The Separation of Church & State Defended: Selected Writings of James E. Wood, Jr.

By Derek H. Davis; James E. Wood Jr. | Go to book overview

The Christian State

For more than sixteen centuries, concern for the Christian state has characterized a large part of the Christian community. Even when not actualized by political decree or alliance, the Christian state has generally remained the ultimate goal of institutional Christianity and an important part of its mission. Most of Europe became Christian through the espousal of the faith by kings and rulers who thereby proclaimed their territories as Christian kingdoms.

Although Christianity had its beginning in a hostile world, in which there was not only separation of the Christian church from the state, but open conflict and hostility as well, by A.D. 313 Christianity had become the espoused faith of the Roman Emperor Constantine. No longer a religio illicita, it became a religio licita, and allied with the greatest military and political power of the ancient world. Not only was the character of Christianity profoundly changed by the Edict of Milan, but there emerged a new attitude of the church toward the state, which in turn altered the entire outlook of the church toward culture, society, and other faiths. Once the persecuted faith, then tolerated, Christianity gradually became by A.D. 346 the persecutor of rival faiths within the Roman Empire. Non- Christian temples were closed or destroyed and the death penalty was imposed upon those who continued to offer sacrifices to pagan gods.

The concept of the Christian state found classic expression in the corpus christianum of Christendom, which under various names and guises has remained the goal of many zealous Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, who would seek to

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