Brother Abraham, the biblical scholar (who happens to look quite a bit like St. Jerome), was telling me the other day about the beginnings of the early church.
He said that early on there were all sorts of different beliefs about God; some thought of him as creator-in-chief, others saw him as an ever-present spirit permeating all of nature; even God’s gender was questioned by some.
People, Abraham told me, looked for different ways to get in touch with God. Some thought the church with it’s doctrines and rituals was the way to go but others thought they could meet God themselves if they tried really hard so they sought revelation through fasting and other kinds of bodily denials. Others believed secret knowledge was hidden in the words of the Bible, there to be deciphered by the truly committed.
Then, while the Christians were busy seeking an audience with God the Romans were feeding them to the lions or killing them in other really nasty ways because they felt the Christians were disrespecting the true gods which of course were the Roman ones.
But, around the year 300 or so the Emperor Constantine had a revelation of his own and declared Christianity not only lawful but THE religion of the whole Roman Empire. Then he provided lots of money to build churches which made the early church fathers very happy.
These early bishops soon took a dim view of people seeking God on their own. They encouraged them, in not always pleasant ways, to come into the fold and renounce their heretical ways since they (the bishops that is) felt that they clearly didn’t need the competition. And, besides, they (the bishops again) had Truth on their side.
Well, I went home and thought about this story for a while. I had to wonder if conflicts such as these are really about truth. It seems to me the desire to be in charge has something to do with it.