Constantine - Hero or Villain?

Discussion in 'Church History' started by Botolph, Oct 26, 2018.

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  1. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    Constantine the Great stands as a watershed mark in Church History / European History. His life and rule marks the passing of the old Gods and the arrival center stage of the Church - legitimised and somewhat more respectable.

    Constantine himself was late to baptism, and though many of his actions were good for the Church, it is possible to understand them as possibly as politically motivated as they were spiritually motivated. The vision of the Chi Rho and the victory of Milvian Bridge, is perhaps also understood as a catastrophic military blunder by his Brother in Law Maxentius.

    He is one of the more complex people in history.

    https://blackswantheology.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/constantine.pdf

    The notes on the above link are the start of a presentation I am preparing on Constantine for a secular group I am part of. I know that some people are all positive, and some all negative, while I find myself feeling that Constantine is complex. I would in interested in what people think on the subject.
     
  2. Peteprint

    Peteprint Well-Known Member Anglican

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    This is an interesting discussion. I feel that so much time has passed since Constantine, and the sources are so sketchy, that it is almost impossible to draw a truly accurate picture of the man. Look how difficult it is, even to understand Archbishop Cranmer or Henry VIII, and we have more plentiful material in the case of both those men. As with most famous historical personages, especially from so long ago, several different biographies will result in several different portraits.
     
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  3. Tiffy

    Tiffy Active Member

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    A personal biography of Constantine may be problematic as far as total accuracy is concerned, but there is little doubt about the catastrophic effect his reforms and innovations had upon the spiritual effectiveness of the invisible church, when it suddenly became the visible tool of the secular authority and became polluted by the political ambitions of the still pagan civil powers. Officialdom then became swelled from the ranks of pagan magistrates who vied for position in the new 'church' headed up by The Emperor and the Church's inexorable and perhaps inevitable decline into Dark Ages ignorance had begun. Under Constantine, 'The Way', as it was previously practiced by Christians became effectively transformed into 'Christendom', a political organization, with its hierarchies of deacons, priests, bishops, princes, kings, cardinals, popes etc. with the aim of 'Christianizing' Roman society, and eventually 'Christianizing' and organizing and gaining control over the entire world. A very humanly inspired project not much different than any other organization bent on world domination.

    Since the Reformation there has been a slight reversal of this trend, with Churches becoming far more independent of an overarching system of control, but the invisible Church is still largely obliged to exist 'within' the Religious political power system, which, since Constantine, has taken upon itself the identity of Christ's Church in the world.
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    Last edited: Oct 26, 2018
  4. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    There are a number of reasons why I don't wholly accept the proposition, and I am inclined to a different view. The period before the rise of Constantine's power in Empire was the Diocletian Tetrarchy, marked notably by the Diocletian persecution of the Church. The Edict of Milan did not make the Empire Christian, but did mark the end of the persecution (save for Licinius who began a small persecution in the East before being defeated by Crispus and Constantine).

    The Roman Empire had survived, following the practice of the Alexandrian Empire, where they left the local religion in tact, and indeed supported and used it, which generally worked well, though Palestine had proved problematic. Christianity was not a local religion of anywhere (and even in Armenia which had become the first Christian Country in 301 it was not perceived as a local religion). I believe what Constantine saw in Christianity was a religion which had a broader compass, and was a good fit for the Empire. Constantine was pragmatic, and his mother (Helena) was a Christian.

    Many of the issues raised here belong more to the thinking promulgated by Augustine of Hippo in Civitas Dei, basically a century later.

    There is no doubt that the separation of Church and State in the post reformation period has led to the institution reality of the Church being more removed from secular power which is arguably a good thing. At some stage, and possibly in a separate thread it might be interesting to discuss the notion of the Church Visible (to which the 39 Articles refer) and the Church Invisible which you raise here.

    You say here 'since Constantine' and in the sense that much of what you refer to is part of the post Constantine period, I can accept that, however I don't know that it is fair to blame Constantine for it. It is not fair to blame the Donation of Constantine on Constantine since he had nothing to do with it.

    I take it that you are not arguing that the furtherance of the Diocletian Persecution would have been a better option.
     
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  5. JoeLaughon

    JoeLaughon Active Member Anglican

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    Hero.

    The claims of a "Constantinian shift" is just simply ahistorical and is usually peddled by various restorationist types, in particular Mormon, JWs and anabaptists.

    The most Constantine did was restore stolen property, legalize Christianity, prohibit Christians from performing state sacrifices and appoint Christians to high office, as well as give out benefices to various churches. Even then by the end of his reign, 2/3rds of his appointments were pagans.

    The only serious doctrinal involvement of Constantine's was the Donatist issue and the Council of Nicea:

    • The Donatists had explicitly asked Constantine to intervene and, after consulting orthodox bishops, decided against them and had them return their churches to orthodox bishops.
    • Constantine played no serious role in the Council. He called it after hearing reports of disputes, rebuked both Arius and Alexander, then provided a meeting place at Nicea. His opening speech shows he simply wanted unity after seeking "in the divinely-inspired word the solution of the questions at issue." After the bishops declared Arianism anathema, he enforced the ruling of the Council. The rest is simply myth making.

    He protected the Church, allowed for Christian reforms of society like banning cruel execution, encouraged the freeing of slaves, and restored stolen property. His only role in doctrine was enforcing the decisions of the Church, not influencing them. In this he was the model of a God-appointed Romans 13 ruler who rewards the good and is a terror to evil.

    [​IMG]
     
  6. AnglicanAgnostic

    AnglicanAgnostic Active Member

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    I remember seeing a BBC documentary on Constantine and it suggested his attributing God to his victory at Milvian Bridge may be over blown. He did make a huge statue with lots of people and horses in it to commemorate his victory. I can't remember its name but it still exists and it contains no Christian symbols as you might expect.
     
  7. Tiffy

    Tiffy Active Member

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    Neither hero nor Villain, just a fallible but astute human Roman Emperor.

    Of Course, Constantine is not entirely to blame for the subversion of Christianity and it's morphing into an increasingly pagan institution right up to and beyond the Reformation in some cases. The Church itself bears some responsibility. Christians and the Church have always desired an alliance with everything that represents power in the world. That is because a foundational belief of the Church is that the Power of the Holy Spirit is more powerful and can overcome the 'powers' that are arrayed against God. We have the prophetic statement from Christ himself that "The gates of Hell will not withstand His Church". The Church genuinely believed, I think, that the secular authorities had finally capitulated and the reign of Christ would result in a period of peace and social order. Unfortunately, what actually happened was just about the absolute reverse. The corruption of 'power' was too much for the Church and it unconsciously became enthralled and so became itself a vassal of the 'state powers'.

    When Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world, he means exactly that. He will not validate any earthly kingdom, (even if the ruler is a Christian. Which of course Constantine, as far as we know, was not, until hours before his death). God approves of justice and right government, but does not purport to head up any particular state or kingdom, over against any other state or kingdom. Justice and right governments though, and oppressive and unjust governments have their own rewards or consequences.

    Roman society at the time of Constantine essentially was pagan, and it had the intention of remaining so, if it could. What actually happened was the political, social, and intellectual elite, brought with them into Constantine's church, a social ritual that was the exact opposite of what Jesus proclaimed. In simple terms they brought a legal spirit (Roman), a philosophical world view (Greek), an aggressive drive for empire, (political) and a range of other interests that had nothing whatever to do with the spiritual purpose of the Church.

    From the 4th century onward, then, there took place what some have called the paganizing of the Church. It adopted beliefs and customs alien to the gospel. It changed the pagan emperor cult into a veritable Christian 'cult', chiefly at Byzantium. It took in popular beliefs, adopted and 'christianized' pagan myths, confiscated pagan temples and made them into churches, and persecuted pagans. It did all this without realizing at all that the unperceived but true result would be the destruction of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. And thinking itself still be in possession of the one and only truth, along with an obsession with 'unity', (a spiritual unity corresponding with the physical unity of the empire), it could no longer tolerate diversity in the expression of faith. It had to establish and consolidate unity at all costs, (hence the persecution of the heretics, and the destruction of all heretical literature). Heretical being defined by the new church of Constantine and its progeny, in the interests of the new 'worldly' state of 'Christendom'.
     
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  8. Tiffy

    Tiffy Active Member

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    I actually am not blaming Constantine for anything much at all. He was a very pragmatic governor and knew an opportunity when he saw one. The blame for the paganizing of the Church is laid squarely at the feet of the Church leadership, and even that can't properly be accused of deliberately betraying 'The Way'. They 'sleep walked' into a situation which imperceptibly slowly became less and less like the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and they fully expected was being brought about. A kind of Satanic honey trap, or Venus fly trap of a cunningly devised spiritual kind. This was not the most successful period of church history, but they must have thought it was at the time.
     
  9. JoeLaughon

    JoeLaughon Active Member Anglican

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    It should be noted that not a single doctrine can be pointed to as "shifting" as a result of Constantine's rule, patronage or conversion. Not in the canon, the Trinity, soteriology, the sacraments, worship or holy orders.

    As far as having an ostensibly chummy relationship between Church-and-state, the notion of totally desacralized government would've been anathema to early Christians. While His kingdom is not of this world, clearly His kingdom includes this world [“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18)]. This text is more an issue of point of origin as opposed to Christ not having any business in the world. Reformed theologian, Abraham Kuyper, put it well when he said, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
     
  10. Tiffy

    Tiffy Active Member

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    But not in a possessive way, or a political way. Not in the way he was offered them by Satan. Neither should the Church see them that way. Christ's kingdom is not of this world. We are salt, not subjects.

    As somebody famously said: "Well you would say that". :) Did the eventual invention of Cardinals and a Pope not constitute change from a New Testament model of ministry then?
    .
     
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  11. JoeLaughon

    JoeLaughon Active Member Anglican

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    @Tiffy

    1. Subjects.

    We are absolutely Christ's subjects. He is King. St Paul in 1st Corinthians 15:28 says "And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." St Paul also says in Romans 14:9 “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” We are included in "all things" and "the living." To follow Christ is to be His subject.

    2. Both post-date Constantine. I have no idea where you get these notions. Constantine must be a very convenient myth.
    • The Bishop of Rome did not even attend the Council of Nicea and the first Roman bishop to call himself pappas or Pope was Damascus I who is three full decades after the death of Constantine. The notions of papal supremacy start being argued for in the 5th and 6th centuries with Saints Innocent and Gelasius, well after Constantine's death. It becomes institutionalized in the western Church in the 8th century. Again it seems that dastardly Constantine must've possessed a time machine to go not only go back in time to ruin the feminist, egalitarian Christian church by taking away their priestesses but then forward as well, instituting the papacy after his death.
    • Cardinals do not become a privileged class among Roman clergy until the 8th century and don't become the recognized class of bishops and priests until 1059. Again, must be that Constantinian time machine.

    I would suggest Peter Leithart's Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom as a corrective to these ahistorical views.
     
  12. Tiffy

    Tiffy Active Member

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    1. Subjects. You misunderstand my reference point. I am referring to being subjects in a vassal sense to any other Lord than Jesus Christ Himself. Not The Emperor or any other secular power. The 'Powers' and wickedness in high places are what we are struggling with, not what we are subject to.

    You are also completely wrong to assume as you seem to be doing, that I blame Constantine for what happened to the church. Most of what happened to it regarding its paganization and corruption happened centuries after Constantine's death, but the rot set in with a vengence from the time of Constantine, right up to the time of Wycliffe and then Luther and the other Reformers, and continued in the Roman Catholic Church beyond the Reformation, and to some extent still continues.

    My views are not ahistorical. Straw man arguments purporting to claim that, prove nothing. The historicity of the decline of the 'The Way' into Constantine's 'Church', on into 'Christendom' and ignorant superstition are very well documented, as are the excesses of the church hierarchy over many centuries of debauchery, simony, nepotism, corruption, forgery, treason and murder. Hardly the behaviour of a clergy and episcopate duly ordained by God.
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  13. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    Constantine Arch was erected by the Senate to commemorate the victory. The most significant omission from it is the Chi Rho, which by the stories of the day of the conquest would have made sense, however it was not erected by Constantine but by the Senate and is laiden with symbology from the Pagan Mythros that was part of Roman Culture till then.

    [​IMG]

    My view is that Constantine, whilst kind to Christians was not himself a Christian till late in his life. Pragmatically, however he saw the Church as a powerful means to bringing unity to the disparate republic. I think he gets blamed for too much, and it is quite possible that without him then Church may have suffered more.
     
  14. JoeLaughon

    JoeLaughon Active Member Anglican

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    1. Re: Subjects

    Then this would be also wrong. As subjects of this Kingdom, we are also to be subject to earthly authority as this is ordained by God Himself.

    1 Peter 2:13-17
    Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.[Act] as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but [use it] as bondslaves of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

    Romans 13:1-7
    Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but from God; the powers that be are ordained by God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God, and those who resist shall receive for themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same, for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid, for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Therefore ye must be subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For, for this cause pay ye tribute also, for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

    2. You continue to insist that these "started" under Constantine. That the "rot set." This is really a simple request: prove it. You've claimed this a number of times, implicating Constantine in the episcopacy, male priesthood, the Papacy or generic "paganism." There is just no evidence of any connection between Constantine and these claims. Where are the dots connected? "The rot set in" is sure doing some heavy lifting here.
     
  15. Phoenix

    Phoenix Moderator Staff Member Anglican

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    Again, please remember that demonizing the historic Church is not within the bounds of reasonable discourse. Respectful criticism, questions, and suggestions for improvement are a fine line from demonizing, and I respectfully ask that we do not cross it. Historic Anglicanism, and the historic Church in general are viciously attacked in countless other secular communities. Here, on this website, historic Anglicanism is celebrated; both in the eras when the civil and ecclesiastical spheres were united, as well as when they were separated. Let us seek common ground not division amongst the Anglican brethren, please.
     
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  16. Tiffy

    Tiffy Active Member

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    I have not mentioned Anglicanism, which is actually a reversal of the trend within the Roman Catholic Church toward 'wordliness and the corruption of mammon and power'. I am championing the cause of Anglican values as a welcome return to Biblical principles and New Testament praxis.

    That the Europe wide Roman Catholic church was desperately in need of reformation, (and in some areas still is), is not in the slightest, a matter of conjecture. Neither is it truthful to pretend that its errors and departures from the way of the Holy Faith, both in the conduct of its individual clergy/episcopate/papacy, and in its entire structure were trivial in the sight of God or man.
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  17. Tiffy

    Tiffy Active Member

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    (1) Submission to authority never should entail anything other than obedience to just law and due heed to legitimate authority. Powers are by no means all working according to God's ordinance, indeed some of them are in vehement and direct opposition to God still. They may have been originally instituted by God, but some are no longer endorsed by God and it is our duty as subjects of Christ to tell them so. To think otherwise would be to condemn Nathan for accusing David of adultery and murder. You surely can't be suggesting that Christians, dragged before the pagan authorities for obeying Jesus Christ's commands, should prostrate themselves before a corrupt earthly power on the spurious assumption that it has been instituted by God, (according to some scripture), and is therefore superior to Christ and his Way, by virtue merely of being more directly and physically our superior.

    How would your notion of obedience to 'Church powers' and secular 'power' be applicable to Fox's Book of Martyrs.

    Yes they were law keeping, wherever the secular and religious 'law' complied with God's decrees, but to suggest they were respectful of authority on the grounds that ALL 'authority' comes directly from God, would be profoundly mendacious. In fact they died rather than submit to such ungodly 'authority'.


    (2) I have nowhere implicated Constantine in church matters, such as the priesthood or episcopacy and certainly not the papacy. That was all already going on, (with the exception of the papacy), before Constantine came on the scene of history and continued long after his demise. Constantine merely used the Church to increase his grip on empire and enhance his status as Emperor. He was a pragmatist, even perhaps a cynical pragmatist, but his relationship with the Church was definitely pragmatic.
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  18. Tiffy

    Tiffy Active Member

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    I doubt it was raised without consent of the Emperor at least, if not a certain amount of approval of the plans. It is quite likely that the Chi Rho story got started well after the Emperor was safely seated in power and was probably used to further justify Constantine's decision to use the Church to unify the empire and consolidate his position as head of it.

    Do we know how long after the battle the monument was erected?

    We know for sure that an increasing number of the pagan nobility entered the church primarily as a means of gaining office under Constantine's new government. Also that distinctive 'Christian', priestly vestments date from around this time and are modeled on the garb of state officialdom, the magistrates of that time. Vestments that have no connection whatever with any Hebrew priesthood.

    Undoubtedly Constantine and his bringing of the Church into the mainstream of the Roman political arena was generally seen as a very good thing by most of the Church at that time. It is only in hindsight that it is possible to discern a gradual alteration in the Church's character and purpose. At the time it would have been very hard to find a reason to object to everything that was happening to it, most of it seemed good
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  19. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    Battle of Milvian Bridge - 28 October 312

    Edict of Milan - February 313 - Cosigned by Licinius. They were in Milan for the marriage of Constantine's sister Flavius to Licinius.

    The Arch of Constantine was constructed 315 at the behest of the Senate. Much of the work quite likely comprised of recycled bits from earlier monuments - and I would be certain that Constantine was aware and no doubt a little chuffed at the idea. By this stage Constantine was clearly using the Chi Rho as part of his personal symbology. A medallion was issued at Ticinum in 315 AD which shows Constantine wearing a helmet emblazoned with the Chi Rho. Constantine's motto in hoc signo vinces seems to have been in use by that stage.

    At this stage of course Constantine held the role of Pontifex Maximus (the great bridge builder) a role associated with the pagan Gods of Rome, and responsible for a range of functions including, Ceremonials for pestilence, lightning, etc., Temples, sacred places, etc., Regulation of the calendar, Burying-places, and worship of ancestors., Oversight of all legal patrician marriages., Law of adoption and of succession., Regulation of the public morals.

    Much of that seems to have been divested in the creation of the new Capital - Nova Romanum - which was dedicated to the Christian God, under the patronage of the Virgin Mother of God. I believe Constantine's conversion was a slow arch rather than an abrupt U turn.

    On the basis of the evidence available I would conclude that if Constantine had had any real input into the design of the Arch of Constantine, then the Chi Rho would have been part of the design.
     
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  20. Tiffy

    Tiffy Active Member

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    Agreed! And a symbol probably more acceptable for propaganda purposes than the 'Fish', which would have had negative connotations for setting up a system which put the Emperor at the head of a 'Christian' state apparatus, with Christ only 'Spiritually' transcendent, away up in heaven. It is from this period we get the fashion for beautiful mosaics of Christ Triumphant Reigning from heaven, rather like the Emperors of Rome liked to see themselves 'back in the day'.

    Whether this was all the beginning of a 'rot setting in' or a new era of success in overcoming 'the world' is a matter of opinion. What is irrefutable is that the Church became increasingly very different from that time on, both in East and West, either as a natural historical development under God's ordinance, or as an eventual decline into paganism and debauchery, being subsumed and polluted by surreptitious and imperceptible malign influences, until a Reformation became inevitable to preserve it from total destruction.

    Here, as Reformed Christians is our justification for the Reforming zeal of Wycliff, Luther, Zwingli, the Bible translators and printers, all we believe under the inspiration of God who has promised to preserve His Son's Church against all attacks of it enemies.

    "Endue thy ministers with righteousness."
    . . . . . . .
    "Because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou O God."

    There are far too many nowadays that would like, (it seems), to forget that it was a corrupt and wicked organisation calling itself 'The Church', that murdered the Martyrs of the Reformation and it was an equally un-Christlike spirit which drove the Reformed Church to retaliate against those few individuals in the Roman Catholic church who merely opposed oppression, cruelty and wickedness, rather than actually in all cases being guilty of treason against a now Protestant state. The invisible Church has long been trapped in the bonds of a politically motivated, rather 'worldly' organization, which has its origins, both East and West in the political ambitions of Constantine the Great, and is generally unwilling to hear the invisible church's Spirit inspired prophetic voice.

    That being said, the same defective, visible, terrestrial Church, throughout the centuries, also preserved 'the faith, in and by, its faithful individual saints', preserved the scriptures and protected them from the world, (for the most part), which would otherwise have destroyed them, and continued to preach the Gospel, albeit overlaid with various accreted glosses depending upon its political and social programs of the times.

    I am therefore not at all sure that we would have had much of a Church at all, had Constantine not done as he decided to do. Who can really know?

    Only the God who oversees intimately such vast historical overviews has complete knowledge of these matters.
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    Last edited: Oct 28, 2018

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