Constantine’s mother, Helena, is a significant figure in Christian history. Her influence on Christianity, particularly on the development of the Church, is remarkable. Her role in the church’s history is most notable for her contributions to the discovery and preservation of the Christian relics, which helped in spreading the faith and shaping the Christian worship practices.
Helena was born in the late third century, and she married the Roman general Constantius Chlorus. They had a son, Constantine, who later became the first Christian Emperor of Rome. Helena’s life took a significant turn when her son converted to Christianity in the early fourth century. After Constantine’s conversion, Helena became deeply involved in the Christian faith, and her contributions to the Church were immense.
Following her discovery, Helena had a church built on the site of the crucifixion, known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which still stands in Jerusalem today. The discovery of the true cross and the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre helped establish Jerusalem as a holy site for Christians and cemented the importance of the cross as a symbol of Christian faith.
Helena’s influence on the Church also extended to her patronage of Christian art and architecture. She commissioned many churches and artworks during her lifetime, including the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Helena’s patronage of Christian art and architecture helped spread Christian symbolism and iconography, which is still evident in many churches today.
Furthermore, Helena’s dedication to the Christian faith helped establish Christianity as the dominant religion in Rome. She was an ardent supporter of the Church and played a significant role in the conversion of her son, Emperor Constantine, to Christianity. Constantine’s conversion led to the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, which granted religious freedom to Christians and put an end to the persecution of Christians in Rome. The Edict of Milan is considered a turning point in the history of Christianity, and it paved the way for the establishment of Christianity as the dominant religion in Rome.
The criticism that Helena’s focus on the discovery and veneration of Christian relics could be seen as a form of idolatry is rooted in a theological debate that has been ongoing within Christianity for centuries. At its core, the debate centers around the question of whether the veneration of physical objects associated with Christian history is a legitimate form of religious practice or whether it constitutes a form of idolatry that is contrary to Christian teachings.
Those who argue that the veneration of relics is a legitimate form of religious practice point to the long history of such practices within Christianity, dating back to the early church. They argue that the physical objects associated with Christian history serve as tangible reminders of the faith and help to deepen believers’ spiritual connection to God and the saints. Moreover, they argue that the veneration of relics is not worship of the physical object itself, but rather a means of honouring the person or event associated with the relic.
On the other hand, those who view the veneration of relics as a form of idolatry argue that the focus on physical objects detracts from the spiritual essence of the faith, which is supposed to be based on a personal relationship with God and the teachings of Jesus Christ. They argue that the veneration of relics can easily become a form of superstition or magical thinking, in which the physical object is seen as possessing power or influence in and of itself, rather than as a symbol of a deeper spiritual reality.
The curse of the church building
Helena played a pivotal role in shaping the development of church architecture in important ways.
Firstly, Helena’s personal commitment to Christianity and her patronage of the faith helped to establish the Christian church as a powerful cultural force within the Roman Empire. Her sponsorship of important church-building projects, such as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, provided a model for subsequent generations of Christians to follow.
Secondly, Helena’s emphasis on the discovery and veneration of Christian relics helped to establish a sense of continuity between the early Christian church and its ancient roots. By identifying and preserving important sites and artifacts associated with Christian history, she helped to create a sense of historical continuity and legitimacy that was essential to the growth and development of the faith.
Finally, Helena’s influence on church building extended beyond her own time and place. Her example and legacy continued to inspire subsequent generations of Christians to build ever more elaborate and impressive church structures, as seen in the development of Gothic architecture in the medieval period and the construction of monumental cathedrals and basilicas in the Renaissance and Baroque eras.
While the physical buildings that Helena commissioned, have played an important role in the history of Christianity, it is important to remember that the church is not limited to these physical structures alone. The Christian church is a global community of believers who are united by their shared faith in Jesus Christ and their commitment to living out his teachings in the world. While physical buildings can serve as important gathering places for this community, they are not the only places where Christians can worship, pray, and connect with one another.
One of Helena’s most significant contributions to Christianity was her search for the true cross, which was believed to be the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. Helena travelled to Jerusalem in the early fourth century and began to search for the cross. According to legend, Helena found the true cross, along with the crosses of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. This discovery was a significant event in the history of Christianity, and it became a cornerstone of Christian worship practices.
In fact, many modern churches have adapted to the changing needs of their congregations by exploring new forms of worship and community building that go beyond traditional church buildings. For example, many churches now offer online services, small group gatherings in private homes, or outdoor worship experiences that allow people to connect with their faith in new and meaningful ways.
In this sense, the church is not trapped by the physical buildings that Helena started, but rather has continued to develop and adapt to new cultural and historical contexts. While these physical structures remain important symbols of the faith and an important part of Christian history and tradition, they are just one aspect of a vibrant and dynamic faith community that continues to grow and change over time.
Leave a Reply