In AD 312 a pretender to the imperial title by the name of Constantine marched from Gaul … towards Rome…. [V]ictorious … the dominion of the Roman[s] was set upon a radically new path … an imperium christianum….

[O]n the shores of the Bosphorus, what had formerly been the pagan city of Byzantium [became] a Christian capital. Constantine … mark[ed] out the street plan … guided by the figure of Christ following before him … Constantinople….

A seat of empire, to be sure — but hardly a monument to Christian humility.

The leaders of the Church were unperturbed. Scarcely able … to credit the miracle that had transformed them … from a persecuted minority into an imperial elite, they raised few eyebrows at the spectacle of their emperor’s magnificence…. [I]t struck most of them that it would be a waste of time to preach revolution. Far more meritorious … to labour at … order, not egalitarianism…. What were the saints, the angels and the archangels if not the very model of a court…? A Christian emperor … could serve not merely as Christ’s ally in the great war against evil, but as His representative on earth…. In the bejewelled and perfumed splendours of Constantinople might be glimpsed a reflection of the beauties of paradise; in the armies that marched to war against the foes of the Christian order an image of the angelic hosts.

What had once been the very proofs of the empire’s depravity — its wealth, its splendour, its terrifying military might — now seemed to mark it out as a replica of heaven.

[T]he Christ to whom Constantine and his successors compared themselves bore little resemblance to the Jesus who had died in excruciating and blood-streaked agony upon a rough-hewn cross…. [Christ] began to resemble nothing so much as a Roman emperor. Whereas the faithful had once looked to their Messiah to sit in awful judgement over Rome, now bishops publicly implored Him to turn His “heavenly weapons” against the enemies of the empire, “so that the peace of the Church might be untroubled by storms of war.”

To [those] in the Church … desperate to see the imperial centre hold, the strident anti-Roman sentiments of St. John’s Revelation had long been an embarrassment. In 338, a council of bishops had sought to drop it altogether from the canon of Holy Scripture. In the East … the more prosperous half of Rome’s empire … the Book of Revelation would not be restored to the Bible for centuries.

Tom Holland, The Forge of Christendom


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