May 20, 2007
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Poem: "Mud Season" by Alice N. Persons, from Never Say Never. © Moon Pie Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission.
After a brutal Maine winter
the world dissolves
in weak sunshine and water.
Mud sucks at your shoes.
It's impossible to keep the floors
or the dogs clean.
Peeling layers of clothes like onion skins,
you emerge pale, root-like, a little dazed
by brighter light.
You haven't looked at your legs
and discover an alarming new geography
of veins and flaws.
Last year you scoffed at people
who got spray-tanned
but it's starting to appeal.
Your only consolation is the company of others
who haven't been to Nevis
or Boca Raton,
a pale army
of fellow radishes,
Literary and Historical Notes:
It was on this day in 325 that the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was called to order. The result was the establishment of the core beliefs of the Christian Church.
Christianity had had very little organization in the years following the crucifixion of Jesus. At first, it was just a branch of Judaism. But in 70 A.D., the Roman Army destroyed the city of Jerusalem in the process of crushing a Jewish uprising. The result was that Christians, along with Jews, were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. And since Christians were no longer living in Jewish communities, Christianity lost its strong ties to Judaism and became a religion with much broader appeal among gentiles.
By 100 A.D., there were fewer than 10,000 Christians in the world, and most of them had relocated to Rome. They were the subjects of persecution by Roman officials, who believed that Christianity was a dangerous cult. The persecution of Christians seemed to help gain new converts. The stories of martyrs persuaded people to join a religion that could inspire such passion. Churches banned together to give each other courage, and the bonds between Christians became stronger and stronger. By the end of the second century A.D., the number of Christians had grown to more than 200,000. By the end of the third century, those numbers had grown almost exponentially, to about six million Christians throughout the Roman Empire.
But there was still a lot of diversity of religious beliefs among Christians. Some Christians believed that they could fall into trances and speak the word of God while under the influence of the spirit. Some believed that Jesus was not a divine figure, but merely a great man. Some believed that Jesus was a supernatural being created by God, but not really God himself. And then there were the Gnostics, who believed that the God of the Old Testament was an evil God, and that Jesus had come to save humanity from that evil God. There were many gospels other than the those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There was a Gospel of Thomas, a Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and a Gospel of Judas.
Christianity might have continued to splinter into many different religions if it hadn't been for the emperor Constantine. He came to power after a stunning military victory, and he later claimed that during the battle he had received a vision from the Christian God. He'd never been baptized as a Christian himself, but once he became emperor, he announced that Christianity would become the official religion of Rome.
And if Christianity was going to be the official religion, Constantine thought that Christians needed to agree on what they believed. And so it was on this day in 325 A.D. that Constantine called together more than 250 bishops to debate what those Christian core beliefs should be.
The result was the Nicene Creed, a prayer that is still recited in many Christian churches today. The most important belief that the council established was that Jesus was not only the son of God, but that he was also of one being with God. And even though he was God, he had become a man, and as a man he had suffered, died, and was buried, only to rise again, in fulfillment of the scriptures.
Within 50 years of the Council of Nicaea, more than half of the citizens of the Roman Empire, about 34 million people, had converted to Christianity.
It's the birthday of French novelist and short-story writer Honoré de Balzac, (books by this author) born in Tours, France (1799). He devoted most of his life to writing a massive series of novels and short stories depicting all aspects of French society in the 19th centuryLa Comédie Humaine, or The Human Comedy.
It's the birthday of philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill (books by this author) in Pentonville, London (1806). He wrote On Liberty in 1859, expressing his fear that bold and freethinking people were becoming all too rare. He wrote, "The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement."
He is also well known for his book Utilitarianism (1863), where he argued that the aim of all actions should be the greatest good for the greatest number of people. He said, "Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness."
Mill also said, "If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
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