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St. Constantine?
Question from Jeff on 07-08-2002:
I was wondering why certain Eastern churches venerate Constantine as a saint. Even though I respect this practice and am in agreement with the title of "Great" I consider some of his murderous and bloody attributes to seem ... un-saint like? God bless you.
Answer by Anthony Dragani on 07-17-2002:
Jeff,

St. Constantine is venerated in numerous Eastern Churches, including the Byzantine Catholic Church. To accuse him of having "murderous and bloody attributes" is to be thoroughly anachronistic. Although he was a Roman Emperor, he still had to function within the confines of Roman civil law. While he made many valiant attempts to reform this law, he could not have been expected to completely abolish its harsher attributes, such as capital punishment.

This was the crux of the matter. As Roman Emperor, he was obliged to enforce Roman civil law. Thus, he was required to give his assent to capital punishment, especially for those found guilty of treason. This was a duty that he could have only escaped by resigning as emperor. Those individuals executed during Constantine's reign were all found guilty of treason, and were required by law to suffer capital punishment. Unfortunately some of Constantine's own family members attempted treason against the Empire, and therefore were executed. As emperor, Constantine was bound to enforce the law equally for all persons, and would have been accused of "playing favorites" if he had intervened to save these relatives. Thus, in order to maintain stability in the government he allowed these unfortunate executions to occur.

As recorded by several ancient historians, Constantine himself lived a life of great piety and devotion. He spent large amounts of time in prayer daily, and did a great deal to help the poor. To denounce him as being a "murderer" for enforcing Roman civil law, which required capital punishment for traitors, is to be unjust. At that time Catholic teaching against capital punishment was far from being clearly articulated, and we should not judge him by the standards of our modern era.

An analogous situation would be that of the many saintly and holy Popes who lived during the medieval era, yet gave their assent to the common practice of executing heretics. Should we also denounce these holy pontiffs based on our modern standards? To do so would be unfair and anachronistic.

God Bless, Anthony


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