Defending Constantine 1

I received the book yesterday. It is surprisingly large – most of Leithart’s works are shorter. Here’s a quote from the Introduction:

…one aim in this book is to contribute to the formation of a theology that does not simply inform but is a social science.

In contrast to many modern theologians who consider social science to be foundational for theology, Milbank argues that classical orthodoxy contains its own account of social and political life.

I love this – we don’t need to go to sociology and political science for instructions on how to order our lives. Theology, rightly conceived, contains all we need for every area of life. This is Reformational, Medieval, and Kuyperian!

 

Constantine’s Prayer Tent

In my reading I came across a reference to a prayer Tabernacle or tent set up by the Emperor Constantine on his campaigns. I wondered if it was based on the Tabernacle of Moses and what it looked like? A couple citations about the Tabernacle are:

So great indeed was the emperor’s devotion to Christianity, that when he was about to enter on a war with Persia, he prepared a tabernacle formed of embroidered linen on the model of a church, just as Moses had done in the wilderness; and this so constructed as to be adapted to conveyance from place to place, in order that he might have a house of prayer even in the most desert regions.

Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, Book I, Chapter XVIII.

When he engaged in war, he caused a tent to be borne before him, constructed in the shape of a church, so that in case he or his army might be led into the desert, they might have a sacred edifice in which to praise and worship God, and participate in the mysteries. Priests and deacons followed the tent, who fulfilled the orders about these matters, according to the law of the church. From that period the Roman legions, which now were called by their number, provided each its own tent, with attendant priests and deacons.

Sozomenus, Ecclesiastical History, Book I, Chapter VIII

It seems that the model was indeed the Mosaic Tabernacle as far as materials go, however, in the shape of the cross and containing the Christian liturgy. I’d love to learn more about this tent, but I don’t know if there is more source material.

Various Fathers on Scripture

1.
I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.
Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf205.x.iii.ii.html
2.
That which the holy Scripture has not said, by what means should we receive and account it among those things that be true?
St. Cyril Glaphyrorum, in Genesis, lib. ii.
3.
Orth.—Do not, I beg you, bring in human reason. I shall yield to scripture alone.
Eran.—You shall receive no argument unconfirmed by Holy Scripture, and if you bring me any solution of the question deduced from Holy Scripture I will receive it, and will in no wise gainsay it.
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf203.iv.ix.ii.html
Theodoret, Dialogue I. The Immutable
Orth.—I would not so say persuaded only by human arguments, for I am not so rash as to say anything concerning which divine Scripture is silent.
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf203.iv.ix.iii.html
Theodoret, Dialogue II. The Unconfounded
One day when he had gone forth because all the monks had assembled to him and asked to  hear words from him, he spoke to them in the Egyptian tongue as follows: ‘The Scriptures are  enough for instruction, but it is a good thing to encourage one another in the faith, and to stir up  with words.
Spoken by St. Anthony in St. Athanasius’ Life of St. Anthony
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf204/Page_200.html
The novice was required not merely to read Scripture but to learn passages from it by heart
“that he may have full assurance in his piety and may not form his conduct according to the traditions of men.”
Basil Reg. Brev. 95.

Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection:

I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.

St. Cyril, Glaphyrorum, in Genesis, lib. ii.

That which the holy Scripture has not said, by what means should we receive and account it among those things that be true?

St. Theodoret, Dialogue I. The Immutable

Orth.—Do not, I beg you, bring in human reason. I shall yield to scripture alone.

Eran.—You shall receive no argument unconfirmed by Holy Scripture, and if you bring me any solution of the question deduced from Holy Scripture I will receive it, and will in no wise gainsay it.

Theodoret, Dialogue II. The Unconfounded

Orth.—I would not so say persuaded only by human arguments, for I am not so rash as to say anything concerning which divine Scripture is silent.

One day when he had gone forth because all the monks had assembled to him and asked to  hear words from him, he spoke to them in the Egyptian tongue as follows: ‘The Scriptures are  enough for instruction, but it is a good thing to encourage one another in the faith, and to stir up  with words.
St. Basil, Basil Reg. Brev. 95.
The novice was required not merely to read Scripture but to learn passages from it by heart  “that he may have full assurance in his piety and may not form his conduct according to the traditions of men.”

Where was Jesus?

Ramsay MacMullen discusses the Christianizing of the Roman Empire and looks at what was taught in face to face encounters between Christians and pagans. He says:
“…monotheism, to begin with. That was taught, and God was compared, in familiar fashion, to a monarch with his companies of servants about him; and contrast was drawn between Him and mere imitations, the daimones that passed for gods by animating idols and so forth. Word was spread of divine wrath and punishments, the more readily imagined through being leveled at evildoers resurrected in the flesh; while immortal delights were also known to await the blessed. The very stark blacks and whites of this whole crude picture of Christianity, and the very unsteady focus on the role of Jesus, are most striking.”
In a footnote to this paragraph, MacMullen says:
“…on Jesus in the theology being presented, [see] the curious paragraph in Athenag., Leg. 10, with really no explanation of Jesus’ role; his entire absence in Minucius Felix (striking at 29.6) and in Theophilus, Ad Autol. (striking at 1.12, 2.9, and 2.22); and his total unimportance for the one recent convert whose theology we can actually form some idea of, namely, Constantine. See Kraft (1955) 60 and passim and Frend (1952) 153.”
The passage MacMullen refers to in Athenagoras is here and it is terrible as regards mentioning Jesus – the central figure of the universe and the Church. The Minucius Felix passage is here and is also a disaster when it comes to Jesus the Messiah. I haven’t read the works in question, so I’m taking MacMullen’s word for it, but it is painful to see these presentations of Christianity as a philosophy that really didn’t need to focus much on Jesus.

Ramsay MacMullen discusses the Christianizing of the Roman Empire and looks at what was taught in face to face encounters between Christians and pagans. He says:

“…monotheism, to begin with. That was taught, and God was compared, in familiar fashion, to a monarch with his companies of servants about him; and contrast was drawn between Him and mere imitations, the daimones that passed for gods by animating idols and so forth. Word was spread of divine wrath and punishments, the more readily imagined through being leveled at evildoers resurrected in the flesh; while immortal delights were also known to await the blessed. The very stark blacks and whites of this whole crude picture of Christianity, and the very unsteady focus on the role of Jesus, are most striking.”

In a footnote to this paragraph, MacMullen says:

“…on Jesus in the theology being presented, [see] the curious paragraph in Athenag., Leg. 10, with really no explanation of Jesus’ role; his entire absence in Minucius Felix (striking at 29.6) and in Theophilus, Ad Autol. (striking at 1.12, 2.9, and 2.22); and his total unimportance for the one recent convert whose theology we can actually form some idea of, namely, Constantine. See Kraft (1955) 60 and passim and Frend (1952) 153.”

The passage MacMullen refers to in Athenagoras is here and it is terrible as regards mentioning Jesus – the central figure of the universe and the Church. The Minucius Felix passage is here and is also a disaster when it comes to Jesus the Messiah. I haven’t read the works in question, so I’m taking MacMullen’s word for it, but it is painful to see these presentations of Christianity as a philosophy that really didn’t need to focus much on Jesus.

Converts can’t let it go

It seems that often when Protestants convert to becoming Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox they do the following:
– Convert their blogs into a constant stream of Patristic quotes. You’ll see a fine example of this here. Do they think no one has ever read these quotes before? Do they think people are hanging on these words and converting themselves due to reading them? Or does it merely feed their own self-narrative of being part of the new, most correct church? How is it that a brand new convert is best qualified to teach the world about his newfound Church?
– Turn all of their energy to attacking their previous, woefully mistaken ways as Protestants. Protestants had this, that and the other wrong. Augustine was bad, preaching was over-emphasized, art was neglected, Tradition ignored, Authority not thought through, etc.
These attempts at converting other Protestants who have not made whatever leap these individuals have made are puzzling. Do they need the justification of others making the same choice that they have made in order to feel better? Why is it that you never (in my experience) see these bold new converts out in the world evangelizing the lost? Where is the Great Commission in their new life? So let’s just say to them:
“Hey, you converted, that’s great. Now why don’t you go fulfill our Lord’s command and evangelize the lost world? Get back to us and tell us how that goes. Until then, lay off the constant attempts at proselytization of Protestants.”
It seems that often when Protestants convert to becoming Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox they do the following:
– Convert their blogs into a constant stream of Patristic quotes. You’ll see a fine example of this here. Do they think no one has ever read these quotes before? Do they think people are hanging on these words and converting themselves due to reading them? Or does it merely feed their own self-narrative of being part of the new, most correct church? How is it that a brand new convert is best qualified to teach the world about his newfound Church?
– Turn all of their energy to attacking their previous, woefully mistaken ways as Protestants. Protestants had this, that and the other wrong. Augustine was bad, preaching was over-emphasized, art was neglected, Tradition ignored, Authority not thought through, etc.
These attempts at converting other Protestants who have not made whatever leap these individuals have made are puzzling. Do they need the justification of others making the same choice that they have made in order to feel better? Why is it that you never (in my experience) see these bold new converts out in the world evangelizing the lost? Where is the Great Commission in their new life? So let’s just say to them:
“Hey, you converted, that’s great. Now why don’t you go fulfill our Lord’s command and evangelize the lost world? Get back to us and tell us how that goes. Until then, lay off the constant attempts at proselytization of Protestants.”

Calvin on Deification

This was noted elsewhere, but it is so cool that I have to pass it on. It is Calvin on 2 Peter 1:4

For we must consider from whence it is that God raises us up to such a height of honor. We know how abject is the condition of our nature; that God, then, should make himself ours, so that all his things should in a manner become our things, the greatness of his grace cannot be sufficiently conceived by our minds. Therefore this consideration alone ought to be abundantly sufficient to make us to renounce the world and to carry us aloft to heaven. Let us then mark, that the end of the gospel is, to render us eventually conformable to God, and, if we may so speak, to deify us.

Jesus vs. Islam

     In his “Dialogues with a Muslim”, Manuel II Palaiologos writes:

     Now I would like to refute your pretension of attributing the highest dignity to the law of Mohammed. I will speak concisely and simply.
     First there came the law of Moses, which you judge imperfect. This law set down in writing circumcision and everything that your law later took from it. Then came baptism and chrismation and our other mysteries and a better and more perfect law than the first. That our law is better than that of Moses you yourself have admitted. But then with your law there comes again circumcision and practically all the precepts of the first law.
     If this is the case, how can you call it progress? Is there any right order in this? None at all, I am sure you will admit. It is like turning in circles, or going from what is higher back to what is lower.

The Cult of the Saints

I finished Peter Brown’s book today. I was disappointed in it. I wanted a book that clearly traced out exactly how and where the cult of the saints came from but Brown’s book is more about how it transitioned into widespread use and displaced existing attitudes towards the dead. Brown does not give us a detailed history of the origins of the cult, he provides a detailed account of what it looked like in the 3rd and 4th centuries.

Brown’s writing in this book is somewhat hard to follow and gauzy. There is a lot of untranslated Latin and French in it which of course I cannot read. This book fits a niche, but it’s not the niche I had hoped it would fill.