Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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Defending Constantine

March 9th, 2011, Promulgated by Bernie

I always enjoy folks who set the record straight, especially if what needs straightening is a mistaken conventional piece of wisdom that denigrates our Church.

Best-selling novels, church history tomes, History Channel specials, box office movie hits, and the fundamentalist next door subject us to an constant harangue on how Constantine the Great stole the pure Christian Church of the earliest Christians and turned it into an arm of his imperial government. Bishops became mere magistrates of the empire and the Liturgy was turned into a formalized ritual meant to reinforce imperial power and authority. Constantine stole Christianity.

An excellent writer with a flair for the dramatic, Peter Leithart (in his book Defending Constantine)… helpfully complicates Christian history, and thereby helps theologians recover the riches of more than a millennium of Christian life too easily dismissed as ‘Constantinian.’ If the Holy Spirit did not simply go on holiday during that period, we must find ways to appreciate Christendom. Any worthwhile political theology today cannot fail to take Leithart’s argument seriously.

          -William T. Cavanaugh, DePaul University, Chicago 

Too many people, for far too long, have been able to murmur the awful word ‘Constantine’, knowing that the shudder it produces will absolve them from the need to think through how the church and the powers of the world actually relate, let alone construct historical or theological argument on the subject. Peter Leithart challenges all this, and forces us to face the question of what Constantine’s settlement actually was, and meant. Few will agree with everything he says. All will benefit enormously from this challenge to easygoing received ‘wisdom.

          -N.T. Wright, St. Andrews University, Scotland

Leithart doesn’t spend much time on the Liturgy but it’s easy enough to see the implications for Liturgy in the political and theological points he makes. We’ve all sat through sermons enlightening us on all the corrupting practices added to the Liturgy from Constantine’s time. You get those sermons whenever some liberal priest, sister, or Liturgy committee is pushing a change that supposedly will get us back to a more pure form of Christian worship.

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One Response to “Defending Constantine”

  1. avatar Eliza10 says:

    Interesting that you have heard the disparaging comments about Constantine from liberal priests, nuns, liturgists – I always thought they (like many you find in the DOR) were influenced by misguided, misinformed Protestant theology. I always heard such things about Constantine as the real reason for discounting Catholicism from Protestants, and I always found it frustrating, because I did not know enough about Constantine to refute it, but I figured they didn’t know anything Constantine, either. All I knew was that the Holy Spirit has guided and has not ever left the Church in spite of the sinners in it! I would like to have some real knowledge next time, so I’d like to read this book.


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