Why did it go so wrong?
In my last post I noted that church doctrine started going very wrong after the merge with the Roman Empire. In this post I'm going to list a few reasons why I think that was.
Reading about the various events, I get the impression that there was no one single problem, but rather a huge variety of problems that were caused by the imperial period. Here is a list, in no particular order, of some of the factors that seem to have contributed to the issues:
1. Direct interference by Emperors in the legislation of church doctrine. At times the Emperors made arbitrary decisions about which theological side to support.
2. Positions of church leadership became positions of great wealth and power which were then sought after by the wrong people for the wrong motives. Some of the church leadership were in multi-million dollar positions and were some of the most powerful people in the Empire. Such positions were doubtless sought-after by atheists with political ambition who pretended to be Christians.
3. Irregularities in the elections of church leaders. The elections of church leaders to prominent church positions of power were plagued with scandals and imperial interference.
4. The notion of Orthodoxy within the Empire. The globalisation of the church brought with it a globalisation of doctrine. Previously, if a Christian in one part of the world invented a new doctrine, the change tended to be geographically confined. However, in an effort to promote Orthodoxy and stamp out heresy, the Councils and Emperors promulgated their decrees throughout the Empire, thus providing a mechanism to deliver doctrinal change to the entire church simultaneously.
5. The use of force against those deemed heretics. The state became the enforcer of orthodoxy - those deemed heretics were taken away by state soldiers and tended to die either a quick or slow death when exiled to uninhabitable locations or to work in the salt mines.
6. Extremely poor judicial processes for reviewing complaints of heresy. Often those accused of heresy were condemned without being allowed to present their case. Mere things like evidence or fair trials didn't stand in the way of councils ruling on topics. Most councils were not careful inquiries into truth but shams.
7. General civil unrest and nominal Christianity. Riots were commons. The killing of churchmen at the hands of a 'Christian' mob who disagreed over theology was not uncommon. Those in positions of power within the church often instigated such riots for political reasons.
8. Language differences. The Eastern Empire spoke Greek, the Western spoke Latin. This at times led to communication difficulties. It also caused Latin bible translations to be incorrect at times.
9. Attempts at Sola Scriptura. Christian doctrinal tradition for the most part governed people's beliefs. But increasingly there were those who preferred to come up with their own doctrines based on their own exegesis of scripture, which were generally wrong as a result of using mistranslated passages or just poor exegesis. People then claimed the authority of scripture for such views.
10. Lack of peer-review among influential theologians. It seemed common for particular theologians to gain a reputation in a certain geographical area and become the great theological champion of that area. Their theological utterances would subsequently be somewhat mindlessly parroted by Christians in that area without being peer reviewed by other prominent theologians across the Empire. Essentially, the major theologians tended to do their theology somewhat in isolation with little collaboration.
11. Popularity as a measure of success. To a large extent, theological doctrines were measured by popularity - theological controversies tended to get resolved by vote. Particularly, if a theologian became sufficiently popular and respected within their geographical area, they could then begin to teach almost any heresy and their popularity would see them through. Anyone who challenged them could be silenced or ignored.