Second in a Series on the Church in Politics

If we could ask a Christian of the fourth century what he thought of the problem of church and state, he would likely reply, “What problem? There used to be one, but there just isn’t any more, and there never will be one again!”

At last the years of anxiety, persecution, and suffering were over: the emperor himself had become a Christian! God had heard the prayers of the martyrs, and now the hand of God could be seen clearly. Surely the raising up of the Emperor Constantine, and all his military and political successes, pointed to a new era of divine blessing.

Indeed, the emperor thought so himself, and he set about to be an active, thankful instrument of God’s providence. He began to return the church property that had been confiscated during the persecutions.

In Africa, however, problems arose immediately. Here there were two competing churches: the rigorous Donatists, whose refusal to compromise with the pagan state in the past had entitled them, they were certain, to regard themselves as the only true Christians; and the more relaxed “Catholics,” who believed in ignoring the records of Christians in the old days of persecution as much as possible. When the state gave the property to the “Catholics,” the Donatists protested. When a church council ruled against them, they petitioned the emperor for another one. And when the outcome was the same, they appealed directly to the emperor, asking the state to overrule the church! Again they lost, this time before the imperial supreme court. Still the Donatists refused to yield and be reconciled to the rest of the church.

Unfortunately, now that the status of his court had been ignored, Constantine thought it necessary to use force in carrying ...

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