Responses to Jamal Badawi's "Radio Al-Islam Channel RA 200"

Deification of Jesus : Its Evolution V - Early Unitarians (cont.)


In this segment, Dr. Badawi begins by citing two groups which he claims had doctrinal differences with Trinitarianism when, in reality, the disagreements with the Church hierarchy and government were political. Dr. Badawi also throws in a bit of conspiracy theory when he claims that there are no records of what Arius thought or said, yet in spite of this alleged lack of evidence, Dr. Badawi claims that no one could defeat Arius' debates at Nicea. Now let us begin our journey through Church history with Dr. Badawi

Host: What was the reaction of the Apostolic Church to all of these pressures (from the Pauline Church)?

Jamal Badawi: They were not convinced and they did not accept it. There was a revolt that took place among the Berbers of North Africa, they believed that Jesus was human. The one who led that revolt was named Donatus who was chosen as Bishop by his people in 313. According to Jerome, he said that absolute monotheism became the religion of north Africa. The Bishop of Rome attempted to replace Donatus and this reached Constantine who supported Rome. This was the first time that Constantine entered the disputes. Because of Constantine and Rome, the north Africans rebelled so Constantine tried to make a tribunal which was under the Bishop of Rome and decision was made against Donatus and his followers ignored the decision. Constantine tried to make another tribunal at Arles in 314 . Donatus lost again, the bias was obvious and his followers ignored it. The Bishops of Rome said that this ruling in recorded in the presence of the Holy Ghost and his angels. When the people ignored this, they resorted to Constantine to enforce the decision and he was a Pagan at that time. Constantine thought of going to north Africa to resolve the issue with Donatus, but he was afraid that if his moves failed, it would hurt his prestige, so he issued a decree against Donatus in a letter that said instead of worshiping the one God...when all of that failed, the Church of Rome used brute force. The churches were taken, their leaders were exiled, and then the Royal army entered for the Church of Rome and killed some Bishops, many people were killed. Historians say that this was the Church of martyrs. The irony is that Christians who were persecuted by the Romans were now crucified because they were the wrong kind.

The Donatists were not persecuted because of the views concerning the divinity of Jesus or the Trinity - their problems were political and not theological. They were a schismatic movement led by Donatus (the Bishop of Casae Nigrae) and the theologian Donatus the Great (who was also known as Donatus Magnus). The schism arose when certain Christians protested the election of the bishop of Carthage, charging that his consecration by Felix (Bishop of Aptunga) was invalid because Felix was considered a traditor (that is, one who turned over sacred books and relics to the civil authorities during a period of persecution). Condemnation was extended to all people who were in communion with Felix.

The Donatists believed that only those living a blameless life belonged in the church and that the validity of any sacrament depended upon the personal worthiness of the priest administering it. The Donatist practice of rebaptizing was particularly abhorrent to the orthodox and was condemned by the Synod of Arles (314) and also by the Roman emperor, Constantine I. The Donatists seceded from the Church in 316 and set up their own hierarchy. By 350, they did outnumber the orthodox Christians in Africa, and each city had its opposing orthodox and Donatist bishops. It was the teaching of St. Augustine, as presented in his writings and at the debate between orthodox and Donatist bishops at Carthage (411), that turned the tide against Donatism. In addition to the teachings of St. Augustine, strong state suppression and ascetic excesses among some of the Donatists further reduced their numbers. The last remnants of the Donatists vanished long before the arrival of the Islamic invaders.

Host: Did that mean the end of the Church in North Africa?

Jamal Badawi: Not really. After the slaughter of the monotheists, Constantine realized that he could not get his way through brute force so he let the north African be. Their numbers increased and they declared their independence against Rome. St. Augustine said that the monotheists became more than the Roman Church and were not persecuted. They flourished until Islam which emphasized monotheism. Many of the followers of Donatus accepted Islam.

Dr. Badawi is, once again, distorting history. The Donatists disappeared before the Islamic invasion. Also, the Donatists were a majority only in North Africa.

Host: Was their any other movement aside from Donatus that opposed the Church of Rome?

Jamal Badawi: In southern Egypt, Meletius. When Alexander became Bishop of Alexandria, he exiled him, but when he came back people supported him. When he died, the Bishop stopped them from worshiping and they sent a protest to Rome. When they went to Rome, they met people who were followers of Arius a very powerful monotheistic movement. Their presence in Rome led to the Council of Nicea in 325.

Meletius was not punished for his views concerning the nature or divinity of Jesus, he was punished because he attempted to usurp the power of the bishop of Alexandria in a dispute concerning those who had denied the faith during the the persecutions.

Host: Why is it difficult to speak about Arius from an historical basis?

Jamal Badawi: Historians say that any evidence in favor of Arius has been destroyed. Everything that we have about him today was written by his enemies. He began as a deacon in the Church of Alexandria ordained by Bishop Peters. He was excommunicate him but after Peters dies, his successor re-appointed him as a priest. Arius was highly regarded and was considered a possible future Bishop of Alexandria but Alexander was elected and he was an enemy of Arius. After his election, he began to complain about the beliefs of Arius and use his authority to have him excommunicated. One of the main reasons was the issue of Trinity, at one point Arius challenged Alexander to explain it.

Dr. Badawi's conspiracy theory is interesting, especially in the light of his next statements. How did Dr. Badawi obtain this evidence if it was destroyed?

Host: Does that mean that the concept was before the Council of Nicea?

Jamal Badawi: Some people believe in the Trinity without understanding what it really meant. There were those who did not accept the Trinity as Biblical as Jesus taught. Others tried to explain it in the best way but no one was able to explain it without contradictions. That is why Arius challenged the Bishop to explain the Trinity and the more he tried, the further the conclusion. Arius had Biblical reference to back his view.

What Biblical references did Arius present if "any evidence in favor of Arius has been destroyed" as you claim? The Church Fathers at Nicea came together to combat the heresies of Arius which had nothing to do with the Trinity. The debates at the Nicean Council centered around the nature of Jesus.

Host: Maybe you can give us the nature of this debate.

Jamal Badawi: Historians started by saying that if Christ was the Son of God, then the Father must have existed before the Son, there was some period when the Son did not exist and the Son was created by the Father. That which was created cannot be the creator. It is impossible to say that Christ was of the same essence of God, he was a creature and a creature cannot be God. Alexander got very angry and that showed a weak case. Arius would come back and challenge the Bishop and Alexander applied pressure by convening a provincial council to condemn Arius. Arius defended his belief saying that Jesus was a creature of God and backed up his position by the Bible and referred to John where Jesus said that the Father is greater than I. Arius continued to say that to say that we deny the truth of the Bible when we say that Jesus and God are equal. This annoyed Bishop Alexander especially when the eastern Bishops supported Arius, so he got him excommunicated.

Historians did not say this, Arius said it! It was Arius [not the Church Fathers] who could not defend his teachings. Arius taught that Jesus Christ, was indeed the Son of God. However, Arius believed that He was created by God the Father to be an instrument in the creation of the world. Jesus, according to Arius, is neither fully divine nor is He fully man as Muslims believe. According to Arius, Jesus is the highest of all of God's creation. Unlike Muslims, Arius believed that Jesus did die on the cross to atone for our sins and was resurrected on the third day. I wonder why Dr. Badawi never mentions this important fact?

Host: How did Arius turn out?

Jamal Badawi: Arius took an active role in opposing the Trinity but did not want to be seen as a deceptive person, his sincere conviction is that he defended the teaching of Christ and did not accept any innovations. In his letters to Eusebius, he said that we are persecuted because we believe that Jesus had a beginning and God had none. Alexander said that Arius and his followers were possessed by the devil, he kept repeating unfounded accusations. Arius continued to hold services but the attacks became stronger, although the controversy was not limited to Alexander and Arius. Even the public became aware so that if you asked a churchman, he would talk about the generated and un-generated being. If you asked the baker about the price of bread, he would say that the Son is subordinate to the Father, if you asked your servant if the bath was ready, he would tell you that the Son arose from nothing. The one who believes in the Trinity would say great is the begotten and monotheist would say great is the one who begot. Constantine wanted to bring unity which led to the Council of Nicea which was a major change in the history of the Church.

The simple truth is that Arius was in error. It is little wonder that the people of the 4th century cared so greatly about their faith. This was an era when people suffered, were tortured, and often murdered for their faith in Jesus Christ, so they took these debates very seriously. Why is Dr. Badawi so critical of Christians who do not compromise their beliefs? Did Islam tolerate heresies after Muhammad, or do Muslims tolerate heretical movements today?

Host: What was the purpose behind this council?

Jamal Badawi: The most important thing to Constantine was to bring some peace to his subjects. He wrote to Arius and told him that his question about the humanity of Jesus should have never arisen in the first place, if they did there should have been in silence. He thought that the difference was not a difference in doctrine but was a semantic argument, which showed his ignorance of Christianity. Constantine didn't really see the difference and didn't care, he wanted peace. After he realized that the Pauline Church could not bring unity, he called a council. Most of the Bishops invited were illiterate but it was all expenses paid.

Emperor Constantine wanted order in his empire in the same way that Caliph Uthman wanted order in his domain. The difference is that God used a man like Constantine (even though he was evil) to work His will in the world and firmly establish the teachings of Jesus through the Apostolic Church.

Andrew Vargo

Responses to Jamal Badawi's "Radio Al-Islam Channel RA 200"
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