Politicizing The Church- Part I

The Crumbling ChurchYou either love or hate him.  Constantine is his name, and he spent an amount of time as Caesar of the Roman Empire.  The years 306 to 337 to be precise.

His initial part of the Empire included Spain, Gaul and Great Britain.   He inherited the largest armies in the Empire, and spent a number of years in military campaigns before reuniting the Empire.  From 324 to his death, he was undisputed ruler over the whole Empire.

He may best be remembered for the city that bore his name for thousands of years, Constantinople, now Istanbul.  He moved the center of the Roman Empire from Rome to the Bosphorus, and initiated a culture, Byzantium that lasted a thousand years.  One of its economic highlights during this millennium was stable money, gold.  And stable money will always provide longevity to a culture.

There are many complaints about this man and what he did for Christianity.  For example, he had an influence in establishing the canon of the New Testament.  He allowed Christianity to flourish, and even got involved in church politics when it suited him.  The Council of Nicea (325) was called at his request.  At one time he led a group of Christians against other Christians, the first intra-Christian war.

For his “politicizing” of Christianity by making it an acceptable religion in the Empire, he seems to attract much more criticism than his predecessor, Diocletian, who initiated the worst persecution of Christians in the history of Christianity to that time.  But no one seems to criticize Diocletian as much as they do Constantine.  Why?

Even Constantine’s ethics don’t get the kind of criticism they might deserve.  He had both his eldest son and wife killed on what is now considered dubious evidence.  Maybe this is why he put off baptism until he was almost dead, apparently seeking as much absolution for past sins as possible.

But from that time, Christianity found a new ally in the political order.  It would take centuries for this alliance to be seen for either good or bad.  But today there are many criticisms of constantine because of his involvment in church affairs.  Well Diocletian also got involved in church affairs in a different way.  Surely Constantine deserves a little praise for his stand.

As a result of his influence, a religion that no longer suffered political persecution but political protection would become the defining force of a new geographic region to be known as Europe.

And Christians today still cannot make up their mind if this was a good or bad achievement even though they live in the remaining shadow of a culture that was based on the Bible, carved out of a part of the world where human sacrifice was still practiced in parts up to the 10th century.   That, by any standard, is a remarkable achievement, one which the modern church is yet to emulate.  But no one, it seems, wants to admit that perhaps Constantine had a significant part in the success of the Faith, even long after he was dead.

Ian Hodge, Ph.D.

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Series NavigationPoliticizing The Church- Part II