I have two items for my write-up today on The Cambridge History of Christianity: Origins to Constantine.
1. A while back, I wrote a post entitled Eusebius and Arianism, in which I critiqued the Da Vinci Code, particularly its claim that the early Christians believed that Jesus was a mere human being who married Mary Magdalene, but that this view was suppressed at the Council of Nicaea by Christians who wanted to proclaim that Jesus was divine. I wrote:
“Against the Da Vinci Code is the fact that a belief in Jesus’ divine status was widespread among Christians. Even Arius thought that Jesus was more than a mere mortal, since he portrayed him as the very logos who created the cosmos. The debate at Nicaea and Chalcedon was not over whether Jesus was divine or a mere mortal, but rather over how to conceptualize Jesus’ divinity.”
The Nicaea Council met in the fourth century. But it turns out that there was a Christological controversy way before then, in the second-third centuries C.E. According to Frances Young, Eusebius discusses a controversy that occurred in the time when Victor was bishop of Rome (193-202). There were people who were claiming that Jesus was merely a human savior. They held that this was the belief of earlier generations of Christians going back to the time of the apostles, but that “it had been perverted in their own day” (Young’s words on page 457). Detractors countered, however, that Scripture, Justin, Clement, Irenaeus, Melito, and liturgical compositions depict Christ as God. (See here for more information.) So there was debate about whether Christ was divine or human long before the Nicaea Council. At the same time, my impression is that the view that Christ was merely human was not suppressed at the Nicaea Council, for what was debated there was whether or not the pre-existent Word that became Jesus Christ was created or eternally begotten. In that case, both sides thought that Christ was more than a human being.
2. On page 531, Adolf Martin Ritter says about Hippolytus (second-third centuries C.E.): “Hippolytus intensifies the apocalyptic point of view by admitting that ‘Rome’ is indeed the restraining power of 2 Thessalonians 2:6, 7…but it is also the precursor of the Satanic regime which will finally be destroyed by Jesus Christ.”
Believers in a pre-tribulational rapture appeal to II Thessalonians 2:6-7. Many of them maintain that the force that is restraining the rise of the Antichrist is the Holy Spirit, but that the Holy Spirit will be gone from the earth once believers (the ones who have the Holy Spirit inside of them) are raptured to heaven. Somehow, there will be people left behind in the rapture who will then be able to believe in Jesus Christ, apart from the Holy Spirit. How this will occur, in this scenario, I’m not entirely sure. One claim I’ve heard is that the Tribulation Saints will be like believers of God in the Old Testament. But didn’t the Old Testament saints have the Holy Spirit, too, since David in Psalm 51 asks God not to take the Holy Spirit from him?
It was interested to read how one other Christian interpreter, Hippolytus, approached II Thessalonians 2:6-7. Essentially, he said that the Roman empire was restraining the rise of the Antichrist. It’s interesting that Hippolytus did not equate the Antichrist with Rome, when the Book of Revelation appears to equate the Beast with the Roman empire.
John Gill interprets II Thessalonians 2:6 in a manner that overlaps with both pre-trib views (though Gill was not pre-trib) and those of Hippolytus (see here). Gill, like a lot of Protestants in the past, believes that the Antichrist is the pope (which is not my belief, but I’m simply saying what Gill thinks). And what was hindering the rise of the pope? According to Gill, it was the spread of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, and the Roman emperors. Once these were lessened or out of the way, Gill contends, there was a clear path to the religious corruption that the Antichrist brought.