Constantine the Great
So I am reading an old book (19th century) on Constantine entitled "The Age of Constantine the Great" written by a german fellow named Jacob Burckhardt. It is an intriguing read, but one thing struck me that has in recent times steered me away from wanting to study more history: the extent to which historical research looks to me to be more and more like modern day political opinions. In other words: the truth is out there somewhere, but you ain't gonna find nuthin but biased opinions.
Burckhardt judges Constantine as harshly as I have ever heard anyone judge him. Evangelicals, it seems, have almost made their belief in his false conversion a foundational statement of faith and sometimes I am surprised it hasn't arisen in some modern rendition of a post-modern Nicene creed. Burkhardt, summarily dismisses account after account (because they are biased) and then accepts other accounts (because they are somehow not biased) and this is done, it seemed to me, when something sinister could be chosen over something...umm...well...nice. As if we somehow have this divine ability to stand in uber-righteous wisdom and judgement over a man whose been dead for centuries. Where do we think we get the right to do that when we aren't even supposed to judge our neighbor, whom I am guessing we might know a bit more about than Constantine...perhaps not, in which case you ought to ask: why not?
While the world today argues and wrestles over the motivations and intentions of a man LIVING in Washington DC, it floors me to see pretty much the same thing happening to a man who lived 1,700 years ago in the Roman Empire. Actually it is laughable to read people - like Burkhardt - write things such as: "Clearly Constantine was thinking ____________" or "Obviously Constantine would not have done this because he actually believed it"
Furthermore, we hear time and time again that Constantine did this evil thing and Constantine did that evil thing, but I sometimes wonder if Constantine might have told us a slightly different story if he had had the chance? (I might add, you really have to dig to find the list of the many very good things he did - hmmm...now what major news story does THAT remind us of today?)Do we REALLY know that he killed members of his family? Or does our inbred tabloid-esque sense of cynicism just yearn for it to be so? Is there really evidence? Or does it perhaps amount to little more than a conspiracy theory - even perhaps a plausible one? I simply don't know, and am willing to admit such.
The naive always believe the less naive are cynical, and the cynical always believe the less cynical are niave.
It's all fine and good (I suppose) if you want to stand in judgement of someone, but as for my part I will not say that Constantine could not have been a real Christian - I mean, what does that really mean anyway? While I've never been accused of murdering a family member, I'm not sure my life stands out as being anymore Christian than Constantine's...and you don't even want to see my heart. You'd have me labelled and stamped: hellbound.
In a way, reading some history books is a little like watching the evening news sometimes. Spin. Spin. Spin. And so, I will offer Mr. Burckhardt the same courtesy he felt he could offer to Eusebius: dismissal for his bias.
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Constantine the Great