Posts Tagged ‘Constantine’

How Easter and Passover Ended Up on Separate Schedules

Posted in General on March 27th, 2016 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

The Easter Caesar

In 325, under the protection of the Emperor Constantine, Christians had emerged from the catacombs and now were at each others’ throats. As emperor and referee, Constantine summoned a Church Council to his palace in Nicaea, trying to get the various factions to concur on anything. Yes, the Council agreed that there was a Trinity. No, the clergy did not have to be celibate. (That question would be raised again.) And there was the matter of scheduling Easter.

Traditionally, Easter was based on the Jewish Passover. It was Gospel, literally. But there were those distrusted a reliance on the Jewish calendar. What if the Jews deliberately sabotaged the timing of Passover to embarrass the Christians? How old is Pat Robertson?

But Constantine agreed; his Church should be self-reliable. If Jews could figure out those lunar convolutions for Passover, certainly the Christians could do the same for Easter. The Emperor ordered that Easter would be celebrated after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox.


Mitre Makes Rite

Posted in General, On This Day on May 20th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

Audition Call: We need 300 “reenactors” for the anniversary of the Council of Nicaea. Yes, the Council opened on this day in 325. Any prospective reenactors should be in excellent health. The Council was literally a La Cross tournament, with the bishops wielding their crosiers as sticks. The Emperor Constantine was both host and referee.

It would be charming to include a descendant of Constantine in the celebrations. Unfortunately, there aren’t any. Constantine did have a large family, but they preoccupied themselves with killing each other off. The Emperor had six children, two grandchildren and no great-grandchildren. That is internecine efficiency. It is the same story for the Emperor’s nephews and nieces, just shorter, with Constantine killing a few himself.

Fortunately, there should be no lack of descendants of the attending bishops. In 325, many bishops and most priests were married. There were a few curmudgeons who advocated celibacy, but they were a distinct minority. The presiding bishop of the Council, Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria, actually encouraged priests to be married. If the Council never issued an official endorsement of married clergy, that was only because it was too obvious to be necessary.

The Church had more important–serious–issues to resolve. By A.D. 325, Christianity was out of the catacombs and in the establishment, the favorite theology of the Emperor Constantine. Unfortunately, religious tolerance gave Christians the freedom to persecute each other. It was not the spiritual monolith that Constantine had expected. The exasperated emperor summoned the bishops to Nicaea, ordering the fractious theologians to agree to a binding definition of the Holy Trinity.

Since the Trinity was now the doctrine of the Church, the Greek intellectuals could fight over the nature of the Trinity. That would be good for about five centuries of debates, denunciations and schisms.

And what is a religion without relics. Here is one of mine:

http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2006/10/27/lets-get-metaphysical/

Corporate Christi

Posted in General, On This Day on November 18th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

Today is the anniversary of the grand opening of St. Peter’s Basilica. So, if you are in Rome, drop in for the festivities. Free Eucharist gelato! Watch the Swiss Guard make balloon crucifixes for the bambinos. And today only, there will be no penance for sitting in the Pieta’s lap. (Come on, you know you always wanted to!)

According to legend, on this day in 326 the Emperor Constantine was at the groundbreaking ceremony and shoveled full 12 bags of dirt, one for each apostle. He really might have had a need for consecrated ground, if only to bury his recently executed trophy wife and oldest son. (The young man and his stepmother apparently got along too well, and Constantine never mastered the Christian concept of forgiving. To his credit, however, Constantine had had a trophy stepmother, too, and he never hit on her; in fact, he didn’t even slaughter his half-siblings when he finally got the chance.)

And, if Constantine had been in Rome for the groundbreaking of St. Peter’s, that must have been a miracle. The Roman army, a second army of contractors and slaves, and the uprooted populace of Byzantium had the impression that the Emperor was among them, laying the ground for a new city modestly named Constantinople. However, Constantine at least was in Rome in spirit and money, financing the new basilica. He even furnished the new church with a supply of relics and artifacts, purchased by his mother Helena on her legendary shopping expeditions. For example, one of his gifts was a pair of columns from Solomon’s Temple.

Of course, those columns were actually Greek and a thousand years younger than Solomon’s Temple, but the Imperial Mother was not exactly a classical scholar. In fact, she was a Greek barmaid who had become the concubine of Constantine’s father–and dumped when Pater needed a more prestigious mate; but Constantine proved a devoted son. So Helena was a gullible customer; but like most nouveau riche, she also could be a terror. When the Imperial Mother wanted the relic of a particular saint or some sacred artifact, it had to be supplied or else. A luckless merchant was tortured until he disclosed the location of the True Cross. He finally remembered that the holy wood was located at the bottom of a well. (As the holy terror of sale clerks, St. Helena might be the patron saint of Jewish Princesses.)

So, with Constantine’s money and Helena’s decorating, St. Peter’s Basilica began construction. It took seven years to complete, and allowing for accumulated additions over the next thousand years, the basilica stood until 1506. By then, the Church did not meet Renaissance standards and so was torn down. The replacement, the one we know and tour, took 120 years to complete. (The Holy Roman Emperors just weren’t as generous as the real Roman Emperors.) But with a commendable sense of history, the new St Peter’s reopened for business on this day in 1626.

Marching on Rome

Posted in General on October 28th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

October 28, 312:  In This Sign Lose

Some people are famous only for losing: candidate Harold Stassen, explorer Robert Scott, alleged actress Susan Lucci. There is also Gen. George McClellan, who retreated even when he won a battle. This list probably starts with Abel.  And today, let us commemorate another of these unlustrious souls: the Emperor Maxentius.

Maxentius owes his dubious fame to his dramatic loss of battle, throne and life to his brother-in-law Constantine. (Yes, that Constantine!) Of course, the drama was all due to Constantine and his sudden change of sponsors on the eve of battle. The use of crosses as battle insignia was great product placement for a certain religion.

Constantine may have had friends in high places but he was also the greatest general of his time. Maxentius wouldn’t have even made the top fifty list. He had no qualifications to be an Emperor except for the fact that his father was one. However, even his father wasn’t impressed with Maxentius and had excluded him from the imperial succession. (The old man actually preferred his son-in-law Constantine.)

At the time, the growing threat of the barbarians and the chronic problem with the Persians (that certainly is chronic) had led to an administrative reform of the Empire. There were two co-Emperors, one ruling from Asia Minor and the other from Northern Europe. The Roman Empire had dispensed with Rome. Furthermore, to avert the bloodbaths that usually determined who would be the next emperor, the two co-emperors would appoint their successors.

As his successor in the West, the Emperor Maximian preferred the House of Constantine to his own dynasty. However, the overlooked Maxentius felt that nepotism had its rights and the snubbed 28 year-old used his allowance and trust fund to bribe the garrison of Rome. In 306, Maxentius was proclaimed Emperor–at least in Rome–but much of Italy embraced him. The country had grown tired of absent emperors, some of whom had even threatened to end Rome’s tax-free perks: its bread and circuses.

Galerius, the legitimate Emperor of the East, attempted to crush the revolt. Upon entering Italy, however, the imperial army founded itself ambushed with bribes. Unable to resist, the army left Italy. Galerius then decided that this was an issue for the Emperor of the West.

Constantine had the title but he needed Italy for the authenticity. In 312 he invaded. His army would not be susceptible to bribes. When Roman legionnaires adopt Christian insignia at the Emperor’s command, they evidently revered or feared him more than than the Gods. Maxentius commanded a far larger force but most of his soldiers’ experience of combat was shaking down shopkeepers. And Maxentius was not even that proficient. He wedged his army into a tactical disaster, stationed in front of a deep river with only one rickety bridge as an avenue for retreat.  The “Battle of Milvian Bridge” was on this day in 312.

Can’t you guess what happened? After sufficient mauling by Constantine’s veterans, Maxentius’ amateurs panicked, the weight of the chaotic retreat collapsed the Milvian Bridge, and Maxentius was on it at the time. His body was fished out of the water the next day. Constantine was now the undisputed Emperor of the West; and he was free to promote his theological quirks. (He had to kill another brother-in-law before he ruled the entire empire.)

Of course, losing to Constantine is why anyone remembers Maxentius. Fourth century Rome was filled with rich mediocrities; they comprised the Senate. However, Maxentius was not content to enjoy his inadequacies. His ambition far surpassed his ability, but his amazing presumption and dramatic failure do entitle him to history’s sarcasm. And he would have preferred that to obscurity.

October 28, 1922:  Fasc and Loose

Nature may abhor a vacuum but it was amused by Benito Mussolini. On this day in 1922, Mussolini and his Black Shirts wore out their Guccis marching on Rome to demand control of the government. Surprised that any Italian even cared, the government promptly (even gleefully) capitulated.

Politically, Italy is anarchy with charm. The Italians have not had a competent government since the reign of Theodoric who died in 526…and they really don’t care. It is a tribute to Italians’ enlightenment that they prefer thieves and lunatics in government than being public nuisances on the street. (Remember that Italian lunatics would be more endearing than American and–especially–German psychotics.

Mussolini is rightfully remembered as a tyrannical buffoon. To put him in our contemporary political terms, he combined a Republican’s personality with a Democrat’s competence. Yet, he might be revered as the inspiration of “reality television.”

What happens when the most ridiculous man in Italy wants to run the country? YOU LET HIM.

Corporate Christi

Posted in General, On This Day on November 18th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

Today is the anniversary of the grand opening of St. Peter’s Basilica. So, if you are in Rome, drop in for the festivities. Free Eucharist gelato! Watch the Swiss Guard make balloon crucifixes for the bambinos. And today only, there will be no penance for sitting in the Pieta’s lap. (Come on, you know you always wanted to!)

According to legend, on this day in 326 the Emperor Constantine was at the groundbreaking ceremony and shoveled full 12 bags of dirt, one for each apostle. He really might have had a need for consecrated ground, if only to bury his recently executed trophy wife and oldest son. (The young man and his stepmother apparently got along too well, and Constantine never mastered the Christian concept of forgiving. To his credit, however, Constantine had had a trophy stepmother, too, and he never hit on her; in fact, he didn’t even slaughter his half-siblings when he finally got the chance.)

And, if Constantine had been in Rome for the groundbreaking of St. Peter’s, that must have been a miracle. The Roman army, a second army of contractors and slaves, and the uprooted populace of Byzantium had the impression that the Emperor was among them, laying the ground for a new city modestly named Constantinople. However, Constantine at least was in Rome in spirit and money, financing the new basilica. He even furnished the new church with a supply of relics and artifacts, purchased by his mother Helena on her legendary shopping expeditions. For example, one of his gifts was a pair of columns from Solomon’s Temple.

Of course, those columns were actually Greek and a thousand years younger than Solomon’s Temple, but the Imperial Mother was not exactly a classical scholar. In fact, she was a Greek barmaid who had become the concubine of Constantine’s father–and dumped when Pater needed a more prestigious mate; but Constantine proved a devoted son. So Helena was a gullible customer; but like most nouveau riche, she also could be a terror. When the Imperial Mother wanted the relic of a particular saint or some sacred artifact, it had to be supplied or else. A luckless merchant was tortured until he disclosed the location of the True Cross. He finally remembered that the holy wood was located at the bottom of a well. (As the holy terror of sale clerks, St. Helena might be the patron saint of Jewish Princesses.)

So, with Constantine’s money and Helena’s decorating, St. Peter’s Basilica began construction. It took seven years to complete, and allowing for accumulated additions over the next thousand years, the basilica stood until 1506. By then, the Church did not meet Renaissance standards and so was torn down. The replacement, the one we know and tour, took 120 years to complete. (The Holy Roman Emperors just weren’t as generous as the real Roman Emperors.) But with a commendable sense of history, the new St Peter’s reopened for business on this day in 1626.