Monday, February 27, 2012

Three Cheers for The Emperor Constantine On His Birthday

The Gospel Coalition note a important Birthday today we might should ( or maybe some will not) observe. See Constantine's Birth: Cause for Celebration?

I am in the general yes camp for wishing Happy Birthday wishes. Constantine is the subject of let's very well established anti Catholic myths. He invented the Catholic Church and Catholic doctrines some still say. A charge that anyone with a basic knowledge of Church Fathers can easily dispute. But myths die hard. Despite the good work of Dr. Peter Leithart’s book, Defending Constantine.

A massive review which was done here. For instance we learn there is not too much substance that Constantine controlled the council of Nicea or interfered much at all. He also despite the myths was much more tolerant of non Christian religions as than many believe.

But Constantine's greatest contribution to the Western World was he starting the trains in motion that would put Sacrifice in the ash bin of Western history.

One of the problems in evaluating Constantine and the impact of his reign is that edicts and promulgations by Emperors didn’t function in the same way that laws do today. By this I mean that provincial governors tended to take such things as moral exhortations or good rules of thumb, and they were honored in the breech sometimes as much as in the observance. When it came to sacrifices, Constantine did specifically prohibit his provincial governors from offering pagan sacrifices at official functions, and the specific reason for this was so Christians could be civil servants without violating their consciences. Here is one place where Eusebius has over-egged the pudding. Constantine did not prohibit all sacrifices under all situations or occasions or in all pagan temples in the Empire. He did make clear that he found such sacrifices abhorrent, but the so-called Edict of Milan was his real view, and so he tried to persuade out of existence these practices, not legally bring the hammer down in every conceivable place and circumstance. Constantine knew in any case that his vigorous anti-pagan legislation would not necessarily be vigorously enforced in various provinces anyway. It was a question of how much change could be implemented without violating conscience, and how quickly.

Later Dr Witherington hit this point again:

I think Leithart is right to stress that perhaps the most significant thing Constantine did besides stopping persecution and allowing Christianity to exist as a legal religion was his ending of sacrifice as a central religious ritual in the Empire. When Leithart talks about Constantine baptizing Rome what he means is this: “when a people, nation, or empire receives the gospel of the victory of Jesus and is blown by the Spirit from the world of sacrifice, purity, temples and sacred space and is transferred into a new religio-socio-political world. It is a baptism out of the world of the stoicheia, which at least for Gentiles involved the worship of not-gods, into a world without sacrifice, a world after the end of sacrifice. “ (pp. 326-27). It would be a mistake to under-estimate the importance of this shift, since sacrifice was right at the heart of Roman civilization and it was believed that sacrifice secured favor with the gods and survival of the empire. Constantine did not create a secular state, he just created a different sort of religious one. One could say Constantine stopped the sacrificing of animals, of Christians, of gladiators in the arena and he refused to sacrifice when he had his Roman triumph entering Rome as a conquering hero. All of this was a momentous religious shift, but it was not the one Yoder thought happened. Leithart calls it the establishment of a desacrificial society.


APOV said...

I don't say that Constantine invented the Roman Catholic Church, but his declaration of Roman Catholicism as the religion of the Roman empire demonstrated that by that time the Great Apostacy was complete and what passes for christianity in this present evil world had become an amalgamation of Greek and Roman paganism with some elements of christianity. Of course, there always has been a remnant of true Christianity which was forced underground. It was interesting to see the news yesterday where Rick Santorum said that he does not believe in the separation of church and state, and that he is sickened by the assurances of JFK, in 1960, to Baptist preachers, that he would not as POTUS attempt to force Roman Catholicism upon them. Obviously Santorum wants to be the Constitine of this generation.

James H said...

I hopefully will go into Santorum comments and the dispute both Catholic and Protestant voices had with it hopefully tomorrow