September 16, 2010
You’re not supposed to defend Constantine!
But Peter Leithart does just that in his forthcoming book by that title.
It’s been my pleasure to be the editor of this book. Not only because Leithart didn’t require much work from me, or because it was a great idea for a book or because it was brilliantly executed. But because it has left me with one or two salient ideas, ones that stick with me and have the power to generate new lines of thinking.
I didn’t really know a whole lot about Constantine prior to reading Leithart’s manuscript. But I knew enough to know that the popular conceptions of Constantine had to be wrong. (That was easy enough, right? Popular conceptions of an ancient figure are almost always wrong!) But I would have been hard pressed to take a stand for Constantine against a disciple of John Howard Yoder or Stanley Hauerwas, although my moderate contrarianism would have aspired to that.
Leithart gave me the inside scoop on Constantine, his life and his times, while casually tossing historical grenades into popular misconceptions along the way. Then he showed me where the weaknesses lie in Yoder’s take on Constantine. And finally, he gave me a new way of looking at Constantine’s significance. It has to do with something that might appear unexceptional in our day but was historically and politically earthshaking: the end of sacrifice (and the baptism of Rome).
I’ll say no more. But if this book doesn’t start a new conversation about Constantine, I don’t know what will. And much to my surprise and delight, Hauerwas agrees! Keep an eye out for his forthcoming review of this book in the Christian Century.