Liberty, Dominion and the Two Swords: On the Origins of Western Political Theology (180-398)
McGowan, Andrew, Anglican Theological Review
Liberty, Dominion and the Two Swords: On the Origins of Western Political Theology (180-398). By Lester L. Field, Jr. Publications in Medieval Studies 28. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998. xviii + 542 pp. $95.00 (cloth).
The doctrine of "two swords" is usually understood as a medieval notion of political dualism with patristic roots, specifically the enduring interpretation by Pope Gelasius of Luke 22:38. The most obvious aim of this complex book is to present earlier Christian formulations which emphasize the liberty and autonomy of the Christian Church, particularly in terms of the image of the sword-hence a book whose scope does not extend beyond the fourth century, appearing in a leading medieval studies series.
Yet Lester Field's discussion is hardly narrow in chronological terms, moving from the second-century emergence of a Latin Christian literature to the letters of Pope Siricius, constructing an over-arching vision from various authors and events. The structure is somewhat telescoped, the thirteen chapters arranged in three parts: the first and shortest part ("The Church of the Martyrs") covers the period 180-312 and the earliest Latin Christian references to the language of "the sword," notably but not exclusively in North Africa. Part IT ("The `Constantinian Revolution' (312-374)") moves from religious freedom under Constantine and his successors to focused explorations of Donatism and the figures of Lucifer of Cagliari and Hilary of Poitiers. Last, "The Age of Ambrose" devotes four chapters to the shorter period 374-398.
Much of interest comes along the way. From intriguing niceties such as the correlation between these issues and the greater western acceptance of the dualistic Revelation to John (pp. 140-141), to startling connections between Arian or Nicene Christologies and the politics they supported (e.g., Eudoxius of Constantinople, p. 165), Field shows a deft touch with a large and complex array of evidence.
This scope and learning comes at some cost to the prospective reader. Based on a dissertation, the study is somewhat unusual in form itself. About half of the well over five hundred pages are notes and bibliography. Field usually avoids dealing with historical niceties in the text itself-specific judgments upon which his synthesis depends are usually consigned to the copious notes. The recurring exceptions (e.g., a discussion of imperial coinage, pp. 83-7) are curious and sometimes jarring. Field tends to efface not only his own authorial voice, but also those of the ancient personalities and their opponents; engagement with contemporary scholarship is implied rather than stated. …