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Review of John D. Roth (ed.), Constantine Revisited: Leithart, Yoder, and the Constantinian Debate (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013). xvi + 200 pp. ISBN 978-1- 61097-819-4

How are we to understand the historical and theological legacy of Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor? Some would say that his conversion signals the initiation of a ‘Constantinian shift’ in the church’s self-understanding, the adoption of a heretical Christendom mentality. This shift, marked by an unsavoury union of church and empire, ultimately meant that the church forsook the peaceful politics of Jesus and adopted the worldly politics of the sword. ‘Constantinianism’, thus understood, equals the fall of the church. And given what we know about his life – he was, after all, responsible for the deaths of his father-in-law, two brothers-in-law, one wife, and one son, to name only a few – it may be asked in what sense we should even concede the name ‘Christian’ to this man. Such a perspective on Constantine and his legacy – which is widespread in Christian ethics today – is most closely associated with the work of the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. It is precisely this view that was vigorously challenged by Peter J. Leithart’s Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom (IVP, 2010). Leithart’s book had a two-fold aim, at once historical and theological. The historical aim was to rebut popular caricatures of the man, Constantine. The theological aim, which was primary, was to dismantle Yoder’s declensionist ‘fall’ narrative and to offer an alternative political theology in which Constantine provides ‘a model for Christian political practice’ (Leithart, p. 11)


Originally published by SAGE Journals in Studies in Christian Ethics

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