Transport yourself back to the 4th century AD when the Roman emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the religion of the empire. The Catholic church and its bishop in Rome would exercise growing social and political power. But could one group of people have resisted the Catholic church? People who claimed to be the descendants of Jesus Christ. People who challenged the power of the Pope!
Descendants of Christ versus the Roman Catholic church
In AD 314, the Roman emperor Constantine issued an edict declaring that Christianity would now be tolerated – a sharp contrast to the persecutions of Christians that had taken place in the last years of his predecessor, the emperor Diocletian. Constantine was never actually baptised a Christian until he was on his deathbed. In fact, he often seemed to be hedging his bets between the old pagan gods and the one Christian god.
He hoped Christianity would bring a new unity to a fragmented empire. One emperor. One God. But instead he found a religion fractured and quarrelsome. Indeed, more Christians killed each other in the first hundred years after Constantine than were ever fed to lions in the pagan arena.
Arians versus Catholics, Donatists versus those who accepted imperial tolerance, Nestorians, Monophysites and you name it….every shade of conflict you could imagine.
On the surface, Christians were divided on theological topics like the nature of Christ and the Trinity. But under the surface, much of this conflict was really over who exactly would benefit from imperial patronage – as money previously channeled in to pagan temples now flowed in to church coffers.
Descendants of Christ in Jerusalem take issue with the Roman Catholic church
Into this mess – enter the descendants of Christ – the so-called Desposyni.
The Bishop of Rome – the Pope – wanted to be regarded as top dog in Christendom. But to be the supreme decision maker, he needed legitimacy. And what he didn’t need was a bunch of people in Jerusalem claiming to be descended from Jesus. That gave them potentially more authority. You couldn’t really argue with the bloodline of the Messiah.
Pope Sylvester, first legal bishop of Rome, demanded loyalty to his appointed bishops and deacons but the descendants of Jesus refused to kneel to ‘Greek’ bishops. They didn’t buy the idea that Rome and the Pope had primacy. They rejected the notion of the Apostolic Succession.
Malachi Martin: The Desposyni confront the Pope
According to the Irish priest and some time amateur historian Malachi Martin, a group of these Desposyni angrily confronted Pope Sylvester demanding he remove the bishops appointed in Jerusalem and recognise their authority. They wanted the reinstatement of Jewish law and as descendants of Jesus and his siblings – they insisted on leading the church in the east.
Now, there is some scepticism about the work of Malachi Martin but instead of attacking him, I’m more inclined to think that these kinds of disputes would have arisen and there were likely to be plenty of charlatans and ecclesiastical chancers claiming to be a direct descendant of Jesus.
There were imperial handouts going and claiming to be part of the bloodline of Jesus was as good a way as any of getting your hands on some riches.
It didn’t succeed and the Desposyni seem to fade from the historical record. Except of course when it comes to the Knights Templar. Because it’s claimed by some that the Templars were called into being to defend the claims of the Desposyni against the church.