sábado, 4 de febrero de 2017

After Constantine, Christian lawmakers and lawgivers become possible, formed by the Word of God, and schooled in the virtues and wisdom...

Victory’s Spoils: The Edict of Milan


After Constantine, Christian lawmakers and lawgivers become possible, formed by the Word of God, and schooled in the virtues and wisdom of the classical world, at the same time “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

G. K. Chesterton was a master at making plain the paradoxical characterof Christianity. He knew that to stray too far to one side or another was to leave the path of orthodoxy far behind. To stay on that road was exciting, racing past the hulks of discarded heresies. “The heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.” Nowhere are these paradoxes more in evidence than in our belief in the Incarnation, that Christ is both fully God and fully man. Embracing this difficult conviction frees us from the puritanical ignominy of dualism, that subtle temptation to kick the dust from our feet of this dirty, bad, sinful world, and look only to the pure realm of the spirit. Conversely, it liberates us from an enervating utopianist materialism that sees nothing but the here and now. Our Incarnational view makes us neither cowering pessimists, nor facile optimists. It makes realists of us, knowing full well that the fruits of our faith must be made present in this material world so as make it, as far as we are able, an ally of the eternal world to come. That our salvation comes to us through matter—water, bread, wine, oil, human bodies—leads to a singular conclusion: we cannot turn our backs on this world. It is we who are called to be the material leaven in the lump.

It is with this truth in mind that we should celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the publication of the Edict of Milan by Emperor Constantine, along with his less-than-enthusiastic comrade Licinius, in February of 313, bringing toleration to the young Church. Sporadically and sometimes violently persecuted throughout the whole of its existence, Christianity had emerged miraculously victorious with Constantine’s triumph at Saxa Rubra (Milvian Bridge) in 312. Capitalizing on this achievement, the emperor wasted no time. He formally promulgated this edict of toleration, ending the persecutions in the Roman west, and rescinding the Neronian edict which had been in effect for 250 years. Constantine moved at the same time to restore all of the property stolen from the Christians, and began to build churches in North Africa. To top it off, he donated lands and buildings to the Roman Church, notably the Lateran basilica. It would be this historically-rooted truth that would underlay the later forgery called the “Donation of Constantine.”

Many throughout history have alleged that the Church made a massive error at this very moment. By consenting to the assistance of the state, it was believed that the Christians had irredeemably compromised their mission. In some circles, the Church was accused of having lost the true faith. Constantine and the nearly silent Pope St. Sylvester came to be seen as corrupt, venal, and altogether unchristian. Such a view hews close to the spiritualizers of Christianity, the open (or closeted) dualists who occasionally punctuate Church history. Conversely one is confronted with the contention of some eastern Christians that Constantine was a saint. While he could not have been more important in the course of Church history, many of his later civil and religions actions certainly give one pause. Once again we have to hew to the middle.

What can we say then about such a momentous figure? With Constantine’s victory an immense aperture was opened for access to salvation and the sacraments. The “loss of fervor” that may have accompanied the increased Christianization of the empire was greatly offset by a new army of monks and confessors, Fathers and Doctors, spreading throughout the Old World, evangelizing as they went. Such men as these brought the rites of grace to places that before were impossible to reach. Toleration by the Roman state allowed the young Church to emerge into the light, to participate in civic life, to care for the needy openly, and most of all to have the leaven of the Gospel mature in the governance of society itself.

Aided by his trusted advisor, the Spanish bishop Ossius of Cordoba, Constantine began a wholesale integration of Christianity into the public life of late antique Rome.


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