Commentary by Donald DeMarco
Two essential qualities are needed for a person to be a great leader. The first is a detachment from all the enticements that could bind him to the status quo. Greatness implies standing apart from the others, not from their needs, but from their preoccupations with approval, popularity, success, public opinion and being in lock step with the foibles and fashions of the time. The second quality is a realistic vision of a better future and a sense of how that future can come about. The great leader leads us to a “glorious summer” from the “winter of our discontent.”
Such a leader takes his people from a life that has gone flat to one that is more invigorating and personally fulfilling. Moses, Christ, Columbus, Lincoln, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II belong to this list. But the great leader about whom I want to call attention here is Emperor Flavius Valerius Constantine. It was through his efforts in framing the Edict of Milan of 313 AD that the persecution of Christians was outlawed. At that time, paganism had been the official religion of the Roman Empire. Going against the grain of his pagan society, Constantine fought for the rights of Christians, raised his three sons as Christians and, shortly before his death, converted to Christianity.
As a direct result of the Edict, imprisoned Christians were released and received by their brethren in the faith with joy. The churches were again filled and those who had fallen away sought forgiveness. Constantine displayed equal favour to both religions, introduced a new mercy and kindness, and laboured to reform marriage. He did, however, regard practices of pagan sacrifices as flowing from pure superstition. As emperor, he adopted the motto, “Let superstition cease; let the insanity of sacrifices be abolished” (Cesset superstitio; sacrificiorum aboleatur insania).
Historians have pointed out that the word “great” is ascribed to Constantine not because he possessed a great intellect or lived an exemplary moral life. He was said to be great because he divined the future that lay before Christianity and wanted to enlist it in the service of his empire.
The Canada of 2005 AD appears to be moving from a culture that has a Christian flavour back into a paganism where Christians are persecuted. We need another Constantine the Great. The present political system is hardly congenial to producing such a leader. In fact, it is structured to produce followers – those who are eager to implement the wishes of the masses.
The problem in Canada is by no means unique. At the end of the year 2004, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, at a conference on religious freedom, called for an end to discrimination against Christians. Representing the mind of the Holy See, the archbishop insisted that “so-called Christianophobia” be condemned, together with “Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism.”
The introduction of the term “Christianophobia,” under high ecclesiastical auspices at a time when the presses are glutted with the word “homophobia,” is both needed and timely. The latter “phobia” is used with such force and frequency that the impression is created in Canada, as well as in other countries, that it is the prevailing phobia and that no other phobia has status. Yet, we continue to hear about bishops and priests, teachers, businessmen and other Christians who are ridiculed, punished or fired from their positions merely because they have articulated the traditional Christian position concerning homosexual acts.
As secularism becomes more firmly established, paganism becomes more effective in crowding out Christianity. Paganism and Christianity are antithetical belief systems. But the former displaces the latter through force, whereas Christianity, when it operates in accordance with its mandate, relies on example and reason. Yet, leadership remains indispensable. A person of the stature of Constantine will understand that neither a phobia nor superstition can serve as bases for a healthy society.
It is unlikely that a great leader will soon emerge from the world of Canadian politics. Historically, leaders arise from the most improbable beginnings: Christ in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes; Moses among the Nile reeds; Lincoln in a log cabin.
Constantine himself was an illegitimate child born in what is now Serbia. When he was a boy, he was used virtually as a hostage. We can hope and pray that such a leader will emerge, though we do not know where we might expect his morning star to arise. It is characteristic of a great leader not to be numbered among the favourites and to embarrass all the odds makers.
Donald DeMaro, a regular contributor to The Interim, is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary.