NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 20.2
Today's excerpt from Tom Lee's exploration of the origins of Christianity brings us to the emergence of Mary in the worship of the Church. He tells of the discovery of the first hymn to Mary and the role Arianism played in setting the intellectual structure for the growth of Mariology.
Arian Resurgence as the Sons Inherit. Part 20.2
The birth of Mariology...
It is from this time, and from Egypt, that we have the earliest known hymn to Mary, a papyrus manuscript written in Latin. The first pages of the document carry a speech by Cicero, and then follows the hymn. Headed Psalmus responsorius; each verse begins with a successive letter of the alphabet, followed by a refrain or response. The first verse deals with the descent of Christ from David. Then subsequent verses take up the story of Mary, her childhood and marriage to Joseph, as told in the Apocryphal Gospel of James (which was in circulation before 200).
The whole papyrus seems to have been a schoolbook. That would account for the Cicero passage, for Latin was not as common in Egypt as it was in the rest of North Africa. Schoolboys might learn it, if they were hoping for a civil service career in the Roman Empire as adults. The hymn with its jingle would have been an easy way of acquiring some idea of the life of Christ and of Mary's role. The concluding part of the manuscript contains in Greek a canon of the Mass.
After Arius a place remained open in the structure of heaven. The biblical texts pointed to a super-creature. It was the mother of Christ who filled the void. The Wisdom texts, which Arius had abused, were in the liturgy quite naturally applied to Christ's mother. Arianism prepared the intellectual structures that helped to develop Mariology. But, as the revisionist German theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann has pointed out; the virgin birth as we find it in Christian orthodoxy, was intended as a metaphor for messianic rejuvenation. It was understood as such in the first century. Subsequently the early Church Fathers distorted New Testament innuendo, ignored the evidence of Jesus' blood relatives and created, for reasons of their own, a grotesque biological ethic in which the Virgin reigned supreme. But it would take another hundred years before she was proclaimed Mother of God.
The death of Bishop Eusebius at Constantinople in the winter of 341-2 led to crisis at the capital. Heated partisanship produced two rival bishops (Paul and Macedonius) who alternately ousted each other for several years. Constans, now sole ruler in the west and a supporter of Bishop Julius of Rome, exerted some muscle on Constantius to bring his bishops into line.
Council at Sofia in Bulgaria...
Jointly the emperors called a council of both East and West to meet at Sofia in Bulgaria, just west of the border between the two halves of the empire. The aged Ossius of Cordova was called on to preside. Julius of Rome did not attend.
Bolstered by a polemic by Firmicus Maternus, The Error of the Pagan Religions, the imperial brothers jointly decreed that "the laws must be armed with an avenging sword" to rid the land of passive homosexuals, "those men who marry men as if they were women". The co-emperors also continued suppression of the seemingly irrepressible male prostitutes, the exsoleti.
Firmicus was a Roman senator, who, after his own baptism, urged the imperial brothers to enforce conversions, and stamp out paganism by armed force, justifying such a policy by citing Deuteronomy 13. "If your brother ... or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or the friend with whom you share your life, if one of these secretly tries to entice you, saying, 'Come, let us serve other gods' ... you must show him no pity, you must not spare him, you must not conceal his guilt. No, you must kill him; your hand is to be the first raised against him in putting him to death, the hand of all the people will come next."
A beaming crocodile, Firmicus evidently had not absorbed Christ's injunction to love your enemies. His book was a handbook of intolerance, repeatedly associating pagan cults with sexual immorality and especially with homosexuality. In the inflamed rhetoric of the time, sensational charges were made on both sides. Pagan attacks on Christianity included the accusation that Christians worshiped their priests' genitals.
Before the council could get to business, the eastern bishops with Arian sympathies, protested against the presence of both Athanasius and Marcellus, and withdrew, probably because they were obviously outnumbered. The two camps having roundly cursed each other got down to business in separate locations. Just like politicians they had all their quarrels in public and their agreements in secret.
The Greeks, in self-defense, produced a revised creed with an anti-Arian anathema. The Latins issued a set of canons designed to impose discipline on unconventional and over-ambitious bishops, including a rule that the bishop of Rome could appoint judges to hear appeals from any bishop under censure in his own province. It was the foot in the door for later Roman claims to supreme jurisdiction in the Church.
A sort of unity was achieved, more a truce than a peace accord, when the Western bishops agreed to quietly drop the cause of Marcellus, and the Eastern bishops agreed to accept Athanasius. In 346 a triumphant Athanasius returned to the see of Alexandria. But accord was short-lived. In 350 a usurper, Magnentius, overthrew and slew emperor Constans in Gaul. Constans' brother Constantius refused to acknowledge the victor and three years of bloody civil war ensued, till Constantine's surviving son won the decisive victory at Mursa. Believing the prayers of the Arian bishop, Valens of Mursa, had sustained him Constantius made him a close adviser in church matters. Valens loathed Athanasius, and Constantius was now sole emperor.
Constantius had more pressing worries than the Church. He was suffering military reverses in Asia at the hands of the Persians, and German tribes had taken advantage of the civil war in the West to wreak devastation throughout Gaul. Hard pressed, the emperor summoned his cousin Julian from philosophic studies at Athens, to command the legions in Gaul.
Ruthlessly loyal, Julian expelled the barbarians and held the frontier, despite the fact that he had grown up in protective custody, fearful for his life, and Constantius had appointed Julian's brother Gallus as Caesar of the East, then deposed, tried and executed him. Constantius was described as an ugly person, not as nice as he looked.
Rome was more and more a backwater. Foreign wars and difficulties of transport played havoc with food supply. Most Italian farmland was exhausted and turning to desert. There were expulsions of foreigners from the city of Rome by the natives, complaining that they had not enough to feed their own. People rioted because of a lack of wine. The news from other cities was just as bad. Carthage ran short of grain. In Antioch the starving masses burnt down a mansion and tore the owner limb from limb. Similar atrocities followed in Rome, the triumph of Christianity not withstanding.
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 20.2
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