sub-headings, using terms for headers such as ‘genus’, which in turn contained items to be called ‘species’. This has proved very useful in attempting to bring some order to the teaming variety of reality. But it has carried with it the hubris that the categories have some substantive ‘meaning’ beyond our present human convenience. With that hubris comes great confusion and delusion.

As Brouwer puts it,

People try by means of sounds and symbols to originate in other people copies of mathematical constructions and reasonings which they have made themselves; by the same means they try to aid their own memory.[4]

A table that is both three tables and one table at the ‘same’ time clearly poses some problems. The speculators of old had similar problems with ‘god’. To this was added the considerable inaccessibility of ‘god’ as an object to be investigated. Now add to the brew curious humans who wish to understand the strange world in which they find themselves, with a considerable wish to be rather important and significant in this strange land. Then, the more important this ‘god’ becomes, and the more closely one is associated with the ‘god’, the better the myth will fit the needs of the day.

Humans behave in varying ways, but they do not possess a ‘nature’ or an ‘essence’. People just are, no analysis changes that reality. When faced with confusing language, train yourself to consider just what is imagined or intended by words like ‘divine’, ‘nature’, ‘essence’, ‘meaning’, ‘person’. Always ask: ‘What does this person’s use of this word at this moment ‘mean’, or better indicate, in the real world?’

I shall now consider in this vein some of the words that form the foundations of the foolish disputes of theology, together with some juicy cuts from some of the adherents of such esoterica. These words have generated wars, torture and incredible expenditure of ink, waffle and parchment over millennia. It is my intention that, by teaching the underlying ‘logical’ errors involved in word structures, I may persuade people that there are ways to avoid much turmoil and waste.

Problems arose in the use of several rather sloppy terms. Physis and hypostasis were usually used to refer to a concrete reality, while ousia usually had a more general and abstract sense, yet all three could be used interchangeably in many cases. Thus, in the First Council of Nicaea, hypostasis and ousia were used more-or-less synonymously. Problems arose from the early crude notions of essence, which goes back to forms of animism where it is imagined that objects are imbued with ‘spirits’. Thus the tendency to differentiate the object from some imagined ‘abstract sense’. This redundant and confusing problem was ‘brilliantly solved’ according to some,[5] by deciding that hypostasis would refer to ‘persons’ and ousia to essences. This is a distinction without substance mixed with a ‘concept’ without substance. The confusion of ‘essences’ with ‘persons’, and then insisting that ‘essences’ and ‘persons’ are both ‘the same’ and ‘different’, is not designed to communicate with clarity, let alone with ‘brilliance’.

It was then decided that ‘god’ was one essence with three persons. This becomes truly rickety when it is later decided that ‘christ’ is a sort of marriage between one of these ‘persons’ and the human teacher Jesus of Nazareth. Thus we now have an entity that was one person with two essences, as part of an entity with three persons with one essence! Little wonder that sufficient confusion was generated to keep legions of ‘theologians’ busy for some centuries.

So we have:

One ‘essence’ with 3 ‘persons’, one of which has 2 ‘essences’

Still it must be right if the infallible pope says so! Or should that be baloney baffles brains?return to index



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On Persons

Hypostasis (qnoma in parts of the Eastern Church)is the equivalent of the Latin substantio (substance). The range of meanings included the substance, stuff or material (out of which something is made), it could also be used as an equivalent to ousia (essence), or it could refer to a concrete instance of an abstract essence, that is, nature realised in a particular individual. It is only after Chalcedon that ‘person’ or ‘individual’ becomes a reliable translation for hypostasis. Before this time the words were capable of interchangeable usage.

Central Christian doctrine is that God became flesh, that God assumed a human nature and became a man in the form of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the second Person of the Trinity. Christ was then ‘god’ and a man. The doctrine maintains that the divine and human natures of Jesus do not exist beside one another in an unconnected way, but rather are joined in him in a personal unity that has traditionally been referred to as the hypostatic union. The union of the two natures has not resulted in their diminution or mixture; rather, the identity of each is imagined to have been preserved.return to index

‘Heresies’ concerning christianism

A mathematician might say one plus zero ‘equals’ one.

The official western (dyosophyte) line:
‘Christ’ was one person, both divine and human.

One might also ask what is meant by ‘ divine’?

‘Christ’ is a sort of supposed amalgam of the considerable teacher, Jesus of Nazareth and a poorly defined, three-‘part’ entity called ‘god’, of which each part is the lot. The particular ‘god’ in mind has three ‘personalities’ or persons. It is the second (third in past times) ‘person’, named ‘the son’ or ‘the word’, who is involved in the meld. Unsurprisingly, this causes a whole raft of difficulties (set out below) as various individuals propose their particular solutions to the puzzles this ‘mystery’, or (according to taste) a mare’s nest generates. Several rather complicated requirements must be satisfied before humans can be convinced that the story makes some sort of consistent sense. For more on the confused language regarding ‘persons’, see also persons and personas.

With this triune [6] ‘god’, Christology faces the problems of counting, and of rather apparent multiple contradictions. Mixing in the ‘concept’ of ‘Christ’ generates an even more deadly brew of non-sense. Is ‘Christ’ ‘god’ or man or both? Is Jesus a new part of ‘god’? Does that make god bigger? Is god expanding? Wanting it both ways sails into a storm and the mental chaos of word-bound doublethink.[16]

Consider the social and political requirements of getting primitive monkeys to value life and to aspire to standards beyond animality, without comforting fairy tales. It is necessary that the ‘god’ must take an interest in little humans and yet be important if humans are to take the god seriously. From early in the development of Christianism, brave incautious and intelligent souls were available to take shots at solving the puzzles and squaring or triangulating the circle. One attempt at a way out was to deny that ‘christ’ was ‘divine’, another to deny that he was human and yet another that he was a sort of ghost or, alternatively, a marionette. return to index

On Nature/essence/form

Ousia (plural: ousiai) (also essentia, Chalcedon makes this ‘nature’) is a version of the term ‘to be’. Like most words, it can mean many things to many people. It can be translated as ‘substance’ to signify the material substance out of which a thing is made; it can be rendered as the ‘true nature’ of a thing; or even as ‘the primary real’ which underlies all change and process in nature’; and much else besides.

From this is developed the word:

(Gk.: of one substance) a term used by Augustine to express the single substance/essence of the trinity; the principle doctrine affirmed in the Athanasian creed, drawn up to confuse the Arians.


(Gk.: of like substance) of similar but not identical essence or substance; a ‘subtle’ compromise between the belief that the members of the trinity are of one substance (homoousion) and the belief that they are of different substances: counting the substances naturally requires some ingenuity. In English, ‘the son is like the father’ or ‘similar to the father’. This is regarded by some as a moderate Arian position and was one of many attempts to bring harmony to warring camps, or a fudge, if you prefer.

Arianism [16a] The doctrine denying the ‘divinity’ of Christ, named after the Alexandrian priest, Arius (c. AD 250 – c. 336). It maintained that the Son was not eternal or of one nature with God, but was a dependent instrument created for the redemption of the world, rather in the nature of a puppet. Therefore, the son must have had a beginning in time. Therefore, the son was not the ‘equal’ of the father. Arius, like Nestorius, is regarded as a major-league heretic. This is probably because his critique is not the most simple to contest: he accented the absolute oneness of the divinity as the highest perfection, and had a literal or rationalist approach to the New Testament texts. An attempted fix for Arianism was to say that the son had always existed. Compare with Eutyches and with Apollinarianism.

A later member of the Arian tendency was Aëtius (4th century), who founded the Anomoeans. He regarded theology as formal logic and developed three hundred syllogisms, forty-seven of which still exist. He held that the essential difference between ‘god’ and Christ was that God had always existed, while Christ was created by God. Aëtius, the founder of the Anomoeans, reasoned that the doctrine carried to its logical conclusion must mean that God and Christ could not be alike. Aëtius argued that self-existence is a part of the nature of God and that therefore Christ could not be like God, because christ lacked this necessary quality. Aëtius was excommunicated and his works burnt, so knowledge of his views is sketchy.

In 325 the General Council of Nicaea rejected this ploy and defined the doctrine of the coeternity and coequality of God and the Son. This is the doctrine sometimes impressively called homoousion or of one essence. Thus the church defined Arius as a major irritant and called him a heretic. Arius, not to be left out of the fun, accused his bishop of  Sabellianism , that is a failure to distinguish the members of the trinity! All against all, and all is paranoia: these are the standard tools of state oppression. Modern echoes of Arianism can be seen today in Unitarianism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. ‘Solutions’ often involve referring to Jesus as a ‘prophet’, as is the case with Islam.

Another attempt at solving the problems was Docetism (from the Greek, dokein, ‘to seem’), one of the earliest Christian sectarian doctrines, which claimed that ‘christ’ did not have a real or natural body during his life on earth but only an apparent or phantom one. Its incipient forms are alluded to in the New Testament, such as in the Letters of John (e.g., 1 John 4:1–3, 2 John 7). Docetism became more fully developed as a form of  Gnosticism, as a dualist system of belief akin to Manichaeanism, which arose in the 2nd century AD. Docetism claimed that salvation was to be attained only through esoteric, often ‘secret’ knowledge, or gnosis.

The ‘heresy’ developed from speculations about the imperfection or essential impurity of matter. More thoroughgoing Docetists asserted that Christ was born without any participation of matter and that all the acts and sufferings of his life, including the Crucifixion, were mere appearances. They consequently denied Christ's Resurrection and Ascension into ‘heaven’. Milder Docetists attributed to Christ an ethereal and heavenly body, but disagreed on the degree to which it shared the real actions and sufferings of Christ. All opponents of Gnosticism attacked Docetism, especially Bishop Ignatius of Antioch in the 2nd century.

Pius 12th refers to the  Kenotic doctrine as an ‘opposite’ of Docetism. I quote for your delight:

This is called the kenotic doctrine, and according to it, they imagine that the divinity was taken away from the Word in Christ. It is a wicked invention, equally to be condemned with the Docetism opposed to it. It reduces the whole mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption to empty the bloodless imaginations.

‘With the entire and perfect nature of man’—thus grandly St. Leo the Great—‘He Who was true God was born, complete in his own nature, complete in ours.’[7]

Apollinarianism Apollinaris the Younger, Latin Apollinarius (c. 310 – c. 390), bishop of Laodicea, developed a position concerning the nature of christ now called Apollinarianism. Apollinaris denied the existence in christ of a rational human soul, that is he said ‘christ’ was non-human, a position he took to combat the Arianist position which asserted that he was just human. Excommunicated from the church for his views, Apollinaris was re-admitted but in 346 excommunicated a second time. Nevertheless, the Nicene congregation at Laodicea chose him as bishop (c. 361).

Skilled in logic and Hebrew and a teacher of rhetoric, Apollinaris also lectured at Antioch in about 374. (See also second ecumenical council held at Constantinople 381.) With his father, Apollinaris the Elder, he reproduced the Old Testament in the form of Homeric and Pindaric poetry and the New Testament in the style of Platonic dialogues, after the Roman emperor Julian had forbidden Christians to teach the classics. Hey, you can’t keep a good guy down.

Nestorianism, as it was understood at the time, so insisted upon the full humanity of Christ's human nature that it was believed by some to divide him into two Persons, one human and the other divine. Nestorius (before 400 AD – c. 451 AD) repudiated such a view. However, ever since the Roman propagandists have dishonestly claimed that Nestorius did teach two separate persons. What Rome refers to as ‘the Nestorian heresy’, that is that ‘christ’ is two separate ‘persons’, is in fact a view never taught by Nestorius. Thus is confusion piled upon confusion. The christianist confusion on this issue is very great indeed, thus in various contexts as you will read below what amounts to Monophysitism is condemned as ‘heretical’ while at other times the eastern churches are declared ‘orthodox’. Of course, if you seriously believe that you can distinguish between ‘a person’ and ‘the nature of a/that person’ you may find all this just a mite easier to swallow.

For Nestorius the meaning of prosopon appears to be broadened to extensions of personal power. The Greek term prosopon means the self-manifestation of an individual that can be extended by means of other things—e.g. a painter includes his brush within his own prosopon.

Thus, according to Nestorius, the Son of God used manhood for his self-manifestation and manhood was, therefore, included in his prosopon; the result being that he was a single object of presentation. And the man Jesus used the nature of god as ‘his’ prosopon!

This view was rather close to what eventually became the party line. In fact, Nestorius wrote that he fully agreed with the line taken by Felix, the pope of the time. Nestorius merely was caught up in a political crossfire. Ever since then, Rome has tried to burn all his writings as a means to make the official line on Nestorius stick. A considerable problem was that, while Nestorius was making stalwart efforts to explain the nebulous formula in some manner that had a glimmer of rationality, the political powers merely sought a formula that would keep all the warring interests on board while appeasing the mobs: big mistake.

At the 6th ecumenical council, Rome aggravated the issue further by the formulation known as dyothelite, which means two wills. Just how one ‘person’ has two wills is not entirely clear to my tiny mind, but then that is not my problem. My objective however, is to use items from the history of ‘heresy’ to illustrate errors of logic, and closely associated slippery word usage, with the effects of these communication issues upon the pressures of politics. It is my thesis that it is these errors of communication that lead to wars, university degrees in non-sense, and to corruption, as words are directed to rhetoric and obfuscation and brain washing in place of clarity and co-operation. If you wish to wade further into the treacle, then you must go back to the words of Nestorius [9] and Loofs [10].

The story of Nestorius is both instructive and interesting in its complex obscurantism, Nestorius was a devout but politically naïve fellow who got on the wrong side of other church dignitaries. He was unkeen on Mary being called ‘god-bearer’ (theotokus). There were those who were arguing that she should be called ‘man-bearer’ and others supporting the ‘god-bearer’ faction. Nestorius suggested ‘Christ-bearer’ as a compromise, so I suppose he made enemies on both sides. Part of the argument was that Mary could not have given birth to ‘god’ in chronological time, for that would have meant that ‘god’, in the ‘person’ of the son was not eternal. The conundrum was deepened by the requirement that Jesus was, in some views, required to be wholly human if he were to be able to redeem the fallen state of humans.

While the views of Nestorius turned out to be close to the eventual party line, he was described as a rather unsophisticated monk, so he made a good fall guy for the power seekers. Nestorius was not gone on the ‘god-bearer’ label, because he imagined it reeked of denying the humanity of ‘christ’. There were also concerns that ‘god-bearer’ had the smell of paganism by imagining that it suggested Mary might be regarded as a goddess. Of course, the rivals of Nestorius easily started suggesting that he was into Arianism.

One of the standard control methods of Rome is to burn books [7a] and rewrite history, rather in the manner of Orwell’s ministry of truth.[8] In the case of Nestorius they came pretty close. All his work was lost with the exception of a few snippets and quotes, until a copy in the Syriac language of one of his most important works [9] was located in Persian Turkestan (now north western Iran). A Syrian priest managed to make and sneak out a copy in 1899.[10] So for the first time in nearly 1500 years, we had substantial evidence of what he really thought, rather than the dishonest, edited version from Rome.

The Roman Church has been an implacable enemy of reason and logic down the centuries. Porphyry (c. 232 – 305) wrote a short commentary/introduction to Aristotle, he also taught ‘faith, truth, love (desire) and hope’: his work was suppressed. Boethius (c. 475-480 – 524) extended the work of Porphyry, he was murdered by the state. Abelard (1079 – 1142), who taught his pupils on the foundations of what was then known of Aristotle, Porphyry and Boethius, was declared a ‘heretic’, his books ordered burnt and he was harried throughout his active life.[10a]

Only when logic is corrupted and used in support of party line and state is it accepted and praised. The theologian bears a striking similarity to the spin-doctors of the modern power structures; they tend to live in an atmosphere of shallow sophistication in universities, where they play a rather detached game akin to solving crossword puzzles, while being funded by taxation. This provides an easy option for those that cannot handle the rigour of chess or that other more useful religion known as academic mathematics. It is sensible not to confuse the ivory tower-enervated game of logic, in service of authority and presented by the heirs of Aquinas in academia, with the adventure in discovery and political exposure of Plato or Abelardreturn to index

The Aliquid issue

New problems arose with the impact of Boethius on the late eleventh century intellectual world. His famous definition of persona as ‘individual substance of a rational nature’ aroused great semantic difficulties for the scholastics. The word persona assumed a new meaning: ‘every individual man is recognised to be a person’ (Anselm of Canterbury, 1033 or 1034 – 1109). Remember that Aristotle had defined the human more generally as a rational animal. The rise of recognition of the individual was in the process of expanding.

This created a problem for Anselm and Hugh of St Victor. Abelard endeavoured to distinguish between the Boethian notion of persona and the persona trinitatis. Abelard appears to be saying, "nor is this person, as Boethius conceives of it, the ‘third’[11] person of the trinity".

Pope Alexander 3rd, a student of Abelard, put it thus: “That Christ, as a man, is not a person, and (that we may speak more truly and not lie) not something”.[11a] According to Little, “Alexander III, the former Roland,seems to have had enough of it so that he put an end to it. In fact, he reversed his own position at a council at Tours in 1163.”[12]

After the council of Sens (life of Abelard) there was discussion of all this in the context of the statement that Christ was (or was not) aliquid. The aliquid controversy became a raging one in the 1160's. According to Little, ‘The matter was set aright (sic) by the encyclical letter Sempiternus Rex in 1951’.[12a] Following, we have the erudite contribution of Pius 12th from that encyclical. Note that his last sentence suggests that his infallible holiness did not understand the party line!

The Fathers of Chalcedon, therefore, totally removed what was ambiguous or liable to cause error in these expressions. For they applied the same terms as are used in the theology of the Trinity, to the exposition of our Lord's Incarnation. Thus they made 'nature' and 'essence' (essentia, ousia) the same, and likewise 'Person' and 'Hypostasis', and they treated the latter two names as totally different in meaning, from the former two. Their approach, on the other hand, had made 'nature' the equivalent of ‘Person’ not of 'essence' (essentia).
From Sempiternus Rex, 1951 section 25, by Pius 12th[7]

The full arrogance and ignorance of this fellow can best be appreciated by reading substantial sections of this priceless document.[13]

The outcome of all this seems to be that a person in the ‘trinity’ is not like a ‘person’ here below (this is never clearly stated in my sources; also see aliquid and persons and persona in “Logic has made me hated among men”), though I am yet to understand what manner of thing such a ‘person’ might be. Neither am I convinced by the clarity of any of those entered into this ‘controversy’ of Olympian dimensions. Nor can I easily grok[14] the nature of the Siamese twin entity labelled ‘christ’. Perhaps one could take refuge in the unreason of the church father,[15] Tertullian(c.160–c.225):

‘It is certain because it is impossible.’

return to index

The word prosopon had a rather weak meaning for the idea of ‘person’. To say that the one God had three prosopa could be interpreted to mean three individuals, but it could also be interpreted in a Sabellian or modalistic way: one God with three faces, one God who played the three ‘roles’ of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Physis (from which Monophysite and Dyosophite) signified ‘nature’ with the meaning of an essence with the attributes proper to it. Thus it referred to a concrete reality, this confusion between a perceived object and its nature lays the ground for imagining the object as multiple, as both a body plus a nature (or spirit or soul). Such confusions are clear in the speculations of Aristotle, who managed at times three parts: the object or body that was mortal, the passive intellect that he also imagined as mortal, and an agent intellect that he surmised as immortal.

The questions asked were: which ‘parts’ were mortal or immortal, how the ‘parts’ did or did not interact with each other, and whether the ‘immortal’ parts were individual or expressions of the universal ‘god’. These questions have been the foundation for millennia of speculation and, in the case of Rome, the nursery for dogma and, thus, the developing party line.

What we actually perceive as humans is the body/object behaving in various manners, the rest is various clumsy attempts at ‘explanation’. The roots of Aristotle’s difficulties were several:

1 no useful knowledge of the nature of the brain
2 severe difficulties in comprehending the formation of ‘universals’
3 insufficient understanding of the labelling function of language
4 the individuality of the language usage by persons

  (for further discussion, see Why Aristotlean logic does not work)

Individuals (in the sense of words referring to single ‘objects’ e.g. ‘Socrates’) were held by Aristotle to be impressed by objects upon the mind but universals (in the sense of collective words, e.g. tables) required active understanding. By logical steps, the structure of religion has developed in a context of a human history of animism, combined with an inclination to rationalise some ‘moral’ code. Naturally that code was assembled upon the understanding of its time. Religion is psychology and sociology framed in the primitive mind with a primitive understanding. Religion is not some irrational, meaningless bunk; however much it may look like superstition to the modern mind trained in a narrow, mechanistic world-view. Religion served as an essential framework for humans, who severely lacked much essential biological and behavioural understanding of their own origins and nature.

Similar confusions easily enter modern thinking when we speak of ‘the nature of men’ or ‘he is of an outgoing nature’. If we imagine that, by such expressions, we achieve any deeper understanding than if we limit ourselves to comments such as ‘I classify that object as one that I choose to call a man’ or ‘he is smiling’ or ‘he seems to smile often’, we go beyond careful linguistic usage. It then becomes easy to imagine that we understand more than we can.

It has been common practice to extend our expressions to speaking of ‘the nature of God’, at which point we express far more vanity than understanding. When the early ‘Christians’ attempted to discuss a ‘Christ’ who was both human and ‘divine’, it generated confusions where ‘two’ ‘natures’ easily became ‘two’ ‘persons’. Naturally, the confusion expanded as two ‘wills’ was added to the dogmatic formulae at the sixth Ecumenical Council. Gradually the eastern and western Churches drifted apart as the theologians of the East imagined that monotheism was under attack, while the political operatives of the west appear to have little concern for what was believed, just as long as all believed the ‘same’ things.

To add to the confusion, Cyril of Alexander, an ambitious and ruthless politician, now labelled a saint and more recently, a doctor of the church (1882) was against the two natures formula. He favoured ‘one nature in the word made flesh’ and held the words ‘nature’ and ‘person’ to be synonymous, but he was eventually persuaded to accept the Dyosophite two natures dogma.

Cyril eventually won out in the political conflict with Nestorius, yet the Roman Church adopted a more Nestorian two natures line. Cyril is now associated with the official line, but Nestorius, an opponent of the Monophysite stance, is regarded as the founder of the ‘heresy’ with which he and his name are now forever cursed and anathematised. Such is the justice of history and the nature of Rome.

Having defined the pope as infallible in 1870, and then the long hidden authoritative text of Nestorius coming to light in 1899 and Rome’s recent further promotion of Cyril (1882), the church now had its knickers in a serious twist. It then failed to take heed of that vital folk wisdom ‘when in a hole stop digging’ and continued to undermine its own credibility well into the present century, insisting that black was white with all the waning authority it could muster.

Cyril of Alexandria was also instrumental in the closure the churches of the Novatians, a schismatic sect that denied the power of the church to absolve those who had been persuaded into idolatry under threat during persecution. Cyril remained a chief citizen of Egypt and, in his struggle with Nestorius, the conflict concerned not only doctrinal matters, but also reflected the Egyptians' fear that Constantinople might come to dominate them. return to index


Eutyches (c. 375 – 454) chose yet another ‘solution’ to the perceived problems. His oft repeated affirmation of ‘two natures before, one after the incarnation’ is widely regarded as the kosher formula of the Monophysitic doctrine. That is, in the incarnation (conception) Christ's human nature was deified and subsumed into a single essence, Jesus was rather swallowed up in this version and the conglomerate became the ‘divine’ ‘christ’. Hence, he concluded that Christ's humanity was distinct from that of other men, which some scholars propose was the real formulation of Monophysitism. Cyril had expressed it thus ‘the divine nature permeates the human nature as fire permeates red hot coals’, pretty maybe be, but hardly lucid. Clearly, this line was essentially at odds with the line of Nestorius and the western Church.

Such formulae tend to pervade the eastern Churches, with their more insistent monotheism and their tendency to seek something more in accord with the supposedly tidy-minded pedantry of Aristotelian categorical ‘logic’ (which ‘logic’ in due course, by steps, leads to non-sense). Meanwhile the western Church tended to embrace mystification and political fudge. The Aristotelian approach, in ever more corrupt form, was imported into the West incomparably by Aquinas (1225 – 1274) and, more usefully but still inflexibly, by Occam (c.1285 – 1347 to 1349).

Babai (500 AD, contemporaneous with Boethius) of the eastern tendency, defines his terms in strict individual and genus Aristotelian mode, where the individual has common properties (qnoma) and accidents (pars/opa). This reading equates hypostasis with qnoma in the Eastern tradition in 500 AD. [5] Whereas, this being later than Chalcedon (451 AD) hypostasis has now become more associated with ‘person’ in the ‘West’.

Who then, for the eastern commentators, is the "subject" of the pars\opa of Jesus Christ? Who is the one to whom one may refer the various accidents that set him apart from those who are consubstantial with him? Is it a ‘he’ and not a ‘they’? Is it a human or a ‘god’? Wanting it both ways, while floundering in a morass of words which vary between users, wasted rather a lot of human time which may have been better invested.

40. even as those in whose womb our earthly nature, not our soul is procreated, are rightly and truly called our mothers; so did she, from the unity of her Son's person, attain to divine maternity.
  Lux Veritas, Paragraph. 25, Pius 11th 1931 [13]

As will be noted, the party line appears that we do not inherit our ‘souls’ and therefore neither presumably our behaviour. Though, why, if the soul is separately created, we inherit a fallen nature I cannot surmise. Perhaps Pius 11th was sailing nearer to Pelagianism than he imagined.

According to Soro and Birnie, it is a consistent teaching of the Church of the East (whether before or after 612 AD) that the manhood, which was fashioned by the Holy Spirit from the material of the Virgin's womb, was for the express and only purpose of receiving the Incarnation of the Word and at no time possessed an independent existence[5]

As we have seen, each of these terms could be used in many ways, not excluding all being capable of ‘meaning’ pretty much the same things (think of the many ways that the word ‘nature’ or ‘thing’ or ‘it’ is used in English). This could, and did, cause difficulties when the Church tried to express their inchoate ‘understandings’ in human language.

Eutyches, in professing one nature in Christ, reflected the eastern monastic view associated with Alexandria and opposed the rival Antioch school, which latter favoured the doctrine of Nestorius.

Eutyches was summoned by Flavian, who had become patriarch of Constantinople and who was an opponent of Monophysitism, to a meeting of the standing synod of Constantinople in November 448 AD. There, refusing to discuss Christ's natures, Eutyches declared that his was the faith of the Fathers at the Council of Nicaea (325), which focused primarily on Christ's divinity and equality in the Trinity, rather than on Christ's nature. What he might have imagined to be the difference between the ‘nature of christ’ and the ‘divinity of christ’ I will not guess.

Monophysite doctrine thus asserted that in the Person of Jesus Christ there was only one (divine) nature rather than two natures, divine and human, as stated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. In the development of the doctrine of the Person of Christ during the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries, several divergent traditions had arisen. Chalcedon adopted a decree declaring that Christ was to be "acknowledged in two natures, without being mixed, transmuted, divided, or separated." This formulation was directed in part against the Nestorian doctrine (that the two natures in Christ had remained separate) and in part against the position of the monk Eutyches who claimed the reverse! Eutyches was condemned in 448 AD for teaching that, after the Incarnation, Christ had only one nature and that, therefore, the humanity of the incarnate Christ was not of the same substance as that of other men.

In 450 AD, Emperor Theodosius 2nd was succeeded by Marcian, who convened the Council of Chalcedon in 451; it banished Eutyches, condemned his ‘heresy’, and established a centrist doctrine that came to serve as the centrepiece of Christian orthodoxy in Byzantine and Roman churches. The Council held that Christ had two perfect and indivisible, but distinct, natures: one human and one divine. Thereafter, Eutyches disappeared, but his influence nevertheless grew as Monophysitism spread throughout the East.

The formula of Eutyches has been described as opposite from that of Nestorius.

The label Monophysitism was also attached to various theologians and groups, although some who were called monophysite, notably Severus of Antioch (d. 538 AD), repudiated the terminology of Chalcedon as self-contradictory. Most modern scholars agree that Severus as well as Dioscorus probably diverged from what was defined as orthodoxy, more in their emphasis upon the intimacy of the union between God and man in Christ than in any denial that the humanity of Christ and that of mankind are consubstantial.

The subsequent history of Monophysite doctrine in the Eastern Church is the history of national and independent Churches (e.g. the Syrian Jacobites) that, either for reasons of reverence for some religious leader or as a reaction against the dominance of the Byzantine or Roman Churches, retained a separate existence.

In modern times, those Churches usually classified as Monophysite (the Armenian Apostolic, Abyssinian, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Syrian Orthodox) are generally becoming accepted by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christendom as essentially orthodox in their doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ, as attempts at compromise are advanced. The Roman Church is Dyosophite. (See section on Monophysitism.)

This controversy was further aggravated by the 6th Ecumenical Council (680 – 681 AD) when the dogma of two wills (Dyothelite) was added to the dogma of two natures. Thus, the Roman Church is also Dyothelite and the Eastern Monothelite.return to index

‘heresies’ concerning trinitarianism

The official western line: one essence and three persons. [16]

A mathematician might say three times zero ‘equals’ zero.

god is one ousia, three hypostasia
To some degree, the problems over ‘the’ trinity were problems with three equals one or alternatively, three into one won’t go. The problems of trinity grew as Jewish monotheism met ‘pagan’ pantheon and as Greek logic was applied to mystical pronouncements. Trinitarianism thus grew out of the interaction of different cultures. The explosive mix detonated as christianism met trinitarianism. In some streams, trinitarianism can be regarded as prior to christianism, but I have treated christianism as prior for organisational and explicative purposes.

For amusement I have extracted the following paragraph from an apologist’s source, and have replaced the word ‘precise’ with the word ‘obscure’ and made one or two other more minor adjustments. Some may think that returning the word to ‘precise’ could make for even more amusement while others, such as the original craftmen, may see it as more meaningful.

This seems rather akin to the course of the Trinitarian controversies of the fourth century, it became clear that the Church needed more obscure language with which to express both ‘the’ unity and distinction within the Trinity, and the three Cappadocian Fathers [17] brilliantly solved this problem by narrowing and clarifying the meaning of these terms, expressing the unity of God by speaking of one ousia (‘essence’) and the distinctions between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit by speaking of three hypostasis (‘persons’). It was not, however, immediately clear how the terms used by the Cappadocians in Trinitarian theology could or should be applied in Christology. For example, to speak of the divine ousia united with the human ousia in Christ could sound as though the entire Trinity had become incarnate. Naturally, a clear and Orthodox way to apply these terms to the Incarnation still had to be worked out.[5]

The idea of one ‘god’ has advantages of simplicity and opposes factionalism. However, if ‘Christ’ is not both god and human, god as an aspiration, remains remote from human needs and the human condition. The tension between these needs is reflected in the arcane complexities of the Trinitarian disputes that developed as Aristotelian logic mated with Jewish monotheism and redemptionism.

A whole raft of devices were attempted to reconcile the multitude of absurdities arising, including repeated appeals to ‘mystery’ and orders not to discuss these matters. Here are some of the prime attempts:

Monarchianism developed during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It opposed the doctrine of an independent, personal subsistence of the Logos, [18] affirmed the sole deity of God the Father, and thus represented the monotheistic view. Though it regarded Christ as Redeemer, it clung to the numerical unity of the Deity. Monarchianism strove to remove the contradictions by two different methods.

Two types of Monarchianism developed:

  1. Dynamic, either, Subordinationism or Adoptionism and
  2. Modalistic, also Sabellianism

The first tendency recognised distinctness among the three ‘persons’, but at the cost of equality and hence of their unity (Subordinationism or Adoptionism); the second came to terms with their unity, but at the cost of their distinctness as ‘persons’ (Modalism).

In Rome, there was an active struggle between the Modalists, and those who affirmed permanent distinctions (‘Persons’) within a unitary Godhead. The politicians, in the interest of peace and quiet and good government, sought middle-way fudge between dynamic and modalistic difficulties. As often in human affairs, lunacy triumphed: this resulted in believing both at once.

1) Dynamic Monarchianism

either of two types : -

a) Subordinationism held that ‘Christ’ was a ‘mere’ man, miraculously conceived, but constituted the Son of God simply by the incredible degree in which he had been filled up with divine wisdom and power. Theodotus, who was excommunicated by Pope Victor, taught this view at Rome about the end of the 2nd century, and it was taught somewhat later by Artemon, who was duly excommunicated by Pope Zephyrinus. About 260 AD, Paul of Samosata again taught it. It is the belief of many modern Unitarians.

b) Adoptionism: this began in the 8th century in Spain and was concerned with the teaching of Elipandus, archbishop of Toledo and Felix, bishop of Urgel (Spain). Wishing to distinguish in ‘Christ’ the operations of each of his natures, human and divine (see also that confused as Nestorianism), Elipandus referred to Christ in his humanity as ‘adopted son’ in contradistinction to Christ in his divinity, who is the Son of God by nature. Thus the son of Mary, appropriated by ‘the Word’, was not the Son of God by nature but only by adoption.

In 798, Pope Leo 3rd held a council in Rome that condemned Adoptionism. Felix was forced to recant in 799 and placed under surveillance. Both Felix and Elipandus remained unrepentant and continued in office, but the Adoptionist view was almost universally abandoned after their deaths.
2)Modalistic Monarchianism, also called Sabellianism. Some of the Church Fathers maintained that the names, Father and Son, were only different designations or aspects of the one God. This ‘god’, ‘with reference to the relations in which He had previously stood to the world is called the Father, but in reference to His appearance in humanity is called the Son.’ The Monarchians, in their concern for the divine monarchy (the absolute unity and indivisibility of God), denied that such distinctions were ultimate or permanent.

This was taught by Praxeas, a priest from Asia Minor, in Rome c. 206 AD and was opposed by Tertullian in the tract Adversus Praxean (c. 213 AD), an important contribution to the doctrine of the Trinity.

Sabellianism was proposed by Sabellius (c. 217 – c. 220), who was possibly a presbyter in Rome. Sabellius evidently taught that the Godhead is a monad, expressing itself in three operations: as Father, in creation; as Son, in redemption; and as Holy Spirit, in sanctification. Pope Calixtus was at first inclined to be sympathetic to Sabellius' teaching but later condemned it and excommunicated Sabellius.

The notion reappeared again 30 years later in Libya and was opposed by Dionysius of Alexandria. In the 4th century, Arius accused his bishop of Sabellianism. Throughout the Arian controversy this charge was levelled at the supporters of the Nicene formula who accepted the doctrine of the Trinity as set forth in the Nicene Creed.

Their emphasis was on the unity of substance of Father and Son was interpreted by Arians to mean that the orthodox denied any personal distinctions within the Godhead. In about 375 AD, the ‘heresy’ was renewed at Neocaesarea and was attacked by Basil the Great. In Spain, Priscillian seems to have enunciated a doctrine of the divine unity in Sabellian terms. This was also one of the accusations against Abelard at Sens in 1140 [19]. At the time of the Reformation, Sabellianism was reformulated by Michael Servetus, a Spanish theologian and physician, to the effect that Christ and the Holy Spirit are merely representative forms of the one godhead, the Father. In the 18th century, Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish mystical philosopher and scientist, also taught this doctrine, as did his disciples, who founded the New Church.

Macedonianism, also called the Pneumatomachians (spirit fighters!), a 4th-century Christian notion that denied the full personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit. According to this idea, the Holy Spirit was created by the Son and was thus subordinate to the Father and the Son. Records have, as so often, been lost leaving only the descriptions of their opponents. return to index

Other ‘heresies’

Donatists and Catholics both agreed that the power of the ‘Holy Spirit’ is conveyed to the believer through the sacraments, which are of course administered through the clergy. The Donatists decided that the sacraments require, for their validity, a minister undefiled by serious ‘sin’; holding that the Spirit departs from the sinner, who cannot therefore confer what he does not possess. They appear to have rather fancied a life of penance, crowned by martyrdom. They were extremely strong in North Africa and it has been speculated that the roots of Islam may have a similar nascence.

Augustine replied that the sacraments convey the Spirit in virtue of ‘Christ's’ ordinance alone, and that this validity is unaffected by the worthiness or unworthiness of the human minister. Eventually the authorities established orders whose members took vows of poverty. This meant living in grand houses, on massive estates held in common. Of these orders, the Dominicans controlled the Inquisition as a sort of religious Gestapo or KGB, the Franciscans and the Jesuits controlled education, and so on; a trick which still often works quite well.

The Novatians broke fellowship with those Christians who, under pressure, offered sacrifices to pagan gods during the persecutions of the Roman emperor Decius in AD 250. They set up their own pope at one point. In the early 4th century the Donatists, Christians in North Africa who prided themselves as the church of the martyrs, refused to share communion with those who had lapsed (i.e., who had denied the faith under threat of death). The church in Rome received the lapsed back into fellowship after services of repentance. This schism, like many since, reflected regional, national, cultural and economic differences between the poor, rural North African Christians and the sophisticated, urban Romans.

The Montanists were a similar trend. Tertullian became an adherent, but even they were not strict enough for him so he formed his own group. Nevertheless, Tertullian is regarded as a general good sort and early founder by Rome, therefore much of his writing has survived. These groups have been lumped under the heading of ‘rigorist’, quite an achievement in the context of other christianist sects. A similar rigorist group in Egypt was the Meletians.

A doctrine of various sects combining Christian and pagan elements, that came into prominence around the 2nd century. Central importance attaches to gnosis, revealed but secret knowledge of God and of his nature, enabling those who possess it to achieve salvation. Gnosticism takes from Pagan thought the concept of a subordinate god, who directly rules the world. The material world is associated, as in Manichaeanism, with evil. They then claim that in some men, there is a spiritual element that through knowledge and associated ritual may be rescued from ‘evil’ and attain a higher spiritual state. Christ was never truly embodied, nor died, but was associated in a distant way with that which appeared to the disciples. Gnostic elements are present in Middle Platonism, and helped to fuel the view that there was a secret or golden chain of hidden Platonic doctrine stretching from the positive cosmology of Plato to initiates of the time. Gnostic texts of the first four centuries have been discovered in Egypt and, in various forms, the belief persisted into the Middle Ages and beyond.

Manichaeanism tends to teach that matter is evil or unclean. The doctrine elevates the ‘devil’, as the personification of evil, into a position of power comparable to that of ‘God’. It derives from Zoroastrianism and was held by the Manichees, followers of the Persian teacher Manes or Manichaeus. It flourished between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD.

For largely political reasons, Kulin (Bosnian ruler 1180 – 1204) abandoned Roman Catholicism in favour of the Bogomil, or Patarene, faith and led many of his people into that Balkan variety of neo-Manichaean dualism. Although Kulin himself was forced to abjure Bogomilism in 1203 under pressure from Pope Innocent 3rd, the faith survived in Bosnia. When the country was subjugated by the Ottoman Turks (1463 – 1464), a large number of Bogomil Bosnians, including most of the nobility, converted to Islam.

From this root, forms of Manichaeanism extended eventually as far as romantic Languedoc, there appearing as Catharism. It was on Catharism, and its several, sometimes shadowy, Manichaean relatives,[21] that Rome developed and practised its policies and methods of purge and inquisition; one of the darkest episodes in the ever rising power of the dictatorship of Rome.

Other preposterous forms developed in Russia under names like Khlysty and Skoptsy; the latter delighting in self-castration or full removal for those of special merit, with breast removal for female high-minded adherents. A soupçon of cannibalism and veneration of ‘the mother of god’ was included in the mix. These fun lovers were also were duly chased and harried, in this case by Catherine 2nd.

Such sexual preoccupation has long been at the heart of Roman concerns, imported via Augustine who started as a Manichaean until he saw some of the light. Sexual preoccupation was then steadily refined into guilt and state control. Fortunately full-blown Manichaean beliefs have never developed in main-stream christianism; its more dedicated disciples have tended to be castigated, and even murdered, by the establishment. However, the shadows still hover over western ‘civilisation’ with its ambivalent fear and fascination with all matters sexual.

Paganism may almost be regarded as another ‘heresy’ in as much as the term is applied as a boo word in the Roman lexicon. It tends to be applied rather liberally to rationality, as represented in the Greek philosophic tradition, to ‘superstition’ (see “Logic has made me hated by men”), in the case of ‘reading’ runes or stars, and to ‘worshipping’ icons or ‘saints’. Thus, in the Roman lexicon, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are lumped together with Mrs. Sawkins reading her astrology column in the Daily Sleaze, with lucky black cats, and with the animism of a primitive tribe. All these, of course, are to be contrasted with the enlightened, civilised christianist. The problems become all too obvious as one examines Roman practices, such as the attachment to relics and to exorcism.

Origen 185 – 254 AD
Some accusations against the teaching of Origen are as follows: making the Son inferior to the Father and thus being a precursor of Arianism; spiritualising away the resurrection of the body; denying hell; speculating about pre-existent souls and world cycles; dissolving redemptive history into timeless myth by using allegorical interpretation. However, Origen tends to be regarded as one of the fathers of Christianism, so much of his work survives but he is viewed with some ambivalence. See 5th Ecumenical Council.

Book burning: in early times the ministry of truth was not fully up to speed, so we can learn much of some early writers from the castigations of their critics. In later times, every work had to be submitted for prior approval, a practice extant in very recent times.

According to Loofs [10] (p.2), the following also had their books burnt to oblivion: Aëtius, Arius, Eunomius, Nestorius and Marcellus (of Ancyra). This last name I am unable to confirm.return to index

Greater than is a relative concept

The ‘ontological’ argument.

What does ‘divine’ signify?

(For further discussion, see essence section in Why Aristotelian logic does not work and error of ‘qualities’ or ‘properties’ box in Godel and sound sets.)

A dictionary defines ‘ontology’ as ‘the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being’, while that for metaphysics is ‘the theoretical philosophy of being and knowing’ or ‘the philosophy of mind’. ‘Being’, the explanation continues, is existence or the nature or essence (of a person etc.), ‘mind’ is the seat of consciousness, thought, volition, feeling, the intellect; intellectual powers and more. And so it will go with ‘philosophy’, ‘knowing’, ‘existence’, in exquisite circles of self-referring and rather empty words. Little wonder that Roscelin of Compiegne, a teacher of Abelard, called words mere farts (flatus vocis).

The ontological argument proceeds, not empirically from the world, but from the ‘idea’ of ‘God’ to the ‘reality’ of God. It was first formulated by ‘St.’ Anselm of Canterbury (1033 or 1034 – 1109) in his Proslogion (1077 – 1078). Anselm began with the concept of God as being that than which nothing greater can be conceived (aliquid quo nihil majus cogitari possit). Note the distinctly mathematical nature of this approach. I sit upon a rock, it is likely that there be a larger rock elsewhere and an even larger rock beyond that.

The argument goes: To think of such a being as existing only in thought and not also in reality involves a contradiction (see also excluded middle). This jump is equivalent to suggesting that if I can think of a dog with 17.5 heads, to suggest that such a dog does not ‘exist’ involves a ‘contradiction’. However, the notion of ‘contradiction’ is weakly based, especially when it is not subject to clear negotiated definitions or to empirical testing.

The ‘argument’ continues: For an X that lacks real existence is not the greatest that can be conceived. A yet greater being would be an X with the further attribute of existence. Thus the unsurpassably perfect  being must exist—otherwise it would not be unsurpassably perfect. The ‘idea’ of ‘greater than’ is now being applied twice, first to the greatness of the ‘rock’ or the ‘god’ and again to the assertion that ‘existing’ is greater than ‘not existing’. Looking a mite further, is the rock ‘greater’ if it weighs more or if it has greater volume or even a smoother surface? ‘Greater than’ is a relative term. It is not feasible to decide that one human is greater than another until some criterion for ‘greatness’ is agreed. With what must we compare ‘god’ and in what attributes?

Now for the second assumption of Anselm, ‘To exist is greater than not existing’. I am content to assert that existing is reasonably equivalent to being detectable by myself or by other entities. The question then becomes is ‘god’ ‘detectable’? Many an ‘authority’ claims to have detected this entity. Like Thomas, being a cautious sort of cove I would like them to show me this entity, for I am a little unsure just what this word ‘god’ means. I am aware that this will apparently lower my esoteric merit, but that is for me the saner route than believing what any with a loud voice and a pulpit may project at me. Occam made a major step forward when he demanded that entities were not to be multiplied without purpose.

If you wish to flummox the neighbours, it is best that one mixes several ‘logical’ errors or absurdities into the potage rather than stop at ‘one’ ingredient.

Descartes in his Meditations (1641) made explicit the assumption, implicit in Anselm's reasoning, that existence is an attribute that a given X can have or fail to have. Descartes was much concerned with the reality of meaning of ‘existence’, eventually contenting himself on this issue by the formula ‘I think therefore I am’. Augustine came up with a more convincing approach more than 1200 years earlier, ‘I doubt therefore I am’.

It was the assumption that existence is a predicate that has, in the view of most subsequent philosophers, proved fatal to the argument. The criticism was first made by Descartes's contemporary Pierre Gassendi and later, and more prominently, by the German philosopher Kant (1724 – 1804) in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781). To assert existence is to assert that the concept (of a triangle, or of God) is instantiated—that there actually are instances of that concept. Whether or not a given concept is instantiated is a question of fact. ‘Existence’ cannot be determined a priori, but only by whatever is chosen to be a useful method for discovering a fact of that kind. As I have attempted to show above the problems go much beyond that.

The history of christianism is littered with confusions over words, constant struggles to maintain authority and dominance amongst the power seekers, the claims of monotheism while asserting a triune god with a human child who was also that ‘same’ ‘time’ god. All this could almost be humorous, if one ignored the associated oppressions, the various burnings and other associated bestiality. At best, one must hope for less confusion and greater rationality for the future.

Again my trusty Encyclopaedia Britanica CD-ROM [Britannica CD, Version 97, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1997] has been extremely useful. However, it is interesting to note that it contains repeated bald statements that various people are ‘saints’ or ‘heretics’, along with a general bias to treat christianism and trinitarianism either with kid gloves or with a naïve credulity.return to index

Related further reading

marker at Ecumenical Councils and the rise and fall of the Church of Rome (Roman Catholic Church)
marker at papal encyclicals and marx - some extracts: on socialism and liberalism
marker at Pierre (Peter) Abelard, introduction and short biography
marker at why Aristotelian logic does not work

5 Endnotes (with bibliographic references)

1 The document Ecumenical Councils and the rise and fall of the Church of Rome and this document are tightly inter-linked.
2 Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph (1809 – 65), What is property, written in 1840, Ch. 1
(1994, Cambridge Univ Press, 0521405564, $19.95)
2a If you want to know what a jolly fine fellow Pelagius really was, there is a neat little book with a selection of his writings:
The Letters of Pelagius, Celtic Soul Friend, ed. R. Van de Weyer (Evesham, 1995, Arthur James Ltd, 0853053359, £4.99)
3 John of Salisbury, Metalogicon, translation by D. D. McGary
(1955, University of California Press, out of print), p. 148
[However, a reprint published by Greenwood Press in 1982 is listed as available: 0313235392, £53.95]
4 L. E. J. Brouwer, Collected Works, Volume 1, written in 1907, p.73.
(1975, ed. A. Heyting, 0720420768, out of print)
Dawkins recently used the term ‘meme’ to describe the idea.
5 Is the Theology of the Church of the East Nestorian? by Bishop Mar Bawai Soro and Chorbishop M. J. Birnie
This document is fascinating and useful, if rather rum.
6 Three in one
7 Sempiternus Rex, Encyclical of Pope Pius XII on the Council of Chalcedon (September 8, 1951, Section 29), available at Papal encyclicals.
7a It is interesting to note that the Vatican has attempted to repress at least two books in the last year or so (this written Aug. 1999). One by a Lavinia Byrne suggesting that women were able to be priests, though why Lavinia has such interests I can but conjure! Note that the 21st Ecumenical Council found no theological impediment to female priests. In the case of Lavinia, who is a nun, they have ordered her to be silent and ordered that her book which is produced by an order of monks is to be pulped. Late extra: Lavinia, at first  agreeing to keep silent, has now decided to rescind her agreement in order to speak out (January 2000).
The second book is blowing the gaff on corruption in the current Vatican establishment, in the wake of an attempt to bring the writer, an insider 75 year old monsignor, before the church courts, the book has become a best seller in Italy, perhaps they are at last losing their grip. The monsignor according to reports is chortling mischievously and his publishers are enthusiastically planning world sales.
8 George Orwell (Eric Blair) Nineteen eighty-four, written in 1949, pt. 1, Ch. 3.
(1990, Turtleback, 0606001999, £7.40)
‘Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ Or as Nehru said, ‘history is nearly always written by the victors…and gives their viewpoint’.
9 Treatise of Heracleides (also spelt as Heraclides). It was not a treatise by Heracleides, it has been suggested that it was circulated under that name as a means of keeping it from the attention of authorities.
It is also known as The Bazaar of Heracleides (by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople).
(reprint edition, June 1925, AMS Press, 040416112X, $42.00)
10 Loofs, Frederick, Nestorius, written in 1914
(1975, Burt Franklin Reprints, out of print)
I find Loofs quite convincing I have therefore taken him as my prime authority on Nestorius.
10a For more on Abelard, his teaching, his logic and ethics, see the suite of documents concerning Pierre Abelard, starting with Pierre (Peter) Abelard, introduction and short biography. This page provides links to the other pages in the Abelard suite.
11 At that time, ‘the son’ was the third person in the trinity, not the second as at present.
11a See On aliquid by Roland and negatives.
12 Bernard and Abelard at the Council of Sens, 1140, Edward Little
from: Bernard of Clairvaux (1973, Cistercian Publications, Consortium Press; Cistercian Studies series,
ISBN 0879078006; volume no.23, ISBN 0879078235, out of print), pp 55-71 Little, p.62. It would appears that Little is incorrect - Somerville records that the first substantive evidence is from 1170, when Alexander condemned, “the depraved doctrine that Christ as a man is not anything” [Somerville, p.61]. It looks very likely, to me, that Alexander did not understand his own notes. [Somerville, Robert, Pope Alexander III And the Council at Tours, Univ. of California Press, 1977, 05200314849 – not in print.] In my view, Luscombe is far nearer to a correct interpretation when he says, “ the problem ‘was not the concrete humanity of Christ or his psychological personality as man, but the dialectical qualification of that humanity which was not itself a person and which therefore seemed to some not to be qualifiable as anything’.”[Luscombe, the School of Peter Abelard, p273]
12a Little, p.62
13 Even greater irrationality and vituperative immaturity is displayed in the encyclical On The Council Of Ephesus or Lux Veritatis, an Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, promulgated on December 25, 1931.

The text of Lux Veritatis is available at Papal encyclicals.

14 grok: to grasp in all thoroughness. From: Heinlein, Robert, Stranger in a Strange Land (1992, New English Library, ISBN 0450547426, £6.40)
15 Church Father. Any of the bishops and other currently popular Christian writers of the early centuries whose writings remained as a court of appeal for their successors, especially in reference to disputed points of faith or practice.
16 George Orwell (Eric Blair) Nineteen eighty-four, written in 1949, pt. 2, Ch. 9
(1990, Turtleback, 0606001999, £7.40)
‘Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.’
16a For those wishing to plumb the complexities of fourth-century heresies, much historical detail and oceans of references may be found in:
Barnes, M.R. & Williams, D.H., Arianism after Arius: Essays on the Development of the Fourth Century Trinitarian Conflicts (Edinburgh, 1993, T & T Clark, 0567096416)
17 Basil of Caesarea, his younger brother Gregory of Nyssa, and his lifelong friend, Gregory of Nazianzus.
18 That is, ‘the word’, another bit of mystification when referring to ‘christ’, this rather ill defined concept or being.
19 See the trial and ‘heresies’ of Abelard in Abelard of Le Pallet on theology: “Logic has made me hated amongst men”
20 The claim of the born agains to be ‘saved’ is a recent echo.
21 Lambert, Malcolm, Medieval Heresy: Popular Movements from the Gregorian Reform to the Reformation, (1992, Blackwell Publishing, 063117432X, £17.99) return to index


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