From 1970 until he took leave of the terrestrial city over forty years later, Robert Markus informed and enlivened our discussions of Constantinian Christianity. His impressive erudition still does. He was especially and insightfully concerned with the period “during which Christian Romans came slowly to identify themselves with traditional Roman values, culture, practices, and established institutions.” And he identified the world in which that assimilation “slowly” occurred as “the secular.” His readers were used to that assimilation in their time--our time--having heard references to civil religion, so Markus could well have been considered to be politically correct, and a number of his colleagues have argued that he was also historically correct.

Yet Markus controversially enlisted Latin Christianity’s prolific paladin, Augustine of Hippo Regius, into the service of the secular, as it were, because the African bishop purportedly sanctioned neither his faith’s repudiation nor its usurpation of the world around it. What required repudiation, Markus (and his Augustine) claimed, was the profane or unacceptable. “The neutral realm of the acceptable” was “the secular.” Living in Constantine’s shadow--and especially after Emperor Theodosius I emphatically proscribed pagan worship--Christians of the late fourth and early fifth centuries found it hard to conceive of municipal or imperial politics as alien and, in Markus’s terms, to perceive the secular as profane; the empire “had become the vehicle of their religion and its natural political expression.” Participation in political culture was by no means compulsory. “Christians could treat [it] as secular,” Markus alleged, “perhaps distancing themselves but without feeling a need to disown and condemn it.”

What of the other options, usurpation and repudiation? Markus associated the first with the medieval papacy, making Pope Gregory I responsible for the desecularization of the secular. Gregory allegedly inspired many of his successors in Rome, the papal hierocratic theorists, and most influential canon lawyers to “swallow . . up the world.” Markus could have selected the usurpers’ medieval critics as examples of repudiation, but often cited instead the contemporary, radical evangelical view” of, among others, John Howard Yoder. Radical evangelical protests against Gregorian Christianity stipulated that “the church desert[s] its vocation” whenever it celebrates its “Constantinian status.”

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Copyright © 2016 Fordham University Press. This book chapter first appeared in Christianity, Democracy, and the Shadow of Constantine, ed. George E. Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou. Fordham University Press, 2016.

The definitive version is available at: Fordham University Press.

Full citation:

Kaufman, Peter Iver. "(Dis)owning Constantinian Christianity." Christianity, Democracy, and the Shadow of Constantine, ed. George E. Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou. Fordham University Press, 2016.