Summary as provided on Amazon: In A.D. 381, Theodosius, emperor of the eastern Roman empire, issued a decree in which all his subjects were required to subscribe to a belief in the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This edict defined Christian orthodoxy and brought to an end a lively and wide-ranging debate about the nature of God; all other interpretations were now declared heretical. It was the first time in a thousand years of Greco-Roman civilization free thought was unambiguously suppressed. Why has Theodosius’s revolution been airbrushed from the historical record? In this groundbreaking book, acclaimed historian Charles Freeman argues that Theodosius’s edict and the subsequent suppression of paganism not only brought an end to the diversity of religious and philosophical beliefs throughout the empire, but created numerous theological problems for the Church, which have remained unsolved. The year A.D. 381, as Freeman puts it, was “a turning point which time forgot.”
You are taken on a journey that begins with the Roman Empire at the very beginning of its decline. The republic once led by elected magistrates was now fragmented under destructive ambitions of competing generals. Julius Caesar, assassinated in 44 BC that led to the emergence of his great-nephew Octavian in 27 BC. Emperors would continue to rule until the collapse of the Western empire in AD 476 and the fall of Constantinople in the East in 1453.
Diocletian, in 284, the lower-class, Greek speaking commander of Numerian’s household Calvary would mark a major departure from the standard Roman constitutional theory who was normally considered first among equals. Diocletian would introduce an oriental system of despotism to the Roman empire and forever change the mindset of those to follow. He would wear jeweled robes and shoes (far different from the simple purple toga others before him had worn.) Those he met would be required to kneel and kiss the hem of his robe and the emperor would be called “Lord.”
It was under Diocletian’s reign that he would establish a Tetrarchy, as system that divided the Roman Empire into an East province and a West province, with each having an Augustus to rule over it and a Caesar to assist. It was this system that eventually led the various civil wars so famous in Roman history. Out of these civil wars would rise Constantine the Great in 306 who would restore Diocletian’s system of a divided Empire. Constantine would keep the East for himself and found the great city of Constantinople.
Constantine is the primary figure known to Christianity and the sketchy history of the Catholic church and especially the Nicene Creed. History typically portrays him as converting to Christianity since introducing the Edict of Milan (313 AD) which was basically a “freedom of religion creed.” However, there is no solid evidence that he did convert to Christianity since coins and various things related to him were still wrapped up in pagan gods such as Sol Invictus. He and other Emperors to follow would have to shape their “divinity” to not conflict with the supremacy of the Christian God. This was not difficult because most pagans accepted some form of supreme god (often presiding over lesser deities.)
The one consistent theme in Constantine’s policy towards Christians is that he, rather than the Church, defined the relationship. (381 AD, pg 48.)
Constantine sustained pagan symbols even though making Christianity (the portion he chose) the religion of the empire. He proclaimed the clergy (those that fell under the portion he chose as Christians) exempt from taxes and civic duties. The scholar J.H.W.G. Liebeschuetz, stated it this way:
The primary duty of the clergy’ always was to maintain the divine cult (of the emperor), and by their prayers to ensure that God would support the emperor and his subjects.
Constantine furthered along this process by granting major patronage to the “church” by giving them buildings which were plain on the outside but glittered with gold and mosaic’s on the inside. This would transfer the pagan custom of the worship of gods through impressive buildings into this portion of Christianity. Opulence became central to Christianity’s identity. Jerome is quoted as saying:
The parchments are dyed purple, gold is melted into lettering, manuscripts are dressed up in jewels, while Christ lies at the door naked and dying.
Bishops became to the focus of Constantine who would build an impressive network of relationships with them. The thrust of the Roman state was put behind them, patronage swelled because times were now good, and the “church” began to thrive and blossom under the helpful hand of the ever-present Constantine. They were used to divvy out goods to the poor and the hungry. They were given power to free slaves. It can be argued that Constantine, while he may have had some “experience” in battle where he attributed the Christian’s God as savior, that he realized the influence these men had on people and thus wanted to have them on his side.
Constantine’s reign would become the single most important period of time for what is heralded as the “Church” in our society today. However, in his reign would come major struggles among different sects of Christianity and the question of “who is the real church?” would arise. Arguments would begin to arise regarding the identity of Jesus, His duality, relationship between Him and the Father. Constantine though had made his bed with this group of Bishops and while he would not make decrees or stand in defiance to anything (allowing for freedom of speech) he would heavily influence these arguments and decisions.
It was he that called the Council of Nicea together in order to bring a solution to the rift between the Bishop Alexander and a man named Arian. It was in this Council (which was left relatively up in the air for many years to come) that various things used today in the doctrine of the Trinity were given voice. No matter what is said nobody can detach Constantine’s hands from much of what went on in the “church” of that day. The influence of pagan Rome was uniformly aligned with these Bishops. This council would lend the fuel for the period which this book deals with.
To avoid spoiling those who will read the book I now leave the rest to you. This is a very enlightening book that deals with another emperor who made a solid decree that effectively “closed the western mind.”