From the editor: January 24, 2014

Kings, Martyrs & Movies


Peter Leithart gave two fine talks last weekend at the Eighth Day Symposium in Wichita, Kansas. One of the many things he said, in my words, was that we have Christian doctors, lawyers, police, nurses, truck drivers, and so on—societies also have to have rulers, whether kings or mayors or presidents. Why would it be wrong to have a king who embraces Christianity and favors the laws in a Christian moral direction? Certainly not wrong in principle. This is not to defend everything Constantine did at all. But there is the idea about that the Church would have been better off had he not come along. (Wouldn't you pray for the conversion of your ruler? What if your prayer was answered?)

Granted, it's hard to say what would have happened without Constantine, except that persecution of Christians would likely have continued. But it's also hard for me to imagine how the barbarian tribes within and without the Empire would have been evangelized without the flowering of the Church made possible by the peace created by Constantine.

This flowering, as I see it, can be viewed using Tertullian's image of the blood of the martyrs being the seed of the Church. In Rome, for example, that seed was underground (in the catacombs!) but emerged to become a visible plant above ground, even archtecturally speaking: basilicas were constructed by Constantine above the very ground of the martyrs—Peter, Paul, Lawrence, Sebastian. Christians were worshipping on Sunday in broad daylight, no longer in the dark, even underground. (Does anyone want to go back to Sunday worship before dawn, before work?)

But the flowering I had in mind above came in the form of the monastic movement that, inspired by the martyrs and saints commemorated by the Christians now enjoying the peace of Constantine, carried on the task of evangelizing the barbarians tribes and nations. They brought with them a richly developed life of prayer, theological reflection, biblical teaching and commentary, serious church discipline and sacraments, churches, translations of the Gospels—a rich arsenal for bringing the tribes around to follow the commandments of Christ—they were fulfilling the Great Commission. I don't see how Gaul would have been evangelized without the monks (I know: some will ask, was it ever evangelized?)

Now, I've just found out that a new movie about Constantine will be in production this year called Nicaea, and another film will be released called Katherine of Alexandria (Peter O'Toole's last film), which uses the martyr as a player in the historical battle between Constantine and his opponent Maxentius. Well, fiction as the latter surely is, two films in which Constantine figures prominently in 2014 may keep the conversation going. Of course, I have no idea whether the films will be any good.

At least—maybe—films in which the persecution of Christians is visible may add to the growing visibility that modern persecution seems to be getting.

All Christian culture is renewed by (and flows from) the witness of the martyrs and the apostles themselves, and everything we can do to emulate such devotion to the only King, Our Lord Jesus Christ will produce fruit, even a hundredfold. We emulate them by taking up our cross, daily, which is the font of all Christian culture.

—James M. Kushiner