not so great: church and state
before constantine there were no cathedrals – no official christian buildings. the church met primarily in homes and understood each believer to be temples of the holy spirit. as second century christian minucius felix wrote in his octavius dialgoue:
you mistakenly think we conceal what we worship since we have no temples or altars. yet how can anyone make an image of god? man himself is the image of god. how can anyone build a temple to him when the whole world cant contain him? even i – a mere human – travel far and wide. so how can anyone shut up the majesty of so great a person within one small building? isnt it better for him to be dedicated in our minds and consecrated in our hearts – rather than a building?
the closest thing any of the christians before constantine had to a church building was a home with a wall knocked out for space in dura europas – a small town centered around a border fort in the roman province of syria. other than this example and others like it the early christians were by threat of persecution and necessity confined to meet in homes.
but this is where the church grew.
yet in the aftermath of constantines supposed conversion worship took on an imperial nature. as imperial basilicas replaced homes as sites of worship one of the most noticeable consequences was a decrease in congregational participation and interaction. ministers were now given special prominence and carried out official duties.
and as i consider all this and look at the church as we know it currently im struck by just how closely we have followed constantines example and im left to wonder how a pagan emperor can have possibly led us in the right direction concerning how our worship should be housed and arranged. and i wonder how the holy spirit can be confined to an order of worship. and i am confounded by the idea that worship can ever include imperial iconography.
now there are those who would shrug off these problems and claim that a sincere heart trumps all. but sincerity has never been the mark of truth – lest we forget there are very sincere people in every faith. sincerity is no more an answer to these problems than ignorance. and as the christian faith falters in the west and only makes real gains via hyperbolic emotionalism in the southern hemisphere it certainly seems worth considering that we have embedded in our lives an institution that takes its major traditions from an imperialistic pagan emperor.
and thats a serious problem.