Constantine not Benedict?

Constantine not Benedict? May 23, 2015

2006-06-03 07_optConstantine wanted a strong, united Roman Empire and at that time as did every  other civilized human being. My ancestors were painting themselves blue and sweeping across Britannia in waves destroying most of the good things of life that the Romans had built over centuries. The world was better off when Emperor and prelates struck back and managed our conversion.

After all, Constantine began his quest for restoration in Britain. Long term, Constantine did not save the Western half of the Roman Empire, though he succeeded through his lifetime. He did create a New Rome and a piece of the Empire, Byzantium, that transmitted the riches of Roman, Greek, and Christian civilization forward.

We would have had no Western Renaissance without the Eastern Renaissance that Christianity provided the Eastern Roman Empire. They taught Greek to those of us from the West  and brought us texts even before the fall of the Great City to the Turks. Constantine’s children created an enclave of civilization that retained secular university education, art, and high culture to the very end of the Empire.

I fear that some proponents of what is called the “Benedict Strategy” simply want to lose gracefully. This strategy is better than the delusional moving about of culturally Christian forces that no longer exist in some Right Wing bunker. I prefer, however, to plan as if our enemies will implode because their ideas are so bad. Retreat, regroup, and attack. If the attack fails, retreat, regroup and attack again.

Military imagery is important, but in the context of our desire to create, not conquer. The Bible uses such images . . . after all Saint Michael does not have his sword for show . . .but we are fighting (when fight we must) for peace. We do not fight for the sake of fighting. Christians also know that we are often the enemy. There are wicked people who embrace barbarism (North Korea, ISIS), but most barbarians are not any worse than we are. We have sin in our camp and could spend most of our time purging our own hearts.

In fact, that is what we should spend most of our time doing. Yet, the time will come when there is no place left to go, when retreat is no longer an option. If I must, then I hope to die like the last Constantine . . . leading a charge of ideas against the barbaric hordes. I hope there is a last veneration of holy wisdom in one last dialectic class before edutainment and education for profit sweeps away the heritage of the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, and Christendom.

Constantine was not just an effective military leader. Each victory in his time was a kind of defeat since the battle so often took place on territory that should have been Roman. Instead, Constantine was great because he built a new city and embraced Christianity. He gave the Eastern Empire a haven and a reason to exist that nothing could kill even to this day.

Today on Mount Athos his flag still flies and time is measured as it was in his day. He built a haven that built havens . . .in Russia, in Romania, in Florence, and finally from those places to the world. He was a builder more than he was a warrior and it is building new institutions or reviving old ones that will mark a Constantinian. We battle not against physical barbarians for the most part (though the Church must do so in places like Syria to survive). We battle against the shadow of that hideous strength in all of us.

People keep sending me notes about what an imperfect Christian Constantine was. It is all true. His orthodoxy was sketchy at times. He made horrific mistakes as Emperor and he was only baptized just before his death. He was not a great man because he was a perfect man. He was a great man because he got the biggest things right in his generation: he ended persecution, united the Empire, and replaced effete Rome.

He built Constantinople. His holy mother built monuments across the Eastern world celebrating her faith. He built for the centuries ahead that he could not imagine so when those of us in the West faced our darkest days in the fifth and sixth century, we knew that the City stood. There was a Christian emperor striving for justice and guarding our left flank.

He gave us centuries of hope and allowed the Benedict option. Constantine was a friend to monastics. The spread of his Empire was always marked by the spread of the warriors of prayer who in places like Athos have long outlasted even his great city. Athos remains a bulwark of prayer in the East against the shadows coming from the West and the East. Benedict can exist best if led by Constantine. Constantine not Benedict? No. Constantine for Benedict.

We may fail, but the glory of the last stand is greater than being found hiding in a cave in a backwater eating our stored food. We may fail, but the beauty of what we built will be so great that even the paynim will not destroy it. We will pass on the best of the past in new artistic forms and become icons of hope to future generations: that is the Constantine strategy.

The next American City?
The next American City?


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