and eloquent myths and philosophic formulations ... became
in their turn garbled traditions, reused by later and lesser
Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library, p2.
Nestorius and his
After the promotion of Jesus
to divine status at Nicaea in 325, leisured pious minds pondered
just how, or to what extent, 'the man Jesus' had fused
God Christ.' Nestorius of
Antioch, made patriarch of Constantinople in 428, tried to preserve
by arguing that the godman’s human nature, mothered
by Mary, had remained completely separate from the godman’s divine nature,
which was eternal and did not come through his human mother.
He thus favoured Mary as 'Christotokos' or bearer of
Christ over 'Theotokos' or bearer of God.
But from the rival bishop
of Alexandria, a thug called Cyril, came a different
story – and a willingness to use bribery and violence.
According to Cyril, schooled in Egyptian traditions, Jesus Christ
was God who had 'emptied himself to become fully human.' At
a Council of Ephesus, deliberating before the
Nestorians arrived, Cyril succeeded in having the 'Antiochans'
condemned (they responded by declaring Cyril a heretic in
With gifts of gold to
the imperial coffers, the alliance of Alexandria and Rome hounded
Nestorius out of office. Greek influence in Rome
waned as Egyptian ideas flourished.
recycled sacred space
Did They Get Their Ideas From?
in Egypt, copied in Rome
first monks were 'solitaries' (hermits)
hiding out in the Egyptian desert in time of
persecution. When martyrdom was no longer an
option increasing numbers of indolent fanatics
made the austere life of asceticism and self
denial a 'white martyrdom', battling the hordes
of Satan on the demon's own turf – the
demented fools became popular heroes, lauded
for keeping Satan busy and in the
process protecting less vigilant Christians who
might otherwise have fallen into his clutches.
As 'pop stars' they were periodically lionized
in the cities, particularly when a wrangle over
'theology' needed heavyweight support. Not a
few became bishops. As Gibbon observed, they realized that
a year or two spent in the desert was a "secret
road to wealth and honour."
race of filthy animals"
– Gibbon (Decline & Fall, chapter 28)
the reality soon became communities of
monks in settlements rivaling in wealth the secular
towns. By the 5th century the monks constituted
a formidable army of 'black shirts' – periodically
storming the cities to smash and burn pagan images
and temples. Notable triumphs were the destruction
of the Library of Alexandria and the murder of
Hypatia, the last pagan teacher in the school
attached to the library.
the 4th century, Athanasius took
a posse of monks with him on his sojourn in
Rome. After initial shock at the sight of the
unkempt bully boys, the popes enthusiastically
endorsed the idea of a monastic force. The
6 Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome found their Christian counterpart
in an army of thousands of celibates.
the monks came the black cassock, confessionals,
fasting, and penance – and
an increasing swarm of demons to keep them busy.
Heads and Salted Bones. The
number and suffering of Egyptian martyrs
multiplied exponentially once Christianity
became the state religion. Such 'glorious'
deaths would be relived a thousandfold – and
turned into an immensely profitable business,
limited only by commercial competition as
his cue from Alexandria, Bishop
Ambrose in Milan was one of the first to institute
the relic worship in Italy in the late 4th
of the Cross'. Those who could
afford it followed in the imperial footsteps
of Empress Helena and made the pilgrimage
to the 'Holy places' of Palestine. After
the dowager's visitation, the 'Holy Day' of
Easter became a 'Holy Week' as
the pious perambulated from one tableau to
the next, giving offerings and buying relics.
An envious Egyptian church was among the
first to construct local facsimiles as
pilgrimage points for the hoi polloi.
by the idea, Pope Gregory introduced
'stations' into Rome – and organised
large scale processions between them – at
the end of the 6th century.
tableaux... pioneered in Egypt, copied in Rome.
The Eastern Churches followed
the Jewish lunar calendar and marked the resurrection with an annual
festival on 14 Nisan, which could fall on any day of the week.
In the West, where the resurrection
was marked by a minor ceremony every week, 'Quartodecimans' ('fourteeners')
were attacked for 'Jewish practices.'
Alexandrian ritual was unique, a special annual festival falling on the
sun's day – and this was adopted in Rome in the 3rd century.
Arius of Alexandria continued
the ancient Egyptian tradition of hymals, popularising his theology by
setting his ideas in verse. Not to be bested, Ephrem of
Syria (306-73) wrote 'orthodox' songs to counter the heretic Arius.
In the west, Hilary of Poitiers and Ambrose of Milan followed suit.
original 'Holy Water' was drawn from the
Nile, identified by Egyptian Priests as the
'tears of Isis' weeping for the dead Osiris.
Early Christians gave the water their own
blessing and maintained it had curative powers.
From the 4th century basins began to appear
temple courtyard, re-purposed as Christian Church,
then re-converted to mosque.
the Nubian Temple of Wadi Sebua the figure of
the Apostle Peter was plastered over Amun, and
Rameses II now appears to worship him."
E. Witt, Isis in the Ancient World, p279.
Double Whammy – 'Two Christs in One'
A generation after Nestorius,
the formula eventually hammered out at the Council of
Chalcedon in 451, defied logic quite as perfectly as
had the Trinity: the godman it seems had 'two natures' both
true, both whole, both perfect. JC had been able to
truly suffer agonies and die like any man (an example to us all);
but as a dying
god his sacrifice redeemed the whole of humanity. The official
("orthodox") policy was thus 'dyophysitic' – and
its supporters became known as 'Melkites' ('the
king's men'). The 'one-nature' oppositionists were 'monophysite' who
were essentially opposed to the emperor.
The theological schism
ran along linguistic and racial fault lines and was a focus for
pro- or anti- imperial politics. Christianity, the so-called
'faith of unity,' helped fracture and break-up the empire by
its finer points of theology. The Aramaic-speaking Patriarchate
of Antioch, together with the
of Egypt, continued
to adhere to the monophysite 'heresy' and split from Constantinople
after Chalcedon. (To this day they are known as the 'Oriental
Orthodox Churches.') In the 7th century many 'monophysites'
would find it easy to convert to Islam.
Latin and Greek speaking
minorities in Syria, Palestine and Egypt ('Greek Catholic,'
accepted 'Chalcedon' and remained in communion with Constantinople.
In Alexandria itself,
the major Greek city, rivalry between Melkite and Coptic churches
was intense. Faced with this factionalism
within the Egyptian church and rivalry from the other patriarchates
in the east, the Coptic Patriarch forged an 'Alexandria-Rome
axis' of mutual hostility to
Constantinople. In return the bishops of Rome gained an 'Egyptian
and access to the colourful elaborations of the Coptic church.
its pretentious claims, the early papacy in Rome also faced competition
on all sides. It had learned to profit from the theological disputes
in the east by welcoming exiled heretics and 'remaining aloof'
from theorising. The Roman Church concentrated instead on 'practicalities': boosting
recruitment with an 'open door' policy (it had no
problem with contrite apostates, adulterers or murderers) and
the development of religious pageantry and monasticism – ideas
enthusiastically imported from Egypt.
'Pentarchy': late 6th/early 7th century Christian
7th century elevation of Rome was greatly assisted
by the fall of its rivals: Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria, overrun first by the Persians
and soon after by the armies of Islam.
rise of Islam eliminated most of Rome's Christian
rivals. Only a battered Constantinople remained.
By that time the prison walls of mediaeval Christendom
were firmly in place.
Christians did not use
the familiar cross emblem for several centuries. Before its 'Egyptianisation'
early Christianity used the symbols of the 'fish' and the 'chi-rho.'
The Gospels in their original Greek did not refer to any crucifix
but used the word "stauros" (Mark
15:21, Matthew 27:32, Luke 23:26, John 19:17), meaning a stake or vertical
Did They Get Their Ideas From?
Cross of Christ
ankh imparts the breath of life ("resurrection")
to a dead pharaoh
cross was associated with Maat, the Goddess of Truth.
It also represents the sexual union of Isis and Osiris.
cross (swastika) – ancient symbol
of good fortune.
sun cross – (Nimrud, Iraq,
c. 850 BC)
Buddhist swastika cross
Cross. The first appearance
of a cross in Christian art is on a Vatican
sarcophagus from the mid-5th Century.
century grave stone, Aglish, County Kerry (note
ubiquitous ankh (a
symbol of life) remained in use throughout
the Pharaonic period.
Ankh on Coptic tapestry (5th century AD. British Museum)
Latin Cross ('crux immissa') The Coptic ankh was
adopted in Rome during the 4th/ 5th centuries and simplified into
the familiar crucifix.
Cross. In the 3rd/ 4th centuries the
ankh was absorbed into Egyptian Christianity
(where it was known as the 'crux ansata' – the 'eyed' or 'handled' cross)
cross in various forms steadily replaced the
earlier Christian symbols. As society became
more barbarised and vicious, the cross acquired
its 'suffering Jesus' – a man
in torture (7th century onwards).
this form it echoed the ancient scarecrow,
a human effigy used to encourage crop fertility.
William Dalrymple, From the Holy Mountain (Flamingo, 1998)
Michael Walsh, A Dictionary of Devotions (Burns & Oates,
Dom Robert Le Gall, Symbols of Catholicism (Editions Assouline, 1997)
Leslie Houlden (Ed.), Judaism & Christianity (Routledge, 1988)
Norman Cantor, The Sacred Chain - A History of the Jews (Harper Collins,
R. E. Witt, Isis in the Ancient World (John Hopkins UP, 1971)
Alison Roberts, Hathor Rising-The Serpent Power of Ancient Egypt (Northgate,
Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin, 1993)
Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock, Keeper of Genesis (Heinemann, 1996)
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by Kenneth Humphreys.
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