Good discussion on Start the Week this morning on the radio- a kind of ‘anti Xmas’ antidote.
The discussion was kicked off by Giles Fraser, former Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral (remember Occupy-London-Gate?) who suggested that the Christian Christmas was invented by the Emperor Constantine for political, not religious, reasons. It was Constantine that started to raise buildings in celebration of the holy sites such as the supposed place of Christ’s birth.
Constantine has a mixed reputation to say the least. He is regarded by some as a Saint, whose conversion to Christianity resulted in the inherited culture of faith that we in the west still stand upon. He was a saint, however, who also boiled his wife alive in her bath, and ruled by the sword and the dagger.
And there is another way to understand the influence of Constantine- which is to see his combination of church and state as the beginning of the time when the followers of Jesus were swallowed by Empire.
A time which gave us the Nicene Creed– which takes us straight from his birth to his death, with no mention of the messy teaching in between. Jesus fulfils a function of state- making way for Empire.
And a millennia and a half later, we still try to disentangle it all.
How it is that we came to believe that followers of Jesus can live so comfortably within an Empire that encapsulates everything that he encouraged us to move away from? An Empire that promotes wealth, power and conquest above all else? That defends the strong against the weak? That exists to ensure that some people remain poor, whilst others have far too much.
It is a paradox never more obvious than around Christmas time…