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The fourth century of our era signals the official recognition of the Christian Faith as having equal status with the other religions which were tolerated in the Roman Empire, namely the Greek-inspired paganism and the religion of Mithra. At the beginning of the 4th century the Christian population in the Empire has significantly increased and the majority of the army, especially the army guarding the Eastern frontiers, were Christian. The great persecutions of the previous century had abated without achieving the expected dissolution and disappearance of the new faith and Constantine the Great with his characteristic astuteness discerned its repressed dynamism in its orders.
So, by the Edict of Milan, in 313, Constantine the Great confers legal status to Christianity.
That, finally, marked the much-desired peace and freedom of worship in the Church. The consequences were particularly important: freedom of worship meant the unobstructed construction of places of worship, the smooth and unhindered development of the Christian arts such as architecture, iconography and the plastic arts. At the same time the liturgical expressions began to unfold with unrivaled texts and most beautiful hymns.
The official social valorisation of Christianity brought the new religion centre-stage, so to speak, and it offered the kindling to friends and foes alike to praise it or to criticize it, not any longer under the threat of persecution, but “from within and from without”, passionately exploring and discussing the truth of the Faith. The tradition of the philosophical schools which characterized the hellenic world, which still held sway especially in the Eastern part of the Empire, could not be ignored and the 4th century, as well as the ones immediately following it, were decisive concerning the clarification of Christian dogma as the Church confronted various heresies which appeared either sporadically or during long periods of time.
For several centuries was as if Faith was passing through the sieve of philosophy, i.e. of the human thought and its efforts to interpret the matters of God and to clearly express them in its own language.
The interest in theology of 4th century man was so great and deep that the conflicts caused by the heresies posed a very real threat to the peace of the Roman world!
Again, Constantine’s quick intelligence was definitive: he convoked the First Ecumenical Synod in Nicaea of Asia Minor, in 325. The Church could clarify as a whole the points of her Faith vis-à-vis the heresies and the institution of the Ecumenical Councils proved to be the free tribune of the expression of faith as well as the safety valve against the heresies and related problems that always accompany man in any society.
Before the 4th century was over, the Church will convene the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, whereas the Christian Faith will become the only official religion of the Roman Empire in 380 by the Emperor Theodosius the Great.
What does heresy mean
The word heresy comes from the Greek word αίρεσις (hairesis), form the Greek verb αιρώ (hairό) which means to select, to choose.
Historically, in the Church and theological language it signifies:
The selective preference of a part of the Faith (i.e. a partial choosing) ignoring the totality of the faith, that is ignoring the total (Catholic, Universal) faith.
Etymologically and literally heresy is a partial, non-complete image of the truth of Faith, e .g. the heresy of Arius was one of the reasons of the convocation of the First Ecumenical Council in 325; it only accepted a part of the truth of the Catholic Faith; it accepted that Christ is a real man, however, it did not accept the whole faith, i.e. that Christ is real God as well.
The consequences of such a view for the life of the Church are evident.
We see, then, the necessity for the clarification of the Catholic teaching (dogma) and the seriousness with which we ought to approach and deepen our Faith.
Did you know…
The custom of ringing the church bells at noon dates from the 15th century.
In 1456 Pope Calixtus III ordered the ringing of all the church bells at noon in order to call the faithful to pray for Hungary’s victory against the Ottoman Turks who were besieging Belgrade (it belonged then to Hungary).
Indeed the Hungarian John Hunyadi was victorious over the Turks.
In some countries, as in England, the news of the victory preceded the Papal suggestion, nevertheless the bells began to ring at noon, firstly to celebrate the Christian victory and thereafter, every noon, in order to commemorate that same victory.
To this date many churches even Protestant, ring their bells at noon, since Rome never asked them to stop ringing them!
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