46: The Dawn of a New Era

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

Matthew 5:14

Constantine’s triumph in seizing power and the subsequent Edict of Milan transported both Christianity and the world into a new era. The following century would witness the entire collapse of the old Roman Empire and the drawing together of the peoples of Western Europe into the nations that we recognise today. These were decades of change and turmoil which even Rome with its vast armies and wealth could not arrest. Constantine himself recognised that old Rome was finished and that change was unavoidable. It was he who declared Byzantium as the New Rome in 324 AD; it would later be renamed Constantinople in 330 AD and today is known as Istanbul.

During the political turbulence of the 4th and 5th Centuries, however, the Church had a new opportunity to press forward in the world as a result of the impressive new freedoms that Christians now enjoyed. Some of the greatest early Christian theologians ministered during these centuries, men who would influence and shape the thinking of the Church for centuries, to the present day. These are thinkers who are Catholic according to the ancient Biblical use of the term, but who are neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant. It is their proximity to the days of the Apostles , shepherding the flock of God in the post-persecution era, that has given them a special place in the hearts of all of the great traditions of Christianity; Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. I would certainly argue that that they were closer to the spirit of the Protestant Reformation than Roman Catholicism as the office of the Pope had not yet evolved.

Of these leaders, known properly as Church Fathers, three dominate the theological landscape; Athanasius who contended for the doctrine of the Trinity, Jerome who gave the world the Latin Vulgate Scripture and Augustine the North African Bishop whose writings and theology were rediscovered by and had a profound effect upon John Calvin 1,000 years later. Calvin is not the only connection between this age and the Protestant Reformation because Martin Luther belonged to the order of the Augustinians; an order which as a consequence of their champion had just a little light, a sufficient spark to ignite the greatest awakening since Pentecost. This era sowed seeds which would keep truth alive during the coming centuries of darkness.

Augustine, at the close of this turbulent period was the most mature and visionary thinker. In his greatest work “The City of God”, he saw the fall of Rome as symbolic of the collapse of heathenism with the Church of Christ occupying its place at the spiritual city, which was Daniel’s stone cut out without hands that would fill the whole earth. In the words of Philip Schaff, this City of God breathes “into wasting humanity an imperishable divine life.”

The church leaders in this age of war and bloodshed with unstoppable movements of people and transfers of power, increasingly saw themselves as representatives of truth that was unchanging; they were truly as a city set upon a hill – as we continue to be today.

Zion, the city of our God,
How glorious is the place!
The Saviour there has his abode,
And saints will see his face.

John Newton

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