The very mention of Constantine in some circles today is likely to raise eye-brows at the least, and at most to cause reveal strong opinions and arguments. Many see Constantine and his policies toward the church as the very genesis of Christianity's compromise with power, wealth, and ultimately corruption. But are there modern political concerns legitimately discernable from so ancient a past? This is the basic question of Peter Leithart's book Defending Constantine
We know that Constantine accomplished several politically significant things:
- He issued the Edict of Milan in 313 (an edict of toleration for Christians)
- Outlawed paganism and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire
- Manipulated the Council of Nicea in 325
- Exercised absolute authority over the church, co-opting it for the aims of empire
Many see these four actions as critical to the comprise of the church with "empire", and indict both Constantine's rule, and his legacy, "Constantinianism" on account of them.
But do we know these things? Defending Constantine
weighs these claims and finds them wanting. And what's more, in focusing on these historical mirages, Leithart argues, we have failed to notice the true significance of Constantine and Rome brought under the canopy of Christianity. For beneath the surface of this contested story there emerges a deeper narrative of the end of Roman sacrifice and brutality--and a tectonic shift in the political theology of an empire--the implications of which we are still realizing, and ironically not fully appreciating. In this probing and informative book Peter Leithart examines the real Constantine, weighs the charges against Constantinianism and Constantine, and sets the terms for a new conversation about this pivotal emperor and the Christendom that emerged.
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