Originally the article was titled “Islam, a successful Arianism”. But how can we say that it is a success when a god by his insults of an incredible baseness soiled the very idea that one has of a religion?
First of all a clarification, the “Arians”, that is to say, the partisans of Arius’ theses, have nothing to do with the “Aryans” themes of racist theories as smoky as they are dangerous which have bloodied the XXth century. The difference between an “i” and not a “y”, the use of “Arianist” Anglicism, helps to avoid any confusion. To prepare for this presentation I had the curiosity to refer to my carefully preserved old “Mallet-Isaac” from 5th grade, to read, page 183, “Organization of the Christian Church”:
“When it came to discussing important questions affecting the Christian religion, bishops met in assemblies called councils. The most important council in the 4th century was the Council of Nicaea, convened by Emperor Constantine in this city of Asia Minor in 325 “.
And there, reference to a footnote worded as follows:
“A priest of Alexandria, Arius, claimed theories about Jesus Christ that some bishops had adopted and others rejected. The Council of Nicaea was charged with deciding what was the orthodoxy (i.e. the correct doctrine) and what was the heresy (i.e. the false doctrine). He condemns the doctrine of Arius as a heretic. “
You will notice both a certain vagueness on the modalities of convening councils, in fact, a prerogative of the emperor, and that you still do not know anything about the doctrine of Arius. Further still, on page 202, “Description of the West in 500 AD” the manual notes:
“In reality, the domination of the Visigoths, like that of the Vandals and Ostrogoths, was less solid than it appeared. These three peoples had converted to Christianity, but to Arian Christianity. They were, therefore, heretics in the eyes of the bishops. In the wake of the great invasions, the bishops had become the most important and most-listened-to personages. To have them against you was to doom yourself to failure. On the contrary, they were ready to help the first barbarian prince who would take their side against the Arians. “
1 / Arius’ thesis
In his final war against Licinius, (already against Maxentius), the rapprochement of Constantine and the Christians seems to have played a role. Better established in the East, they constituted a useful supplement. Constantine therefore gradually passes from the “Sol Invictus” to the God of Christians. Shortly after his final victory over Licinius, he wishes, in an obvious political logic, to put an end to the theological quarrels which divide Christians.
In most cases, these multiple heresies or schisms have only a regional character and effect. But the thesis of Arius, a priest from Alexandria, poses a major problem. This is the simple, if not obvious, affirmation of the principle of the strict oneness of God, which leads to the question of whether Christ is divine or not. Once the divinity of Christ is unquestionable, the oneness of God leads to this question: Was Christ created by God, or was he God himself? Arius’s thesis that the pre-existence of Christ did not prevent him from being created was presented by his opponents as undermining his divinity. The subtle attempts at reconciliation ultimately stumbled over whether Jesus was of the same nature or substance as God. It has been noted that in Greek the two words differ only by a subscribed iota! Already the letter “i”! But the strict principle of the oneness of God has the advantage of being easier to understand. This is found in both Judaism and Islam. The Qur’an reaffirms the oneness of God in many verses, for example: “There is no God but God”, Sura III, verse 62, “There is no God but him”, Sura II, verse 255 and Sura III, verse 18 and finally “Your God is one God! There is no God but him “, Sura II, verse 163. Then to be even clearer:” Yes, it is with Jesus as with Adam with God, God created him from the earth, then he told him: “be”, and he is. », Sura III, verse 59.
Noting the effervescence and the disputes of the Christian world around the theses of Arius, Constantine decides to have the question settled by the meeting in May 325, in his palace of Nicaea, of the first ecumenical council (since bringing together all the bishops of Christendom ). He presided over the opening session, with Bishop Osius of Cordoba by his side, who was in charge of the proceedings. After a few weeks, the council decided, by a large majority, notably under the influence of the bishops of the West, that the Son consubstantial with the Father, had been (at most) “begotten, but not created”, therefore preexisted by all means. eternity.
2 / Cesaro-papism, a euphemism for political Arianism
However, the decision of the council does not put an end to the debates. Sozomene writes in his Ecclesiastical History, (L.II.21.7) “All this was extremely painful for the emperor, for he had thought that these kinds of disputes would end with the Council of Nicaea, and against his expectation, he saw them aroused again”. The debate between Arianists and Niceans will last for centuries and have considerable political consequences in the 4th century. These “Christological” debates will persist in the fifth century and well beyond, even to the present day.
Above all, many historians cleverly conceal, most often by omission, the fact that shortly after the Council of Nicaea Constantine adhered to the Arianist theses. If no one disputes that an Arianist bishop baptized him on his deathbed, this fact is presented in an innocuous and circumstantial way: at the moment when, in May 337, the dying Constantine decides to be baptized, by a sort of Unfortunate chance, an Arianist bishop was passing by … This bishop, Eusebius of Nicomedia, had been with him since 326, date of his return to the Arianist theses. Constantine, soldier and administrator, is not a theologian. The dogma of the Trinity was presented to him as a sort of divine “Triarchy” which would constitute in the Kingdom of Heaven an unfortunate reminder of the calamitous tetrarchy. “Political unity is like the counterpart of divine unity, and we have noticed that this politico-religious conception of Eusebius, if not of Constantine, found its coherence in the doctrine of Arius who insists more than Catholicism, on the divine unity which is expressed in the father ”recalls the historian André Chastagnol, in his work Le Bas-Empire. Faced with these bad earthly memories, Arianism provides a simple answer. The one-to-one relationship between God in heaven and the Emperor on earth implies a strict unity in heaven so that it is the same on earth. To a God who is not only unique but one, only one emperor can correspond. The hated ghosts of the tetrarchy are definitively discarded for the satisfaction of the first Christian emperors.
Eusebius of Caesarea, the principal adviser to Constantine, clearly exposes this political interpretation of Arianism: “The beloved king of God, bearing the image of royalty from above, holds the rudder and directs, in imitation of the Almighty, all that is on Earth ”. “One, the common Savior of the universe, by an invisible and divine power, keeps his sheep at a distance, as does a good shepherd, from the rebellious powers which, flying in the air above the earth, threw themselves on the souls of men, like wild beasts; the other, loved by Him, doomed by Him from on high, trophies won against enemies, subdues the public enemies of the truth by the law of war and makes them wise”. This same text underlines, by a satisfied Providentialism, the happy coincidence between the beginnings of the Empire and those of Christianity, of which the vast Empire facilitates the diffusion. He also gives a biblical basis to the monarchy by citing the Old Testament (Daniel, 7, 18), “and the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingship”. This text appears in the Praises of Constantine (§I, 6), republished in 2001, by Editions du Cerf, under the title: The Political Theology of the Christian Empire. For some, Constantine’s adherence to Arianism still remains a subject sensitive enough for this text to be presented under a different title than his and packed with comments much larger than the text itself: a beautiful smoke curtain… This is the speech given by Eusebius of Caesarea in 336 for the celebration of the thirty years of the advent of Constantine, we will leave to Photius, patriarch of Constantinople in the tenth century, the care of appreciating religious convictions of Eusebius of Caesarea: “On the Arian heresy, he does not say anything definite … he does not want to question Arius … he does not shed any light on all these facts”, (“Library” of Photius, volume II, p. 100, ed. Les Belles-Lettres).
The succession of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, is regulated by a bloodbath, not very consistent with the precepts of the Gospels. In September 337, in a patriotic concern for inheritance simplification, perhaps inspired by the beneficiary (ies) of the operation (the three sons of Constantine, but Constance II is generally considered to be the inspiration) the army proceeds to prune brutal of the genealogical tree of Constantine’s family, by massacring his three half-brothers and their sons with the exception of the still young children of Julius-Constance, Gallus and Julien. The Empire was then divided between Constant, Constantine II and Constance II, on the basis of the three praetorian prefectures created and delimited by their father. After a few twists and turns, Constantine II died in 339 in a military expedition against his brother Constant. The latter annexed his States, but it was his turn to be killed in 350 during the usurpation of Magnence in the West. After defeating the latter, Constance II reigns alone. Under his reign, political power exercised a stronghold on religious affairs, Caesaro-papism, a euphemism not to speak of political Arianism. The emperor, representative of God on earth, is the supreme head of the Church. Constance II expresses it forcefully. He summons the councils. He goes beyond his father’s personal adherence to Arius’s theses; he actively supports them, going as far as open intolerance towards the Nicene people. Thus, during his stay in Rome in 353, he did not hesitate to exile all the bishops of Italy, and to replace Libère, bishop of Rome, with an Arianist, Felix (II). The list of exiled Italian bishops, as given by contemporaries, does not indicate any primacy of the bishop of Rome. Finally, Constance II sends the Arianist bishop Ulfila to evangelize the Germanic barbarians. However, two poles of resistance to Arianism remain, the first in Egypt, with Athanasius, the second in Gaul with Hilaire de Poitiers.
Constance II died in November 361, when his cousin Julien rebelled against him. Having no children, he has, on his deathbed, the meritorious dynastic concern of appointing the rebel Julien as his successor.
3 / The paradoxical effect of Julian’s attempt to return to traditional religion
Julian’s brief reign, less than two years, is famous for his attempt to restore traditional religion. By a curious paradox, the “Apostate” Julian, by re-establishing freedom of worship, saves the Niceans who are careful not to recognize this merit in him. His religious comments are, it is true, scathing and condescending irony, hard to forgive for those who are the subject of them. In addition, he does not hide his ulterior motives in reestablishing religious freedom, because “he knew from experience that there are no wild beasts more enemies of men than are most of the time Christians, animated by deadly hatreds”. This stated ulterior motive is that some Christian authors equate the return to religious freedom under the reign of Julian to a new persecution, the eleventh!
Contemporaries very early noticed, if not pointed out, that from the moment Christians ceased to be persecuted, they willingly became persecutors. These immediately opened two fronts, an external front against traditional religions, aiming at their pure and simple disappearance, and an internal, multi-faceted front made up of these infinite interpretive variants of the Gospel message.
The successors of Julien, Jovien then Valentinian and Valens, once again Christians, restore them to their previous position, without intervening in internal debates, with the exception of Valens who openly adheres to Arius’s theses.
4 / The Catholic religion becomes state religion
Initially, the initiative in matters of religious legislation comes from Gratien who succeeded his father Valentinian I in 375. The personal position of Theodosius associated with the empire after the death of Valens on the battlefield of Adrianople in 378 does not appear right away. Nevertheless, it is certain that he never bore the title of “Grand Pontiff”. Until then the Christian emperors had retained their function of “Grand Pontiff” which made them heads of the traditional religion. Gratien is the first to have refused to exercise this function. During his visit to Rome in 379, he had rejected the insignia and dress of “Grand Pontiff” which had been presented to him. During this same visit to Rome, he had the statue of the goddess of Victories removed from the Senate sitting room, already removed when Constance II came to Rome in 352, but restored by Julian.
By the law of February 28, 380, addressed from Thessaloniki to the people of Constantinople, Theodosius goes further than the simple resumption of the provisions promulgated by Gratien on August 20, 379. He decrees the Catholic religion as the only state religion: “It is Our will that all the peoples who are subject to the administration of Our Mercy practice the religion that the divine Apostle Peter transmitted to the Romans … the religion which is followed by the Pontiff Damasus and Peter, Bishop of Alexandria … we will believe in the sole Divinity of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, under the notion of equal majesty and of the Holy Trinity … We command that those who follow this rule embrace the name of Catholic Christians ”. Here, the word “Catholic” must be taken in its original sense, “universal”. This law is codified in 16.1.2. either at the head of Book XVI of the Theodosian Code, which groups together religious laws. It is the first law, 1.1.1., Of the Justinian Code which reproduces exactly the terms. Towards the end of 380, Theodosius, who recovered from a serious illness, was baptized into the Catholic religion by the Bishop of Thessaloniki. Shortly after, at the end of November, he made his triumphal entry into Constantinople. To put some order in the disputes which persisted within the Church, he convoked in Constantinople in the month of May 381 the second ecumenical council which confirmed that of Nicaea and the law of February 380. The Father and the Son were therefore well consubstantial.
About the political interest of the dogma of Nicaea
At the start of 383, Theodosius felt strong enough on his throne to decide on his own the future devolution of his succession. Upon entering the fifth year of his reign, he unilaterally proclaimed his then six-year-old son Arcadius as Associate Emperor, with the title of Augustus, without asking Gratian’s permission. Since Arcadius holds his crown of God, why ask for Gratian’s consent?
An anecdote illustrates this political interpretation of the dogma of Nicaea. In an audience, the Bishop of Iconium (now Konya, Cappadocia) is said to have willingly displayed an inappropriate familiarity with the imperial child. As he is about to be brutally expelled from the courtroom, he declares to the Emperor “Such is the treatment that the king of heaven reserves for ungodly men who pretend to adore the Father by refusing to recognize divine majesty and equal to his son ”. Theodosius immediately understood the political significance of this Nicene lesson and “tenderly embraced the bishop.” The legitimacy of political power is based on an earthly transposition of the kingdom of God. In such a one-to-one relationship, the more complex Nicene principle appears weaker than the strict uniqueness of Arianism, but it offers the considerable advantage of justifying the transmission of power from father to son. The monarchical inheritance is thus founded since the imperial dignity is acquired to the successor even before it is conceived. From now on, the rights which kings hold from God are acquired and transmitted in their family in all circumstances.
By making only Nicene Christianity, the Catholic religion, the official religion of the Empire, Theodosius made a fundamentally political decision. He is thus the inventor of the hereditary monarchy of divine right as it will operate in Europe for a little over twelve centuries. This policy of “fait accompli” is accompanied by a considerable issue of divisional small change in which the infant emperor appears, crowned with a hand-held diadem of God, which in this case rises from the edge of the coin. This representation of the “hand of” God “appears in Egypt at the time of Akhenaton’s attempt; it was frequent in the synagogues of antiquity. Thus, Arcadius “a deo coronatus” “crowned with the hand of God” is the first beneficiary of the hereditary monarchy of divine right, a political system doomed to long posterity.
5 / Roman Catholics and barbarian Arianists
Finally, and this point is not emphasized enough, the religious flip-flops at the top of the Empire have an unexpected consequence. The barbarians, evangelized into Arianism by an Empire who then leaned for these theses, invade two generations later an Empire reverted to the dogma of the Trinity; they believed themselves to be good Christians, they are heretics; to say the least, this is a factor hindering their integration into the Empire.
When in the West the imperial “superstructure” disappeared in 476, three Arianist kingdoms emerged:
-The Vandals who have held North Africa since 430 and especially 455,
-The Visigoths who control Spain and a very large south-west of Gaul, as far as the Loire and the Rhône
-And finally, Odoacre who proclaims himself King of Italy.
The rest of Gaul is divided between a still Roman area, a Burgundian kingdom in the South-East which leans towards Catholicism, the end of Armorica which welcomes refugees from the island of Brittany, and a small still pagan kingdom, franks.
The very Catholic power of Constantinople applies the technique of salami. The Emperor of the East, Zeno, killed two birds with one stone when he got rid of the Ostrogoths and sent him to Italy. Their leader, Theodoric, defeats Odoacer, and obtains his surrender in 493 against promise of life saved, not kept; he kills him with his own hand at the end of a banquet. This somewhat brutal start does not detract from the merits of the glorious reign that follows. However, Theodoric is an Arianist, and the reconquest of Italy by Constantinople under Justinian in the middle of the sixth century will prove difficult. Heartfelt thought for the bishops of Rome, subjects of an Arianist king, freed by the troops of the East …
In Gaul, the last Roman piece was left to the Frankish king Clovis, who converted to the Catholic religion under the influence of his wife Clotilde, Princess of Burgundy. Clovis is then sufficiently powerful to turn against the Visigoths, to beat them near Poitiers in 507, and to reunite a Catholic Gaul for his profit. As he well deserved from the Empire, Emperor Anastasius appointed him honorary consul in 508.
Pushed beyond the Pyrenees, the Visigothic kingdom resists quite well the attempts of the reconquest of Spain by Justinian which only bark it. In 589, King Récarède renounced Arianism for Catholicism.
In North Africa, the old King Genseric survived only a few months in the Western Empire, of which during a reign of half a century he was with skill and also astonishing luck, the most tenacious and the most formidable adversary. He died at the age of eighty-seven in January 477. His son Hunéric, the “son-in-law” of the Roman Emperor Valentinian III, succeeded him for ten years, followed by his brothers. His son Hildéric, king of the Vandals from 521 to 530, reigned with softness and moderation, in particular in religious matters, which earned him being deposed and then murdered. “Theodosian legitimism” then offered Justinian a pretext to put an end to the Vandal kingdom, which collapsed after a three-week military campaign conducted with an expeditionary force of five thousand men. The extraordinary fragility of the system put in place by Genséric for the occupation of the province of Africa is therefore confirmed a posteriori.
So at the end of the 6th century, political Arianism was eliminated in favor of Catholicism.
6 / Eastern Catholics and religious quarrels
In the East, intact imperial power is obviously perfectly intolerant, but the debates continue, slyly undermining the foundations of the Empire. The question of Arianism persists, Christological reflection seeks to put an end to Arianism. The imperial power has come forward twice to support attempts that the Bishop of Rome considers no less heretical. One could say, in relation to Arianism, the opposite heresies:
first, the theses of Nestorius,
then those of Eutyches, the latter are mathematically common sense: if Jesus Christ is both God and man, his human nature must be effaced before his divine nature, it is monophysism, Jesus Christ would in fact have than a nature, his divine nature. Despite their condemnation, these last theses persist in Egypt, it is the Coptic Church. This results in a permanent difficulty between the central government of Constantinople and this province.
During the sixth century, the situation in the Red Sea was troubled by a conflict between the Christian kingdom of Aksum, present-day Ethiopia, and a Jewish kingdom over part of present-day Yemen. Trade between India and the Eastern Empire then made the fortune of the caravanners, who crossed the Arabian Peninsula. They are therefore in contact with Judaism and with Christians dominated by Catholics, but among whom an Arianist substrate remains.
To say that Islam is neo-Arianism, or a synthetic motion is tempting. Of course, there is nothing to prove that Muhammad studied theological debates between Christians, we are perhaps in the presence of a simple phenomenon of convergence, at least for the initial emergence of Islam. On the other hand, its rapid extension on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, then in Spain corresponds exactly to the regions where Arianism was dominant; this religious past perfectly explains the good reception given by populations that remained Arianists to this new religion.
To conclude, I will call on a Catholic theologian, Peter the Venerable , Abbot of Cluny at the beginning of the 12th century. Of course, he is not quite a saint, but only a “blessed” one. At a general audience on October 14, 2009, Ratzinger-Benedict XVI referred to it in these terms:
“An admirable example of asceticism with himself and understanding with others. He also showed his care and concern for those, too, who were outside the Church, especially Jews and Muslims. To know them better, he had the Koran translated “.
Indeed, five centuries after Muhammad, and several decades after the beginning of the Crusades, Pierre de Cluny was outraged at the ignorance of the Latins. How to fight what we do not know? Can we be satisfied with simplistic attacks and offensive amalgamations to stigmatize Muhammad? The abbot of Cluny then decided to order the first Latin translation of the Koran. During a trip to Spain, he meets the four translators, Robert de Ketton (an Englishman), Hermann of Dalmatia, Peter of Toledo, a Saracen named Mohammed. The translation was completed in 1142, it will be until the 16th century the only translation of the Koran in Latin. Beyond the legend according to which Peter reading the Koran would have exclaimed: “But it is Arius! », He notes the obvious link with Arius and deduces that if Muhammad is a creature of the antichrist (in the context of the time he could not say less), Islam is not an idolatry, but a Christian heresy, which is a lesser evil.
Arius’s strict monotheism has for him the merit of simplicity. So this interpretation of Christianity keeps followers unconscious believing themselves to be good Christians. As Laurent Dispot notes in an article published in “Liberation” on April 17, 1996 “Clovis et les clovicieux”:
“Their conception of Christianity is not that of the Trinity, but of an immeasurable greatness of the Father, in relation to which the Son is ‘only’ a prophet created by him, and creator in his turn of the Mind. A strict monotheistic vision, so little illegitimate that it comes from Judaism and will resurface with Islam “.
An illustrious example deserves to be cited which will speak to many of us: Newton had found that the documents revealed gave no support to the doctrines of the Trinity which were due to late falsifications. For him the revealed God was unique.
In conclusion, it is important to underline the link between the three religions of the “Book” and the fact that Islam proceeds from a Christian heresy from the beginning of the 4th century, the heresy of Arius, because this shows that there is nothing that justifies a demonization of this religion, compared to others. There is no specificity of Islam when it comes to intolerance. History simply shows that monotheistic religions as soon as circumstances permit are always ready for political interference and from this point of view Islam does not do better than the others. In fact, anti-Islamist discourse most often conceals attempts by Christian circles to question the principles of secularism.
By Georges-André Morin