April 26, 2014

Should the opposite of miracles count against sainthood?

"An Italian man was crushed to death on Thursday by a giant crucifix dedicated to the late Pope John Paul II, just days before the Polish pontiff will be made a saint in a ceremony at the Vatican."
In a bizarre coincidence, the 21-year-old man was reported to have been living in a street named after Pope John XXIII – who will also be canonised in the ceremony on Sunday, in an event that is unprecedented in the 2,000 year history of the Catholic Church.

The man, named as Marco Gusmini, was posing for a photograph with a group of friends in front of the 100ft-high cross when it suddenly collapsed.
(There's a photograph of the fallen crucifix at the link, where the article mentions the unusual bending forward of the sculpture in its intact condition, which you can see here.)

47 comments:

Titus said...

Rand Paul was in Cambridge-that's a miracle!

Pogo is Only Mostly Dead said...

Ha ha ha. Aren't Christians funny and stupid and backward?

In contrast, Saint Marx never had the 100+ million deaths arising from his holy texts count against him. Bishop Krugman prays to him every day in the NYTimes, and Cardinal Obama puts Marx's theories into law, forcing us into lower class penury.

But mock away.

Bruce Hayden said...

The Protestant in me asks, "who cares"? Hundreds of millions of Roman Catholics in this world believe that one man can determine whether or not someone who died is saintly enough to be able intercede for others with God. Something like that. And, what is the theological basis for this? Because. Mostly based on Sacred Tradition, which basically means that some Bishop of Rome, over the last two millennia, has declared that he has that power. Saints, from a Protestant point of view, make little logical sense. Apparently, God is too busy to listen to everyone trying to beseech him for special favors, etc. So, you apparently ask help from a dead person, whom some Pontiff has declared sufficiently good and saintly, and, apparently capable of performing miracles posthumously, and they, being dead, or something like that, can intercede for you with God. I suspect that their saintliness is what is supposed to get them noticed and listened to by the same God who is too busy to listen to the petitioners directly. Something like that. But, why would the spirit of a dead person be more able to listen to petitioners than the all powerful divinity? And, wouldn't God know better than these saints who was naughty and who was nice, and therefore who deserved being listened to?

Of course, most protestants don't accept that priests can intercede, or really should be involved, with prayers to God. That is not something that is really taught in the Scriptures, and appears mostly to be a power appropriated by the priesthood through, again, Sacred Tradition.

Sorry to throw theological gas on the fire here, but in these ecumenical times, we sometimes forget that there are some stark theological divisions within Christianity.

Marc said...

The UK press enjoy noticing the oddities of their southern neighbors, particularly in their religious observances. Squires didn't think that the fact that the victim was physically disabled or in the location with his church group added to the newsworthy quirkiness of this tragedy, I guess.

James Pawlak said...

The Church only "declares" someone a saint. The "facts of the matter" are known only to God.

Ann Althouse said...

@Pogo Is that a response to my post or to the voices in your head?

I'm certainly not laughing at this young man's death. Obviously, there is terrible culpability here for whoever designed this colossus and approved the design. There is responsibility. A miracle might have saved him. Do you believe in miracles? The 2 popes are being canonized presumably after a process in which miracles were involved, now you have the opposite of miracles occurring in some interesting proximity to these 2 pope-saints. What do you have to say about that? It has nothing to do with whether there have been other culpable individuals in history or other ideologies connected to death. I have chosen a topic here, and you're basically thread-jacking, saying there's something else over there.

And then you have the nerve to try to trash me by rejecting what I have said as mindless mockery.

How about sticking to the topic? Your impulse to distract implies that you have no answer to my question.

Saint Croix said...

Althouse, you know I think you're awesome, but this atheist tendency (one of my professors posted this article on facebook yesterday) to use this boy's death to mock religion speaks badly for atheism. It's a 21-year-old boy, his family is feeling a lot of pain, and atheists can't help but laugh, snicker, poke fun, mock, belittle, any number of inappropriate responses to the death of an innocent human being.

We might ask this question anytime a loved one dies. Why did God do this? People ask that question all the time. Jesus, on the cross, "Why have you forsaken me?"

We are not God. What we do not understand could fill a universe.

What seems unfair or unjust or wrong here (and thus worthy of mockery and scorn), doesn't really apply if you accept a higher being, an afterlife, and concepts like infinity and eternity.

Paco Wové said...

"Aren't Christians funny and stupid and backward?"

There's some of that here, but I've noticed (as Marc also points out) that the British press, in particular, seem especially put out by those damned Papists. It's always 1560 for some people.

persiflage mahal said...

Bruce,
Really, most Catholics don't believe the sainthood jive either. It's more like a Catholic Hall of Fame.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Ann Althouse said...
@Pogo Is that a response to my post or to the voices in your head?

I'm certainly not laughing at this young man's death. Obviously, there is terrible culpability here for whoever designed this colossus and approved the design. There is responsibility. A miracle might have saved him. Do you believe in miracles? The 2 popes are being canonized presumably after a process in which miracles were involved, now you have the opposite of miracles occurring in some interesting proximity to these 2 pope-saints. What do you have to say about that? It has nothing to do with whether there have been other culpable individuals in history or other ideologies connected to death. I have chosen a topic here, and you're basically thread-jacking, saying there's something else over there.

And then you have the nerve to try to trash me by rejecting what I have said as mindless mockery.

How about sticking to the topic? Your impulse to distract implies that you have no answer to my question.


Yet another scolding you would never dare give to Crack, though he is much more deserving.

Ah, Madison liberals. Nothing if not consistent.

traditionalguy said...

Contrarian cross thoughts: The use of the Cross as the icon for Christianity has a problem. Killing this victim is not one of them.

Crosses are simply Death Penalty Machines like Guillotines, hangman's nooses and electric chairs. This one appears to have accidentally done its designed job.

As a Christian symbol they are not protection from evil. Rather they are protection from God's wrath upon sinners by reminding God of His Son's death sacrifice of Himself in our place redeeming us from bondage to death.

But we should cut the sincere Argentine Pope some slack. He has a Religious Empire to run.

Saint Croix said...

Is that a response to my post or to the voices in your head?

I am mostly responding to the facebook post my professor put up yesterday. I don't know what's in your heart. I don't know what's in my heart, sometimes. I'm not trashing you. I like you, and I like your snark (usually).

I say thing I regret all the time. Just yesterday, as a matter fact, a post I deleted.

What you do, you do in public, and there's no deletion. It's very honest. You're brutally honest, it's what I admire most about you.

Fernandinande said...

Do you believe in miracles?

Only if werewolves are involved.

Pogo is Only Mostly Dead said...

I took the topic as "Should the opposite of miracles count against sainthood?", which I never considered was meant as a serious question about sainthood accounting methods, with debits here and credits there, but saw it mostly as what you perceived to be a lighthearted jab.

I indeed took offense at that, not unlike you take offense at perceived anti-race and gay slights.

So I was apparently wrong.
What was the intended topic, then?

Pogo is Only Mostly Dead said...

What do I have to say about that?

If I knew that you were actually inquiring about the accounting methods used for sainthood, I would have not have posted anything.

It seems to me an unserious question, or at least a taunting one.




Saint Croix said...

I'm certainly not laughing at this young man's death. Obviously, there is terrible culpability here for whoever designed this colossus and approved the design.

It is possible that God sacrificed this boy--as he sacrificed his own Son--so that people would reveal themselves, and think about God, and the afterlife, and have these conversations.

That seems horrible to us. It seems horrible to me! One of the worst stories in the Old Testament is when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son. And Abraham is ready to do it! I hated that story for years.

Secular people are like, was Abraham hearing voices in his head? Was he crazy, and did he come to his senses? I wondered that.

But now think of that story, and then think about God sacrificing Jesus. God tells us that horrible story with Abraham, which upsets us, so that we will understand how painful it was for God to kill Jesus. To kill all of us, we all die.

If you think of God as a father to all humanity, you stop thinking of laws or contracts or anything like that. You start thinking of families, and loved ones, and family reunions.

To put it another way, does this giant cross falling on a boy sound like an accident to you, like a car accident or some other tragedy? If so, then it's hardly newsworthy. Just another death, and we mourn the loss.

But if it's not an accident, if it seems too much of a coincidence to be an accident, and some of us can't resist the opportunity to see the cosmic joke, well, who told that joke?

That's what a miracle is. It's a reminder of God.

EDH said...

Can't help it, but that statue in its original state makes me think Jesus might have replaced "Steve-O" in a segment of the next Jackass movie called "Backward Pole Vaulting"

LarsPorsena said...

"...That is not something that is really taught in the Scriptures, and appears mostly to be a power appropriated by the priesthood through, again, Sacred Tradition. .."


The canon of the Bible? Not estalished until over 300 years after Christ's death. Sacred Tradition.

Ann Althouse said...

"It is possible that God sacrificed this boy--as he sacrificed his own Son--so that people would reveal themselves, and think about God, and the afterlife, and have these conversations."

Maybe God is angry at the graven image, especially of dying Jesus as a distorted colossus. And we don't know how the man was behaving right before he was stricken down. God could have been angry at 2 things: 1. The offensive artwork (with its tendency to elicit sacrilegious behavior from visitors), and 2. Some sacrilegious japing from the young man.

Show some respect!

LarsPorsena said...

"Maybe God is angry at the graven image, especially of dying Jesus as a distorted colossus. And we don't know how the man was behaving right before he was stricken down. God could have been angry at 2 things: 1. The offensive artwork (with its tendency to elicit sacrilegious behavior from visitors), and 2. Some sacrilegious japing from the young man.

Show some respect!"

As a university professor you only need to show some respect for the 'religion of peace'.
The next time hundreds of hajis are trampled to death while circling the kaaba, try the same kind of japery.

tim maguire said...

Bruce, there is biblical justification for the Pope having the authority to declare saints. You can argue with the interpretation, but it comes directly from Jesus.

Black humour is legitimate, it may not be appreciated by the family, but the whole world need not play along for the sake of the family. I find it a very interesting question that I never thought about before. One of the requirements for official sainthood (everyone in heaven is a saint, declared sainthood just means they're definitely in heaven) is miracles. If miracles indicate heaven, why shouldn't anti-miracles indicate another fate?

William said...

Maybe the young man was in a state of grace and God, acting upon the intercession of St. John Paul, chose that exact moment to call the young man home. As St. Croix points out, it's not a miraculous death but a passing strange death that causes one to contemplate the existence or non existence of God's agency in human affairs.

Pogo is Only Mostly Dead said...

Tim, the demand that religious objects have no attachment to the reality of the world (death, injury, horror, evil) is magical thinking.

Otherwise, the query is just another form of this question:
"In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself."

William said...

People of British descent have this weird anti-Catholic animus. They feel that the more they despise and ridicule the Church then the more secure and valid becomes their own Anglican faith. Catholics in Ireland used to have to tithe their incomes to the local Anglican clergy. This sacrifice was not asked of Welsh Methodists or Scotch Presbyterians or Hindus in India......Guy Fawkes Day. The Know Nothing Party. The Klu Klux Klan in the 1920's. These are all manifestations of the hallowed Anglican hostility towards Catholics.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ann,

God could have been angry at 2 things: 1. The offensive artwork (with its tendency to elicit sacrilegious behavior from visitors), and 2. Some sacrilegious japing from the young man.

Show some respect!


No, you show it. Seriously. At minimum, do not try to fix the blame for the accident on "some sacrilegious japing," when you have no earthly clue whether there was or wasn't.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Bruce Hayden,

You're over-analyzing this. Or, rather, reifying it, in a concrete form where there are all these petitions to God, and He needs some help with the traffic, so that the best of the dead deputize for Him. It's just not like that.

Pogo is Only Mostly Dead said...

Indeed it is a most pagan thought, that I can wear a sacred amulet and no harm will come to me.

Latino gang members are often massively tattooed with Christian themes, yet are most irreligious and often come to barbaric deaths.

Marc said...

It is art, you know, the fallen "colossus", the work of Enrico Job [enricojob.com], best known, evidently, for his stage design projects. I don't know if that can be fit somehow into the proposed Althousian calculus.

Directly to the point, it is mixing apples and oranges to try to correlate the miracles attributed to the saints' intercession and the evils of life, permitted by God, that occur due to our fallen nature in the post-lapsarian world-- they are not "opposites".

Saint Croix said...

Maybe God is angry

The Old Testament God often seems angry. People were afraid of him.

Jesus made clear, as best He could, that God is love. We can't figure out pain (why is there pain in birth?) and death and unhappiness. I just watched Passion of the Christ again, on Easter Sunday. It's so brutal. Hard to watch. And yet, beautiful.

The idea that God would sacrifice somebody seems awful. It's a reminder of God's awesome power. But Jesus is clear, over and over, how much God loves us. That's what Jesus wants us to focus on. Just believe that there is love there. And understand too how little we know.

Sometimes I think, "I'm just an extra in a much bigger story." And then I am shocked to discover that God loves me, specifically.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Pogo IOMD,

Tim, the demand that religious objects have no attachment to the reality of the world (death, injury, horror, evil) is magical thinking.

That's so, and it's one of the things that Catholicism is particularly adamant about.

Marc said...

(By the way, and this is off topic, I'm well aware, the Squires fellow, in the Telegraph's current main article on the upcoming canonisations, takes off at perhaps the quarter point of his electronic page by observing that "what should be a day of triumphant celebration for the Holy See will be overshadowed by deep-seated controversy" and goes on in a similar vein to the end, not omitting to quote the ubiquitous Pater Thomas Reese SJ asseverating that "canonising popes is a dumb idea"-- ubiquitous in every secular venue where remarks critical of the Holy See are wanted. This is why observant Catholics spend very little time scouring the pages of the Times and Guardians and Telegraphs of the world for serious insight into the orbis catholicus.)

Ann Althouse said...

"do not try to fix the blame for the accident on "some sacrilegious japing," when you have no earthly clue whether there was or wasn't."

Did I claim to know? Words have meaning. Look at mine, especially: "Maybe... we don't know... could have..."

Look at the picture at the second link, with the crowd at quite a distance and not directly under the nearly horizontal Jesus.

The dead man was posing for a photograph. From that, there is room to speculate about what the pose was, perhaps lying on the ground in the Christ-on-the-cross position. As I said, the sculpture — which is atrocious, and that's not speculation — invites humorous posing.

I don't purport to know what the young man was doing, and I don't blame anyone for posing humorously around that incredibly bad art, but the question was raised (by someone other than me) that God may have had a plan in letting the bad sculpture fall on the man, and that led me to think about what might have bothered God at the moment.

Lucien said...

Wouldn't the opposite of a miracle be something that is easy to explain, maybe even predictable, that raises no inkling of a supernatural actor's involvement?

Patrick O said...

"Not estalished until over 300 years after Christ's death."

The books in the NT canon were attested as authoritative by the end of the 1st and early 2nd centuries, for the most part.

The 300 years later is a bit of a misnomer. The muratorian list of the present NT canon was from around 170. Any list, earlier or later, wasn't giving those documents authority, but acknowledging that a certain books already had unique authority, while other books didn't.

The church and the canon mutually informed each other, the canon were the documents that the earliest churches used as part of being defined as the church and the canon are the documents the later churches determined were part of their identity.

If not for the canon, the authority for the church to recognize the canon as the canon wouldn't have been in place.

66 said...

Ann,

Your post implies the question of whether death is the opposite of a miracle. I would say it is, but probably not for the reasons that you would think.

The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia describes a miracle, in part, as an extraordinary act that is above, outside or contrary to nature:

"A miracle is said to be above nature when the effect produced is above the native powers and forces in creatures of which the known laws of nature are the expression, as raising a dead man to life, e.g., Lazarus (John 11), the widow's son (1 Kings 17). A miracle is said to be outside, or beside, nature when natural forces may have the power to produce the effect, at least in part, but could not of themselves alone have produced it in the way it was actually brought about. Thus the effect in abundance far exceeds the power of natural forces, or it takes place instantaneously without the means or processes which nature employs. In illustration we have the multiplication of loaves by Jesus (John 6), the changing of water into wine at Cana (John 2) — for the moisture of the air by natural and artificial processes is changed into wine — or the sudden healing of a large extent of diseased tissue by a draught of water. A miracle is said to be contrary to nature when the effect produced is contrary to the natural course of things."

Christians believe that God is capable of performing miracles and that when God works a miracle, it is often done through a human being. Even my protestant brother Bruce Hayden would likely agree that the Bible contains numerous examples of miracles performed by Jesus, and later by his apostles acting as intercessors with God. That God can perform miracles through the intercession of holy persons is not, or should not be, controversial for a Christian.

That an individual dies, even in a tragically bizarre manor, is perfectly ordinary. In that sense, death is the opposite of a miracle, which is an extraordinary event.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Suppose a beloved and revered law professor is to be honored for all the good works he performed in helping law students and others during his long teaching career by naming the law school's new library after him. The dedication is held in the new library with relatives, friends and the entire student body present. Then, as a large statute of the professor is being unveiled, it tumbles off its pedestal and causes the entire library floor to collapse.

The result: 3/4 of the student body are killed.

Should this event raise questions about whether the professor's good works should be honored by the law school?


And if a member of the law school faculty raised this question at the next general meeting of the law school faculty, how would it be received?

Saint Croix said...

I don't purport to know what the young man was doing, and I don't blame anyone for posing humorously around that incredibly bad art, but the question was raised (by someone other than me) that God may have had a plan in letting the bad sculpture fall on the man, and that led me to think about what might have bothered God at the moment.

I don't think death is a punishment.

We say it is. It's a death penalty. Or we only kill bad people. That is a funny line from True Lies

"You killed people?"

"Yes, but they were all bad."

But our human concepts about death, a righteous death, or a bad death, those ideas do not work with God. God kills everybody.

So unless we want to say God is punishing all of us, death is not a punishment.

I use the term "sacrifice." That's different than punishment. And it's a hard concept to accept, I think. You're sacrificing one person for another person? (We would say that is evil if the government did it--or at least I would).

But when we volunteer a sacrifice--as Jesus did--we think that's amazing and beautiful.

The idea of God sacrificing somebody to save somebody, seems wrong to me. But there's so much I don't know or understand.

What I do know is that God kills people every day. We all die.

When somebody dies in a car wreck, we don't get snarky. Or if we do, we immediately feel bad. Because we know this is wrong.

I don't know how many atheists got snarky about this death. I know the temptation must have been there, the irony is obvious. But to get snarky you have to forget the human being who died. And their family.

Consider the possibility that God took this boy, in this manner, not to punish the boy. And not to punish the people who are laughing at his death. (I saw some of this yesterday, which accounts for my ill-humor at 10:10). Maybe, just maybe, God killed this boy in this miraculous way so that people might wake up a bit.

Not just to the humanity of other people, and suffering, but also to the possibility of miracles, of God, of things we can't explain.

Maybe God wants us to feel more, even for strangers we do not know. We have the opportunity to think about the suffering of the family who lost a loved one. We might just skip over this faraway loss, if he had died in a normal way.

So that's one reason God did this.

Or maybe God wants us to think more, about the unseen, about all the things we do not know and do not understand. Maybe God wants to shake us up a bit.

I think there are some logical fallacies to the atheist assumption that the universe has just proven that Christianity is wrong. If it's all accidents and there is no God, why is this a story?

66 said...

In re-reading my (somewhat didactic) post, I see that I did not answer your question, although my answer is implied. No, in my opinion, when the opposite of a miracle occurs (i.e., an ordinary event such as death), it should not count against sainthood. The opposite of a miracle is the status quo.

66 said...

PS: I also misspelled manner. (Didactum in aeternum).

carrie said...

The devil did it so that people like Ms Althouse would ask that question.

ken in sc said...

“When we've been there ten thousand years, we've no less days to sing God's praise, that when we first began.” Compared to eternity, the realm outside of time, the pain and suffering that happens here on earth is no more significant than a toddler getting time out for 15 minutes.

Gahrie said...

How do you know it wasn't really a miracle?

Maybe the guy that got killed with a serial murder, or was about to become one.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

The opposite of a miracle would be something mundane, like getting up and going to work every morning. No, the opposite of a miracle should not count against sainthood.

I'm surprised though that Saint Ann hasn't remarked here on Pope Francis waiving the second miracle for Pope John XXIII. That's the obvious candidate for the Old Testament wrath of God. But, oh yes, she did allude to it.

Freeman Hunt said...

God made physics.

Freeman Hunt said...

It's not as if God goes punishing people for bad art about Him. Half the world would be up in flames.

Bruce Hayden said...

People of British descent have this weird anti-Catholic animus. They feel that the more they despise and ridicule the Church then the more secure and valid becomes their own Anglican faith. Catholics in Ireland used to have to tithe their incomes to the local Anglican clergy. This sacrifice was not asked of Welsh Methodists or Scotch Presbyterians or Hindus in India......Guy Fawkes Day. The Know Nothing Party. The Klu Klux Klan in the 1920's. These are all manifestations of the hallowed Anglican hostility towards Catholics.

It is historical. H VIII dumped the Roman church because they wouldn't give him another divorce. But, then his daughter, Mary killed a bunch of Protestants when he died, and she became queen. Her younger half sister, E I, swung back, but then Catholic Spain send the Armada against her country. Part of it is to prevent a general bloodbath every time that a new monarch ascends the throne.

But, I disagree that a lot of this is Anglican. The Anglicans are not that different from Roman Catholics theologically. Yes, in Ireland, the Anglican nobility and land owners maintained power by pitting the Roman Catholic Irish against the Presbyterian Scotts that they brought in. And, there is still fighting between the two 400 years later.

But, in this country, I think that the issue is more between the non-Anglican Protestants and the Roman Catholics. And, there it is more theological. And, while the elite in colonial days were often Anglican, the yeomen farmers and the like, the Pilgrims, Puritans, etc., were much more mainstream (but often fundamentalist) Protestant. Theological descendants of John Calvin, and not Henry Tudor.

What the Reformation did was to go back to basics. Was this facet of Roman Catholicism directly supported by the Scriptures, or did it appear to be more an add-on, through 1600 years of Sacred Tradition? The add-ons were mostly discarded. And, the more that they did this, the more that Roman Catholicism appeared to them to be polytheistic idolotry. Stuck with the Trinity, and some of the early creeds, but discarding much of what was added after that.

Sure, Jesuit theologins have been able, over the centuries, find scriptural justification for much of where Protestants differ from Roman Catholics, but Protestant theologins would counter that they are exalting form over substance, and ignoring that Christianity has to be viewed in the context of the Judaism of Jesus and his Disciples. And, maybe center to this is Jewish monotheism. When you get into Saints, you are essentially talking (from a Protestant point of view) demi-gods, and that is counter to monotheism. Moreover, pictures, statues, etc. of saints (along with Jesus, Mary, etc.) is considered idolotry. (The only human depictions in the church that I have beonged to for almost 50 years now are photos of retired ministers in the coffee room).

Really, most Catholics don't believe the sainthood jive either. It's more like a Catholic Hall of Fame.

And, that is a good part of the reason that this country has become so much more ecumenical during my lifetime. My parents, part of the Greatest Generation, never were close to any Roman Catholics. But, my last 4 girlfriends, including the woman whom I have been with the last 14 years, are all Roman Catholic, as well as some of my best friends. We look to the similarities, and not the differences in our faiths.

Bruce Hayden said...

The canon of the Bible? Not estalished until over 300 years after Christ's death. Sacred Tradition.

And that bothers me more and more. The more that I read about the early years of Christianity, the more I question whether some of what we accept as the basis for our Christianity is, rather, the result of political decisions, made for personal reasons by the powerful Christians of the time (including, newly converted Constantine). Was Mary Magdalene actually the Bride of Christ? And, the relationship discredited over the next couple of generations by ambitious males? And, the concept of the Trinity itself. This was not really settled theologically until Constantine stepped in, and then his descendants. But, after that, and, esp. after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Roman church (from which Protestantism is descended) moved very quickly to assume the imperial trappings of the fallen Empire. Heck, you can go back further than that, and look to the difference in opinion between whether Christianity was an offshoot of Judaism, and to remain true, had to conform to Jewish law, and a New Way, where this wasn't necessary. Would a circumcised Jewish Jesus, along with his Jewish disciples, participated fully in the Jewish faith and rituals of their time, be happy with a religion that has discarded many of those traditions and laws, in favor of others that have grown up in the last 2000 years?

The more that we understand about the debates in Christianity from the time when it started to become mainstream, until the basic theology became set in concrete, a mere 200 or so years, the more some question whether those decisions made were made for purely theological reasons, or whether questions of personal power and preference greatly affect how many of us believe to this day, 1600 or so years later.

The other thing that I find interesting is how Islam affected Christianity. During the time that Christianity was essentially closing its canon, and determining its basic theology, shortly after the time of Constantine, there were essentially five almost co-equal major churches (Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria). Three of these quickly fell to Islam, but arguably, it was partially as a result of the intercene disputes between these Christian churches that partially allowed for the quick growth of this upstart religion (succumbing to Islam meant that they wouldn't die at the hands of other Christians fighting over theology and dominance). Of the two churches that survived, the Roman one became the more powerful, thanks possibly to the fall of the Western Roman Empire (and the survival of the Eastern Roman Empire for another 1,000 years).