Feb 16

Defending Constantine; The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom, by Peter J. Leithart ?????

Constantine has received serious criticism from the time of his rise to power up to the present. Many claim that Constantine represents the downfall of the church, and the compromise of Christianity with the world. Numerous authors have argued over the course of many texts how Constantine was responsible more than any other person for the rise of a Christianity foreign to the sermon on the Mount. Constantine has earned the disapproval of both secular liberals, such as Gibbon, as well as Christians, such as John Howard Yoder, in his Politics of Jesus. Many recent writings, such as “Truth Triumphant-The Church in the Wilderness” base an entire theology on the corruptions of Constantine, and many have been mislead by failing to truly understand what Constantine did in favor of the Christian church. This book provides not only a historical review of Constantine, but also acts as a critique of Yoder and others, pointing out how Yoder is oftentimes seriously inaccurate as to the history of Constantine as well as the early church, and when the history is ambiguous or unknown, Yoder forces an interpretation of history most fitting with his thesis. In the end, the anti-Constantinians seem to entirely miss the significance of what Constantine accomplished not only for the church, but also for society in general. Leithart reminds us the the church under persecution prayed for an end to persecution, and for the rise of a Christianized government. They got exactly what they prayed for. Yoder finds it intolerable that a Christian could ever be involved in government, and so dismisses the conversion of Constantine as a fraud. Yet, Leithart argues that even in the words of Christ, there is a strongly political statement being made. After Constantine, world leaders were held by a different standard, a Christian standard, that simply did not occur before Constantine. Thus, though Constantine had some serious faults, many of his actions, like the killing of his wife and son, remain inexplicable since we simply don’t have the records to suggest why Constantine did what he did. Constantine is criticized by Yoder for maintaining a military, as he should have been a pacifist. Yet, Yoder is entirely hypocritical, in claiming that government serves a function under God, and that certain enforcement of laws and defense are necessary. This is a thick book, not so much in terms of the number of pages, but in terms of the dense quantity of information and argument provided by Leithart. It would be a challenge to offer an inclusive summary of all the gems this book has to offer, and suggest anybody interested pick up a copy and read it.

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One Response to “Defending Constantine”

  1. Uncle Dennis says:

    A few comments and criticisms of the review:

    Constantine was the son of Constantius and Helen of Colchester. His parents drove the Romans off the Isle and Constantine, with his army of Britons, entered what now is Germany to defeat Roman general Maximius and march into Rome amid the cheering crowds. The Romans had a fearful reverence for the British in that they were one of two nations that the Romans never could defeat. (The other, also Israelites, were the Parthians.) Rome started out in earnest (with Claudius’s edict) to destroy Britain because it was the first-century stronghold of Christianity and Druidism, the Druids having converted en masse to Christ and were the leaders of the Culdee church, the church which brought the gospel to Western Europe. In the end, Britain destroyed the Roman empire, a fact not much attested to in most tellings of history. I wonder if this books says anything about this.

    “Many recent writings, such as “Truth Triumphant-The Church in the Wilderness” base an entire theology on the corruptions of Constantine, and many have been mislead by failing to truly understand what Constantine did in favor of the Christian church.”

    This is a wild overstatement! It also shows a lack of understanding of the distinction between Magus’s false christian church in Rome and the vast numbers of true believers scattered from Britain to Japan in the first couple of its centuries.

    Constantine could hardly have been a Christian ruler because, according to some accounts, he became a Christian on his deathbed. His effects on the church likewise show that he served to establish the apostate Roman church at the expense of the true church such as the Culdee church or the vast church of the East. While Rome, in typical apostate fashion as the accuser of the brethren, called these true believers semi-arians, Only a few were. Protestants seem to not yet be cognizant of that fact. Constantine’s faction supported the bishop of Rome. By the third century, the true church was already being driven into the wilderness by Simon Magus’s false Christianity in Rome, and they quit attending their meetings in the late 300s. Yet in the prior meetings attended, the representative from Britain was always seated first because the order of seating was the chronological order of the churches. This too is a forgotten fact of church history.

    Whatever Yoder might have said, the church given impetus by Constantine was the church that became the papal institution, based on military rule. Those who want to support its abominations, go ahead. Constantine did his part.

    “Leithart reminds us the the church under persecution prayed for an end to persecution, and for the rise of a Christianized government. They got exactly what they prayed for.”

    The followers of Magus’s church got their wish, all right. There is no such thing as “Christianized government”. The ruler is either subject to the rule of Christ and Biblical law or not. It took many centuries before the Dark Ages of such “Christian rule” under the papacy was broken. And if this line of argumentation is followed through, one would have to support Clovis, Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Empire, and its head, the little horn of Daniel, uttering great boastful words and giving even “good Protestants” a false view of church history. Perhaps that was what Yoder was really on about.

    It is good that Constantine is being re-examined in our time. The rest of forgotten church history ought to be included.

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