Saturday, May 21, 2011


The Vision of the Cross - assistants of Raphael

Though it would only become apparent later, the battle of Milvian Bridge was a major turning point in history. By wielding the cross and sword, Constantine had done more than defeat a rival - he had fused the church and the state together. It would be both a blessing and a curse to both institutions, and neither the Christian church nor the Roman Empire would ever be the same again.

Lars Brownworth, Lost to the West, (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009), 14.
What really happened the night Constantine prayed before his battle with Maxentius? What words did he say? What god did he pray to? Did the God of Christianity truly reveal Himself in the sign of a cross? Did Jesus actually encourage him to proceed behind the cross as a means of protection and, dare I say, guidance? Did God want Constantine in charge and did God really want church & state together? These are questions that swirl in my head as I think about that fateful event in history that would catapult Constantine to leader of the Eastern Roman Empire and, as Lars Brownworth pointed out, fuse the church and state together. The reality, as best as I can tell, is that Constantine simply saw the advantages of Christianity against paganism for the growth of his power and empire. Whether or not he ever truly understood the faith or believed in the death, burial & resurrection of Jesus is hard to tell or prove. But he understood the power and prestige he stood to gain and throughout the rest of his life he would exploit the church & state relationship.

Uniquely, I think we see that continued today within the United States. Much like the emperor of antiquity, leaders in the United States see the sign of the cross as a means to "conquer" the political, social and spiritual realms of power. The cross/church have become a base of power & foundation to build upon in order to accomplish the goals of the individual. Republicans, Democrats, and a variety of groups such as Focus on the Family truly believe in the power and authority they can receive through the use of the cross. Political leaders, megachurch pastors, social leaders, and even media powers use the cross as a method to gain access or publicity to their cause. I wonder if the idea of divine leadership has gotten lost, though, in the search for human authority. Conquering continues - but does so at the loss of anything resembling that of Jesus. Boasting of church allegiance, sacrificial giving, and good morality become tossed around like useless trivia. When one accomplishes their goal - an "honorary" call out to God is given as if divine favor truly rested upon their accomplishment. But what does it all mean?

In the end, it seems as if our boasts of in hoc signo vinces are much like Constantine's. We may or may not conquer our goals...but our focus, much like his, is simply upon our own glorification.


bigdave said...

A great blog on a man who so radically changed the direction of the Christian church. Clearly he had no intent of leaving all he had to pursue Christ, but used the rouse of his "Christ" to pursue his political agenda. Hasn't that been the way U.S. politicians have glibly used "Christ" in the last 50years? It is sad that we spend so much energy trying to mold our faith into a suitable form to fit with our political agenda. As I turn into a human and political dinosaur, I cannot help but think that the tears that rained down at the sight of Jerusalem, 2000 years ago, would pale in comparison to the tsunami that is being shed over Western thought today.
"To thine own self be true" has left no room for "lean not on thy own understanding." We all see the open wounds of the systems we care deeply about, but do little to bring healing, because we are too busy looking for a cure. The cure of such problems is beyond our fathoming, but healing can come about by just listening to all the voices that are talking and continuing to work hard at loving our neighbor.