The Doctrines Of Men

by Rex Jensen

[This article was researched and printed originally in 1989 after extensive research at the BYU Harold B. Lee Library.]

Christ had come to earth, in part, to reestablish His church and end the practices of the Jews that had corrupted His doctrines and burdened the church with tradition. Following his resurrection he spent time teaching his apostles and preparing them to lead His church. He also, soon thereafter, revealed a doctrine that would have world wide impact until at least his second coming. With His vision to Peter, now the prophet of the church, the gospel was to be taken to the gentiles.

The apostles had surprising success in their missionary efforts. Despite obstacles of time, distance and persecution, the greater parts of what is now Europe, north Africa and Asia Minor were offered the gospel. Indeed, "By 303 AD, fifty percent of Asia Minor was Christian." Elsewhere, the ratio of Christians to the general population ranged downward.

The apostasy, which had its beginnings during the ministries of the apostles, was far from complete by the end of the Biblical record. Latter-day Saints are wont to leap 1700 years from the death of the apostles and the apostasy to 1820 and the restoration. But what transpired during those centuries in between? It is this record that provides us with the understanding, so clear and plain, that a restoration was indeed necessary.

Although there is a difference of opinion as to when the last of the apostles were killed, most agree that by 100 AD there were no more apostles in the church. The impact of the loss of the apostles was monumental. The church was left with no one to speak with authority for God or the church in general. But there were many imposters, pretenders who would not hesitate to suppose what course the church should take and what the doctrine should be. Technically, with the death of the last apostle, the church was in apostasy, as a practical matter, it would be well into the sixth century before the apostasy would be complete. It is this period from 100 AD to 500 AD that will be addressed here.

In spite of claims of apostolic succession from Peter to the present day, and although, apparently, there were some prophets about in the land, at least for a few years into the second century following the death of the apostles, these were not speaking for the church and did not have control of the church--that was already in the hands of the philosophers. It is to these philosophers and churchmen of the period that we look for information concerning conditions in the church.


Three factors were at work during this period of the apostasy; 1) persecution of the church and its leaders by the Roman government, 2) the proliferation of philosophers (primarily Greek and Roman) who were converted to the church and, 3) the presence of priestcraft that crept into the church following the introduction of the philosophies of men. Without persecution perhaps the leadership in the church could have survived and passed on their legitimate authority. And with the apostles functioning, the philosophers could not have dominated the church as they did. With the philosophers in check, priestcraft could have been kept out of the church as well. But priestcraft did creep into the church and its impact on Christianity has been lasting and profound.

The most significant factor influencing the church to change its doctrines during this period was without question the philosophers of the day. Even before the apostle Paul was martyred in Rome he had to contend with these forces, "Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say?...He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods:" There is little doubt that the philosophers, the doctors, scholars and the like were waiting anxiously to replace these "strange gods" with their own. But so long as one apostle was living they had little success, for the true apostle would "speak with authority", something the philosophers could not do.

"If the law was a tutor to bring the Jews to Christ, Philosophy, said Clement of Alexandria, performed the same function for the Greeks." This is a bold and straight forward assessment by one who lived during this period. "In the deepening of the religious life of the Roman Empire which marked the second century of our era, philosophy was assuredly not without its share...At Rome the Emperor Hadrian established public chairs for philosophy, and Antoninus Pius, extending the arrangement to the provinces, exempted the lecturers from taxation. Four schools, Platonic. Peripatetic, Stoic, and Epicurean, were endowed at Athens by Marcus Aurelius," The motivation and foundation for the philosophers were now in place, the business would certainly flourish. And flourish it did. Schools and philosophers turned up in all the major cities, particularly in Rome, Alexandria, Carthage, Corinth and others. Soon, the natural course of the philosophers elevated themselves and their minds and their conclusions at the expense of lesser mortals such as Paul, Peter and Christ. "Many were the currents of thought...which played on the new encountered ancient cults and later-born philosophies...Even if Jesus were a man by ordinary birth, his wisdom entitled him to be ranked as a Son of God...If Hermes was the messenger Logos from god, interpreter of his ways to men, why not also Christ?"

This is classic philosophy, reasoning condescendingly from their own position downward. The incidental acceptance of Christ as a God or as divine could be reasoned on behalf of other men--so why not Christ. It is a small step from that conclusion to reasoning him right out of their philosophy. With "Honours and emoluments...and salaries.", philosophy thrived. Hugh Nibley, quoting Eusebius of the third century states, "blithely disregarding the original teaching...They never consulted the scriptures, but busily worked out elaborate structures of syllogisms...They deserted the holy scripture for Euclid, Aristotle, and Theophrastus...They cultivated the arts of the unbelievers and took to hair-splitting discussions about the once simple faith of the Holy Writ." "In Platonism...with the revival of Pythagoreanism, the higher minds...introduced the person of the Son of God under the form of the Hellenic conception of the Logos, [and] a definite alliance was established which brought Greek thought into the closest connection with Christian life." The word of God was in retreat and philosophy was in the chase.


Curiously philosophy was born of one Philo Judaeus an Alexandrian Jewish philosopher and a contemporary of Christ who was born about 20 BC and died about 50 AD. Philo was the first to attempt to reconcile Biblical religion with Greek philosophy. His notion gained popularity between the mid second century and the mid sixth century. So much so that "Philo was destined to be one of the progenitors of Christian theology;"

The universities, the schools, even the churches themselves soon became imbedded with and dominated by the thinking of the philosophers. "The penetrating criticisms of a philosopher like Celsus, the learning of the Gnostics, the accepted methods of intellectual training in the universities, all helped to compel the church to provide a higher culture for those who were ready to accept its faith." These bright and learned men couched their doctrines and beliefs in scriptural terms and identified their thinking with those beloved and revered prophets of the Bible, and there did exist a "crude Latin version of the New Testament." This "Bible" was circulated by the third century. And of course there also existed copies of the Pentateuch of the Jews. These philosophers "frequented the lecture-rooms as they did the theatres,...they sat on the benches as deaf as statues; or, if they did attend, they forgot what they had heard when they went away. Only a few...were wise listen to the voice of Sarah, the queenly symbol of philosophy." Not surprisingly, philosophy is now being identified with Abraham and Sarah. Who could argue with that?

Clement of Alexandria, who died in 217 AD "looked out on the forces at work in contemporary society...[and] realized his own personal indebtedness to the ancient thinkers--especially Pythagoras and Plato--he could not share the distrust of philosophy felt by many simple-minded believers." Another swipe was being taken at traditional Christianity, it was for the "simple-minded". Clement was a convert and a leading scholar of the times. It was he who first attempted "a synthesis of Platonic and Christian thought;" And it was Clement who was the first to refer to the New Testament as scripture in 140 AD. Though he died in 217 AD, his influence was lasting.

"But the doctor, the athlete, the mariner, each needed training...[and] in a world made by the Logos it was impossible to suppose that the long development of Hellenic thought was worthless...Here were truths like those of Law and Prophecy and Psalm;...the path of Truth is one...the Greeks needed an instrument of righteousness. They had found it in philosophy." So with "philosophy fitting the ears of the Greeks" orthodoxy was in fast retreat. "In the half-century from 130 to 180 AD a succession of university teachers published elaborate and elegant Apologiae for Christianity...[and] altogether avoided mentioning that God had a son [just as still earlier churchmen avoided mentioning that he has a body], let alone that a Crucifixion was involved."

By the fourth century AD the history of the Christian Church revolved around "four great Doctors or Teachers--two in the west and two in the east. Ambrose and Augustine, Jerome and Chrysostom". And even though philosophy had by now won the battle with revelation, conflict intensified for priestcraft was now widespread and the desire for gain, worldly praise and prominence dominated. The church leaders were no longer seeking the welfare of the individual member but their own status and honor.


One of the better known conflicts within the church was that between Arius (Arianism) and the more orthodox Christian church, now ruled by Constantine. Arius, a priest in Alexandria, taught that "God created, before all things, a Son who was the first Creature, but who was neither equal nor eternal with the Father...not quite human and not quite divine, but more like a demigod." "The powerful Empress Justina, widow of Valentinian I (364-375), was a firm believer in Arianism and in 385 she demanded a church in Milan where Arians might worship. Ambrose refused". This episode precipitated the calling of the Council of Nicea by Constantine in 325, for the express purpose of resolving all disputes and creating a unity of the faith. In this the council clearly failed, for after resolving a few issues and

formulating the Nicene Creed, the Council broke up over disputes and contentions involving many issues, including the creed itself. The council known officially as the FIRST ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, OF NICAEA, was attended by 318 "fathers" and a number of pagan philosophers as well. Constantine presided at the council that lasted from May to August. Some of the more notable in attendance were Alexander, Eusebius, Arius and Athanasius. Ambrose had succeeded, however, in maneuvering a shrewd political coup at the council by inserting language into the creed that was offensive to the Arians. This had the effect of disenfranchising the Arians from the church, which contributed in part to the contentious break up of the council.


Of the numerous conflicts that took place during this period, nearly all involved the ecclesiastical leadership of the church, these were no grass roots disputes but high level (power) struggles in most cases. "Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine were the three great men produced by the church of North Africa...Augustine was by far the greatest...His father was a pagan and his mother a devout Christian...[Augustine] was worldly and sensual--he had both a mistress and a son before he was eighteen years old. But he also had a brilliant mind". Augustine went to Rome in 383 and became a teacher in Milan. "Disillusioned with Manichaeism, he turned to Neoplatonism, a mystical and philosophical religion which had its roots in the teachings of Plato.

Mani was a Persian born in Baghdad who claimed a vision and formed a new religion in about 240 AD. Among other beliefs he brought the eastern religious ideas of Buddha and Zoroaster to Christianity. From this Augustine came to believe that "The spiritual alone is real. Matter, being so far removed from the divine, is unreal, negative, possessing nothing of spiritual reality." From here, in addition to Montanism, came the idea that because flesh is evil, God cannot possibly have a body of flesh and bone, and neither could Christ; therefore, the philosophers reasoned, he must have shed his physical body after he ascended into heaven.

From Neoplatonism and the eastern religious influence came the ascetic ideas, namely that "The way of salvation was by contemplation of the divine reality." As an outgrowth of this idea came the asceticism practiced by so many religious leaders during this period and since. Getting lost in all this form of philosophy were the straight forward ordinances, the obeying of commandments, prayer, faith, etc. Replacing these was the notion that salvation or immortality, or illumination comes by an isolated, meditation and contemplation of God.

It was Augustine who may have also been responsible for the Christian inclination toward personal miraculous experiences such as conversions and callings by voices, happenstance events and the like. "in a garden at Milan...the repeated words of a child in a neighbouring garden...Tole, lege (take up and read)...[directed him to] a near-by seat...[with] a copy of the Scriptures." This led to his conversion and soon he was a bishop in Hippo in north Africa.

Numerous schisms entered the church and Augustine and the "Doctors" were part of many of them. One such schism was that of the Donatists who believed that only whose living a blameless life were worthy to be in the church. The Christian church (or Catholic, a term, which was now coming into use in the fourth century) was inclined to allow forgiveness and to reinstate banished or expelled members of the clergy. But not Donatus who formed his own church and claimed "they were the true Catholic church". "Constantine and his son after him...tried to end the schism, first by Church councils and then by force. The Donatist leaders were exiled, but...Julian, a nephew of Constantine became Emperor [in 361] and despised the Christianity of his youth". Julian brought Donatanism back and into favor during his day. Thus the conflict endured along with many others.

It was Augustine who defined the nature of the Catholic Church and is probably responsible for its name, "The Church is One--the one family of God. It is Holy--for the Holy spirit works in it and through it. It is Catholic--for its universality embraces all races. It is Apostolic--for its faith and its authority derive from the apostles of Christ. The Church is the only 'ark of salvation' on the troubled waters of the earth. As God's creation it can never die."


A contemporary of Augustine was Jerome who was responsible for promulgation of asceticism (brought to Rome by Athanasius) in the church. This was a reaction against the luxury and vice of Rome and he was helped by a 'group of wealthy society women' who were dedicated followers. Jerome spurned the priesthood and ordination but 'was made a priest' anyway. He was responsible, at least in part, for the decline in importance of the priesthood. "For the remaining thirty-four years of his life, until his death in 420, Jerome lived and worked in his cave-cell at Bethlehem...[and undertook] a revision of the crude Latin version of the New Testament...Jerome's greatest achievement: the Latin version of the whole Bible which became known as the Vulgate (vulgatus='made common','published')". Jerome was constantly surrounded with controversy, perhaps his last involved a doctrine that would characterize the Christian clergy for centuries--celibacy.

Jerome believed that asceticism and self denial were requirements for earning a place with God. He left his family and became a celibate for probably half of his mortal life. He was criticized for doing so for this was not yet an accepted practice in the church. One critic "went so far as to assert that the solitary, celibate life was simply a form of cowardly escapism from the duties and obligations of human life. Jerome's replies were appalling, not only in language and abuse, but also in their attitude to the sanctity of married life." This criticism sent Jerome into a rage and he fought against such to the last, but the conflict outlived him. Finally, however, as a post mortem victory this doctrine of celibacy was placed firmly in the center of the doctrines of the church.


The last of the four great "Doctors" of the church is John Chrysostom "greatest of the Greek fathers. He was born in Antioch and ...became an anchorite monk." Nicknamed "golden-mouthed" for his eloquence at the pulpit, he was loved and revered. But controversy and conflict followed him like the other "Doctors". He too was an ascetic and practiced austerity and he even became a hermit until it ruined his health. His attempts to reform the clergy alienated the other monks and he fell into disfavor with the church when he demanded mercy for the dishonored Eutropius. And when he refused to condemn without a hearing, his fellow monks accused him of heresy.


Though technically not a "doctor" or a philosopher or even a Christian, mention must be made of another figure who played a prominent role in the molding of the post-Apostolic church, its doctrine and tradition--Constantine. He was born around 288 in what is present day Yugoslavia. He later dispatched several rivals for sole rule of the Roman Empire, the last being Maxentius at Milvian bridge. "Before the battle Constantine, who was already sympathetic toward Christianity, is said by Eusebius of Caesarea to have seen in the sky a flaming cross inscribed with the words, 'in this sign thou shalt conquer.' He adopted the cross and was victorious. On October 28, 312 AD, Maxentius was routed and killed. In 313 Constantine and his fellow emperor, Licinius, met at Milan and there issued the so-called Edict of Milan, or Edict of Toleration, confirming Galerius' edict of 309 which stated that Christianity would be tolerated throughout the empire.

Sometimes referred to as the Magna Charta of religious freedom, "the edict in effect made Christianity a lawful religion and ended persecution of Christianity as a religion, although it did not, as is sometimes believed, make Christianity the official state religion." Following the edict, "heathen symbols" were no longer tolerated on coins and paganism was dealt with severely. This was also a landmark event in that it recognized man's right to freedom of conscience and acknowledged, in effect, the two independent spheres of politics and religion. Constantine did not, however, become a Christian until on his death bed in 337. But Constantine was the first to combine church and state. He also is responsible for the sign of the cross used by much of Christianity today. He also ordered Sunday as a day of rest and authorized soldiers to attend religious services. Heathen soldiers were required to recite a prayer written especially for them. He also ordered Wednesday and Friday to be honored. Constantine played no small part in many of the changes that took place in the church during this period; good or bad, his impact was significant.


Conflicts between religion (any religion) and the state are almost a given in the course of history. Christ himself lived in the midst of such conflicts. The Apostle Paul, indeed all of the apostles, contended with various arms of the power of the state throughout their ministries. In fact, the Christians were first persecuted because some of them were in fact hostile to the state. Christians often refused to take oaths of loyalty to the state and refused to offer sacrifices to the Roman gods. These actions were sure to bring persecutions from the state, and they did. Formalized persecution of the Christians began under Nero in 64 AD, the year that Paul and Peter were martyred. Accounts disagree about the cause of the fire that destroyed Rome, Nero's complicity, Christian complicity, blame and the motives for such. But most agree that Nero was persuaded by "Poppaea...a Jew, [who] turned the attention of Nero to the Christians...because of their jealousy of the Christians". At any rate, a rather mild form of persecution was initiated by Nero. There were a few martyrs but in general persecution was rather low key though still recognizable. Under Nero Christians were persecuted because of their name, brought on by their refusal to take oaths and such.

Vespasian succeeded Nero in 68 AD as Emperor of Rome, and although there were no martyrs under this Emperor, he did leave his son Titus in charge of the war in Judea and he succeeded in destroying Jerusalem. Still there was no formal persecution of Christians under Vespasian.

Titus took over from his father in 79 AD and he too failed to persecute the faith. But Titus' younger brother, Domitian came to power in 81 AD and initiated some persecutions of members of Christianity. Domitian died in 96 AD.

Under Pliny the Younger the persecutions began again in 112 AD, but was short lived. Following Pliny the Christians enjoyed relative peace, baptized many converts and spread throughout the Roman Empire until 193 when Severus became emperor. He was as ruthless with the Christians as he was with his political and military exploits. It was under Severus that the Christians were fed to the lions from about 193 to 211 AD when he died.

Severus was succeeded by Decius whose persecutions focused on the clergy and didn't end until 260. This was the first general and systematic persecution of the church, (Valerian continued this persecution in 253-260). Under Decius the Empire celebrated the one thousandth anniversary of the founding of Rome. The empire was threatened by barbarian attacks and was in the midst of other difficulties. The subjects blamed these problems on the cessation of the persecution of the Christians. Rome had grown great, they believed, when the old gods were worshipped. Decius seeking to restore the glory of the Empire that the Christians must be exterminated and a new state religion enforced on the realm. All Christians were now required to renounce their faith or suffer confiscation of their property, torture and death. From 260-303 peace existed for the Christians until Diocletian initiated the worst period of persecution in the history of Christianity.

His oppression extended to the entire church and throughout the empire. Like most other rulers of the ancient world, Diocletian could not conceive of a state without a state religion, and he sought to institute one at the expense of Christianity. The Christians, however, refused to worship the Roman gods, hence, they were marked as atheists and public enemies. He ordered the sacred books of the Christians destroyed. Though this was frightful for the believers it required them to identify those books, epistles and writings they considered sacred. Prior to this event, there was much disputing and disagreement concerning what was sacred, what was inspired, what was legitimate and what was not. Some parts of the church accepted some writings and rejected others, other areas accepted different books and writings. There existed little agreement on what were inspired writings, and although a "crude Latin New Testament" existed as mentioned above, there was no canon and no agreement. Diocletian's edict required the church to agree on what was sacred.

It was Clement in 140 AD who first referred to the New Testament writings as scripture. Jerome, a century later, would canonize and translate the New Testament into the Vulgate Bible, the first time such a task had been undertaken. The canon in the east (Greece) was closed by Constantinople shortly thereafter.

Diocletian issued three crushing edicts; 1) the destruction of Christian buildings, 2) the imprisonment of all bishops and presbyters and, 3) the torture of Christians. In 304 he issued a fourth edict that offered the Christians the simple alternative of apostasy or death. Fortunately for the Christians, Diocletian's persecution was short lived, it ended in 305. Officially, persecution of the Christians ended with Constantine's Edict of Milan, or Edict of Toleration, this brought to an end at least 250 years of "official" persecution.


An intriguing aspect of the apostasy is the history of the changing doctrine and, in some cases, the creation of new doctrine, practices and policies that never existed in the primitive church. Although there are more changes and doctrines than can be addressed in this forum, some of the more relevant issues follow:

From Revelation To Philosophy

The first obvious deficiency in the Church at the death of the apostles was the lack of revelation. Although many bishops and church leaders after the death of the apostles wrote letters or epistles to portions of the church and even though many of these were quite true to the faith, they lacked both the authority and the spirit of prophecy necessary to instruct and direct the affairs of the church. It has always been a curiosity that Peter, who is only identified in the New Testament as an apostle, shows up on the Catholic list as a pope. But of greater curiosity are those who are listed as his successors. Linus, mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21 was a friend of Paul and Timothy. "Irenaeus and Eusebius speak of him as bishop of Rome." And the man asserted to be his successor as pope, Cletus, is known only because he was a martyr in Rome. Clement is claimed by the Church to succeed Cletus as pope. It is Clement that gives us evidence that he both lacked authority and the spirit of revelation. It is he who used the myth of the phoenix as an allegory of the resurrection of Christ.

This set a pattern that would continue for centuries by the philosophers. What is most noteworthy, however, is that none of these early "popes" or "bishops", or philosophers for that matter claimed any authority from God to act for him nor did they claim any revelation. For at least five centuries they were all into philosophy and claimed nothing more, even gloried in it and, as today, the philosophers believed that logic, reasoning, philosophy; is superior to revelation anyway.

From The Resurrection To The Evil of Flesh

As mentioned previously, it was Plato (a philosopher) and the Gnostics who taught the notion that matter is evil (see Bull). Gnosticism was rampant by the second century AD and must take credit for much of the doctrine that eventually settled into the Christian canon. Gnosis means knowledge and the gnostics claimed to have it (not by revelation but by reasoning) and they also share responsibility for the doctrine designating flesh, matter and all temporal things as evil. They are also responsible for the extreme asceticism that became popular during this period of history. The logic drift here is obvious; if matter (flesh) is evil, then God, who encompasses all good, must be separated from matter and, he was very quickly stripped of his corporeal characteristics. The philosophers first applied this new doctrine to God the Father but soon realized that it must be applied to Christ as well. But what about that physical body he was resurrected with. The philosophers decided that after Christ was resurrected, the physical body was shed and He, too, is now only spirit. But all of the early philosophers and writings, i.e. The Didache (90-160 AD), Hermas (140-155 AD), Irenaeus (120-202 AD), Ignatius (110 AD), Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) and others, all wrote of God and the Godhead, Christ and the Holy Ghost pretty much as the Bible does and identified God and Christ as separate, with physical bodies and Christ as God's literal son.

But as time moved on, the philosophers won the battle on this doctrine. From Spiritual Direction to Political Intrigue From at least 100 AD on and certainly by 313 AD when Constantine combined the political and religious powers, political intrigue, banishments, assassinations, political infighting and the like dominates the history of the church. In addition, the many schisms previously mentioned and the many challenges to the nomination of the popes later on, offers a rich history of political intrigue. In addition, there are eighteen times in Catholic history that two men claimed to be pope, four times that three claimed to be pope at the same time, once four men claimed the honor at the same time and once five different men claimed the position. "The papacy reached a high point of corruption in the 10th cent., when the Holy See was cynically bought and sold." In addition "The Great Schism" of 1378-1417 created a line of succession through three different lines, the Roman line (west), the Avignon line (France) and the Pisan line (east). Even more intriguing is the fact that during this period there were first two lines claiming authority as pope (the Roman and Avignon lines) so the Council of Pisa was called. Both popes were declared heretical and to be functioning without authority. A third pope was elected to serve. But instead of resolving the conflict it created three popes instead of two. The clear, calm direction of God had turned into a charade of unimaginable proportions.

From The Fall Of Adam To Original Sin

It was through a conflict between Pelagius, a Christian philosopher and teacher of the fifth century, and Augustine, that the Church arrived at the doctrine of original sin. The notion really belongs to Augustine but it was not widely accepted. Pelagius taught, in Augustine territory in Alexandria, that "Adam had set man a bad example" but had not tainted every man with "original sin" as did Augustine.

Augustine came up fighting this "wickedness" and won the battle, "original sin" would become part of the doctrine of the church. This led to the next logical step in Augustine's theology, predestination.

From The Agency Of Man To Predestination

Augustine taught that "every man had inherited a taint from Adam--'original sin', part of his nature inherited and inborn, that made his will powerless...he taught that God's grace must come first in living the good life...For only the power of God could free the will from its evil nature, and that grace was irresistible. From this stemmed belief in predestination." As logic goes, the reasoning that led Augustine to his conclusion is fairly sound but, this only points up the folly of drawing logic and reasoning from man's feeble mind in attempting to understand the mind of God. This is probably one of the finest examples available to us in how philosophy wormed its way into the doctrine of the Church. Thus the once clear and widely understood and accepted doctrine of agency had become changed. It is also curious that agency was and always would be an issue that was argued and defended by nearly every religious figure up to the present day. But now, as then, it is largely a philosophical exercise with little real understanding of the matter.

From Priesthood Authority To Political Authority

This issue had previously been addressed quite extensively above. However, it is well to note that as one studies the history of the Church from 100 to 500 AD, one of the realities that literally leaps off the pages at the reader is that the history is dominated by political intrigue, and not by divine revelation. There is little if any claim to ordained or God given authority. Rather, all the philosophers or "bishops" are engaged in defending their philosophical territory and in dispatching political and religious adversaries through political maneuvering. It is a stark contrast to the calm and sure directions of Christ and the apostles.

From Marriage To Celibacy

As early as the mid second century such philosophers as Origen, Tertullian, Montanus, Irenaeus and Plato were extolling the virtues of celibacy. "During this period, the unmarried state and the ascetic life rose into ever increasing honour. It was as though, with sorrow be it said, when the excitement of martyrdom ceased, the craving for distinction, and the desire to reach heaven by good works rather than by faith, made choice of the vow of celibacy to set up in its place." Almost all the Church teachers unite in extolling celibacy. "Even...Origen predicts a special glory in the world to come for those who had chosen the life of consecrated celibacy; and Cyprian exalts the merit of virginity to the skies,"

Cyprian even launches into the realm of interpreting the parables of Jesus to the praise of celibacy. In his interpretation of the parable of the ten virgins he gives high praise to the celibate, "in the case of the virgin-martyr he supposes the hundred-fold to be added to the sixty-fold, and so a double glory shed on the heavenly crown."

Jerome, later, "interpreted the parable in accordance with the new style of thought...thirty-fold refers to marriage; the sixty-fold to professed widowhood; the hundred-fold is the crown of virginity." It would be centuries before the Church would even get around to tieing celibacy to Christ, who many Christians believed never married.

"But if this condition of life was held up as so desirable for Christians generally, much more was it thought...absolutely essential to the clerical vocation." It is true though, that prior to the late fourth century men had not been disqualified for the priestly office for being married. But for many years (perhaps 150) marriage after ordination had been a thing unheard of, at least among the higher clergy. "The Council of Nicea was only saved from a law for the whole Church by...Paphnutius...[who] Rising in the midst of the assembly...reminded his fellow-bishops that 'marriage is honourable in all,' and earnestly entreated them not to impose so grievous a yoke on the ministers of religion,". "Siricius, Bishop of Rome in A.D. 385, forbade absolutely the marriage of presbyters and deacons; and Innocent the First, A.D. 405, enforced the prohibition by the penalty of degradation. By the ninth Council of Toledo, A.D. 659, the issue of such marriages [by the clergy] were declared to be illegitimate, and condemned to become slaves, the property of the Church...Ever since, the blessing of matrimony has been wholly interdicted to the clergy of the Latin Church."

The impact of this doctrine on Christianity has been profound. "The consequences of this grand error have been many and terrible; not the least being that the priestly life, instead of rising to that higher level of purity and godliness which was so fondly hoped for, has too often fallen below the common life of the people."

From The Plan Of Salvation To Asceticism

Asceticism (from the Greek asketos means exercised or disciplined) has also previously been addressed but it must now be tied to its parent, the Plan of Salvation. Adrift in the world sea with no rudder, no course and no captain, the Church was theoretically capable of drifting anywhere and at times it seemed that it was doing just that. Asceticism, a conglomeration of eastern religion, runaway Greek philosophizing and north African hermitism, replaced rather thoroughly the ordinances, works and faith that Christ taught. Eventually baptism would be replaced, the temple would be replaced, to join the prophets and apostles already thrown out.

From Simple Worship To Ritualism

Ritual has historically been a welcome visitor to religion, regardless of origin, location or time--it was true also in the post apostolic period. Justin, as early as 150 AD was developing ritualism for the bread and wine, e.g. an elaborate washing ceremony. "By Tertullian's time (200 AD) fresh rites had been added, and the notion of the virtue and power of the outward observance had penetrated deeper...He thus describes [a baptismal] ceremony...we make a solemn profession...we are thrice immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel. When we come up out of the water there is given to us a mixture of milk and honey, and we refrain from the daily bath for a whole week...when we issue from the font, we are...thoroughly anointed with a blessed unction [anointing]".

It also became common to wash the hands at "every prayer" says Tertullian "even when they had just come from the bath. Others made it a matter of conscience, like the heathen, to lay aside their cloaks," By the age of Constantine ritual was becoming well defined in the Church, "Let the building long...the vestries at the East end...the bishop's throne be set in the middle, with the seats for the presbytery on either hand, the close-girt garments. Let the laity sit on the opposite side...Let the reader stand on a raised place"

By 337 "there was no check to the growth of ritualistic observances, but the substitution of external forms in place of the primitive simplicity was still going on," The development and expansion of ritual would continue for centuries unchecked.

From The Age Of Accountability To Infant Baptism

Baptism is a Greek word but "The English translators did not translate the word baptize...for there is no one word in the English Language, which is an exact counterpart of the Greek word...Baptize is a dyer's word, and signifies to dip, so as to colour...[giving] a moral hue."

As straight forward as the matter seems, the doctrine would soon be radically altered. "Infant baptism first the African Churches." The Seleucians and Hermas rejected water baptism as early as 150. "At what time Infant Baptism came into use is not known. No mention of it occurs in any author previous to Irenaeus, [c.200]...Christ came to save all who through him are regenerated to God, infants and children, and boys and youths, and old men...Why is it deemed necessary that little children should be baptized, and their sponsors exposed to danger;"

"Origen, writing some thirty or forty years later, claims apostolic tradition for the practice." This was an age, says Neander, when "a strong inclination prevailed to derive from the apostles every ordinance which was considered of special importance," "Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Ephrem of Edessa, Augustine, Ambrose...were all the children of Christian parents, [but] were not baptized until they were of mature age". Though "It was long before the practice became general." "Neander is of the opinion that it did not become universal till the fifth century." Again the trail of logic is well marked. If man is powerless to overcome evil and must depend upon God, and baptism is deemed essential to that end, then logic would dictate that all must be baptized. And what of children, should they die before maturity, failing to understand the innocence of children, they too must be baptized--and so they were. "Infants were baptized on or before the eighth day, for fear that if the observance should be neglected they might be eternally lost." It was a short leap from infant baptism to sprinkling, a practice that would come later.

From The Godhead To The Trinity

The philosophers never slept, it seemed. No sooner would one idea be proposed and a great controversy ensue than another would follow on its heels. At least by the third century there were "speculations concerning the relation of the Son of God to the Father.. In their zeal to preserve the unity of the consciousness of God, some were unwilling to acknowledge any other divine being than the one God, the Father." Those who proposed such ideas were known as Monarchians (one God). They proposed numerous original notions concerning the nature of God; "that Jesus is a man like other men...that the names Father and Son are only two different designations of the one God...Father, Son and Holy Spirit are explained as denoting only three different manifestations or aspects of one and the same Divine person."

Sabellianism taught that the Son of God had not existed from all eternity and, he postulated the doctrine of the trinity (three Gods in one). This created another serious conflict in the church. Alexander, Bishop at Alexandria taught this doctrine and contended with Arius (mentioned earlier). Arius also taught "that the Word of God was not from eternity, but was made out of nothing." The philosophers were in rare form and imagining all sorts of creative ideas.

Constantine may have been the most direct when he tells the philosophers that the questions about which they were disputing were "the idle cobwebs of contention, spun by curious wits,".

From Revelation To Creeds

Not since the days that Adam "walked and talked" with God has the Judaeo-Christian tradition officially abandoned the concept of revelation. But the philosophers of the fourth century broke with that long tradition by proposing creeds that "should be binding" on all Christendom. The Arian controversy mentioned earlier spawned this unusual turn in Christian history. The controversy "brought to a focus the desire which had begun to manifest itself ever since the priestly element gained the ascendancy...Various succinct forms of belief seem to have existed in some of the Churches from an early period. The most found in Irenaeus, A.D. 182-188. The writings of Tertullian also contain two or three forms...the Apostles' Creed...originated in one of the Eastern churches,".

This first creed was "received with universal disapprobation" and torn to pieces. Again, the creed was tailored to exclude the "blasphemous" doctrines of Arius. As stated above, the Arian controversy led to the formation of the Council of Nicea. But these were but the first of many attempts to dogmatize Christianity through creeds, in this the philosophers had thoroughly replaced revelation and the prophets.

From Enduring To The End to Death Bed Repentance

The philosophers are not, surprisingly, responsible for this change of doctrine but, rather, a non-Christian--sort of. Constantine "was taken ill as he was setting out on an expedition against Persia, and he felt that his illness was mortal. He now sought the baptism which he had so long deferred." Constantine, who had united the church and the state, conquered under the sign of the cross, sanctified the sabbath day and proved responsible for the christianization of much of the known world was not, himself, a Christian, he had deferred baptism "to the moment when it would include the largest amount of the past, and leave the smallest amount of the future." This is classic death bed repentance, and who could argue with the Emperor?

"This rite had come to be looked upon much as the Pagans regarded the purifications and lustrations of their own religion, as a complete obliteration and expiation of all former sins;" Baptism had by now lost it's purpose as a sacred ordinance and the entrance into Christ's church. Thus Constantine was a shrewd convert. "Kneeling at the Martyrs' church he made confession of his sins, and removing thence to his palace...he called the bishops together and told them that his purpose had been to receive baptism...the ceremony was performed." Constantine died shortly thereafter and death bed repentance became a solid and accepted part of the doctrine of the Church.

From Common Clothing To Clerical Garb

"It need hardly be said that in early times the officers or ministers were not distinguished by their attire from the rest of the Church. The great truth that all Christians...are all disregarded by the use of religious costumes, male or female." It would appear that the Church borrowed the notion of special dress for members of the clergy from "the example of Jews and of heathen." There is no evidence from the records available that "the use of sacerdotal garments." existed prior to the fourth century. Constantine is said to have given a rich vestment, embroidered with gold, to Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem, in which to perform the service of baptism. Athanasius was accused of laying a tax upon the Egyptians to "raise funds for the linen vestments of the Church." The "council of Laodicea" (375 AD) directed that the "habit of an officiating minister should not be worn by subdeacons, singers or readers."

It was not until later that the clergy were distinguished from the laity in their ordinary attire. The "monks, indeed, affected a peculiar costume, the cloak and the girdle" but until the fifth century we find no mention of any "official garb". And curiously "There is no ground for the supposition that the dress of the clergy was borrowed from the vestments of the Levitical priesthood. Its direct origin seems rather to have been the result of accident than of intention." Yet in 428 Pope Celestinus "sharply reproved certain Gallican bishops, who made themselves conspicuous by a dress different from that of the laity", however "when the laity began to put on the short tunic, trousers, and cloak of the Teutonic conquerors, the clergy resisted the new fashion, and kept to the long tunic and the ancient toga or pallium. The distinction once established was sedulously maintained. Clearly by the seventh century the garb was standard and required among the clergy.

From The Light Of Christ To Lighted Tapers

The practice of using lighted candles in the worship service was begun "in the Canons of the Council of Elvira (313-324 AD) and was clearly "belonging to the pagan religion" but this practice was not accepted easily. "Miserable men burn lights to God as to one who dwells in darkness." objected one philosopher. One council of the Church decreed "that wax candles be not kindled in a cemetery during the day; for the spirits of the saints ought not to be disquieted." The saints were the living members as they were still referred to as saints at this date. But soon the practice was widespread in the church and ultimately became rooted firmly in the rituals of the Church.

From The Mother Of Jesus To The Virgin Mary

"Towards the close of the present epoch [third century] we may also trace the first origin of the adoration of the Virgin Mary. Peter, the martyr-bishop of Alexandria, calls Mary 'our holy and glorious lady, mother of God and ever virgin.' Epiphanius, in the latter part of the fourth century, speaks of a small sect of women who had emigrated from Thrace into arabia, and who, once a year on a set day consecrated to the virgin, carried about in chariots, similar to those used by the pagans in their religious processions...[and] he strenuously opposes those who doubted Mary's perpetual virginity, and even inclines to the opinion that she was taken up into heaven without tasting death." Thus, Mary, the mother of Jesus with no special attention being given her in the scriptures, has been transformed from one who bore the Christ child to one who is worshipped and revered, even as God.

From The Worship Of God To The Worship of Relics

Shortly before the death of Constantine "the wood of the supposed true cross" had begun to command "universal veneration". Legend has it that Helena, Constantine's mother, when nearly eighty years old made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. "The Empress [Helena] (so we are told) guided by a heavenly dream, discovered the spot which had been concealed and uncovered the buried cross."

From this episode came several centuries of relic worship. Relics were bought and sold, churches and cathedrals were built around them, Christians actually worshipped anything that was claimed, authentic or not, to be associated with Christ, from pieces of the gross, portions of his clothing, the crown of thorns, sandals, the whip, holy nails, anything he may have touched or worn began showing up in the relic market which brought high prices.

This practice lasted for centuries before the commercial aspects were controlled. Eventually, all altars in the Church contained a relic.

From Fasting To Fish

The Emperor Constantine set aside Friday and Wednesday as days to be honored, although just how is not certain. Later these two days were designated as "fast days", Wednesday "as that of our Lord's betrayal" and Friday "as that of his crucifixion".

The Montanists as early as 150 AD taught a restriction of the diet. They believed in eating only dry foods, containing no water. They also took no baths and avoided water. By the fifth century Socrates mentions that a portion of Christianity in observing the Friday fast "allowed themselves fish".

Other groups abstained from various foods or allowed themselves to eat only foul or eggs on the fast days. But it was the eating of fish that would endure and soon became part of the Christian tradition.


The history of Christianity from 100 AD on is vast and expansive and obviously requires more space than is available here. It should be remembered that the apostasy touched virtually every aspect of the gospel of Christ. Some important Areas not covered here include, the dropping of the temple as a place of sacred worship, the initiation of images into the church, the development of art (and the arts) by the church, the change from the heathen cremation to burial, the actual taking over of the church by various emperors and the adjacent problem of admitting that the church was run at times by a political leader and at other times by rival religious leaders. Only a few of these issues have been addressed here.

It should also be remembered that with all the adverse and lamentable affects of the apostasy during this period there were several significant, positive and lasting events that would have profound impact on the church and religious freedom up through our own time.

Already mentioned was the Edict of Toleration by Constantine that laid the philosophical foundation for religious freedom. The elevation of Christianity by Constantine had other long term influences on religious history, namely; "(1) the assumption that all subjects are Christians...[like] the Old Testament theocracy; (2) an intimate connection between civil and religious rights; and (3) the belief that Church and State as divine institutions were the two arms of one and the same divine government on earth." These are points of no little interest to Latter-day Saints and Christianity in general.

Neither has the form of worship been sufficiently covered. It is of interest to read the description of a Christian worship service c. 65 AD by Justin Martyr. His description is strikingly like that of the Latter-day Saints today. Excerpts include; "On Sunday...all who live in the cities...[read] a section from the memoirs of the Apostles...the the admonition and exhortation...we all arise and offer a common prayer...bread and wine and water are brought...then the consecrated elements are distributed to each one and partaken of, and are carried by the deacons...The wealthy and the willing then give contributions...the president therewith supplies orphans and widows, the poor and needy, prisoners and strangers, and take care of all who are in want." This, from the period immediately following the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, quite reasonably is a fair and accurate picture of the worship service. There is also a wide gulf between this service and that practiced by the church only a century later.

The term "philosopher" has been used extensively. Some may question the application of this term to such notables as Augustine, Clement, Jerome, Origen and Ambrose. It must be remembered that these were all converts to Christianity and attended the schools of philosophy and rhetoric before joining with Christianity. Their own records also bear out the fact that the philosophies learned in the schools of the day were not shed when they were baptized, in fact, the philosophies tended to dominate the doctrine. It was the orthodox Christian doctrine that was replaced by these "doctors" and "philosophers".

It should be remembered too that the Roman Empire was an international empire and the church, spread throughout that empire, was subject to influence from every religion that entered the Empire, and there were many. The church was also assaulted by the Judaizers attempting to Judaize Christianity, and the pagans who dominated religion in the Empire before Constantine. And this, with no prophet or quorum of apostles to steer the ship, it drifted literally with "every wind of doctrine".

Christianity was the "new religion" as far as the Roman Empire was concerned, and it had to fight hard to win recognition, freedoms and prominence. The "Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus [in 70 AD] ended persecution of Christians by Jews and...led the Romans to distinguish sharply between the Jews and the Christians." A positive and perhaps long overdue condition.

Only small references have been made to the heretics in the church, and much could be said but for time and space. The heretics were nothing more than members of the church that expounded a doctrine contrary to that accepted by a particular bishop or region of the church. There was no uniform doctrine throughout the church during the period covered here. But the heretic was more often than not promoting a doctrine that was more Biblical than that held by the church. Reprisals were extreme and final in most cases. The "heretic" Mani "Was flayed alive in Persia, and his skin was stuffed and put on a warning." Freedom of conscience, it would appear, was in retreat, again.

Nor has time been spent on Gnosticism, a schism and philosophy that was a major issue for many years. Founded by Ammonius Saccas in the mid third century, it was a thorn in the side of the church for years.

And after this fascinating history (from 100-500 AD) we have yet to witness the vandals and barbarians destroy Rome and the western portion of the empire in 476 AD. This would create still stranger events for the church to contend with. And the combining of church and state under Constantine would pull the church apart often during the next thousand years of the middle ages. It is history that plays important to Latter-day Saints when we speak of a restoration in 1830.


There are at least two powerful lessons that come from understanding the "Great Apostasy", 1) that without revelation from God through legitimate prophets, the ordinances, doctrines and form of worship degenerate into a circus of commercialism, philosophy and political intrigue and, 2) that men, left to their own devices, without direction from God through a LIVING oracle, will always demean and degrade the sacred things of God until they become unrecognizable to Him. This is the testament of the record of man, this is the sad history of man's attempts to know God through their own reasoning. God did never intend religion to be handled in such fashion.

In contemplating the procession of events that followed the death of the apostles, one can only look heavenward and give thanks for living prophets and apostles who speak with authority, keeping the church on a true and steady course and prevent the corruption of the church with priestcrafts.

Return to LDS Menu, for inquiries E-mail