Sunday, February 4, 2018

Review: Constantine the Great by John Firth

Constantine the Great
This is not your standard biography of Constantine the Great. It is in fact the story of the reigns of four men of different characters and religious persuasions at the height of the religious persecutions and manias in the Roman world in the 4th Century.

For those with an interest into how why the world was stale and how Christianity was adopted by Constantine and became the "state" religion, then this is for you. It is an academic religious history that is wholly readable for both amateur and scholar alike. The reigns of the Roman Emperors at the height of the drama are put into context with the subject matter at hand - which those looking for a straight up biography of Constantine may fine a little dry.

What I found fascinating was that Firth also debunks some of the mythology surrounding Constantine, including the famous "donation", and we discover " ... a man easily swayed by a strong-minded woman ...." - his wife Fausta, his mother Helena, and half-sister Constantia. And here I was hooked! My fascination with historical women kicked into overdrive - I especially love this description of the women: ".... these great ladies move in shadowy outline across the stage; we can scarcely distinguish their features or form, but we think we can see their handiwork, most unmistakably in the appalling tragedies which we now have to narrate ..." (referring to the death of Crispus and Fausta c326AD). One wonders how Constantine ever managed to be called "the Great".

Christianity began its life as an heretical school of thought and belief. So just how, out of all this schism and strife, did Christianity manage to triumph. Firth gives us a hint with his statement that Christianity triumphed because " ... the world had grown stale ..."

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