Below, abridged translation from the first
volume of Karlheinz Deschner’s Kriminalgeschichte
des Christentums (Criminal History of Christianity)
The Catholic clergy, increasingly favoured
Obviously, an earthly paradise was inaugurated at least for the Constantinian ‘court bishops’, and for the Catholic hierarchy whose servility before the emperor assumed, like Eusebius in his writings, ‘the psalmist’s tone when he speaks of the Lord’ (Kühner). Others sang in chorus, like the Fathers of the Church: Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, Cyril of Alexandria. And they did not lack motives. The Christian religion, once persecuted, became recognized and official. Moreover, the Catholic Church and its prelates enjoyed growing privileges that were worthy of power and wealth.
The emperor made donations to the clergy of large estates in Syria, in Egypt, as well as in Tarsus, Antioch, Alexandria and other great cities. We must bear in mind that Oriental donations meant, in addition to income, import operations especially in the market of spices and essences of the East, much appreciated by the Romans. In a word, the famous Patrimonium Petri began to accumulate, of which we will have occasion to occupy ourselves very often later on.
In Constantine’s time begins the metonymy (both in Latin and in Greek) of the word ‘church’ to mean both the community of believers and the building, formerly also called templum, aedes and other names. Constantine continued to erect churches in Ostia, Alba, Naples, and also in Asia Minor and Palestine. As he himself wrote to Eusebius, ‘all of them must be worthy of our love for the splendour’ and monuments to their victories.
Now, all these churches—the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, inaugurated by the emperor in person (335), whose pomp should be superior to that of all others, that of the Nativity in Bethlehem, that of the Apostles and that of Peace (Irene) in Constantinople, the great basilica of Antioch, those of Tire and Nicomedia, endowed with ‘truly imperial’ splendour, ‘decorated with many and rich votive offerings of gold, silver and precious stones’—they consumed immense sums. All the more so because the construction mania of the emperor was emulated by other members of the imperial family, and especially by his mother, Helena. Eusebius, as chronicler of the court, never tires of praising ‘the inexhaustible generosity of imperial donations’.
The clergy, in particular, received from Constantine ‘the greatest honours and distinctions, as men consecrated to the service of the Lord’. Again and again Eusebius reiterates that ‘they were honoured and envied in the eyes of all’, ‘he increased their prestige through laws and decrees’, ‘the imperial generosity opened wide the coffers of the treasure and distributed its riches with a generous hand’. And there were many bishops who were able to emulate the grandeur and splendour of the imperial court itself. They received special titles and incense cleansings; honours were given to them on their knees, they were seated on thrones conceived in the image and likeness of the throne of God.
Others recommend humility in their sermons!
So many and such were the signs of Constantine’s favours that the influence and economic power of the bishops increased rapidly. They participated in the free distribution of wheat. In their favour only for them, the emperor annulled the laws that disadvantaged the single people or without children. He equated them with the highest officials, those who were not obliged to genuflect in the presence of the sovereign.
In 321, the churches were authorized to receive inheritances, a right that pagan temples had never enjoyed, except in very special cases. On the other hand, for the Church this privilege was so lucrative that only two generations later the State was forced to issue a decree ‘against the plundering of the most gullible devotees, especially women’ (Caspar). This was not an obstacle to the fact that, only a century later, the ecclesiastical patrimony had reached gigantic proportions, as there were more and more Christians who ‘for the salvation of their souls’ made donations to the Church, or left whole fortunes. That custom became a kind of epidemic during the Middle Ages, seizing the Church a third of the extension of all Europe.
Constantine trusted so much the prelates that he even delegated to them part of the powers of the State.
In the trials, the testimony of a bishop had more strength than that of the ‘distinguished citizens’ (honoratiores) and was unassailable. But there was more, the bishoprics acquired their own jurisdiction in civil cases (audientia episcopalis). That is, anyone who had litigation could go to the bishopric, whose sentence would be ‘holy and venerable’, as decreed by Constantine. The bishop was authorized to sentence even against the express wish of one of the parties, and in addition the ruling was unappealable; the State being limited to the execution of the sentence with the power of the secular arm.
‘Soon the Church became a State within the State’ (Kornemann).