Constantine on Freedom of Worship

Universality of outlook is a feature not only of Hinduism and its offshoot of Buddhism, but of all pagan religions. And this is not merely theoretical. To see this point, it is helpful to look at the Edict of Milan signed in AD 326 between Emperor Constantine and his eastern rival Licinius:

37 Ram Swamp, Pope John Paul II on Eastern Religion and Yoga: A Hindu-Buddhist Rejoinder, New Delhi, Voice of India, 1995. p. 48. The central ideas expressed in this chapter owe a great deal to Ram Swarup's seminal thoughts.

We have long considered that freedom of worship should not be denied. Rather, each man's thoughts and desire should be granted him, enabling him to have regard for spiritual things as he himself may choose. This is why we have given orders that everyone should be allowed to have his own beliefs and worship as he wishes. (de Rosa p. 49)

This is a typically pagan view that should gladden the heart of any Hindu sage. Incidentally, it is incorrect to say that Constantine established Christianity as the state religion. He simply extended recognition to Christianity as another religion at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. He never ceased being a pagan or stopped using the title Pontifex Maximus as the head of Rome's pagan religion. His so-called conversion was simply acceptance of Christianity as another path - a typically pagan pluralistic way of looking at the world. The very fact that he signed the Edict of Milan the year after the Council of Nicea shows that he continued being a pluralist, regarding Christianity as simply another path. Christian propagandists have made much of it to buttress their claim over both religious and secular authority. This claim, however, rests on a forged document known as the 'Donation of Constantine'. (See Chapter 8.)

More interestingly, it is illuminating to contrast this breadth of vision shown in the Edict of Milan with the reaction of Pope Innocent X to the Peace of Westphalia thirteen centuries later. In 1648, the Peace of Westphalia proclaimed: Citizens whose religion differs from that of their sovereign are to have equal rights with other citizens.' Pope Innocent X protested vehemently claiming that granting of religious tolerance was 'un-Christian, pernicious, insane and no different from atheism.' (de Rosa, ibid.)

Peter de Rosa makes the observation that no document in Church history is as tolerant, as generous or as wise as the Edict of Milan 'composed by two blood-thirsty warriors'. But of course, no mere kingly warrior like Constantine can ever hope to compete with religious warriors like the Popes in their appetite for blood.

I have found it worthwhile to devote some space to explaining these basic concepts of exclusivism and pluralism; without an understanding of the exclusivism that lies at the heart of Christianity (and Islam), and lies also at the bottom of the fear of enquiry which the Church has always displayed, one cannot truly understand its past history or its present crisis. If the Church can somehow drop its doctrinal exclusivity and become pluralistic, it may be able to weather the crisis brought on by the Dead Sea Scrolls. But a pluralistic Church is a contradiction of terms. It is for this reason - intolerance of pluralism and diversity - that intellectuals in the West have rejected Christianity.

Most Western liberals having known nothing but exclusivist creeds have unconsciously assumed religion to be at fault for their troubled history; they have no notion of any religion that is not also a theocracy. For this reason, liberal humanists in the West have been anti-religion rather than anti-exclusivist - for they know not the difference. They equate religion with scriptural authority enforced by an often tyrannical clergy. They would do well to study non-dogmatic Eastern religions, and study also their own ancient pagan traditions like those of Greece. They will then be able to recognize that the culprit and the cause of their terrible history is not religion, but an exclusivist doctrine thrust upon them by God-substitutes. This is what made intellectuals of the Age of Enlightenment like Voltaire and Jefferson look to Greece and reject revelatory claims.38

38 This helps account for the fact that Hindus and Buddhists do not find it necessary to reject religion altogether when they study science. They find no conflict between their dogma-free empirical approach to

The authoritative source of exclusivism - of both Christianity and Islam - can be traced to the Bible. (The Qu'ran is little more than an idiosyncratic adaptation of the Bible in Arabic.) The seeds of this exclusivism - or 'Semitic exclusiveness' as it is often called - can therefore be traced to Judaism. Thus, to understand the evolution of Christian doctrine, and the history of the Church, we need briefly to review the history of Judaism in the centuries leading to the birth of Christianity. It is surprising but true that most Christians are unaware of the fact that Christianity was born in the cauldron of discontent that led to the First Jewish War. That is where we need to look - in the centuries leading to the First Jewish War - to understand the birth of Christianity. The Dead Sea Scrolls are very much a part of the same historical and social milieu.

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