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Powerline Blog
Power Line
17 Feb 2024
John Hinderaker


NextImg:Politics of Identity In the Fifth Century

I am currently reading The New Roman Empire by Anthony Kaldellis. A history of the Eastern Empire, it runs to 1,000 pages, which isn’t long enough, given the length of time and the density of incident recorded. Among the many subjects covered are the theological and political controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries.

The major theological debate in the fourth century was over the relationship between Jesus Christ and God the Father. This subject was of obvious importance to the development of Christianity, and it was more or less resolved by the Council of Nicaea in 325. The Nicene Creed is now accepted, I believe, by nearly all Christian denominations.

The great theological debate of the fifth century, in contrast, was over a much lesser issue: the precise nature of Jesus’s divinity and human form. The two sides are generally referred to as advocating for either One Nature or Two Natures. At least one prominent cleric was beaten to death by a mob that disagreed with his position on that question.

What does this have to do with 21st century politics? I found this discussion striking:

Narratives began to coalesce around theological slogans, with grievances, villains, heroes, and even martyrs; in other words, beyond the theological issues at stake these positions were becoming identities.
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The Christological division over Natures differed from that of the fourth century about the Father and Son in one more way: in the fourth century, partisans disagreed with the theological positions of their opponents, whereas in the fifth and sixth centuries they disagreed with largely imaginary positions that they only attributed to their opponents, often while the latter were clearly proclaiming that they did not hold those positions. … The need to create identities by inventing caricatures and then demonizing those who allegedly believed them proved to be greater than the desire for consensus.

One could argue that not much has changed in the intervening 1,600 years.