How can I analyze the following from Eusebius' Life of Constantine Book 3, Chapter V: "For as soon as he was made acquainted with the facts which I have described, and perceived that his letter to...
How can I analyze the following from Eusebius' Life of Constantine Book 3, Chapter V: "For as soon as he was made acquainted with the facts which I have described, and perceived that his letter to the Alexandrian Christians had failed to produce its due effect, he at once aroused the energies of his mind and declared that he must prosecute to the utmost this war also against the secret adversary who was disturbing the peace of the Church."
Eusebius has left us one of our very few contemporary accounts of Constantine's interaction with the Christian Church. A little background is needed to analyze this passage. The Emperor Constantine was the first Emperor to recognize the Christian Church, ending its persecution. Scholars debate the extent to which he was actually a convert: he continued to be a religious pluralist. For example, he routinely sacrificed a bull to Jupiter every year in Rome. For him, religion was most likely a practical affair and his recognition of Christianity very probably reflected his realization that it had become an important force in the Empire, especially in Alexandria, which was also a center of learning. At this time, the Roman Empire was increasingly in trouble and increasingly reliant on Egypt as the Empire's breadbasket, the place that supplied much of the wheat the Romans needed. Constantine, as a wise ruler, didn't want the Alexandrian Egyptians rioting over debates about Christian doctrine, and possibly burning the crops in the process.
As we know from other history, at this time the Alexandrian Christians were involved in an intense debate with the Arians over the relationship of Jesus to God. We have to keep in mind that at this time, these debates had the heated importance of debates over gay marriage and abortion in today's Christian church. The debate raging involved whether or not Jesus was the son of God, and hence a "creature" like the rest of us, or co-equal with God.
Eusebius was an Arian, meaning he believed Jesus was a creature, not "of one substance with the Father." The Alexandrians believed Jesus was of one substance with God. To calm everything down, Constantine called for a council to convene at Nicea and work this out.
If we are to analyze this passage, we understand that Eusebius is suggesting that Constantine cares deeply about these theological issues and is on the Arian side in this debate about Jesus. Throughout this work, Eusebius heaps the highest praise on the emperor, even alluding to him as a god (which would have been usual for his era). In this passage, he is suggesting that even though Constantine sent the Alexandrians a letter to correct them, they are still persisting in their (to Eusebius) erroneous beliefs. In this version of the story, Constantine is calling a council not to have an open debate about the nature of the trinity (ie, Jesus' relationship to God) but to set the Alexandrians straight and to let them know face-to-face what is what.
In reality, one council would briefly upset the idea that God and Jesus were of the same substance and this is probably the council Eusebius refers to here. Later councils would definitively decide on the theology we still have: Jesus as of one substance with the father, begotten not made. If we analyze this passage, we see Constantine as a strong decisive leader, an energetic and intelligent ruler, and also one who acts quickly. More importantly, Eusebius puts Constantine strongly on the side of Arians, an interpretation of the emperor's beliefs that other history does not necessarily support. We can see here that Eusebius wrote a highly opinionated, rather than factual, account of church events.