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Is Peter Wagner correct in his reporting of violent deaths happening around the establishing of the Trinitarian Creeds - "It produced no fewer than 25,000 deaths."May 26th, 2014
Question: I was wondering if Peter Wagner is correct in his assessment of the violence that occurred in establishing the Trinitarian Creeds (according to Joel Hemphill), when Wagner states "It produced no fewer than 25,000 deaths." This statement is found in an article written by Hemphill, "Charisma Magazine Finally Prints The Truth." Wagner is citing a Yale historian, Ramsey MacMullen and also says, "The controversies concerning the Trinity precipitated no fewer that 15,000 church councils from AD 325-553...by majority vote." Do you have any insights/comments on this? Thanks, James
In an article appearing in Charisma, Peter Wagner makes the statement above regarding the Church Councils and Creeds of the first 4-5 centuries. Wagner is quoted by Joel Hemphill, an anti-trinitarian singer, preacher of sorts in an article on his web site. Wagner is citing historian, Ramsay MacMullen in his book, Voting About God in Early Church Councils.
...there are political and social issues here. Being part of a political/social group that uses doctrinal creed as an identity marker is different than belief....Purely doctrinal persecution (which I believe DID happen) was largely a piece-meal affair, local, and poorly documented.
My formal training and my general knowledge of early Christian history immediately caused me to doubt this number of deaths as being attributed to the doctrine of the trinity...or any other doctrine for that matter.
1. Joel Hemphill does not accurately reflect Peter Wagner when he states,
...the book has real promise, matched to real failings...I could certainly see myself using chapters 6 and 7...with one of my classes...But I also know I would spend much time trying to mitigate the effects of MacMullen's generalizations...MacMullen's treatment of religious violence has a similarly stark quality. Never one to miss the chance for a general claim, he writes: "Indeed, in the cities...the phenomenon [of religious violence] as a whole surpasses any other one can think of for historical significance over the course of the empire's latter centuries..."
[Here Ayres offers a scathing critique to show the overblown emotional nature of such a statement. He ends this critique with this summary:] The rhetoric is wildly overdone.
[Now Ayres goes straight to the point of my own criticism of this work:]
In case we need statistics on all this religious violence... [quoting MacMullen] "Our sources for the two and a quarter centuries following Nicaea allow a very rough count of the victims...not less than twenty-five thousand deaths."
The accompanying footnote is long and varied: The vast majority of its citations offer no numerical evidence and much rather obvious polemical rhetoric...MacMullen's rhetoric all too often takes the place of any careful assessment of sources, or the ways in which religious violence was interwoven with violence attributable to a range of contributory causes.
Ayres is right in my opinion. MacMullen gives a brief summary of the Nike riots in the first chapter, but then in his fifth chapter he lists his sources for the deaths in a footnote. Many of these sources are secondary/scholarly works, many of them from his own works. Included in this footnote,
Because information reaches us in such unsatisfactory (at points, quite unusable) quantity and texture, and because it is drawn from such a great time span and such great numbers of lives and settings, I have not been able to arrange it all in a simple, straightforward story line. Simplicity could only have been bought at a great price in accuracy.
I think this statement gives us a sense of MacMullen's style, mentioned in the above review by Ayres. MacMullen has tons of data in his brain and sometimes has difficulty presenting small pieces of data in a way which is easy to follow. And he is correct when he says that our historical data is not always clear. But when I read other scholars with tons of data in their brains (F.F. Bruce quickly comes to mind) I do not encounter such meandering pathways.
Al Baker, Ph.D.
Please note Mr. Wagner's involvement in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR, a heretical movement of self-appointed "prophets" completely lacking credibility. Also note Charisma magazine's gross lack of editorial and journalistic integrity. - Michael
I am not real familiar with the organization you have mentioned, but your comment has done the job you asked for. My concern is typically focused on the use (or misuse) of early Christian history. I am familiar with Charisma and it has never struck me as a good source for intellectual reading. Good stories and personal testimonials - yes.
I have been advised by Charles Odahl that Ramsey MacMullen is, in his opinion, an excellent scholar. I have deep respect for Prof. Odahl, thus I am posting this comment. If I am wrong about this assessment, I will post my correction/retraction. For now I leave my initial thoughts - I just do not believe this number of people died from creedal disagreements unless one counts riots or battles which, in my opinion, should not be counted since most social unrest and battles were the result of a combination of social, economic and religious concerns.
Al Baker, CH101
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