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

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Editorial Reviews


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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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: 5.5 x 1.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,143,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Brucia on July 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A book on the fourth century that cites Saul Alinsky and Richard Nixon is not a typical history! The reason is that "Constantine and the Bishops" is as much about political science as history. Using the usual traditional sources, Drake goes further and examines agendas; the people he reveals are refreshingly understandable. In fact, I kept finding myself thinking: "Of course!", and "That reminds me of [name]", and "That's the same kind of mistake I might have made", etc. Constantine comes across as a very believable person trying desperately to bring peace and order to an empire plagued by special interests and external challenges (so what else is new! ). For example, regards special interests, Drake points out that Constantine briefly transferred some legal functions to the bishops. The reason was corruption in the legal profession mirroring today's problems in the legal system (i.e. money buying favorable decisions). How contemporary! ----- In terms of history, this work excels because it offers reasonable perspectives within which events take place. Instead of a mountain of facts, Drake selects currents within which they make sense. The "Big Events" of this period were: The Great Persecution (303-313) by Emperor Diocletian , the reign of Constantine (324-337), the brief counter-revolution of Emperor Julian "the Apostate" (361-263), and the final conquest of power by the Christian bishops under Emperor Theodosius I (379-395). The history in this book is however very detailed. It reaches back to the decline of the Roman Senate under Augustus Caesar three centuries before, and looks ahead to the ratification of the Theodosian Code in 438. Even without much knowledge of the fourth century, a reader will finish with an excellent grounding in the period.Read more ›
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Sizgorich on July 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Drake has taken on and called into serious question some of the most deeply-entrenched notions current among scholars of late antiquity concerning not only the first Christian emperor, but also the very nature of early Christianity as a whole. Even as modern scholarship has moved away from the notion of a "life or death" struggle between pagans and Christians in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., there has remained an assumption even among careful scholars that the religious intolerance which came to prevail in the later fourth and fifth centuries A.D. as the Roman empire became a Christian empire was in some sense native to Christianity as a faith system. It therefore follows from this dangerous assumption that outcroppings of intolerance and violence committed by members of the late antique Christian community need no further explanation than the faith of the perpetrators. Drake takes this assumption and its implications to task and argues that Christian intolerance in late antiquity has a specific historical and political basis, and that the Christianity Constantine envisioned upon his "conversion" was an inclusive one which was to have created a comparatively neutral public space with regard to religion, and which demanded only worship of a single benevolent creator, a notion very much in keeping with elite pagan religious and intellectual trends.Read more ›
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Stephan de la Veaux on January 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Drake's "Constantine and the Bishops" is a fine study of the politicial, sociological and theological currents at the time when Christianity became a political power within the Roman Empire. Focusing on the reign of Constantine, but ranging from the persecution of Diocletian to the time of Theodosius, it offers a much more complicated view of both Christianity and Constantine's efforts to integrate Christianity into the structure of the Roman Empire. In particular, the book appreciates the variety of Christian practices and beliefs that existed throughout the (huge) empire and the constant struggle among many Christian groups to define Christianity along their own beliefs. We tend to see that variety only through the very colored lens of heresy and its suppresion. Constantine comes out rather well in this book; he is a far more sympathetic, complex and impressive person than represented in the writings of Eusebius, where he frequently appears as little more than a puppet of God. Where the book is weakest is in Drake's argument on how official Christianity became more intolerant. It certainly did after Constantine, but whether a Constantine could have avoided this result is not proven in the book. Where the book is strongest is in demonstrating that Constantine, while he might be considered a "Christian" emperor (he didn't receive baptism until he was on his deathbed), he still saw and ruled the Roman Empire with a keen knowledge of the Classical heritage. The book is also provides an excellent counterbalance to the impressions we might get from the writings of Eusebius and Athanasius, the winners in the Christian theological wars of that period. Overall, the book is very well-written (if in a leisurely fashion) and has superb notes and bibliography (the notes are as interesting as the text). It is not light reading, but if you are interested in the late Classical period or in the foundations of Christianity, this book is well worth reading.
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