Christianity and Divine Unity
Historical research has shown that the animism and idol worship of primitive peoples in the world is in all cases a regression from an original monotheistic belief, and the One-god of Judaism, Christianity and Islam grew up in opposition to many-gods rather than evolving out of them. Thus in any tradition, the pure teaching is to be found at its beginning and what follows is necessarily a decline, and it is from this perspective that the history of Christianity should be viewed. It began with the belief in One God and was then corrupted. The result was a confusion which led men more and more away from sanity.
In the first century after the disappearance of Jesus, those who followed him continued to affirm the Divine Unity. This is illustrated by the fact that the Shepherd of Hermas, written in about 90 A.D. was regarded as a book of Revelation by the Church. The first of the twelve commandments which it contains begins:
“First of all, believe that God is One and then He created all things and organized them and out of what did not exist made all things to be, and He contains all things but alone is Himself uncontained…”
According to Theodore Zahn, the article of faith up until about 250 A.D. was, “I believe in God, the Almighty.” At least a century later the word ‘Father’ was added before the ‘Almighty.’ This was bitterly contested by a number of the leaders of the Church. Bishop Victor and Bishop Zephysius are on record as condemning this movement, since they regarded it an unthinkable sacrilege to add or subtract any word of the Scriptures. They opposed the tendency to regard Jesus as divine. They laid great stress on the Unity of God as expressed in the original teachings of Jesus and asserted that although he was a prophet, he was essentially a man like other men, even if he was highly favored by his Lord. The same faith was held by the Churches which had sprung up in North Africa and West Asia, and this was one of the main factors which led them to embracing Islam easily centuries later.
It was only in 325 A.D. that the doctrine of the Trinity was declared to be the Orthodox Christian belief. Even then some of those who signed the creed did not believe in it, as they could find no authority for it in the Scriptures. Even Athanasius, who is considered to be the father of this creed, was himself not very sure of its truth. He admits that, “Whenever he forced his understanding to meditate on the divinity of Jesus, his toilsome and unavailing efforts recoiled on themselves – that the more he wrote the less capable was he of expressing his thoughts.” At one point he even wrote, “There are not three but ONE GOD.”
That this historic decision was based just as much on political expediency as on the faulty reasoning of philosophy is shown by the part played by Constantine, the pagan emperor ofRome, who presided over the council of Nicea. The growing communities of Christians were a force whose opposition he had no wish for, who weakened his Empire and whose support would be invaluable in strengthening it. By remodeling Christianity, he hoped to gain the Church’s support and at the same time end the confusion which had arisen within it and which was the source of yet more conflict within his Empire.
The degeneration of the pure teachings of Jesus, which resulted inevitably in the acceptance of a many-god Christianity, never went unchallenged. When, in 325 A.D., the doctrine of Trinity was officially proposed as the Orthodox Christian doctrine, Arius, one of the leaders of the Christians inNorth Africa, stood up against the combined might of Constantine and the Catholic Church and reminded them that Jesus had always affirmed the Divine Unity. Constantine tried to crush the troublesome One-God people with all the force and brutality at his command, but he failed. Although, ironically, Constantine himself died a Unitarian, the doctrine of Trinity eventually became officially accepted as the basis of Christianity inEurope.
Although the books into which Jesus’ teaching had gone were either completely destroyed, suppressed, or changed in order to avoid any blatant contradictions of the doctrine, a good deal of truth remained in the ones which survived, and therefore to sustain belief in the doctrine of Trinity, there was a shift in emphasis from what the Scriptures said, to what the leaders of the Church said. The doctrine, it was asserted, was based on the special revelation claimed to be made to the Church, “the Bride of Jesus”. Thus, for instance, Fra Fulgentino was reprimanded by the Pope in a letter saying: “Preaching of the Scriptures is a suspicious thing. He who keeps close to the Scriptures will ruin the Catholic faith.” In his next latter he was more explicit, warning against too much insistence on the Scriptures: “…which is a book if anyone keeps close to, he will quite destroy the Catholic Church.”
The effective abandoning of the teaching of Jesus was largely due to complete obscuring of his historical reality. The Church made religion not only independent of the Scriptures but also independent of Jesus, so that the man Jesus became confused with a mythological Christ. Belief in Jesus, however, does not necessarily mean belief in a resurrected Christ. Whereas the immediate followers of Jesus had based their lives on his example, Pauline Christianity was based on a belief in Christ after his supposed crucifixion, and the life and teaching of Jesus while he was alive was no longer important.
As the established Church distanced itself further and further from the teaching of Jesus, so its leaders became more and more involved in the affairs of those in authority over the land. As the distinctions between what Jesus had taught and what those in authority desired became blurred and began to merge into each other, the Church, while asserting its separateness from the State, became more and more identified with it, and grew in power. Whereas in the early days the Church was subject to imperial power, once it had compromised itself completely, the position was reversed. On the other hand, in North Africa and West Asia the teachings of Arius were accepted by the majority of the people who readily embraced Islam when it later came to them. Because they had held to the doctrine of One God and the pure teaching of Jesus, they recognized Islam as the truth. (M. A. Rahim, Jesus A Prophet of Islam: 9-13)
Although Trinity came to become the official creed of the corrupted Christianity, yet many have been recorded by history to have the belief in the Unity of God. The most famous of them are Iraneaus (130-200 A.D.), Tertullian (l60-220), Origen(l85-254),Lucian(d.312), Arius (250-336), Michael Servetus (1511-1553), Francis David(1510-1579),L.Francesco Maria Sozini (1525-1562), Fausto Paolo Sozini (1539-1604), John Biddle(1615-1662), Milton(1608-1674), John Locke (1632-1704), Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Theophilus Lindsey (1723-1808), Joseph Priestly (1733-1804), and William Ellery Channing (1780-1842).( For further information see M.A. Rahim: pp.76-194).
By Ali Unal