>> Library >> "Bible Readings" contents ..

Bible Readings
for the Home

Bible Readings for the Home

Chapter 99

Union of Church and State

What was already at work in the church in Paul's day?
"The mystery of iniquity doth already work." 2 Thessalonians 2:7.

What class of men did he warn were to soon arise in the church?
"For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." Acts 20:29, 30.

What apostasy in the church was to develop before Christ would return the second time?
"That day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." 2 Thessalonians 2:3.

How was this "falling away" from Bible truth shown?
By the adoption of heathen rites and customs in the church.
NOTE: Turtullian, about A.D. 200, mentions many admittedly nonscriptural practices as already traditional in his day, such as immersion thrice in baptism, thus "making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel"; offerings for the dead as birthday honors; the prohibition of "fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord's day, . . . also from Easter to Whitsunday"; a special reverence for bread and wine; and the tracing of the sign of the cross on the forehead "at every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes, and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life." --De Corona, chaps. 3-4, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3 (1918 ed.) pp. 94-95.

"We are told in various ways by Eusebius," says Cardinal Newman "that Constantine, in order to recommend the new religion to the heathen, transferred into it the outward ornaments to which they had been accustomed in their own," such a incense, candles, votive offerings, holy water, images, and similar things. Newman's complete list is quoted elsewhere in these studies.

What came to be the character and work of many of the religious leaders?
"Worldly-minded bishops, instead of caring for the salvation of their flocks, were often but too much inclined to travel about, and entangle themselves in worldly concerns." Neander, General History of the Christian Religion and Church (Torrey's translation} , Vol. 2, p. 16.

What did the bishops determine to do?
"This theocratic theory was already the prevailing one in the time of Constantine; and . . . the bishops voluntarily made themselves dependent on him by their disputes, and by their determination to make use of the power of the state for the furtherance of their aims." --Ibid., p. 132
NOTE: The "theocratical theory," that of a government administered by God through the bishops, was confronted by the actuality of the pagan system under which the emperor had been Pontifex Maximus, or chief priest, of the pagan state religion, in consequence of which Constantine, after his recognition of Christianity, regarded himself as a sort of bishop of the external affairs of the church, and the church as a sort of department of the government. The ideal of the bishops, that of a government guided by God through the church, was pursued with variable but increasing success in Western Europe in the development of the bishop of Rome as the pope.

What has been the special characteristic of the papacy?
A union of church and state, or the religious power dominating the civil power to further its ends.

When was the union of church and state formed, from which the papacy gained its control over the civil powers?
The foundation was laid for it during the reign of Constantine, A.D. 313-337, and it developed under his successors.
NOTE: Constantine's granting first liberty and then preference to the recently persecuted Christians "openened the door to the elevation of Christianity, and specifically of Catholic Hierarchical Christianity, with its exclusiveness towards heretical and schismatic sects, to be the religion of the state. For, once put on an equal footing with heathenism, it must soon, in spite of numerical minority, bear away the victory from a religion which had already inwardly outlived itself. From this time Constantine decidely favored the church, though without persecuting or forbidding the pagan religions." --Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, (Scribners, 1902 ed.), Vol 3, pp. 30-31.

Under Constantine's successors official paganism was abolished, and Christianity made the only legal religion of the state.

How did this elevation of the church begin?
313 -- The so-called Edict of Milan, issued jointly with his colleague Licinius, granting religious liberty to all, of whatever religious belief, and particularly mentioning the Christians. Hereafter Constantine surrounded himself with bishops, gave preference to the Christians, and issued legislation in their favor, without renouncing or persecuting paganism.
321 -- His famous Sunday law, which served to unite his Christian and pagan subjects in the observance of "the vererable day of the Sun."
323 or 324 -- His attainment of sole rule of the whole empire by the defeat of his last rival, the pagan Licinius, who had resumed persecution of Christians in the East; his open espousal and proclamation of Christity about this time, and the subsequent diappearance of the sun-god and other pagan symbols from his coinage.
325 -- His convening of the Council of Nicea, which he dominated, in order to secure unity in the church; subsequently, his enforcement of that unity against heretical Christians in favor of the Catholic Church.
337 -- His long-deferred baptism during his last illness.
For the principal facts about Constantine, see Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol 3, pp. 12-36; for shorter treatment see A.C. Flick, The Rise of the Mediaeval Church, pp. 115-122; A.E.R. Boak, A History of Rome to 565 A.C., pp. 347-350.

How was this governmental patronage of the church shown under Constantine and later rulers?
Immunities, privileges, and certain judicial functions for the clergy, and gifts, endowments, and financial support for the church; first on a basis of equality with the priesthood and temples of paganism, then on a preferred basis, and finally to the exclusion of all except Catholic orthodoxy.

What kinds of religious legislation united church and state?
Laws granting privileges and patronage, and those enforcing church dogmas, practices, or disciplinary decrees, or supressing pagan and heresy.
NOTE: Constantine's earliest Christian legislation "exempted the Christian clergy from military and municipal duty (March 313); abolished various customs and ordinances offensive to the Christians (315); facilitated the emancipation of Christian slaves (before 316); legalized bequests to Catholic churches (321); enjoined the civil observance of Sunday, though not as dies Domini [Lord's day,] but as dies Solis [the Sun's day], . . . and in company with an ordinance for the regular consulting of the haruspex [soothsayer] (321)." --Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Scribners, 1902 ed.), Vol. 3, p. 31. For Sunday legislation see the following reading.

What did Constantine use to increase this church-state authority over the lives of Christians?
Having achieved polical unity in the empire, he sought to gain church unity through church councils.
NOTE: The first ecumenical, or general, council at Nicea, in 325, was called and presided over by Constantine. "The ecumenical councils," says Schaff, "have not only an ecclesiastical significance, but bear also a political or state-church character. Their very name refers to . . . the empire. . . . The Christian Graeco-Roman emperor is indespensable to an ecumenical council in the ancient sense of the term; its temporal head and its legislative strength. . . . Upon this Byzine precedent, and upon the example of the kings of Israel, the Russian Czars and the Protestant princes of Germany, Scandinavia, and England -- be it just or unjustly --build their claim to a similar and still more extended supervision of the church in their dominions. --Ibid. pp. 334-335.

What were the primary topics that were discussed at the Council of Nicaea?
First the Arian controversy; next, the date of Easter.
NOTE: "It appears that the churches of Syria and Mesopotamia continued to follow the custom of the Jews, and celebrated Easter on the fourteenth day of the moon, whether falling on Sunday or not. All the other churches observed that solemnity on Sunday only, viz.: those of Rome, Italy, Africa, Lydia, Egypt, Spain, Gaul and Britain; and all Greece, Asia, and Pontus." --Isaac Boyle, Historical View of the Council of Nice (1836 ed.), p. 23.

By this council Easter was fixed on the Sunday immediately following the full moon which was nearest after the vernal equinox.

What does Neander, a leading church historian, say about this manner of securing religious laws?
"In this way, the church received help from the state for the furtherance of her ends." --General History of the Christian Religion and Church (Torrey translation, 1852 ed.), Vol. 2, p. 301.
NOTE: In this way church and state were united. In this way the church gained control of the civil power, which she later used as a means of carrying on the most bitter and extensive persecutions. In this way she denied Christ and the power of godliness, and demanded that the civil power should be exerted to compel men to serve God as the church should dictate.

What did Augistine, a strong advocate of combining church with state, teach concerning this?
"'Who doubts but what it is better to be led to God by instruction, than by fear of punishment or affliction? But because the former, who will be guided only by instruction, are better, the others are still not to be neglected. . . . Many, like bad servants, must often be reclaimed to their master by the rod of temporal suffering, ere they can attain to this highest state of religious development.'" --Ibid., pp. 214-215.
Through the patronage and religious legislation of Constantine.
NOTE: Authorities differ as to when -- or whether -- Constantine was converted to Christianity, and whether he favored the church more from religious or political motives. The outline of events follows:
A.D. 306 -- Constantine's accession as one of four rulers of the empire, with jurisdiction over the Prefecture of Gaul.
312 -- His victory over Maxentius, which made him sole ruler of the West, and which he attributed to the aid of the God of the Christians, whom he had invoked after a supposed vision of a cross in the sky.

Copyright © 1988 Research Institute for Better Reading, Inc., used by permission by Project Restore, Inc. at www.projectrestore.com
Created: 07/18/02 Updated: 02/07/05