In the former two articles in this series we saw  how Emperor Constantine married the Church  to the State and by a series of vast civil wars  overthrew the armies of the other Caesars and  systematically set about the conversion of the  Empire to Christianity, at the cost of the pagan  religion that hitherto had been the Empire’s  dominant influence. This remarkable achievement  had enormous consequences upon the direction of  the civilised world, for not only was the character  of the Roman world drastically changed but also,  equally, the nature of the Christian Church. The  persecuted minority that composed the Christian  community before Constantine now became the  advance guard of the Empire, openly revelling  in the spoils of civil wars, rising to the head of  government and public service, recipients of special  endowments from the Sovereign and appointed  among his principal confidants and ministers.

Christianity, however corrupt, was now in  power. The sword, refused by the believers for  280 years (AD33–313), was now openly espoused  and believing generals and soldiers gloried in their  new power, always inspired by the cross of Christ  emblazoned upon their military banners and other  weapons of war. After the Emperor’s account of a  vision on the eve of the battle of Milvian Bridge,  when he said a cross of gold was presented high  in the heavens and a voice was heard, “Conquer  in this”, from that time the world was changed.  Constantine gathered his officers about him and  inspired them with this account, replacing their  anxieties with this premonition of Divine favour  and sure victory. It was as though he who said,  “all they that take the sword shall perish with the  sword” (Matt 26:52) had now reversed his principle  and encouraged his people to military conquest!

Roma-pontemilvio

The Milvian Bridge in Rome – Scene of Constantine’s Battle that established Christendom.

Corruption of the Doctrine of the Cross

Constantine later said that it was this “vision” and the  consequent victory over Maxentius that convinced  him of Christianity. Though he was not baptised until  three days before his death twenty five years later  (AD337), he claimed that Milvian Bridge was the  occasion of his conversion. What dark corruption is  in these things! The cross in the Bible is the symbol  of submission, as the crucified Jesus has portrayed  to the world ever since it occurred. “Not my will but  thine be done” is the essence of the meaning of the  cross. His disciples are encouraged to follow in kind:  “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself,  and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt 16:24).  Now we have a Christian emperor at the opening of  a 13 year campaign of brutal and unnecessary civil  wars, proclaiming that those who used the sword in  the name of the cross of Christ would be blessed!

Dream of Constantine Milvius BnF MS Gr510 fol440

He said a cross of gold was presented high in the
heavens and a voice was heard, “Conquer in this”

Thus the symbol of Christian submission  was turned into a token of military prowess! The  doctrine of Christ was critically corrupted and  the way opened for those many religious wars  that have darkened the annals of history.

Once this course was taken the Church could  never be independent. Depicted in the Scriptures  as “a chaste virgin” waiting for Christ it now  had another master! What’s more the state of  the Church was a prime concern to the Emperor.  He had hitched his fortunes to the rising star of Christianity, so any disputes or doctrinal disturbances  had to be resolved, for what would it be if the Emperor  had founded his confidence upon Christian support  only to later find the Church divided!

As we said in our last article this meant that the  Emperor took a serious interest in all matters of the  Church, giving his opinion and his commands in  respect to many things. He even called the Council  of Nicea: he was present in person and it was he that  took hold of the crucial phrase, “one substance”,  that defined the relationship of the Son to the Father  in the Nicene Creed. So the doctrine of the Trinity  can be fairly laid at the feet of Emperor Constantine.  His enormous presence was fundamental to all that  happened at that Council. The doctrine of the unity  of God was thereafter confused.

More Overtones — Persecution for Non-Conformists

The next obvious question soon arose. What was  to be done to believing Christians who did not  endorse the doctrine espoused by the Emperor?  On many issues there were varying opinions  among the disciples of Christ. So it was about the  decisions at Nicea; there were many who did not  believe that Jesus was “very God of very God,”  as the (Emperor’s) Creed now said it, but rather  that he was of the same flesh as all other men  (eg Hebrews 2:14). There were therefore quite a  number of widely scattered groups who wished to  hold themselves independent of the now established  Catholic Church because they felt, essentially,  that true Christians should never be bound up  with the State but rather wait for their Master’s  return when he should be conqueror and king over  all the earth. Some of these groups were called  Arians, Donatists, Circumcellions, Waldenses,  etc. Their independence of conscience in their  Christian beliefs now threatened their own lives  and circumstances. The Emperor could not accept  them and feared the break-up of his united realm.  So these people of quiet and submissive behaviour  were now attacked, imprisoned, exiled or slain  and their buildings demolished. Corruption of the  principles of Christ had now led to persecution of  fellow Christians. There could be no toleration of  independence: the Emperor must have his subjects  joined in one body upon his own principles.

Where did the Jew Stand?

Since the days of the early Greek Empire the  Jewish people had enjoyed wide acceptance of  their religious beliefs and practices and what was  negotiated in the Greek Empire was largely endorsed  in the Roman Empire. The pagan Roman gods were  the orthodox deities of the Roman government and  people but they allowed the Jews their Sabbath  and feasts and other practices in the synagogues.  Yet trouble now lay ahead, for if Arians were  exiled and persecuted for some refined item of  Christian doctrine what was the position of a  people who, though having the same Bible (or  the Old Testament, at least) refused even the  person of Jesus Christ and all his claims with  him? Furthermore they argued that the Church  (now called the Catholic Church) though using the  Scriptures, had misinterpreted their basic teachings.  It is not surprising to learn that restrictions were  now coming upon Judaism that hitherto had been  a recognised religion of the Jews in the Empire. In  AD 315, only 2 years after Constantine’s “Edict of  Toleration” (!) Jews were forbidden to preach or  proselytise—the first anti-Semitic law in centuries!  Within a hundred years Jewish proselytising  became a crime punishable by death! In the year  429 a lineal descendent of Constantine abolished the  patriarchate of Israel, “Not even the Caesars, who  twice levelled Jerusalem, had eliminated Jewish  political autonomy—an abolition that would not be  reversed until 1948. One could almost say that for  Jews, the Age of Constantine came to an end only  with David ben Gurion!” (Constantine’s Sword, J  Carroll, pg176). The legacy of Constantine casts a  long shadow upon the history of the Jews. When the  Catholic Church embraced an Emperor who could  pervert the cross of Christ into a sword of temporal  power, then many evils were possible.
Image-Diaspora synagogues in Antiquity

 Major Jewish Synagogues in the 1st & 2nd Century AD

Super Cessionism and the Hope of Israel

When the apostle Paul was brought in chains to  Rome and permitted to speak to the Jewish elders  of the capital, he made the statement, “for the hope  of Israel I am bound with this chain” (Acts 28:20).  Again, before king Agrippa, he said, “And now I  stand and am judged for the hope of the promise  made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise  our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and  night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king  Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews” (Acts 26:6–7).  The Hope of Israel is that spoken of in the Old  Testament, of a Messiah in the line of king David,  to rise in Jerusalem and bring blessings to the  natural children of Abraham; to reign over all the  earth and with special favours to a renewed Israel.  This message is all through the Old Testament,  from Moses, the Psalms and the prophets. We note  that the Apostle Paul was an open preacher of that  message. So were all the Apostles, who asked of  Jesus after his resurrection, “Wilt thou at this time  restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).  It is foolish to ignore these passages for this is the  Gospel of the kingdom propounded by Jesus and his  Apostles —Matt 8:11–12; 19:28; Luke 19:41–42.  The death and resurrection of Christ, though not  perceived by the Jews, were equally proclaimed  by the prophets, complementing the Gospel of the  kingdom. Salvation from sin and death is offered  in the name of Christ and that salvation will find its  expression in the kingdom of God when Christ will  be king over all the earth. The two aspects are the  covers of one book, the whole Gospel of Christ.

However, when Constantine converted the  cross into a temporal sword then the kingdom of  God phase became, it seemed, redundant. There  was a resplendent Christian emperor in absolute  dominion and members of his Catholic Church (as  he now called it) in the highest prominence and  influence. The Church that sought his protection  and succour was now in his control, even as to  what they believed. The Emperor’s will was  stamped on all, yet his ministry and generals were  from Christian ranks and enjoyed such an intimate  working relationship with the palace that it seemed  just like a dream come true. The persecuted were  now princes and ministers of a world empire. In a  short time they and their Church were themselves  persecutors!

What further  need for the Hope  of Israel? All the  relevant passages  of the prophets  and psalms  were applied to  Constantine and  his glorious world  wide Empire!  The Gospel of  the Kingdom  was eclipsed, or  rather fulfilled  in Constantine’s  royal empire.  Even the principal  theologians of the  time saw it this  way. So what was  once the “reigning  sentiment” of  early Christians,  the return of Jesus  Christ, the “king  of the Jews”,  became by degrees  but the belief of  old – fashioned  “fanatics”  (Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapter 15).

So the hope of  Israel, the Gospel of the kingdom, was no longer a  hope, rather a present reality! There was no future  role for the Jewish people in the purpose of God and  all their special titles and promises were transferred  to the Catholic Church of Constantine. The Church  was the kingdom!—and Constantine was Messiah!  This teaching, sometimes called super cessionism,  became orthodox by the end of the 4th Century.

What of the Jew?

The Jewish people, scattered very widely through  the Empire became very isolated. They had shared  an understanding with many Christians in former  times but now had nothing in common with the vast  majority of the Church. They were out in the cold and no-one cared  because almost  no-one saw any  future purpose for  them. In the view  of a Trinitarian the  Jews had killed  God so they were  an accused people  shunned by God  and man! They  were outside the  pact between  Church and State;  fair game for  verbal invective  and malicious  persecution.

Helena, the  mother of the  Emperor, with  much royal  majesty had  visited the Holy  Land and made  “discoveries,”  among them the  seamless robe that  Jesus wore to the  crucifixion and,  believe it or not,  the very cross  upon which he  died. Now these  relics were brought  back to Trier, in north-west Germany, Constantine’s  formal capital and became the focus of an even greater  concentration upon the death and crucifixion of the  cross. There was no parallel symbol for the life and  resurrection of Christ, just an increasing obsession  upon the Cross. The Hope of Israel was forgotten. The  Gospel became the Cross. Queen Helena’s wooden  relic, now in the cathedral of Trier, had created an  infatuated interest throughout the Church. The cross  had centre stage, there was no Gospel of the kingdom,  Jerusalem’s Messiah was a lost chord! So the earlier  actions of the Emperor in placing the Cross upon all  military banners and equipment of all his legions was  now further accentuated by the mysterious discoveries  of his mother.

Christianity had become Crosstianity, as it still  largely is today. And where was the Jew in this  picture? Right out in the cold! Even worse, it was  reported by the Queen mother that it was a Jew,  indeed, that had betrayed his people by informing  her of the site of the wooden cross! It was someone  like the original betrayer, Judas the Jew—for  although all of the Apostles were Jews, time and  history had conspired to portray Judas Iscariot as  the Jew among the Apostles!

The following is from the account of Bishop  Ambrose concerning the legend of Helena’s finding  the “True Cross”:

“The Spirit inspired her to search for the wood  of the Cross,” Ambrose declared. “She drew near to  Golgotha and said: ‘Behold the place of combat: where  is thy victory?… Why did you labor to hide the wood,  O Devil, except to be vanquished a second time? You  were vanquished by Mary, who gave the Conqueror  birth” (Constantine’s Sword, J Carroll pg 201).

Ambrose and Augustine, Fathers of Anti-Semitism

The above words were from an oration of Bishop  Ambrose (339–397) at the funeral of Emperor  Theodosius in 395. They express in the most bitter  terms the despisement of the Jew in the Catholic  Church of the 4th Century, in the legacy years of  Constantine and all in the name of Helena, “the  saint, the queen, the friend of nuns and priests.”  The Jew is the Devil personified, once defeated by  Christ upon the Cross and a second time now that  this True Cross had been rediscovered! Such was  the mind of the principal theologian of the Church  as he expounds on the Legend of Helena. “The  Church manifests joy, the Jew blushes. Not only  does he blush, but he is tormented also, because  he himself is the author of his own confusion”  (Constantine’s Sword, J Carroll, page 201).

In the year 388 the Emperor Theodosius protested  the wanton destruction of a Jewish Synagogue by  some irresponsible mob of Christians. Here now is  the written reply of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, to  the Emperor (!) expressing his total support of the  mob: “that there might not be a place where Christ  is denied. A synagogue is a haunt of infidels, a  home of the impious, a hiding place of mad men,  under the damnation of God Himself. To order the  rebuilding of such a place was an act of treason to  the Faith.”

It is not hard to imagine Adolf Hitler taking  pleasure in these words.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) is frequently  represented as the greatest theologian since the  Apostles. In fact he was a disciple of Ambrose,  baptised by him in 387. When the Church is  reproached by critics of anti-Semitism, the claim is  made that the Church has never been anti-Jew and  that Augustine preached leniency to the Israelites.  What is the truth?

Augustine’s teaching was not to kill the Jews  as frequently occurred in his era. The Jews he said  were guilty of the death of God (!) and were a  witness to the judgements of God as spoken in the  Bible. If the Jew was eradicated then that witness  would be lost. So the unbelieving Jew was to be  allowed to live, albeit in shame, ignominy, exile and  privation, to witness to the Word of God!

Is it any wonder that Europe’s history has been stained for 1,500 years with anti-Semitism,  pogroms and the Holocaust?

The first pogrom in history occurred in  Alexandria in AD414, wiping out for a time that  city’s extensive Jewish community. This was nearby  on the same continent as Augustine and in the height  of his influence! So much for the amelioration of  Augustine’s doctrine.

The Anti-Semitic Legacy of Constantine

This story began at Trier where the new Emperor  Constantine set up his new capital of the western  quarter. It was to that city that Helena brought  “The True Cross” that became a catalyst for Jew  hatred in Christians of early times. It is a quaint  fact of history that the first organised murder of a  Jewish community also began in Trier. The soldiers  of the First Crusade carried, after the example  of Constantine, the symbol of the cross on their  shields. They amassed an army of hundreds of  thousands at the stirring behest of Pope Urban II,  gathering at Trier! But if the actual purpose was  the elimination of unbelieving Muslims from the  Holy Land, then what about the unbelieving Jew  in their local cities? So beginning in 1096 at Trier  and moving east through Europe to Asia Minor and  Palestine went this marauding, murderous Christian  army, destroying Jewish communities along the  way, gaining practice for their eventual assault on  Islam in the Holy Land.

Subsequent “crusades” followed the same  course with the same behaviour.

Only Nazis could be pleased with such abhorrent  behaviour.

“Come out of Her, My People”

The gruesome sequel of this story goes on to the  Inquisition, the Holy Office, the legal discrimination  against Jews throughout European history, to the  Dreyfus affair, to Russian pogroms, to Hitler, Mein  Kampf doctrine, to the Holocaust. Nor were the  Protestant churches much better; Martin Luther  was a strident anti-Semite!

In all of this history, though, the fact stands  out that anti-Semitism goes back pre-eminently  to Constantine, to his perversion of the doctrine  of the cross whereby the Christian symbol of selfdenial  was turned into a token of military brutality.  The Catholic Church responded to his overtures  and sought temporal power in this world at his  side. Subsequently the Popes have justified this  behaviour and those opposed, whether “heretics” or  Jews, have suffered cruelly at their command.

To Abraham it was said, “And I will bless them  that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee!  (Gen 12:3). Paul the Apostle many times warned  against arrogant behaviour against Israel. “Boast not  against the branches (Jews)… Be not high-minded,  but fear… God is able to graft them in again… And  so all Israel shall be saved, as it is written, There  shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn  away ungodliness from Jacob” (Romans 11:16,18,  20, 23, 26).

The Hope of Israel remains the Hope of the  Bible. That is the significance of the re-birth of the  nation of Israel. God is telling us that the return of  their Messiah is near at hand.

The Bible also speaks of terrible judgements  upon those who have destroyed the truth of the  Gospel and persecuted the Jewish people and made  war against those that have stood for the Truth.

Dear reader, think upon these appealing  words,

“And I heard another voice from heaven,  saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be  not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive  not of her plagues. For her sins have reached  unto heaven, and God hath remembered her  iniquities” (Rev 18:4-5).