Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom  -     By: Peter J. Leithart
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Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom

IVP Academic / 2010 / Paperback

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Product Description

The very mention of Constantine in some circles today is likely to raise eye-brows at the least, and at most to cause reveal strong opinions and arguments. Many see Constantine and his policies toward the church as the very genesis of Christianity's compromise with power, wealth, and ultimately corruption. But are there modern political concerns legitimately discernable from so ancient a past? This is the basic question of Peter Leithart's book Defending Constantine.

We know that Constantine accomplished several politically significant things:

  • He issued the Edict of Milan in 313 (an edict of toleration for Christians)
  • Outlawed paganism and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire
  • Manipulated the Council of Nicea in 325
  • Exercised absolute authority over the church, co-opting it for the aims of empire

Many see these four actions as critical to the comprise of the church with "empire", and indict both Constantine's rule, and his legacy, "Constantinianism" on account of them.

But do we know these things?

Defending Constantine weighs these claims and finds them wanting. And what's more, in focusing on these historical mirages, Leithart argues, we have failed to notice the true significance of Constantine and Rome brought under the canopy of Christianity. For beneath the surface of this contested story there emerges a deeper narrative of the end of Roman sacrifice and brutality--and a tectonic shift in the political theology of an empire--the implications of which we are still realizing, and ironically not fully appreciating. In this probing and informative book Peter Leithart examines the real Constantine, weighs the charges against Constantinianism and Constantine, and sets the terms for a new conversation about this pivotal emperor and the Christendom that emerged.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 367
Vendor: IVP Academic
Publication Date: 2010
Dimensions: 9.00 X 6.00 (inches)
ISBN: 0830827226
ISBN-13: 9780830827220
Availability: In Stock

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Publisher's Description

We know that Constantine
  • issued the Edict of Milan in 313
  • outlawed paganism and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire
  • manipulated the Council of Nicea in 325
  • exercised absolute authority over the church, co-opting it for the aims of empire
And if Constantine the emperor were not problem enough, we all know that Constantinianism has been very bad for the church. Or do we know these things? Peter Leithart weighs these claims and finds them wanting. And what's more, in focusing on these historical mirages we have failed to notice the true significance of Constantine and Rome baptized. For beneath the surface of this contested story there emerges a deeper narrative of the end of Roman sacrifice--a tectonic shift in the political theology of an empire--and with far-reaching implications. In this probing and informative book Peter Leithart examines the real Constantine, weighs the charges against Constantinianism, and sets the terms for a new conversation about this pivotal emperor and the Christendom that emerged.

Author Bio

Peter J. Leithart (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho, and senior fellow at New Saint Andrews College. He has also served as editor and writer for American Vision in Atlanta, Georgia, and as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Leithart has written numerous articles for publications such as the and and he serves as a contributing editor to magazine. He is the author of several books, including and

Endorsements

"Too many people, for far too long, have been able to murmur the awful word Constantine, knowing that the shudder it produces will absolve them from the need to think through how the church and the powers of the world actually relate, let alone construct a coherent historical or theological argument on the subject. Peter Leithart challenges all this, and forces us to face the question of what Constantine's settlement actually was, and meant. Few will agree with everything he says. All will benefit enormously from this challenge to easygoing received 'wisdom.'"
—N. T. Wright,
University of St. Andrews, Scotland

"There have been of late a splurge of populist history books damning Constantine the Great as the villain of the piece. Almost without exception they have drawn their picture of this most complex and complicated of late-antique Roman emperors from secondhand, clichéd and hackneyed books of an older generation, adding their own clichés in the process. Constantine has been sketched luridly, as the man who corrupted Christianity either by financial or military means. At long last we have here, in Peter Leithart, a writer who knows how to tell a lively story but is also no mean shakes as a scholarly historian. This intelligent and sensitive treatment of one of the great military emperors of Rome is a trustworthy entrée into Roman history that loses none of the romance and rambunctiousness of the events of the era of the civil war, but which also explains why Constantine matters: why he was important to the ancient world, why he matters to the development of Christianity (a catalyst in its movement from small sect to world-embracing cultural force). It does not whitewash or damn on the basis of a preset ideology, but it certainly does explain why Constantine gained from the Christians the epithet 'The Great.' For setting the record straight, and for providing a sense of the complicated lay of the land, this book comes most highly recommended."
—John A. McGuckin,
Columbia University

"An excellent writer with a flair for the dramatic, Peter Leithart is also one of the most incisive current thinkers on questions of theology and politics. In this book, Leithart helpfully complicates Christian history, and thereby helps theologians recover the riches of more than a millennium of Christian life too easily dismissed as 'Constantinian.' If the Holy Spirit did not simply go on holiday during that period, we must find ways to appreciate Christendom. Any worthwhile political theology today cannot fail to take Leithart's argument seriously."
—William T. Cavanaugh,
Research Professor, Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology, DePaul University, Chicago

Publisher's Weekly

Leithart (Deep Exegesis), a pastor who teaches at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho, takes aim at the received wisdom that Constantine's establishment of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire was a political co-optation that made the church the creature and justification of the imperial state. He reads the original ancient, the seminal secondary, and lots of other sources to contend that Constantine was a believer and a conciliator who sought theological agreement for the political stability it brought. Contra the influential interpretation of Anabaptist theologian John Howard Yoder, Leithart maintains that when Constantine is understood in historical context, his disestablishment of pagan religion opens a place for a Christian understanding of sacrifice and of the significance of the kingdom of God. His provocative view deserves examination. Besides his peers, general readers with a close knowledge of early church history will appreciate his well-supported argument, and anybody whose understanding of early church history comes from The Da Vinci Code needs to read this. (Nov.) Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Editorial Reviews

"For a generation that thinks it approves of those who challenge the conventional wisdom, it can come as quite a shock when someone actually does it. In this book, Peter Leithart takes up the daunting challenge of defending Constantine, and he does it with biblical grace, deep wisdom, profound learning and scholarship that has let the clutch out. This is a magnificent book."
"An excellent writer with a flair for the dramatic, Peter Leithart is also one of the most incisive current thinkers on questions of theology and politics. In this book, Leithart helpfully complicates Christian history, and thereby helps theologians recover the riches of more than a millennium of Christian life too easily dismissed as 'Constantinian.' If the Holy Spirit did not simply go on holiday during that period, we must find ways to appreciate Christendom. Any worthwhile political theology today cannot fail to take Leithart's argument seriously."
"There have been of late a splurge of populist history books damning Constantine the Great as the villain of the piece. Almost without exception they have drawn their picture of this most complex and complicated of late-antique Roman emperors from secondhand, clichéd and hackneyed books of an older generation, adding their own clichés in the process. Constantine has been sketched luridly, as the man who corrupted Christianity either by financial or military means. At long last we have here, in Peter Leithart, a writer who knows how to tell a lively story but is also no mean shakes as a scholarly historian. This intelligent and sensitive treatment of one of the great military emperors of Rome is a trustworthy entrée into Roman history that loses none of the romance and rambunctiousness of the events of the era of the civil war, but which also explains why Constantine matters: why he was important to the ancient world, why he matters to the development of Christianity (a catalyst in its movement from small sect to world-embracing cultural force). It does not whitewash or damn on the basis of a preset ideology, but it certainly does explain why Constantine gained from the Christians the epithet 'The Great.' For setting the record straight, and for providing a sense of the complicated lay of the land, this book comes most highly recommended."
"Too many people, for far too long, have been able to murmur the awful word Constantine, knowing that the shudder it produces will absolve them from the need to think through how the church and the powers of the world actually relate, let alone construct a coherent historical or theological argument on the subject. Peter Leithart challenges all this, and forces us to face the question of what Constantine's settlement actually was, and meant. Few will agree with everything he says. All will benefit enormously from this challenge to easygoing received 'wisdom.'"

Product Reviews

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  1. San Antonio, TX
    Age: 18-24
    Gender: male
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    A Balanced Look at Constantine
    October 19, 2012
    Armando
    San Antonio, TX
    Age: 18-24
    Gender: male
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    This book does a wonderful job in looking at the life of the Constantine of history. Leithart presents a compelling case for Constantine being a true Christian who sought to live out his Christian faith as Roman emperor. I admire the way that Leithart focuses in on the empirical evidence concerning the life of Constantine and sifts out elements of myth. In all, Leithart presents a balanced look a the life and person of the historical Constantine and his influence on early Christianity.
  2. 4 Stars Out Of 5
    Convincing portrayal of Constantine the Believer
    March 8, 2011
    Kiwi Karl
    Quality: 4
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 4
    I have always wondered whether Constantine deserved the demonizing he often receives. Leithart's book presents a convincing portrayal of Constantine the believer, and helps us get under the skin of this ancient emperor. As the title suggests, much of the book is a defence of Constantine against other less positive portrayals that have emerged, and for the most part Leithart deals with these thoroughly and convincingly. A very interesting book.
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