Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember the man sometimes known as the “13th Apostle.”

It is the 27th of February 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Who is the most important person in church history, that is, after Jesus and the Apostles? Say, since 100 AD?

I think there is a pretty definitive answer, although his “importance” is not seen by all as a step forward, and others will question if he was even a Christian himself. So, let’s try to unravel the story of the man, the myth, the emperor, the “father of the Christian West.” he was Constantine I, born on the 27th of February in 280 in modern-day Serbia.

He was born in what any history textbook will refer to as “the Crisis of the 3rd Century,” a time of political instability, a divided empire, and plague. Constantine’s father was elevated to the role of one of the Caesars (there were two Augustus and two corresponding Caesars), and his dad, Constantius, was sent to rule in the West while Constantine stayed with his mother in the East. Constantine was brought up in the court of Diocletian, an emperor who is perhaps best known as the fiercest persecutor of Christians, and Christians in particular.

When Diocletian and his Caesar abdicated, and Constantine was passed over, he fled the Wst to join his father in Great Britain, where he was commanding an army. With his father’s death, he was proclaimed emperor by the army and needed to arrange to solidify and consolidate his power.

His life was never free of scandal; he would divorce his first wife, marry a second, and then have the son of the first wife murdered, perhaps, for having an affair with his second wife, and he had her killed as well.

It was in 312 that his power would be consolidated after defeating his brother-in-law Maxentius at the battle of Milvian Bridge- it was said that he was either instructed in a dream or in a vision at midday to “conquer under this sign” that being the Chi-Rho (the first two letters of Jesus name in Greek) or a cross. What would be expected from an emperor is that the Christian god gave him his victory and that he would adopt that God as his own.

Constantine would then reverse the decrees of Diocletian and give civic status and benefits to the Christian clergy. Was this on account of his sincere conversion to the faith or a political game, having seen the growth of Christianity and his desire to control it rather than being controlled by them?

It will be pointed out that he was not baptized until he was on his deathbed, but this was not an uncommon practice in the early church. Forget the arguments about infants or not; many saw baptism as a kind of one-time forgiveness offer that was best held off to the end of life to maximize the number of sins that could be washed away by it.  

But he was also responsible for calling the ever-important council of Nicea in 325- he saw schism in the church as its greatest enemy and wanted the bishops to unite under one doctrine of the person of Christ and a single day on which to celebrate Easter. But, others have suggested that his calling to the council was not his entering into the ecclesial world but rather beginning his own institution into which the bishops came and swore fealty to him.

Nevertheless, it was under Constantine that the city of man and the city of God began to merge. The fall of Rome in a few centuries would throw this schema into question, but the foundation of “Christendom” had been laid and would be reincarnated through later Medieval rulers and the anachronistic “Holy Roman Empire.”

The eastern church, whose capital of Constantinople was named for him, refers to him as St. Constantine, where he is given no such appellation in the west. The East also refers to him as the 13th Apostle for his work, while in the West, opinions are divided. Perhaps he is not as saintly as some and is still a sinner like others. X This much is sure: the history of the church in the West looks entirely different without Constantine, who died in 337. Born on this day in 280, he was 57 years old according to traditional dating.  


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary from Hebrews and its definition of faith from the 11th chapter.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 27th of February 2024, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who wonders why the emperor Istanbul changed the name from Constantinople- he is  Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who knows “that’s nobody's business but the Turks” (and the song dates to 1953 and the Four Lads, pre-They Might Be Giants). I’m Dan van Voorhis. 

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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