The Distance Shall Never Be Overcome— Sep 21, 2011
This edition of my church fathers paraphrases comes from someone who is not generally considered a church father.
Rather, he was closely associated with many of the church fathers and one of the most important figures in Christian history.
That man is Emperor Constantine the Great.
There has been no lack of ink spilled over his life, his connection and role within the church, the veracity of his conversion, and myriad other considerations. Suffice it to say that he was an extremely complicated man, living in complicated times, and the subject of many complicated (and often conflicting) historical agendas.
Constantine is well known for his edict of toleration which essentially allowed Christianity to be a legal religion. He is less well known for being the harbinger of a western world without sacrifice. Through his efforts during his reign, sacrifice began to come to an end, a slow attrition beginning in AD 312 when he refused to sacrifice following his victory, and culminating in the Middle Ages where all (or at least most) of Western Europe was foreign to the idea.
At any rate, an adequate biographical sketch of Constantine would stretch far beyond the intended scope of this post. A decent introduction can be found here.
A book I have found particularly interesting is Defending Constantine by Peter J. Leithart.
This selection comes from The Oration of the Emperor Constantine found in the writings of the church historian Eusebius. In this oration Constantine displays his breadth of knowledge, erudition, and what one might take for devotion. The whole oration is well worth the read.
In this section Constantine considers the vast distance that separates created things from God. The gap is so wide that even to attempt a comparison is an enterprise in foolishness, for if we can compare God to something that is created, then God ceases to be wholly other, ceases to be God.
According to Constantine, to approach anything even close to ‘being like God’ has nothing to do with us, but is found in virtue in following the path that God has already laid out for us. In this way we will obtain the slightest hint of blessedness, the best we can hope for. The height of wisdom is to realize the distance is vast, and to revel in that with gratitude and thanksgiving, that God who is wholly other has loved us and brought us into being.
Only a fool would rise to the heights of absurdity to compare that which is created to that which is eternal. The eternal is without origin or termination, while the created must be called forth into existence, brought from nothing to its being, helpless and drifting until a definite time to become and even unto a definite end to return from whence it came.
How could one even begin to compare them? What possible likeness could there be between the things which are made and the One who has made them? If one were to brook even the slightest resemblance, the power to create and to command could not belong to God at all. Not even the heavenly beings bear any meaningful comparison, any more than the mundane can be compared with the intellectual world, nor a facsimile from its pure and inimitable original.
Is it not thus ridiculous to turn the universe upside down, and to sully God’s honor by comparing him with humans or beasts? Would you not be declared insane, profligate and inebriated, to pretend yourself to be divine and imbued with God’s might?
If there is any hope of us reaching even the slightest glimmer of likeness to the blessedness of God, our lives must run in his way, and live by his laws. Thus we shall run the course his commands have set before us, safe and serene forever against the powers of fate in mansions that will never see ruin.
It is not man himself which can be compared with God, but only a sincere and guileless affection and duty from the depths of his being to God, armed with the contemplation of what is pleasing to God. Our devotion and love must take to wing and soar above the earth and all its trappings, our thoughts must turn to him as far as we have the power, past the mountain peaks of this passing existence and unto the heights of heaven itself.
Such a striving brings a total victory, more costly than anything else that could be attained.
We are not God and the distance shall never be overcome. The inequality is fixed forever, and will never be circumscribed. The path of wisdom is an acquiescence of great and overwhelming joy with gratitude as its handmaid, for our envy and pride and that constant wanting more is the supreme folly, and leads only to disaster as the wages of its service.