Mary 23 – Queen of Heaven

Posted: February 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Mary, Queen of Heaven

I thought it would be fitting to close my series on Mary with a reflection on her title as Queen of Heaven. I know from experience that many of my fellow Protestant Christians find that appellation disturbing, though I’m not sure if it’s for theological reasons or because of our American discomfort with monarchical titles. In order to understand this title for Mary, we have to first look at Christ and specifically his Ascension.

To be honest, it’s not clear to me what the typical modern Evangelical thinks or believes about the Ascension of Christ. Sometimes I almost get the sense that they have a vision of Jesus as some cosmic spacemen flying off into outer space. But that’s certainly not what the Scriptures of Christian tradition are describing. When someone was crowned king or emperor, they ascended to their throne, which means they entered into their power. That’s what we see happening with Christ, but he was not ascending to a typical throne. Rather, he was ascending to the throne of God, to the seat of power in the Kingdom of the Heavens (which is to say God’s Kingdom).

And that’s where the “clouds” enter into the picture. Smoke or clouds were associated with the visible presence of God in Hebrew imagery. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt in the desert, he did so as a pillar of clouds. When the shekinah glory of God entered and rested upon the first temple, it did so as smoke. When Isaiah enters the presence of God in visions, he is surrounded by clouds and smoke. And so when Jesus ascends into the clouds, it’s a way of saying he is entering his power and taking the throne of heaven. Heaven, of course, is overlapping and interlocking with the material creation, but it is presently veiled from us, so as Jesus enters his power, he vanishes from their sight. But he didn’t leave and go someplace else. As we read in Matthew, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” And sometimes that veil is pulled back. Stephen, the protomartyr saw the throne of God at the time of his death. Paul experienced the reality of the third heaven.

So Jesus the Christ, Son of God, is in Christian terms, the reigning King of heaven and earth. In Hebrew culture, going back at least to the time of the Davidic kings, who is the queen? It’s the king’s mother, also called the queen mother. In fact, that’s true in many cultures. In England, the mother of the monarch is even affectionately called the Queen Mum.

So Mary is rightly called the Queen of Heaven because her son is the reigning King of Heaven. Of all her titles, this should be one on which every Christian can agree. If we deny her the title of queen mother, we deny her son as king.

Now, as the Queen of Heaven, what does Mary do? She does what she has always done, which we see exemplified in the story of the wedding at Cana in John 2. She points to her son and commands us all, “Whatever he says to you, do it.”

Are not those the words we all need to hear?


The Jesus Prayer 5 – Energies of God

Posted: February 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer 5 – Energies of God

This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

It’s not possible to delve very far into Orthodoxy without encountering the concepts of essence and energies. The development of that language goes all the way back to at least the fourth century, though in truth we see elements of it in the texts of the Holy Scriptures themselves. This language for describing God is an attempt to describe the indescribable in a way that helps us understand how we can be one with God (and each other) as the Father and the Son are one. Thus the concepts are ultimately rooted in the Incarnation. Many of the major disputes over the course of the first millenium of Christianity were specifically focused on the Incarnation itself. The great heresies either made Christ less than God or other than fully human.

His [Christ’s] entry into human life began the healing and restoration of that life. What’s more, if God could take on human form, our bodies are capable of bearing God’s presence in return. An ordinary human body can literally become a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19). That can sound alarming — wouldn’t God’s presence destroy my feeble frame? — but Eastern Christians frequently draw an analogy to the burning bush. Just as Moses saw that the bush burned with God’s fire but was not consumed, so God’s presence can fill us while preserving — even completing — our embodied personhood.

As always, we have to remember that God is always everywhere present and filling all things. All creation is filled with the fire of the glory of God. It’s that light which sustains it. And just as Christ became man and remained God, we can be infused with the Spirit in our bodies without being destroyed.

Oddly enough, the word energy occurs frequently in St. Paul’s letters; he says, for example, “God is energon [energizing] in you, both to will and to energein [energize] for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Energy is a word we imported into English directly from the Greek. But there was not equivalent for this word in Latin, so in his masterful translation of the Bible, St. Jerome (AD 347-420) used operare, that is, “operate” or “work.” When the Bible began to be published in English, its translators stood at the end of a thousand years of devout reading, preaching, and studying the Bible in Latin translation. Our English Bibles refer to God “working,” not “energizing,” but isn’t there a difference? If we hear that God’s energy is within us, then union with him becomes more imaginable.

It’s a good example of the way language can deeply influence understanding and practice. Latin also lacked a word for the Greek concept often rendered in English as “repent.” So it was rendered as “do penance.” Over time, that had a profound effect on the belief and practice in the West.  It’s the same thing here. The idea of God “working” or “operating” made it seem more external and eventually led to the idea that these operations were not God himself, but creations of God we could experience. I’m not an expert, but I think this was part of the root behind the idea of created grace and similar Western concepts.

Instead, the energies of God are uncreated and just as much God as our hands and mouth and eyes are part of our being. When we experience the grace of God, we experience God himself — directly and unmediated by any created thing. It is true we can never know the essence of God. God transcends us. But in truth, we can’t truly and directly know the essence — the core being — of any other person either, even though they are finite, created beings. Instead we know them through their actions, words, expressed emotions — through their bodies. But we would never say that we do not know or experience other human beings as a result. In a similar way (God, of course transcends any direct statement), we truly know God through his energies. We can directly encounter him.

The Jesus Prayer is a way to help us toward that true encounter.


The Jesus Prayer – Introduction

Posted: February 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

In her introduction to the book, Frederica Mathewes-Green is careful to state that she is no expert in the practice of the Jesus Prayer. In fact, like most of us, she tends to often live as though she could “pull down a window shade” between God and herself. It’s something most of us do. We don’t pray constantly because we don’t live with a constant sense of the presence of God. If you pause and consider the way we live, it’s a bit ridiculous. In many ways we’re like the small child who hides her eyes and believes we can’t see her because she can’t see us. It’s endearing in a toddler, but we would look askance at an adult who still lived as though that were true. Yet, there is no place we can go where God is not.

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from they presence? If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there! (Ps. 139:7-8)

Indeed, since God is the source of life and sustains all that is, if we could escape God’s presence, we would immediately cease to exist.

The Jesus Prayer is a means by which we learn to experience God directly. Our problem is that we do not perceive reality truly. I was listening to a lecture and I was struck by something said about the Transfiguration of our Lord. Jesus did not change during the transfiguration. He was always God — always filled with the divine uncreated light. Rather, people — including his disciples — were not able to see him truly. And in the Transfiguration they were granted the grace to experience the full reality of Jesus. We still have the same problem today. All creation is filled with the glory of God and we do not have eyes to see it.

Khouria Frederica mentions the nous in her introduction. I’ve written about it before, but I like the way she describes it. The cogitative part of our mind, the intellect, is not the nous. Rather, the nous is the receptive part of our mind. It’s the part that experiences, that understands. The Jesus Prayer helps us still our noisy intellect so we can perceive and hear God. That strikes me as an especially good description.

There is an aspect of learning to still the mind in forms of meditation that I’ve practiced in the past. I’ve always had a sense that some aspect of that was needed in Christian practice even before the Jesus Prayer came to me. “Be still and know that I am God,” the psalter exhorts, but the truth is that we do not know how to be still. Our minds never stop whirling.

When Christians pray the Jesus Prayer, we are trying to still our mind in order to open our nous to God. It’s a very specific goal and we call on Jesus as Lord to have mercy on us and help us. As someone who is now a Christian looking back on some of those other forms of meditation I’ve practiced I see the danger that I didn’t see then. We do not wish to open ourselves, our nous, to receive anything or any experience. That is unwise. Rather we seek to hear and experience the one we call Lord.

I found this book a good, practical guide to the Jesus Prayer. This is the prayer that came to me some years before I even knew it was a tradition. I thank God constantly for that grace. And I look forward to reflecting on it once more.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 15

Posted: February 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 15

42.  The Lord revealed His wisdom by the way in which He healed man, becoming man without the slightest change or mutation. He demonstrated the equity of justice when in His self-abasement He submitted deliberately to the sentence to which what is passible in human nature is subject, and made that sentence a weapon for the destruction of sin and of the death which comes through sin – that is, for the destruction of pleasure and of the pain which pleasure engenders. It was in this pleasure-pain syndrome that the dominion of sin and death lay: the tyranny of sin committed in pursuit of pleasure, and the lordship of the painful death consequent upon sin. For the dominion of pleasure and pain clearly applies to what is passible in human nature. And we seek how to alleviate through pleasure the penalty of pain, thus in the nature of things increasing the penalty. For in our desire to escape pain we seek refuge in pleasure, and so try to bring relief to our nature, hard pressed as it is by the torment of pain. But through trying in this way to blunt pain with pleasure, we but increase our sum of debts, for we cannot enjoy pleasure that does not lead to pain and suffering.

This text restates the wonder and importance in Jesus becoming fully human in every way, “without the slightest change or mutation.” He didn’t take on the mere appearance of humanity. He wasn’t mostly human. He became sarx or flesh wholly and fully while also, in a great mystery, also containing the fullness of the godhead. Nothing less could have healed us. And then we see St. Maximos once again describe the way Jesus turned death into a weapon destroying death. The fullness of the glory of God was displayed to all creation, made manifest to all mankind, on the Cross.


Jesus Creed 29 – At the Cross with Jesus

Posted: October 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 29 – At the Cross with Jesus

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Luke 23:26-49; John 18-19.

Scot explores the grotesqueness of the cross in a way that is impossible to summarize if you do not already understand it. But I love this bit:

Beginning to end, the crucifixion of Jesus is a grotesque scene, one that is far from the mind of most persons who wear crosses around their necks. No one, to use a modern analogy, has the macabre affront to wear a necklace with a guillotine or a gallows or a noose or an electric chair, or cells on death row.

Scot makes precisely a point I tried (and often failed) to explain to those who were Christian about one reason I became Christian.

In fact, the writer of the Book of Hebrews explains something many Christians miss when it comes to the cross: Jesus suffers to sympathize with our sufferings.

Jesus with us. In our worst suffering, in our darkest hour, in our most hopeless moment, Jesus is right there with us. He understands it all and weeps tears of empathy and love for us. There is no place of sorrow, no depth of abandonment, no height of unwarranted cruelty and despite where Jesus has not gone and is not walking with us. For this he is named Immanuel.

The Cross is thus also, paradoxically, the revelation of the glory of God. It is the revelation of his love and his mercy and his faithfulness to his creation.

Glory to God!


Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 9 – God All In All

Posted: July 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Hell | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 9 – God All In All

If the Christian vision of ultimate reality does not revolve around a concentration camp in the midst of paradise, what does it then involve? As I discussed earlier in the series, God is seen as everywhere present, filling and sustaining all things. Although that is both the present and future reality, that glory is now veiled. We do not fully or readily perceive the reality of the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

But that will change one day. It’s the tension between Isaiah 6 and Isaiah 11. On the one hand, the world is filled with his glory right now and has been from the beginning of creation. But one day, it will be filled with the full knowledge of the glory. It’s the image we see in Habakkuk 2:14.

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

As the waters cover the sea? My first reaction to that verse was that the waters are the sea, but as I learned more of the ancient Jewish perception of reality, I came to understand that the “sea” stood for chaos and evil. The “monsters” come from the sea. This is the image of God’s healing waters covering and healing a disordered reality as creation, which is already filled with the glory of the Lord, becomes filled with the full knowledge of that glory. We see similar imagery in Revelation when we are presented with the healing streams and are told there is “no more sea.”

If God’s all-sustaining glory is no longer veiled and suffuses all creation, then one thing is immediately apparent. We will all experience exactly the same ultimate reality. The glory of God, the light of God, the love of God will be inescapable. We will understand and perceive God suffusing all creation, even our own bodies. There will be no place we can turn where that will not be true. And if that’s the case, then we can’t speak of some people (or any created being) or places being treated differently from others. It’s not the case that some are punished and others aren’t.

No, the question becomes rather, “How will I experience the fire of God’s love? Will it be warmth and comfort to me? Or will it be a consuming fire?” We will not be tormented because we have been confined somewhere and tortured by some external agent. No, if we are tormented, it will be because we do not want God yet cannot escape his presence.

Or perhaps we will lock ourselves in our own interior world consumed by passions we can no longer express outwardly. I think of the dwarves in C.S. Lewis’ final Narnia book, The Last Battle. Huddled in the midst of a creation made new, with a feast before them, in the very presence of Aslan, they perceive themselves as in a dark, rank stable eating garbage and drinking dirty water. They will not be fooled again and render themselves incapable of sensing the reality around them. They are bound in delusion. I believe we all have the capacity for such delusion within us.

As I said earlier, hell cannot have the same sort of reality that creation – heaven and earth – has. It’s not a place where God is not, for no such place exists. It cannot be a place that is not renewed within creation. “Behold, I make all things new!” proclaims the Lamb. Hell can only be the experience of a renewed creation and of a God of relentless and consuming love by those who do not want either one and are not formed to live within that reality. The seeds of our own hell are within each of us. As the Didache opens, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 15

Posted: May 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

54.  St Paul says that, if we have all the gifts of the Spirit but do not have love, we are no further forward (cf. 1 Cor. 13:2). How assiduous, then, we ought to be in our efforts to acquire this love.

55. If ‘love prevents us from harming our neighbor’ (Rom. 13:10), he who is jealous of his brother or irritated by his reputation, and damages his good name with cheap jibes or in any way spitefully plots against him, is surely alienating himself from love and is guilty in the face of eternal judgment.

56. If love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom. 13:10), he who is full of rancor towards his neighbor and lays traps for him and curses him, exulting in his fall, must surely be a transgressor deserving eternal punishment.

57. If ‘he who speaks evil of his brother, and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law, and judges the law’ (Jas. 4:11), and the law of Christ is love, surely he who speaks evil of Christ’s love falls away from it and is the cause of his own perdition.

The four texts above seem to me to be tied together by a single thread of thought. How do we acquire love? That also seems to me to be a trickier question than we often credit. We seek many gifts, but we do not often seek love, for love always means sacrifice.

We turn from love in small actions usually, not in large, dramatic ways. We think evil of another human being. Perhaps we share our thoughts with another. We might then act to ‘humble’ the other person, even though it is not our place to humble anyone. We set traps to trip each other up.

This approach to life often does not seem any less prevalent to me in Christian communities. Sometimes it seems to be more common there than among communities of friends who are not necessarily (or at all) Christian. Gossip and negative speech seems to rip through the church like wildfire. I’m more out of that loop (by choice as much as by circumstance) than most, but even I catch some of it.

And that brings us to the last text above. When we do such things, we are negatively judging Christ’s love. We turn our backs on that love. We decide that’s not how we want reality to be. And when we do that, we are saying that we don’t want God. On that scale, it doesn’t matter much what we intellectually believe (or think that we believe, anyway). When we refuse to love, we are rejecting God, who is love. We are making ourselves into creatures like the dwarves in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Last Battle. Even in the glory of God revealed as all in all, we will have convinced ourselves that we live in a dark, dirty, and smelly stable. Truly, we are the cause of our own perdition.

I’m as guilty of doing that as anyone I know. In some ways, perhaps I’m worse than most. But I do know that I don’t want to stay in the stable of my delusion.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy.


Amen! Amen!

Posted: February 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

This post is a reflection on something I’ve heard or read a number of times over the past several months from some pretty different sources. Although I wouldn’t say that any aspect of it was something I didn’t know beforehand, it’s been bouncing around my head now for some time. It’s time to express those thoughts in writing.

We know some things about the rabbinic strand of Judaism that began during the exile and continued into the second temple period in which the Christian gospels are rooted. The things we learn about that period historically sometimes cast a particular light on something in the gospels. For instance, there was and is a rabbinic teaching (Berachot 6a) that wherever two or three are gathered together studying Torah, the shekinah of God (the presence and glory of God that, for example, filled Solomon’s temple) is with them. When you understand that teaching, it sheds a deeper light on Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20 (originally written, remember, for a Jewish audience): “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

When a rabbi taught or spoke, those listening would say “Amen” when he finished if they concurred. “Amen” is the transliteration of an aramaic word that means, in essence, “I agree. I accept it.” Those listening to the rabbi would thus give their “amen”, their agreement after the rabbi had spoken.

That becomes significant as you read the accounts of Jesus teaching in the New Testament. Again and again, Jesus starts his teaching with “verily” (KJV), “truly” (many translations), or “I tell you the truth” (a lot of the more modern translations). We’ve gotten so used to it, I’m not even sure we tend to notice the phrase as we read the gospels. The phrase being translated, though, is “Amen” or “Amen Amen”. When Jesus says that at the start of something he is saying, it stands in sharp contract to typical rabbinic practice of the time. Basically, he is not only giving his own “amen” at the start, he is telling those listening that their “amen” is unnecessary. Jesus doesn’t need it. He is saying that his words are truth whether or not the hearers agree. When people said that he did not speak as other teachers did, that he spoke with authority, that’s certainly a part of what they meant.

That can be a difficult concept for me in many ways. Of course, on one level, it’s obvious that if God is who we find in Jesus of Nazareth, then many things we can imagine about the nature of reality are necessarily ruled out. If reality is resurrection, then reincarnation is ruled out. If reality is love and mercy, then at some level we have to let go of our ideas of karmic retribution. If reality is unfailing love, then we have to let go of the capricious gods that have dominated human history. And yet, the idea that reality is a particular way and does not require my “amen” still at some level bothers me. “Everybody wants to rule the world” as they say — or least their little slice of reality.

And, of course, not only does Jesus need no “amen”, not only does he give his own “amen” before he speaks, we see in Revelation that he is even named the Amen. I sense in that name that Jesus is the Amen of man. He is the true man, the faithful man, the man who gave to God his Amen. And as the faithful man, he recapitulates our story, joining our nature once again with God’s. We withheld our “amen” from God. Jesus stands as the Amen of man to God.


Evangelical Is Not Enough 5

Posted: February 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Evangelical Is Not Enough | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Evangelical Is Not Enough 5

Thomas Howard’s fifth chapter is titled: Hail, Blessed Virgin Mary: What Did the Angel Mean? Oddly, to my mind, he uses that introduction to explore how marriage is both a spiritual and physical union in a way that is intertwined and inseparable. He then builds on that to show how the foundation of Christian faith, flowing from the material and earthy sacrifices of Torah, did not become something ethereal and spiritual. No, the origin of our faith lies in a messy gynecological reality of real child-bearing, wombs, and physical birth. The root of our particular faith begins in the mystery of the Incarnation.

I agree with pretty much everything Howard writes as he explores the above in length. But then I’ve never had any bias against honor or reverence toward Mary or, indeed, any of the saints. If what Christianity (and Christ) says about the nature of reality is true, then all of that naturally flows along with it. But I was not shaped as an evangelical. I gather Howard felt it necessary to approach Mary somewhat obliquely, disarming mental traps, rather than tackling the matter directly.

The Christian piety that has been afraid almost to name, much less to hail, the Virgin and to join the the angel Gabriel and Elisabeth in according blessing and exaltation to her is a piety that has impoverished itself. Stalwart for the glory of God alone, it has been afraid to see the amplitude of that glory, which brims and overflows and splashes outward in a surging golden tide, gilding everything that it touches. … A Christian devotion afraid to join the angel of God in hailing the Virgin as highly exalted is a devotion cramped either by ignorance or fear.

I do find that I prefer to emphasize the particular nature of what Mary accomplished through her ‘Yes‘ to God flowing from the ancient title Theotokos (God-Bearer) more than emphasizing her state as Virgin. But neither do I reject or find either one troublesome. I suppose, even after a decade and a half, I still don’t understand that visceral negative reaction by evangelicals.


Constantine and the Church 4 – Church Buildings

Posted: August 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Constantine | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I hadn’t actually planned this post in the series. But a few days ago the Internet Monk had a post on Architecture for the Glory of God and some of the comments in particular caught my eye. It seems like a number of those commenting had this strange idea that churches (the buildings) somehow began with St. Constantine the Great. As I mulled that perspective, I decided this topic fit naturally in the flow of this series.

I think one of the roots of this misunderstanding arises when people read in the text of the New Testament that the Church of Philippi met in the house of Lydia or that a Church met in the house of Philemon or other similar references and without understanding the context in which it was written interpret the references in light of our more modern nuclear family dwellings. This is one of the many places where, if you do not take the time to understand or learn the historical milieu, you will simply read into the text an interpretation that does not match the reality of the experience its words express. The “houses” referenced in the New Testament bear little resemblance to our private nuclear family dwellings today.

Rather, the “houses” mentioned in Scripture would have been households containing multiple families and servants or slaves. It would have also been the center of the business of the household, whatever that business might be. We know, for instance, that Lydia was a seller of purple (which also meant she was quite wealthy). The main entrance to the dwelling would have been into the atrium, like a large courtyard though it would often have been roofed. The water source of the household (well, spring, or cistern) would typically be in the atrium just inside the entrance. At the far end would have been a raised area that served as dining area (accessible to servants from the atrium). A chopping block would typically have been front and center. People would freely enter and exit the atrium over the course of the day to conduct business and, since the dining room was raised and open to the atrium, the head of the household would typically conduct business and oversee the activity from behind the chopping block flanked by the sons and/or the key overseeing servants. In a typical household, one hundred to one hundred and fifty people could easily fit in the atrium.

When a house was converted into a church, the water source served for baptisms when outside living (running) water could not be used. The atrium was where the people gathered. The chopping block became the altar and the dining room became what we would call the nave. The bishop sat in the place of the head of household flanked by his presbyters. Now, if that’s not what comes to your mind when you hear the words “house church”, you are thinking in modern, not ancient terms.

As far as what it looked like? Well, just as the liturgy was modified  from synagogue worship, we know that the interior of ancient churches also looked not dissimilar to synagogues, only with Christian icons and symbols rather than Jewish symbols. There was even a special place for the gospels to be kept similar to the way the Torah is kept in a synagogue. But it would have been as ornate as it could be made, just as synagogues were. Think incense. Listen for the reader chanting scripture (originally from just the Septuagint, but quickly adding the Gospels, and gradually other texts that were “read in Church”) and Psalms and hymns like the cantor does in the synagogue. The “simple” church that some seem to imagine simply never existed in the ancient world. It’s a modern invention.

So what did Constantine actually do? He restored the property (probably mostly households that had been converted into churches) that had been taken from Christians in the latest persecutions and he made Christianity legal so Christians could use or convert public buildings not just private households. And Constantine and his mother Helena (mostly his mother from what I understand) did personally have a few churches built. Obviously they had more resources than just about anyone else so could spend more. But the churches they built still looked essentially like the same sort of church. In fact, that basic design endured everywhere until pews were added in the West in the Middle Ages.

The drastic changes did not really occur until, to some extent, Calvin, and then really in the radical reformation and later. I’ve mentioned that a lot of Protestantism seems very iconoclastic. And that’s true. It’s also true that iconoclasm has its roots in the influence of Islam on Christianity. However, that original iconoclasm focused on actual icons, two-dimensional images of worship (Christ and God) or of reverence (the Theotokos and the saints). Islam held that God could not be portrayed in any way, which Christians held had ceased to be true in the Incarnation. And Islam was also against the depiction of any person. The interplay within Christianity involved emperors, empresses, persecution, and took the final ecumenical to resolve, but was at its core about the Incarnation of Jesus.

However, even mosques were and often still are ornate and beautiful. Ancient iconoclasm was not against beauty and art. No Abrahamic religion adopted such a broad iconoclasm, almost a denial of the value of the material reality, until modern Protestantism. Ugliness in architecture, plainness in clothing, and a stark lack of adornment are an extreme soul-crushing form of iconoclasm. I’m glad I wasn’t among those raised to believe that was either normal or good. Because it’s neither.

And that’s not Constantine’s fault.