AS a consequence of the Nicene Creed, the Church became a part of the establishment. Constantine extended to the bishops the right of the magistrates to free slaves and hear civil cases if both the sides agreed. They were given the right to ban pagan funeral rites and enforce laws aimed at Jews, pagans and heretics. There was no appeal against their judgments. Property disputes, adultery, inheritance also became a part of their duty.
“Orthodoxy” was associated with tax exemption for the clergy and access to wealth and patronage. The clergy accepted slavery as a part of normal life and wealthy Christians owned slaves. Basilicas, as a symbol of heaven on earth, were decorated with gold and silver. Bishops became estate managers of their estates and properties. By the year 1086, a fifth of England’s resources were under the control of the Church and the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury had seven major palaces for his personal use.
Nicene Creed also allowed the Church to take greater control over the interpretation of the scriptures.”The effect, of course, was to make reasoned and open debate on theological matters increasingly difficult”, author observes. Another consequence was that some bishops became more confident and determined to assert Church authority over the state.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely
The combination of temporal power and spiritual (religious) power is fatal for rational thinking and new ideas. That is exactly what happened during the “Dark Ages” when the Church enjoyed absolute power in Europe. It was Petrarch ( Francesco Petrarca, 1304-1374), the famous Italian scholar, who has been called ‘the Father of Humanism’ and ‘the Father of Renaissance’, named the Middle Ages as the “Dark Ages”. This is the period between eclipse of Greek and Roman rational light (4th century) to the dawn of Renaissance (14th century). During this period there was a perceptible decline in the intellectual, cultural and economic decline. However, the present scholars avoid this phrase because of its negative connotation.
These centuries saw restrictions on art, books and science which were not Christian in nature. Greek scientific, philosophical and cultural works of thousands of years of pre-Christian civilisation were called “devil authorship” and suppressed. Possession of classical works was enough to brand anybody as a witch and even could be burnt at the stake.Edward Gibbon, the author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, mentions a story of a bishop Theophilus of Alexandria who allowed the celebrated library to be pillaged. In 1559, the Church prepared an Index of Forbidden Books or just Index and its final edition appeared in1948. It was abolished only in 1966. The Index had a galaxy of writers and thinkers starting from Kelper, Galileo Galilee to Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke and even Jean Paul Satre and Simon de Beauvoir.
Since the Bible has mentioned four corners of the Earth, it must be flat. The evidence that it is round and revolved around Sun was suppressed. The only works of art during the Dark Ages were scenes from the Bible. Even Christ was shown as having Nordic racial features-blonde hair and blue eyes. There are many accounts of genocidal evangelism in Germany by Charlesmagne and the Teutonic Knights in the Baltic States. Without violence Christianity would not have been able to dislodge religious faiths and beliefs of the earlier age in Europe. And the violence was justified with reference to Old Testament exhortation to kill the enemies.
For about 300 years Inquisition was imposed on people who believed in paganism, who professed atheism, who falsely claimed Christian faith, and those who disputed Church’s interpretation of the Bible. It was used against heretics, witches, bigamists and Jews. Imprisonment, torture and burning at the stake were the weapons sanctioned by Pope Innocent IV, Pope Gregory IX and Pope Pius V.
Restoration of reason
Intellectual self-confidence and curiosity, which lay at the heart of the Greek achievements were condemned as the sin of pride and the result was intellectual stagnation. Mathematics, science and other disciplines which depended on empirical observations did not make any progress. “The last recorded astronomical observation in the ancient Greek world was one by the Athenian philosopher Proclus in AD 475, nearly 1,100 years after the prediction of eclipse by Thales in 585 BC, which traditionally marks the beginning of Greek science. It would be over 1,000 years-with the publication of Copernicus’ De revolutionibus in 1,543-before these studies began to move forward again”, says the author.
It was the Arab conquest of parts of Europe which recued the Greek and Roman heritage for posterity. A team of Arabic scholars translated writings of Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, Galen, Euclid, Ptolemy and others. These scholars believed that religion and philosophy reached the same truths by different routes and there is no conflict between them. They sustained the Greek tradition using empirical evidence and reason to carry forward knowledge of the world. Later, this belief in the compatibility of religion and reason seeped into Europe as well when scholasticism emerged and the scholars prepared an encyclopedia of what was known in the medieval world called, summae. And this was followed by the establishment of universities of Paris and Oxford. The works of Greek writers and their commentaries by Arab philosophers were translated into Latin. The rediscovery of Greek heritage of rationality and science led to the Renaissance and the Reformation which gave rise to the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution.
The author of book, Charles Freeman concludes the book with the following observations: “I would reiterate the central theme of this book that the Greek intellectual tradition was suppressed rather than faded away. My own feeling is that this in an important moment in European cultural history which has for all too long been neglected. Whether the explanations put forward in this book for the suppression are accepted or not, the reasons for the extinction of serious mathematical and scientific thinking in Europe for thousand years surely deserve more attention than they have received.”
Back to the teachings of Christ
Jesus Christ has been rightly called the Prince of Peace. He proclaimed: Love thy neighbour like thyself; Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth; Judge not, that ye be not judged; Do not do unto others what you wouldn’t others do unto you ; Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God that are God’s; Those who have not sinned throw the first stone. The Sermon on the Mount is a manifesto of a humanistic society, a kingdom of God, a Ram rajya. Many crimes have been committed in his name. As the author of the book, Charles Freeman has pointed out these teachings do not find a reflection in the organised Church. Paul established organised the Church on the foundation of unquestioned faith in a doctrine he fashioned. Later, it mixed up with temporal power-God and Caesar became one. This made it possible for the Church to impose its faith and will on others. The organised Church broke all the above and other teachings of Jesus. This distorted the development of Church and Europe as well. The rationality which made science and democracy possible during the heydays of Greek thought had to wait for centuries to fructify. Art and science started blooming after the Renaissance. Democracy became possible only in the 20th century after the adult franchise was introduced in Europe and in the USA.
Christianity has to go back to the teachings of Jesus Christ to find the true values of life. The Church built by Paul has decimated many cultures and many faiths. To say that there is only one way to reach God or there is only one Prophet of God is to limit HIS power, will and capacity. God, by definition, is omnipresent and omniscient and HE can reach all HIS creations anytime and anywhere to suit the needs of HIS people. There are no chosen people as all are HIS people. There is no need to impose your faith on others. That would be imperialism. Diversity is a law of life and nature. Diversity makes the world as beautiful as a rainbow. That is HIS will. Reason is a precious gift of God to man to enhance his life and to realise his true divine self in his own way and fulfill his destiny. The Church has to accept the diversity of faiths, cultures and beliefs. That would be a true tribute to Jesus Christ.