A MESSAGE FROM FATHER NICK 15 – 28th June 2020
CONSTANTINE 2 – The “Colossus”
Shelley’s poem Ozymandias is famous for portraying the impermanence of worldly glory – all that remains of the once proud “king of kings” is a fragment of his ruined statue in the middle of an empty desert. Emperor Constantine, the Church’s great supporter, left us with a much more enduring memory, and yet we are free to wonder whether his display of worldly power was ever an unmixed blessing for the followers of Jesus.
The so-called “colossus” of Constantine is a once-dominating statue of the seated emperor which exists only in pieces in the Capitol museum in Rome. Its head, arms and legs were made of white marble, but the rest of the statue (now lost) consisted of a brick core and wooden framework possibly covered with gilded bronze. Intact, it was enormous – some 40 feet in height. The giant head alone still has the power to intimidate us, and this was intentional. The statue was conceived as a symbolic enemy of demons and pagan gods.
During his life, Constantine became the centre of the Church’s story – not least in his own reading of that story. He thought of himself as a kind of external “bishop”, and he conceived a plan to gather the remains of the apostles together in a great mausoleum. There, they would be arranged in a circle and he would eventually be buried in the middle of them.
Although he was no theologian, his influence extended even to matters of doctrine. It was he who called the first Great Council of the Church at Nicea in 325 AD. Whatever the nature of Constantine’s own faith, his promotion of the Church had been a calculated act of politics. Religion in the Roman world was in a state of flux. Constantine hoped that Christianity would bring the social cohesion his empire badly needed. It came as an unwelcome surprise to him to learn that Christians themselves were deeply divided – a significant number did not even believe in the divinity of Christ.
It was Constantine who called the bishops together to make a solemn definition of the Church’s faith. This would become our CREED (later amplified by another council but still called the Nicene Creed). At that first Council, it was Constantine who presided, dressed in gold and arrayed “like the sun”. He was undoubtedly a remarkable man, but we always have to remember where the real centre of our faith lies.