Shortly after the turn of the second century, Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, consulted Emperor Trajan about the rapidly spreading Christian "superstition" in his district, asking him what he should do about it. By interrogating a few people, Pliny learned that "on an appointed day," Christians habitually met before daybreak and recited "a hymn to Christ, as to a god."

These hymns, which go back to the earliest days of Christianity, sharply contradict the popular notion that the doctrine of the Incarnation is only a brainchild of fourth-century theologians playing irrelevant word-games. Long before Christian emperors convened their solemn assemblies, thousands of Christian worship services sang the praises of the Holy Child of Bethlehem.

This is one reason the orthodox party eventually triumphed in the Arian controversy: Athanasius simply argued theologically what the church had been singing for two centuries. But if the Arian controversy settled the issue of Christ's full divinity and humanity, it did not settle the issue of exactly how the divine Christ became human. That concern was left to later theologians.

Christ without a Human Soul

With the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity (A.D. 312), the church marked a new phase in its triumphant expansion. Almost overnight it became fashionable to believe. As a result, churches were crowded, as professor Alan Richardson said, "with the half-converted, the socially ambitious, and the ill-instructed." The Greek idea of God as utterly transcendent reappeared with new vigor among professing Christians—with mixed results.

During the fourth century, two schools of theology offered contrasting interpretations of biblical passages speaking of the ...

Subscriber Access OnlyYou have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Already a CT subscriber? for full digital access.