Egypt – the Land of Great Ideologies

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Debate between Arius and Athanasius 

Two great ideologies were presented by two great scholars and priests of Egypt – Arius and Athanasius. Arius preached for the “Oneness of God” and Athanasius for Trinity – God the Father, Son of God and Holy Ghost.

By Yussouf Shaheen

During the 5th century AD, the most powerful Roman Empire collapsed; disintegrated into pieces, while facing the two great ideologies presented by two great scholars and priests of Egypt – Arius and Athanasius. Arius preached for the “Oneness of God” and Athanasius for Trinity – God the Father, Son of God and Holy Ghost.

After Jesus Christ, the Romans took over 300 years to accept the Christianity as a ‘legal religion.’ Formerly the Christianity was considered as a sect of Judaism.  Finally in 313 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great granted legal status to Christianity, through the Edict of Milan. Once the Christianity received legal status, it became the major religion of the Roman Empire. Like many other nations under Rome, the people of Egypt were transformed to Christianity. But, over the issue of the nature and relationship of God and the Son of God, raised by Arius and Athanasius, created chaos, disorder and frustration all over the Roman Empire. To maintain law and order, and to develop consensus over the issue, Emperor Constantine – a non-Christian, convened the Nacaea Conference in May, 325 AD, attended by 318 bishops of Christianity (1).

The conference continued for over four months. During the conference, Arius prayed for the Oneness of God and Athanasius pleaded for Trinity – God the Father, Son of God and the Holy Ghost. In response, Arius was of the opinion that with the version of Trinity, we are creating more than One God (2). He emphasized the supremacy and uniqueness of God who alone is almighty and infinite (3). He further maintained that the Son of God was created as an act of the Father’s will, and therefore that Son was a creation of God (4). However, Arius doctrine was rejected; he was arrested, exiled to Illyria (Balkan region) and excommunicated. The works of Arius were ordered to be confiscated and consigned to the flames [5] while his supporters considered as “enemies of Christianity (6). The Council declared that the Son was true God, co-eternal with the Father and begotten from His same substance (7). Later, this version was known as Catholic Christianity.  Nevertheless, the controversy continued in the major parts of the empire, exclusively in the Middle East and North Africa [8]. Even the Christian Church was divided.

After the death of Constantine in May 337, his son Constantius II became the sole Roman emperor in 350, he resolved the issue by granting the version of Arius; subsequently, majority population of all the nations under Rome, in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, became adherent of Christianity, later it was known as Arianism, based on the doctrine of the Oneness of God. Arius was allowed to return back from Palestine and Athanasius was exiled.

Again, when an army commander Theodosius I became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire during In 379 – 395, he re-imposed Catholic Christianity based on Trinity, abolished the version of the Oneness of God. The move was rigorously opposed all over the Roman Empire, exclusively by the Roman army generals – Goths, Vosigoths, Ostrogoths and others. Subsequently, after the death of Theodosius, his sons Arcadius and Honorius could not control the situation. Eventually the Roman Empire collapsed and disintegrated in 476 AD. All the new nations born out of the borders of Rome, declared Arianism – Oneness of God as their official religion.

With a gap of around 150 years, Islam was proclaimed with the similar ideology of Oneness of God. When Amr ibn al-As, Arab Muslim commander invaded Egypt in 641, its people, instead of raising the arms, opened doors of the Egyptian forts, by saying ‘our, liberators, brethren in same faith have arrived’, as quoted by Will Durant, one of the great historian, in his book ‘The Story of Civilization – The Age of Faith.

At this moment, allow me to refer Ptah Hotep, a man of great wisdom and poet of the ancient Egypt. Around 4,350 years ago, he was the vizier (First Minister) of the pharaoh Djedkare Isesi. From his book “The Maxims of Ptahhotep” I would read some of his literary pieces, composed in about 2350 BC:

Great is the Law.

“If you are a leader, take responsibility in the matters entrusted to you.

“If you are a man of authority, be patient when you are listening to the words of a petitioner; Do not dismiss him until he has completely unburdened himself/of what he had planned / to say to you.”

“All conduct should be so straight that you can measure it with a plumb-line.”

“Injustice exists in abundance, but evil can never succeed in the long run.”

“Punish with principle, teach meaningfully. The act of stopping evil leads to the lasting establishment of virtue.”

“Those whom God guides do not go wrong.”

“Follow your heart all your life, do not commit excess with respect to what has been ordained.”

“A perfect word is hidden more deeply than precious stones.”

“Love your wife with passion.”

“How wonderful is a son who obeys his father!”

In the end, we must remember and pay tribute to all of the five Nobel Laureates of Egypt, who won Nobel Peace Prize and Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Literature. We are awfully sorry that our brother learned Egyptian poet and scholar Ashraf Abouel Yazid Daly could not travel to Pakistan due to Coronavirus; we were anxiously waiting for him.

References  

(1)   Leclercq, Henri (1911), “The First Council of Nicaea”, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 11, New York: Robert Appleton Company, retrieved 19 February 2014

(2)   Kelly, J N D (29 March 1978), Early Christian Doctrine, San Francisco: HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0-06-064334-8, retrieved 24 February 2014

(3)   Davis, Leo Donald (1983), The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787), Collegeville: Liturgical Press, ISBN 978-0-8146-5616-7, retrieved 24 February 2014, Pp 52-54

(4)   M’Clintock, John; Strong, James (1890), Encyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, 6, Harper & Brothers, retrieved 24 February 2014. Pp45.

(5)   González, Justo L (1984), The Story of Christianity, 1, Peabody: Prince Press, ISBN 978-1-56563-522-7, retrieved 24 February 2014. Pp165.

(6)   Mirbt, Carl Theodor (1911). “Nicaea, Council of”. In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.) Encyclopedia Britannica – 19 (11th ed.) Cambridge University Press – pp. 640–642

(7)   Schaff, Philip; Schaff, David Schley (1910). History of the Christian Church – 3 – New York: C Scribner’s Sons, section 120.

(8)   Lutz von Padberg (1998), Die Christianisierung Europas im Mittelalter [The Christianization of Europe in the Middle Ages], P. Reclam, ISBN 978-3-15-017015-1, retrieved 24 February 2014. Pp26.

Mr. Yussouf Shaheen, writer, intellectual, poet, historian and a former senator, from Nasarpur and Khairpur (Pakistan). He was born on April 3, 1939 and is a renowned name in Sindhi literature, history and journalism. He is the Founder of Monthly Badal and Daily Barsat. He is a research scholar, although he made his mark as a poet and journalist, as signified by “Pride of Performance” award in Literature, conferred on him by the President of Pakistan in 1995. His area of research encompasses history, religions, mythologies and languages of the world. Mr. Shaheen is author of 21 books including William the Bastard – and his descendants and Rise and Fall of Gods – In Historical Perspective. He was among the first few journalists and writers of Pakistan who were arrested on July 19, 1977 just two weeks after the military takeover in Pakistan on July 5, 1977. He was tried for his writing against stoning to death for adultery and amputation of the hand and foot for robbery. He wrote the first book in the series under the title of “Muslimcracy” in Urdu in 1957 when he was only 18 years old. His next book, “Khuda, Insan Aur Janvar” was written in Sindhi. In 1970, he wrote “An’al Haq” in Urdu the launching ceremony of which was attended among others by Syed Mohammad Taqi, Raees Amrohvi, Pir Hismuddin Rashdi and Shamsherul Hydri, none of whom is alive today. Later came, his other book “Haq Maujud” (Truth Untold) which was in Sindhi and Urdu both. In 1986, he wrote “World Confederation of the Peoples” to be followed by “The World of Conquerors”, Greek Mythology (in Sindhi), “William the Bastard and His Descendants”, Rise and Fall of gods – In Historical Perspective, Rise and Fall of Sanskrit and “Fall of Native Languages of the Americas.” Most of these books have been published outside Pakistan.
Images of the titles of Mr. Yussouf Shaheen’s some of the books

 

 

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