Do you believe
in God the Father Almighty?
Do you believe
in Jesus Christ the Son of God,
who was born of the Holy Spirit, and the Virgin Mary,
who was crucified under Pontius Pilate
and died, rose the third day living from the dead,
and ascended into the heaven,
and sat down at the right hand of the Father,
and will come to judge the living and the dead?
Do you believe
in the Holy Spirit,
and the Holy Church,
and the resurrection
of the flesh?
Imagine the century after Jesus’ axial and apostolic age, when we had no agreed test for who was Christian, or what writings belonged in our bible. Who decided, and who disagreed? Some of us just wanted to be good Jews or god-fearers, taking Jesus into account, in balance. Others wanted a completely new thing. We were of many ethnicities and languages, of varied social standing in the Roman empire.
Elaine Pagels’ Gnostic Gospels argues that bishops approved books excluding women and spirited movements through a patriarchal hierarchy. They controlled legitimization of claims to continuity with the axial age of revelation and inspiration. Roman empire, not church bishops, had power to coerce, but the ‘boys and the book’ used influence and persuasion, as we sorted out who was ‘us’ or who was ‘them’.
Hippolytus, credited with this formula, was born about 170CE, and took sides among the 2nd century heresies. Named as anti-pope, banished to the mines of Sardinia as a heretic, he died in disgrace. The Eastern Orthodox churches still venerate him as a saint, and he is credited with setting Christmas as December 25.
It’s easier to respond to an affirmation, than it is to initiate one. This early baptism test asks worshipers 3 questions, and the new Christian just says ‘I believe’. This approach dates to the 2nd century, and already reflects an attempt to weed out people committed to the other heresies we’ll see through the weekdays that follow.
Could you say ‘I believe’ to all 3 of these questions? Which question is hard for you, and what opponents would be excluded from baptism by such a test?
Find a map to locate this 2nd C Common Era (the 100’s) action:
Ø Rome (then, Sardinia) - Hippolytus
Ø Asia Minor (Turkey) – Ignatius, Montanus, Marcion
Ø Gaul (France) - Irenaeus
Ø North Africa (Tunisia) - Tertullian
Ø Egypt - Origen
This is no longer a Holy Land squabble, but a movement spread across the whole Roman Empire.
None of these 5 ‘heretics like us’, nor any of their opponents, had the power yet to fully impose their hierarchy on others, in their century, but that power developed as they went along. The ‘early church fathers’ called their opponents heretics, or partisans, and expected to be called the same or worse. This is a situation we haven’t seen again, till our own post-Christendom generation.
What can we learn from their partisanship? Do you stand for anything? And if you do, has it ever occurred to you that you may be wrong?