Following the Council of Nicaea in 325, there remained many unanswered questions; which books are Scriptural, which are not? Does Christ have two wills, one human, and one divine? Is the Holy Spirit equal to the Father and Son? These questions were not going to answer themselves – more councils were in order.
The question of Scripture was answered within a few years. Church tradition generally used the same books any mainstream Christian would find in their Bibles today (with the exception of certain Lutherans). However, there were those who tried to impose apocryphal books, those who tried to condemn certain scriptural books, and those who wrote their own “scriptures.” The Church dearly needed an official list of books to call Scripture. St. Athanasius, the same man who was able to combat the most vicious heresy of the time while still being relatively inexperienced, wrote a letter that contained a list of books he called “canon.” This letter was written in 367, and a canon identical to this was confirmed in an African council not long after. This council proclaimed that no other books should be read aloud in the liturgy – a sharp stand against the heretical books of that time.
The Liturgy, much like the canon of Scripture, underwent many renovations throughout this same period. From the beginnings of the Church, the Liturgy was a collection of prayers which revolved around the reception of the Eucharist. Not surprisingly, they, therefore, took the Liturgy to be of utmost importance. For this reason, these Christians modified the Liturgy from time to time in order to combat heresy. For instance, the Nicene Creed was added to the Liturgy so that all who communicated would have professed the Catholic faith. The Liturgy consisted mainly of these prayers and scripture readings. In the West, the Liturgy (or Mass) adapted to that specific culture and changed to combat western heresies. In the East, the Liturgy adapted to Eastern culture and changed to combat Eastern heresies. These ancient Liturgies are still celebrated in Churches today.
By the 8th century, the use of Icons became a topic for debate. Iconoclasts (those who opposed the use of Icons) and Iconodules (those who supported their use) fought zealously for their respective positions. The Iconoclasts’ main arguments centered around two things: doubts regarding the use of icons in very early Christianity (an absence of icons in very early churches would have been considered a reason to call Iconodules heretics) and the Second Commandment ban on images. The Iconodules countered these arguments with various historical claims, one of which is pointing out that Church tradition counts Luke the Evangelist (the Apostle) as the first Iconographer. The Iconodules countered the biblical argument by referencing the countless Old and New Testament references to iconography. The historical claims of the Iconoclasts have since been shown to be false. However, the biblical and philosophical arguments still cause denominational rifts.
Most of the doctrinal debate was articulated by Monastics (monks.) Monastic orders in the medieval Church varied, but always consisted of celibacy, prayer, and obedience. Monasticism originated in the early Church, when certain individuals would become hermits in order to live a life of poverty, prayer, and godliness. Similar to John the Baptist, these monks started out as simply hermits who lived in the desert. Once enough people practiced this hermitage, they got together and formed communities. The Rule of St. Benedict became the popular standard for western monasticism, a basic rule of life that governed the monks. The Rule of St. Basil was the standard for many eastern monks. This form of living is maintained in some traditions even in the present day.
The Medieval Church articulated the basic tenants of the Christian Faith, not only in the creed, but also by gathering and preserving the Bible. They established Churches throughout all the known world, and communities of the most prayerful people on earth. From them Christendom today receives Christianity, and through them can one clearly view Christ’s magnificent power.
(Ark of Salvation: Image credits to Uncut Mountain Supply)