The advent of the church building brought significant changes to Christian worship. Because the emperor was the number one "layperson" in the church, a simple ceremony was not sufficient. In order to honor him, the pomp and ritual of the imperial court was incorporated into the Christian liturgy.'"
It was the custom of the Roman emperors to have lights carried before them whenever they appeared in public. The lights were accompanied by a basin of fire filled with aromatic spices.103 Taking his cue from this custom, Constantine introduced candles and the burning of incense as part of the church service. And they were brought in when the clergy entered the room.'
Under Constantine's reign, the clergy, who had first worn every-
Grant, Early Christianity and Society, 155. 11,1 Norman, House of God, 23-24.
■' Hinson, "Worshiping Like Pagans?" 19. Gregory the Great (540-604) was the first to prescribe the use of holy water and Christian relics to purify pagan temples for Christian use. Bede, A History of the Christian Church and People, trans. Leo Sherley-Price (New York: Dorset Press, 1985), 86-87 (bk. 1, chapter 30). These pages contain instructions from Gregory the Great on how pagan temples were to be sanctified for Christian use. See also John Mark Terry, Evangelism: A Concise History (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1994), 48-50; Davies, Secular Use of Church Buildings, 251.
Hinson, "Worshiping Like Pagans?" 20; White, Protestant Worship and Church Architecture, 56. Jungmann, Early Liturgy, 132.
Richard Krautheimer, Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture (London: Penguin Books, 1986), 40-41. Krautheimer gives a vivid description of the parallels between the Roman imperial service and the Christian liturgy under Constantine.
day clothes, began dressing in special garments. What were those special clothes? They were the garments of Roman officials. Further, various gestures of respect toward the clergy, comparable to those used to honor Roman officials, were introduced in the church.103
The Roman custom of beginning a service with processional music was adopted as well. For this purpose, choirs were developed and brought into the Christian church. (See chapter 7 for more on the origin of the choir.) Worship became more professional, dramatic, and ceremonial.
All of these features were borrowed from the Greco-Roman culture and carried straight into the Christian church."' Fourth-century Christianity was being profoundly shaped by Greek paganism and Roman imperialism.'" The upshot of it all was that there was a loss of intimacy and open participation. The professional clergy performed the acts of worship while the laity looked on as spectators.'"
As one Catholic scholar wrote, with the coming of Constantine "various customs of ancient Roman culture flowed into the Christian liturgy . . . even the ceremonies involved in the ancient worship of the emperor as a deity found their way into the church's worship, only in their secularized form."' °
Constantine brought peace for all Christians.'" Under his reign, the Christian faith had become legitimate. In fact, it had risen to a status greater than Judaism and paganism."1
For these reasons, the Christians saw Constantine's rise to emperor as an act of God. Here was God's instrument who had come
Jungmann, Early Liturgy, 129-133, Gonzalez, Story of Christianity, 125.
Kenneth Scott Latourette traces the strong influence of Greco-Roman paganism into the Christian faith in his book A History of Christianity, 201-218.
White, Protestant Worship and Church Architecture, 56. Jungmann, Early Liturgy, 130,133. ■Historians call the period of Constantine's reign "the Peace." The Peace actually came with the Edict of Galerian (also called the Edict of Toleration) in AD 311. It was then popularized by the Edict of Milan in AD 313. These edicts stopped Diocletian's vicious persecution of the Christians that was launched in AD 303. Just eleven years after the Edict of Milan, Constantine, the first Christian emperor, became sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Gonzalez, Story of Christianity 106-107, Durant, Caesar and Christ, 655. Adolf von Harnack estimates that there were three to four million Christians in the Empire at the beginning of Constantine's reign. Mission and Expansion of Christianity, 325. Others estimate it was only 4 or 5 percent of the Empire's population. Taylor, Christians and Holy Places, 298.
to their rescue. Christianity and Roman culture were now melded together.'"
The Christian building demonstrates that the church, whether she wanted it or not, had entered into a close alliance with pagan culture.' As Will Durant, author of The Story ofCivilization (a sweeping, eleven-volume work on world history that earned him a Pulitzer Prize), put it, "Pagan isles remained in the spreading Christian sea."' This was a tragic shift from the primitive simplicity that the church of Jesus Christ first knew.
The first-century Christians were opposed to the world's systems and avoided any contact with paganism. This all changed during the fourth century when the church emerged as a public institution in the world and began to "absorb and Christianize pagan religious ideas and practices."' As one historian put it, "Church buildings took the place of temples; church endowments replaced temple lands and funds."' Under Constantine, tax exempt status was granted for all church property.'"
Consequently, the story of the church building is the sad saga of Christianity borrowing from heathen culture and radically transforming the face of our faith.''' To put it bluntly, the church buildings of the Constantinian and post-Constantinian era essentially became holy shrines. 119 The Christians embraced the concept of the physical temple. They imbibed the pagan idea that there exists a special place where God dwells in a special way. And that place is made "with hands
As with other pagan customs that were absorbed into the Christian faith (such as the liturgy, the sermon , clerical vestments, and hierarchical leadership structure), third- and fourth-century Christians
Johnson, History of Christianity, 126; Hinson, "Worshiping Like Pagans?" 19.
Jungmann, Early Liturgy, 123.
Will Durant, The Age of Faith (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950). 8.
Bradshaw, Search for the Origins of Christian Worship, 65.
Grant, Early Christianity and Society, 163.
Durant, Caesar and Christ, 656.
"Inside Pagan Worship" Christian History 12, no. 1 (1993): 20.
Turner, From Temple to Meeting House, 167, 180. Constantine built Christian shrines at the sites of biblical-historical locations (Fox,
Pagans and Christians, 674).
Contrast this with Mark 14:58; Acts 7:48; 2 Corinthians 5:1; Hebrews 9:11; and Hebrews 9:24.
incorrectly attributed the origin of the church building to the Old Testament."' But this was misguided thinking.
The church building was borrowed from pagan culture. "Dignified and sacramental ritual had entered the church services by way of the mysteries [the pagan cults], and was justified, like so many other things, by reference to the Old Testament."'
To use the Old Testament as a justification for the church building is not only inaccurate, but it is self-defeating. The old Mosaic economy of sacred priests, sacred buildings, sacred rituals, and sacred objects has been forever destroyed by the cross of Jesus Christ. In addition, it has been replaced by a nonhierarchical, nonritualistic, nonliturgical organism called the ekklesia (church)."
Was this article helpful?