Review: Defending Constantine (Leithart)

I used to be a fan of Leithart’s writing.   Even a few years ago when he openly attacked Reformed theology in *The Baptized Body,* his writing was cogent and impressive.   Something happened between the writing of that book and the writing of this one.    Admittedly, Leithart does accomplish a few useful ends in this book.   I will list where he is strong and where is his is either wrong, misleading, of inadequate.

Pros:
1) Leithart does a good job handling the disciples of Yoder
2) Leithart does a good job dealing with the secular scholarship that downplays the obvious persecution of Christians.   I like Gibbon a lot, but Leithart ably rebuts him.
3) There remains the fact of a Christian *polis,* and we see such in Constantine.

Cons:
1) While I side with Leithart over Yoder, it cannot be denied that there was a seismic shift in the Church’s praxis with the advent of Constantine.

2) Further, there was a seismic shift in the church’s eschatology.   While some have challenged the ubiquity of premillennialism in the pre-Nicene church, it was there and its eschatology was forward-looking to the reign of Yahweh-in-Christ upon the earth.    With the advent of a Christian Emperor over the known world, an emperor who was known as “Equal-to-the-Apostles” (which can still be heard in Eastern Orthodox litanies today), in whose person Empire and Sacras were united (cf Runciman, *The Byzantine Theocracy*), there is little point for the church to retain its intense eschatological focus.  Yoder and Moltmann capably document this.   In losing this focus, one must acknowledge it lost a lot of its original ethical thrust.

2a) This is a tangential note:  In *Against Christianity* Leithart attacks Eusebius for his postmillennial ethics centered in the Advent of Constantine, saying we should have a more Augustinian eschatology centered in the tension of already-not yet.   Now Leithart writes a book where he tacitly endorses Eusebius’ eschatology. One of them has to give.

3) Constantine was a bad Christian, if I may not judge.  I am willing to concede the point he was a Christian.   I can even buy, for sake of argument, the miracle in the sky.  But there are significant problems:   1) He put his family members to death (yes, I know it was realpolitik), 2) he postponed baptism based on very bad theology, and 3) He was not always friendly to Nicene Theology (yes, I realize he didn’t understand it, which further underscores my point).  These facts to not negate Leithart’s thesis, but they remain tough pills to swallow.

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Author: Ephraim's Arrow

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, charismatic gifts

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