A chronicle of one significant year in Christian history.
In 381, Emperor Theodosius decreed that all subjects of the Roman Empire were required to believe in the Christian Trinity. That same year, the First Council of Constantinople brought together Christian leaders to codify this belief in the Trinity as correct and accepted doctrine. Historians have taught for centuries that the Christian church harmoniously and all but simultaneously came to the decision that the Trinity was indeed true and orthodox belief, but Freeman (The Closing of the Western Mind, 2003, etc.) emphatically disagrees. Debate over the Trinity and over the nature of Christ was still quite alive during this period, he asserts. Theodosius, largely for reasons of state security, squelched this debate through official edicts, overlaid with a veneer of doctrinal concord through the Council of Constantinople. The author frames his argument as being about the freedom of intellectual debate and the free exchange of ideas. Before 381, he avers, the Greek tradition of open intellectual discourse and the Roman tradition of religious tolerance marked the empire and, indeed, all of the Western world. After 381, both traditions would be extinguished for more than 1,000 years. “The tragedy of Theodosius’ imposition and its aftermath lay in the elimination of discussion,” writes Freeman, “not only of spiritual matters but across the whole spectrum of human knowledge.” He stops short of passing judgment on Theodosius or any of the other personalities involved in this lively period. Instead, he hopes to see them in context, rather than as the two-dimensional characters history has long depicted.
Questions remain, but Freeman does a good job in forcing a reexamination of this crucial turning point.