My own response is “Huh?” I would be truly sad if anyone who had ever taken a Western Civ. course would perpetrate such a ludicrous distortion of the Nicene debates, and yet here we have it printed in the New York Times, our very own American Pravda, without a copy-editor taking a moment to say “Hey, hold on – that’s totally wrong! Shouldn’t someone ask Mason to rewrite this?” His declarations would after all be quite accurate if we inserted the word “not” a few times at strategic places.
I would like to believe that my Western Civ students would be able to recognize Mason’s glaring error and explain why it is incorrect, but then I probably spent more time than most teachers on the specific details of Byzantine theological controversies when I was teaching that part of the course. I don’t have a lot of confidence that the average Western Civ student would readily notice that Mason had perpetrated a gross distortion of the historical and theological record. More to the point, I have my doubts that the average Western Civ student would care one way or the other. If these controversies are taught in college courses at all, they tend to be taught as episodes of the state’s intervention in religious affairs (which is both true and beside the point), or they are perfunctory nods to the Byzantine contribution to the broader sweep of “Western civilization.” That allows most Western Civ courses to ignore Byzantium for most of the next thousand years after Nicaea.