Church & State - History

To Christianity, emerging from the catacombs, the Constantinian settlement must have seemed like a dream. It had largely grown up among slaves and poor people and was about to be universally adopted. It had suffered from persecution because it denied the deity of the Emperor (which is why Christians were called "Atheists") who was about to become its secular leader. Whatever Constantine's private pieties, however, his adoption of Christianity at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 was a matter of necessity; the army was predominantly Christian. This transformation ultimately led to medieval nominal theocracies.

Far from being a glorious success, many Christians regard the Constantinian settlement as the greatest disaster ever suffered by the church:

a) First, the Church became entangled, some would say fused, with the secular state, adopting its organisation and tools, including

b) Secondly, whether or not its involvements led to a modification of its outlook or whether this resulted from evolutionary thinking:

c) Thirdly, the state claimed ultimate authority in theological matters:

While these features were marked and systematic in the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), they were more haphazard in Western Europe where civic authority largely broke down in the middle of the 5th Century until the accession of Charlemagne. He was crowned by Pope Leo III as the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800 AD and that set a portentous pattern for the next 700 years; the spat between King Henry II and Thomas a Becket, culminating in the Archbishop's murder in 1170, was nothing to the epic confrontation between Pope Gregory VII and the Emperor Henry IV which led to the latter's humiliating capitulation at Canossa in 1077. Yet again, this iconic scene was illusory. In the Empire itself the power of Episcopal appointment, the crux of ecclesiastical/secular competition, was moving towards the Emperor and this tendency was even more advanced in England and France well before the Reformation.


Related Study Sheets…