:: Blog | Nov 3/22
I love Thrice. I don't think there's any hiding that fact. The last one of these ...
:: Quest | May 24/13
A long-standing franchise with an ordinary product that all tastes the same ...
:: Writings | Sep 25/16
Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

Constantine and Christianity

The Church was growing in power and prestige as the years continued, and soon acquired a position that held them second only to the secular powers of the Empire.108 There were always outsiders in the area of Christendom, and a shift of attitude towards pagans eventually occurred: A shift from toleration to prohibition.109 At first, the Christians extended the toleration that it had received towards their pagan counterparts.110 However, with the Church's rise to power, popes claimed the sole right of initiating and directing wars against unbelievers, who now ostensibly posed a threat to the health of Christianity.111 The leaders of the Church dreamed of its own knights sworn to faithful service, and mercenaries paid to act as agents of the Church against both unbelievers and heretics.112 However, the model of God in Christ shows that, although people may take God as an enemy, there is none whom God will take as His enemy.113 Matthew 26:50 even has Jesus calling His betrayer, Judas, 'Friend.' The peace of Christianity is to be the peace found in God's heart, but with the Church's union with the Empire, it adopted the Augustan peace, which is an armed one.114 The early Church was undoubtedly pacifist as it was persecuted,115 confessing its faith by suffering and by blood in martyrdom.116 A Church integrated with the State, however, could never be as such.117 Constantine, as God's representative on earth, presented the victory inherit to the Christian not through Christ's cross, but through the sign given him at the Milvian Bridge.118 Constantine was an emperor, like all subsequent emperors, who waged war upon his enemies to destroy them; therefore, God was seen as one who also planned the downfall of His rivals through the killing of them by the sword.119 Christians would have welcomed this deliverance, rejoicing in the elimination of their persecutors, but did not the true God die and forgive His enemies instead? Thus, if revelation is coming through the Emperor, God is telling His people that the world is ruled by force, and the will of the most powerful becomes the law of the land.120 Yet, this is not the message that the Old Testament prophets risked all to proclaim, nor the truth that holy men and woman allowed themselves to be parted from their families and be tortured for.121 Had Jesus proclaimed such a message, perhaps He would not have been killed. The revelation in Christ is that God does not act like the kings of the earth, thus nor should His people.122 The Christian mimesis cannot be found in an aristocrat who defends his honour by killing his enemies, but in the One who sets aside His garments and washes the feet of His disciples, touches the leper and will harm no man - not even His persecutors - not even to save His own life.123

The union of State and Church found a significant rise in the number of Christians. However, the problem here is whether these so-called Christians were truly Christians. By the sixth century, infant baptism was the norm for all people born in the Empire.124 For the vast majority, baptism was as involuntary as birth itself, and carried with it obligations that bound it permanently into the Church and into the State.125 Even as the state required that all those who were citizens were to keep its laws and contribute to its being and defense, so the Church required its baptised members to do these things and more.126 Thus, being born into the Empire meant being born a Christian. The lifestyles that had been previously in sharp contrast to the scandalous lifestyles of the Romans were now the norm of the State.127 Simply put, Christianity was no longer a daily choice, but the fact of every day life. A person was born into society a Christian and soon had to barely do any more than attend Mass to fulfill their Christian duty. The State was judged Christian, even though what it was at this point doing was not very Christ-like.128

Hence, we have seen in brief the development of the State-Church as a result of the Emperor Constantine. Constantine's conversion consequently flipped the Christian Church nearly onto its head. With the wealth bestowed up the Church, Christianity sought after further material gain and, in turn, political power - which it did find. As the persecutions ceased, and the Church rose in power, Christianity lost its pure doctrinal view of following Christ and instead followed a God modeled after its earthly kings. Christianity would continue in this vein, and it is no wonder that so many would begin to attempt reforms entering the 15th and 16th centuries. Still, the Christian Church has some ways to go before it returns to the revolutionary basis in Jesus from which it was born.

  1. Baker, Summary, 121.
  2. Mattingly, Roman Empire, 71.
  3. Ibid., 62.
  4. Southern, Western Society, 19.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Kee, Versus Christ, 143.
  7. Mattingly, Roman Empire, 49.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., 50.
  10. Ibid., 49.
  11. Kee, Versus Christ, 38-39.
  12. Ibid., 143.
  13. Ibid., 144.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid., 151.
  17. Hillgarth, Paganism, 178.
  18. Southern, Western Society, 18.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Waibel, History, 10.
  21. MacMullen, Christianizing, 80.