Barnabas was a Jew born in Cyrus. His name was Joses,and due to his devotion to the cause of Jesus, the other apostles had given him the surname of Barnabas; this term is variously translated as “Son of Consolation” or “Son of Exhortation”.
He was a successful preacher with a magnetic personality. Any one tormented by the clash of creeds found solace and peace in his company. His eminence as a man who had been close to Jesus had made him a prominent member of the small group of disciples in Jerusalem who had gathered together after the disappearance of Jesus. They observed the Law of the Prophets, which Jesus had come, “not to destroy but, to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17). They continued to live as Jews and practiced what Jesus had taught them. That Christianity could ever be regarded as a new religion did not occur to any of them. They were devout and practicing Jews distinguished from their neighbours only by their faith in the message of Jesus.
In the beginning they did not organise themselves as a separate sect and did not have a synagogue of their own. There was nothing in the message of Jesus, as understood by them, to necessitate a break with Judaism. However, they incurred the enmity of the vested interests among the Jewish higher echelon. The conflict between the Jews and the followers of Jesus was started by the Jews because they felt that the Christians would undermine their authority.
ACTS 12: 25
“And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John,
whose surname was Mark.”
ACTS 13: 1 and 2
“Now there was in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers, as Barnabas, and Simeon, that was
called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrach, and Saul.
“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said: Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work
whereunto I have called them.
ACTS 14:11 to 15
“And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia. The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. “And they called Barnabas Jupiter, and Paul Mercurius.
“Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have
done sacrifice with the people.
“Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out.
“And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye
should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are thereon.”
The gulf progressively began to widen. During the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Christians left the city; and refused to take part in the Bar Coachaba rebellion in 132 A.D. These two events brought to the surface the difference between the Christians and the Jews.
The question of the origin of Jesus, his nature and relation to God, which later became so important, was not raised
among these early disciples. That Jesus was a man super- naturally endowed by God was accepted without question. Nothing in the words of Jesus or the events in his life led them to modify this view. According to Aristides, one of the earliest apologists, the worship of the early Christians was more purely monotheistic even than of the Jews.
With the conversion of Paul a new period opened in Christian Theology. Paul’s theology was based on his personal experience interpreted in the light of contemporary Greek thought. The theory of redemption was the child of his brain, a belief entirely unknown to the disciples of Jesus. Paul’s theory involved the deification of Jesus.
The Pauline period in the history of the Christian Church saw a change of scene and principles. In place of the disciples, who had sat at the feet of Jesus, a new figure, who had not known Jesus, had come to the forefront. In place of Palestine, the Roman Empire became the scene of Christian activity. Instead of being a mere sect of Judaism, Christianity not only became independent of Judaism but also became independent of Jesus himself.
Paul was a Jewish inhabitant of Tarsus. He had spent a long time in Rome and was a Roman citizen. He
realised the strong hold which the Roman religion had on the masses. The intellectuals were under the influence of Plato and Aristotle. Paul seems to have felt that it would not be possible to convert the masses in the Roman Empire without making mutual adjustments. But his practical wisdom was not acceptable to those who had seen and heard Jesus. However, in spite of their difference, they decided to work together for the common cause.
As recorded in the Acts, Barnabas represented those who had become personal disciples of Jesus, and Paul co-operated with them for some time. But finally they fell out. Paul wanted to give up the Commandments given through Moses about things to eat; he wanted to give up the Commandment given through Abraham regarding circumcision. Barnabas and the other personal disciples disagreed. The following sentences in the Acts give a hint of the rift:
“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, “Except ye be circumcised after the
manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” “When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputations with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts 14:1 and 2).
After this rift, there was a parting of the ways. In the Acts, Barnabas disappears after the rift, because the recording
of the acts of the Apostles was done by the followers of Paul. Because of Paul’s compromise with Roman beliefs and legends, Pauline Christians grew in number and grew in strength. A stage was later reached when kings were used as pawns to further the ends of the Church.
The followers of Barnabas never developed a central organization. Yet due to the devotion of their leaders their number increased very fast. These Christians incurred the wrath of the Church and systematic effort was made to destroy them and to obliterate all traces of their existence including books and churches. The lesson of history, however, is that it is very difficult to destroy faith by force. Their lack of organization became a source of strength because it was not so easy to pick them up one by one.
Modern research has brought to light odd facts about these Christians. They are like the crests of waves and looking at them one can visualise a whole body of ocean not yet visible.
We notice that up to the 4th century A.D. there existed a sect known as Hypisistarians who refused to worship God as father. They revered Him as an All Mighty Ruler of the world, He was the Highest of all and no one was equal to Him. Paul of Samasata was a Bishop of Antioch. He was of the view that Christ was not God but a man and a prophet. He differed only in degree from prophets who came before him and that God could not have become man substantially.
Then we come across another Bishop of Antioch viz Lucian. As a Bishop his reputation for sanctity was not less than his fame as a scholar. He came down strongly against the belief of Trinity. He deleted all mention of Trinity from the Bible as he believed it to be a later interpolation not found in the earlier Gospels. He was martyred in 312 A.D.
Next we come to the famous disciple of Lucian viz Arius (250-336 A.D.) He was a Libyan by birth. Peter Bishop of
Alexandria ordained him a Deacon but later excommunicated him. Achilles the successor of Peter again ordained Arius as priest. Alexander the next Bishop of Alexandria once again excommunicated him. Arius however had gathered such a large following that he became a headache for the Church.
If kept out of Church he could be a great danger to her but he could not be accommodated within the Church as he wanted to establish the unity and simplicity of the Eternal God. He believed that how so ever much Christ may surpass other created beings he himself was not of the same substance as God. He was as human being as any other man. The teaching of Arius spread like wild fire and shook the very foundation of the Pauline Church. The controversy that was simmering for three hundred years suddenly became a conflagration. No man dared to oppose the organized Church but Arius did,and remained a headache for her whether he was ordained a priest or was excommunicated. During this time two events changed the history of Europe.
Emperor Constantine brought a greater part of Europe under his rule and secondly he began to support the Christians without accepting Christianity. To the soldier prince the different creeds within the Christian faith were very confusing. In the Imperial Palace itself the controve sy was raging not less fiercely. It appears that perhaps the Queen Mother was inclined towards Pauline Christianity while his sister Princess Constantina was a disciple of Arius. The Emperor was wavering between the two faiths. As an administrator he was interested only in uniting all the Christians within one Church.
It was at this time that the conflict between Arius and Bishop Alexander became so widespread and so violent that it became a law and order problem. So the Emperor anxious to maintain peace in the newly unified Europe had to intervene.
In 325 A.D. a meeting of all denominations of Christianity was called at Nicea (Now Isnik, a village). Bishop Alexander was not able to attend the conference and he deputed his lieutenant Athanasius, who subsequently succeeded Alexander as Bishop of Alexandria.
The conference had many prolonged sessions. Emperor Constantine could not grasp the full implications of the ecclesiastical confrontation, but he was very clear in his mind that for maintaining peace in his realm the support and cooperation of the Church was necessary. Accordingly he threw his weight behind Athanasius and banished Arius from the realm. Thus the belief of Trinity became the official religion of the empire. Fearful massacre of Christians who did not believe in Trinity followed.
It became a penal offense to possess a Bible not authorized by the Church and according to some estimates as many as 270 different versions of the Bible were burnt. Princess Constantina was not happy at the turn of events. The Emperor ultimately was persuaded to accept the faith of the men he killed. The result was that Arius was called back in 346. The day Arius was scheduled to visit the Cathedral of Constantinople in triumph, he died suddenly. The Church called it a miracle.
The Emperor knew it was a murder. He banished Athanasius and two other Bishops. The Emperor then formally accepted Christianity and was baptized by an Arian Bishop. Thus Monotheism became the official religion. Constantine died in 337. The next Emperor Constantanius also accepted the faith of Arius. In 341 a conference was held in Antioch and Monotheism was accepted as a correct interpretation of Christian faith. This view was confirmed by another Council held in Sirmium in 351. As a result Arianism was accepted by an overwhelming majority of Christians. St. Jerome wrote in 359 that ‘the whole world groaned and marvelled to find itself Arian’.
In this context the next important figure is that of Pope Honorius. A contemporary of Prophet Mohammed (peace be
on him) he saw the rising tide of Islam whose tenets very much r esembled those of Arius. As the mutual killings of Christians was still fresh in his memory he perhaps thought of finding a via media between Islam and Christianity. In his letters he began to support the doctrine of ‘one mind’, because if God has three independent minds the result would be chaos.
The logical conclusion pointed to the belief in the existence of one God. This doctrine was not officially challenged for about half a century. Pope Honorius died in October 638. In 680, i.e. 42 years after his death, a council was held in Constantinople where Pope Honorius was anathematized. This event is unique in the history of Papacy when a Pope was denounced by a succeeding Pope and the Church.
The next two personalities of this faith that deserve mention were members of the same family. L. F. M. Sozzini (1525-1565) was native of Siena. In 1547 he came under the influence of Camillo a Sicilian mystic. His fame spread in Switzerland He challenged Calvin on the doctrine of Trinity. He amplified the doctrine of Arius, denied the divinity of Christ and repudiated the doctrine of original sin and atonement.
The object of adoration according to him could only be the one and only one God. He was followed by his nephew F. P. Sozzini (1539-1604). In 1562 he published a work on St. John’s Gospel denying the divinity of Jesus. In 1578 he went to Klausonburg in Transylvania whose ruler John Sigisumud was against the doctrine of Trinity. Here Bishop Francis David (1510-1579) was fiercely anti-Trinitarian. This led to the formation of a sect known as Racovian Catechism. It derives its name from Racow in Poland. This city became the stronghold of the faith of Arius.
Among the present-day Christians a large number of men and women still believe in one God. They are not always vocal. Due to the crushing power of the Churches they cannot express themselves and there is not much communication between them.
In the end it will be of interest to quote Athanasius the champion of Trinity. He says that whenever he forced his
understanding to meditate on the divinity of Jesus his toilsome and unavailing efforts recoil on themselves, that the more he wrote the less capable was he of expressing his thoughts. At another place he pronounces his creed as:- There are not three but “ONE GOD”.