Timaeus’ Plea for Religious Freedom
In 313, co-Emperors Constantine in the East and Licinius in the West issued the Edict of Milan, ending the persecution of Christians and ordering religious tolerance throughout the Empire. Twelve years later Constantine had defeated and killed Licinius, declared Christianity to be the preferred religion of the Empire and ordered the Christian bishops to attend a council at Nicaea to force an agreement on what it meant to be Christian. The new “Catholic” church would now have the forces of the Empire to enforce whatever orthodoxy emerged. The Edict of Milan was to be discarded. Timaeus of Kaymakli, the last, great Gnostic missionary, travelled to Nicaea to urge continued tolerance of religious diversity. This is what Timaeus said:
“Twelve years ago, Great Constantine, you decreed that religious liberty ought not to be denied, but ought to be granted to the judgment and desire of each individual to perform his religious duties according to his own choice. This was true and just and proper. We who have lived in these times have witnessed miracle upon miracle, foremost among these may be that our Christian faith, whose followers for three hundred years have been robbed, beaten, tortured and murdered for their faith, is now the faith of the Empire. And I am afraid that a church cannot be a good ruler or a ruler a good Christian.
“But what I am even more fearful of is that this marriage between Church and Empire will result in barriers being erected in the way of the individual’s path to salvation. I call myself a Christian because I follow Christ. I believe that the life of Jesus is the light that illuminates the pathway to heaven. But I believe that all men and all women can, like Jesus, become one with the true God. It is my belief, no, it is my experience that with faith and knowledge we mortals can enter the heavenly realm and merge with God. For that there are those who call me a heretic. For my beliefs I have been removed from my See in Kaymakli. I take no issue with being called a heretic or being removed from my office. But I beg that I be allowed to continue my quest, to perform my own religious duties according to how I choose.
“For I am afraid that when great institutions, such as the Church now is, meet in great assemblages, such as this one in Nicaea, and attempt to decide for all people and for all time that which is true and that which is untrue, that real Truth is lost. And when that Church has the power of the Empire behind it, the search for Truth is inevitably suppressed. Let us not carve Jesus in stone, as we do the old Roman gods. The concepts of God and Creation and all that is meant by them are so complex, so overwhelming, that the degree of generalization necessary to convey their existence precludes any explanation or description of their particular aspects. Yet by ignoring their particular aspects we leave out so much that the general concepts become small and insufficient. You see, I believe that real Truth, real knowledge of God and unity with God, can only be realized on an individual basis, one person at a time. Not through a profession of faith, a secret incantation, or prescribed rituals, but through a life of faithful seeking for knowledge. We can and must help each other along our way, but we must be free to pursue our own path, to err and discover our own errors, to stray from the path and to find the path again, and to do all of these things without our bodies being broken, imprisoned or destroyed. Let no books be burned. Let no worshipers be crucified for their faith. Let our places of worship be respected. Whatever this Council decides, keep your decree alive, I pray.”