A Separation of Powers

Dawson it was who showed me that the adoption of Christianity by Constantine was in response to a need he saw. His empire was secularized, its core religion essentially vitiated and so he needed something vital at the heart of it to maintain organic unity and strength. He picked the virile religion of the Christians which had flourished under powerful and prolonged persecution.

I’ve just read in Bettenson an excerpt from Zeno’s Henotikon interesting for at least two reasons. One is that Zeno was an emperor subsequent to Constantine and what he says about Christianity in his empire supports what Dawson had showed me. The second thing that interests me is the consideration of whether Zeno should legislate for Chalcedonian Christianity the way he does.

An interesting problem because Zeno is urging orthodoxy on all his subjects, and he has in view the robust and vigorous expression of religion: not a bad thing. The problem is perhaps in his teleology. For what end does he want it?

It is in the vital interests of his empire, not in the vital interests of Christianity that this emperor thinks, though I’m sure he doesn’t distinguish them. He wants a robust and in this case an orthodox Christianity, which every Christian emperor should want, but with the healthy state as his great goal.

You can see the confusion is hard to avoid, if you are a Christian ruler. As long as the state’s purposes don’t conflict with its religion, fine. But the moment there is a conflict of interests between the temporal power of the empire and the spiritual power of the church? The superior consideration of a spiritual good is subordinated to a temporal one with the result that both lose.

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