Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
One seldom runs into Catholics who like to wade through books like The God Delusion for those valuable nuggets of truth they can glean from the ocean of Augean muck that are the atheistic diatribes of Richard Dawkins. Most Catholics seem to figure out quickly that the signal-to-noise ratio makes the game not worth the candle. If they want an education in science and religion, they realize, they had better apply to people like Fr. Stanley Jaki, who understood both rather well.
But rare is the day when I point out that Glenn Beck is as reliable a guide to matters of faith and the public square as Dawkins is to faith and science that I do not hear the complaining squawk, “But I learn so *much* from him.”
Yes. Right. But you see, that’s the problem. You learn from him. And he’s a crank who doesn’t know what he’s talking about as he spews forth his paranoid fearcasts and quack analyses of history that make people dumber than they were before they listened and “learned”. Case in point, the conversation below, helpfully fisked by yours truly.
22:40: Glenn: “…the Dead Sea Scrolls, you know what they are? Stu, do you know what the Dead Sea Scrolls are?
Stu: Well, of course I do…
Glenn: Now, c’mon, most people don’t.
Stu: Well, I heard of them, I don’t really know
Glenn: You don’t really know. You have no idea why they were there. Sara average person doesn’t know. Any idea, take a guess on why the Dead Sea Scrolls were there, or anything else.
Sara(?): Something religious.
Glenn: Okay, good. Even though I’ve explained this on this program a couple of times, I’m glad to see that even the people that work with me don’t even listen.
So here’s what happened. When Constantine decided that he was going to cobble together an army, he did the Council of Nicea, right, Pat?
Wrong. Although, Constantine had only recently become sole emperor, Constantine had been joint emperor (with armies under his command) for two decades by the time of the Council of Nicaea (in fact, as the Council concluded, he celebrated the twentieth anniversary of his accession to the Empire). It had nothing—absolutely nothing—to do with “cobbling together an army.”
Glenn: The Council of Nicea, and what they did is brought all of the religious figures together, all the Christians and then they said, “Ok, let’s put together the Apostles’ Creed, let’s you know, you guys do it.”
Wrong. Absolutely wrong. The Apostles’ creed dates to nearly two centuries before Nicaea. What Nicaea formulated was the NICENE creed, which was intended to restate the faith of the Church in answer to the Arian claim that Jesus was not God, but merely a creature. Arius conceived of Jesus as a sort of super-archangel. An immensely powerful spiritual being and greater than all other creatures, but not God. Mormons (Beck is a Mormon) are not Arians, but neither are they Christians. They are polytheists who regard the persons of the Trinity as three gods. So they have their own agenda in dismissing Nicaea. However, as Beck shows, such dismissal often results in stunning ignorance about the elementary recorded facts of the history of the Council.
So they brought all their religious scripture together, that’s when the Bible was first bound and everything else.
Wrong. Absolutely wrong. Although the canon of Scripture in 325 largely resembled what we use today, the fact is it did not assume its final shape until almost 70 years after the Council, with the pontificate of Damasus I. Various dioceses still had certain variations in what they used in local liturgies, though more and more western Churches were basically following the practice of Rome. More than that, the canon of Scripture was not given a conciliar and dogmatic definition for another 1200 years (at Florence and Trent). Nicaea had absolutely nothing to do with deciding which books were to be reckoned as part of the Bible. It simply assumed that whatever books were honored by use in the liturgy were inspired books. The Council was about settling the question of the Arian heresy, as well as about various matters of liturgical housekeeping.
And then they said, “Anybody that disagrees with this is a heretic and off with their head!”
Utterly, utterly false. No adjudication of the canon of Scripture occurred there. Fer cryin’ out loud, you can find the canons of Nicaea online and *see* what they talked about. The canon of Scripture was not on the agenda. It’s not like this is a big secret. Moreover, Nicaea prescribed no death penalties (or indeed any sort of civil penalties, as far as I know) for anybody. The union of Church and state had not progressed so far as that yet.
Well, that’s what the Dead Sea Scrolls are. The Dead Sea Scrolls are those scriptures that people had at the time that they said, “They are destroying all of this truth.”
Again, utterly, utterly wrong. The Dead Sea Scrolls are what is left of a library of books belonging to the Qumran community of a Jewish sect called the Essenes. They date from a century or so before Christ to the destruction of the Second Temple (roughly 70 AD) by Rome. This sect was not Christian and the Dead Sea Scrolls contain a combination of Old Testament texts found in the Bible, as well as various Jewish writings having to do with the particular notions of the Essenes. Their particular obsession had to do with hostility to the Temple elite and various theories about how the Jewish calendar should be observed. The Dead Sea Scrolls tell us nothing whatever about Christianity per se (though a tiny thread of speculation argues that a fragment of Mark’s gospel may be among the documents), but they do give us insights into one aspect of Jewish sectarianism that existed just before and concurrent with the birth of the Church. Some scholars speculate that John the Baptist may have been an Essene (since both celebrated ritual washings) but that’s a mighty thin thread of speculation. In any case, the Council of Nicaea knew nothing whatever about the Dead Sea Scrolls since the Essene community had vanished nearly three centuries before. Indeed, nobody knew about the Dead Sea Scrolls till they were discovered in 1948.
Whether it’s truth or not is up to the individual, but at that time those people thought that this was something that needed to be preserved and so they rolled up the scrolls and put them in clay pots and they put them in the back of caves where no one could find them.
“Those people” were Qumran Essenes and the scrolls were “hidden” almost three centuries before Nicaea. However, by “hidden” what we really mean is that the books were basically abandoned. They were “hidden” in much the same way that the books in a library in a war torn city are “hidden”. The people fled, and left the books behind. It happens in the face of advancing Roman legions. Those legions, however, were not under the command of Constantine, because he would not born for two more centuries.
They were hidden scripture because everything was being destroyed that disagreed with the Council of Nicea and Constantine. That’s what those things are.”
No. That’s not what those things are. Constantine was a smattering of DNA material in the loins and uteruses of a large number of his ancestors when the Dead Sea Scrolls were abandoned to their fate by the Essenes of Qumran two centuries before his birth. So were all the bishops of the Council of Nicaea. None would be born for two more centuries.
Also, just to be clear: Constantine did not agree with the Council of Nicaea. As Caesar in charge of an Empire that was being rocked by controversy over the Arian heresy, he demanded the Council meet and settle the question for the sake of keeping peace in his dominions, but when the time came for him to be be baptized (people often delayed baptism till the end of their lives at this time), he chose to be baptized by an Arian priest. In fact, after the Council of Nicaea, the Catholics who had carried the day at the Council found themselves continually harrassed and persecuted by the Imperial Court, which tended to prefer Arianism and semi-Arianism as the sensible compromise position and to view Trinitarian Catholics as extremists. Athanasius, the champion of the Council’s teaching, was exiled five times and falsely accused of murder in an attempt to shut him down. (He dramatically produced the supposed victim of his murder, alive and well, in one of the great courtroom scenes of antiquity). The notion that the winners wrote the history after Nicaea is something only a person utterly ignorant of history—somebody like Glenn Beck, for instance—could believe.
It’s little things like this that prompt me to advise Catholics who “learn so much” from Glenn Beck to consider the possibility of getting their education in history, civics and religion from somebody who actually knows what they are talking about and not from Talking Hairdos who, as Paul warns, tell us what our itching ears want to hear.