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Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom
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Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  430 ratings  ·  105 reviews
We know that Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313, outlawed paganism and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire manipulated the Council of Nicea in 325, and exercised absolute authority over the church, co-opting it for the aims of empire. And if Constantine the emperor were not problem enough, we all know that Constantinianism has been very ba ...more
Paperback, 373 pages
Published September 24th 2010 by InterVarsity Press (first published September 7th 2010)
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Rosanne Lortz
Oct 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The Emperor Constantine is one of those people who could very ably defend himself while alive, but now, having the misfortune of being dead, has become a whipping boy for church historians and theologians alike. In his book Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom, Peter Leithart attempts to wipe the rotten vegetables off Constantine’s face and scour the reputation that the centuries have sullied.

A common version of Constantine’s story, one that Leithart sets
...more
Joe Rigney
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, theology
Leithart does a fantastic job placing Constantine in his own era and helping us understand the first Christian emperor. The final chapters have a great discussion of political theology, with Leithart dialoguing with Yoder.
Aaron Ventura
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very good. I had no strong opinions on Saint Constantine prior to reading this book, and came away from it with a sincere appreciation for the imperfect but beneficial blessings God granted to the church through him.

Also thank you to Shawn Paterson for letting me borrow his colorfully highlighted copy for much longer than expected. =D
Rick Davis
Defending Constantine is a phenomenal new book by Peter Leithart that seeks to rehabilitate the reputation of the first Christian emperor of Rome. It seems that Constantine, by converting to the Christian faith, permanently securing Christians against persecution, financing new churches, appointing Christians to the highest levels of government, and allowing bishops to hear civil complaints, made himself one of the most debated characters in Church history. Starting with St. Francis of Assisi, w ...more
Adam Ross
It is common in Christian circles today to find the fault of the Church’s many ills and problems today set squarely on the shoulders of Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of Rome. He manipulated the support of the Church to his own advantage, to consolidate his own power. He controlled the outcome of the Nicene council the way he wanted; he set the stage for the Church’s subservience to secular government power in later periods.

Biblical scholar and Church historian Peter J. Leith
...more
Corey
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Edifying and well argued.
W. Littlejohn
Jul 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Yes, I know it's not out yet, but I got to index it! Mwuhahaha!

Vintage Leithart: brilliant stuff, extremely well-written, engaging and insightful on many different levels. Apparently there's nothing this man can't write on--literature, philosophy, hermeneutics, and now history. He manages to be a compelling storyteller while neither losing sight of the polemical point nor letting it overwhelm the narrative.

The final chapter, which is as it were an expanded and refined version of chapter 5 of A
...more
Douglas Wilson
Aug 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a wonderful book, and it is also wonderful that it is an important book. It is also important that it is a wonderful book, but that is another point, distinct from the first point.
John
May 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
Constantine has a bad reputation in the West, as an emperor who expropriated church authority in an effort to augment his power, and later became the model for church/state relations that has tempted the church to seek greater earthly authority than Christ authorized.

Leithart examines the record and defends Constantine's place in history, and places Constantine well within orthodox Christianity. He acknowledges Constantine stumbled, but it seems clear that Constantine was a genuine Christian, wh
...more
David Withun
Jun 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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Jacob Aitken
I used to be a fan of Leithart's writing. Even a few years ago when he openly attacked Reformed theology in *The Baptized Body,* his writing was cogent and impressive. Something happened between the writing of that book and the writing of this one. Admittedly, Leithart does accomplish a few useful ends in this book. I will list where he is strong and where is his is either wrong, misleading, of inadequate.

Pros:
1) Leithart does a good job handling the disciples of Yoder
2) Leithart does a good job
...more
Eric
Nov 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Well this is probably a book that all Mennonites should read or anyone else that likes to decry the fall of the pure early church into "Christendom". I'll let you know.
Ok. This book was really fantastic. Not because Leithart is correct on all accounts but because he is so close to being right on many accounts. He truly calls those who have major issues with Constantine and that chimera "Constantinianism" to do history. Theories on the fall of the church must reckon with the very messy and diffe
...more
Jeremy
Apr 06, 2012 marked it as to-read
I read the final chapter for a discussion a week before Peter Leithart spoke at Baylor. Started reading on Feb. 19, 2014.

Video of a talk at Wheaton College in 2011. First Things video here. For a related essay by Robert Louis Wilken, see a pair of book reviews here. WORLD review here.
...more
Tim
Apr 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I read the Kindle version of this book. I am sold out to using Kindle, or some other e-book format for reading and writing book reviews, for the ease of referencing, and being able to highlight, and make notes that then become immediately searchable, and can easily cut and paste into book reviews and blog articles. So my references are Kindle locations, and not page numbers (my apologies to those with the Picard syndrome; those who must have a book in paper form).

An defense of Constantine the Gr
...more
Joel Wentz
Sep 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thank God (literally) for Peter Leithart. He brings much-needed clarity, balance, historically-informed perspective, and fantastic writing to overly simplistic, back-and-forth arguments that plague the church today. This is an outstanding corrective/balance to the general framework put forward by the likes of Yoder and Hauerwas (which, by the way, I'm very sympathetic to - Yoder's 'Politics of Jesus' had a tremendous impact on me during college).

Leithart's writing is just as sharp and enjoyable
...more
Grace Achord
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
His arguments don't make Constantine a saint, but they do make him at least a Christian. Constantine initiated a Christian Rome; he baptized it, though it was indeed an infant baptism.

The scholarship is incredibly thorough, and Leithart provides ample historical context to help modern readers approach Constantine in his own time.

An enriching read.
...more
Samuel
Mar 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thought provoking. Helped me understand how the Roman Catholic Church came to be what it was before the Reformation. Mostly a rebuttal of Yoder's work on Constantine, which I am not familiar with, however Leithart includes enough detail to make it readable. ...more
Ben Thurley
Nov 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Leithart's aims for this relatively slim volume are ambitious. First, he writes a fairly brisk biography of Constantine and history of the Roman Empire in the 3rd and 4th Centuries. Second, as he lays out this historical account, he draws on recent scholarship to rebut popular caricatures about Constantine, forcefully dispelling the notions, for example, that Constantine embarked on violent suppression of paganism, or somehow 'controlled' the church or dictated Christian theology. Third, he moun ...more
Leandro Dutra
Aug 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book. One of these I think merits actually half a star less, but I cannot bring myself to give it only four — please do not hold that against me, as I find my use itself of stars shifts with time and humour.

Essentially it is a probing critique of John Howard Yoder’s anti-Constantinanism. While I myself am a critic of what one could call Constantinianism, this book would seem to challenge me, and it did, but not as I expected. Which is an index of a good book, when it actually surpr
...more
Ted
May 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book is more a 3-1/2 stars, but I think it is well written and he makes his points and offers good evidence to back up his claims. Constantine was influenced by Christianity and he certainly allows Christianity to influence the empire. The book is a major refutation of the many writings of John Howard Yoder (whom I have not read) who following his Anabaptist tradition basically sees all of church history from the immediate post-apostolic period to the time of the Anabaptists as fallen and c ...more
Brian
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: leithart
A colossal book. Dr. Leithart has done his homework and succeeds brilliantly in making Constantine and his conversion, despite several failures, as a fitting expression of Roman Imperial Christianity given his context and predecessors.

Having built a grand foundation on extensive research, Leithart battles Yoder's Anabaptistic reading of church history, pacifism, and anti-Imperial issues. The last chapter is a brilliant culmination of a lot that Leithart's been trying to say.

Postscript:
Good stil
...more
Peter Bringe
Oct 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, culture
Leithart provides a helpful look at Constantine and the major historical shift surrounding his conversion. He examines the actual history of the man and the period, and he goes beyond this to an interpretation of this history. This era often figures prominently into interpretations of the history of church and civilization, although it is usually seen as a fall and apostasy. Leithart, though, sees it as an infant baptism of Rome, a break with sacrifice-based statist past and the the beginning of ...more
Amy
Jan 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'm a fan of anything of Peter Leithart's and I try and read as many of his books as I can when they come out. He writes faster than I can read, though, and this last was a bit above my pay-grade. It was a very impressive book and not at all what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a history of Constantine from a positive view point, but it was more a refutation of the negative view of Constantine propounded by someone named John Howard Yoder. It was a fascinating book and I'm very gla ...more
[Name Redacted]
Sep 15, 2011 marked it as to-read
In the Edict of Toleration, Constantine did NOT ban paganism and he did NOT enshrine Christianity as the Imperial religion. His original edict simply demanded that people stop persecuting Christians and afford their clergy the same rights and priviliges as pagan priests. Likewise, while he did remove the priviliged status of Jews within the Empire, the oppression of the Jews actually took place under the reign of his successors. Most of what we know about Constantine is wrong, and I'm sorry that ...more
Peter
Jun 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Great book. I gave it three stars only because the topic wasn't as interesting to me. Leithart is a great reader and it is clear that he has done his research. Other reviews of this book have noted that he relies heavily on secondary sources, which is true, but unless one wants to be a specialist and write on only one topic, relying on secondary sources is necessary. The last couple chapters are particularly good, especially when Leithart moves from history to theology. Leithart has made his cas ...more
Jacob Rush
Aug 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: culture-politics
Good biography of Constantine that seeks to portray him as a genuine Christian, though an imperfect, infantile one. Has a lot of history and political policies of 1-4th century Roman Emperors. Very informative in terms of Christian persecution and law influenced by the church. Seeks to defend the conversion of Constantine as a beneficial (not perfect) thing for the church, contra scholars and historians who think he ruined the church-state relationship forever. Sketches briefly a Christian polit ...more
Peter Jones
Aug 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
An very good book that challenges much modern thinking on the relationship between politics and the church. It starts slow, as he covers the historical time frame leading up to Constantine appearing on the scene. But the book picks up steam from there. I like that he used John Howard Yoder as a foil. Yoder is a good opponent who provides some solid critiques of just war theory. By using someone as accomplished as Yoder, Leithart's arguments are strengthened. The final chapter is the best I have ...more
Michael
Jan 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Leithart at his absolute finest. Superb work.
Courtney Carlson
Good. The last few chapters were especially helpful (I was expecting more political theology.... not so much historical detail which is what the preponderance of the book is concerned with).
Daniel Wright
Before reading: I've always lived in a Protestant, half-Anabaptist milieu in which Constantine is basically a dirty word, both a symptom and a cause of everything that's wrong with the Church, and thank goodness for the Reformation and Enlightenment secularism putting us back on the right track of following Jesus. Perhaps Leithart can cure me of my delusions, or perhaps he will confirm me in my views. I hope, at any rate, that he will challenge me. (Also, Constantine is so unpopular these days t ...more
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Peter Leithart received an A.B. in English and History from Hillsdale College in 1981, and a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1986 and 1987. In 1998 he received his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England. He has served in two pastorates: He was pastor of Reformed Heritage Presbyterian Church (now Trinity Presbyter ...more

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