Archive Authors Book Reviews E.J. Hutchinson

Notes on Defending Constantine (1)

I am partway through Peter Leithart’s Defending Constantine and am finding it to be a stimulating book to think with. I don’t have any intention of writing a full review of it, but I will have some notes to post occasionally so that errata can be corrected if the book goes to a second edition. This first is a minor matter, but I’m going to note it anyway.

On p. 153, he writes, “The Arian controversy is the most famous theological contest in which Constantine intervened, but it was not the first.” He then has a footnote as follows: “Nor, indeed, was this the first time the church had appealed to the emperor for resolution of an internal dispute. The church had appealed to Aurelian to resolve the Donatist controversy earlier (Drake, Constantine and the Bishops, pp. 117, 217-18. Like Constantine later, Aurelian had referred the question to the ‘bishops of Rome and Italy.'”

There are a couple of problems here. First, the Donatist controversy began in the wake of the Diocletianic persecution in the early 300s, but Aurelian reigned from 270-5. What Drake refers to on p. 217 is an appeal to Aurelian “for help in driving Paul of Samosata from the church buildings of Antioch after they had deposed him from office.”

The other problem is the reference itself. There is no reference to Aurelian, Constantine, or the Donatists on p. 117, which is about something completely different. There is a reference to the writer Aurelius Victor, and another on p. 118 to Marcus Aurelius, but nothing about Aurelian or the rest.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.