The Literalist Heresy
Once the Jesus myth was put into a historical context, it was obvious that soon some Christians would see it as a record of actual events. A Literalist school emerged in Rome in the 2d half of the 2d century AD. The Gnostic belief that the Jesus story was an initiation allegory leading to salvation through Gnosis was soon replaced by the Literalists’ belief of salvation through belief in a historical Messiah. Literalists were aware of the similarities between Jesus’ story and the Pagan myth of Osiris-Dionysus. They agreed that the other Mystery cults had myths but they claimed that the Literalist myth of the dying and resurrecting Godman had really taken place in Jerusalem. The new and original idea of Literalist Christianity was that “Christ came in the flesh”. On this base Christian Literalism dominated the western world for nearly 2,000 years.
Literalists replaced the Gnostic sage teaching his group of initiates with a hierarchy of bishops at the head of their expanding cult. Gnostic initiation aimed at bringing initiates to spiritual maturity where they would be free of any external authority and become their own “Christ”, or “King”. Literalists wanted as many followers as possible but they kept them in the dark, to tell them what to believe and to discipline those who disobey the orders of the hierarchy. Intellectual enquiry was discouraged if not prohibited and blind faith was presented as a virtue. Gnostics were allowed to interpret Jesus’ myth and to change it as they saw fit. Once it became a biography, intolerant dogmatism was inevitable.
From the large number of Christian scriptures, the Literalists chose four Gospels to form the canon of the New Testament and they were declared to be the only true gospels while the others were said to be heretical. These four Gospels are variations on the Jesus myth used initially by Christian Gnostics. They are said to be four-eyewitness account of historical Jesus despite their contradictions. Literalists insist that they were the most popular gospels of early Christianity but this is not true as they only appeared in the late 2d century AD. In addition Literalist bishops invented a lineage making them heirs to the fictional disciples of the Gospels. Literalist bishops also “adopted” Gnostic writers to their cause because, in fact, there were no early Literalist Christian writers. There were no historical disciples as there were no early Literalists.
Literalist Christianity took over the Old Jewish Testament with its patriarchal monotheism. The immediate consequence being that it rejected the concept of a Christian Goddess; in doing so they put an end to the Gnostic concept of equality between the sexes. As the people were not easily convinced, a Christian Council met in Ephesus in 431AD and made Mary, Jesus’ mother, the new Goddess also known as “Queen of Heaven” and “Mother of God”.
The growth of Christian Literalism
Christian Literalism grew in Rome and the west during the 3d century AD although the east remained mainly Gnostic. It was obvious, however, that the simplistic Literalism doctrine that also offered near certain salvation by faith only would attract more adherents that the more demanding Gnosticism. As they grew more numerous the Christian Literalists attacked all the Gnostic schools that defended themselves by saying that Literalists were creating an “imitation Church” that did not teach the secret Inner Mysteries. The Jewish Jesus cult, or Christianity, grew in popularity as the interest in Mystery cults such as the Mysteries of Mithras spread. Finally, in the 4th century AD, Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity, and within 50 years Christian Literalism was the one and only official religion permitted in all the Roman Empire.
Attack on Gnosticism
Christian Literalists’ attacks on Gnostics became more and more nasty, distorting in the way the picture of Christian Gnosticism and describing them as diabolical heretics, a notion that describes better the Literalists. Literalists also attacked Paganism that they denounced as a barbaric cult of bloody sacrifices. Starting at the end of the 4th century AD, Christian Literalism, the only authorised religion in the Roman Empire, launched a brutal crusade aiming to kill all the Gnostics and Pagans, destroying their buildings and documents, torturing and killing philosophers, priests, priestesses, scientists, and anyone who disagreed.
The Literalist Legacy
The Christian Literalists’ victory was a spiritual and cultural defeat for the western world. With the disappearance of the Gnostic Inner Mysteries Christianity lost its soul, allowing the Literalist autocrat clergy to impose their dogmas by force, and to maintain their power through violence. The priests, and above all the bishops, behaved more like politicians that as religious men. For many centuries the Christian Literalist churches have kept their members in the dark and uneducated, they treated them like slave. Fortunately, lately, people revolted and the power of the Christian Literalist churches is decreasing rapidly.
Literalist Christianity is a major religion originating from the life, teachings, and death of Jesus of Nazareth (the Christ, or the Anointed One) who, the Literalists say has lived in the 1st century AD. It has become the largest of the world’s religions. It is the most widely diffused of all faiths with a membership of some 2 billion believers. Its largest groups are the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, and the Protestant churches; in addition to these churches there are several independent churches of Eastern Christianity as well as numerous sects throughout the world.
As a tradition, Literalist Christianity is more than a system of religious beliefs. It also has generated a culture, a set of ideas and ways of life, practices, and artefacts that have been handed down from generation to generation through the 20 centuries since Jesus first became the object of faith. Christianity is thus both a living tradition of faith and a culture. The base of Christianity is the church, the community of people who make up the body of believers. Christianity addresses the historical figure of Jesus Christ against the background of the belief in one God. It rejects polytheism, which allows for many gods, and atheism, which makes Jesus a purely and ordinarily human figure without divine or transcendent reference. To monotheism as an element of the faith of Christianity, one may add that Christianity refers to a way of salvation, or redemption. The agent of that redemption is Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus Christ is the essential character of Christianity and gives it identity in the same way that Buddha does for Buddhism.
It seems more and more likely that the History of Christianity, as told us by the Roman Catholic Church and its Literalist followers, had been distorted and that the first Christians were Gnostics. The first to distort the history of Christianity was Eusebius in the 4th century AD. He compiled his history on the base of legends, distortion of facts, and his imagination and, if in a slightly different form, it is still the official view of the Literalist Christian Churches to day. All those who thought differently were classified as heretics and treated as such. Eusebius was doing this for the Roman Emperor Constantine who imposed Christianity, in the form of the Nicene Creed, as the state religion of the empire. He helped the Literalist Christians to eliminate the Pagans and the Gnostics because he wanted “one God, one religion” to impose his claim of “one Empire, one Emperor”. However he was baptised only on his deathbed since, in fact, he was a Pagan and a monster like most Roman Emperors before and after him. Literalist Christians were the winners and, as all winners, they wrote the History.
Christianity really took off when Emperor Constantine adopted it as the only religion of the Roman Empire in 321 AD. He did it for political reasons more that by conviction. Being a pragmatist, he was only baptised on his deathbed allowing him to behave, as he wanted all his life. Before that Christianity was really a minority religion. It is believed that in 250 AD, 2% of the population of the Empire was Christian and only 4 to 5% at the beginning of the 4th century. Christianity was obviously gaining ground, but so did the other cults of that time.
The problem of theological authority
Literalist Christianity is an authoritarian religion that led to religious bigotry and religious wars. By saying that it was the only true and superior faith, the Literalists felt justified to destroy other societies over the world. Other cultures honour the wisdom and civilisation of their ancestors; Christianity sees them as Devil worshippers. In some ways Christianity has cut us off our roots, imposed superstition, wars, and destruction. Literalism aimed at uniting the world under one religion; in fact it has caused deep divisions. For Christianity to become a partner of the other religions, and finish describing them as the work of Devil, it would have to recognise its debt to the Ancient Mysteries and reject the Old Testament. Christianity did not arrive as the result of a unique Divine intervention; it evolved from the past that is from the Ancient mysteries. The Christian fundamentalists will never accept this. If Christianity continue in the future to agree with them and to their desire of return to the authoritarian past, Christianity will disappear because the modern man is not ready anymore to believe the old Christian saying: “It must be true because it says so in the bible”. Christianity is not anymore the dominant force that it was in the past; many people are now looking for a new spirituality as Literalism has reached its peak.
Differences between the Eastern and Western churches.
A major factor in the consolidation and expansion of Christianity in the West was the growth in prestige and power of the bishop of Rome. Pope Leo I the Great made the primacy of the Roman bishop explicit. The next such figure was Gregory I the Great, whose work shaped the worship, the thought, and the structure of the church as well as its temporal wealth and power. Even while still a part of the universal church, Byzantine Christianity had become increasingly isolated from the West by difference of language, culture, politics, and religion and it followed its own course in shaping its heritage. These differences between the Eastern and Western parts of the church, both the religious differences and those that were largely cultural or political, came together to cause the schism between the two.
Early heretical movements
Christianity has always been a religion of schism and conflict. Every document in the New Testament speaks of false preachers and attacks on Christians. In the first century AD it was between the Jesus mysteries and Judaism and, in the second century, between Gnostics and Literalists that is, between the proponents of Christianity as a mystical allegory, and those who saw Jesus’ story as a true history of miraculous events. Literalists took literally what to Gnostics were mystic allegories. They used their belief in the resurrection of Christ in the flesh to tell their members that all Christians would also be resurrected in their material bodies on the day of the Last Judgement, or second Coming, whenever it would come. The Literalists leaders of the second century, who became known as bishops, invented a spiritual lineage that linked them to the Apostles. Through this, they argued that the historicity of Jesus was proved by the testimonies of those who lived in His time, testimonies that were passed from bishop to bishop together with the authorities given by Jesus to his Apostles, authority that is still transmitted today. On the other hand the Gnostics spoke of secret Inner Mysteries that were not known to the Literalists. By the end of the second century, the Literalists already defined as Christians those who followed the Literalist doctrine, who were baptised, and who obeyed their bishops. The Gnostics went on saying that the true Church was invisible, that only the members could recognise each other, and they insisted that it took more that baptism to become a Christian. The Literalists saw the Gnostics as a threat to their authority and they persecuted them as “enemy within”. Literalists describe the Gnostics as uneducated extremists on the fringes of Christianity. The truth, however, is that the Gnostics were the intellectuals of early Christianity, authoring many more spiritual books and Gospels that the Literalists. It is obvious that it is not necessary to be an intellectual to become a Literalist; the only requirements are to believe what you are told, and to obey.
Protestantism differed from the various protest movements from the later Middle Ages by the level of its polemic against the ecclesiastical, theological, and sacramental developments of Western Catholicism. Initially the Protestant Reformers hoped that they could accomplish the reformation of the doctrine and life of the church from within, but this proved impossible either because of the intransigency of the church, the extremism of the Protestant movements, or the political and cultural situation. The Anglican Reformers, as well as Martin Luther and his movement, were, in general, the most conservative in their treatment of the Roman Catholic tradition; John Calvin and his followers were less conservative; the Anabaptists and other groups in the left wing of the Reformation were the least conservative of all. Despite their deep differences, almost all the various Reformation movements were characterized by an emphasis upon the Bible, as distinguished from the church or its tradition, as the authority in religion. The Reformation was launched as a movement within the established Christianity that had prevailed since Constantine. It envisaged neither schism within the church nor the dissolution of the Christian culture. But when the Reformation was over, both the church and the culture had been radically transformed. The consequences of the Reformation were a divided Christendom and a secularised West. Established Christianity, as it had been known in the West since the 4th century, ended after the Reformation.
Formulating a definition of Protestantism is difficult because there is a greater diversity within Protestantism than there is between some forms of Protestantism and some non-Protestant Christianity. It is possible to define Protestantism formally as non-Roman Western Christianity, and to divide most of Protestantism into four major confessions or confessional families:
4- Free Church