not so great: the conversion of constantine
anyone who has known me for any real length of time has likely heard me blame constantine for whats wrong with christianity.
no. not keanu. keanu is a bad actor but that hasnt ruined anyones faith.
yeah. this guy. the roman emperor. the one they call great for reasons that are well beyond me. he is given credit for legalizing christianity in the roman empire and bringing the long period of persecution to and end.
but was this really a good thing?
the popular version of the story is that he saw a shiny cross type thing (a chi rho like the one above) in some clouds over a bridge and heard a voice tell him to kick tail and takes names. after killing thousands of his enemies including their general maxentius in the days that followed he moved one step closer to becoming sole ruler of the empire.
and this they tell us is part of what makes him great. after all it was this event that converted him from pagan to christian and paved the way for christian legitimacy that eventually dominated all of europe for over 1000 years.
or so they say.
14 years after his conversion he murdered his son crispus. then he murdered his wife fausta. he continued to take part in pagan rites and rituals and made a consistent effort to include pagan priests in all his affairs. in building his capitol city of constantinople he had statues of pagan gods brot in and set up in the public squares. at the very heart of this city he placed a monolithic monument of apollo with a bust of his own head in place of apollos. add to this the fact that he did not take baptism in keeping with the faith until faced with his imminent death and what we have is as justo l gonzalez states in his book the story of christianity:
The truth is probably that Constantine was a sincere believer in the power of Christ. But that does not mean that he understood that power in the same way in which it had been experienced by those Christians who died for it.
and what could be more obvious than the irony of christs promise that his followers would be hated and persecuted being overturned by a keen statesman whose strong pagan beliefs provided room for honoring the power of yet another god if it meant a political or military advantage?
but if a sincere belief in otherworldly power led to his acceptance and he failed utterly to demonstrate any transformation from his previous lifestyle and thinking for the entirety of his life can it really be said that he was christian?
only in the vague and ironic sense that most americans today are christian.
constantine and his era of influence is an important part of the history of the church and it has had lasting effects in almost every tradition yet for some reason it and the traditions it has birthed in the culture of the church are very rarely questioned – at least in the protestant and evangelical circles im familiar with.
still – the closer i look at who he was and what he brot about the more im convinced that its all a massive apostasy. and so begins a series of contemplations on the state of the church as it relates to the changes constantine infused.