There are few more maligned figures than Constantine. The central critique is that he subordinated Christianity to the interests of the state, using it for his own political purposes. In its most crass forms, the critique of Constantine barely veils the notion that Christianity would have been better off it would have continued to be persecuted.
Defending Constantine cuts through the historical and theological haze with a clarity that is devastating to the popular caricature of the man. Leithart’s historical treatment is extensive–he sets up the context for Constantine’s reign by detailing the brutality of the Roman persecutions, such that Eusebius’s over-the-top affirmation of Constantine begin to make sense. He shifts as the book progresses toward the theology of Constantine, carefully critiquing John Howard Yoder’s anti-Constantinianism theology.
Unlike his critics, Leithart takes seriously Constantine’s Christianity arguing that while an imperfect ruler, Constantine’s writings and policies reveal “a seriously Christian ruler.” Leithart suggests that Constantine’s own writings indicate that his central conviction was that “the Christian God was the heavenly Judge who, in history, opposes those who oppose him.”
In one of Leithart’s most compelling sections, eh points out that Constantine not only stopped the slaughter of Christians–he stopped the slaughter of animals, ending the sacrifical system that was at the heart of the Roman political theology. As Leithart writes, “When Constantine began to end sacrifice, he began to end Rome as he knew it, for he initiated the end of Rome’s sacrificial lifeblood and established that Rome’s life now dependend on its adherence to another civic center, the church.”
This is hardly the Constantine of Dan Brown, much less the emerging church. But it is a Constantine that needs to be taken seriously both as Christian and Christian ruler.
Even though I first read Leithart’s book a few months ago, I’m still digesting it. It’s simply that rich. Defending Constantine a critical masterpiece that functions as an important dissent from the lazy ahistorical critiques that are so prevalent today. I have already commended it to several people, and will doubtlessly continue to do so.
With that in mind, I’m giving away FIVE copies of the book. Leave a comment to enter after:
5) Telling a friend, tweeting about the contest, or sharing the link on Facebook
6) Donating to Wheatstone Academy (you’ll actually get entered in two giveaways simultaneously if you do this)
Again, only comments below will be counted. Please put one comment for every form of entry.
Update: Realized I forgot to put a deadline on this. It’ll stay open until 12:01 AM CST Saturday morning. Thanks for all the entries!