The First Christian Emperor

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The first time I picked up a slight interest about Constantine was back in 2003, when Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code came out.

It was all the rave back then, and even as I found myself engrossed in the novel, I wondered at the real historical events that surrounded the institution of Christianity as Rome’s state religion. And I wondered at how Christianity left the West and came to our Asian shores. Because really, how did we get here?

Thirteen years later, my questions are partially answered as I study Church History (Church history is much more interesting than it sounds! I think every Christian should study Church history! But that’s another blog post for another time.)

Turns out, it had a lot to do with Constantine, the first Christian emperor.

SO HOW DID IT ALL START?

It all started when the Roman empire was collapsing. It was toward the end of the third century AD, and against all odds, Diocletian (the emperor before Constantine) took the crumbling Roman empire and succeeded in returning order to the anarchy.[1] This new emperor took numerous steps to ensure the stability and efficiency of the empire.[2]

One of these steps was to purge the empire of Christians.

WHO WAS CONSTANTINE?

In the years following AD 303, the church reeled and staggered under the force of Diocletian’s vicious persecution,[3] also now known as the last major persecution of Christians in the Roman empire.

Constantine’s Conversion

At that time, Constantine himself was already a military leader, and in 312, he advanced through the Alps against his rival Maxentius to conquer Rome. Maxentius, apparently, was militarily superior, and so Constantine’s move was a gamble.[4]

What happened next was a crucial event in history that would affect the lives of Christians in the empire and redirect the course of Christianity.

There seem to be variations to the story, but the common scenes of the story are: Constantine marching to the Milvian Bridge, Constantine praying to the god of his father, and Constantine dreaming, or having a vision, of a cross in the sky and the words “Conquer by this.”[5] And so, against all odds, Constantine wins against his militarily superior rival.

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“Vision of the Cross” by Raphael, 1520-24

Constantine himself was won to the Christian faith, or so it seemed.

The implications and consequences of this moment were vast and perhaps unprecedented, for “…to acknowledge a certain god as supreme and determine to obey him… had special consequences when an emperor was involved.”[6] Indeed, as Constantine advanced in power throughout the empire, he also advanced the promotion of Christianity.

BUT WAS CONSTANTINE REALLY CHRISTIAN?

The effect of Constantine’s conversion, however, was not immediate.

He continued to give his honors to the Sun publicly, and although he played a significant role in what we now know as the Edict of Milan in 313, the results of his edict really had little effect on status quo.[7] Some even question the sincerity of the emperor’s conversion. History tells us that he still “…conspired; he murdered, he even retained his title Pontifex Maximus as head of the state religious cult.”[8]

Just Politics?

Some interpret Constantine’s conversion as purely political, and there is no denying that just as Diocletian, Constantine too was concerned about the empire’s stability and unity. The difference in the two emperors is that while Diocletian saw Christianity as a threat, Constantine saw Christianity’s potential for unity.[9]

Constantine finds out however, perhaps to his chagrin, that internal strife had befallen the church, mostly centering on the teaching of Arius. In an effort to overcome this strife, he “inserted himself into the doctrinal debate swirling around Arius”[10] and called for the council at Nicaea. The council rulings, now known today as the Nicene Creed, established, and set precedents for Christian orthodoxy.

The Emperor’s Favors

Constantine publicly favored Christians. He built grand basilicas, endowed churches with land and exempted these lands from taxation, gave gifts of food and grain allowances to churches, besides many other things, and all these expenses were extracted from the empire’s non-Christian population, who had learned to fear the emperor, by the aggressive and violent proclamations against those who did not identify with Christianity.[11]

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A reconstruction of Basilica Ulpia, one of Constantine’s basilicas. (Image from http://www.khanacademy.org/humanities)

The emperor also raised his sons and daughters as Christians, and was later baptized in 337.[12] His sons carried on their father’s generosity, exempting Christians from taxes, and giving them many other favors.[13] He also increasingly limited non-Christians from performing their usual activities by prohibiting public sacrifice, closing temples, and conspiring with Christians in their acts of violence towards unbelievers.[14]

Most significantly, Christians “could now in safety follow their inclination to defend and actively advocate their religious views among unbelievers.”[15] Under the new freedom, Christian activity flourished and gave way to evangelical campaigns and publicity.

WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM CONSTANTINE’S LIFE?

On the one hand, Constantine gave the Christians a reprieve from the heavy storm of Diocletian’s persecution.

We can only speculate what would have happened if the persecution had not stopped – perhaps the church, after suffering so profusely, might have never recovered. The favors Constantine gave the church also allowed for the growth and expansion of the influence of Christianity.

However, we may have mixed feelings from Constantine’s methods in advancing the Christian faith. While there were no official proclamations of persecutions against the non-Christians, Constantine (and his successors) progressively imposed heavier and heavier burdens upon them. Moreover, Constantine’s colluding with Christians in violently oppressing non-Christians is not something Christians ought to be proud of.

If anything, the life of Constantine shows the impact of power and authority on the expansion, or suppression, of Christianity. To his credit, perhaps Constantine’s activities might have been done out of a sincere devotion to God, and some of his methods, although questionable, may have been done out of his interpretation to pay homage to God.

One thing is for certain – his leadership has irrevocably affected Christendom.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

As you read this, what impressions did you get about Constantine?

What else do you think we can learn from Constantine’s life?

What other events from Constantine’s life are you curious about?

SOURCES:

[1] Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 4th ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 98 of 541, Kindle.

[2] Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 49.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 99 of 541, Kindle.

[5] Mark A. Noll, Turning Points, 50.

 [6] Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire (AD 100-400) (Westford, MA: Yale University, 1984), 43.

 [7] Ibid., 44.

[8] Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 100 of 541, Kindle.

[9] Mark A. Noll, Turning Points, 50-51.

 [10] Ibid., 51.

 [11] Ibid., 49-50

[12] Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 100 of 541, Kindle.

 [13] Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire (AD 100-400), 53.

 [14] Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003), 74.

 [15] Ibid., 59.

When Christians are Hypocrites

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A few days ago, an instructor in UP Los Banos allowed a Christian organization to do “Classroom Evangelism” (CE). The CE was documented, and photos of it were uploaded  on the Christian org’s official FB page.

Another instructor saw the online evidence, took screenshots of the FB page and posted it in his timeline, saying that according to UPLB policies, such activities are illegal. Last I checked, the Christian org who authorized the CE, was reported to UPLB authorities.

In a matter of hours, this particular Christian org drew bashers.

And in a few days, similar hostile posts, not necessarily pertaining to this particular CE), were resurfaced and bumped back to the FB newsfeed.

Like this one.

[EDIT: I was told that this post on The Elbi Files was posted before the CE event referred to at the beginning of this blog. In any case, it does not affect the points I tried to make below. My apologies for overlooking this fact and for any misunderstandings I might have caused.]

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At this point, my reaction to the bashing is… sadness. Yes, the post reeks of fallacies and generalizations, but the accusations!

I am terribly sickened and saddened and frustrated and embarrassed… and altogether grieved at the fact that this anonymous poster makes these statements as fact, as something from his/her own experience and observation.

But here are some of my initial thought on the issue (not necessarily ordered in a progressive manner):

The hostility of some of the UPLB students and faculty is fascinating. It somehow confirms what I’ve been telling my international friends this whole time — that just because we Filipinos are outwardly polite doesn’t mean we are listening to you. Case in point: this anonymous poster. His/her message is a very vilifying one, and yet he/she posted anonymously! The anonymous poster could be anyone; in fact, he/she could be someone in the CE class, listening quietly.

The anonymous poster makes references to some questionable (immoral?) org practices that apparently Christian students participated or engaged in. The anonymous poster criticizes these Christian students, calling them hypocrites, even (fascinatingly) quotes Bible verses! The anonymous poster seems to know what Christians should not participate in — such as stripping, or sleeping around.

This is our reality, and it should sober us: while not everyone here in the Philippines possesses a Christian worldview, many do have an idea of Christian morality. And how could they not know? We stop strangers and talk to them about the Bible. We post about our Christianity online. Christian TV networks freely do broadcasts. They know, they are exposed… and they hold us to that standard.

I hope this incident makes this particular Christian org (and all other Christian orgs and affiliations) rethink or evaluate the current evangelism methods and approaches they practice. Yes, evangelism still must happen. But I believe we need to be more creative, discerning, and wiser about this.

I hope this incident causes Christians to really think of our convictions regarding contemporary issues such as the LGBTQIA. EVEN MORE IMPORTANTLY, I hope we are convicted to express and live out these convictions in a relevant, but also loving, and humble way

I truly am grieved with this situation. I, too, am sobered by the reality that at any given moment, without God’s grace and power alone, I could be one of those who compromise my faith. Really, the ease with which I can fall into temptation frightens and frustrates me. And yes, I have been a hypocrite more times than I would care to admit.

Whatever the turnout of this situation may be, I hope we as a Christian community learn from this. And also repent. Oh, we must. After all this, we must.

[EDIT: I was told that this post on The Elbi Files was posted before the CE event referred to at the beginning of this blog. In any case, it does not affect the points I tried to make. My apologies for overlooking this fact.]

Paperbag Treasures

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Today, I paid a visit to the National Office of Philippine Campus Crusade for Christ (PCCC), where I previously worked (volunteered/interned) two years ago before resigning and pursuing graduate studies.

As I was leaving, the guard (the same guard who had also been there two years ago)   stopped me, and told me: “Ma’am, may mga gamit pa kayo dito.

He told me it was in the parking lot. For a minute I considered just leaving my stuff and let them dispose of it, but at the last minute, I decided to retrieve them. So kuya Guard led me to the parking lot and pointed to a brown paperbag. Indeed, there was all my stuff, everything that had been on my desk for a year.

I rummaged through the contents of the paperbag this afternoon.

And oh, the memories.

Nostalgia. Has it really been two years ago since I worked at that office?  Just thinking about it brings back a truckload of memories. I remember walking everyday from my house in Madrinan in heels and smart-casual clothes to the office. I remember the first three weeks in the “Bat Cave,” until I was instructed to move out. I remember the cute desktop they had installed for my use.

I remember the Painful, Awful Happening that led me to work at the office.

I remember being in so much confusion and pain and anger, and not knowing what to do with all of these emotions, yet still smiling for everyone, because I doubted that anyone would understand what I felt.

I remember trying to numb myself to stop myself from feeling the pain.

I remember feeling so alone, despite being in the same space with people for 8 hours.

But as I dug deeper in the paperbag, I found some cards and gifts from friends. I really feel most loved when given gifts and affirmed through words, and I’m sentimental like that, so it was a delight finding them (and realizing where they were all this time!)

Seeing those cards and tokens make me appreciate those friends (who gave me the gifts and cards) even more. I was such a mess at that time that I probably didn’t fully appreciate these people, and I probably didn’t realize it at that time, but I hung on to them like a lifeline, as if reminding myself that there was still some good in the midst of all this.

I am not there yet, but I do believe I’ve come a long way in healing from that Painful, Awful Happening. And I didn’t recognize it then, but God had already started healing me through these very committed friends.

Surely one outcome God intended from the Painful, Awful Happening was for me to appreciate the gems I have in friends. And oh, what treasures they are indeed! I think I can live with that.

True Love Pursues

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The Love Bridge at Penang Hill. December 2015.

We define God by what we think love is,” so Darin Hufford, author of “The Misunderstood God”, says.

Immediately, the word “pursuing” comes to mind, and I think of how God kept pursuing His people, no matter how many times they stumbled, or disregarded his Word, or even killed His messengers.

I think of how, even despite routine rejection, He keeps persevering, and of how He Himself came down to earth to pursue them.

And the picture of a father running after his toddler comes to mind. I see in my mind images of a father watching the child’s every move, on guard lest the kid stumble.

Of a father listening to his daughter’s ambitions and dreams, hopes and wishes. Of my dad listening to my hopes and wishes.

Of a mother wanting to ease her child’s pain.

Of a mother doing everything in her power to let her child have the best. Of my mom dreaming big things for us.

Of a man taking every moment possible to be with his love, to find every opportunity to learn every aspect about her, persevering to understand, to know, to really know who she is.

Of a woman looking forward to every moment with him, and marvelling at how wonderful he is.

I believe true love pursues.

No wonder I get hurt and confused when people who claim to love me, don’t pursue me.

 

But how do YOU define love? Let me know in the comments!

[ Wrote this 5 years ago! I first posted this at my other blog. Also, this is by no means an endorsement or promotion of the book “The Misunderstood God”. ]

Papers and my Calling

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It is past 11 pm and at least half of the ladies in our dorm are awake, including myself.

Behind me, I can hear my roommate typing furiously in her laptop, the sound of her keys competing with the noise created by my own typing, the sounds muffled only by the whirring of our loud ceiling fan (what a day it would be when our rooms finally get air-conditioning!).

Outside our room, at the common kitchen-dining area, others are focused on their own screens, their fingers moving steadily across black keyboards.

We all have papers to pass tomorrow, and we are working hard in an effort to beat our deadlines. Papers, papers, papers. I must have written a million words in the last year.

It can’t be just me — but sometimes, in moments like these, I tend to wonder… what is the point of all this?

And I am prompted to think about this at this moment, because today in chapel, the speaker (who is also a former Military Officer) spoke about Strategy and Tactical Plans. Strategic plans are the big plans, and Tactical Plans are the daily operations, the smaller plans.

His point: We can be wasting our time at tactical activities that do not contribute to the over-all strategic goals and plans. So it is in the military, and so it is in our spiritual lives. This presumes, of course, that you *know* your strategic goals and plans, because only then can you evaluate whether something does actually contribute to your goals.

In missionary-speak / Christianese , how do your daily activities, involvements, engagements and investments contribute to the fulfillment of God’s calling for you?

And right now I can’t help but think… how does writing this Biographical Study on Deborah from the book of Judges contribute to the fulfillment of my calling?

How does writing that Personal Conflict Style reflection paper contribute to the fulfillment of my calling?

Or reading 50 pages of Grudem? Or reflecting on Howard Hendricks’ teaching principles? Or going to my ministry area every week? Or meeting my accountability group?

Now in my case, these are easy to justify and defend. I’m in seminary, and am preparing my mind, heart and hands for the mission field. I can say this with certainty and confidence because by God’s sovereign grace, I believe I know a little bit about God’s specific calling for me.

But there are other activities I engage in that while not necessarily evil, may not actually be relevant nor helpful… Like devoting too much time watching Kpop. Or spending too much on shopping.

I’ve learned in the past that things/events like these that prompt me to think are actually gentle messages from God: affirming my calling, and prompting me to evaluate how I am stewarding my life to fulfill the calling He has given me.

So this is what I hope to keep thinking about throughout the week (and throughout the term):

-How am I showing gratefulness in the calling He has given me?

-Have I been stewarding my life in appropriate ways to fulfill the calling He has given me? In what ways must I repent of the ways I have squandered the gifts He has given me to steward?

 

My Single Brothers and Sisters (A Single’s Manifesto Pt.2)

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The beauty of living in community is seeing that I am not alone, and that there are many others like me. As I journey through the present as a single person, this is exactly what I see!

I believe with all my heart in the rewards of journeying through community! Still, we are all unique individuals, and these differences can be sources of tension. I believe though, that community is worth fighting for.

If you’re a single person reading this, please take note that while this manifesto, in some points may be specific to my own community, I hope you will think of ways to journeying well in your own community. And I hope you find some comfort knowing that I, too, am part of your community, albeit virtually.🙂

If you’re a married person reading this, I hope you gain some insight from this and find ways to journey lovingly with the singles in your life.

This is the second part of my Single’s Manifesto. Read Part 1 here!

***

ATTITUDE TO OTHER SINGLES

As a single person, I will seek and create opportunities to build healthy relationships with fellow singles in my community. My primary motive will be to foster sisterhood and brotherhood among us, knowing and understanding that first and foremost, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

While I am aware of the fact that some singles have paired up and found their spouses here in this community, or of the fact that some singles here are intent in looking for possible future lifetime partners (let me clear: nothing wrong that!), I will not fall into the trap of constantly evaluating and relating with men based on what their potential relationship to me could be like. I will treat single men in the community with respect and accord them with honor, whether I find them attractive or not, or whether they find me attractive or not. 

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With three of my most favorite single lady friends in the planet.

I will seek to be a sister to my fellow single women, offering encouragement, support, love, and counsel. I will take their hand (literally and figuratively) and find mutual encouragement in the fact that the Maker of the Universe is sufficient to provide for all our needs. I will share my longings and heart stirrings to my sisters, but I will not whine, nor complain, but set an example of speaking words of life and hope for the present and the future.

I will be a source of affirmation both for my brothers and my sisters. I will be a “dream-releaser,” someone who can motivate my brothers and sisters to pursue and discover the passions God has placed in their hearts. And while it is true that this period of singleness may be temporary for most of the singles, I will help my fellow singles (as I hope they will do the same for me) see this period of singleness as a gift to be cherished, more than just a transitory phase to the married phase.

I will remind us that while marrieds are blessed in ways singles are not, we singles are also blessed in ways married people are not. We must see and appreciate these blessings as unique and even better, in a way.

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Here’s one way we’re blessed: We can travel! Whenever, wherever! That’s a huge win in my book.

I also commit to protect myself and my fellow brothers and sisters from insensitive remarks and teasing that may damage relationships. I will do this by not encouraging prolonged teasing within the group, nor from other people, especially from marrieds, no matter how well-meaning they may be.

I will look to the single people in this community, especially those more advanced in age, as people of a special kind of wisdom, and therefore I will seek their fellowship and counsel. And I will honor them for the way they have faithfully obeyed God.

Yes, God loves me.

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The Divine is reaching out to me.

There are those moments, when you are so desperately and acutely aware of your own hopelessness and inability to please God.

Why am I so love-starved? Why am I so forgetful?

You’d think that growing up in a Christian family, working in a missions org, and studying in a seminary where I read and study the Bible every day (something I never imagined I’d ever do, to be honest) would cause me to not forget the very basic, fundamental truth that God loves me no matter what.

Why am I so inclined to think that I am worthless, that the things I do are insignificant, that I do not have purpose? 

Have I (yet again) started believing lies?

It’s a self-destructive mindset, one that is a result of the fall — I know this much. This, I realize now more than ever, is one of the devastating results of sin. It hurts me too. My own sin hurts me.

And why do I almost always tend to believe that I have disappointed God? This is me right now: burning with the most miserable feeling of embarrassment at being a disappointment to God.

But then…

He reaches down and reminds me of nothing short of His… love.

He reached down last night, as I prayed and mulled over my shame and struggles.

He reached down this morning, in Theology class as we discussed and reflected on Propitiation and the Hypostatic Union of Jesus’ Two Natures (of all things!).

He reached down at Chapel Time today, when kuya Craig, one of the Professors, exhorted us, “We need to be reminded of this, and we need to hear this: ‘God loves you.'”

It is so simple, and so profound, and so true.

I may have failed people. It’s okay, God loves me.

I have hurt others. Still, God loves me.

I am not who I think I ought to be. It doesn’t matter, God loves me.

I believe I have disappointed God. That is not true, and God loves me.

The Divine is reaching out to me, and yes, He loves me.

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Kuya Craig at Chapel Time.