Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Flight of the Sorceress Q&A, Part Two -The connection between the separation of church and state and the coming of the Dark Ages
Q: What do you think the reasons were for the speed of civilization’s decline during the Fifth Century?
A: In the late Fourth Century, the Roman Emperor, Theodosius decreed that Christianity was to be the state religion of the Empire. Its dogma would thereafter be enforced by Roman legions. . It was at that very moment in history that Christianity turned into the Roman Catholic Church. That is, an element of Christianity united with the Roman state.
Contemporaneously with that edict, Augustine came up with the doctrine of “Original Sin” which had the consequence that admission to heaven could only be accomplished by absolution administered by an ordained priest. There were a number of Christian sects at the time —Donatists, Arians, Nestorians among them. But the only state-authorized church for ordination was the Roman Catholic Church. Thus not only were non-Christians doomed but Christians who did not subscribe to the dogma from Rome were as well. This led to the suppression of all but Roman Catholics. In 411 A.D., with the backing of the Roman legions, Augustine began the purge of the Church, ousting and ultimately condemning nearly half of its members as heretics. I recount scenes of the conclave in Carthage in The Flight of the Sorceress where that actually happened.
A few years later Pelagius, whose heresy consisted of calling into question Augustine’s creation dogma, Original Sin, was excommunicated. So by 415 A.D. all dissent was declared to be heresy. Heretics, however well meaning, were doing the Devil’s work by leading people away from the path to eternal salvation. The full force of the state was brought to bear on differing theologies. This rapidly resulted in the wholesale destruction of “pagan” and dissident writings, the cowing of Classical teachers, scientists and philosophers and the ossification of thinking.
Many historians date the beginning of the Dark Ages to the death of Hypatia who was the last known librarian of the great library in Alexandria. She has been described as a neo-Platonist, although no one really knows what that meant to her in practice. All we really know is that she was not a Christian and ultimately that cost her her life.
Q. Are you saying that Augustine “invented” the concept of Original Sin?
A. I can’t say that he “invented” the dogma. What he did was come up with the proposition that the sin of Adam and Eve —that is their disobedience of God’s command that they not partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge would be a) passed down undiminished to every generation, and b) that the only way one could cleanse themselves of that sin was to obtain absolution from an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church. It was a very handy doctrine. It made the Church the only game in town for the salvation business. And if you wanted an absolution franchise, you had to get it from the Church.
Q. So you are arguing that the separation of church and state is essential for keeping a society from falling into a Dark Ages?
A. In a word, “yes.” Once Roman Catholicism was enforced by the Roman state —if, for example, like Pelagius, you believed that good works or leading a good life would get you into heaven, you got banished, excommunicated or burned. Dissent from church dogma became a capital offense. The unification of church and the state led to state-enforced conformity of thought. Any books that failed to make the Catholic censor’s cut were burned. Pagan writings were destroyed. Entire sects of Christians, not just pagans, were denounced. You can see something similar happening in other contexts right now. Look what the Taliban did in Afghanistan. In fact the same kind of thing happens whenever the state uses its power to enforce “correct” thinking. Most people in America can understand it when you replace religion with communism, but somehow their mind goes blank when it comes to the separation of Christian churches and the state.
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