Today in fact, 7 March

The death of Thomas Aquinas. Around the year 300 or so, the Roman Empire was about as large as it could get given that the fastest mode of transport was the horse. An army could move at around 15 kilometres per day and the Roman Empire stretched from Iran to Wales. The real problem with managing such a vast empire was that it seemed so “lumpy”. Garrison towns became cities and cities were the real political centres of the Empire.

Each City had its own traditions, local language and its own gods. There was little to unite a Roman in Londinium to a Roman in Cappadocia. The Roman gods were so many and various and the process of identifying local gods with roman ones meant mostly that the local gods “won” the battle for the affections of the citizen. What Constantine needed was a master narrative. A single uniting system of thought that could bind the mind of both slave and free to Roman rule and of course, his hegemony.

Constantine experienced a vision the night before the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 and the church experienced increased favour by Constantine in the period that followed. He built many important churches, including St Peter’s in Rome, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. At the same time Constantine diverted the control of state resources into the hands of Christian bishops. He also gave the bishops “unprecedented legal and juridical privileges. It has been argued that by one simple act which was decreed on this day in 321 – ordering that Solis Invicti day or Sunday be observed as a day of rest and prayer – he gave a new rhythm and feel to the pace of ancient life and even today Sunday is still regarded as a day of rest in most non-Islamic or Jewish countries.

The effect of making Sunday a day of rest and prayer throughout the Roman Empire meant that the Bishops and Priests, who were now Roman officials and magistrates, practiced their religion. Power quickly shifted from the cities, with their identity linked to local gods and temples, to an empire-wide patriotism that was centred on the person and mission of a God-given, universal ruler, whose vast and profoundly abstract care for the empire as a whole made the older loyalties to individual cities seemed parochial and trivial

The Church paid a heavy price for their Imperial recognition. Almost a thousand years later , when Thomas Aquinas visited Pope Innocent IV in Rome, he was amazed at the wealth he saw. The pope said to him “you see, Thomas, we cannot say as did St. Peter of old, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” “No,” said Aquinas, “neither can you command, as did he, the lame man to arise and walk. Thomas Aquinas, one of the great minds of our civilization died after a brief illness today in 1274. It was a Wednesday.

Douglas Racionzer (you can read more of Doug’s uniquely quirky, insightful pieces at http://serendipiday.blogspot.com/)