When Jesus Became God

A professor of Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, Richard E. Rubenstein specializes in religious and social conflicts, and he pursued his study of Arianism in the hope that it would provide insight into the nature of religious conflicts. Although Jewish, he tries not to be disrespectful of Christian theology.

Rubenstein’s work of “storytelling and interpretation” is exciting and provocative. While not a specialist in the early history of Christianity, Rubenstein is well acquainted with the rich scholarship in the field, and he has used the primary sources that have been translated into English and French for When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight Over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome.

Three hundred years after Jesus’ crucifixion, Christian theologians had strong disagreements about the nature of his divinity. Athanasius and his followers argued that Jesus had always existed and was of the same “essence” as God. Arius and his supporters, in contrast, insisted that Jesus was less than God, which made it easier for people to look upon him as an example to follow.

The Nicene Council of 325 adopted Athanasius’ viewpoint and condemned Arianism as a heresy. Although the Arians dominated several minor councils, the pro-Nicene party, supported by Emperor Theodosius I, finally triumphed in the Council of Constantinople of 381, which was enforced by a policy of cruel persecution.

Rubenstein does an excellent job in showing how firm religious convictions, reinforced by social forces, made it almost impossible for either side to make any compromises, except when faced with a common enemy.