Monday, December 13, 2010

Christianity and Constantine

Matthew Lee Anderson recommends Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom, a book about the first Roman emperor who was sympathetic to Christianity:
Defending Constantine cuts through the historical and theological haze with a clarity that is devastating to the popular caricature of the man. Leithart’s historical treatment is extensive–he sets up the context for Constantine’s reign by detailing the brutality of the Roman persecutions, such that Eusebius’s over-the-top affirmation of Constantine begin to make sense. He shifts as the book progresses toward the theology of Constantine, carefully critiquing John Howard Yoder’s anti-Constantinianism theology.

Unlike his critics, Leithart takes seriously Constantine’s Christianity arguing that while an imperfect ruler, Constantine’s writings and policies reveal “a seriously Christian ruler.” Leithart suggests that Constantine’s own writings indicate that his central conviction was that “the Christian God was the heavenly Judge who, in history, opposes those who oppose him.”

In one of Leithart’s most compelling sections, he points out that Constantine not only stopped the slaughter of Christians–he stopped the slaughter of animals, ending the sacrifical system that was at the heart of the Roman political theology. As Leithart writes, “When Constantine began to end sacrifice, he began to end Rome as he knew it, for he initiated the end of Rome’s sacrificial lifeblood and established that Rome’s life now depended on its adherence to another civic center, the church.” .... [more]
Defending Constantine: A(nother) Giveaway | Mere Orthodoxy
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