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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 22. Evils of the Union of Church and State. Secularization of the Church.


We turn now to the dark side of the union of the church with the state; to the consideration of the disadvantages which grew out of their altered relation after the time of Constantine, and which continue to show themselves in the condition of the church in Europe to our own time.

These evil results may be summed up under the general designation of the secularization of the church. By taking in the whole population of the Roman empire the church became, indeed, a church of the masses, a church of the people, but at the same time more or less a church of the world. Christianity became a matter of fashion. The number of hypocrites and formal professors rapidly increased;224224   Thus Augustine, for example, Tract. in JoAnn. xxv. c. 10, laments that the church filled itself daily with those who sought Jesus not for Jesus, but for earthly profit. Comp. the similar complaint of Eusebius, Vita Const. l. iv. c. 54. strict discipline, zeal, self-sacrifice, and brotherly love proportionally ebbed away; and many heathen customs and usages, under altered names, crept into the worship of God and the life of the Christian people. The Roman state had grown up under the influence of idolatry, and was not to be magically transformed at a stroke. With the secularizing process, therefore, a paganizing tendency went hand in hand.

Yet the pure spirit of Christianity could by no means be polluted by this. On the contrary it retained even in the darkest days its faithful and steadfast confessors, conquered new provinces from time to time, constantly reacted, both within the established church and outside of it, in the form of monasticism, against the secular and the pagan influences, and, in its very struggle with the prevailing corruption, produced such church fathers as Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Augustine, such exemplary Christian mothers as Nonna, Anthusa, and Monica, and such extraordinary saints of the desert as Anthony, Pachomius, and Benedict. New enemies and dangers called forth new duties and virtues, which could now unfold themselves on a larger stage, and therefore also on a grander scale. Besides, it must not be forgotten, that the tendency to secularization is by no means to be ascribed only to Constantine and the influence of the state, but to the deeper source of the corrupt heart of man, and did reveal itself, in fact, though within a much narrower compass, long before, under the heathen emperors, especially in the intervals of repose, when the earnestness and zeal of Christian life slumbered and gave scope to a worldly spirit.

The difference between the age after Constantine and the age before consists, therefore, not at all in the cessation of true Christianity and the entrance of false, but in the preponderance of the one over the other. The field of the church was now much larger, but with much good soil it included far more that was stony, barren, and overgrown with weeds. The line between church and world, between regenerate and unregenerate, between those who were Christians in name and those who were Christians in heart, was more or less obliterated, and in place of the former hostility between the two parties there came a fusion of them in the same outward communion of baptism and confession. This brought the conflict between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, Christ and antichrist, into the bosom of Christendom itself.



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