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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

Constantine and Christianity

In the many years that follow, the Christian Church, once a persecuted minority, would become an immensely rich institution.74 The favour with which Constantine would bestow the Church would see it flourish in ways previously unknown - what had been an object of fear and hatred now became an object of imperial protection and favour.75 The Church not only had its confiscated property returned, but was given additional gifts by the emperor.76 Confessors of Christianity were given the 'Emperor's Kiss,' which was a sort of admission to the inner ring of imperial favour.77 The number, size and grandeur of the basilicas given to the Church are well known.78 The Church was even exempted from taxation, and a system of gifts and food for the local churches was established.79 Indeed, the doors for this underground Church had been blown open by Constantine's imperial favour. At the same time, the Christian Church now faced problems that until that time had not been issues. Formerly, the Church had known of three evils: the world, the flesh, and the devil - but now the first was a friend.80 Many Christians soon found themselves in government positions closest to the emperor, and therefore on free and easy speaking terms with him.81

A major problem that arose, that in turn would alter doctrinal beliefs, was the emperor-worship, which had not ceased through all this time. In fact, ruler worship was adapted into the Church's liturgy, giving reverence especially to the Christian emperors.82 Their divinity, however, was denied, which became offensive to pagans who, traditionally, had viewed their emperors as heavenly, sons of gods.83 Of course, when Constantine turned from the old gods to the new Christian God, he was accepting, along with monotheism, that he could never claim divinity or have it claimed on his behalf.84 However, this was not to state that the emperor was nothing more than a mere mortal - this was not a reduction of his status, but an alteration. The people argued over Constantine's fame and achievements, presenting extravagant accounts of his character. What could the bishop Eusebius add to these worldly accomplishments to express not only his admiration but also the heartfelt gratitude of the church except spiritual things?85 Thus, a special relationship between Constantine and God was declared.86 He had been chosen by God, and assigned a unique place in the divine plan of salvation; therefore, he had no equal upon the earth.87

With this, the Church came into an intimate relationship with the State. Christianity not only influenced the State, but also was a victim of influence itself.88 As Constantine was increasingly being seen as the Chosen One, to set free and save the Christians from their oppression, the personal Christian God and the merciful and loving Christ became more and more remote.89 Indeed, since the relationship of the emperor with God was that of a personal one, it was through the emperor that God held the empire together, while in return the emperor would make God known to the people.90 The emperor could only be understood in his relationship to God, and thus, though still not equal with God, was placed on an isolated level.91 Through the emperor, then, God would give His special revelation.92 The empire would come to be seen as a system of duplication from what is in heaven, for God's will was being done on earth through His co-ruler, Constantine.93 The Church was acquiring such a prestige so that the splendour of the pope was so high, pagans in prominent positions coveted being Christian bishops.94 The religion of the poor and dispossessed was fast becoming the religion of the rich and respectable,95 and was on its way to becoming a state within the State.96 And all this despite warnings that can be found within the Bible itself - most explicitly in 1 Samuel 8:6-18 - against the establishment of a king over the people of God, on the grounds that it would corrupt and shift the focus of the people.

This union of church and state did indeed corrupt God's people. A hierarchy of the Church was soon finalised, which modeled after that of the Roman Empire.97 The New Testament picture of ministers and bishops who served in the Church as equals disappeared, and merely a few important bishops would shape all of Christianity.98 The Pope would take his place over the widespread network as the head of all the Church organisations.99 The relationship the people had once had with their priest changed dramatically with the influx of 'converts' entering the Church.100 The Bible itself became increasingly inaccessible to the masses, so that the people began to depend upon the priest to know the Bible at all101 - and after the sixth century, sermons were rarely devoted to Biblical themes.102 The Church would also make no effort to simplify its services for the largely uneducated people of its congregations; thus, for example, the elaborate prayers were not fully intelligible by the laity.103

Furthermore, Christians had previously been persecuted for the differences they embodied because of their Faith. Now they were in the position to turn the tables upon those who opposed them. However, the values of Constantine, adopted by the Church, were in contradiction to the fundamental teachings of Jesus.104 Since God modeled the kingdom on earth after the one in heaven, Constantine, and the following Christian emperors, were being viewed as a mimesis of the Heavenly King.105 Thus, the people transformed Christ from a kenotic servant into a grand ruler106 - a King and Judge that, as aforementioned, was growing ever distant from His people. It follows, then, with the image of God as a worldly king, that Christianity soon would acquire a militaristic stance.107

  1. Mattingly, Roman Empire, 61.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. MacMullen, Christianizing, 49.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Mattingly, Roman Empire, 70.
  7. MacMullen, Christianizing, 79-80.
  8. Hillgarth, Paganism, 89.
  9. Alistair Kee, Constantine Versus Christ: The Triumph of Ideology (London: SCM Press, 1982), 28.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid., 27.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid., 28.
  14. Mattingly, Roman Empire, 63.
  15. Hillgarth, Paganism, 87.
  16. Kee, Versus Christ, 37.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid., 38.
  20. Mattingly, Roman Empire, 70.
  21. Ibid., 71.
  22. R. W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 17.
  23. Hillgarth, Paganism, 88.
  24. Robert A. Baker, A Summary of Christian History, rev. by John M. Landers (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1994), 140.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Hillgarth, Paganism, 86.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Ibid., 178.
  30. Kee, Versus Christ, 141.
  31. Ibid., 129.
  32. Hillgarth, Paganism, 87.
  33. Ibid.