Synopses & Reviews
The story of Jesus is well known, as is the story of Christian persecutions during the Roman Empire. The history of fervent debate, civil strife, and bloody riots within the Christian community as it was coming into being, however, is a side of ancient history rarely described. Richard E. Rubenstein takes the reader to the streets of the Roman Empire during the fourth century, when a fateful debate over the divinity of Jesus Christ is being fought. Ruled by a Christian emperor, followers of Jesus no longer fear for the survival of their monotheistic faith but break into two camps regarding the direction of their worship. Is Jesus the son of God and therefore not the same as God? Or is Jesus precisely God on earth and therefore equal to Him? The vicious debate is led by two charismatic priests. Arius, an Alexandrian priest and poet, preaches that Jesus, though holy, is less than God. Athanasius, a brilliant and violent bishop, sees any diminution of Jesus' godhead as the work of the devil. Between them stands Alexander, the powerful Bishop of Alexandria, who must find a resolution that will keep the empire united and the Christian faith alive. With thorough historical, religious, and social research, Rubenstein vividly recreates one of the most critical moments in the history of religion.
"[Rubenstein] has taken one of the major religious controversies of the early Christian church, a controversy that consumed its energies for most of the fourth century, and turned it into a flesh-and-blood encounter of real people that reads like an adventure story."-The Christian Science Monitor
"A splendidly dramatic story . . . Rubenstein has turned one of the great fights of history into an engrossing story."-Jack Miles, The Boston Globe; author of God: A Biography
Three hundred years after Jesus' crucifixion, the Roman Empire witnessed the first major turning point in the history of Christianity. The violent debate, now known as the Arian Controversy, lasted more than 60 years, dividing the Roman Empire and forever changing the face of the Christian Church. Was Jesus of Nazareth God Himself, walking the earth in human form? Or was he a uniquely holy man adopted by God as His Son and raised to divine rank? Richard E. Rubenstein, an expert on religious conflict, transports us to an empire fraught with contradictions and turmoil. He brings us into the debates of religious leaders and politicians and the struggles of commoners as we witness the battle over the true identity of Jesus Christ and the meaning of his mission on earth.
We all know the story of Jesus' life, his death, his resurrection, and the persecution of his early followers. Less well known is the struggle the early Christians had in deciding whether Jesus was God Himself or the holiest of men, adopted by God and raised to divine rank. This controversy was at the heart of the most fateful conflict in Christendom until the Reformation. It was characterized by fervent debate, riots, a series of ecumenical councils, and civil strife. The key players were two priests, Arius and Athanasius, brothers in Christ, ideological opponents, and mortal enemies. Arius, a firebrand bishop, intelligent and eloquent, preached that Jesus was less than God. Athanasius, a brilliant and violent deacon, ardently opposed Arius's subversive preaching. Between them stood Alexander, the powerful bishop of Alexandria, the man on whose shoulders lay the need for a speedy resolution, which was essential both to keeping the empire united and to the continuation of the Church. Richard Rubenstein presents a vibrant portrait of the thriving Roman Empire in the centuries after the birth of Jesus Christ, as he brings to life the ideas of the most influential leaders and shows us a major religion at the crossroads of its faith.
A thoroughly researched and vivid re-creation of one of the most critical periods in the history of Western religion
The life of Jesus, and the subsequent persecution of Christians during the Roman Empire, have come to define what many of us know about early Christianity. The fervent debate, civil strife, and bloody riots within the Christian community as it was forming, however, is a story that is rarely told. Richard E. Rubenstein takes readers to the streets of the Roman Empire during the fourth century, where a divisive argument over the divinity of Jesus Christ was underway. Ruled by a Christian emperor, followers of Jesus no longer feared for the survival of their monotheistic faith, but they found themselves in different camps—led by two charismatic men—on the topic of Christian theology. Arius, an Alexandrian priest and poet, preached that Jesus, though holy, is less than God, while Athanasius, a brilliant and violent bishop, saw any diminution of Jesus' godhead as the work of the devil. Between them stood Alexander, the powerful Bishop of Alexandria, in search of a solution that would keep the empire united and the Christian faith alive.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -240) and index.
About the Author
RICHARD E. RUBENSTEIN is professor of conflict resolution and public affairs at George Mason University and an expert on religious conflict. A graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, he was a Rhodes Scholar and studied at Oxford University. He lives in Fairfax, Virginia.