Constantine the Great, Emperor of the Roman Empire from about 312 BC, converted to Christianity supposedly after his mother, a woman who came to be known for her acts of charity, became a Christian. The picture above is of Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, available for viewing at the Cincinnati Museum of Art.
Consequent on his conversion to Christianity, Constantine took upon himself the fight against persecutors of Christians, resulting in defeat and execution of the persecuting Emperor about 327 AD. Christianity subsequently became official religion of the Roman Empire, with caveat people who chose not to be Christians were, by edict of Constantine Himself, not to be persecuted. Christians chose the high road of accommodation, tolerance for people’s right to choose what to believe, a principle deeply embedded in teachings of Jesus Christ. Note tolerance was not for immorality, but for right to choose a god in whom to believe. In presence of some resistance to living of Christian lives by leading citizens of Rome, Constantine went on to found Constantinople, a city which would become seat of the Eastern Roman Empire, wonder of the world for about a thousand years, a civilization founded on principles of Christian morality.
Is it possible Constantine could have become a Christian if he did not witness any reality of same conversion in his mother? Is it possible Constantine’s conversion cannot be dissociated from reality of character change he witnessed in his mother subsequent to her conversion? St. Helena supposedly discovered remnants of the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified (I do not say I believe or do not believe this, I simply state the attestation, not my conviction). Constantine the Great had images of the cross of Jesus Christ tattooed on his soldier’s shields in preparation for battle. Seems more than a coincidence.
Much like St. Helena, Christians walk a line. When people claim to be Christians, under assumption of correct understanding of what it means to love, society sometimes becomes overly and wrongly critical of actions of Christians. Non-Christians sometimes expect Christians to be absolutely perfect. Christians, however, are not called to be absolutely perfect in sense of never making any mistakes. Christians on the contrary are called to be perfect in love — that is, are called never to depart from love as basis for their actions. The calling is for Christians never to descend into hatred in course of interactions with others. It is important to note here that absence of hatred does not imply lack of interest in justice — just actions never can be encased in hatred. Love, however, is fertile ground for actions that are kind and just, actions that are right, actions that are righteous.
That being said, Christians ought to take more seriously the fact that character of Christians — commitment to love in actions — is the most convincing evidence of a resurrected, living, eternal Lord and Savior. If Jesus died so we can be saved from our sins, overcome our sins, then be fully reconciled to the Creator God — His Father, our Father — Christians’ capacity for maintaining love as foundation of actions is a litmus test for reality of Jesus in everyday life.
But is love not weak? No I say. Love is capable of introducing the death penalty for perversions that hurt other people such as, molestation of children, murder, and adultery (society never should put to death a man for accusation of rape in cases where two people were dating, and a woman voluntarily invited the man she is dating into her house; if the woman only wants to kiss, an invitation inside is unnecessary; if the woman only wants to make out, but does not want to have sex, she needs another woman not a man; the point is, if men regard an invitation into a woman’s home as signal of interest in sexual intimacy, women need to take this into consideration; if women expect men to be able to stop once they say ‘stop’ what then exactly is the point of making out? If foreplay is accepted as precursor to or preparation for sex, what is the point of foreplay not intended to mature into sex?).
How do I know love is not weak? God is love, and yet these were His standards of love.
But is Love not then too harsh? Well, love has as foundational principle that stealing only requires restitution for full forgiveness, the premise being people only steal out of desperation — no jail time for stealing or any other offence for that matter. If two men got into an argument in a club over a woman, with both never having known each other previously, and one died, the other had to live in a specified closest city for 7 years, then subsequently was free to resume his life anywhere. While the closest specified city could be regarded as a ‘big jail’, the difference is this man lived the same daily life, and continued to work in his profession just like anyone else in that city. The only difference? While people living in the city by choice could travel out of the city at will, he could not travel out of the city until 7 years had elapsed. The love principle? While manslaughter must be regarded to be a costly mistake, it does not suffice for negation of the life purpose of a person who has made a mistake.
The Christian notion of love is neither weak nor harsh. It is balanced. Death for adultery, murder, or molestation of a child were predicated on the notion that people who did such things had succumbed to spiritual forces in need of elimination from society. Kindness and justice for manslaughter, on the other hand, predicated on the notion that a mistake ought not to be eternally destructive. Christian love is filled with laws guaranteeing second chances for those who make mistakes.
So then, am I advocating the principles or the minutiae? Obviously the principle. It is difficult to motivate the death penalty for raping of a child in a society which believes the action springs from chemical imbalances, not spiritual forces wrecking havoc on people’s minds. Justice cannot be reflective of beliefs people do not hold to be true.
Love at the end of the day is a principle, a principle whose minutiae and applications are adaptable to every time, context, and society. But then again, if society believes love is weak, love never will become essence of entire society.