‘Saint’ Constantine the not-so-great vs the sermon on the mount… (E. Stanley Jones)


Regular readers of this blog will know how much I appreciate certain other Christian traditions. Traditions that I love deeply are quite incompatible streams in Church history like for example the Orthodox tradition, Franciscanism, certain strands of anabaptism and the quakers… I guess I do have my disagreements with every tradition (including my own tribe) as they do among each other too, but I believe that we need all of them (probably even those whom I do not like and don’t feel much affinity with, like fundamentalism and Calvinism) to complete the Church of Christ. And I am very likely to be wrong myself on some things too…

I like for example¬† the Orthodox for their connection with the early Church and the church fathers, which makes them the keepers of a lot of treasures that we modern Western Christians have lost long ago but are needing right now. But on the other hand I could never agree with some other things, like their veneration of someone like emperor Constantine the Great as a saint, and some of the nationalism going on in some Orthodox churches… Which is why I (as a postmodern generic charismatic and more-or-less Wesleyan evangelical) do think we need the Anabaptist testimony too…

The next piece from E.Stanley Jones in my opinion shows why we need to recover the emphasis on the enemy-love and the rest of the sermon on the mount, and it offers -very daringly- a critique to the emphasis of the ancient creeds. (I do not say that the next piece describes all of the fathers, I have read a lot from them that would qualify for good Lovers in the path of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.)

Suppose we had written it in our creeds and had repeated each time with conviction:

“I believe in the Sermon on the Mount and in its way of life, and I intend, God helping me, to embody it” !

What would have happened? I feel sure that if this had been our main emphasis, the history of Christendom would have been different. With emphasis on doctrines which left unaffected our way of life the Christian Church could accept Constantine as its prize convert. And yet Constantine, after his alleged conversion, murdered his conquered colleague and brother-in-law Licinius ; sentenced to death his eleven-year-old nephew, killed his eldest son, Crispus; brought about the death of his second wife; took the nails that were supposed to come from the cross of Christ and tised one in his war helmet and another on the bridle of his war horse. Yet he was canonized by the Greek Church and his memory celebrated “as equal to the apostles.” He talked and presided at the opening of the Council of Nicea, which was called to frame a creed, and he was hailed as “a .bishop of bishops.” Could this have happened if the men who had gathered there had made the Sermon on the Mount an essential part of the Creed? It had no place in it, so Constantine could be at home. What had happened was that the Christian Church had been conquered by a pagan warrior. And the church allowed itself to be thus conquered, for this ideal of Christ did not have possession of its soul.

E. Stanley Jones, the Christ of the Mount

As someone who borders on paleo-orthodoxy this is something I wrestle with, but I indeed do miss in the creeds the emphasis on Jesus as the Way, and on Christians as followers of the Way, which is Christ. And where do we find a better description of the Way of Christ than in the sermon on the mount?

And there is something highly disturbing about Constantine in a lot of ways…

So what do you think?

shalom

Bram

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7 responses to “‘Saint’ Constantine the not-so-great vs the sermon on the mount… (E. Stanley Jones)

  1. good food for thought-we are probably close in our views in many ways-I do think God is putting the fun in fundamental–getting us back to basics and we will see much more of the types of miracles as seen in the days of the acts and in Jesus ministry

  2. I think its clear that the canon was not fully set until Constantine and the Nicene council (despite all the apologists saying the council wasn’t about the canon). Do you really believe a universal council was called to discuss whether or not to excommunicate one guy? And how could Arius get so big if John was universally considered canonical already? Plus, what’s the dealio with the 50 Bibles that Constantine commissions right after the council? If fitty chuches needed Bibles they could have ordered them. Why does the Empreror need to commission them? Because these fitty Bible were the exemplars from which all future Bibles would be copied. These were the new Bible as edited by Constantine and the Bishops at Nicea. I find it hard to beleive Paul was so prominent before this time…so little of his theology had infiltrated Christianity prior to Augustine who is after Nicea!!! So, I think Paul was finally added universally to the canon at this time and I think the gospels were redacted. I think that prior to this based on congregational autonomy each church had its own canon and that it varied by region. Constantine fixed the canon and gave his favorite writer, Paul, the prominent place to erase the importance of the Sermon on the Mount and everything else that is good and holy.

    • I don’t think one has te assume that things were rewritten, I would say that only the emphasis of interpretation has shifted. And E. stanley Jones is not criticizing the Nicene Creed here, but the older apostles creed, Constantine had nothing to do with that one. He says that if the creed would’ve made the commitment to the SOTM clearer, someone like Constantine would have never been accepted in the church. (Some ealier christians like Tertullianus were quite severe pacifists)

      There’s complete and almost complete manuscripts of NT books (including John, like manuscript P66) from before Nicea, So I don’t see how it could have been rewritten. And there has been discussions about which books were in later too, the canon wasn’t completely fixed at that point.
      The older church fathers like Irenaeus, who already spoke of a 4-gospel-canon, and Justin Martyr do reference the works of Paul as much as the later ones as far as I’m aware of, so I don’t think the problem is having Pauls books in the canon. (And Paul is also prominent, though interpreted a bit different -no original sin- in eastern theology where Augustine never had that much influence…)

      Most of these references to the first verse of John here are from before Nicea: http://forananswer.org/Top_Uni/ECF_Jn1_1.htm, and Arius himself appears to have quoted that gospel enough, so I don’t see how the question of Arius could prove that the gospels were rewritten.

      • If you believe that any full manuscripts really date prior to Nicea, or that Arius quoted from John, you’ve just bought into the coverup of modern scholarship that works in the interests of the big lie.

  3. ooch! Stanley really nails the Church in that quote! Wow…to think about what would have happened (or what COULD happen) if the followers of Jesus actually lived out his teachings in their daily lives. So often, we Christians want all the reward (heaven, peace, blessings, etc.) without paying the price required (dieing to ourselves and being slaves of King Jesus).

    • But Paul says its by faith alone! (Just joking, or course. I get so sick of hearing people say exactly that.)

  4. Brambonius,

    I always seem to lose the link to your blog, and end up coming upon things like this weeks later. Still, I hope you end up finding my response.

    To address the issue of Constantine, one must first address the issue of what “Holy” means, and how it was used traditionally in Judeo-Christianity. Has holy always meant “morally upright, following the teachings of goodness and kindness written in our hearts”, or did it have a different, more elemental meaning? Is the “moral purity” version of the holiness of secular leaders an ancient Christian understanding, or is it an invention of pietists in the second millenium?

    I contend that Holy means “set aside for the purposes of God”. For one of the greatest examples of this, look at Isaiah 45, in which God calls Cyrus the Great, a pagan emperor, his anointed one— his Messiah. Cyrus was not given this title for his religious tolerance (as 19th century scholars of the Cyrus cylinder mistakenly assumed) but because his actions were prepared by God (forming light, preparing darkness…) and thus he was Holy: Set apart for the purposes of God. God used the evil pagan dynastic system in Persia to liberate the Hebrews; he used the evil which man had established and shaped it to ultimately contribute to the Savlation of the World through Christ. That is why God declares in Isaiah 45:

    “Forming light, Preparing Darkness; Making Peace, Preparing Evil; I am YHWH, doing all these things.”

    It is in this context that Constantine must be understood. Two pagan emperors vying for power over a crumbling household. God took the evil situation and used the raging of the nations to further the Kingdom of his Christ: He chose the more cooperative pagan king and granted him victory, knowing that he would indirectly play a part, ultimately, in the Salvation of the World. Thus, Constantine’s Christianity (he did not become a Christian until his death) “moral uprightness”, or pacifism, do not at all have to do with his holiness.

    After all, we do not venerate Constantine because of his power, but because of how God used him, how he cooperated with Divien Grace. It is for this reason that we repeat the stories of Moses, of King Jehu, of Cyrus the Great, of Kings David and Solomon, even Pontius Pilate. For God, not these men, is glorified in bringing good out of evil, ultimately for the Salvation of the World.

    A final note: Unlike E. Stanley Jones and the conspiracy theorists who posted above me, I implore you: READ THE PRIMARY SOURCES. Several myths about Constantine are repeated here (his presiding over Nicea I, several family murders) that are inventions of polemicists and pseudohistorians. Once again, I implore you: READ THE PRIMARCY SOURCES, analyse them, and decide what to believe. Do not allow yourself to be force-fed a narrative by pseudo-historians and evangelical “bible scholars” who have no background in history, especially Eastern Roman history.

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