February 21, 2006

Basil of Caesarea (c.330–379) Quote

In Michael Haykin's excellent audio lecture on Tertullian and Constantine, he provides an interesting quote by Basil of Caesarea.

The incredible turn of events that accompanied the reign of Constantine, the way in which almost overnight Christians went from being a persecuted minority to being the power-brokers in the new order, all but seduced some believers into thinking that the state and the church could work together to establish the kingdom of God. A major figure who articulated this view was Eusebius of Caesarea.

On July 25, 336, the year before Constantine’s death, Eusebius was asked to preach at the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of Constantine’s accession to power. The main theme of his sermon is that the empire of Constantine is a visible image of the heavenly kingdom, "the manifestation on earth of that ideal monarchy which exists in the heavenly realm." Eusebius went on to affirm that Constantine governs it in accordance with the divine archetype, ever keeping his eyes on heaven to find the pattern for his government. In other words, what Eusebius enunciated here is a sacralization of the state.

It was an idea that bore bitter fruit seventy-five years or so later when the western portion of this Chr istian Roman Empire fell before the onslaught of various Germanic tribes and the question was raised of why God would allow his "holy state" to suffer in this way. This sacralization of the state thus contributed in no small way to the tears of Jerome. It was left to Augustine to argue at length in his monumental City of God (413–426) that no earthly kingdom can be identified with the kingdom of God and that no earthly kingdom, even a Christian state, is essential to the outworking of God’s purposes in history.

A related question is what happens if the Emperor or ruler happens to disagree with your theological views? If the state is vital to the advance of the kingdom of God, then religious nonconformity runs the risk of persecution. As Basil of Caesarea (c.330–379), later wrote:
When he [i.e. the Devil] saw that by the persecution of our enemies the Church was increasing and thriving the more, [he] changed his plan. He no longer makes war openly, but places hidden snares for us, concealing his treachery by the means of the name which his followers bear, in order that we may endure the same sufferings as our fathers, and yet not seem to suffer for Christ, since our persecutors have the name of Christian.
The stage is set for the Mediæval era when the church would regularly use the arm of the state to enforce "orthodoxy."

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