Alice C. Linsley
Modernism has had a significant impact on Christianity in the 20th century. Modernism draws off the empirical skepticism of people like David Hume, John Locke, and Jeremy Bentham and the theories of Charles Darwin. It expressed itself in criticism of the Bible, some constructive and some not so constructive. Modernism influenced bishops to set aside core beliefs of the Christian faith such as the miracles of Jesus, the miraculous conception of Jesus by his Virgin mother, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Former Episcopal Church bishop James Pike is an example. He rejected the doctrines of the Virgin birth and the Trinity.
As the influence of Modernism grew, so did the opposing movement of fundamentalism. This movement defended a literal interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis, and developed a new idea about the Bible, namely, that it is without error. Fundamentalism also held the Bible as the only authority for Christians (sola scriptura), setting aside the Church's historic view of the Bible as the first and last authority along with the consensus of the Church Fathers and Church Tradition.
Both Modernism and Fundamentalism find common ground in the emergence of Protestantism. Protestantism broke with the past in significant ways. It applied a rationalist approach to the Faith which led to doubts about the Trinity since this divine mystery cannot be grasped by the human mind.
Coupled with Renaissance humanism, Protestant rationalism prepared the way for ethics based on human reason and a liberal view of human rights. Some who called themselves Protestants became Deists. The Christian concept of moral obligation to God's law shifted to moral obligation to the natural law of individual liberty and property (Locke, Jefferson). Deism, combined with the Calvinist work ethic, launched a view of natural rights that justified private property as a divine right.
Protestants stressed living according to individual conscience and individual interpretation of the Bible, apart from the Tradition of the Church. Protestants are more comfortable with innovations such as Dispensationalism and the Rapture, new ways of services, contemporary praise bands, women clergy, and Pentecostal practices such as speaking in tongues and being slain in the Spirit.
Though there are many denominational differences among Christians, especially since the 16th century, Christians around the world tend to agree on certain core beliefs. Many of these beliefs have been clarified by councils of wise bishop, priests and deacons. This is why it is possible to speak of Christianity as conciliar.
The core beliefs of the Christian Faith are expressed in the words of the Nicene Creed, a formulation of the core doctrines originally adopted in the city of Nicaea (present day Iznik, Turkey) by the First Council of Nicaea in 325.
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker (of heaven and earth, and) of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made (in heaven and on earth);
he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead;
And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father (Rome adds "and from the Son"), who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.
In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
In the history of the Church 7 councils have been especially important. These councils were called to resolve questions and controversies surrounding Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and holy images such as icons.
The Third, Fourth, Fifth and Seventh Councils address the veneration (honor) due to the Virgin Mary. The veneration of Mary was a common practice before the time of the Puritans, and the oldest cathedrals in England have side chapels dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Many of the original statutes of Mary and other saints were destroyed by the Puritans. The destruction of images is called “iconoclasm.”
The veneration of Mary was common practice before the emergence of Protestantism. Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, had much to say about the veneration of Mary.
He wrote, "The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart." (Sermon, Sept. 1st 1522) He also said, "People have crowded all her glory into a single phrase: The Mother of God. No one can say anything greater of her, though he had as many tongues as there are leaves on the tress." (From the Commentary of the Magnificat)
1. First Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) with 318 bishops present, including St. Nicholas of Myra, St. James of Nisibis, and St. Athanasius of Antioch, who was a deacon at that time.
This Council was called to resolve controversy raised by the Alexandrian priest Arius, who rejected the Jesus Christ’s divine nature and eternal pre-existence as the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God the Father. Arius taught that the Son of God is the highest creation. Therefore, in the Nicene Creed we affirm that Jesus Christ is “begotten of the Father, not made…”
2. First Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381) with 150 bishops present, including Gregory the Theologian, who presided over the Council, Gregory of Nyssa, and Cyril of Jerusalem.
This Council was convoked against the false teaching of the Arian bishop of Constantinople, Macedonius, who rejected the deity of the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. He taught that the Holy Spirit is not God, and called Him a created power like an angel, and therefore subservient to God the Father and God the Son. The Council affirmed as a dogma (unchanging truth) the equality and the single essence of God the Holy Spirit with God the Father and God the Son. The Council also supplemented the Nicene Creed, or "Symbol of Faith," with five Articles in which is set forth its teaching about the Holy Spirit, about the Church, about the Mysteries, about the resurrection of the dead, and the life in the world to come. This is called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and it serves as a guide to the Church for all time.
3. Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431) with 200 bishops present
This Council repudiated the false doctrine of Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople, who profanely taught that the Most-holy Virgin Mary simply gave birth to the man Christ, with whom then God united morally and dwelled in Him, as in a temple, as previously He had dwelled in Moses and other prophets. Nestorius denied that Jesus is God incarnate and therefore the Virgin Mary was not the God-bearer (Theotokos). The Council upheld the divine nature of Jesus Christ and that at the time of the incarnation he was of two natures, divine and human, and that being so, the Mary did indeed bear God. The Council also affirmed the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and strictly prohibited making any changes or additions to it (as happened when the Roman Catholic Church added the words “and from the Son” to the Creed, referring to the procession of the Holy Spirit. This is called the “Filioque clause” and it is now optional for Anglican to say when reciting the Nicene Creed.
4. Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) with 650 bishops present
This Council met to challenge the false doctrine of an archimandrite of a Constantinople monastery, Eutychius, who rejected the human nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. In attempting to defend the divinity of Jesus Christ, he himself fell into the extreme. Eutychius taught that the human nature was completely absorbed into Jesus Christ’s divine nature (Monophysitism). Therefore, it followed that one need only recognize Jesus Christ’s divine nature. The Council determined that Jesus Christ is perfect God, born by God, and perfect Man, taking his flesh from his mother Mary and in every way He is like us, except without sin. Some Eastern churches do not accept this judgment. These include the “miaphysite” Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Church of India. These are considered “Non-Chalcedonian” churches. Miaphysitism holds that in Jesus Christ, Divinity and Humanity are united in one nature (monism), the two being united without separation, without confusion, and without alteration.
5. Second Council of Constantinople (A.D. 553) with 165 bishops present
This Council reaffirmed that Jesus Christ has two natures, human and divine, and that these are neither separable nor mixed. This council convened to address the heretical proposition that the Christ and Jesus were two separate persons loosely conjoined, and that the Virgin Mary could not be called the Mother of God (Gk. Theotokos), but only the mother of Christ (Gk. Christotokos). This idea about Mary has already been condemned at the earlier ecumenical council of Ephesus in 431.
6. Third Council of Constantinople (A.D. 680) with 170 bishops present, including St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and St. Maximus the Confessor, who the Romans had tortured by cutting out his tongue cut and chopping off his hand.
The Council condemned the heresies of monoenergism and monothelitism, and defined Jesus Christ as having two energies and two wills (divine and human). Monoenergism teaches that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one energy, whereas orthodoxy teaches that Jesus Christ acts through two energies, divine and human, generally called Dyoenergism. Monothelitism teaches that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one will. This is contrary to orthodox Christology, which teaches that Jesus Christ has two wills (human and divine) corresponding to his two natures.
The Sixth Ecumenical Council also rejected several innovations of the Roman Church, namely, the requirement that priests and deacons be celibate, strict fasting on Saturdays during Lent, and representations of Jesus as a lamb, or in any way other than He appeared on the earth. This was intended to curb what was regarded as Roman idolatry.
7. Second Council of Nicaea (A.D. 787) with 367 bishops, priests and “spiritual fathers” present
This Council was convened against the iconoclastic heresy, which had been raging for sixty years before the Council, under the Greek Emperor Leo III, who hoped to convert Muslims to Christianity. To do so, he thought it necessary to do away with icons. Emperor Leo’s son, Constantine V (741–775), held the Council of Hieria to make the suppression of holy images official. Veneration of the holy icons was finally restored and affirmed by the local synod of Constantinople in 843 A.D., under the Empress Theodora. At this last ecumenical council is was determined that, “As the sacred and life-giving cross is everywhere set up as a symbol, so also should the images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the holy angels, as well as those of the saints and other pious and holy men be embodied in the manufacture of sacred vessels, tapestries, vestments, etc., and exhibited on the walls of churches, in the homes, and in all conspicuous places, by the roadside and everywhere, to be revered by all who might see them. For the more they are contemplated, the more they move to fervent memory of their prototypes. Therefore, it is proper to accord to them a fervent and reverent adoration, not, however, the veritable worship which, according to our faith, belongs to the Divine Being alone — for the honor accorded to the image passes over to its prototype, and whoever adores the image adores in it the reality of what is there represented."
In keeping with the spirit of the early Middle Ages, there was an emphasis on every church having a relic enshrined in the altar. A relic consists of the physical remains or personal effects of a saint or venerated person preserved as a tangible memorial. All Eastern Orthodox churches and many Roman Catholic churches have altars containing relics. Many of the oldest churches in England have relics. Relics of St. Thomas Becket are housed in Trinity Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral. Recently, archaeologists have found the remains of four of the Puritan founders of the Jamestown Settlement and were surprised to find a relic among the items buried with Capt. Gabriel Archer. (See 2015, Washington Post, “Jamestownexcavation unearths four bodies and a mystery in a box”)
Related reading: The Tragedy of James Pike; Overview of Ethics From Antiquity to Modernism; Christianity and Messianic Expectation; Religious Tradition; Between Biblical Literalism and Biblical Illiteracy; Christianity Lacks Originality