Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years
by John Philip Jenkins 2010
About the Author
Philip Jenkins, the author of The Lost History of Christianity, Jesus Wars, and The Next Christendom, is a Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion. He has published articles and op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Washington Post and has been a guest on top national radio shows across the country.
About the Book
The Fifth-Century Political Battles That Forever Changed the Church
In this fascinating account of the surprisingly violent fifth-century church, PhilipJenkins describes how political maneuvers by a handful of powerful charactersshaped Christian doctrine. Were it not for these battles, today’s church could beteaching something very different about the nature of Jesus, and the papacy as weknow it would never have come into existence. Jesus Wars reveals the profoundimplications of what amounts to an accident of history: that one faction ofRoman emperors and militia-wielding bishops defeated another.
Jesus Wars reveals how official, orthodox teaching about Jesus was the product of political maneuvers by a handful of key characters in the fifth century. Jenkins argues that were it not for these controversies, the papacy as we know it would never have come into existence and that today’s church could be teaching some-thing very different about Jesus. It is only an accident of history that one group of Roman emperors and militia-wielding bishops defeated another faction.
Christianity claims that Jesus was, somehow, both human and divine. But the Bible is anything but clear about Jesus’s true identity. In fact, a wide range of opinions and beliefs about Jesus circulated in the church for four hundred years until allied factions of Roman royalty and church leaders burned cities and killed thousands of people in an unprecedented effort to stamp out heresy.
Jenkins recounts the fascinating, violent story of the church’s fifth-century battles over “right belief” that had a far greater impact on the future of Christianity and the world than the much-touted Council of Nicea convened by Constantine a century before.
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Starred Review The fifth-century Christian church faced a doctrinal issue, now largely forgotten, that precipitated intramural Christian savagery unparalleled until the 11-centuries-later Thirty Years’ War. The bone of contention was the nature of Jesus Christ. That he wasn’t a mere man was indisputable. But was he a human-divine cross-breed, so to speak, or was he purely divine and his human body an illusion? Neither was accepted, but the conclusion of the council of Chalcedon in 451 that he was fully divine and fully human—that is, said dissidents, of two natures—incensed those who held he was of one nature, entirely divine. The fight broke out well before Chalcedon, entailing the death-from-assault of the patriarch of Constantinople during the 449 council of Ephesus, thereafter disowned as the “Gangster Synod.” Chalcedon eventually triumphed, but not until well after 250 years of intermittent violence in which monks behaved like the Waffen SS. Jenkins condenses centuries of church and imperial strife with admirable clarity despite the continuous blizzard of historical names and ecclesiastical terms the narrative entails. He suggests that this era, not the later Dark and Middle Ages, is the most violent (un-Christian?) in Christian history and that it may have lessons for the present and future conflict between Christians and Muslims over the nature of God. –Ray Olson