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Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance (Ancient Society and History) Paperback – August 19, 2002


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Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance (Ancient Society and History) + The Life and Times of Constantine the Great + Constantine's Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament
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Product Details

  • Series: Ancient Society and History
  • Paperback: 632 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (August 19, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801871042
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801871047
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,035,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

A refreshingly original and powerfully argued re-conception of the issues and the forces at work in this period of the conversion not of Constantine, but of Christianity... With laser-keen insight, bold thinking, and also a large measure of wry humor, Drake has presented a plausible and powerful interpretation of this formative moment in Western history... A riveting story, and masterfully told. Anyone who rejoices in our Founding Fathers' constitutional conviction that church must be kept separate from state will read Constantine and the Bishops with deepest appreciation; and perhaps those who long for the opposite should read it, too. The lessons of late antiquity remain pertinent, alas, to the politics of religion in our own day.

(Paula Fredriksen New Republic)

If you read one book on late antiquity this year, read this one. If you read one book on politics this year, read this one again... A work of visionary brilliance.

(Virginia Quarterly Review)

The strength of this work is Drake's skillful use of a wide range of scholarship... This is a stimulating book, with a persuasive thesis.

(Nathan Howard Journal of Church and State)

In its scholarship and size Constantine and the Bishops is clearly a work to benefit scholars, but the clarity of its explanations make it accessible to the enterprising undergraduate as well.

(Ronald J. Weber History: Reviews of New Books)

Compelling... His overarching thesis provides a persuasive new paradigm.

(David Brakke Journal of Religion)

A well organized, well documented, and well written study.

(Richard A. Lebrun H-Catholic, H-Net Reviews)

This is a learned, broadly based, and carefully elaborated argument. It is also racily written, interesting, and hard to put down.

(Stuart G. Hall Journal of Theological Studies)

A thoughtful and erudite book that breaks the mold... A powerful study with a strong, coherent thesis, Constantine and the Bishops is animated by a fresh vision of the early fourth century. It skillfully incorporates major historical themes in unexpected and rewarding ways.

(Richard Lim Speculum)

About the Author

H. A. Drake is a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Graham on January 5, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a detailed analysis of Constantine's role in Church history. It is occasionally a little slow going, but it provides some interesting perspectives. One of the main thrusts is that Constantine's behavior around Christianity needs to be viewed much more from a political context that from a theological one.

Major topics include:

* The Emperors needed legitimacy. As the senate faded into the background, that legitimacy had come increasingly from a divine endorsement of the emperor. Diocletian's persecution had failed, which meant the empire was stuck with a large Christian minority who would not accept the traditional pagan legitimization of the emperor. So Constantine was well motivated to find a solution that could include the Christians recognizing the imperial mandate.

* Constantine's initial conversion seems to have focused on his blessing from a vague supreme heavenly father. By this time the pagan aristocracy had already largely shifted in a monotheistic direction and thus Constantine could hope to satisfy both Christians and monotheistic pagans.

* In a series of church councils, Constantine seemed extremely inconsistent on theological issues. Drake argues that this is because Constantine was much more interested in having an inclusive church than in resolving what he saw as unimportant theological niceties. (Why can't these guys just get along?) So Constantine tended to support whichever individuals or factions appeared more focused on consensus and inclusion, and to oppose those individuals and factions that seemed interested in disruption and disunity.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jay Young on February 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
The story of how Christianity went from a marginal to dominant religion in the Roman Empire has been much debated and discussed among historians. Opinions range from that of Augustine- that it was God's will that Christianity triumph- to that of Gibbon and Voltaire- that Christianity is an essentially intolerant religion and gained its prominence through coercion. H.A. Drake's excellent book cuts through the polemics and gives a fascinating historical take on the subject.

The narrative begins in 335, when Athanasius was being accused of dictatorial behavior in his diocese, and ends in 380, with the complicated relationship between bishop Ambrose and Emperor Theodosius. Constantine is often the whipping boy or the hero in histories such as these. In Drake's work, he is neither. He did indeed institute repressive measures against Pagan and rival Christian sects when he came into power, but the bishops were not his pawns; they were separate forces that he had to reckon with, just as previous Emperors had to deal with the Senators. By the time of Theodosius, the bishops had replaced the senators as the peace-keepers of the Empire. Each bishop, representing one or another theological position, tried to win favor with the Emperor. When one position gained clout, it was in the bishops' interest to repress their rivals.

The reasons why what we call Nicene Christianity won the day were as much political as they were religious. Drake wisely points out that in the Roman Empire, the state was considered a religious institution, where earthly/political success depended on gaining divine favor. This was true of the Roman Empire both in its Pagan and Christian times. The division between secular and religious that characterizes modern thinking simply did not exist then.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David E. Blair on August 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
This reappraisal of the era of Constantine the Great and the rise of Christian power provides the reader with a prodigious amount of material to digest as well as insights on a multiple of different levels. Drake takes to task the historiographical assumptions of Gibbon, Bruckhardt and Baynes and in the process shows why the assumption that Christianity is intolerant and coercive by its very nature is a false and misleading proposition. The author finds a consensus for religious toleration in the reign of Constantine both as a reaction to the persecutions of Diocletian and as a matter of Constantinian political policy. The author finds the traditional questions regarding the sincerity of Constantine's conversion and the co-option of Christianity for crass political reasons both shallow and obfuscating. Using multidisciplinary methodologies Drake tries to analyze the source material in a fashion that allows it to speak for itself.

The author refers to this work as a sketch rather than as a definitive history. In sketching various aspects of this period Drake stretches for insights and some are more persuasive that others. For example, with Christians only about ten percent of the population at the onset of Constantine's reign, the book fails to adequately explain how this small segment of the population could and did become an alternative power base. The traditional elites may have been a minute group, but they represented the values and assumptions of the other ninety percent of the population. While dramatic growth of the Christian population during the fourth century is alluded to, it is never quantified. On a positive note, impressively complete and compellingly drawn is the Eusebian connection to Constantine.
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