Friday, 22 October 2010

The Good Men...

In this culturally and spiritually explosive atmosphere there appeared, seemingly in the early years of the 1100's an extraordinary movement whose Christian beliefs were noticeably different from those of the Catholics. It spread like a wildfire and lasted, with its believers living quite comfortably side by side with Catholics, for many years, but as they began to attract the notice of the papal church it became the custom to refer to them as "Manichaeans", just as the charges against Priscillian had also been that he was a follower of the Persian prophet Mani.

Despite what we have read about the throwing of early Christians martyrs to the lions, this was confined to relatively short periods of time and very specific emperors. A far worse fate was exclusion within the church. Early church writers seem to agree that religious liberty up to a certain point was a matter of personal choice. Hence we find Tertullian in the 3rd century in Ad Scapulum writing:

It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions. One man's religion neither harms nor helps another man. It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion - to which free will and not force should lead us.

Soon after the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of Rome the persecution of people for holding different religious opinions began. In the year 38 Theodosias, soon after his baptism into Roman Catholicism, issued, with is co-emperors,the following edict which is worth quoting in full:

We, the three emperors, will that our subjects steadfastly adhere to the religion which was taught by St. Peter to the Romans...let us believe in one Godhead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, of equal majesty in the Holy Trinity. We order that the adherents of this faith be called Catholic Christians. We brand all the senseless followers of the other religions with the infamous name of heretics, and forbid their conventicles assuming the name of churches. Besides the condemnation of divine justice, they must expect the heaviest penalties which our authority, guided by heavenly wisdom, shall think proper to inflict.

For the most part this meant excommunication. This was a serious matter. Ex-communication meant exclusion from God and delivery to Satan. It meant everlasting death, a far worse thing to countenance than simply the taking of life
However, in 381, Christians requested the emperor to strip the Manichaeans of their civil rights. By the end of the following year, the death penalty had been pronounced for all the Manichees. They were accused of magical and obscene practices.

And within five years of Theodosius' edict, the "heaviest penalty" had been enacted on Priscillian, Euchrotia and the others.

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