A Hellenized Pharisee resuscitates the Messianic Sect: The Apostolic Church faces pagan persecutions, imperial purges and the Gnostics: History of Christianity (Part 2 of 5)

The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus,
of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,

Until the day in which he was taken up,
after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments
unto the apostles whom he had chosen:

To whom also he shewed himself alive
after his passion by many infallible proofs,
being seen of them forty days,
and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:

And, being assembled together with them,
commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem,
but wait for the promise of the Father,
which, saith he, ye have heard of me.
ACTS 1: 1-4

The Synoptic Gospels proclaim the rising of the Christ and his transformation into a ‘spiritual body.’ The birth of the church came after Christ’s ascension at the beginning of the feast of Shavuot or ‘Pentecost’. When the apostles gathered on the day of Pentecost, the house was filled with wind and fire and they started speaking foreign languages. On coming out, the Jews were amazed to see these Galileans speaking the native languages. On proclamation of Christ’s resurrection to the dumbfounded Jews, a substantial number of such Jews converted to Christianity.

The Apostolic Church was exclusively Jewish as in the beginning it did not allow Gentiles to be baptised. Only later Apostle Peter declared that the gospel could be received by the Gentiles too without the additional requirement that they be bound by the Law of Moses. Gospels state that Apostle Peter had a vision in which Christ commanded him to take food of all kind, whether Kosher or not. Peter baptised a Roman centurion, Cornelius, and this was the beginning of Gentiles being baptised into the new faith.

But it was Saul (later known as Paul) who actually popularised the still infant Messianic sect to the large population of Gentiles and pagans. A ‘Hellenized’ Pharisee from Tarsus in Asia Minor, he was at one point inimical towards this very sect. But his transformation from a persecutor to the greatest missionary of Christianity is a game-changing event in the history of Christianity. According to Christian texts he was blinded by a blazing light and his vision was restored by a Christian named Ananias which led to his becoming a missionary of Christ. A tireless preacher, he changed the course of history forever. Bringing into the fold vast numbers of Gentiles led not only to the continuation of this infant sect but also, though gradually, it was successfully seen as a separate sect from the Jews.  His equal treatment of Jews and Greeks was an exemplary step. The common participation of the Jews and Gentiles in Abraham’s faith made them inheritors of God’s covenant with Abraham. Their obedience to the Mosaic Code was not compulsory. This theology of Paul led to the tremendous growth of Christianity and the church became a force which transformed the world.

The early Christians used to meet on Sundays, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. They used to sing Psalms, glossolalia, prophecy etc. But this new ‘mystery religion’ had numerous pagan critics. The Roman authorities gradually started looking at them with disdain and suspicion. The protection (legal immunity) which Jews had was no more available to the followers of this new religion which led to the Roman authorities taking brutal steps to control this new found menace.

The followers of Christianity had to compulsorily honour the Gods of the Roman Empire and offer prayers to the Gods for the Empire’s welfare. On refusal death penalty was the sole punishment. This led to the start of the endless pagan persecutions, the first one being the infamous ‘Nero’s purge’. Gradually theses persecutions were aimed at extermination of Christians finally culminating in making ‘professing Christianity’ a capital offence. Christians were hunted down and those who did not denounce their faith were put to death. It continued till the third Century A.D. Emperor Decius even issued an edict requiring every citizen to make a sacrifice at a pagan altar, refusal of which again led to capital punishment. Such anti Christian laws and policies of the Empire continued but surprisingly could not limit the growing popularity of Christianity.


Trials and Tribulations of ‘The Anointed One’: From Nazareth to Gethsemane to Golgotha: History of Christianity (Part 1 of 5)

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me;
because the Lord hath anointed me
to preach good tidings unto the meek;
he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all that mourn;

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my soul shall be joyful in my God;
for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments,
and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.

ISAIAH 61: 1-2, 10 (King James Version)

By the time Jesus was born, Jerusalem had long since passed its economic and cultural zenith. It was under Roman dominion and was the place of regular disturbance. Extreme economic inequality had led to terrible discontent among the general public. Majority of Jews and Gentiles led an extremely wretched life. Not much is known about the early life of Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke do indicate about Christ’s miraculous conception and birth. Christ’s birth in a stable and his adoration in the manger by shepherds are well known. His dialogue with the scholars of the Temple at the tender age of twelve and his baptism in the Jordan by John have entered into folklore. As per the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Jesus went to the wilderness for praying and fasting for forty days. He successfully resisted the devious attempts by the Satan. After that he gathered disciples, the inner twelve known as the Apostles. Ministry began when Jesus returned to Galilee from the Judaean Desert, with Jesus preaching around Galilee. It included the Sermon on the Mount, calming of the storm, walking on water and other miracles including the Transfiguration.

After entering Jerusalem, Jesus started telling the people that the promised deliverer had come. Those who followed him believed that the authority upon which he acted was no less than God’s own. He was the God’s ‘anointed’, the ‘Messiah’ or ‘Christ’. The message conveyed was unmistakable that the long awaited ‘Messiah’ i.e. the ‘King of Jews’ had arrived to free Israel from the agonising bondage. Very soon he was considered as a serious political threat to the establishment. Though the ultimate power belonged to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, yet the local responsibility fell on the High Priest of the Temple. The culmination was entering of Jesus and his followers in the Temple’s public courtyard and overturning the tables of the money changers. He also released the cattle ready to be sold for sacrifice and drove out the vendors selling various items and declared “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” As the Temple police and the Roman guards started searching for the people involved in this incident, Jesus and his disciples exited the Temple and walked out of the city.

After a few days, during the Passover seder, Christ predicted his arrest and death and shared bread and wine with his disciples identifying those as his body and blood. With his disciples (except Judas Iscariot) Christ went to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives where his agony began and he started praying to God to spare him the suffering. The Temple Guards soon followed and Judas marked him by giving him a kiss. Christ was taken away by the guards while his disciples fled. On the same night he was examined by the Sanhedrin, the governing council of priests and elders led by Caiaphas, the High Priest. A bunch of witnesses was already there but their testimonies were greatly at variance with one another. The witnesses testified that Jesus had made threats against the Temple of Jerusalem to which Jesus refused to answer. Finally Caiaphas asked him whether he proclaimed himself as the ‘Messiah’ to which Jesus replied in the affirmative (various Gospels give differing versions). He was immediately charged with blasphemy which entailed capital punishment.

At the dawn Jesus was taken to Pilate, produced before him and was accused of seditiously styling himself as the ‘King of the Jews’. The Governor tried to push the matter to the ruler of Galilee, King Herod. But Herod did not entertain the matter and referred it back to the Governor. Gospels state that Pilate was totally unconvinced of the alleged crime committed by Jesus and offered to set him free in recognition of Passover. But the agitated mob was asking for his blood only and asked the Governor to release another criminal. Pilate had no other option but to hand over Jesus to the soldiers for his crucifixion. The soldiers crowned him with thorns, whipped and beat him and Jesus had to bear his own cross. He was sent to Golgotha alongside two other lestai (bandits). Jesus was also given a plaque detailing the crime (sedition) for which he was being crucified.

The story of Jesus of Nazareth did not end with his death, it was only the beginning of the birth of a new religion which entirely changed the history of mankind.

Brexit: Final tussle between Eurosceptics and Europhiles (Part 2 of 2)

EU leaders have taken varying positions on Cameron’s renegotiation demands. The Social Democrat-Christian Democrat Coalition Government in Austria has been protesting the proposals in protest at Britain’s reluctance to share migrants. The Social Democrat Swedish Government is supporting Britain. The Centre-Left coalition in Czech Republic has strongly protested the welfare reforms. The Christian Democrat led coalition in Germany has not ruled out treaty change but Merkel’s position is obfuscated. The Socialist Government in France is a strong opponent of the British reforms. The Conservative Government in Hungary has also hit out at the reforms. The Populist Right Government of Poland is also against the proposals. But the Centre Right Government in Netherlands is supporting Cameron.

Those favoring Brexit argue that withdrawal would reverse immigration, free Britain from an economic burden and save billions of taxpayer’s money. Britain being outside the EU would be free to rescind EU laws and regulations. Some estimates put the benefits at several per cent of GDP. The UK’s net contribution to the EU is about £9bn a year which is a substantial sum. Euroseptics argue that UK is suffocated by employment legislation. Britain is also culturally, linguistically and legally aligned with the Commonwealth countries and so has options of trade outside EU too. Those thinking otherwise argue that such withdrawal would lead to deep economic uncertainty leading to millions of jobs losses. Also Britain would then face the common external tariff. British companies would find it difficult to comply with EU regulations in order to gain access to the Single Market. Business investment in Britain might drop, with falls in foreign direct investment and withdrawals by overseas firms. Whether a British exit from the EU would diminish or enhance the country’s standing and influence is an open question.

Also United States has presently ruled out a separate trade deal with UK if it leaves the European Union. Whether UK would be successful in negotiating favourable trade deals with other countries like China, India also needs to be seen. But a tiny non EU member like Switzerland has managed to sign a favourable trade agreement with Japan, a country with which the EU could not seal a deal till date. So, Euroseptics argue that mere exit from EU may not pose any terrible loss to the country. Germany’s close relationship with Poland also works unfavorably as Poland staunchly objects to the Britain’s proposals as the proposals are generally seen as discriminating against East European countries.

Whether the “Norwegian option” can be emulated is also a hotly debated question. Norway has negotiated a semi-detached relationship with the EU through its membership of the European Economic Area. European Economic Area membership gives Norway full access to the EU’s internal market, allowing it to trade goods with EU states without customs fees. Norway is obliged to implement all the EU’s laws relating to the internal market. Though Norway has representatives in EU institutions, they have no decision-making power in how EU rules are drafted. But still Norway has higher per capita immigration than Britain, also Britain has more control over its borders than Norway, which is part of the Schengen border-free area. Thus there are disadvantages of the “Norwegian option”, as Norway had to accept EU regulations, yet had no vote or influence in Brussels, makes a contribution to the EU budget and yet has no effective control over its borders.

Though there is general consensus among the EU members that the UK’s In-Out referendum will not force open Europe’s treaties, yet it is viewed as a “pandora’s box”. A new European treaty would require ratification in 28 national parliaments and potentially trigger referenda in many other member states.

On Cameron’s demand of a “multi currency union”, European Central Bank fears that it could lead to a breakaway regulatory regime for non-eurozone countries as other countries may try to avoid its obligation to join the euro.

After the two-day Brussels summit of the EU leaders on 17-18 December, 2015, Cameron has finally cleared the way for a UK referendum on EU membership next summer. His renegotiation at another summit in February next year, may be the last opportunity before holding the referendum. A “Brexit” is now more likely than ever due to the tough stand taken by Cameron and the entrenched position of many EU leaders. With the recent accusations against the Tories of a “migration cover-up”, the Euro Wars have just begun!

Brexit: Final tussle between Eurosceptics and Europhiles (Part 1 of 2)

UK is one of Europe’s “Big Three” states. The erstwhile European Economic Community was created by the Treaty of Rome of 1957. Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany were the founding members. United Kingdom alongwith Denmark, Ireland joined in 1973. In 1980, Greece, Spain and Portugal joined. Following the creation of the EU in 1993, an additional sixteen countries had become members. Upon the formation of the European Union in 1993, the European Economic Community was incorporated and renamed as the European Community. In 2009 the European Community ceased to exist as it was absorbed into EU. Membership of the European Union has always been a controversial issue in the United Kingdom. As per the Conservative Party manifesto’s commitment to hold a referendum on EU membership, the present United Kingdom European Union membership referendum bill is now under consideration. The first referendum was held in 1975 when membership was approved, this will be the second referendum.

In a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, the Cameron government has recently expressed concern about the pressures that free movement has brought on the schools, hospitals and the public services. Unlike some other Member States, Britain’s population is increasing and it will become the most populous country in the EU by 2050. Also the net migration is running at over 300,000 a year which is also not sustainable. Controlling immigration from not only outside the EU but also inside the EU is urgently required. Britain further wants to find arrangements to allow a Member State like the UK to restore a sense of fairness to its immigration system and to reduce the current very high level of population flows from within the EU into the UK. Cameron claims that these have been unplanned and are much higher than forecast, and far higher than anything the EU’s founding fathers envisaged. These very substantial flows of population have also had a significant impact on a number of Member States, many of whose most highly qualified citizens have departed en masse. On the abuse of free movement, tougher and longer re-entry bans for fraudsters and people who collude in sham marriages are now being sought by Britain. It is easier for an EU citizen to bring a non-EU spouse to Britain than it is for a British citizen to do the same. Also stronger powers to deport criminals and stop them coming back, as well as preventing entry in the first place is on the reforms agenda of Britain. ECJ judgments have even widened the scope of free movement in a way that has made it more difficult to tackle the abuse.

The most contentious proposal is that people coming to Britain from the EU must live in Britain and contribute for four years before they qualify for in-work benefits or social housing. Eastern European countries are most resistant to this change and there could be retaliatory action by Poland and other eastern European countries too. The Tory Government also wants to end Britain’s obligation to work towards an “ever closer union” as set out in the Treaty through a formal, legally-binding and irreversible way. This is intended to ensure that UK is never forced to join any future European superstate.

The Conservative government further wants the EU to recognise many principles like that the EU has more than one currency (and not the sole Euro); there should be no discrimination and no disadvantage for any business on the basis of the currency of their country; integrity of the Single Market must be protected; any changes the Eurozone decides to make such as the creation of a banking union, must be voluntary for non-Euro countries, never compulsory; taxpayers in non-Euro countries should never be financially liable for operations to support the Eurozone as a currency, just as financial stability and supervision has become a key area of competence for Eurozone institutions like the ECB, so financial stability and supervision is a key area of competence for national institutions like the Bank of England for non-Euro members, and any issues that affect all Member States must be discussed and decided by all Member States. But the recent Labour Party’s campaign for the UK to remain in the EU has made the situation more complex.