Tag Archives: Constantine

Another layer of the onion: “Imperial accommodation”–all bad?


Cover of "Christ and Culture"

I'm a "Christ above culture" guy, but that doesn't mean I ignore the evils of a culture-accommodated Christianity

Reader David responded to the post with the following:

While I agree that Constantine is not the whole story of the development of Christendom.  In my understanding, he is but one step – a formative one –  in a longer slide toward Christendom (which is not the same as saying “perfect before/all bad after.” I think we need to at least characterize this shift as my friend Alan Kreider does from the imperial accommodation of Christianity (Constantine) to imperial adoption of Christianity (Theodosius). There is a  difference between declaring religious tolerance of Christianity and making it the Imperial religion.

To me, this is an important distinction. As I responded initially to David: Continue reading

New books: We’ve gotten both the Emperor Constantine and the whole Reformation wrong


Two books have just arrived (it’s good to be a blogger and get free books; now if only I had time to read and review them all), and I look forward to dipping into them.

First, Peter Leithart of New St. Andrew’s College in Idaho has written a defense of Constantine–the “first Christian emperor,” whose name has become, especially thanks to the work of Yoder and Hauerwas, a curse-word on the lips of many Western Protestants. The book is titled Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom, and it has surprisingly shot up to a sales ranking of better than 5,000 on Amazon.com (pretty stunning for a history book), and the #11 position on the Amazon.com church history bestsellers list. Continue reading

Debunking the Protestant “T” word part IV: How sausage was made


It's not pretty, folks!

This article is continued from “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ word: An edifying tale, part I,“ Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part II: How to spot a heresy, and “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part III: What was the beef at Nicea?

This was the sort of problem that was on the minds of bishops all over the empire when Constantine stepped in and invited them to his summer palace in Nicea for this major meeting. At least 200 bishops attended, mostly from the Eastern part of the empire, but some from Italy, North Africa, and other Western places. Counting all the bishops’ fellow presbyters and deacons, scholars believe there were close to a thousand people at that meeting. The sheer size of this assembly had no precedent in church history.

If you think about it, this must have been just an awe-inspiring gathering for those simple pastors. Most stunning was that just over a dozen years before the council, the largest persecution in the history of the early church had been raging. In fact, some of the bishops at Nicea had been tortured during that persecution. Some bore horrible scars; some were even missing eyes. And here they were, summoned by the emperor, with all their expenses paid, laden with the traditional gifts that followed an invitation to the imperial court. Some, legend has it, received the kiss of peace from Constantine himself. It must have been just a breathtaking moment for those who had remained faithful through the recent persecution and now saw God working in this amazing way. Continue reading

New monastic Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove retells monastic history


Though the following is a critical review, I want to be clear: I am deeply sympathetic with the aims and perspectives of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I just think we need to be historically responsible when we compare new and old movements.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, “A Vision So Old It Looks New” in Monasticism Old and New (Christian Reflection, Baylor University, 2010 issue)

This article was adapted from Wilson-Hartgrove’s book New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008).

In his introduction to this issue of Christian Reflection, Robert Kruschwitz summarizes this article : “In A Vision So Old It Looks New (p. 11), Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove explores how monasticism over the centuries has offered a powerful critique of mainstream culture. Tracing its origins from Antony and the fourth-century desert Christians, through the medieval monasteries inspired by Benedict of Nursia, to the intentional communities of radical Protestant Reformers, he shows, ‘In every era God has raised up new monastics to pledge their allegiance to God alone and remind the church of its true vocation’” (8).

Wilson-Hartgrove opens the article: “It is hard to be a Christian in America today. . . . The church in America is not living up to what it claims to be. Somehow we have lost our way.” (11) Especially he gives examples of behavior: spousal abuse, racism, hypocrisy in areas of sexuality. We ain’t that different from secular society, or sometimes worse, in many of those areas. Continue reading

When world leaders pray (part I): the record of Constantine and a couple of other “Christian Roman Emperors”


My students and I have been talking a lot lately about the role of secular leaders vis-a-vis the church–especially the early church. A while back some words of British Prime Minister Tony Blair launched me into some research and reflections on this same topic–and a brief survey of the records of emperors Constantine, Theodosius I, and Justinian I. The results follow:

(Then, not content with putting together one article on this, I went on to look at some later leaders–so this post will be followed by a “part II“):

When World Leaders Pray
Some observers are upset with Tony Blair’s recent public avowal of faith. But what impact has Christianity really had on our leaders?
Chris Armstrong

“Humility, conscience, and responsibility.” These are the traits London Times writer Michael Gove believes political leaders learn when they submit themselves to God.

Gove made this statement last week after Tony Blair publicly stated that he would be judged on the Iraq war by “my Maker.” Blair’s closest advisors flinched—believing such an admission of faith by a Prime Minister “plays badly.” These are the same advisors who insisted the PM not end his Iraq war broadcast with “God bless you,” because “people don’t want chaplains pushing stuff down their throats.”

Sadly, the British spin-doctors are probably right to worry. After all, ever since the European public found out about the Bible study classes being held at the White House, many have been convinced Bush is “a fundamentalist crazy.” “To listen to the European reaction,” says Gove, “one might have thought they were bringing back witch trials in Massachusetts.” Continue reading