{5}           Constantine & monasticism

ERA 2 << Early Church (2): Stability (AD 300–600) >> SESSION 1

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 1, chapters 13-15

5.1  End of Persecutions to State Religion

        5.1.1  Constantine’s success

·         Rivals: When the Edict of Toleration was proclaimed [311], there were many rival emperors: Constantine (272–337), Licinius, Maximinus Daia, and Maxentius.

·         Milvian Bridge: Constantine began a sudden attack on Rome. According to Eusebius, during the war, a vision appeared in the sky with the cross and the words “in this you shall conquer.” He ordered his soldiers to use a symbol on their shields, with the imposition of the Greek letters chi and rho (X and P), the first two letters of “Christ”. He then defeated Maxentius at Milvian Bridge [313] and controlled all western Europe. He negotiated with Licinius and the two issued the Edict of Milan [313] to stop persecutions, granting Christianity a status of equality with all the other religions. However, Maximinus Daia in the east continued his persecutions.

·         Total victory: After wars between his rivals, only Licinius was left to rule the eastern empire but he was vastly weakened. When the war broke out [322], Constantine won strategically at Adrianople and became the sole emperor.

·         Constantinople founded: He wanted to restore the ancient glory of the empire. While Decius and Diocletian tried to restore it through a restoration of paganism, Constantine decided to restore it on the basis of Christianity. On the site of the city Byzantium, he founded Constantinople [330] as the “new Rome”—an impregnable and monumental city. In a symbolic act, he took the statue of Apollo from Egypt, reputed to be the largest statue in the world. He placed it in Constantinople but put a new head of himself. The height was almost 40 metres.

·         Byzantine Empire: The decision for a new capital appeared to be a wise one as the western empire, including Rome, was later overrun by the barbarians [476] while Constantinople became the centre of the Byzantine Empire for over 1000 years, until it was conquered by the Turks [1453].

        5.1.2  Constantine’s support for Christianity

·         Lack of understanding: Constantine’s conversion to Christianity was unlike others as he was not instructed of the faith. He determined his own religious practices and intervened in the life of the church, for he considered himself “bishop of bishops”. While he confessed to the power of Christ, he was not technically a Christian because he was baptized only on his deathbed. He even took part in pagan rites.

·         Questionable actions: He seemed to think that the Unconquered Sun and the Christian God were compatible; occasionally, he would consult the oracle of Apollo, and accept the pagan title of High Priest. So he did not suppress paganism. The two great centres of learning, the Academy of Athens and the Museum of Alexandria, were still devoted to the study of ancient pagan wisdom. The official religion of the empire was still paganism.

·         Opportunist? Constantine was accused of being a mere opportunist in favouring Christianity. But this was not true. When he put the Chi-Rho on his labarum (insignia on the standard and shield), Christianity was not a strong force; in fact, they were the persecuted. In contrast, his supporters were the old aristocracy, most of them pagans. The number of Christian soldiers was small. Most Christians belonged to the lower classes who could not have supported Constantine with either power or wealth.

·         As a Christian: Constantine was probably a sincere believer who had little understanding of Christianity. He possibly regarded the Christian God as a very powerful being who would support him if he favoured the faithful. When he enacted laws in favour of Christians and built churches, he was probably seeking the goodwill of God.

·         Measures in favour of Christians: Constantine stopped persecution and ordered that confiscated Christian properties to be returned. The Lateran palace in Rome which had belonged to his wife was donated to the church. He granted the clergy exemption from public obligations. He put the imperial posts at the service of bishops travelling to attend the Synod of Arles [314] and the Council at Nicea [325]. He ordered all soldiers to worship the Supreme God on the first day of the week [324], although it was also the day of the Unconquered Sun. He raided the pagan temples for statues and other objects and moved them to Constantinople. He sacked the old pagan temples and built new churches.

        5.1.3  Julian the Apostate

·         Reversal: Julian was the son of a half-brother of Constantine. His reign was short [361–363] but represented a temporary reversal of the expansion of Christianity.

·         Restore paganism: Julian sought to restore the lost glory of paganism. He ordered that everything that had been taken from the pagan temples was to be returned. He organized the pagan priesthood into a hierarchy similar to the church, with an archpriest in each region of the empire. Julian himself was the supreme priest. He organized massive pagan sacrifices.

·         Impede Christianity: Julian tried to impede the progress of Christianity. He never decreed persecutions against Christians. Some Christians were killed due to mob actions or to overzealous local officials. But Julian passed laws forbidding Christians to teach classical literature, thus keeping them from spreading the faith. He also set out to ridicule Christians, whom he called “Galileans”.

        5.1.4  State religion

·         Emperor Theodosius I: He issued edicts [381] that made Christianity the exclusive religion of the state. Anyone who held to any other form of worship would suffer punishment from the state. The Edit of Constantinople [392] prohibited paganism.

·         Emperor Justinian: He struck paganism by closing the school of philosophy at Athens [592].

·         Impact: Christianity did raise the moral tone of the society. The dignity of women was given more recognition in the society. Gladitorial shows were eliminated. Slaves were given milder treatment. Roman legislation became more just. But in return for the government’s support of Christianity, it demanded the right to interfere in spiritual and theological matters.

·         Drawback: When the church became rich and powerful, corruption crept in. In consideration of everything, it would appear that the mutual support between church and state brought more drawbacks than blessings.


5.2  Effects on the Imperial Church

        5.2.1  Impact of Constantine

·         No more persecution: The end of persecutions was immediate. Christians were no longer under the threat; the hope for martyrdom dissipated.

·         Official theology: Some Christians were overwhelmed by the favour that the emperor was pouring on them so church historians, such as Eusebius of Caesarea, developed an “official theology” which tried to show that Constantine was chosen by God to bring the joining of the empire and the church.

·         Monasticism: Because the emperors declared themselves as Christians, people were flocking to the church, including many nominal believers. Some Christians regarded this not a blessing but rather a great apostasy. Some withdrew to the desert to lead a life of meditation and asceticism, particularly in Egypt and Syria. This became the early monastic movement.

·         Dangers: Most church leaders saw the new circumstances as offering unexpected opportunities, but also great dangers. The Church Fathers insisted that their ultimate loyalty belonged only to God although they also affirmed their loyalty to the emperor.

        5.2.2  Practices in the imperial church

·         Impact on the church: [1] The adoption of Christianity as the state religion led to a massive influx of superficial converts from paganism. This resulted in declining moral standards among Christians and the adoption of some pagan and idolatrous practices in churches. [2] The persecuted church of the martyrs soon became the persecuting state church. Legal coercion was used at first against Christian groups deviating from the mainstream catholic church and later against pagan worship. [3] As Europe became Christian, Christianity was in danger of becoming the tribal religion of the Europeans.

·         Construction of churches: Constantine and his successors tried to perpetuate their legacy by building churches. Constantine’s mother Helena built the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem and another church on the Mount of Olives. Most of them followed the basic rectangular plan of the basilica—large buildings with a great hall divided into naves by 2–4 rows of columns. Inside was richly adorned with polished marble, lamps, tapestries, mosaics, pictures. Near the basilica was a separate round or polygonal baptistry used for baptism.

·         Baptism: The normal mode was immersion or pouring. Baptism by dabbing or sprinkling water on the head were practiced in extreme conditions of poor health, deathbed baptisms, or scarcity of water. It became more common after 9th-c in western Europe.

·         Communion: Cyprian of Carthage thought that the priest acted in Christ’s place at communion and that he offered “a true and full sacrifice to God the Father.” Later, Pope Gregory I emphasized the sacrificial nature of the communion service.

·         Sacraments: From the original 2 (baptism and holy communion), the number of sacraments was expanded to 7 by the end of 6th-c, though still unofficially. Augustine was inclined to believe that marriage should be regarded as a sacrament. Cyprian held that penance was vital to the Christian life. With the increased gap between the clergy and the laity, ordination was considered a sacrament. Confirmation and extreme unction came to be considered as having sacramental value in about 400. The development of the doctrine of original sin contributed to the importance of infant baptism. By early 3rd-c, Tertullian and Cyprian considered infant baptism an accepted fact.

·         Sacerdotalism: The belief that the substance of the ordinance is efficacious though the priestly celebrant steadily gained ground.

·         Cycle of feasts: Easter, originating in the Jewish Passover and commemorating the resurrection of Christ, was the earliest of the festivals. Christmas was later adopted as a Christian festival after purging its pagan elements [350]. Lent, a 40-day period of penitence and restraint on bodily appetites preceding Easter, was then accepted. Epiphany, celebrating the coming of the magi to see Christ, was included. Then, accretions from the Jewish sacred year, the gospel history, and the lives of saints and martyrs led to a steady expansion of the number of holy days in the church calendar.

·         Veneration of saints:

o        Origin: “Saint” means the holy one. In the NT, all Christians were regarded as saints. Later, it came to be used exclusively for a few pious people who had attained a special degree of holiness by virtue of their works. The veneration of saints grew out of the natural desire to honour those who had died for the faith.

o        Paganization: As the pagans had been accustomed to the veneration of their gods and heroes, it was almost natural to substitute the saints for their heroes and to give them semi-divine honours. Gradually, saints were made guardians of cities, patrons of trades, and curers of diseases. The saints and martyrs were effectively made to replace the old pagan gods and goddesses.

o        Prayers through saints: Before 4th-c, celebrations at the grave involved only prayers for the repose of the soul of the saint. But by 590, prayers for the saints had become prayer to God through the saints. This was accepted in the Council of Nicea II [787].

o        Relics: Churches were built at tombs of martyrs and saints. Relics were unearthed. Eventually, relics of saints were said to have miraculous powers. Many leaders tried to discourage such a trend but were unable to stop it.

·         Veneration of Mary:

o        Mother of God: The Nestorian and other christological controversies of 4th-c resulted in the acceptance of Mary as the “Mother of God” and entitled her to special honours.

o        Perpetual virginity: Clement, Jerome, and Tertullian ascribed perpetual virginity to Mary. It has no Biblical support.

o        Sinlessness: Augustine believed that the mother of the sinless Christ had never committed actual sin.

o        Intercessory powers: Her exalted position as Christ’s mother then became the belief in her intercessory powers because it was thought that the Son would be glad to listen to the requests of His mother. A formal invocation to her appeared before 400.

o        Head of saints: By mid-5th-c, she was placed at the head of all the saints.

o        Feast days: In 5th-c, festivals associated with her sprang up: [1] Feast of Annunciation (March 25, celebrating the angelic announcement of the birth of a son to her), [2] Feast of Candlemas (February 2, celebrating her purification after the birth of Christ), [3] Feast of Assumption (August 15, celebrating her supposed ascension to heaven).

        5.2.3  Liturgical Developments

·         Christian worship: For 3 centuries, Christian worship had been simple. They met in private homes or cemeteries (catacombs). After Constantine, formality was introduced. The worship included protocol linked to respect before the emperor. The original simple democratic worship was changed to a more aristocratic, colourful form of liturgy with a sharp distinction between the clergy and the laity. The worship began with a procession. Officiating ministers wore luxurious garments. Incense was burnt. Eventually, the congregation assumed a less active role. Preaching was mostly confined to large urban churches.

·         Paganization: The practical union of the church and the state led to the secularization of the church. The patriarch of Constantinople came under the control of the emperor. Because of the large increase in the numbers joining the church, there was little time to prepare them for baptism, and there were insufficient teaching and discipleship. Many pagan practices crept into the custom of the church as the church tried to make these pagan converts feel at home. [Similarity can be found today where secular customs and practices are adopted by churches.]

·         Images & pictures: As the pagans and barbarians had been used to worshipping images, many church leaders believed that it would be necessary to materialize the liturgy to make God seem more accessible to these worshippers. The veneration of angels, saints, relics, pictures, and statues was a logical outcome of this attitude. Moreover, some churches tried to create an environment familiar to pagans so images and icons were placed inside the church. The Church Fathers tried to make a distinction between reverence (veneration) of these images and the worship of God. But it is doubtful whether this subtle distinction was clear for the ordinary worshippers.

·         Singing: Singing was conducted by a leader to whom the people gave response in song. Antiphonal singing, in which two separated choirs sing alternately, developed at Antioch, was introduced by Ambrose to the Western church.

        5.2.4  Official theology

·         Importance of Eusebius (263–339)—He was the bishop of Caesarea. He wrote the famous work Church History [311] based on his collection and organization of documents existent at his time. It was a survey of the church from apostolic times until 324. This valuable work provided a record of many persons and episodes in early church. Without him, our knowledge of early church would be reduced by one half.

·         Was it flattery? Eusebius believed that Constantine was God’s chosen instrument. His support for Constantine was sometimes criticized as flattery although his praise was rather moderate considering what was customary at that time. Also, what he wrote about Constantine was done after Constantine’s death.

·         Ideas: Eusebius’ Church History was really an apology showing that Christianity was the ultimate goal of human history. He brought together ideas of Justin, Clement of Alexandria, and Irenaeus about how God prepared philosophy and the Hebrew Scripture for the arrival of the gospel. The Roman Empire had been ordained by God as a means to facilitate the dissemination of the Christian faith. Consequently, the shortcomings of Constantine were omitted. However, Eusebius was not the creator of official theology; he was only the mouthpiece expressing the feelings of lots of Christians who were overawed by God’s mercy in finally delivering the church from persecution.

·         Characteristics: The beliefs and emphases of the church were accommodated to fit the new situation.

o        Favouring the rich: The Bible affirms that the gospel was first of all good news to the poor, and that the rich had particular difficulty in receiving it. Now, riches came to be seen as signs of divine favour. The church became a church of the powerful.

o        Clerical aristocracy: Eusebius described with great joy and pride how the ornate churches were built. But the result of these churches were the evolvement of the liturgy to fit them and the development of a clerical aristocracy far above the common people.

o        Hope postponed: The Bible frequently teaches on the future kingdom of God. Now, with Constantine and his successors, the plan of God seemed to have been fulfilled. There was a tendency to set aside or to postpone the hope of the future kingdom. Later, when groups rekindled that hope, they were condemned as heretics and subversives.

·         Wavering: When the Arian controversy broke out, Eusebius wavered between orthodoxy and Arianism because he never fully understood what was at stake. For him, the peace and unity of the church were of prime importance. At first, he seemed to be inclined towards Arianism. At the Council of Nicea, he took an opposite stance. After the council, he wavered again.

        5.2.5  Monarchical bishop

·         Factors: [1] The need of leadership in meeting the problems of persecution and heresy was an urgent need which dictated the expansion of the bishop’s power. [2] The development of the doctrine of apostolic succession and the increasing exaltation of the communion were important factors in the rise of the bishop’s power. The sacraments came to seen as effectual only if they were performed by an accredited minister.

·         Bishop of Rome: The extra prestige given to the bishop of Rome was supported by a few factors.

o        Petrine Theory: The primary argument was that Christ gave to Peter, presumably the first bishop of Rome. Supposedly, Christ designated Peter as the rock on which He would build the church and Christ also gave the keys to the kingdom to Peter (Matthew 16:18-19). Then Christ later commissioned Peter to feed His sheep (John 21:15-19). By 590, this theory was generally accepted. However, there are several weaknesses:

          In the message in Matthew, Christ used two words for rock—petros (masculin) for Peter meaning a stone, petra (feminine) for the foundation of the church meaning a living rock. So the two may not be equivalent. The latter may refer to Christ Himself.

          It is also possible that Christ’s use of the word “rock” refers to Peter’s confession of Him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

          The powers similar to those in Matthew 16 were also conferred on other disciples (John 20:19-23).

          Peter made it abundantly clear that not he but Christ was the foundation of the church (First Peter 2:6-8).

          Paul had no conception of Peter’s superior position, for he rebuked him when Peter cooperated with the Judaizers in Galatia.

o        Church Fathers: Cyprian and Jerome defended the position that Christ gave Peter a special rank as the first bishop of Rome.

o        Apostolic traditions: Rome was linked with many apostolic traditions. Both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome. Rome was the centre of the earliest persecution by Emperor Nero. Rome was one of the largest and wealthiest church by 100. Rome was the capital of the empire. The church in Rome had a reputation for unswerving orthodoxy in facing heresy and schism.

o        Decline of other churches: Some of the 5 important bishops of the church (Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Rome) lost their seat of authority, e.g. destruction of Jerusalem, Montanist schism in Ephesus near Constantinople, Arianism in Alexandria.


        5.3.1  Origin of monasticism

·         Escapism: In times of worldliness and institutionalism, many Christians have renounced society and retired into solitude to achieve personal holiness by contemplation and asceticism apart from the society that they believed to be decadent and doomed. Some also used this as an escape from the harsh realities of life.

·         Unwelcomed changes: [1] While some saw the increase in the numbers in the church as a fulfilment of God’s purpose, many bewailed the moral deterioration of the church and Christian life. Many who came were looking for privilege and position and had little understanding of what a Christian should be. Bishops competed after prestigious positions. The rich and powerful seemed to dominate the life of the church. [2] The increasing number of pagans and barbarians joining the church also brought many semi-pagan practices. [3] Growing formalism in worship led some to seek a more individual approach to God through monasticism.

·         Christian examples: In early church, some women (referred to as “widows and virgins” in the Bible) chose not to marry and to devote all their time and energy to the work of the church. Later, Origen lived at a subsistent level of extreme asceticism.

·         Teachings: [1] Paul’s words also inspired monasticism. He said that those who chose not to marry had greater freedom to serve the Lord. This preference towards celibacy was strengthened by the expectation of imminent return of the Lord. [2] Although Gnosticism and its dualism (contrasting body and spirit) had been rejected by the church, its denial of the body still influenced the church. Therefore, for some Christians, in order to live fully in the spirit, it was necessary to subdue and to punish the body. [3] Classical philosophy also encouraged the subjugation of bodily passions. Stoic philosophy held that passions are the great enemy of true wisdom.

·         4 eras of growth: [1] Era 1: The beginning of monasticism was in 4th-c, mainly in Egypt and Syria. The growth was rapid. By 6th-c, monasticism had deep roots in both the East and the West. [2] Era 2: Fast growth occurred in the monastic reforms of 10th-c and 11th-c. [3] Era 3: Increase in the number of monks occurred during the era of friars in 13th-c. [4] The Catholic Counter Reformation in 16th-c stimulated the emergence of monastic orders.

        5.3.2  Stages of development of monasticism

·         [1] Ascetism: Many Christians practiced asceticism within the church.

·         [2] Solitary (hermitic) monasticism: Some withdrew from the society to live as anchorites or hermits.

·         [3] Followers: The holiness of these hermits attracted others, who would then take up residence in nearby caves. A cloister for common exercises might be built.

·         [4] Communal (cenobitic) monasticism: Organized community life within a monastery appeared.

        5.3.3  Solitary monasticism

·         Monks: The word “monk” was derived from the Greek monachos for “solitary”. A solitary monk was described as an “anchorite” which meant “withdrawn” or “fugitive”. The early monks searched for solitude because society was seen as a temptation. The desert, in particularly in Egypt (where Anthony and Pachomius lived), was attractive for its inaccessibility.

·         Anthony the Great (251–357)—He was the first famous monk, but was perhaps just one of thousands who escaped to the desert. The story of his temptation and struggle with demons became a legend because of the writing of Athanasius. When he was tempted for the pleasures he had left behind, he took up stricter discipline by fasting several days. Later, he was visited by monks who wanted to learn from him. He then lived near his disciples, teaching them about monastic discipline, the love of God, and the wonders of contemplation.

·         Fanaticism: Some hermits committed fanatical practices.

          One lived buried up to his neck in the ground for several months. He then spent over 35 years on the top of a 60-foot pillar.

          Some lived in fields and grazed grass like cattle.

          One never undressed or bathed after becoming a hermit.

          One wandered naked in the vicinity of Mount Sinai for 50 years.

·         Growth: By the time of Constantine, many thousands lived in the desert. People who wanted to learn from the monks built churches nearby.

        5.3.4  Communal monasticism

·         Communal life: The desire by many who withdrew to the desert to learn from an experienced teacher gave rise to a new form of monastic life—communal or cenobite monasticism—a group of monks living together although they still lived in solitude from the world.

·         Pachomius (286–348)—He went to live with an old anchorite as his teacher. Based on repeated visions, he built a large enclosure for a new community of monks [c.320] on the east bank of the Nile. He hoped to teach what he had learned of prayer and contemplation, and to organize a community to help each other. He demanded that anyone who wished to join the community must give up all their goods, and promise absolute obedience to their superiors. These communities grew rapidly. During his lifetime, 9 communities were established, totalling thousands of monks. Pachomius’ sister Mary founded similar communities for women, also under the authority of Pachomius.

·         Hierarchy: The hierarchical order was clearly defined. Each housing unit was headed by a superior whom all the monks in that unit obeyed. The unit superiors had to obey the superior of the monastery. Above all monasteries was Pachomius and his successors who were called abbots. Pachomius also established the custom that each abbot would name his successor. The abbot’s authority was final.

·         Benedictine Order: The greatest leader of Western monasticism was Benedict of Nursia (480–547). Shocked by the vice of Rome, Benedict retired to live as a hermit east of Rome [500]. He then founded the Monte Cassino monastery [529].

        5.3.5  Spread of monasticism

·         Factors: In 4th-c, monasticism spread from Egypt to Syria, Asia Minor, and Italy. It brought to the church a sense of discipline and absolute dedication. The ideal was spread by influential church leaders and their books including Athanasius’ Life of Saint Anthony, Jerome’s (a monk) Life of Paul the Hermit, and Sulpitius Severus’ Life of Saint Martin.

·         Martin of Tours (316–397)—He was born in Pannonia (now Hungary). His father was a pagan soldier and Martin lived in different parts of the empire. Later Martin became a soldier. A popular story was about Martin in the city of Amiens. When a beggar asked Martin for alms, he had no money but he cut his cape in two and gave half to the beggar. Centuries later, a small church contained a piece of cloth reputed to be Martin’s cape (capella) and the church was called a “chapel” (origin of the word). Later, he devoted himself to monastic life outside Tours. Even after he was elected bishop, he stayed outside the city to carry on his pastoral duties.

·         Impact: Monasticism was an ideal for many Christians who believed this to be the model for ecclesiastical officials. It would become an instrument for the charitable and missionary work of the church.

        5.3.6  Evaluation of monasticism

·         No Biblical support: Monasticism is not taught in the Scripture. Quite to the contrary, separation from the world is condemned (John 17:14-16; First Corithians 5:9-11). Christians are to go into the world (Mark 16:15) and be its salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16; 9:10-13).

·         Keeping the culture: Monasteries helped to keep scholarship alive during the Middle Ages when the barbarians invaded the Roman Empire. Monastery schools provided education. Monks busied themselves copying precious manuscripts, thus preserving them.

·         Missions: Monks became missionaries and won over many tribes to Christianity. Columba from Ireland won over the Scots; Aidan from Ireland won over the people in northern England.

·         Leaders: Some of the best leaders of the medieval church came from monasteries.

·         Drawbacks: But the system also drained off many of the best men and women, and their abilities were lost to the world. Monasticism could also lead to spiritual pride as monks became proud of ascetic acts performed to benefit their own souls. As the monasteries became wealthy because of community thrift of the monks, laziness, greed, and gluttony crept in.

·         Centralization of power: Monasticism also aided the concentration of power of the papacy as it was a hierarchical, centralized organization. Their absolute allegiance of monks to the pope made them willing foot soldiers.



[1] treasure our heritage

While practices in the Roman imperial church are no longer practiced, those traditions, if not unbiblical, should be respected.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

Constantine’s victory and Julian’s short reign showed God’s plan.

[3] avoid past errors

Paganization to today’s worship should be avoided.

[4] apply our knowledge

Arguments against the absolute power of the pope are important.

[5] follow past saints

While monasticism is not supported by the Bible, the commitment to live the whole life for God is commendable.



        Was Constantine an opportunist by embracing Christianity?

o        Constantine’s embracing of Christianity was not an opportunistic act as he would likely lose more than he would gain. At that time, Christianity was not a strong force. In contrast, his supporters were the old aristocracy, most of them pagans. The number of Christian soldiers was small. Most Christians belonged to the lower classes who could not have supported Constantine with either power or wealth.

o        Because of these factors, Constantine’s conversion to Christianity was likely genuine.

        Was the behaviour of Constantine as a Christian objectionable?

o        Constantine was probably a sincere believer who had little understanding of Christianity. While he confessed to the power of Christ, he was not technically a Christian because he was baptized only on his deathbed. He even took part in pagan rites. He seemed to think that the Unconquered Sun and the Christian God were compatible as occasionally, he would consult the oracle of Apollo, accept the title of High Priest.

o        His behaviour was objectionable but understandable. This also points to the importance of discipleship for new Christians.

        What can we learn from Eusebius’ wavering between Arianism and orthodoxy?

o        Eusebius valued unity above doctrine. This is the proper position if the disputed doctrine is a non-essential one. But the Arianism was a serious heresy, especially at a time when the foundation of the church was still not solid. The lesson is that a leader will need discernment on what is important. In addition, it is important for leaders to stand firm on his doctrinal position which must be based on serious study of the Bible.

        What were the problems of Eusebius’ official theology? What lessons can we learn from these problems?

o        The problems: [a] the gospel for the poor becoming one for the rich, [b] imperial church leading to clerical aristocracy, [c] lessening the hope for the future kingdom of God.

o        The lessons: [a] a church could lose its conviction with the change in circumstances, such as forgetting the poor, accommodating secular values, [b] a special class of clerical aristocracy is a deviation from the early church, [c] a church will lose its direction when lacking an emphasis on our eternal hope.

        What were the causes of monasticism?

o        It was a reaction to the worldliness of the church. With the joining of the church with the civil authority, the church became too worldly and corrupt. Some Christians wanted to live a life a complete devotion to God and to resist temptations of the world. So they chose to flee from human society and to attempt to dominate the body and its passions.

        What were the characteristics of monasticism? Are these Biblical ideals?

o        Monasticism was characterized by the abandonment of all worldly goods, to live a life of prayer and contemplation, to reduce the bodily wants to a minimum (asceticism), to avoid temptations by living away from the society.

o        The Bibles tells us to live in the world but not of the world. To live in isolation or in monasteries away from the society is not the Biblical ideal. We are to work and witness for God among other people.

        What lessons relevant for today can we learn from monasticism?

o        Monasticism was a reaction to corruptions in the church. It was originated from a desire for a deeper commitment to God. The desire is right but the response is wrong. The lesson is that sometimes reaction could be too radical, so Christians should avoid extremes.

o        On the other hand, to live a simple life without the pursuit of luxuries, to pray and contemplate on God and on God’s Word, to avoid temptations are Biblical ideals that all Christians should follow.

o        Monasticism was perhaps a tool in God’s plan for preserving an element of purity in the church. Also, in the Middle Ages, monasteries became the main centres of learning in Europe, assuring the continuous development of Christianity and even the survival of western civilization.