Leithart summarizes Perrin’s fascinating observation on St. Matthew’s language of heavenly treasures with the following words:
In his highly stimulating Jesus the Temple, Nick Perrin examines Jesus’ statements about “heavenly treasure” in the light of the “counter-temple” agenda that Perrin argues is central to Jesus’ work. The contrast that Jesus draws is not between a treasure room in a home (which few would have) v. a treasure room in heaven. Perrin points out that in Scripture “treasury” typically, almost invariably, refers to the temple treasury. Jesus is contrasting the practice of storing up treasures in the (doomed) earthly temple in Jerusalem – which are threatened by rust and robbers, like Antiochus and the corrupt priests – and the practices that store up treasure in the heavenly temple, the treasury that is being opened up in Jesus’ own ministry.
Leithart observes that during “the period of peace after Valerian’s death in Persia, the church grew rapidly….Christians were increasingly integrated into all aspects of imperial society…Though only 10 percent of the empire was Christian, by the end of the third century the church was too big and well organized to be safely ignored…Roman religion had never confronted anything like Christianity (39).”
Opponents of Constantine argue that the Roman persecution of Christians had nothing to do with theology, but with the welfare of the state:
“Christians were a threat to peace and security because they were a pollution that aroused the wrath of the gods. Romans sacrificed Christians to protect Rome by fending off the unthinkable prospect of the end of sacrifice (27).”
But as Leithart observes, “to do political theology without attention to historical context and circumstance is to replace a Christian political thought with a Platonic one (29).” In other words, to assume the Roman persecution had nothing to do with the theology of the early church is to miss the complexity of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century (29).
Leithart describes in chapter one of Defending Constantine the horrors of Christian persecution. These Christians were tortured in the most brutal form because they refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods under Diocletian (22). One particularly gruesome example is of a Christian named Peter.
(He) refused to comply with the order of sacrifice. Soldiers stripped him, hoisted him naked, and whipped him until his body was a bloody pulp, his bones sticking through the flesh and skin. Still he refused to sacrifice. The soldiers brought vinegar and salt from the mess and poured it over his wounds. Finding raw meat unappetizing, even when spiced up, they decided to cook him, slowly roasting parts of his body while trying to keep him alive. He was still refusing to sacrifice when he died.
Leithart’s book seems quite intriguing, and rightly so. If the thesis that a new Constantinianism is needed today, then learning from the real Constantine is a cosmic necessity. I confess I have not followed all the scholarship on Constantine, yet as a theocrat I read with great interest. It is my belief that the only solution to the world is a comprehensive faith; a faith that touches everything with a Trinitarian brush and paint. The world needs to be colored with the colors of the Bible. The only way this can happen is with Christendom; nothing more or less.
Thus far, having only read the preface and acknowledgements, I am pleased to see that Peter intends to establish a theology that is a form of social science (11) and not merely an informational/data centered delivery. Readers who find delight in discussing the political implications of what Douglas Wilson called “Christendom 2.0” will certainly gain from this tome.
Leithart writes that the church operates in an Eusebian mode giving “uncritical adulation to American Constantines (64).” What is the solution?
What the Church needs is a renewal of the Augustinian project. We need to disentangle the American story from the Christian story and to insist on the preeminence of the latter (64).”
Typology is not a thing of the past; it is the way of the future. As Leithart notes:
If the Church is to recover the gospel, she must recover typological interpretation and learn to repat, without irony or embarrassment and as a political credo, the words of Paul: “Jerusalem above is free; and she is our mother (58).”