An eminent scholar of Christian history admits that present-day Christianity is a ‘mask’ on the face of Jesus, peace be on him, but goes on to say that a mask worn for a long time acquires a life of its own and it has to be accepted as such. The Muslim believes in the Jesus of history and refuses to accept the ‘mask’.
This, in a nutshell, has been the point of difference between Islam and the Church for the last fourteen hundred years. Even before the advent of Islam, the Arians, the Paulicians, and the Goths, to mention only a few, accepted Jesus, but rejected the ‘mask’, The Holy Roman Emperors forced Christians to think alike.
To achieve this impossible goal, millions of Christians were killed. Castillo, an admirer of Servetus, said that ‘to kill a man is not to prove a doctrine.’ Conviction cannot be forced with a dagger.
It is suggested in some quarters that, to achieve integration in England, the Muslims should change their two festivals to synchronise with Christmas and Easter. Those who say this forget that these are pre-Christian pagan festivals. One is the ancient birthday of the sun-god and the other is a sacred festival for the old AngloSaxon goddess of fertility. In this situation, one begins to wonder who in reality is ‘anti-Christ’.
In this book an attempt is made, perhaps for the first time, to study the sacred life of Jesus, using all available sources, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, Christian Sculpture, modern research, Quran and Hadeeth. Christian scholars who attempt to write the history of Jesus never completely free themselves of the idea of his divinity. When they fail to prove his divinity, they sometimes conclude that he did not exist at all, or that he is ‘everything to everybody’. An objective study is impossible for anyone with this frame of mind. This book starts with the conviction that Jesus did exist. He was a man and a prophet of God.
The Unitarian view and Christianity
Historical research has shown that the animism and idol worship of primitive peoples in the world is in all cases a regression from an original unitive belief, and that the One God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam grew up in opposition to many-gods rather than evolving out of them.
Thus in any tradition, the pure teaching is to be found at its beginning and what follows is necessarily a decline, and it is from this perspective that the history of Christianity should be viewed. It began with the belief in One God and was then corrupted, and the doctrine of the Trinity came to be accepted, The result was a confusion which led men more and more away from sanity.
In the first century after the disappearance of Jesus, peace be on him, those who followed him continued to affirm the Divine Unity. This is illustrated by the fact that the Shepherd of Hermas, written in about 90 AD was regarded as a book of Revelation by the Church. The first of the twelve commandments which it contains begins:
First of all, believe that God is One and that He created all things and organised them and out of what did not exist made all things to be, and He contains all things but alone is Himself uncontained …
According to Theodore Zahn, the article of faith up until about 250 AD was, “I believe in God, the Almighty.” Between 180 and 210 AD the word ‘Father’ was added before ‘the Almighty’. This was bitterly contested by a number of the leaders of the Church. Bishop Victor and Bishop Zephysius are on record as condemning this movement, since they regarded it an unthinkable sacrilege to add or subtract any word to the Scriptures.
They opposed the tendency to regard Jesus as divine. They laid great stress on the Unity of God as expressed in the original teachings of Jesus and asserted that although he was a prophet, he was essentially a man like other men, even if highly favoured by his Lord. The same faith was held by the Churches which had sprung up in North Africa and West Asia.
It must always be remembered that Jesus, was sent specifically to the Tribe of Israel- that is, to the twelve tribes of the Tribe of Israel, who were the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob, who was also known as Israel.
The teachings of Jesus were intended for those who claimed to be following Moses, but who no longer had access to his original teachings. Thus Jesus was given knowledge of the original Torah which had been revealed to Moses, and he always emphasised that he had come to uphold the law of Moses and not to change it even by one jot or tittle.
As soon as the teachings of Jesus spread beyond the Tribe of Israel, they began to be radically altered, especially in Europe and America, where this process of change has continued without interruption up until the present day, so that now the Christian priesthood caters for women priests as well as men – who are equally ‘free’ to be lesbians or homosexuals, in spite of what the Bible has to say about such matters!
Thus as the teaching of Jesus spread out beyond the Holy Land, it came into contact with other cultures and into conflict with those in authority. It began to be assimilated and adapted by these cultures and was also altered to diminish persecution by the rulers.
In Greece, especially, it became metamorphosed, both by its being expressed in a new language for the first time, and by its realignment with the ideas and philosophy of that culture. It was the many gods viewpoint of the Greeks which largely contributed to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, together with the gradual elevation of Jesus by some, notably Paul of Tarsus, from being a Prophet of God to somehow being a separate yet indivisible part of God.
It was only after the Councils of Nice in 325 AD and of Constantinople in 381 AD that the doctrine of the Trinity was declared to be an essential part of orthodox Christian belief. Even then some of those who signed the creed did not believe in it, as they could find no authority for it in the Scriptures. Athanasius, who is considered to be the father of this creed, was himself not altogether sure of its truth.
He admits that, ‘Whenever he forced his understanding to meditate on the divinity of Jesus, his toilsome and unavailing efforts recoiled on themselves that the more he wrote the less capable was he of expressing his thoughts.’ At one point he even wrote, “there are not three but one God.’ His belief in the doctrine of the Trinity was not based much on conviction as on policy and apparent necessity.
That this historic decision was based just as much on political expediency as on the faulty reasoning of philosophy is shown by the part played by Constantine, the pagan emperor of Rome, who presided over the council of Nicea. The growing communities of Christians were a force whose opposition he had no wish for, who weakened his Empire and whose support would be invaluable in strengthening it.
By remodeling Christianity, he hoped to gain the Church’s support and at the same time end the confusion which had arisen within it and which was the source of yet more conflict within his Empire.
The process by which he partially achieved this aim may be illustrated by an incident which occurred in the Second World War. Once, as the time for the Muslim festival of the ‘Id drew near, propaganda from Tokyo began to concentrate on an ‘Id prayer that was going to be held in Singapore, then under Japanese occupation. It would be an historic occasion, it was announced, and its effect would be felt throughout the Muslim world. This sudden emphasis on the prayer abruptly stopped after a few days.
The mystery was solved when a Japanese prisoner was taken in a skirmish and interrogated. He said that Tojo, the head of the Japanese Government, was planning to take on the role of the greatest Muslim reformer of modem times. He had a scheme to adjust the teachings of Islam to the requirements of the modem age. It had therefore become necessary, according to him, that the Muslims, instead of facing Mecca in prayer, should start facing Tokyo, which would become the future centre of Islam under Tojo.
The Muslims refused to accept this reorientation of Islam, and the whole project was dropped. As a result, there was no ‘Id prayer allowed in Singapore that year. Tojo had realised the importance of Islam and he wanted to use it as a means to further his imperialistic designs, but he was unsuccessful. Constantine succeeded where Tojo failed. Rome replaced Jerusalem as the centre of Pauline Christianity.
This degeneration of the pure One God teachings of Jesus, which resulted inevitably in the acceptance of a many god Christianity, never went unchallenged.
When, in 325 AD., the doctrine of Trinity was officially proposed as the orthodox Christian doctrine, Arius, one of the leaders of the Christians in North Africa, stood up against the combined might of Constantine and the Catholic Church and reminded them that Jesus had always affirmed the Divine Unity. Constantine tried to crush the troublesome One God people with all the force and brutality at his command, but he failed.
Although, ironically, Constantine himself died a Unitarian, the doctrine of Trinity eventually became officially accepted as the basis of Christianity in Europe.
This doctrine caused much confusion among people, many of whom were told to believe it without trying to understand it. Yet it was not possible to stop people from trying to prove and explain it intellectually. Broadly speaking, three schools of thought developed. The first is associated with St. Augustine, who lived in the early 5th century and was of the view that the doctrine could not be proved but could be illustrated.
St. Victor, who lived in the 12th century, is associated with the second school, who believed that the doctrine could both be demonstrated and illustrated. And the 14th century saw the growth of the third school, which believed that the doctrine of Trinity could be neither illustrated nor proved, but should be blindly accepted and believed.
Although the books into which Jesus’s teaching had gone were either completely destroyed, suppressed, or changed in order to avoid any blatant contradictions of the doctrine, a good deal of truth remained in the ones which survived, and therefore to sustain belief in the doctrine of Trinity, there was a shift in emphasis from what the Scriptures said to what the leaders of the Church said. The doctrine, it was asserted, was based on the special revelation made to the Church, the ‘Bride of Jesus’.
Thus, for instance, Fra Fulgentio was reprimanded by the Pope in a letter saying, ‘Preaching of the Scriptures is a suspicions thing. He who keeps close to the Scriptures will ruin the Catholic faith.’ In his next letter he was more explicit, warning against too much insistence on the Scriptures, ‘ … which is a book if anyone keeps close to, he will quite destroy the Catholic Church.’
The effective abandoning of the teaching of Jesus was largely due to the complete obscuring of his historical reality.
The Church made their religion not only independent of the Scriptures but also independent of Jesus, so that the man Jesus became confused with a mythological Christ. Belief in Jesus, however, does not necessarily mean belief in a resurrected Christ. Whereas the immediate followers of Jesus had based their lives on his example, Pauline Christianity was based on a belief in Christ after his supposed crucifixion and the life and teaching of Jesus while he was alive was no longer considered to be so important.
As the established Church distanced itself further and further from the teaching of Jesus, so its leaders became more involved in the affairs of those in authority over the land. As the distinctions between what Jesus had taught and what those in authority desired became blurred and began to merge into each other, the Church, while asserting its separateness from the State, became more and more identified with it, and grew in power. Whereas in the early days the Church was subject to imperial power, once it had compromised itself completely, the position was reversed.
There was always opposition to these deviations from what Jesus had taught. As the Church became more powerful, it became very dangerous to deny the Trinity, and led to almost certain death. Although Luther left the Roman Church, his revoIt was only against the authority of the Pope, rather than against the fundamental doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. The result was that he founded a new Church and became its head. All the basic Christian doctrines, however, were accepted, and remained. This lead to the establishment of a number of Reformed Churches and sects, but pre-Reformation Christianity remained undisturbed. These two main bodies of the Pauline Church have continued to exist up to the present day.
In North Africa and West Asia the teachings of Arius were accepted by the majority of the people who readily embraced Islam when it later came to them. Because they had held to the doctrine of One God and the pure teaching of Jesus, they recognised Islam as the truth.
In Europe the thread of Unitarianism within Christianity has never been broken, and the movement has in fact grown in strength, surviving the continual and brutal persecution of the established Churches in the past and their indifference today.
More and more people are now aware that the Christianity they know has little to do with the original teaching of Jesus. During the last two centuries the research of the historians has left little room for faith in the Christian ‘mysteries’, but the proven fact that the Christ of the established Church has almost nothing to do with the Jesus of history does not in itself help Christians towards the Truth.
The present dilemma of the Christians is illustrated by what the Church historians of this present century have written. The fundamental difficulty is, as pointed out by Adolph Harnack, that, ‘By the fourth century the living Gospel had been masked in Greek philosophy. It was the historians’ mission to pluck off the mask and thus reveal how different had been the original contours of the faith beneath.’ But then Harnack points out the difficulty of actually fulfilling this task by saying that if the doctrinal mask is worn long enough then it can reshape the face of religion:
“The mask acquires a life of its own – the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, infallibility, and all propositions seconding these dogmas, were the product of historic decisions and of situations that might have turned out quite differently nevertheless … early or late, product or reshaping force, this dogma remains what it has been from the beginning, a bad habit of intellectualization which the Christian picked up from the Greek when he fled from the Jews.”
Hamack enlarges on his theme in another book, where he observes “The fourth Gospel does not emanate or profess to emanate from the apostle John, who cannot be taken as an historical authority the author of the fourth Gospel acted with sovereign freedom, transposed events and put them in a strange light. He drew up the discussions himself and illustrated great thoughts with imaginary situations.”
He further refers to the work of the famous Christian historian, David Strauss, whom he describes as having almost destroyed the historic credibility not only of the fourth but also of the first three Gospels as well.
According to Johannes Lehmann, another historian, the writers of the four accepted Gospels describe a different Jesus from the one who can be identified by historic reality. Lehmann quotes Heinz Zahrnt who points out the consequences of this:
“If historical research could prove that an irreconcilable antithesis exists between the historical Jesus and Christ as preached, and therefore that belief in Jesus has no support in Jesus himself, that would not only be absolutely fatal theologically, as N.A. Dahl says, but would also mean the end of all Christology. Yet I am convinced that even then we theologians would be able to find a way out – was there ever a time when we couldn’t? but we are either lying now or would be lying then.”
While these few short quotations illustrate the dilemma Christianity is in today, the words of Zahmt also demonstrate something far more serious which underlies this: that it is possible to get so involved with the details of what became of Jesus’s teaching and the Churches and sects which followed after him that the original purpose of his teaching is overlooked or forgotten.
Thus Theodore Zahn, for instance, illustrates the bitter conflicts within the established Churches, He points out that the Roman Catholics accuse the Greek Orthodox Church of remodeling the text of the holy Scriptures by additions and subtractions with good and bad intentions, that the Greeks in turn point out that the Catholics themselves in places depart very far from the original text, and that, in spite of their differences, they combine to accuse the nonconformist Christians of deviating from ‘the true way’ and condemn them as heretics, while the heretics in their turn accuse the Catholics of ‘having recoined the Truth like forgers.’ He concludes, ‘Do not facts support these accusations?’
And in the process, Jesus himself is completely forgotten. And even those who are aware of the degeneration that has taken place and who wish in all sincerity to return to and live by the original teaching of Jesus are prevented from doing so because the original teaching in its totality has disappeared and is irrecoverable. As Erasmus pointed out:
“The ancients philosophised very little about divine things … Formerly faith was in life rather than in profession of creeds … When faith came to be in writings rather than in hearts, then there were almost as many faiths as men. Articles increased and sincerity decreased. Contentions grew hot and love grew.” The doctrine of Christ which at first knew no hair-splitting came to depend on the aid of philosophy. This was the first stage in the decline of the Church.
Thus the Church was forced to explain what could not be expressed in words, and recourse was taken by both sides to win the support of the Emperor. Erasmus, commenting on this, continued:
“The injection of the authority of the Emperor into this affair did not greatly aid the sincerity of faith … When faith is in the mouth rather than in the heart, when the solid knowledge of sacred Scriptures fails us, nevertheless by terrorisation we drive men to believe what they do not believe, to love what they do not love, to know what they do not know. That which is forced cannot be sincere”
Erasmus understood that the first Christians, the immediate followers of Jesus, had a recognition of the Unity which they never had to express, and that when his teaching spread and conflict between the Churches grew up, then the men of understanding were forced to try and explain their knowledge of reality.
They had by then lost the teaching of Jesus in its totality and the language of Unity that went with it. They only had recourse to the vocabulary and terminology of Greek philosophy which looked not to Unity but to a tripartite view of existence. And so simple and pure trust in Reality became inevitably couched in a language foreign to Jesus, and led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, with the definition of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Confusion and schism were the inevitable results which followed once people lost sight of the Unity of Existence.
This understanding is essential for anyone who wants to know who Jesus was and what he really taught, as is the realisation that once people no longer have recourse to all the everyday actions of a Prophet, which are no less than the embodiment of his teaching, then they are in loss, whether they believe in the doctrine of the Trinity or vocally affirm the Divine Unity.