August 25, 2014

“The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost” become official

The fracturing of the Christian religion into various churches and doctrines with different beliefs started in the early centuries of Christianity.

One source of division was a debate between Christians who believed in Trinitarianism and those who believed in Arianism.

Trinitarianism was based in part on Matthew 28:19, a verse in the Bible which says:

     “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the 
        name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

In the fourth century A.D., some Christian leaders used this and other Biblical verses to develop the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, or Trinitarianism.

Trinitarianism maintains that, although there is only one God, he has three forms: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Ghost, aka “the Holy Spirit.”

Another early Christian leader named Arius disagreed with that view. Arius and his followers, called Arianists, believed Jesus was the Son of God but was himself human, not divine like God.

The Roman Emperor Constantine I, who had converted to Christianity, was annoyed by this doctrinary dispute. So in 325 A.D. he convened a meeting of more than 300 Christian bishops in the Turkish city of Nicaea (now named Iznik) and charged them with clarifying what the official Christian beliefs would be.

The meeting came to be called the First Council of Nicaea.

On August 25, 325, after two months of discussion, the Council issued what is referred to as the original or first Nicene Creed.

It established the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as the official Christian doctrine and Trinitarianism was adopted by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and several smaller Christian subgroups.

The First Council of Nicaea also condemned Arianism as heretical anathema and ordered all Arianist writings to be burned. Arius himself was banished from the Roman Empire and took refuge in Palestine.

Despite all that, some Christians refused to reject Arius’ teachings. Arianism continued to have its followers and, in one form or another, still does today.

In 336 A.D., Arius was pardoned by Constantine I and invited to come to Constantinople. While traveling there he died unexpectedly under suspicious circumstances.

According to a contemporary account: “his bowels protruded, followed by a copious hemorrhage, and the descent of the smaller intestines: moreover portions of his spleen and liver were brought off in the effusion of blood.”

Some historians theorize that Arius was poisoned by anti-Arianist Christian zealots.

If that’s what happened, I suspect Jesus would have disapproved.

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August 03, 2014

“I’ll die young, but it’s like kissing God.”

On August 3, 1966, the brilliant, boundary-stretching and, unfortunately, drug-addicted American comedian Lenny Bruce was found dead in the bathroom of his home in Hollywood, California.

A syringe and other drug paraphernalia were on the floor next to him. The cause of death was ruled to be an accidental overdose of morphine.

Bruce was just 40 years old.

It was the sad fulfillment of a famous quote about the peril and pleasure of drug addiction that is widely credited to Bruce:

       “I’ll die young, but it’s like kissing God.”

Many books of quotations simply cite the quote as “attributed.”

Those that give a specific source for the attribution cite the 1970 book Play Power: Exploring the International Underground by Richard Neville.

Neville is himself a legendary 1960s counterculture celebrity.

He initially gained notoriety in Australia as editor of the underground magazine OZ.

In Play Power, Neville used the Bruce quotation at the end of a point he made about the unintended consequences of public hysteria over marijuana.

“When one discovers that cannabis is harmless, exposing society’s lie, heroin by analogy may seem tempting,” Neville wrote. “Moral: Tell the truth about pot and there will be fewer junkies.”

Neville then inserted Bruce’s “kissing God” quote, without giving any source information other than Bruce’s name.

It’s possible that Neville heard Bruce say the line in a conversation.

He mentioned in an interview in DUKE magazine that he’d met Bruce briefly in 1962, when the comedian came to Australia for an ill-fated tour that was shut down after one performance for “obscenity.”

I emailed Neville and asked him if Bruce used the “kissing God” quote when they met.

He emailed back saying he didn’t remember hearing it from Bruce himself.

“I can’t recall the first time I heard it,” Neville told me, “though I do remember the saying being quoted in the London OZ office in the late Sixties.”

I’ve been unable to find the “kissing God” quote in anything written by Lenny Bruce.

Nor could I find any evidence that he said it in any of his stand-up comedy routines.

However, a version of the quip is mentioned in the 1974 biography Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce!, written by Albert Harry Goldman and Lawrence Schiller.

According to an anecdote recorded in that book, Bruce once told his friend, writer Terry Southern:

“You start off with one or two pills, then it’s three or four and pretty soon to get that flash, you gotta have a whole handful. An’ shit! Who wants to shoot without the flash? You understand? It’s like kissing God!”

On August 3, 1966, Lenny Bruce “kissed God” for last time.

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