Friday, May 19, 2006

Constantine the Great

I have recently been looking at the life of Constantine...

....not that one

...thats better, and the picture depicts the one who was born at Naissus, now Nisch in Servia, the son of a Roman officer, Constantius, who later became Roman Emperor. The date of his birth is not certain, being given as early as 274 and as late as 288.

I just wondered what effect his visions and edicts had upon the primitive church. Were there any benefits in becoming a state religion?
The dominant religion at the time, and one that influenced Constantine, seems to have been Mithraism...A pagan religion consisting mainly of the cult of the ancient Indo-Iranian Sun-god Mithra. It entered Europe from Asia Minor after Alexander's conquest, spread rapidly over the whole Roman Empire at the beginning of our era, reached its zenith during the third century, and vanished under the repressive regulations of Theodosius at the end of the fourth century. Of late the researches of Cumont have brought it into prominence mainly because of its supposed similarity to Christianity.

All manner of benefits were bestowed upon the church, who also further obtained the right to inherit property, and Constantine moreover placed Sunday under the protection of the State. It is true that the believers in Mithras also observed Sunday as well as Christmas. Consequently Constantine speaks not of the day of the Lord, but of the everlasting day of the sun.

Reading about his life there was much good for women, children and slaves, and this cannot be easily overlooked, but I just wonder how much he syncretised with Mithraism in constructing the new state religion.

Still to this day many aspects of Christianity contain a 'battle mentality' which reflects this old Roman religion...Mithraism was emphatically a soldier religion: Mithra, its hero, was especially a divinity of fidelity, manliness, and bravery; the stress it laid on good fellowship and brotherliness, its exclusion of women, and the secret bond amongst its members have suggested the idea that Mithraism was Masonry amongst the Roman soldiery.

With that said I have to say that this is mere speculation, and the reader needs to (as always) read more if interested. Most of the information here is taken from a single source...Constantine and Mithras


dinsy said...

Any chance you might explain what you mean by saying he syncretized Mithraism with the new state religion?

Dave said...

Ooops, that darn syncretism's the official line on it

Syncretism is the attempt to reconcile disparate, even opposing, beliefs and to meld practices of various schools of thought. It is especially associated with the attempt to merge and analogize several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, and thus assert an underlying unity.

dinsy said...

I think there is an underlying unity in all religion.

Either one is trying to live by the principles given by Jesus (love of God and ones neighbour) or by self interest (thereby turning all other people into rivals, competing for whatever it is one most wants).

In either case, one is worshipping God by demonstrating love for those one comes into contact with (even religions that don't have a god as their focus); or one has made an idol out of something and is worshipping/competing for that?

I don't get it.

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