Lesson VIII: Constantine’s Christian Foundation of Western Culture
Conducting: Steward. Opening Remarks/Announcements (Announce that at the end of the meeting we will: (i) sign up new members; (ii) ask for contributions on the website or take up a collection).
Steward: Explanation of Ethical Overlay. The purpose of the Ethical Overlay is to provide an overlay to ethical, moral and religious beliefs in areas of identity, family and heritage, to promulgate ethical and moral policy and to help each individual to become a better person and preserve the environment for future generations. Announcements will be at the end of the meeting.
Congregant: Opening words of Inspiration
Emperor Constantine is well-remembered for establishing Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. He reigned from 306 AD until his death in 337. In that time, he brought the Christian faith and its followers from the depths of persecution to the rights of freedom to worship,guided by his own personal belief. The following quote comes from the Edict of Milan in 313 wherein freedom of worship was granted to Christians (and all other religions):
“It seemed to us that, amongst those things that are profitable to mankind in general, the reverence paid to the Divinity merited our first and chief attention, and that it was proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best; so that that God, who is seated in heaven, might be benign and propitious to us, and to every one under our government…And accordingly we give you to know that, without regard to any provisos in our former orders to you concerning the Christians, all who choose that religion are to be permitted, freely and absolutely, to remain in it, and not to be disturbed any ways, or molested.”
Steward: We will now have a Moment of Silence for: __(decide locally)___. [about 20 second pause].
The earliest Western music we have record of, for centuries, is music that was performed in church. In fact, the musical notation system we use today stemmed from a need to establish uniformity of performance across Christian churches. Mass was offered and attended daily, a level of religiosity that is almost impossible to conceive of in our modern time. Each part of the mass was sung rather than spoken, adding to the sense of being in the presence of God, and churches were constructed to amplify those chants and sense of divinity. The five parts of mass evolved to become “movements” in the sonatas and symphonies of more recent times; this selection is a Sanctus and Benedictus.
Steward: We will now have a discussion on the following topic:
Discussion: Emperor Constantine and Christianity in the West (from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Constantine-I-Roman-emperor)
Constantine’s adherence to Christianity was closely associated with his rise to power. He fought the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in the name of the Christian God, having received instructions in a dream to paint the Christian monogram on his troops’ shields. This is the account given by the Christian apologist Lactantius. A somewhat different version, offered by Eusebius, tells of a vision seen by Constantine during the campaign against Maxentius, in which the Christian sign appeared in the sky with the legend “In this sign, conquer.”…What is remarkable is Constantine’s subsequent development of his new religious allegiance to a strong personal commitment…
Throughout his life, Constantine ascribed his success to his conversion to Christianity and the support of the Christian God. The triumphal arch erected in his honour at Rome after the defeat of Maxentius ascribed the victory to the “inspiration of the Divinity” as well as to Constantine’s own genius. A statue set up at the same time showed Constantine himself holding aloft a cross and the legend “By this saving sign I have delivered your city from the tyrant and restored liberty to the Senate and people of Rome.”
…Constantine’s interest in church building was expressed also at Constantinople, particularly in churches of the Holy Wisdom (the original Hagia Sophia) and of the Apostles. At Rome, the great church of St. Peter was begun in the later 320s and lavishly endowed by Constantine with plate and property. Meanwhile, churches at Trier, Aquileia, Cirta in Numidia, Nicomedia, Antioch, Gaza, Alexandria, and elsewhere owed their development, directly or indirectly, to Constantine’s interest…
The emperor was an earnest student of his religion… In later years he commissioned new copies of the Bible for the growing congregations at Constantinople. He composed a special prayer for his troops and went on campaigns with a mobile chapel in a tent. He issued numerous laws relating to Christian practice and susceptibilities: for instance, abolishing the penalty of crucifixion and the practice of branding certain criminals; enjoining the observance of Sunday and saints’ days; and extending privileges to the clergy while suppressing at least some offensive pagan practices.
…Emerging from [Constantine’s reign] in the course of the 4th century were two developments that contributed fundamentally to the nature of Byzantine and Western medieval culture: the growth of a specifically Christian, biblical culture that took its place beside the traditional Classical culture of the upper classes; and the extension of new forms of religious patronage between the secular governing classes and bishops, Christian intellectuals and holy men. Constantine left much for his successors to do, but it was his personal choice made in 312 that determined the emergence of the Roman Empire as a Christian state. It is not hard to see why Eusebius regarded Constantine’s reign as the fulfillment of divine providence.
- What were some traits that Constantine displayed because of his faith?
- What did he do to continue to be an “earnest student” throughout his life?
- How did that affect his faith?
- What do we need to do to be “earnest students” of our faith as well?
- Why do we constantly need to study our beliefs?
- What would the West be like today without Constantine’s influence?
- What is the significance of his building so many churches?
- What role do church buildings play in religion?
- How have churches contributed to Western identity?
- Why is religion important to the identity of a nation?
- How does religion shape your worldview/identity?
- What can we do to support Christianity in our own communities and nation?
Congregant: Closing words of inspiration
“This is certainly the Will of the Supreme God, who is the Author of this world and its Father, (through whose goodness we enjoy life, look up to heaven, and rejoice in the society of our fellow-men), that the whole human race should agree together and be joined in a certain affectionate union by, as it were, a mutual embrace… Let us…my Brothers, follow after the things that are ours, let us walk in the way of the Commandments, let us by good actions keep the Divine Precepts, let us free our life from errors and with the help of the mercy of God, let us direct it along the right path.”
Extend an invitation/commitment to apply one thing learned this week.
Steward: Take contributions from group made payable to Ethical Overlay. [Take cash, checks, or commitments to pay online].
Announcements after adjournment
Business/report on select topics, such as:
-recruitment -fund raising -social activities -temporal and welfare services
public affairs -education -emergency preparedness
-addiction recovery program -family services, counseling and single adults
-publications -electioneering activities
-Possible: Present a single political topic of the day and discuss
- What did he do to continue to be an “earnest student” throughout his life?