Friday, 24 May 2019
Edward Mason: Constantine and the Donatists: The Origins of Imperial Christianity
Most narratives of the Donatist controversy convey that both the antagonists and the terms of their conflict were clearly defined. Schismatics and rigorists, angry at the ordination of Caecilian of Carthage, begged for imperial intervention. The emperor, who had only recently embraced Christ as a patron deity following his decisive victory over fellow-emperor Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge in 312, reluctantly chose to hear their petitions. Despite centuries of scholarship, the narrative of the emperor’s involvement remains mostly unchanged. The memory of Constantine’s involvement in the Donatist controversy has resulted in a narrative of imperial authority’s reluctance at intervening in Church affairs. Many fourth-century sources, seeking to minimize imperial participation in the Church rather than accept the symbiotic relationship, have crafted a memory of Constantine desperately trying to avoid imperial involvement in ecclesiastical affairs. However, Constantine saw the bishops as conduits to the divine. Thus, he felt his role as emperor obligated him to oversee the bishops to maintain his divine favor and the safety of the empire. In the Donatist controversy, Constantine’s first imperial interaction with Christianity, the emperor sought to find an avenue through which he could project his authority on the Church.