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Research Reveals How Heresy Influenced Ecclasiastical Leadership

April 7, 2014

Carlos R. Galvão-Sobrinho (PhD 1999, History), associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has published Doctrine and Power: Theological Controversy and Christian Leadership in the Later Roman Empire(University of California Press).

During the 4th century, theological controversy divided Christian communities throughout the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. Not only was the truth about God at stake, but also the authority of church leaders, whose legitimacy depended on their claims to represent that truth. In this book, Galvão-Sobrinho argues that out of these disputes was born a new style of church leadership, one in which the power of the episcopal office was greatly increased. Church leaders asserted their orthodoxy and legitimacy, mobilizing their congregations and engaging in actions that projected their power in the public arena. These developments were largely the work of prelates of the first half of the 4th century, but the style of command they inaugurated became the basis for a model of ecclesiastical leadership throughout late antiquity.

According to H.A. Drake, author ofConstantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance, “Carlos Galvão-Sobrinho has taken the story of Arianism out of the stately tomes of theologians and into the streets of Alexandria. Here he finds that the search for greater precision and the new phenomenon of a Christian emperor do not sufficiently explain the devastating impact of this heresy on Christian unity. Instead, he exposes internal dynamics that spurned consensus and demonized opposition. The means by which extremists polarized the issue and eliminated middle ground will be sadly familiar to all students of the political process.”

Before coming to Yale, Galvão-Sobrinho earned an MD degree from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil. He entered medical school when he was 15 years old and had no opportunity to study the humanities until after he completed his degree. 

The decision to go back to school to study history had a lot to do with sheer intellectual curiosity and the fact that I always enjoyed history, but had never before had a chance to study it,” he says. His research interests include the history of medicine, the social history of Rome, and late antiquity. Galvão-Sobrinho was awarded the Rome Prize fellowship in 2005 and is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. His oldest daughter, Carolina, graduated from Yale College in 2005, and his youngest, Rachel, is a freshman at Yale.