*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 9th of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Recently on the show, we found ourselves in the midst of a number of conversations in church history revolving around the Constantinian Revolution- that is, the establishment of Christianity in the early 300s as an official religion in the empire- and the personal choice for the emperor Constantine. There is perhaps no greater watershed in the history of church history than this change in status from outlaw to imperial religion.
From a physical standpoint, there is likely no greater signifier of this event than the repurposing of Basilicas and Cathedrals from bureaucratic and educational centers to churches.
Think for a second about what the New Testament has to say about where we worship. Sure, the Old Testament has rules and regulations galore where in the New Testament it can be argued that we are essentially told to gather with other believers to worship in spirit and truth.
But church buildings are synonymous now for “church”. It is one of the reasons this is called the Christian History Almanac. Sure, part of it is that I find Christian History Almanac more euphonious than “Church History Almanac” but also because I am not as interested in the history of the church as I am those of who she has comprised: the Christians. The history of a bureaucratic institution is way less interesting than the sinners and saints living and arguing and loving and fighting one another.
We also tend not to do the history of the church building. “Church History” taken literally can become a lot about apses and transepts, choir lofts and altars. That isn’t always that interesting, but today it just might be.
Remember that Constantine became sole emperor after defeating his rival emperor Maxentius at the battle of Melvian Bridge. Maxentius himself was in Rome and one of his defensive buildings was called the “New Fort of the Roman Imperial Cavalry Bodyguards”. It had been set up in the 100s by an Emperor and was once the site of a palace that belonged to the Laterani family. Word has it that one of the members of that Laterani family conspired against Nero and so the palace was taken and repurposed for the empire.
After Constantine’s victory, he decided to repurpose the one-time fort and partial Palace as a basilica which he gifted to the Pope around 313. And, it was on this, the 9th of November in 324 that the Basilica of St. John Lateran was dedicated. An inscription from this date reads “The mother and head of all churches of the city and of the world.” It would be called this because it would become both the residence for the Pope and the primary church for the Bishop of Rome. You can think of it as the first Vatican.
So, this Basilica of St. John Lateran raises a question, “who was St. John Lateran?” Remember the family that lost the land because of a conspiracy against Nero? The Laterani family? It’s called the “Lateran” on account of the old palace that belonged to them. That’s it. There is no St. John Lateran. But here’s another twist. The basilica is actually dedicated to the “Most Holy Savior” but it is colloquially known as St. John’s after… well, both John the Baptist and John the Evangelist- this came from the monastery that once adjoined the Basilica and was dedicated to both Johns.
The building, officially known as “the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist at the Lateran” was the Cathedral church and residence of the Pope until the papacy moved to Avignon France in 1309. After the Papacy returned to Rome St. Peter’s and the Vatican became the new home for the Pope but the Basilica of St. John Lateran has retained the “cathedra” or chair for the Bishop of Rome and thus is still considered by Roman Catholics to be the first amongst the four great patriarchal basilicas of Rome- it was dedicated on this, the 9th of November in 324.
The last word for today comes from John 4:
21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. 24 God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who informed me that he does indeed like Babe 2 Pig in the City and it is actually a retelling of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who did not realize those movies were written and directed by the same person, George Miller! I am 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.