On being a Christian Emperor (I)

Teresa Morgan wonders whether Constantine ever felt called to turn the other cheek.



Teresa Morgan wonders whether Constantine ever felt called to turn the other cheek.


One might wonder whether Constantine ever saw a conflict between his duties as emperor and the aspects of Christianity which concerned love and compassion and forgiveness. I suspect that he probably didn’t, because I think he saw Christ as his patron as emperor. His conversion experience seems to have been an experience that Christ was backing him to be emperor. And like Roman emperors with particular divine patrons before him, I think he probably understood Christ as backing him to the rule the Empire as the Empire needed to be ruled.

And I think probably the iconography of Christ that we begin to see created during Constantine’s rule probably underlines that, because images of Christ that were created under Constantine and later Christian emperors, for that matter, very much emphasised the power of Christ, the glory of Christ, the rule of Christ, and the fact that Constantine holds his power under Christ. So I think Constantine probably thought particularly of Christ as the cosmic power who gave him the power to make the decisions he needed to make for the Empire. And I suspect he didn’t worry too much about the Christ who preached peace and forgiveness and love and the acceptance of aggression from others. I mean, the theme in early Christianity that you put your trust in Christ and you allow others if necessary to attack you and you turn the other cheek – I don’t think probably that strain in Christianity worried Constantine too much. I don’t think he thought he was being called to turn the other cheek, probably.