Dreams of Empire: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Dreams of Empire
As a church historian specializing in the fourth century of the Christian era, I’ve had to deal with two eras that are noticeably different. One is the pre-Constantinian Church and the other is, of course, the imperial Constantinian Church. While my work has mainly been on the development of doctrine during this era, it has, of necessity, had to take account of the different attitudes of leading Christian figures toward imperial authority as it evolved over the course of more than a century.
Some in this era whole-heartedly embraced the idea of a church that was under the protection and patronage of the emperor. Others insisted upon a more neutral approach in which the church was not persecuted by the state, but neither was it given a privileged position. Still others, such as the Desert Fathers and Mothers, rejected any claims by society at large (including the emperor) on the faith or practice of Christian believers.
Over the course of 2000 years believers have, in the main, shifted and fluctuated between these three positions.
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, of course, has aligned himself and the Russian Orthodox Church with the imperialist ambitions of the Russian Federation and its president, Vladimir Putin. While it is tempting simply to see this as a Russian expression of a Christian nationalism similar to what we have witnessed in our own country, we might be missing the scope of Kirill’s ambitions for the hegemony of the Russian church in the Orthodox world. What we are witnessing, in terms of Christian history, is an attempt to return to the model of an imperial church first seen in the fourth century. It should, however, be noted that this model is not accepted by either the Ecumenical Patriarch or the vast majority of autocephalous Orthodox Churches worldwide and especially the Orthodox churches of Ukraine. Nonetheless, as Patriarch of Moscow, the “Third Rome”, we need have no doubt that Kirill harbors dreams of empire that are as real to him as the vision of a restored caliphate was to ISIS fighters in the Middle East.
The desire for power with attendant political and cultural sway is not, of course, limited to Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church. When Kirill makes the assessment that Western society and culture is corrupt, many Christians in the West might agree. Indeed, there are those in the West who nostalgically long for some form of Christendom, whether defined as the Roman-centric society of the high middle ages, or Reformed Geneva, or the American civil religion of the 1950s. Yet, these also are dreams of empire.
It seems to me that through the centuries we have all too often failed to take seriously the words of Jesus before Pilate that his kingdom is “not of this world”. He went on to specifically state that if his kingdom was of this world, his followers would have taken up arms to prevent his arrest, but they did not, because his kingdom was not an earthly realm. Instead, his rule is exercised in individual lives and collectively in the life of the Christian community. When, however, we seek to extend that rule to society at large whether by law or by force, it becomes, by definition, coercive. All this is to say, that the Christian values embodied in Christ’s kingdom cannot be imposed by force or legislation, nor can they be married to national politics, much less dreams of empire.
Christendom is gone with all that it produced, both good and bad. It will not be reestablished by territorial wars, or by the fusing of partisan politics and faith. If you are looking for the establishment of Christ’s kingdom, it begins with us…
My understanding of Russian history is that the relationship between the tsar and the church is one of the things that doomed the standing government when Lenin launched his revolution. It’s interesting that Putin would think that this relationship is worth cultivating. It makes me think that he will not need to be re-elected into office ever again. He willbe the new “tsar.” Whether or not he can establish a dynasty remains to be seen.
Dreams of empire require enemies of empire that must be conquered…and the result is always anti-Christ in nature…
If this conflict continues, it will almost have to result in a major schism of the Orthodox church, right?
There is already a “minor schism” but it is likely to to become deeper and, perhaps, more permanent…
Christ’s kingdom operates on polar opposite values of human kingdoms…and is not of much interest to those who want to manifest political power…
I wonder how long it will take for all the current teachings extolling American Christendom to bear the fruit of civil war…because the first enemy to be defeated will have to be the neighbor…
Now…there are theological considerations here.
Was Jesus saying thatHis kingdom was only “spiritual”…or was he saying that His kingdom does not have its origins here?
The kingdom of God is not spiritual rather it is “in the Spirit.” Only Pentecost allowed the rule of God to be transformed from stone to flesh. I think Michael has something with regard to the kingdom not originating here or being ‘of the stuff’ of our kingdoms.
But eschatology is the issue of the kingdom. Is the kingdom present and increasing in the Holy Spirit? Is the kingdom a future reign as per at least three schools of thought with a futuristic Jesus monarchy? Is the kingdom as the post millennials tell us …the increase of his government?
We endlessly debate and by not talking over our own conceptual assumptions about kingdom we often talk past one another.
The kingdom is Incarnational…. it takes flesh in us.
It is hard to parse these things.
I do not see evidence that the kingdom of God is growing…but I do believe it’s here in some fashion and will come in it’s fullness.
It is Incarnational…but some day the Incarnate One will come…
Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
The Kingdom is Jesus.
Concerning empire … there is lots to notice as well. Apparently, massive christian expansion and some form of nationalism can go hand in hand. It is demonstrable that South Korea’s fast church expansion came during a spate of powerful nationalism in post WWII and the Korean War. Zionism is definitionally nationalism and is, I think the mother of our brand of nationalism and they both blossomed together in the 19th and 20th centuries. Most Christian zionists have strong American nationalist tendencies and the era of church growth in evangelical churches was rather overtly nationalistic.
Post Cold War Russian nationalism and the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox church are feeding one another as noted already… and the Orthodox church reasserted its hegemony over all other Christian expression in the last 20 years. I am sure more examples are available.
There is something of a kinship of these nationalistic and religious impulses.
It precedes all that even to the Reformation…when the German and Swiss city-states combined the two…
It never ends well…
AMEN ! ! !
…And his reign over us.
I am reminded of the Holy Roman Empire, which was neither “holy” nor “Roman”, nor in the end, an “empire”…. A reminder not to confuse the City of Man with the City of God.
Probably a good explanation for how we end up with a Christless Christianity.
Most certainly true. Schweitzer might have been right when he said that Christ comes among us as one unknown…
The Spanish conquest of Latin America was done in the name of God and the Catholic Church, although there was also a lot of land and gold involved. The conquistadores really thought that they were doing God’s work as they took over native lands and forced them to convert to Christianity. People were “converted” during mass baptisms where priests sprinkled holy water on large crowds of people who didn’t even understand Spanish. It’s known as the Leyenda Negra (Black Legend) in Spanish-speaking countries.
What happened in many indigenous communities was syncretism-actual pagan practices being incorporated into Catholic rituals. Day of the Dead (Días de los Muertos) is one such example. Aztec and Mayan cultures welcomed back their departed during their fall harvest festivals. It fit in well with the whole idea of All Saints Day, and syncretistic holiday was born.
Nostalgia, to often focuses chiefly on the positive things at the discount of the negatives, which at many times negated and outweighed what is viewed as the ‘positive’. It is a dangerous lie that sees us ignoring the bad things that happened and we all know what can happen when history is forgotten or ignored.
“it never ends well” I agree that every expression of faith in government has ultimately come to a beastly outcome… (Re 13) but ‘ends’ is a strange term… what happens is Christianity reshapes itself into whatever new government expression is at hand. Silly generalizations get made like the canard about persecution — frankly it seems that whatever gets persecuted eventual ascends to become the persecutor.
Meanwhile … what is it about your current affiliation that you find attractive per church/state? It hardly has its own unvarnished beauty. I refer to Anglicanism. And … it is simply a tepid state religion in its motherland with impotent evangel.
Populist Christianity … runs wild, grows wild, becomes oppressive in its own ways… and grows cold and dead.
It seems to me we are all searching for vibrant kingdom theology of the sort that was birthed in the Spirit but … it must be expressed … it must be taught
Augustine must be updated and modified… Duane… there’s a project…
Like Augustine, we have all become neo-Platonists. Our adherence is to the Platonic ideal of Anglicanism, evangelicalism, the charismatic movement, etc., even when we do not see the reality of that ideal among us. Our hope is that the reality of that ideal exists, even if we do not see it or experience it in our own lives…
Well said…we also have to keep that ideal alive until some choose to implement it…
As Duane said, it’s the ideal of Anglicanism with it’s profound liturgy and worship, its theological openness and its commitment to Incarnation theology that holds me.
I could not care less about its relationship to any government.
Write something divorcing the platonism — I agree but as we see Orthodoxy is not immune despite its rejection of the philosophical foundations …
But what remains? Deconstruction is easy. What can we establish?
Are we to be separatist?
I think we actually know what Church looks like (see the series I did on ‘Finding Church’). The problem is that it is counter-cultural and apolitical…
As to being ‘separatist’, I think that is just the reality given our current culture…
My personal conviction is that the church needs to be much more about being the church (feeding the flock, evangelizing the lost, works of mercy, etc) then it needs to be about building a kingdom on earth. Every time the church does that (the most recent being the the last presidency), the whole process comes back to bite it in the butt.
At no point have I advocated kingdom building by the body politic. I do advocate Kingdom expansion via proclamation and demonstration Of Christ. But we are ‘on earth’ and pray for His kingdom as ‘in heaven’ a rule of Christ by his almighty love.
Speaking of Empire, Walter Brueggemann’s take……
Very good link…
The argument about the nature of the Kingdom is where I feel like an orphan. I Actualy wonder sometimes if my ideas are unique to me. I believe it to be this:
The Kingdom of God is divided into two separate, and detached Worlds. Heaven (plural) above, the Universe below. (Universe/Cosmos/Earth are normally interchangeable names)
Heaven has revolted against God in the matter of God’s administration of his Kingdom.The Satan, the Anointed Cherub, has openly condemned God, with the support of the Sons of God in agreement. Taken together, Father, Son, Spirit and Sons of God, constitute The God Head. The God Head is at war with itself.
These same Sons of God where appointed as Princes over mankind, in mankind’s original divisions. The Satan was involved in the original creation of our lower World. He is the God of this World, and is involved with the daily oversight of all matter, and the all mankind. This collective authority can not be revoked. They can only be killed and replaced, which God will attempt to do.
The Satan likewise will attempt the destruction of the opposing Three, and at a later point, mankind. He is assembling the resources to strike at God. Overlooked in the second summary of the Creationism, was the mention of two host, or armies. This has not been mentally grasped at it implications.
That is the basis for all subsequent history as I see it.
Without addressing each point, this reminds me of second century Gnosticism combined with a Manichee cosmology… Just sayin’…
Nailed it, apparently.
Well Duane, I actualy can’t recall what Manichee Cosmology was. I’ve scimmed through accounts and had a general idea of it feeling like recycled good/bad spirits with a Jewish influence. Jewish Mysticism comes to mind. There does appear to be quite the resurgence of Common Era Mysticism along with Chaldean and Canaanite concepts today. Micheal Heiser comes to mind, but also Charasmatics appear to be adopting a mystical Cosmology.
I would say my concept a a Two World reality is the opposite of Gnosticism. It specifically rejects secret acquired knowledge. It does however assume technology would increase in latter history. Prior to the beginning of the 1900’s, no doctrine incorporated actual workings or mechanics of our World. In my personal childhood, science was rejected.
I am comfortable with discovery overuling doctrine, if doctrine is found to be false. I also understand the difficulty in letting doctrine drop away. I think here of the Heliocentric Model. I believe it was a crime, or such to promote it over the orthodox Geo-Centric understanding. I don’t believe the Vatican formally dropped its stance till the 1800’s.
In this example, its not that the Scriptures where wrong, only the interpretation.
With respect, I’ll stick with my analysis above…
I can assure you that this view is unique to you.
I feel special today.
“Taken together, Father, Son, Spirit and Sons of God, constitute The God Head. The God Head is at war with itself.” ???
“The Satan was involved in the original creation of our lower World. He is the God of this World, and is involved with the daily oversight of all matter, and the all mankind. This collective authority can not be revoked. They can only be killed and replaced, which God will attempt to do.” ???
Priddis — I don’t see this stuff in Heiser though he does have some novel views —and cannot think that you intended to say the Godhead is at war with itself?
Like that theologian, Lucy, “You got some ‘splainin’ to do.
I searched the books of Heiser in my library and find a great interest in the Godhead, I did not find an instance of it referring to anything other than the persons of the Trinity. Perhaps you have something I have not seen. That would interest me in that Heiser has had a good bit of my interest and that would seem to be a heterodox option…. or worse as Duane points out.
BD. What details Heiser holds to regarding items such as Trinity, or Godhead, I don’t know. I’ve never even read his books. What I can speak to are the substantial hours of video content online. Michael Heiser describing, in his own words, his ideas.
My view of Heiser is this: We both have a type of Fundamentalism in our backgrounds. We both noticed gaps in traditions big enough to drive a truck through. These gaps are centered on the text saying things, that can’t be answered by doctrine.
There are some initial areas where we agree. First to mind are concepts like Elohim/Sons of God, a rebellion and hat he calls The Divine Council. This last item would basically be a synonym for Godhead by any other name.
In summary, I feel we have very divergent concepts. The devils in the details so to speak. I am opposed to his reliance on certain ancient sources, and he appears opposed to my placing importance on the underlying physics of our Universe. This is a gigantic difference.
He has mentioned “astro-theology.” I don’t know what that means. I accept what Genesis says regarding the stars being for signs, etc. I associate mention of the Signs with MANY portions of text. An easy one is Romans1.
Ironically, Rom 1:20 is the only use of Godhead. This is the source of my personal use btw.
Hetrodox? Hmm. Well I asked Duane quite some time ago regarding Augustine’s views on the Signs. I think Duane answered to the effect Augustine rejected anything associated with Manichee.
I recall him associating anything astrological with idolatry.
I would guess both Heiser and I would have been put to death in any era after circa 400AD. Likely even closer to Nicea. But it doesn’t really matter. Daniel was told ….”many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” Both are terrifying thoughts with nothing to do with esoteric blather.