Brief History of a Faith Divided: Four Belief Systems, One Reality

 

1 – The Mystery of Belief

 

 

The difference between reality and mystery is very simple: one is everything we know, the other is everything we don’t know. We like to believe that the world we live in is reality, but we are never far from mystery.  Why do inexplicable and incomprehensible things happen?  Those things which we call mystery may simply be the unknown, or the not-yet-known. This is the scientific perspective.  Mystery may also represent elements of the supernatural realm breaking into the natural world. This is the religious perspective.  The list of debunked superstitions, false prophecies, and failed religions is long indeed. 

 

The great mysteries remain matters of faith.  How did the universe come into being? How was matter formed from pure energy? How did inert chemicals combine into self-replicating creatures?  How did creatures acquire consciousness?  The oldest answer – and still the most popular – is God. 

 

Is there a God? The vast majority of human beings in historical and modern times have answered YES.  Would it then be reasonable to claim that the question of God’s existence is settled? Not quite. The situation is analogous to finding a dead body in the middle of the town square. Most citizens reach the conclusion that the evidence points to murder, but they cannot agree how the murder was committed, why, or by whom.

 

Atheists, who hold the dissenting view that all mysteries (including this particular unsolved ‘murder’) will eventually prove to be the result of natural causes, have always formed a minority group. It is equally true that believers have never formed a majority. No matter what you believe, there are far more people who think your particular beliefs are wrong (or foolish or dangerous) than share them.  If you are rock solid in your beliefs, you may not care what anyone else thinks.

 

But most of us have questions and doubts. Somewhere in the back of your mind – and it doesn’t matter whether your minority faith is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or even atheist – you wonder why so many intelligent people examine the same ‘reality’ and draw different conclusions about what it is.  You may be troubled that many of the children raised in your particular belief system will join the ranks of doubters. They spend 15 or 20 years closely observing you and your co-believers, and then decide that your beliefs are, at least in part, inadequate. You may be a young person looking at the faith you have inherited and feeling that the better you understand it, the less sense it makes.  

 

The world’s major belief systems are complex and contradictory. There is no better example of this than Christianity, which has been a driving force behind the best and worst of human behaviour. The European Empires which exploited Asia, Africa and the Americas for economic gain were nominally Christian. Followers of Jesus fought on both sides over slavery, opposing and defending it using different verses from the same Bible.  

 

Because belief systems are so complex and contradictory, few people have the time to study them in depth. At best we attain a thumbnail knowledge of other faiths, forming our views from a few key details and historical incidents. We know our own belief system much better and realize that it is quite possible for two people to share the same superficial label (Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, atheist) and yet hold dramatically different beliefs. 

 

For example, some versions of Christianity portray a God of love and mercy.  The Bible supports them in this belief. 2 Peter 3:9 ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ 1 Timothy 2:4 ‘This is good and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved.’ Romans 5:18 ‘Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life to all men.’

 

Other versions of Christianity portray a God of judgement and wrath. The Bible supports them in this belief. John 3:24  ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath is upon him.’  Matthew 7:13-14  ‘For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter it. But small is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life and only a few find it.’ Romans 9:18 ‘Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and hardens whom he wants to harden.’ 

 

It is confusing for outsiders that both groups call themselves Christians.  It is not so strange because most Christians identify themselves primarily by denominational labels such as Baptist or Presbyterian, in the way that people in Europe consider themselves French or German, rather than the generic ‘European’.  People from the hot Mediterranean south of France are different in many ways from those in the cold Celtic north. Similarly, a Protestant, Conservative, evangelical, Bible-literalist, creationist is quite different from a Catholic, Liberal, non-literalist, evolutionist.  While Christians at times speak of their 'brothers and sisters' in Christ as if they are all a big happy family, in reality they are as diverse and divided as all families.  Difference in values and theology within the single faith group of ‘Christianity’ produce ‘cultural wars’ which can degenerate into sectarian violence.

 

In the past, Catholic Christians fought religious wars with Protestant Christians. In the contemporary world, Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims engage in violent conflicts.  What is the source of this violence? Is it inherent in all religion, as radical atheists claim?  Does the problem lie in specific religions, or rogue denominations, or aberrant subsets within one or more of these religions populations? 

 

These essays will propose that there may be thousands of religions, denominations and sects, but there are just four main belief systems: Wrath, Anti-wrath, Atheism and Love.  

 

                                                     LOVE

              WRATH  ANTI-WRATH

                                                   ATHEISM

 

The Christian Gospel of Wrath is identified with fundamentalism and Conservative evangelicals.   It is regarded as narrow, intolerant, angry, complicated, legalistic and dangerous.    

 

The Christian Gospel of Anti-wrath, as its name suggests, is a reaction against the Gospel of Wrath.  It is identified with liberal denominations, New Agers, Neo-Pagan spiritualists, and a religion of Good Works. The Gospel of Anti-wrath is regarded as open-minded, tolerant, welcoming, non-traditional, non-Biblical, inoffensive and ill-defined

 

Atheism is often a reaction against both the Gospel of Wrath and the Gospel of Anti-wrath.

 

The Gospel of Love is what most Christians like to think they practice, but disciples of Wrath combine love with strict judgement, while disciples of Anti-wrath combine love with tolerant permissiveness. These essays will outline the histories of these belief systems and their chief characteristics. They will suggest that the current state of Christianity resembles a human brain in which the two halves have been separated and disconnected.  

 

These Wrath and Anti-wrath forms of Christianity can be compared to contractors who share an aspiration to do good work, on time, and on budget, but in practice are forced to compromise on one priority in order to deliver the other two.  If love and mercy are prioritized, then justice must be sacrificed and criminals will escape punishment. If justice and love (for victims) are prioritized, then mercy is sacrificed and every crime must be punished to the utmost.  

 

People who embrace a violent belief system share characteristics of cancer. They are dangerous to the healthy body.  The Gospel of Wrath is worse than cancer. It is more like a contagious virus.  If an individual pretends he has no cancer, he will die alone. If a virus carrier pretends he is not sick, many will suffer. It is not surprising that neighbours will take strong measures to prevent a virus carrier from spreading the disease.

 

The full-strength Gospel of Wrath provokes hostility wherever it goes. It declares that all non-Christians are under the wrath of God and the worst zealots have a long list of types of sins that God particularly hates. When the inevitable backlash occurs, the zealots who have provoked it run to their co-religionists and scream: They hate us, they hate our values and our God. This is absolutely false. The Gospel of Wrath has nothing to do with the Gospel of Love. The great tragedy of religion is that healthy believers will rush to the defence of the disease-carrying ‘brother’ and get caught up in a ‘cultural war’ with the wrong people for the wrong reasons.  A ‘war mentality’ makes it impossible to engage in rational dialogue with the ‘enemy.’ When the disease and the ‘enemies’ are misdiagnosed, a great deal of truly senseless suffering will ensue. 

 

The Christian Gospel of Wrath is based on the doctrine of Original Sin. No aspect of Christianity is so poorly understood because original sin can mean many things and can be interpreted in many ways. The doctrine of Original Sin has a precise meaning as defined by Augustine, Luther, and Calvin.  These essays will explain why the doctrine of Original Sin was developed and how it leads directly to the Gospel of Wrath and indirectly to the Gospel of Anti-wrath. A ‘war culture’ makes impossible to engage in rational dialogue with the ‘enemy.’ It is impossible to understand Christianity without understanding how the doctrine of Original Sin has shaped its beliefs. 

 

The full-strength Gospel of Wrath proclaims eternal torment for everyone who has not accepted Jesus as personal saviour. This includes all atheists, all non-Christians, and many Christians who believe the wrong things for the wrong reasons. It does not matter that these ‘unsaved’ are moral, law-abiding human beings. It does not matter if these ‘unsaved sinners’ are demonstrably more compassionate than disciples of Wrath. 

 

Where does this strange 'Christian' idea come from that good people, sincerely seeking to understand the reality of the universe and their place in it, will be cast into hell for all eternity? The Book of Revelation says that hell will be inhabited by ‘dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loves and make a lie.’ These are wicked people who love to do evil.  If the wilfully wicked are the only people condemned to hell, then who is not in hell?  The entire human race, minus the willfully wicked, must end up in heaven.  

 

The heaven and hell you will hear about in the Gospel of Wrath is very different. Ghandi might have been a non-violent advocate of human rights but he was not a ‘saved’ Christian. Buddha may have been a great moral teacher but he did not accept Jesus as his personal Saviour. Socrates and Plato? Unsaved.  Einstein may have been a genius but he was either ‘an atheist or a Jew’ or both. Many Protestants still sincerely believe that Catholics will be cast into hell because they do not have ‘saving faith’ in Jesus. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Saint Francis or Mother Theresa.  And Roman Catholics reciprocate by proclaiming that ‘outside the Church’ – which means the Church of Rome –  ‘there is no salvation’.

 

The Gospel of Wrath’s vision of heaven is equally surprising. There are no ‘good people’ in heaven.  Theologians of Wrath have gone to great pains to stress that not a single human being ‘deserves’ to be in heaven. Salvation is determined by the grace of God.  You might find in heaven any number of notorious sinners who accepted Jesus and repented, and criminals who made a death-bed confession. The only thing the inhabitants of heaven have in common is that they are sinners saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. Instead of portraying hell as a place for evil-doers and heaven as a place for the righteous, the Gospel of Wrath makes heaven a place for ‘saved’ Christians, and casts all ‘unsaved’ non-Christians into hell.

 

   ghandi praying   flame   Buddha praying   Nun praying Einstein praying  

 

It is hardly surprising that atheists and non-Christians are appalled by these beliefs, and reject the God who inspired them. It is surprising that disciples of Anti-wrath reject much of the Gospel of Wrath, but do so privately, rarely repudiating the official theology of Wrath.  

 

Islam has become the most violent and feared religion in the world. Many non-Muslims are confused about the source of the violence. Is it inherent in the Koran? Is it a legitimate expression of Islamic traditions? Or is it a deadly cancer? If violent Jihad is a perversion of true Islamic beliefs then true Muslims must denounce it and take a stand against it.  

 

The same is true of Christianity. The Christian Gospel of Wrath declares that God hates non-Christians.  Augustine threatened Pagans with eternal damnation if they did not submit to baptism.  Luther and Calvin revived Augustine’s Gospel of Wrath in a Protestant version that extended God’s wrath to Catholics.  The contemporary Gospel of Wrath combines Young Earth Creationism and wedge issues such as homophobia to rally the troops of Wrath.  A large number of Christians have adopted a tolerant, compassionate version of the Gospel of Anti-wrath but they have quietly allowed zealots of Wrath to control Christian theology and proclaim that God hates non-Christians. Then they wonder why Christianity is the second most unpopular religion in the world (and still number 1 in the hearts and minds of those who can remember when Christianity was dominant and Islam was dormant).

 

These essays will examine the history of the Christian Gospel of Wrath and will show why disciples of Love have made a terrible mistake

by defending or ignoring this malignant perversion of faith.

 

 

 

Note.  An enormous amount of Church history is condensed into these essays. The tree diagram of Christian denominations on the next page will help keep the major traditions in perspective. 

 

Christian Churches Tree

 

GOD.  No discussion of religious faith is possible without first establishing a definition of what God is and isn’t.  Monotheists agree that God is the ‘self-existent and eternal creator of the universe.’  This definition does not explain how God came to exist (what does ‘self-existent’ mean?) and does not specify whether God’s creative powers operate through direct intervention or general laws of nature (such as gravity and evolution). 

 

As well as being eternal and infinite, the great Creator God is also described as omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent.  These qualities are exceedingly difficult to reconcile with a world plagued by suffering, evil and death.Religions try, and fail, to reconcile the perfect God they proclaim with the imperfect world we experience.

 

These essays take the position that God is knowable via three forms of revelation. The principle way in which God is known is the ‘book of nature’ which reveals extraordinary beauty, complexity, order, and elegance in the universe as well as terrifying chaos and violence. God is also revealed through ‘books of scripture’  but every religion claims to have received different revelations.  This is why many people place more faith in the book of nature, which is also known as science. Individuals can also receive personal revelations, which require great discernment to distinguish from hallucinations and psychotic episodes.  

 

SIN.  The literal meaning of sin is ‘to miss the mark,’ with the mark being a standard of behaviour defined by God. Personal sin is a personal failure.  Most Christian theology since Augustine (5th century) has traced sinful imperfection to the ‘Original Sin’ of Adam and Eve, a catastrophic event which is alleged to have brought suffering, evil and death into the world. This explanation for the origin of sin has remained popular because it allows God to remain omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent by transferring the blame for this imperfect world to human failure. While offering a tidy solution to the thorny problem of evil, the doctrine of Original Sin creates numerous theological and philosophical problems.

 

How could an omniscient God not have anticipated human failure? How could an omnipotent God not have prevented it? How could an omnibenevolent God have condemned the entire human race for the personal failure of two individuals? The Gospel of Wrath has no answers.  

 

If an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent God responded to the failure of Eden with a universal plan of salvation, why did it take thousands of years to implement? If Jesus Christ is the sole Saviour of the human race, why was he unknown to people who lived between Eden and his incarnation?  What is the fate of multitudes who continue to live and die without ever hearing of Jesus as Saviour? The doctrine of Original Sin provides a simple definition of sin (everyone is a sinner) but cannot so easily explain who is ‘saved’ or why.    

 

Click the titles below to continue a brief history of Wrath, Anti-wrath, Atheism, and Love. 

 

2 – The Original Gospel of Wrath:  Augustine

 

3 – The Reformed Gospel of Wrath:  Luther and Calvin

 

4 – The Creationist Gospel of Wrath 

 

5 – The Gospel of Anti-wrath  

 

6  – Rational Atheism 

 

7 –  Militant Atheism 

 

8 – The Believer's Dilemma: Which belief system? Why? 

 

9 – The Problem of Evil


10  Sin and Salvation

 

11 – Judgement and Justice

 

12 –  Eternity, Hell and Heaven

 

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See below for a more detailed study of the Gospel of Wrath 

 

 

A Religion Divided 

  GRR

Christianity was not founded as a Gospel of Wrath. This was an innovation made in the 5th century Roman Empire by Augustine.  The Gospel of Wrath was reinforced during the 16th century Reformation by Luther and Calvin.  The violent history of Christianity, which has afflicted and infected the entire world, can be traced to the Gospel of Wrath. We ignore it at our peril.

 

The Gospel of Love sees Jesus Christ as Saviour from personal sin. This is good news for Christians.  The Gospel of Love believes that everyone is free to choose salvation, although it is difficult to understand how people who never heard of Jesus can be responsible for a choice they cannot make.  Augustine believed that all unbaptized babies were excluded from heaven. The modern Church believes that all deceased babies are carried directly to heaven. The modern theology is more compassionate but freewill is equally irrelevant.

 

The Gospel of Wrath sees Jesus Christ as Avenger of original sin.  This is bad news for non-Christians.  The Gospel of Wrath believes that only the predestined elect will be saved.  Salvation is not dependent on baptism, choice, desire or merit. God alone decides who will be saved. The theology of wrath is devoid of justice, logic and compassion; freewill is entirely irrelevant.

 

 

The New Testament states categorically that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the son of God and that he was not sent to condemn the world but to save it. Everyone who accepts Jesus as Saviour will be saved.  This is the Gospel of Love.

 

However, at least 75% of all people who ever lived on this planet never heard of Jesus. Are they saved or damned?   

 

The Gospel of Love says that God will condemn no one unjustly.  The Gospel of Wrath says all but an elect few were damned long before they were born.  

 

The theology of Wrath is ugly. Luther and Calvin were more Augustinian that Augustine. They perfected a theology of condemnation that provoked wars between Christian Catholics and Christian Protestants. 

 

Most Christians turn a blind eye to this long, sad history of bloodshed and condemnation. They interpret criticism of Wrath as a criticism of faith.  This is a serious error.  No one is opposed to the Gospel of Love proclaimed by Jesus Christ. Fear and hostility are directed at a violent forms of Christianity built on a more recent Gospel of Wrath is a cancer destroying Christianity from the inside.   The following pages demonstrated how and why this has happened.  Change is possible, if we dare.

 

If you are impatient to get to Augustine and the Gospel of Wrath, you can skip over preparatory work of Emperor Constantine, Emperor Theodosius and Bishop Ambrose by using the table of contents box on the right of the screen. Click on Augustine: Warrior of Wrath.

 

Pagans v Christians: A 4th Century Clash of Civilizations

 

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Christianity, to the Pagan Roman Empire, was as foreign as Islam to modern Europe. When the Empire conquered new nations, Roman gods always found room around the altar for one more deity. Christians worshipped a single God. Monotheism engendered hostility from the polytheistic Pagan majority, and provoked persecution which intensified in waves for three centuries.

 

Everything changed in 312 when a miraculous victory on the battlefield convinced Emperor Constantine that the Christian God was both real and powerful. In gratitude, the victorious Roman Emperor passed the Edict of Milan which made Christianity legal. Not only did the edict allow Christians to worship outside the catacombs, Constantine built large churches in major cities of the Empire.  For Roman Pagans, this Imperial endorsement of a foreign religion was as alarming as the leaders of the European Union suddenly embracing Islam as their personal faith and building huge mosques in public parks. Pagans prayed for a new Emperor to abolish Constantine's sacrilegious innovations.

 

Twenty five years after Constantine's death his nephew became Emperor. Julian is known to Christian historians as 'The Apostate.' The young man had received a Christian education but rejected his uncle's new faith after witnessing the destructive regimes of his 'Christian' cousins.  

 

During Constantine's long reign, his four sons were surrounded by luxury and power in a climate of intrigue and paranoia. All of them coveted the imperial throne so openly that their father suspected them of plotting to kill him for it. Constantine had his eldest son murdered for becoming too popular among the generals. When Constantine died, his three surviving sons accused one another of murdering their father.  The brothers massacred all the uncles and cousins who had even a remote claim to the imperial throne. Julian was one of only two cousins to survive the bloodbath.  

 

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After eliminating the competition, the three sons agreed to a truce and partitioned the Empire between them. Almost immediately Constantine II felt short-changed and invaded the territory of his brother Constans, provoking armed conflict. Constantine II was ambushed and killed during a skirmish.  Constans then went to war against his brother Constantius, killing thousands of soldiers but unable to win a decisive victory. Eventually Constans was poisoned. Free to rule alone, Constantius devoted himself to debauchery and left the business of running the Empire to eunuchs and bishops.  Meanwhile, cousin Julian proved himself such a strong military commander that the army acclaimed him the new Caesar.  Constantius wanted Julian dead. Before civil war could break out between the cousins, Constantius died.

 

Julian had seen nothing but cruelty and violence in his Christian cousins. Worse, they had been weak and decadent, which he blamed on their foreign Asian God.  Julian made it his business to restore the old Roman gods who had made the Empire virtuous and victorious. Now it was the turn of Christians to pray for a change of ruler. It seemed like an answer to their prayers when Julian was killed in battle only two years after launching his campaign to exterminate Christianity.   Pagans and Christians prepared for a full scale religious war for control of the Empire.  

 

Theodosius: the Emperor of Wrath  

 

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The military power behind the Gospel of Wrath was Theodosius, a popular general elevated to co-emperor in 379 to fight off the invading Huns and Goths. Born of Christian parents, Theodosius had not supported Julian's Pagan revival. When Theodosius became Emperor, the Christian community prayed he would defend them from future violence at the hands of Pagans. A year after being named co-Emperor, Theodosius fell deathly ill and called to be baptised. Many Christians in those days postponed baptism until their death bed to avoid committing mortal sins after entering the state of grace. 

 

History does not record the promise Theodosius made to be spared premature death, but within a month of his full recovery, the co-Emperor signed the Edict of Thessalonica, which made 'Catholic Christianity' the only religion tolerated in the Roman Empire. The next year, Theodosius convoked the first ecumenical Council of Constantinople whose purpose, like the Edict of Thessalonica, was to establish standards for orthodox Christianity.  It was a major undertaking to bring Bishops all the way to modern Turkey from Syria, Israel, Greece, Italy, North Africa and Spain. Theodosius paid all travel costs and spared no expense in bringing together the leaders of Christianity to identify and eliminate heresies.  Christianity could only unify the Empire if rigorous orthodoxy was universally imposed.  
 
The most prominent heresy of the day was Arianism, which revolved around the question of the Trinity.  It is difficult for modern Christians to understand why Arius was declared a heretic for believing that the Son of God was created by the Father. Modern translations of the Bible repeatedly refer to Jesus as the one and only son of God, while the King James version refers to Jesus as the 'only begotten' son of God. Arius insisted that Christianity, like Judaism, was a monotheistic religion which could have only one God.  The Creator was Yahweh; Jesus was the Creator's Son. This was consistent with traditional Judeo-Christian belief.

 

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Emperor Theodosius invested a great deal of time, money and influence into establishing the Trinity as official Christian doctrine. The Trinity has always been a conceptual and theologicalmystery.  How can God be both one and three? It is sometimes explained by analogy with water which can be found in liquid, solid or gas states, but retains a single essence. The Trinity is one God with three distinct manifestations and personalities.  Trinitarians argue that the Son was not 'begotten' or 'created' but is co-eternal with the Father. Most Christians find this confusing but have no strong opinion on the precise relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Most Bishops in the days of Theodosius were happy to grant the Emperor a small theological victory if it guaranteed ultimate victory of Christianity over Paganism.  The question of the Trinity was settled at the Council of Constantinople and has never been seriously challenged since.

 

The doctrine of the Trinity was essential to Theodosius. He knew that his Pagan citizens would never accept a monotheistic religion. The doctrine of the Trinity paved the way for converting Pagans to Christianity by offering a new theology that was mysterious, ambiguous and multifaceted.  Christians could emphasize the oneness of God while Pagans could be taught that God has multiple personalities and identities.  Once two or three 'personalities' of God were admitted, there was no problem in 'unofficially' allowing Pagans to associate their own favourite deities with the Godhead.  

 

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Theodosius was prepared to make many concessions in order to impose Christianity throughout his Empire. Pagans were permitted to retain several of their best loved traditions.  Pagan solstice festivals were simulated by celebrating the birth of Jesus, the son of God, on the shortest day of the year, which had previously been the festival of the Sun God. Six months later the birth of John the Baptist was celebrated on the longest day of the year, which had always been a pagan solar festival.  Christian saints were elevated to the status of minor deities, each with the power to intercede and answer prayers. Angels  became guardians. To replace Pagan goddesses, the humble mother of Jesus was elevated to Queen of Heaven and endowed with extraordinary powers and status.  For Christianity to become the single Imperial religion it needed to accommodate polytheistic diversity.

 

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It might seem shocking to modern Christians that Ambrose and his fellow Bishops were prepared to tolerate these innovations to the faith in order to facilitate the mass conversion of Pagans, but none of these accommodations caused true believers to compromise their personal beliefs. As the Pagans became indoctrinated with Christian beliefs, they would be weaned away from temporary half truths.  Christian leaders expected that true Christianity would eventually prevail. 

 

Theodosius took personal charge of the campaign to impose orthodoxy throughout the Empire. He ordered sects accused of heresy to submit their creeds to him for examination. By severely punishing heretics, and particularly Arian monothesists, Theodosius systematically eliminated unorthodox sects throughout the Empire or replaced their leaders with authorized 'Catholic' Christians. The Emperor was encouraged in this campaign by powerful Bishops. Only Christian barbarians who were invading the Roman Empire, such as the Vandals, would retain Arian beliefs of a monotheistic God.

 

During his early years as Emperor, Theodosius had spent most of his time fighting wars on the Eastern frontier, where he was influenced by the Bishops of Constantinople and Thessalonica.  On occasions when he visited the western imperial capital of Milan, his confessor was Ambrose. 

 

Ambrose: the Bishop of Wrath 

 

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The mind that conceived the Gospel of Wrath belonged to Ambrose. Before converting to Christianity and becoming Bishop of Milan in 374, Ambrose had been a powerful lawyer and a district governor.  It was still rare at the time for Christian converts to be drawn from the ruling class. No one was better qualified than Ambrose to serve as bishop of the Imperial capital, where he was spiritual advisor to the Emperors and could interact with them as political and social equal.

 

While Theodosius fought barbarians in the East, his co-Emperor Valentinian II provided support for anti-Trinity heretics back in Italy. Bishop Ambrose proved himself Valentinian's equal by rousing the city of Milan to rise up against the co-Emperor. When Theodosius returned to Milan he placed Valentinian under the control of staunch Trinitarians. Nonetheless heretical Christians and Pagan sympathisers continued to plot against Emperor Theodosius and the orthodox Bishops.

 

Throughout Theodosius’s reign the Roman Empire was in deep crisis. Barbarian armies were invading from the north and east. Roman legions were largely populated by foreigners who were unreliable mercenaries and dangerous spies, observing weaknesses in the Roman system and reporting back to their barbarian chiefs. The Visigoth leader Alaric, who fought as a Roman general under Theodosius, would later lead the invading army that sacked Rome in 410. 

 

Internal religious wars were crippling the Empire. Christianity had become the majority religion in the fringe regions of modern Turkey (location of all ecumenical councils for 1000 years) and Northern Africa (home to Augustine and the most militant Christians). Paganism remained the dominant religion in the heart of the Empire, from Spain to Italy. Religious discord was a cancer destroying the imperial body. The Empire needed to restore unity around a single faith. However, it is one thing to proclaim a state religion, quite another to impose mass conversion.

 

As soon as the campaign to eliminate Christian heretics was completed, Bishops urged Emperor Theodosius to direct the same methods and intensity of force to compel the conversion of Pagans. Theodosius balked. Christian heretics had been a minority within a minority. They had been a small and vulnerable group. Throughout most of the Empire, Pagans outnumbered Christians and many powerful senators and generals remained faithful to the Roman religion of their ancestors. Emperor Theodosius could coax and coerce Pagans to convert, with considerable success, but he resisted waging war against such large numbers of citizens. Ambrose disagreed; no matter how painful the surgery, the cancer would kill them all unless totally removed.

 

How could Bishops compel an Emperor to fight their battles? There was no precedent in law or tradition. The Church's influence over the Emperor was similar to the relationship of modern journalists to politicians. The media can suggest, exhort and chastise, but final authority resides with elected officials. To have influence over an Emperor was a novelty for Ambrose and his fellow bishops. Emperors in the first and second century AD had persecuted Christians mercilessly. Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, never had a second thought about sharing power with bishops. His sons were unrestrained tyrants.   

 

Ambrose's opportunity to impose the Church's authority on Theodosius came ten years after the Emperor's death-bed baptism. Theodosius had returned to the Eastern frontier in Thessalonica when a Roman commander was killed by a mob during a public festivity. When Theodosius heard the news he flew into a rage and ordered his legions to surround the stadium where the commander had been killed and to massacre the entire crowd – thousands of men, women and children. The slaughter was an act of shocking savagery even for a Pagan Emperor.  It was unpardonable for a Christian.

 

When Theodosius next returned to Milan he was informed that Bishop Ambrose had excommunicated him.  The Emperor defiantly made his way to church to attend mass. Bishop Ambrose refused to permit the Emperor to enter the cathedral; according to legend, personally blocking his path. This was an astonishingly bold act. It was as risky as the editor of the New York Times refusing to print stories about a US president until he publically begs forgiveness for civilian deaths in a foreign war. A successful outcome was just as improbable. Theodosius could have had Ambrose replaced, as he had done with the Bishop of Constantinople, or he could have turned against Christianity in a rage.

 

Ambrose was a brilliant judge of character. He knew his man. The Christian Church held the keys to heaven and hell. Theodosius was terrified of dying with 10,000 murders on his soul.  In 390 the Emperor submitted to several months of public penance and surrendered to Ambrose's authority. The victory was unimaginable and its consequences immeasurable. It was a major turning point in the history of Church and State. Theodosius became a sword in Ambrose's hands. Over the next five years The Emperor set out to systematically force all Pagans to convert to Christianity. 

 

First Theodosius made it illegal to offer sacrifices, light a 'sacred flame,' or build an altar to Pagan gods. Then he closed temples and nailed their doors shut. Theodosius made it a crime to worship Pagan gods even in private and the law was enforced by confiscating offenders' homes. Christian mobs denounced Pagan neighbours and destroyed their temples or converted them to churches.  

 

In 392 the anti-Trinitarian co-Emperor Valentinian II died or was murdered. To ensure that a trusted, orthodox Christian ruled the western half of the Empire, Theodosius appointed his infant son Honorius.  One of Theodosius' generals rallied an army to wage war against Theodosius and the boy Emperor.  This was the final armed conflict between Christianity and Paganism. It was the last chance for the old gods to defeat the new God of Christianity. The battle was quick, brutal and irreversible. Theodosius attributed his victory to supernatural intervention. Pagans abandoned all hope of escaping forced conversion.
 
Then Theodosius fell sick and died. He was not yet 50. The Empire was divided between his two young sons.  Historian Henri Daniel-Rops described Arcadius, who inherited the eastern half of the Empire, as 'a puny adolescent of halting speech and dull wits.'  Honorius, who inherited the western Empire, was 'a little booby of only 11.' Bishop Ambrose surrounded the boys with Christian advisors to ensure that the mass conversion of Pagans would not only continue but intensify.  The political and military battles had been won. But the war was far from over. 

 

The Bishops knew from their own experience that the coercive power of persecution has limits. The first centuries of Christianity had demonstrated that true believers will never surrender. They will choose the martyr's death rather than betray their faith. Force may drive them underground - Christians literally met in the catacombs beneath Rome - but diehards will never renounce their beliefs.  The final phase of the war against Paganism would have to be psychological and spiritual. How could Pagans be persuaded to surrender to Christianity?  This towering question was dwarfed by the challenge of persuading Christians to open their churches to Pagans and to beliefs foreign to the traditions establish by Jesus and the Apostles.

 

While Ambrose was using Theodosius to battle the Pagans into submission, he was preparing a different kind of champion to reconcile Pagans and Christians into a unified imperial religion. Aurelius Augustinus was born to a Christian mother and a Pagan father in the North African coastal region of modern day Algeria. Ignoring his mother's pleas to adopt Christianity, Augustine studied Manichaeism and became a Pagan teacher of Rhetoric. As a young adult he left North Africa to seek employment in Rome.  Shortly after the death-bed baptism of Theodosius, Augustine moved to Milan where fell under the influence of Bishop Ambrose and was converted to Christianity.

 

Augustine: the Warrior of Wrath  

 

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While Bishop Ambrose was inciting Emperor Theodosius to force Pagans to convert to Christianity, he was preparing a different kind of champion to reconcile Pagans and Christians into a unified Imperial religion.  Christian Bishops knew from their own experience that the power of persecution has limits. The first centuries of Christianity had demonstrated that true believers will never surrender. They will choose the martyr’s death rather than betray their faith. Force may drive them underground - Christians literally met in the catacombs beneath Rome - but diehards will never renounce their true beliefs.  The final phase of the war against Paganism must be psychological and spiritual.

 

How could recalcitrant Pagans be persuaded to fully surrender to Christianity?  This towering question was dwarfed by the challenge of persuading Christians to open their churches to Pagans, and to beliefs foreign to the traditions establish by Jesus and the Apostles.  Squaring this circle would require a paradoxical theology and ruthless execution which would be tested on the Donatists (392 – 411) and perfected on the Pelagians (411-430).

 

Aurelius Augustinus was born to a Christian mother and a Pagan father in the North African coastal region of modern day Algeria. Ignoring his mother's pleas to adopt Christianity, Augustine studied Manichaeism and became a Pagan teacher of Rhetoric. As a young adult he left North Africa to seek employment in Rome.  Shortly after the death-bed baptism of Theodosius, Augustine moved to Milan where fell under the influence of Bishop Ambrose, was converted to Christianity (386) and was recruited as future leader of the Christian conquest.

 

The military war against Paganism had barely begun when Ambrose started preparing a young man who could lead the psychological war to a successful conclusion. For the next decade Augustine studied Christian theology to prepare for the unification of Paganism and Christianity.  In 391 Augustine began his assent to authority greater than the Pope’s and power greater than the Emperor’s when he was ‘conscripted’ into the priesthood in his home town of Hippo Regius.  Augustine’s first assignment was to resolve a bitter schism between Christians in his native region of North Africa. That struggle would occupy him for two decades and prepare Augustine for the great battle against Pelagius which would bring the Gospel of Wrath to dominate Christian theology.

 

The death of Emperor Theodosius in 395 threw Ambrose’s masterplan into action. Augustine was proclaimed Bishop of Hippo Regius in 396 shortly before Ambrose died in 397.  The final conquest of Christianity now depended on a brand new unknown Bishop from a fringe of the Empire.  Without Ambrose in Milan or Emperor Theodosuis to champion his cause, how was Augustine to establish himself as the spiritual leader of Christianity and the Roman Empire?

 

The Donatist decision restored unity among Christians. It was an impressive victory that confirmed Ambrose's faith in Augustine as the champion to complete the Christian conquest of the Roman Empire. The death of Theodosius in 395 threw the plan into action. Augustine was proclaimed Bishop of Hippo Regius in 396 just before Ambrose died in 397.  The final conquest of Christianity now depended on a brand new Bishop from a fringe of the Empire. How was this unknown and relative new-comer to the faith going to establish himself as the spiritual leader of Christianity and the Roman Empire?

 

Augustine, the master of rhetoric, was the first leader in history to mount a media campaign to establish his reputation and shape his public image. In 397 he wrote a book called The Confessions.  It is a PR masterpiece. The Confessions deftly portrayed Augustine’s divine ‘calling’ and dramatic conversion from truth-defying Pagan to truth-defending Christian. And Augustine shrewdly revealed a human side to his character that everyone could identify with, including Pagans. Yes, Augustine was the chosen one of God and, yes, he was a future saint of the Church, but no one was ever a greater or more enthusiastic sinner. Pre-conversion Augustine wallowed in wine, women and wantonness. The most famous and frequently quoted line in The Confessions is Augustine's ironic version of the sinner's prayer:  'God, grant me chastity and sobriety, but not today.'  If Jesus was the friend of sinners, Augustine was their patron saint.  Just as the Trinity doctrine made it possible for Christianity to be perceived as both monotheistic and polytheistic, Augustine's Confessions established him as a hero for saints and sinners alike. 

 

From the moment Augustine became Bishop, he wrote opinions on every issue confronting Christianity.  He was 1,500 years ahead of his time in anticipating the media age. Ambrose had recruited Augustine as a professor of rhetoric whose speciality was persuasive argumentation. In the modern world, techniques of rhetoric are utilized in marketing, advertising, PR and lobbying. Ambrose needed Augustine because ideas are stronger than armies and more enduring than empires. The young Bishop churned out volumes of letters, sermons, commentaries, theologies. Augustine was a one-man blogosphere who rapidly became the leading opinion-maker of his day; initially due to the patronage of Ambrose, but ultimately due to his relentless drive and personal brilliance.

 

Augustine began to preach against the Donatists as soon as he became a priest, and they would be his main target for the next twenty years.  The Donatist Schism had divided North African Christians for a century. During periods of intense persecution prior to Constantine, some Christians had betrayed their faith: denying Christ, handing over Bibles to be burned, and denouncing fellow Christians. Some of the traitors had been priests.  As soon as the wind began to blow in the other direction, and it looked like Christianity would be victorious, apostate priests wanted back into the Church with all their sins forgiven and their authority restored.  

 

A priest named Donatus denied traitors readmission to his Church. Donatus believed the only acceptable response to persecution was to die for the faith.  Martyrs had earned a place in heaven with Christ. Traitors, who had denied Christ, had a place reserved for them in Hell. Donatus and his followers refused to share communion with apostate priests.  The conflict was deep, bitter, and seemingly irreconcilable.

 

Defending the position of forgiveness and inclusion against the Donatist position of punishing and excluding apostates fully tested Augustine’s powers of persuasion.  Ambrose had been convinced that if Augustine could use his rhetorical skills to end the Donatist schism, he would be the man for the greater challenge of reconciling Pagans and Christians. If the Donatists were right, and there was no place in the Church for hypocrites and compromisers, there would certainly be no place for Pagans. Augustine’s objective was to demonstrate that a communion of saints was exactly the opposite of what the Apostles had intended.

 

First of all Augustine argued that all Christians had been sinners before salvation and, despite their best efforts, continued to be sinners. Who could dispute this? Secondly, he argued that no one had earned salvation because of achieving moral perfection. Salvation was an unearned and unmerited gift of grace. Who could dispute this? Thirdly, if every act of sin caused sinners to be thrown out of the church, all churches would be empty. If every major disagreement led to schism, Christianity would be crippled by division.  Who could dispute this? Therefore, Christianity was, and would always be, a school for sinners which must remain united.  Just as God continually grants forgiveness for sins, so Christians must continually forgive one another.  Augustine’s case for including sinners was incontrovertible in his day and has remained official policy ever since.

 

The Imperial Commissioner declared against the Donatists in 411.  Despite Augustine’s compelling arguments, many Donatists refused to end the schism so the Emperor inflicted severe penal measures: clergy were banished and laity subjected to heavy fines. In the end, eloquence alone was insufficient; ruthless persecution was required.  An important lesson was learned for the ensuing battles with Pelagians and Pagans.

 

 

The Theology of Forced Mass Conversion

 

The Early Church had been preoccupied with sin and salvation. Both Judaism and Paganism possessed long lists of laws and punishments, but sin continued to plague nations and afflict individuals. Christianity offered two new solutions: a personal Saviour inJesus Christ, and a personal guide-teacher-councillor in the Holy Spirit. Older religions had legislated guilt and punishment, Christianity offered forgiveness and freedom from sin. For four centuries the tangible, transformative power of Christianity had proven stronger than Roman persecution and terror.

 

Early Christianity had presented sin as a personal responsibility and salvation as a personal choice.  The approach was antithetical to mass conversion. Given a choice, many Pagans would decline Empire’s new religion.  Bishop Ambrose and Emperor Theodosius had agreed that a unified religion could not tolerate dissent.  The authorized state religion must be imposed without exception, without mercy and without choice. This was an alarming departure from centuries of preaching the gospel and calling sinners to repent of their own freewill. Theodosius had provided the laws and civil enforcement of mass conversion.  Augustine would provide the theological justification for the Gospel of Wrath. 

 

The first pillar of Augustine’s theology was built on his victory over the Donatists. A few years later (416) a priest named Donatus (in honour of the original Donatus) continued to argue that God had given men freewill so they should be permitted to follow their conscience freely without ecclesiastical interference. If they made wrong choices they would incur the full consequences of divine judgement.  Augustine wrote a letter to Donatus of Mutugenna explaining why all Christians must submit to orthodox theology whether or not they agreed. The Church had a duty to save the lost, using all necessary force, even if the lost failed to appreciate the mercy being extended. A shepherd will bring a lost sheep back into the fold by force. The shepherd is motivated by mercy and love and pays no heed to whether the sheep wants to be saved. Proverbs 23:14 commanded fathers to beat their children with a rod to save their souls from hell.

 

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Donatus invoked the Gospel of John (6:60-66). When many followers and disciples began to desert Jesus, the Master did not stop them from leaving.  Augustine replied with the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-23) where guests were invited in three different phases. Augustine compared the first invitation to the weak, persecuted Church.  Many were invited during the first centuries of evangelization, only a few accepted.  For the second invitation, the master sent out servants to bring the poor, crippled, blind and lame to the banquet. Augustine compared this to the transitional Church which could impose its will on the weak, but did not yet have the power to compel the mighty.  In the third and final phase, when Christianity had become the official religion of the Empire, it had acquired full power to compel everyone to attend the banquet. This was Biblical prophecy being fulfilled in their day. Augustine concluded his letter to Donatus by affirming that the Church now had full authority to compel universal ‘attendance’ at the 'Great Banquet' and that Donatus and all other 'guests' were compelled to attend willingly and cheerfully.

 

Augustine had established theological justification to replace freedom of religion with the coercive power of the state. A counter current of Christians defended freewill and personal choice as essential to the Gospel of Love that Jesus had preached. In his earliest writings, Augustine had also defended freewill and personal choice. He later justified those ideas as being acceptable for a new believer and a young church. In a fully-formed Church which had become the state religion, the 'Great Banquet' would require the imposition of all necessary force. Victory over the Donatists gave Augustine the first pillar of his Gospel of Wrath.

 

Pelagius: the 'Heretic'

  

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The leading defender of freewill and the Gospel of Love was a popular spiritual advisor who urged Christians to lead holy lives. Pelagius was a monk who had travelled from the British Isles to Rome where he was scandalized by the decadent lifestyle of many Christians who were as debauched as their Pagan neighbours. Pelagius preached holiness, the renewing of the mind, and surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He quickly attracted a loyal following. Church leaders, including Augustine, proclaimed him a 'saintly man.'  Pelagius was an unlikely ally to help Augustine prove that freewill and personal choice were as alien to Christianity as a communion of saints.

 

Augustine had learned from his struggles with the Donatists that excess of virtue can be portrayed as a vice. Augustine fought Donatists and Pelagians on the same issue: the quest for perfect holiness. Donatists wanted to close the Church to keep out moral imperfection. Pelagius urged believers to strive after moral perfection.

 

Pelagius was not a rhetorician.  He was a simple monk who urged Christians to lead better lives.  They asked, 'How much better?'  Pelagius replied, 'The Bible teaches us to be holy because God is Holy and we are created in His image. The Apostle Paul urged us to strive with all our might for Christ-like perfection. (Philippians 3:12-14)  The Apostle John declared that whosoever is born of God does not commit sin. (1 John 3:9)  The only thing preventing us from living a sinless life is our own will, or lack of it. God does not command impossibilities.' The followers of Pelagius murmured, 'It is hard to be good. How is it possible to achieve sinless perfection?' Pelagius replied, 'I cannot point to a single being who is without sin, but I know that with the grace of God nothing is impossible.'

 

These teachings gave Augustine all the material he needed to construct the second pillar of his Gospel of Wrath.  But it took him 20 years to convince his fellow Bishops that the Pelagian quest for perfection was heresy.  Earlier theologians had conceived of human freewill and divine grace as complimentary forces rather than irreconcilable opposites. Theologians in Europe and North Africa had placed stronger emphasis on the universality of sin and the necessity of grace, while theologians in Asia Minor (Turkey) and the Holy Land had laid more stress on freewill and personal responsibility to choose good over evil.  By pinpointing the inherent contradictions in these divergent theologies of salvation, Augustine forced the Church to choose between divine grace and human freewill.   He knew the result was a foregone conclusion.

 

At the beginning of the conflict, both Augustine and Pelagius agreed that human freewill and divine grace are complimentary forces.  Knowing right from wrong is no guarantee of behaving rightly, no matter how valiantly and sincerely the will strives to be good.  Only supernatural assistance can overcome natural weakness.  Although Augustine and Pelagius agreed on the need for human effort assisted by divine grace, they both accused the other of over-emphasising one half of the equation.

 

A line in The Confessions suggested to Pelagius that Augustine made God responsible for causing sin or failing to prevent it. (Chapter 29)  Lord, you command virtue: Give what you command, and command what you will.  To Pelagius this was worse than the excuses his followers used to justify their habitual sinfulness; it was blasphemous to hold God responsible for their personal failure. Augustine retorted that humbly confessing sin and imploring God for divine grace was true Christianity, not bragging of the power of freewill to attain moral perfection thereby denying the necessity of grace. 

 

A frank discussion should have resolved their disagreement and convinced both that they were in complete agreement that human freewill and divine grace are complimentary. But Augustine had found what he was seeking, a new heresy that would justify deployment of a terrifying weapon of mass conversion. 

 

The active ingredient was grace, to this Augustine added necessity. The Bible and all the Apostles and Saints of the Church agreed on the necessity of divine grace to overcome sin. Then Augustine applied his rhetorical genius to make a vice of virtue. The necessity of grace in salvation was understood variously by earlier theologians. They all acknowledged that Paul had written about the rebellion of Adam as the origin of sin and death but disagreed whether sin in individuals resulted from bad choices, the corrupting influence of bad example, or depravity of the soul inherited from bad ancestors.  Augustine attributed all sin and death in the world to the original sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Now he had the third pillar of his new Gospel of Wrath.

 

The Theology of Original Sin, the Justification for Wrath

 

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Original sin solved several problems for Augustine.

 

1) It acquitted God of all responsibility for evil. God created perfection; the full guilt for bringing sin and death into the world was charged to rebellious man at Eden in 4,000 BC.

 

2) Original sin was sufficient cause for the eternal and universal wrath of God. Paul had written that sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men because all sinned. (Romans 5:12). Therefore even the most righteous Pagan was condemned for his sin inherited from Adam. 

 

3) Even children were subject to the wrath of God because of Adam, for the Bible categorically stated that all sinned. The guilt of new borne babes could only be attributed to sin inherited from Adam. 

 

4) God had provided salvation through grace.  For just as through the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man, many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19) 

 

The one being who could save lost sinners was Jesus Christ.  Augustine's great innovation was to make baptism the efficient means of salvation. All sinners, including Pagans and their children, could be saved from eternal wrath by the sacrement of baptism. The corollary was that without baptism, everyone was condemned. Now Augustine's weapon of mass conversion was ready for action. All he needed was permission to deploy it.

 

First he had to overcome serious opposition from fellow Bishops.  Why would the Church want to be flooded with forced converts who were not true believers? The righteous would raise the same objections that the Donatists had employed against traitors to the Church, and could be answered with the same arguments. Augustine’s new thinking about original sin provided ammunition to justify forcing Pagans to submit to the ‘visible church’.

 

1) Grace was unearned and unmerited. Therefore God alone would determine who would be saved and who would not, just as God had chosen Jacob over Esau while they were still in the womb. God himself had declared, Jacob I loved but Esau I hated. (Romans 8:13) and I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. (Romans 8:14). Pagans could be forced to be baptised, attend Church and obey the laws, but God alone would determine if they were truly saved – or not. 

 

2)  Grace would be made manifest by visible signs such as change of heart and the renewing of the mind.  Pagans who continue in their depravity were not truly saved but could at least be restrained by ecclesiastical and civil power. 

 

3)  The invisible Church, which included only the redeemed, was a communion of saints. The visible Church, which included the entire Roman Empire, was a school (and penitentiary) for sinners.  

 

Augustine began to write books and letters, building his case against the 'deadly heresy' of Pelagianism.  When he thought his case was solid, Augustine had Pelagius arrested in Jerusalem and put on trial. At first the Bishop of Jerusalem refused to cooperate because he considered Pelagius a holy man. Bishop John finally agreed to bring Pelagius to trial before 14 Bishops in Palestine and they gave him a full acquittal. Augustine was not discouraged.  Pelagius was merely a character in a theological fiction.  The Pelagian heresy was not based on what Pelagius actually believed and taught, but on how Augustine defined Pelagianism.

 

Next, Augustine appealed to the Bishop of Rome, who was the ultimate arbitrator in religious disputes. Pope Innocent agreed that Pelagius must be a heretic if the charges were true. Before Pelagius could be brought to trial in Rome, Pope Innocent died.  The next Pope, Zosimus, carefully studied Pelagius' side of the story and declared the accused and his followers perfectly orthodox. Then Pope Zosimus severely rebuked Augustine for wrongfully condemning Pelagius.  Again, Augustine was not discouraged.  The guilt or innocence of the man Pelagius was of no significance.  After 20 years of writing books and letters to build a case against the new heresy, Augustine had won over a significant majority of Bishops to his accusations against Pelagianism.  The time for persuasion was over. He had the numbers to impose his new theology on the entire Church, with or without the Pope's blessing.    

 

Augustine convened a war council in North Africa (418). Two hundred bishops voted to condemn Pelagius. Their vote was in deliberate contempt of the Pope's authority. The next day, Emperor Honorius blindsided Pope Zosimus by condemning Pelagius to exile along with all who supported him. The wording was deliberately formulated to include the dissident Pope, who could suffer the condemnation of Pelagius or quickly realign himself with the orthodox majority.

 

Benjamin B. Warfield in his preface to Augustine's collected Writings against Pelagius wrote, 'The appeal to civil power was, of course, indefensible, although it accorded with the opinions of the day and was entirely approved by Augustine.  ...Whether this simultaneous action was the result of skilful arrangement can only be conjectured; its effect was necessarily crushing. There could be no appeal from the civil decision and it played directly in the African definition of the faith.... Pope Zosimus found himself forced either to go into banishment with the Pelagians or desert their cause. Zosimus not only condemned and excommunicated Pelagius, whom six months earlier he had pronounced 'orthodox' but, in accordance with the imperial decree, issued a stringent pronouncement which condemned all Pelagians.

 

Persuading the Emperor to throw his full support behind a renegade council of African Bishops was a stroke of genius.  The war was over without a shot being fired. Pelagius was declared a heretic and pushed off the pages of history. The obliging young Emperor and repentant Pope both agreed to support Augustine, who used original sin to impose Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Augustine had established himself as the true leader of the Catholic Church and the single most influential man in the Roman Empire.

 

Force Supplants Freedom, Wrath Crushes Love

 

Immediately after the victory, Augustine received two letters which demonstrate his commanding position.  The second most influential Christian of the era was the monk and scholar Jerome who had devoted his life to translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. Jerome's Vulgate translation remained the official Bible text for 1,000 years and is still considered the 'official' Latin text.  Jerome wrote to Augustine shortly after his victory over Pelagius, 'Bravo to your valour! Your fame is world-wide; Catholics revere you and accept you as the second founder of the ancient faith...'

 

The other letter was sent by the co-Emperors (the sons of Theodosius) to Augustine and the Bishop of Carthage ensuring complete support until the Pelagian enemies were defeated. 'As a special means of curbing the obstinacy of certain bishops who either further their vile arguments (Pelagianism) by tacit consent or fail to stamp them out by public attack, it will be fitting, very dear and loving Father, that the authority of your Holiness continue as long as the Christian devotion of all is agreed on the abolition of this perverted heresy. They are to be punished by the loss of their bishoprics, to be expelled from the cities, and shut off forever from communion with the Church.'

 

Augustine's weapon of mass conversion was an unparalleled success.  Within a single generation, Paganism was eradicated and Christianity controlled all religion and government throughout the Empire. It was clear that force had triumphed over conflicting religions. Now could unified faith triumph over force? Could the Gospel of Love, which had been taught by Jesus and his disciples, co-exist with the new Gospel of Wrath, imposed by powerful Bishops and enforced by Roman Emperors?

 

Augustine convinced his contemporaries that a campaign of mass conversion was fulfilment of Biblical prophecy by employing the parable of the Great Banquet. It is hard to credit that Augustine believed that his reliance on force agreed with the Early Church's reliance on freedom of choice, but we must remember that his true genius was the art of persuasion.  Augustine's methods often recall George Orwell's description of doublespeak employed by modern dictators: War is peace, Freedom is slavery, Ignorance is strength. 

 

Augustine's Church was more powerful than any modern dictatorship. Not only did the unified Christian state control all religion and government throughout the Roman Empire, it inflicted punishment on dissidents in this life and condemned them to eternal torment in the afterlife. 

 

Augustine taught that God hates the world because of the sin of Adam and Eve. The good news was that a few drops of baptismal water would remove the penalty of damnation. The bad news was that anyone who did not receive baptism was eternally damned, and this included unbaptised babies who died 'in their sins.'  George Orwell would have immediately recognized Augustine's deceptive use of language: innocence is sin, brutality is justice, love is wrath.    

 

Modern apologists deplore this aspect of Augustine's theology.  No sooner had the old warrior died than the Catholic Church began to 'fix' the doctrine of infant damnation.  It was dismissed as a minor error, easily fixed, best forgotten. Infant damnation was not an error; it was the cornerstone of Augustine's theology.  

 

Tracing the Gospel of Wrath through history and theology demands a lifetime of painstaking investigation. Just reading the millions of words that Augustine wrote requires years of study. Fortunately it is easy to contrast the Gospel of Love taught by Jesus, with the Gospel of Wrath taught by Augustine, the 'second founder' of Christianity.

 

Modern Christians are puzzled that the world around them fears and rejects their faith, which they believe to be the compassionate and forgiving Gospel of Love taught by Jesus.  The world is far more familiar with Augustine's Gospel of Wrath.  Augustine used the Pelagian heresy to redefine Christianity at the Council of Carthage in 418. Two key points of the new orthodoxy were:

 

  • Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.
  • Children dying without baptism are excluded from both the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life.

 

Baptising infants was not a new idea. Many Christians believed that baptism had replaced the rite of circumcision and therefore should be performed in the first days of the child's life.  However, no Jewish rabbi had ever taught that a baby who failed to receive circumcision was the object of divine wrath. None of the Early Christian leaders taught that children dying without baptism would be excluded from both the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life.  This was Augustine's innovation.  He created a brutally different religion from the one taught by the first founder of Christianity.

 

The relative peace and order of the Pagan Roman Empire dissolved into the poverty and ignorance of the Christian Middle Ages. Christian warriors were responsible for some of the most violent events in history: the Crusades, the Inquisition, witchhunts, and the violent conquest and mass conversions of the New World.  No sooner did Europe emerge from the Dark Ages than the Protestant Reformation ravaged the land with sectarian wars between Catholics and Protestants.  

 

Both Luther and Calvin were staunch Augustinians who revived the worst aspects of Augustine’s Gospel of Wrath and intensified it.  The Protestant Reformation was rooted in Original Sin rather than personal sin.  Salvation was an instantaneous pardon for inherited sin rather than a lifelong process of personal transformation.  The revived Gospel of Wrath had no place for freewill and personal effort.  God alone chose the elect few who would be saved, through no merit of their own, and the multitudes who would be damned, through no particular fault of their own.  Augustine had been ambivalent about double predestination. Luther and Calvin based their theology on it.

 

The Gospel of Love offered a complete theology which provided every single soul a full opportunity to understand the difference between good and evil, and to make a choice.  Children who died as infants, the mentally retarded, and those who never heard of Jesus were all given a full opportunity to understand the evil of sin and to accept salvation.

 

The worst aspect of the Gospel of Wrath is that it degraded Jesus from gentle Saviour to violent Persecutor. In its first incarnation under Augustine the Gospel of Wrath condemned everyone – including babies – who had not received pardon via baptism.  The second incarnation of the Gospel of Wrath, under Luther and Calvin, predestined the vast majority of humankind for damnation.  Christ did not atone for their sins and the God of Wrath took pleasure in their eternal torment, according to Calvin.

 

This Gospel of Wrath is horribly alive on every street corner where self-appointed prophets of doom threaten non-Christians with eternal torment, and on every ‘Christian’ radio and TV program where the prevailing message is imminent hell fire for everyone who is not Christian, and the right kind of Christian. This is not the Gospel of Love.

 

 

Jesus: the Founder of the Gospel of Love

 

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Jesus did not write new books or reveal new laws. He taught in simple parables drawn from everyday experiences and frequently referred to the Old Testament to demonstrate how the Mosaic laws had been misinterpreted by traditions and contemporary authorities.  Jesus was highly critical of self-proclaimed spiritual leaders who mislead the people (Matthew chapter 23).  There can be no doubt that he would have railed against the violent new theology imposed by Augustine at the Council of Carthage. 
 
To make his teachings simple to remember, Jesus reduced all the laws and commandments to two: 1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart; 2) Love your neighbour as yourself.  (Matthew 22:38-39).These commandments are easy to remember, but extremely difficult to practice. 

 

The Early Church devoted much of its time and energy to the love of God and neighbour.  Believers shared their worldly possessions.  They encouraged one another to progress in their spiritual growth.  The Early Church was inspired by the transformative power of the Gospel of Love.  Members were eye-witnesses to incredible transformations: choleric men and women became gentle; drunkards and gamblers were freed from addictions and gained self control; families were healed, communities strengthened.  The facts spoke for themselves.  It was a practical faith that attracted new believers despite severe risk of persecution.

 

The faith that Jesus taught could not be inherited (you could not be born into Christianity the way descendants of Abraham had been born into the Chosen People of Israel). Salvation was personal.  Each individual was called to believe and then to put their faith into practice.  Jesus said many times: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. (Matthew 12:7)  Blood-sacrifice did not change the world, but mercy and self-sacrifice did.    

 

Jesus taught change: changed individuals who would change the world. Pelagius would have been right at home as a disciple, urging believers to strive after righteousness. The Early Church had understood that change is a process, which requires personal effort, supernatural assistance and time.  

 

The Early Church had far more questions than answers.  Believers did not know how the process of transformation would be completed after death, particularly in the case of children who died in infancy.  Early Christians were also concerned about parents and grandparents who had died before the gospel had been revealed to the world. The Early Church could only trust that their God was good and just: neither their dead infants nor their beloved ancestors would be unjustly excluded from paradise.

 

Early Christian Doctrine and Resurrection

 

Early Christianity had little formal theology because it did not yet have an official Bible. The books of the New Testament had been written by the end of the 1st century, along with many other books about Jesus and the Apostles which would not be included in the Bible. These books were not available to all Christian churches and had not yet been collected into a single volume as the authorized New Testament.  

 

It was not until 367 that Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt, drew up a list of the 27 books which were most widely regarded as authentically inspired. The North African Synod of Hippo Regius, in 393, approved the twenty-seven book NT canon, a decision that was confirmed by North African Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419.  It is important to note that Augustine was an African Bishop during all of these Councils in North Africa. Augustine is the first ‘official’ theologian of the Church because he was the first to work with the official canon of scripture.

 

Earlier Christian Fathers like Polycarp, Ignatius and Justin, were mostly concerned with practical problems such as false teachings and schisms within congregations.  A recurring theme was perseverance despite persecution; that is better to die in the body and live for Christ eternally in the spirit than to deny Christ merely to add a few more years in the perishable body.  Polycarp (burnt at the stake in Smyrna), Ignatius (thrown to the lions in Rome) and Justin (beheaded in Rome) all died as martyrs rather than deny their faith. Theology of the first centuries simply encouraged believers to concentrate their energy on cultivating peace, love and unity.

 

By carefully studying the epistles of Paul, James, John, Jude and Peter, early Christian leaders began to puzzle together answers for larger, more difficult questions. One particularly rich source of insight was the Revelation/Apocalypse of John.  The writing is mystical and highly symbolical as to be expected from a revelation received in the form of a dream. However, all of the early Christian Fathers recognized that the future, physical resurrection of the dead described by John explained many mysteries. 

 

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Every believer dies imperfect. No matter how sincerely they desired to live sinless lives, and no matter how passionately they had sought divine assistance, sanctification requires more time than this world affords.  Augustine and Pelagius both agreed that perfection in this world is impossible to achieve. God could have created beings incapable of sin, but had preferred to create beings with mind and will who would voluntarily choose good or evil. The resurrection described by John would provide sufficient time for the process of sanctification to be complete.  The resurrection would also provide time for dead infants to grow to maturity and exercise their will to choose between good and evil. Likewise the resurrection would provide an opportunity for the multitudes who had died before the incarnation of Jesus to hear the gospel. The 1000 year resurrection (millennium) in John's Revelation was not fully understood by any means, but it reassured believers that God had made provision for every single human to receive a full and fair opportunity to be saved.

 

Papias (70 -155) claimed to have known the Apostle John and he wrote extensively about the resurrection. Most of his writings have been lost, but in a fragment recorded by Irenaeus, Papias described the process of sanctification.  'The presbyters, the disciples of the apostles, say that this is a gradation and arrangement of those who are saved and that they advance through steps of this nature; and that, moreover, they ascend through the Spirit to the Son, and through the Son to the Father... The last enemy to be destroyed is death.'

 

Justin Martyr (114 – 165) left the largest body of writing to the Early Church.  Justin boldly wrote to the Emperor and to the Roman Senate urging them to stop persecuting Christians for crimes they had never committed.  He also wrote two long works explaining Christian beliefs; a dialogue with a Jew named Trypho, and a hortatory addressed to Greek Pagans.  Justin told the Jews that that they could not be born into salvation, and he told the Greeks that their gods had not predestined their fates; everyone must personally choose righteousness or rebellion.   In chapters LXXX and LXXXI of his dialogue with Trypho, Justin stated his beliefs concerning the 1000 year resurrection. 'If you have fallen in with some who are called Christians but do not admit this truth and blaspheme the God of Abraham ...  who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls when they die are taken (directly) to heaven, do not imagine they are Christians...   I and all others who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem...'    

 

We do not have enough texts from the first centuries to fully understand how the Early Church interpreted John's Book of Revelation. We know Christians of the first centuries believed in a future, literal resurrection of the dead.  Justin Martyr believed the dead would sleep until resurrected rather than be taken directly to heaven. Christians of the first centuries certainly believed the Great Day of Judgment would not occur until after the resurrection.

 

Some leaders of the Early Church understood that the millennium resurrection would be the mirror image of Eden. The Gospel of Wrath began when Creation, which had been perfect in every way, was destroyed by Original Sin. A choice between obedience and rebellion was introduced in the Garden of Eden. Human nature launched a long process of trial and error, sin and suffering. The Gospel of Wrath is anchored in the belief that rebellion of Adam and Eve caused sin, death and suffering to enter tthe world. Modern science has made it difficult for Christian Fundamentalists to maintain that the suffering world we know began on October 21, 4004 BC.  Original Sin requires that no humans lived before 4000 BC, no animals ever died before 4000 BC (hence cavemen and T-Rex coexisted), and no natural catastrophe even occurred before 4000 BC (all evidence of cataclysmic geological processes must be attributed to the post-Edenic Flood).

 

The Gospel of Love sees history as a process of living and learning in which the millennium resurrection of the dead will conclude the process. However, the resurrection will differ from Eden because mankind would be forewarned and forearmed with the collective knowledge of human history.  Anyone who chose rebellion at the last temptation would do so with full knowledge of the consequences.  All who sought righteousness would finally attain it.  A grand version of Eden involving multitudes was simple, universal and perfectly just. 

 

This interpretation of John's Revelation as the final chapter to human history is confirmed by its placement as the last book in the authorized canon. The first story of the Bible is set in Eden where humans were tempted by Satan. The final story of the Bible is situated during John's resurrection, where humans are again tempted by Satan following 1000 years of peace and instruction.  Only after the final temptation will the human race be separated into the righteous and unrighteous for all eternity.  Eden and the resurrection describe the beginning and end of human suffering.
 
Most Early Christians had no need for systematic theology. They simply trusted that God would be just. They did not need to understand how justice would be executed.  Others, like Justin Martyr, needed to know that God had provided a time and place for the completion of unfinished business that would be fair and equitable for all.

 

Much history has been lost from the first centuries while the Church hid in the catacombs, its leaders martyred and its writings burned. But we know the Early Church believed God was perfectly just. Believers were certain that everyone, including dead children and beloved ancestors, would have a full opportunity to understand the difference between good and evil and then make a personal choice.  These ideas have always been at the forefront of the Gospel of Love.  

 

It would have been impossible for the Apostles or the martyrs to believe that an infant would be condemned to eternal damnation because his parents could not, or would not, have him baptized.  The God responsible for this condemnation is a stranger to love and justice.  

 

Augustine: The Founder of the Gospel of Wrath

 

Augustine taught that his God of wrath condemned babies because of inherited sins for which they had no personal responsibility.  Likewise, infants had no personal responsibility for accepting baptism. We can understand why this was necessary for Augustine's campaign of mass conversion.  If adult Pagans were told they had freedom of choice, they might reject Christianity and retain the faith of their forefathers, or they might postpone a decision until their death bed, as was already common practice in Augustine's day. Theodosius certainly understood this.  If Pagans were told they could postpone their choice until a future resurrection, they would never be persuaded to convert in this lifetime.  Mass conversion could not tolerate freedom of choice. 

 

The Gospel of Love was based entirely on freedom of choice as described in the 13th chapter of Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth. 'Love is patient, love is kind, it is not easily angered. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.'  If human love is patient, divine love must be infinitely patient. Jesus had told his followers that they were to forgive their neighbours seven times seventy times. God's patience must be immeasurably greater because he does not want anyone to be lost. What sane creature would choose suffering over joy? Who would not live in peace rather than perpetual strife?  Who would choose to live in chaos and danger rather than calm and security?  All human experience leads to the same conclusion; varying amounts of time are required to fully comprehend cause and effect, to make a reasoned choice between good and evil.   

 

Selfishness is the illusion of short-term gain, oblivious to retribution; it is childish and wilfully blind. We can steal from our neighbour once or twice with impunity, but will eventually be caught and suffer the consequences.  Suffering is caused by the endless cycle of selfishness and retribution.  It becomes clear over time that the only way to live in peace is to let our neighbours live in peace.  This requires wisdom and self-sacrifice. How much time does it take to put this realization into practice?  John describes a 1000 year resurrection.  That might be enough time.  Maybe it takes more. The God of love has no time constraints.  Some people are quick to choose peace; others need to suffer painfully and extensively before they understand the inevitable consequences of selfishness. After the final separation of the righteous and unrighteous the unredeemably selfish will no longer disturb the peace of their neighbours.  This will be perfect justice.

 

Augustine understood all of this and applied it to the 'invisible' Church of saints.  But he had been called to establish the visible State Church of the Roman Empire.  The persuasive power of love is subtle and gradual.  Fear is immediately compelling. What could be more terrifying for a parent than causing a child to suffer eternal torment?

 

Infant damnation was not an unfortunate error but the necessary cornerstone of Augustine's campaign of mass conversion.  In his book On Forgiveness of Sin and Baptism (chapter 21) Augustine wrote 'Anyone who teaches that unbaptized children will not be condemned greatly deceives both himself and others.'   


Augustine's God was wrathful and impatient because the campaign of mass conversion required immediate results.  Augustine taught that Adam and Eve committed one act of rebellion and were cursed for all eternity.  More importantly, for Augustine, all of humanity was cursed for this original sin.  There is no justice in original sin. Every baby is born depraved through no fault of its own.   Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin. Children dying without baptism are excluded from both the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life.  (Council of Carthage in 418)

 

Christianity has been infected by Augustine's wrathful Christianity for so many centuries (almost 1600 years) that love and wrath seem as necessary and complementary as night and day, summer and winter, hot and cold.   Christians defend the necessity of wrath:  God hates sin and it must be punished.  How can there be justice unless thieves and murderers are punished?

 

Justice requires consequences for inflicting harm on our neighbours and breaking laws.  At some point it is both just and necessary to separate people who wish to live in peace from those devoted to selfishness.  Believers can disagree whether it requires a few days or 1000 years to fully understand and take responsibility for our choices. However, we can agree that justice requires punishment to fit the crime.  An infant stealing a cookie needs discipline and education, not eternal damnation. 

 

Justin Martyr and the Early Church fully expected eternity to begin with the separation of the righteous and unrighteous after the resurrection. The eternal longing of the human heart is for an end to sin and suffering. Most of the world's religions expect a final resolution of the conflict between good and evil. Justin Martyr believed that this life and a 1000 year resurrection are necessary for the human will to master cooperation with the divine will. The God of love is patient and just.  Augustine's god of wrath was neither.
 
It is astonishing that the entire council of Bishops at Carthage in 418 endorsed Augustine's innovations:

 

  • Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.
  • Children dying without baptism are excluded from both the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life.

The modern Church has wholly rejected Augustine's condemnation of infants. However the doctrine of original sin remains the cornerstone of fundamentalist Christianity.  Atheists understand original sin and are rightly appalled. Christians cannot defend the Gospel of Love by turning a blind eye to Augustine's ruthless Gospel of Wrath.

 

Original Sin and Universal Wrath

 

Many ancient religions, including Judaism, atoned for sin by offering blood sacrifices.  Sacrifice was a penalty for the offender, but the blood of animals did not change human nature.  Jesus said: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. (Matthew 12:7)  Oceans of blood would not put an end to sin; only transformed human hearts would make that possible.

 

Jesus provided a three-fold remedy for sin. 1)  He offered his own blood to put an end to killing animals as a substitutionary ritual for human sin. 2) He taught peace, mercy, patience and forgiveness to all believers. 3) He sent the Holy Spirit into the world to personally assist in the transformation of believers' minds and desires.  Every human was personally responsible for accepting or rejecting the offer of salvation. 

 

Augustine replaced personal sin with original sin.  Adam and Eve broke a single law and the God of wrath condemned the entire human race.  Augustine vigorously defended original sin to his dying day. When Christians of his day questioned the justice of condemning unbaptized children, Augustine's rebuttal was simple:  Baptize them before they die!  

  

Augustine convinced his fellow bishops that he was not to blame for the punishment of unbaptized children, and no one could blame God, who made salvation as quick and easy as a few drops of baptismal water. The blame for unbaptized children lay with criminally irresponsible parents.  Who were these parents?  Stiff-necked Pagans!

 

We must remember the Roman Empire was engaged in a deadly war between Christians and Pagans. War makes decent people do terrible things. Christians were terrified that the Pagan majority would annihilate them. Augustine offered the hope of victory if Christians had the courage to deploy his weapon of mass conversion.  Christians could console themselves that their God displayed infinite generosity and mercy by permitting Pagans to be baptized and escape eternal torment.  If stiff-necked Pagans refused the offer, they had no one to blame but themselves.

 

It was only after the war ended with the complete surrender of Pagans that the condemnation of infants appeared grotesquely unjust. The rate of infant mortality was high in the Roman Empire. Parents in remote rural regions often had infrequent access to a priest.  How could the Church tell Christian parents that their unbaptized children were excluded from both the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life?

 

No Christian leader had the courage to denounce original sin as a monumental error. They were grateful to Augustine for forcing Pagans into submission and putting an end to religious war.  Christian leaders were afraid that abolishing original sin and reinstituting freedom of choice would provoke a mass exodus from the Church. It was safer and wiser to retain original sin, but modify it for the sake of infants. If original sin prevented unbaptized infants from entering heaven, and parental love would not tolerate their condemnation in Hell, a new solution must be found. It came to be known as Limbo, which means the outer limit or boundary of hell. Limbo is never mentioned in the Old or New Testament, it was pure invention.

 

Original Sin had necessitated other theological inventions. The most notorious is Purgatory. The Early Church had agreed with Pelagius that salvation was the beginning of a process of moral and spiritual transformation. Baptism was merely a symbol of new birth.  The process of sanctification would not be complete until the believer became sinless. Pelagius admitted that no one had ever achieved sinless perfection in this live. Could the process of salvation be continued beyond this life?  John's Revelation had provided a mechanism for unfinished business via a future resurrection of the dead.  Augustine knew he could never convince Pagans to submit to a religion that would force them to strive after sinless perfection in life and again in the afterlife. Salvation had to be quick and easy. And yet the problem of personal sin remained.  How could imperfect Christians be admitted to heaven if they had not had the time and opportunity to complete the process of sanctification?

 

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Augustine found a solution in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa, who had been born a quarter century earlier.  In his book On the Soul and the Resurrection Gregory wrote, 'I think the doctrine of the resurrection is true as well as credible, as it is told us in scripture' but Gregory admitted the doctrine had been interpreted in incorrect ways, such as oriental expectations of reincarnation and transmigration of the soul.  After speculating about the absurdity of human souls transmigrating into trees or the 'godless theory' that the souls of men reincarnate into the bodies of women, Gregory reminded his readers of the problem of evil. All are born in the sin of Adam and die too filled with vice to be admitted into heaven.  How are they cleansed of sin?

 

Gregory agreed with earlier theologians that the purpose of the resurrection was to purge souls of residual sin. The most righteous souls would be purged quickly and proceed quickly to heaven, the most sinful souls would be tormented longer. At the end of the process, all would be clad in the original splendour of perfect, sinless bodies. Gregory concluded his book with the words, 'When all evil has been purged from the body and soul, and utterly removed by the healing process worked out by the (holy) Fire, then every one of the things which make up our conception of the good will come to take their place: incorruption, honour, grace, glory and everything else that is to be seen in God. Man will be restored as he was made in God's image.'

 

There was nothing particularly original in Gregory's description of the resurrection as a process of purification in preparation for the Great Judgement, but Augustine seized on the image of a purging fire to solve a major theological difficulty created by original sin.   

 

Devout Christians had been taught for centuries that they must strive with all their hearts and souls to turn away from sin. They might balk at the goal of sinless perfection preached by a zealot like Pelagius, but less sin and more perfection was the goal of all true believers.  Devout Christians would not accept that the mass conversion of Pagans had suddenly made personal sin irrelevant. On the other hand, Pagans might submit to a few drops of baptismal water, but they would not commit to a life of self-control and denial of the pleasures of the flesh.   

 

Augustine had deliberately created a series of double standards for Christians and Pagans.  Devout Christians were part of the 'invisible' society of saints while Pagans were part of the 'visible' school for sinners.  True Christians struggled against sin while Pagans were left free to indulge the pleasures of the flesh.  How were these double standards to be resolved?  How could a just God reward saints and sinners equally?  Augustine found the solution of Purgatory in Gregory's purging fire of sanctification. Once again Augustine demonstrated his profound grasp of human psychology.

 

Christians had never warmed to a long, difficult struggle for sanctification, and the idea of a 1000 year resurrection appeared filled them with despair rather than fervour. One life of struggle against sin was more than enough. Christians preferred to believe that death would bring eternal rest. They wanted to be welcomed directly into paradise no matter how wide the gap between divine perfection and their own state of imperfection. But righteous Christians also wanted justice (punishment) to be executed on their sinful neighbours. It was inconceivable that ex-pagans who had indulged in sinful behaviour could get a free pass into heaven just because they were baptized. After death, wilful sinners must be forced to suffer the equivalent of what saints had voluntarily endured in life.

 

Purgatory was an attractive solution. Saints who had struggled to live righteous lives would be purged quickly and painlessly and then welcomed into paradise.  God would execute wrath on stiff-necked sinners by purging them in great agony for many years.  Purgatory provided convenient dual-stage justice.  Saints would proceed quickly to heaven while God would inflict upon sinners the full quotient of torment they had avoided on earth.

 

Augustine's Purgatory was a brilliant innovation that had no roots in Jewish theology or Christian tradition.  Augustine shrewdly calculated that Christians would embrace Purgatory as a far less demanding process than John's 1000 year resurrection. Once the Church had accepted Purgatory as a theological means to absolve residual sin, it was a small step to add Limbo to resolve the problem of unbaptized babies.

 

Augustine is rightly regarded as the 'second founder' of Christianity because the religion he invented would have been unrecognizable to Jesus and his disciples.  Original sin replaced personal sin, visible and invisible Churches created double standard for sinners and saints, baptized adults were sentenced to varying degrees of punishment in Purgatory, and unbaptized children were confined to Limbo.

 

The consequences of Augustine's re-designed Christianity are multiple.  The single greatest damage caused by Augustine's re-designed Christianity was that Jesus had been repositioned from the source of salvation to cause of condemnation.   

 

The Early Church simply trusted that God is good and that somehow, somewhere justice would be done: the righteous will live in eternal peace and the unrighteous will never again cause suffering. To Christians of the 2nd century, John's Revelation offered a vision of resurrection and sanctification that would allow the entire human race to understand the full consequences of sin and make a personal choice to persist in sinful behaviour or to obtain freedom from sin. Augustine created a system of rules designed to make Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.  The fundamental principle of wrath made salvation outside the Church impossible.  All were born condemned by divine wrath.  Any who failed to be saved, remained condemned.

 

Missionaries were greeted with incomprehension and disbelief when they preached original sin in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Missionaries did not want to admit that the fundamental principle of Christianity was no longer love but wrath, which generated a dialogue of the deaf.

 

Missionary We come to preach the good news that the Great God loves you.
Non-Christian Welcome, friends. We already know that the Great God loves us!
Missionary Have you been baptized in the name of Jesus?
Non-Christian Is Jesus your name for the Great God?
Missionary Unless you are baptized in the name of the son of God you are children of wrath.
Non-Christian We are children of the Great God.
Missionary Unless your sins have not been washed clean by the blood of Jesus,  our God will torment you for all eternity.

 

At this point most missionaries began to defend the gospel of wrath by threatening non-Christian with eternal damnation.  Why was the non-Christian a condemned sinner?  Because of the inherited guilt of a man and woman he had never heard of. If this made no sense to the non-Christian, or if he found the doctrine of original sin loathsome, it only proved he was a stiff-necked savage who fully deserved wrath, which was often inflicted with foreign diseases and superior weapons. Augustine allowed no exceptions for infants and certainly had no pity on the untold multitudes of adult non-Christians. The medieval Church tinkered with Augustine's ugly theology but even the torments of Purgatory were restricted to baptized Catholics. Christianity's official doctrine became: Outside the Church, no salvation.  

 

Luther: the Reformer of Wrath

 

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By 600 AD, Augustine's victory was complete: his version of Christianity was the sole religion of the Roman Empire yet grace, love and righteousness did not spread from Palestine to Spain and from Africa to the British Isles. The ensuing period is known as the Dark Ages and was marked by ignorance, poverty, superstition and violence. Augustine's Imperial religion would not have been recognized by Jesus or the Apostles. Forced conversions, religious wars and campaigns of genocide against pagans, heathens and savages were the inevitable consequence of turning love into wrath and salvation into condemnation.

 

For the next 1000 years, believers would challenge the centralized power of Catholicism in various ways:  some isolated themselves to remote monasteries and convents where they could devote themselves to prayer, others became wandering monks setting an example of humility and simplicity. Still others worked from inside the central authority to restore the pure teaching of Jesus.

 

The most famous leader of the Reformation was a German priest named Martin Luther.  Luther was not, like Augustine, a strategic thinker with a carefully constructed network of allies and an unassailable plan to impose his version of Christianity.  Luther was rough and rugged zealot who would fly into a rage and scribble scathing invectives against his enemies. He had both the good luck and misfortune to be born in the age of Guttenberg's printing press so his venom-laced pamphlets were loose in the world before his temper cooled, like a drunken blogger who fires his rage into cyber-space and then cannot take it back. Luther's career should have ended quickly, like John the Baptist's, with his severed head on one of the Pope's silver platters. 

 

Luther first came to public attention in the role of an honest citizen who had caught a public official practicing extortion.  Luther had no doubt senior officials would share his outrage and punish the offender. When minor bureaucrats told him to mind his own business, citizen Luther became indignant. Rather than obediently turn away, he wrote letters to the highest authorities and made speeches to his neighbours which lead to charges of disturbing the peace. Luther's inability to compromise and his uncontrollable temper made him easy to portray as a dangerous crank. 

 

In 1517 Luther denounced extortion by agents of the Catholic Church in Germany. The next year he was summoned to Rome to explain himself but refused to go. In 1520 Luther was given 60 days to recant or be excommunicated. Luther responded with louder and increasingly incendiary accusations.  To silence Luther, the matter was handed over to the civil authorities in the person of the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles V called an assembly of nobles in 1521 which found Luther guilty as charged. 'Luther is to be regarded as a convicted heretic. No one is to give him shelter. His followers are also to be condemned. His books are to be eradicated from the memory of man.' This should have been the end of Luther. He should have disappeared from the face of the earth as suddenly and completely as Pelagius.  Fortunately for Luther, his persecutors were not in the same league as Augustine.

 

Pope Leo had other matters on his mind. Leo was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent of the Medici dynasty of bankers. The Medicis had made themselves one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Europe. One thing the Medicis didn't control was the wealth and power of the Catholic Church, so Lorenzo the Magnificent had his son Giovanni take vows at an early age and then paved the way for his son to be named Pope in 1513.  After taking the papal name Leo X, the junior Medici is reported to have said to his brother: Since God has given us the Papacy, let us enjoy it. It was not God who had arranged the papacy, but papa Lorenzo, although the father figures may have been synonymous in the mind of Leo Medici. The new Pope set out to enjoy a lifestyle never seen in Rome since the excesses of Pagan Roman Emperors. Alexandre Dumas the elder would later write: Under Leo's pontificate, Latin Christianity assumed a pagan, Greco-Roman character, which passed from art into manners, giving this epoch a strange complexion. Crimes for the moment disappeared, to give place to vices; but to charming vices ...

 

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Leo Medici made no pretence at meekly shepherding the humble flock of Jesus; he was destined for greater work.  Plans for building a magnificent basilica in honour of St. Peter had begun under the previous Pope, but Leo made it his mission to erect a dwelling for God so spectacularly opulent that it would outshine the palaces of his own papa. This required vast sums of money.  Leo called it God's work. Luther called it damnable extortion.  

 

What was this money raising scheme that offended Luther so mightily? Indulgences were a logical derivative of Purgatory. By the1600s, the penalty of purgation could extend over thousands and even tens of thousands of years. Luther did not question Purgatory or Rome's authority to reduce purgatorial sentences. He had no thought of defending freewill or personal responsibility for salvation. Luther was outraged by the pernicious effects on local German parishes of the methods 'pardoners' were employing to peddle their wares.

 

Indulgences were not a tax, which might have caused outrage by robbing the poor and impoverishing the local economy. Indulgences were as voluntary as lottery tickets. Unlike modern lotteries, which return a large part of the revenue in prizes, Indulgences provided 100% profit for the Pope and his 'pardoners.'  Benefits for 'players' would be paid after death. If customers were dissatisfied with their rewards, they could take their complaints directly to God.

 

Luther deplored that naive Christians were being manipulated by the Pope's 'pardoners'.  One popular sales pitch went, 'As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.' Indulgences were voluntary, but what hard-hearted soul would voluntarily permit his loved ones to suffer torment in Purgatory when he had it in his power to set them free for a pfennig? Luther was disturbed that money which should be invested in local charity was being siphoned off to build a pontifical palace in Rome. It also infuriated Luther that pardoners were assuring local reprobates they could 'indulge' their sinful nature and then wipe the slate clean by buying forgiveness of their sins. Pardoners encouraged vice because it was much better for their business than virtue.

 

Luther complained that 'Indulgences are most pernicious because they induce complacency and thereby imperil salvation. ...  Papal indulgences do not remove guilt. ... The power of the keys (of heaven and hell) cannot make attrition into contrition. He who is contrite has plenary remission of guilt and penalty without indulgences. ... The only power which the Pope has over Purgatory is that of making intercession on behalf of souls, and this power is exercised by any priest or curate in his parish.' Luther tore the foundation out from under the Indulgence racket with a single question: If the Pope has the power to free souls from the torments of purgatory for money, why will he not do it for love? 

 

Luther was summoned to Rome. Others had been permanently silenced for lesser offences. To his great relief, Luther's attack on Indulgences was applauded by many of his fellow Augustinian monks and the majority of the German people. His supporters refused to send him to Rome but they wanted to see a trial; not to hear the Pope's charges against Luther, but to hear the Pope defend Indulgences.  German nobles had many questions and Luther was the man to dig down to the raw truth. During interrogations Luther convinced Germans that his denunciation of Indulgences was more scriptural than Rome's defence.  Had Luther restricted his comments to Indulgences he may have been acquitted, but once the trial began his hot temper and sharp tongue lacerated the integrity of the Pope, the traditions of the Church, and the authority of scripture. A guilty verdict was inevitable.

 

Leo excommunicated Luther, but the Reformer had already declared the Pope to be the antichrist. Luther didn't wait to be kicked out of the Church; he quit. Leo might claim to possess the keys to heaven and hell, but Luther held the keys to a new technology of mass communication which would empower him to outgun his adversary in a war of words.  In response to the order for his arrest Luther wrote, 'I was wrong, I admit it, when I said that Indulgences were 'the pious defrauding of the faithful.'  I recant and I say, 'Indulgences are the most impious frauds of the most rascally pontiffs, by which they deceive the souls and destroy the property of the faithful'. ... 'Previously I said the Pope is the Vicar of Christ. I recant. Now I say the Pope is the adversary of Christ and the Vicar of the devil.'


The Pope would have loved nothing better than to burn Luther and his mass-produced ranting, but Leo needed approval from the Emperor.  As well as being Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V was heir to the Hapsburgs, the House of Valois-Burgundy and the Crown of Castile-Leon and Aragon, which made him the King of Spain, Duke of Burgundy, Archduke of Austria and ruler over extensive domains in Central, Western, and Southern Europe as well as the Spanish colonies in North, Central, and South America, the Caribbean, and Asia. The Hapsburgs were far wealthier and nobler than the Medicis. The two clans were engaged in a bitter struggle for control of Europe.


Before the end of the decade (1527) Charles would have a disagreement with the new pope, who was Leo's nephew, another Medici. To intimidate his rival, Charles would send an army of mercenaries to wave their swords outside the gates of Rome. Families achieve wealth and retain it by keeping tight control over expenses; Charles sent his army off without money to pay them. When the troops of the Holy Roman Emperor arrived at Rome, they collected their wages by plundering the Holy City and raping the women. It was the worst assault since the barbarian invasion in the days of Augustine. While the Hapsburg Emperor and Medici Pope were behaving like Goths and Vandals, a powerful Turkish army was fighting its way from Constantinople up the Balkans, conquering Hungary and besieging Vienna (1529). Europe had not been gripped in such terror for 1000 years.


During all the distraction Luther was safely hiding, protected by German nobles. Neither the Pope nor the Emperor dared disturb the balance of power by sending troops to force their Germans allies to hand over the heretic. Instead they cleaned out their own barns. If Leo hoped to quell the uproar in Germany by punishing the renegade pardoners, he was tragically mistaken. Dictators are always most vulnerable when they begin to admit their errors.  Each reform was an admission that Luther had been right.  Emboldened by weakness at the highest levels, German nobles challenged papal and imperial authority, German monks broke their vows and married their girlfriends, and then German peasants began to revolt.

 
In 1524 German peasants presented a petition to the Holy Roman Emperor asking for taxes to be reduced and to be allowed to hunt and fish on common lands. Their most revolutionary claim called for serfdom to be abolished and that peasants be allowed to rent land as free men. All of Europe held its breath. The entire social and economic system teetered on the brink.


German peasants expected Luther to champion their cause. He agreed, at least in part, with their claims but warned that nothing would ensue from armed revolution but murder and bloodshed. It was too late for sage advice. Luther's virulent attacks on the Pope had already loosed revolution in the land. An army of 300,000 German peasants demanded reform and were ready to fight for it. Luther risked his own life to go out among the peasants to appeal for calm. They responded with derision.

 

Luther responded with rage and a sulfurous tract 'Against the Murderous and Thieving Hordes of Peasants' which concluded with a blood-chilling exhortation. 'Let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab (them) secretly or openly. Remember that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as one must kill a mad dog…'


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The Emperor sent out an army. By the time the revolt was crushed, 100,000 peasants had been stabbed, smitten and slain like mad dogs. The danger of open revolution was made clear to all. Conservative kings, archdukes, dukes, princes, marquises, margraves, counts, viscounts, barons, and earls rallied behind the traditional authority of the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor.  The fiasco of Indulgences could be blamed on Leo, who had conveniently died.  Rather than allow crazed zealots to lead a violent and chaotic reform of the Church, the Catholic States would carefully orchestrate an orderly Counter Reformation to restore the Church to health and dignity.


It was too late for the Germans to restore order; priests had renounced their vows and abandoned their flocks, crowds had robbed churches of their idolatrous icons and vandalized the buildings. Rebels turned to Luther and his allies for leadership only to discover endless contradictions. Luther might have made a constructive contribution as a delegate to the Catholic Counter revolution, but he had few consistent ideas about reforming Church and State; his leadership was impossible to follow.  


Luther was like modern evangelical who wears a wristband saying, 'What Would Jesus Do?' as if the question provides every possible answer to life's most difficult questions.  Great minds had studied the Bible and debated complex issues for 1,500 years. Why was Luther so certain he had a clearer idea of what Jesus would do than generations of Ecumenical Councils before him?  It is very simple, replied Luther, the Holy Scriptures tell me what Jesus would do


During Luther's trial the Pope's appointed examiner protested, 'Your plea to be heard from scriptures is the one always made by heretics. You do nothing but renew the errors of Wyclif and Hus. How the Jews and the Turks will exult to hear Christians arguing whether we have been wrong all these years! Martin, how can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of scripture? Would you put your judgment above that of so many famous men and claim that you know more than all?'The debate was as futile as an agnostic asking a believer how he knows there is a God and receiving the reply, 'I just know it, in my spirit.'


Catholicism is a sprawling edifice of authority and tradition.  Great councils have made monumental errors but not without giving them serious thought and study.  Luther promoted a form of Protestantism in which his prevailing mood was interpreted as the voice of God. From year to year, month to month, and hour to hour his mood could change and he would fire off a new pamphlet to let the world know what God was telling him.  Catholic Conservatives quickly dismissed him as ranting, drunken lout.  Luther's allies slowly learned he was maddeningly unpredictable. 

 

The Peasants' Revolt was not the first time that Luther passed within hours from holding out an olive branch to advocating annihilation of his enemies. Luther had initially appealed to the Pope as the Vicar of Christ and then condemned him as the antichrist. Initially Luther had sought to reform the Church; by the time he penned a tract entitled The Roman Trinity he ranted, 'These three things I pray for Rome: pestilence, famine and war. This be my trinity.' When the soldiers of Charles V sacked Rome a couple of years later, Luther made the self-important claim that his prayers had been answered. "Christ reigns in such a way that the Emperor, who persecutes Luther for the Pope, is forced to destroy the Pope for Luther."


Luther initially appealed to the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor for a fair hearing and a peaceful resolution of their differences.  Six months later he wrote in rage, 'If we punish thieves with the yoke, highwaymen with the sword, and heretics with fire, why do we not assault these cardinals, popes and the whole swarm of Roman Sodom who corrupt the Church of God? Why do we not assault them with weapons and wash our hands in their blood?'   Peasants can be forgiven for thinking that Luther would support their armed revolt.    


Early in his career Luther wrote attract entitled That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew with the intent of healing the ancient rift between Christians and Jews.  Luther fully understood why Jews refused to associate with the Catholic antichrist and offered them fellowship with Reformed Christianity.  When the Jews remained skeptical about Luther and his methods, he became increasingly enraged by their refusal to convert to Reformed Christianity. Near the end of Luther's life Jews were no longer the chosen people but "the devil's people." Luther advocated setting Jewish synagogues on fire, destroying Jewish prayerbooks, forbidding rabbis from preaching, seizing Jews' property and money, and smashing up their homes.  The Nazis were fond of quoting Luther as the spiritual leader of the Holocaust.


Over the years, Luther turned against fellow Reformers Hutten, Sickingen, Carlstadt and Muntzer. When Zwingli and the Swiss Reformers attempted to unify the two parties, they agreed on 14 key points of doctrine but failed to agree on consubstantiation.  This was sufficient cause for Luther to reject fellowship with the Swiss. Zwingli was so distraught that he burst into tears. He should not have been surprised. Years earlier, when Luther preached the need for absolute doctrinal purity, his friends had asked if he would break church unity over a single point of doctrine. Luther replied that they were asking if it is reasonable to condemn a man over a single act of murder.  'To deny God on one point is to attack God in all.'

 

Luther's theology is a caricature of Protestantism in which points of disagreement multiply until every believer defines his own theology, breaks fellowship with heretics, and becomes the sole member of his own church.  Luther's hate-filled invective and calls for violence are dismissed as 'unfortunate errors' which should not tarnish the memory of a great man of God. Wherever the Gospel of Wrath is held in high esteem, Luther is lauded as a champion of the faith who stood firm against the Catholic antichrist, the abominable Jews and the demonic Turks.

 

It is no coincidence that Luther was trained as an Augustinian monk.  When lacking ideas of his own, he found guidance in Augustine's writings. It is impossible to imagine gentle Jesus recognizing much of his Gospel of Love in the chaotic, maniacal ranting of Luther.  But everyone knew the German monk was a wild man in the pattern of John the Baptist. Luther had merely announced the coming of a new Messiah who would fully revive Augustine's Gospel of Wrath.  

 

Calvin: the Theologian of Wrath

 

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John Calvin was born in France in 1509 while Luther was a university student in Germany.  Both were raised devout Catholics, and both studied Law before switching to Theology.

 

Calvin was a student during the Peasants' Revolt, the Emperor's sack of Papal Rome, the Turkish siege of Vienna, and Henry VIII's bitter disputes with the Pope which resulted in the Church of England breaking communion with Catholicism. Revolution was in the air and the universities were full of Martin Luther's inflammatory writings. It was obvious to all that the Catholic Church needed to be reformed.  The only question was whether change would be lead calmly by conservatives or chaotically by radicals. 

 

While at university, Calvin first became a humanist intellectual and he was fascinated by literature and ancient cultures. However his secular writing did not attract enough attention to satisfy his ambition.  Calvin then claimed to experience a change of faith and joined the French Reformation, turning his pen to the defence of his new religion. Publically rejecting Catholicism required courage because it carried severe consequences. The French parliament set up a special court for the inquisition of heretics. Thousands of Protestants, including Calvin, fled to sanctuaries in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

 

Calvin was recognized as an exceptionally bright and articulate young man who just might play the role of theorist and propagandist for Reformers that Augustine had played for Ambrose in the war against the Pagans. Two years later, at the age of 27, Calvin published a book that would define reformed theology with such authority that 'Calvinist' became synonymous with 'Protestant' for millions of Christians. Throughout his life Calvin would revise and expand his Institutes of the Christian Religion until it rivalled the Bible in size, yet the foundational theology remained perfectly consistent.  Unlike Luther, whose ideas changed as quickly as his moods, or Augustine, whose theology evolved over decades to accommodate the battles he fought, Calvin's theology never wavered or changed from the day it was first set down on paper. No other writer in history achieved such completeness and perfection of thought so young and so quickly.

 

Paul of Tarsus was over 30 when he became a disciple of Jesus on Road to Damascus and did not begin putting his theology into writing for another14 years. Augustine did not convert to Christianity until his 30s and wrote his books in the last four decades of his life, constantly rethinking and revising his ideas.  John Calvin broke with Catholicism at the age of 24 and immediately produced one of the most perfectly conceived and influential books ever written.  Many of his followers believe the only credible explanation is that Calvin was a divinely appointed prophet of God.  

 

The influential preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote in his autobiography: Among all those who have been born of women, there has not risen a greater than John Calvin; no age before him ever produced his equal, and no age afterwards has seen his rival. In theology, he stands alone, shining like a bright fixed star, while other leaders and teachers can only circle round him, at a great distance — as comets go streaming through space — with nothing like his glory or his permanence.   The reader has to wonder whether Spurgeon did not believe that Jesus was born of a woman, or if Calvin's theology was more glorious and permanent than the teachings of Christ.

 

How could John Calvin, freshly recruited as a disgruntled Catholic and sympathetic humanist, immediately provide an alternative to 1500 years of Catholic authority that was so scripturally sound and rigorously logical it became a second Bible for millions of Christians? It could be, as Spurgeon and many others thought, that Calvin was closer to God than any man who ever lived. If Calvin was God's greatest prophet, his followers would be correct in believing that Calvinism is the most authoritative religion the world has ever known. 
 
There is an alternate explanation that needs to be examined.  Throughout Institutes of the Christian Religion, one writer is quoted more often than any prophet or apostle from the Bible. When Calvin mentions Catholic theologians it is invariably to castigate their ignorance and errors, with one exception. Calvin acknowledges one man alone as the true champion of truth. All ancient theologians, with the exception of Augustine, are confused, vacillating, and contradictory ....
 
Again and again throughout the 1,400 pages of the final version of his book, Calvin calls upon Augustine to defend his own doctrines. The careful reader begins to recognize he is actually reading Augustine's theology, restated in a new context. Young Calvin is merely the secretary, presenting the writings of the 'second founder' of Christianity in a systematic arrangement.  Calvin's single innovation was to recognize that 1000 years of history had revealed a few minor flaws in Augustine's theology which needed to be corrected. For Calvin, the problem was not that Augustine had made original sin the cornerstone of his theology, but that he had been afraid to embrace the full power of the Gospel of Wrath.  Calvin was both fearless and ruthless.

 

Augustine had developed his Gospel of Wrath while engaged in a war with Pagans, who outnumbered Christians in most regions of the Empire.  Calvin was engaged in a war with Catholics, who vastly outnumbered Reformers in every region of Europe.  Augustine had controlled the Emperor and outmanoeuvred the Pope.  Calvin and a tiny band of religious renegades were hiding from the Pope and Emperor.  Augustine had been recruited to create a theology that would save Christianity. Calvin was recruited to create a theology that would save the Reformation. Augustine had miraculously won his war without bloodshed.  Calvin and his allies were determined to win theirs, with or without bloodshed.

 

After the Peasants' Revolt, conservative princes in Spain, Italy and France preferred to tolerate questionable theology from the Catholic Church rather than revolution from Reformers. The Catholic Church proceeded, with uncharacteristic haste, to initiate the Counter Reformation in 1545, a year before Luther's death. As soon as major irritations, such as Indulgences, were reformed, disgruntled Christians could claim victory and return to Mother Church rather than fight the Emperor's power to punish the body and the Pope's to condemn the soul.  The devastating wars that ensued could have been avoided if Calvinists had not identified the Pope as the antichrist, eliminating all possibility of reconciliation with their fellow Christians.

 

Luther was a conservative at heart and would have preferred to reform the Church from within rather than join forces with peasants and free-thinking radicals to destroy it. Luther was eternally grateful for his salvation; in his better moments he urged peace and denounced violence. In his heart of hearts, Luther always wanted to believe in the Gospel of Love. Unable to reconcile his longing for peace with his own hot temper and the violence he had unleashed, Luther was plagued by insomnia and bouts of depression.  

 

Calvin was untroubled by doubt. He embraced the Gospel of Wrath with the cold-blooded assurance of a technocrat. Even Augustine, who had denied unbaptized babies admission into paradise, was never fully persuaded of his theories until he had persuaded others.  Only a very young man, who had never lived or loved, who had never struggled with his own contradictions and demons, and who was as grim by nature as John Calvin, could have pushed Augustine's Gospel of Wrath to its logical, inevitable and inhuman conclusions.   

 

Calvin understood clearly, as Luther did inconsistently and Augustine reluctantly, that a God of wrath is a God of wrath. There is nothing of love or justice in original sin. It is a horrifying doctrine. This much Calvin would admit.  Rather than argue that wrath is the supreme expression of love, as Luther did, or subvert wrath to reflect human notions of love and justice, as every Catholic theologian since Augustine had done, Calvin embraced the implacable horror of divine wrath.

 

Augustine, as a newly converted Christian, had wanted to believe that humans are free to choose between good and evil. By the end of his life, Augustine had imposed the doctrine of original sin but avoided the full consequence.  Infant baptism had no justification in the personal choice of the children or the unearned grace of God; it was a purely human concession.

 

Calvin denounced infant damnation as an outrage to both man and God.  For Calvin, the fundamental question was, is, and always will be: Who controls salvation? Is God supreme or is man? 

 

Augustine had condemned Pelagius as a heretic for teaching that each human is free to choose his or her own salvation. He had dismissed freewill as pure illusion because man has the freedom of a falling stone on a one-way journey down to the depths of hell.  Let the falling stone try to fly up to heaven and see how much its 'freewill' avails. But Augustine had ultimately agreed with Pelagius because he was unable to reconcile himself to the complete elimination of freewill and the possibility to accept salvation. Is God supreme or is man?  Even at the end of his life Augustine was closer to Pelagius than Calvin in his thinking about freewill.  Augustine credited God with choosing the elect, but could never bring himself to blame God for choosing the damned.  Augustine retained the paradox that sinners alone were responsible for choosing damnation.

 

Luther ignored Augustine's early writing in defence of freewill and used the 'falling stone' metaphor as a weapon to attack pardoners and purgatory.  John Calvin made a complete break from Catholic theology by eliminating freewill from salvation and stripping the Pope of all authority to forgive sins. God alone granted salvation by grace alone. Priests, masses and Purgatory were irrelevant. Calvin also broke with Augustine’s halting, half-baked ideas about predestination. For Calvin, God alone chose the elect and the damned. This doubly damning doctrine became known as double predestination.

 

Calvin's reasoning was simple and irrefutable, at least to other Reformers.  All men are born sinners and all die sinners. Sin is bred in the bone. Sinlessness is as far removed from human nature as the moon from earth; the chasm between sin and perfection is infinite. Baptism does not make a man sinless. Prayers and purgatory do not make a man sinless. No power on earth has ever broken, or will ever break, the power of sin. The wrath of God remains undiminished. The apostle Paul fully understood this when he wrote, 'What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?'(Romans 7:24) 

 

Paul answered his own rhetorical question: God alone decides who will be saved, not according to any human merit, but purely according to His own divine and eternal purpose.  'For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the first born among many brothers. And those He predestined He also called, those He called He also justified, and those He justified He also glorified.' (Romans 8:29-30)  'It (salvation) does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but God's mercy.' (Romans 9:16)

 

Augustine, in his desire to portray God as compassionate and just according to human standards, had made man's effort the determining factor in salvation via the rite of baptism.  Once Augustine had placed the keys of heaven and hell into human hands, it was a small step for salvation to be extended to infants, without any will or effort on their part.  Once the Popes controlled the keys of heaven and hell, why would they not have the authority to create limbo for unbaptized infants, and purgatory for unsanctified sinners?  And why would the Pope not have the authority to grant indulgences and plenary absolution?  Calvin believed that reformation of Christianity required the Pope to be dethroned and demonized.  The blasphemy of allowing reprobates to buy forgiveness for themselves and their wicked friends was a mere link in a long chain of abominations that began when proud sinners had claimed for themselves the power of salvation.

 

Calvin saw clearly that the God of wrath is neither compassionate nor just in the way that depraved humans define compassion and justice. Once this cornerstone of Calvinism was firmly in place, all the flaws of Augustinianism and compromises of Catholicism were stripped away. The great mystery is not why entire nations and multitudes of individuals are damned but why a few are saved.  Damnation is an inevitable consequence of original sin.  The only mystery is salvation. There is nothing inevitable about it. No soul ever deserved or ever will deserve to be saved. There is no point arguing that this person or that person never had a fair chance. Every human since Adam has been born condemned. Why weep over one lost soul when untold millions have live and die under the curse of wrath?  

 

Calvin wrote that sinners do not deserve grace, but God in his mercy has provided it, to some.  They do not deserve to be forgiven, justified and glorified in the image of Christ, yet this is God's will for the Chosen. How could the undeserving few not be grateful?  But for the ineffable grace of God, they would have remained condemned like all the reprobates and miscreants not destined for glory.  Calvin admitted that the fate of the damned is horrible, yet adamantly denied it is unjust for sinners to receive the punishments their sins deserve.     

 

Augustine's Christianity had been designed to be quick and easy for the conversion of Pagans. Baptism was far easier as a method of salvation than a lifetime of self-discipline and self-denial.  Purgatory was far less demanding than a lengthy resurrection that required thought, effort and persistence unto Christ-like holiness.

 

Calvin's Christianity made salvation even easier and - far more importantly - it came with an iron clad guarantee that no priest could revoke.  The Calvinist sinner does not have to make a single effort - cannot make a single effort - to bring about salvation. God alone decided who would be saved. This was indeed Good News – for the Chosen.  Not only were they saved despite their sinfulness, but Calvinist salvation can never be lost. The Calvinist is blessedly assured that Once saved, always saved.  The simplicity and certainty of Calvinist salvation was irresistible for multitudes of ex-Catholics.

 

Reformed Theology

 

Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is a massive tome that very few people study. Fortunately for Calvinists, the theological system has been encapsulated into five bullet points that can be easily memorized with the help of the acrostic TULIP.   

 

  • Total Depravity.  All descendants of Adam are born totally depraved and blind to God. 
  • Unconditional Election. God alone chooses the elect without any consideration for merit, effort or desire to be saved.
  • Limited Atonement. Jesus did not die for all mankind, just the elect.
  • Irresistible Grace.  Those who are elected and called to salvation cannot resist the call. The controlling will is divine not human.

Perseverance of the Saints. The saved cannot subsequently reject salvation or fall from grace. Once saved, always saved.

 

The enduring allure of Calvinism is built on its refusal to shrink from the horrible fatalism of double predestination.  Calvinists see only strength in God's uncompromising hatred of sin; they see only grace in unmerited salvation for the elect. Calvin's system is wonderfully simple.  God does whatever God wants to do because He is God.  There is nothing to understand and nothing to explain. Wicked mankind can merely fear God and tremble at His judgements.  Augustine, Luther and Calvin all sang from the same hymnal, defending original sin, universal condemnation and selective salvation.   

 

Augustine  

 
'The Bible teaches that all men are condemned through the original sin of Adam and the woman who led him into sin. Original sin condemns all children of Adam or none.'  (Curiously, Augustine's conclusion that God condemns all infants at birth has been universally rejected yet his status as pre-eminent Christian theologian remains unaffected.)

 

'The single sin of Adam, committed in a Paradise of perfection, was of so heinous a character that the whole human race was radically and permanently condemned. The (inherited) condemnation of Adam's children is so perfectly just that if not a single member of the human race had been saved, no one could question the justice of God.' (This principle is the cornerstone of the Gospel of Wrath.)

 

'Saint Paul taught that all children of Adam are excluded from the kingdom of God unless they have received the grace of Christ before they die. The Bible is unequivocal: No merits are found in (unbaptized) infants to cause some to be admitted into God's Kingdom!' (Many Christians disagree that Paul taught universal condemnation. Calvin would make it the principle justification for replacing Catholic rites with Protestant 'grace alone.'  Luther and Calvin would interpret 'grace alone' to mean that human freewill and personal responsibility are nothing more than illusion. Not only did their revived God of wrath unilaterally choose who would be saved and damned, they taught that divine judgement had been predestined from eternity as the following quotes demonstrate.)

 

Luther


'If I wanted to review all the passages in Paul that overthrow freewill I would have to give a running commentary on his entire writings! The boasted power of freewill is refuted by almost every word.'   

 

'It is impossible to reconcile both the foreknowledge of God and the freedom of man together. It would be far easier to maintain that the same number may be both nine and ten!'   

 

'More than half the Scriptures are promises of grace, by which God offers (the elect) mercy, life, peace and salvation.  But not a single word of mercy, promise, or comfort supports this blasphemy of freewill.'  

 

Calvin  

 
'I say with Augustine, that the Lord has created those whom he certainly foreknow were to go to destruction, and he did so because he so willed. Why he willed it is not ours to ask. We cannot comprehend, nor dare we question the justice of God's divine will.'

 

'Some men are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation. The Bible teaches that God, of his good pleasure, elects some and leaves others in their sins. Nothing is necessary for salvation but God's will. With it, we are saved, without it we are damned. His will alone decides.'

 

'The fall of Adam involved all nations and their infant children in eternal death without remedy. Why? Because God willed it! The decree, I admit, is dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknow what the end of man was to be before He made him. God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity, but arranged it for His own pleasure'. 
  
There can be no clearer definition of the gospel of wrath than that God predestined the damnation of billions of depraved sinners and 'arranged it for His own pleasure.'    

 

The Gospel of Wrath was created to fight a war against Pagans and revived to foment war between Christians. Kingdoms were divided, neighbours became bitter enemies. The escalating violence exploded in 1618. The Catholic states of the Holy Roman Empire (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hungary, Bohemia, Austria and Bavaria) waged war against the Protestant states (most of Germany, the Netherlands, England, Denmark, Norway and Russian Cossacks.)  The Thirty Years' War divided and devastated Europe.  Casualties in Germany averaged 20% of the population, with some regions losing more than 50%.  Between 1492 and 1914, Christian nations conquered and colonized most of the globe, proclaiming a gospel of love and salvation while threatening 'savages' with eternal damnation and fighting among themselves. Protestants denounced Catholics, who in turn ridiculed rivalries between Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans and scores of other dissident denominations and sects. 

 

Love or Wrath?

 

Much of the hostility directed against Christianity in the 21st century can be traced back to crusading eras in which 'Christian soldiers' believed themselves destined to conquer the entire world for Christ. Non-believers imagine Christian churches that same way they picture Islamic mosques: filled with wild–eyed zealots inciting the faithful to terrorize infidels into surrendering to the Great God of Wrath.

 

Christians are exasperated by such ignorance about the true nature of their religion. However, quite a few have serious doubts about the true nature of Islam. Muslims may insist that Islam promotes family, virtue and traditional values but a different face of Islam has become far more visible: suicide bombers and crowds of angry, bearded men waving their fists and chanting, 'death to infidels.' If the vast majority of Muslims are for peace, why do they permit their religion to be poisoned by a violent minority? The same question can be asked of Christianity. Why has a Gospel of Wrath been permitted to poison our religion for 1500 years?

 

Christians will protest that 'poison' is the last word they would use to describe the faith. The inward focus of Christianity is family, virtue and traditional values. Inside the Church there is no condemnation, at least in theory. Whether the prevailing gospel is love or wrath, Christian churches can be wonderful sanctuaries of kindness, friendship and healing, for the saved. God loves the saved and showers them with love, forgiveness and blessings.  Denominations disagree about whether salvation is a free gift that is predestined or must be accepted, just as they disagree about the cause and effects of works. But all Christians are perfectly united in believing that God loves them and that the Holy Spirit heals them and prompts them to be a blessing in a suffering world.   

 

It is possible to spend an entire life inside a church and hear nothing but positive messages about becoming Christ-like and making the world a better place, even though we are merely pilgrims on our way to an even better place.  It is possible to spend an entire life inside the Church and ignore the violent history of Christianity or dismiss every act of violence as false Christianity.  It is possible to spend an entire life inside a church and not know whether its prevailing gospel is love or wrath. All Christians love God, although some have frightening ideas about what God wants.  All Christians love their neighbours, this is the essence of the Golden Rule, which is shared by many other religions.  However some Christians employ narrow definitions that include only fellow Christians, or only Christians who share their specific beliefs and practices. The Gospels of Love and Wrath only reveal their true nature by the way they come into contact with the world outside the Church.

 

Augustine based his Gospel of Wrath on Original Sin: every single human being was born condemned. The only remedy was baptism.  Augustine's Gospel of Wrath was rigorously applied: every sinner who refused baptism fully merited the consequences of eternal wrath.  Even the pains of Purgatory were available only to Christians; the rest of humanity was consigned to the torments of Hell. Augustine permitted no exceptions, not even innocent babies. 

 

Once Augustine died, his theology began to reveal its horrible consequences. A council of Bishops could have repealed the Gospel of Wrath. They didn't. No one dared challenge the authority of Augustine, who had devoted decades to establishing the 'tradition' of original sin.  Bishops were caught between the authority of Augustine and the terrible consequence of unbaptized children.  Rather than correct the problem they made it more complicated and artificial. Augustine had made it perfectly clear that unbaptized babies could not be admitted into heaven but it was impossible to believe that a just God would condemn innocent babies to hell, so the Bishops mustered their courage and created an intermediary location called Limbo.  Bishops ignored accumulating problems with the administration of purgatory and limbo until the new theology became so corrupt that reform was unavoidable. 

 

Luther and Calvin should have based their Reformation on the gospel of Jesus. Instead they refurbished Augustine's weapon of Original Sin.  The full Calvinist Gospel of Wrath is a horrible doctrine, as Calvin himself admitted. Disciples of Wrath have always been enthralled by a God who is tough on crime and merciless in his punishment of unsaved sinners. The Crusades, the Inquisition, massacres of Protestants and Catholics, forced conversions and genocides in the New World can all be traced to the Gospel of Wrath. 

 

Important lessons can be learned from the Reformation. Luther and Calvin, like many Christians of their era, sincerely believed that the Catholic Church needed a complete overhaul.  Reformers were afraid that the Pope would promise reform in order to restore peace, and then change little or nothing.  Revolutions that took a chance on voluntary reform have frequently been deceived by the old guard.  Once the heat of reform has cooled it may take centuries to rekindle.  Reformers did not trust the Pope and his Bishops to make all the changes demanded unless they were in fear of their lives. Luther and Calvin would not permit their followers to make peace until all necessary reforms had been enacted. They declared the Pope to be the antichrist if he would not reform the Church.  They could not have made a more inflammatory allegation.  Is it possible that Luther and Calvin did not realize the inevitable consequences of demonizing the Pope and his flock? 

 

The same questions can be asked of Imams who inflame young men with a fear and hatred of neighbours who do not share their beliefs. A violent consequence is inevitable. Once Catholics and Protestants began to kill one another it was too late to seek a peaceful solution.  Catholics had always suspected that Protestants were godless heretics. Every Catholic murdered reinforced their fear and prejudice. Protestants had been told that Catholics were followers of the antichrist and servants of Satan. Every Protestant murdered reinforced their fear and prejudice.

 

What would have happened to Christianity had they Reformers restored Christ's Gospel of Love instead of Augustine's Gospel of Wrath?  Could millions of lives have been spared?  Could the Gospel of Jesus have changed the world in ways that can only be imagined? 

 

It is not too late. Catholics and Protestants now live peacefully side by side. In western democracies, Christians co-inhabit in relative peace with Hindus, Muslims, Jews and many other faiths.  There has never been a moment in history that offered greater opportunity to correct 1,500 years of tragedy caused by Augustine's Gospel of Wrath.

 

Modern Christians do not believe that God hates us because of the actions of Adam and Eve. We do not believe that unbaptized babies are condemned to hell or even Limbo.  We do not believe that God predestined the damnation of multitudes and the salvation of a few.  We believe that salvation would be meaningless unless we have some responsibility for choosing good or evil.   

 

It is time to admit that Augustine was a ruthless warrior who destroyed Paganism within the Roman Empire, and also poisoned the Christianity of Jesus and his disciples. Luther and Calvin were misguided Reformers who revived the wrong religion: they chose Augustine over Jesus, wrath over love.

 

This is not a call to arms. The last thing we need is another unholy war. What we need is Holy Peace. We are not in this world to fight and kill for it. Jesus died without raising a hand. He wept for his persecutors and prayed for his executioners.  Many of the disciples died as martyrs rather than stain themselves with blood.  Christians of the Early Church had no fear of death. They believed they were pilgrims on a short journey through this life. They strove to live righteous lives and die in peace.

 

Only disciples of wrath believe that their angry God will reward murder, violence and oppression in the name of imposing blind faith on an ignorant, terrified population.  Islam is currently struggling with forces of violence and oppression. Christianity is freer of violence and oppression than it has been since Augustine turned it into a religion of mass conversion.

 

Faith is a matter of personal choice.  The God of love has given us time and freedom to carefully examine good and evil.  The Christianity of Jesus offers the most coherent and compelling explanation for the meaning of life.

 

Consider the Alternatives

 

We can believe that the universe is chaotic, that everything was brought into existence by blind, mechanical forces, that we come from nowhere and return to nothing, and that we determine the meaning of our lives, as least during the short period we live.

 

We can believe we are reincarnated over and over again – as humans or subhumans - until we learn from our past mistakes and choose peace over war, truth over lies, and achieve oneness with the universe. 

 

We can believe that everything is predestined by a wrathful god who assigns many to condemnation and a few to blessings for reasons that are incomprehensible to mere mortals.

 

We can live in guilt and fear, believing we are contemptible sinners whose only hope of salvation is underserved mercy which we can never be quite sure of obtaining.  

 

We can simply live our life and not be concerned about whether it has a meaning or whether the meaning can be known this side of the grave.

 

Or we can believe that this life has meaning now and purpose beyond the grave. We cannot harm our neighbours without harming ourselves.  We cannot distance ourselves from God without causing God to be distant from us.    

 

The Gospel of Wrath has been an ugly mistake. We can understand why it was invented, and we can understand why warriors have fought to preserve it. Disciples of wrath continue to appeal to authorities and traditions. Who are the authorities for wrath?  Jesus, Peter and John?  Or Augustine, Luther and Calvin?  What are the traditions of wrath?  Mercy, healing and peace? Or anger, guilt and torment?   The terrible truth is that Augustine, Luther and Calvin have inflicted more hatred and suffering on the world than a thousand Osama Bin Ladens.   Islamic terrorism has killed tens of thousands of innocent people, while the Christian Gospel of Wrath has condemned billions of people to eternal torment. Many modern Charismatic  Christians see in the scriptures signs that the world is about to end in an apocryphal Armageddon of wrath, torment, judgement and punishment. More traditional Catholics and Calvinists have very different ideas resurrection, the millennium, and heaven.

 

For many centuries Christians had three choices: accept the troubling religion passed on from previous generations or leave the Church: as independent believers or atheists.  The disciples of Wrath have been left to reshape Christianity in the image of Wrath.  What we need is not another holy war.  What we need is for the multitudes of people with questions to take the time to find good answers.  The future of religious faith depends on honest people recognizing the errors of the past and taking corrective action. This website provides some valuable information to assist in the eradication of wrath.

 

 

 Comment or Question?

 

 

 

Key Dates

 

 

 

 

312 Emperor Constantine sees a miraculous vision and adopts Christianity.
313 Edict of Milan guarantees freedom of worship for all religions, making Christianity legal and ending persecution. 
354  Birth of Augustine in North Africa and Pelagius in the British Isles.
361 Julian becomes Emperor and vows to restore Paganism as the sole official religion by exterminating Christianity.
363 Julian killed in battle.
374 Ambrose becomes Bishop of Milan.
378 Visigoths attack eastern half of Roman Empire and kill co-Emperor Valens.
379 Theodosius becomes eastern co-Emperor.
380 Pelagius arrives in Rome as a Christian monk.
Emperor Theodosius receives death-bed baptism, then recovers. Edict of Thessalonica declares Christianity the sole official religion of the Empire. 
381 First ecumenical Council of Constantinople defines orthodox Christianity, outlaws the prominent heresy of Arianism.
383 Augustine arrives in Rome as a pagan teacher of rhetoric.
384 Augustine moves to the Imperial capital in Milan, comes under the influence of Bishop Ambrose, who is also the official confessor of Emperor Theodosius.
387 Augustine adopts Christianity and is baptized by Ambrose.
390 Massacre at Thessalonica. Bishop Ambrose excommunicates Theodosius until the Emperor makes public repentance and submits to the Bishop's authority.
391 Persecution of Paganism intensifies.   
  Augustine begins to write theological books against the great heresies of the day.
392 Valentinian II dies; his self-appointed successor launches a Pagan counter strike. 
394 Theodosius defeats the Pagan rebels and becomes the last Emperor to rule over the united Roman Empire.
395  Theodosius dies, Empire divided between his young sons.
396 Augustine becomes Bishop.
397 Ambrose dies. Augustine begins to establish himself as intellectual and spiritual leader of Christianity.
398  The young Emperor Honorius escalates persecution of Pagans.
399 Augustine writes his Confessions.
400 Augustine begins to take notice of Pelagius and his teaching of holiness.
402 Visigoths attack Milan. Capital of the Roman Empire moves from Milan to Ravenna.
405 Pelagius writes his commentary on Paul's Epistles.
410 Visigoths besiege and loot Rome. The Empire is gripped in panic that the end of the world has arrived.
411 Pelagius flees to North Africa and attempts to prove that freewill and personal responsibility are essential to salvation. Augustine begins to write about original sin.
413 Pelagius defends freewill in De Natura.  Augustine responds with Nature and Grace.
415 Augustine has Pelagius put on trial for heresy in Palestine, where he is acquitted.  Pelagius writes In Defence of Freewill.
416   North African Bishops, led by Augustine, condemn Pelagius and outline a doctrine of original sin.
417   New Pope Zosimus defends Pelagius and orders North African Bishops to reverse their condemnation or present incontrovertible evidence. 
418 North African Bishops convene the Council of Carthage to reaffirm Pelagianism as a heresy.  In parallel, the Emperor orders Pelagius banished from Rome along with 'all who share his opinions.'  The Pope is forced to abandon Pelagius or join him in exile.  Augustine dominates the Catholic Church with full support of the Roman Emperor. The doctrine of original sin is made unassailable.
423 Death of Emperor Honorius. The eradication of Paganism is complete.  Christianity rules church and state.  Augustine is the most influential Christian of his day and the single most powerful figure in the Roman Empire.
430 Death of Augustine.
431 Council of Ephesus formally condemns the Pelagian heresy and entrenches original sin as the cornerstone  of Christian theology.
1483 Luther born.
1505 Luther joins Augustinians.
1509 Calvin born.
1512 Luther made Doctor of Theology at Wittenberg.
1517 Luther writes 95 Theses.
1518 Luther summoned to Rome by Pope Leo.
1519 Death of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, election of Charles V.
1520 Luther given 60 days to recant.
1521 Luther excommunicated by Pope Leo
Diet of Worms (Jan – May). Luther declared an outlaw and goes into hiding.
Pope Leo dies.
1524-25 Peasants' War: 300,000 revolt – 100,000 killed
1526 Turkish Sultan Suleiman conquers Hungary
Calvin studying law.
1527 Emperor Charles V sacks Papal Rome.
1529 Henry VIII sets up his own Church of England. Calvin begins studying (Catholic) theology. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent attacks Vienna.
1532 Calvin graduates.
1533 Calvin preaches on need for reform of the Catholic Church. He is denounced as heretical.
1535 Calvin flees to Basel.
1536  Calvin publishes first edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion.
1537 Calvin becomes pastor in Geneva.
1545-63 Council of Trent begins Counter Reformation.
1546 Death of Luther.
1564 Death of Calvin.
1572 St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in France.  
1618-48 Thirty Years' War between Catholics and Protestants devastates Europe.