1st Edition

Power and Rhetoric in the Ecclesiastical Correspondence of Constantine the Great

By Andrew J. Pottenger Copyright 2023

    This volume closely examines patterns of rhetoric in surviving correspondence by the Roman emperor Constantine on conflicts among Christians that occurred during his reign, primarily the ‘Donatist schism’ and ‘Arian controversy’.

    Commonly remembered as the ‘first Christian emperor’ of the Roman Empire, Constantine’s rule sealed a momentous alliance between church and state for more than a millennium. His well-known involvement with Christianity led him to engage with two major disputes that divided his Christian subjects: the ‘Donatist schism’ centred, from the emperor's perspective, on determining the rightful bishop of Carthage, and the so-called ‘Arian controversy’, a theological conflict about the proper understanding of the Son's divine nature in relation to that of the Father. This book examines a number of letters associated with Constantine that directly address both of these disagreements, exploring his point of view and motivations to better understand how and why this emperor applied his power to internal church divisions. Based on a close analysis of prominent themes and their functions in the rhetoric of his correspondence, Pottenger argues that three ‘doctrines of power’ served to inform and direct Constantine’s use of power as he engaged with these problems of schism and heresy.

    Power and Rhetoric in the Ecclesiastical Correspondence of Constantine the Great is of interest to students and scholars of early Christianity and the history of the later Roman Empire.

    Acknowledgements; Abbreviations; Introduction; 1. The Constantinian correspondence on ecclesiastical conflicts; 2. The doctrine of divine favour and agency; 3. The doctrine of ecclesiastical unity; 4. The doctrine of resistance and compromise: The Donatist schism; 5. The doctrine of resistance and compromise: The ‘Arian controversy’; 6. Projecting imperial power in ecclesiastical affairs (325–337); Conclusion; Appendix: List of analysed imperial documents; Bibliography; Index


    Andrew J. Pottenger graduated with a PhD in Church History from the University of Manchester in 2019. Andrew has presented papers on subjects concerning power and rhetoric in Constantine’s correspondence at various conferences and research seminars in the United Kingdom and the United States. He has taught in courses related to the history of Christianity in countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Bulgaria, and the United States. He is currently an adjunct instructor in church history at Nazarene Bible College in Colorado Springs, Colorado (United States), where he lives with his wife, Gina.

    "Pottenger has offered a well-researched and well-written contribution to Constantinian studies...it adds some new layers of interpretation to Constantine’s relations with and correspondence to Christians."Church History