Constantine’s Augustae & C.S. Lewis’ Joy

December 11, 2019 — 8 Comments

C.S. Lewis considered war a hated necessity in a fallen world. Emperor Constantine I, in contrast, did not shirk from waging violent conflict to reunite the Roman Empire in the early fourth century. What could these two men, humble and proud, have in common?

In a New York Times essay, “C.S. Lewis’s Legacy Lives on, and Not Just Through the Wardrobe,” Mark Oppenheimer compares their influence on the expansion of the Christian Church.

Who, since the time of Jesus and his apostles, has brought more people to Christianity than anybody else?

A short list would include the Roman emperor Constantine, who legalized Christian worship in 313, and Pope Urban II, who began the First Crusade in 1095. But it would also include C.S. Lewis, who moved more hearts with a pen than others have with armies.

Oppenheimer’s Jewish perspective is likely the reason Urban II (c. 1035-1099) finds himself on this short list. After all, the Crusades were intended to liberate the Holy Land from its Muslim conquerors. Other than a handful of the genuinely religious individuals who participated, no historian (much less any educated practicing Christian) would consider the Crusades an evangelistic enterprise.

As for the similarities between C.S. Lewis and Constantine, I am hard-pressed to find many. One, however, is common to many men throughout history. The influence of women in their lives was significant. This is true in terms of both their revered mothers, and their tenacious wives.

Women in Constantine’s Life

Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert. Because he delivered the Church from persecution and favored the religion within the empire, he is regarded by the Orthodox Church to be a saint. His transitional reign, and the foundation of Constantinople, were monumentally important. But the violence experienced within the imperial family leaves disturbing questions that cannot be answered.

Constantine’s mother, Helena, was a true saint. She lived a devout life and did many good works. Doubtless, she also tempered the volatility of her son.

Constantine had four sons. The first was born to Minervina, a wife or official concubine about whom very little is known.* However, in 307 Constantine followed the common practice of marrying the daughter of a powerful ally, in this case the Augustus (Emperor) Maximian. This wife, Fausta, gave birth to three emperors who succeeded their father and proceeded to battle one another.

The first son, Crispus, was likely the most virtuous of them all. Unfortunately, however, Constantine heeded the lies of his step-mother, Fausta, and had Crispus put to death.⁑

The image of the Roman coins at the top of this column reveals official images of Helena and Fausta. Both of the women had, by the time these were minted, been honored with the title Augusta. The photograph comes from a detailed study of the coinage minted during Constantine’s Vicennalia, which marked the twentieth year of his reign. It features two coins of each, from different mints.

“For Helena,” that author notes, “the reverse always figures Securitas, and for Fausta, either Salus or Spes.” Roman personifications were not actually regarded as “gods,” except by the most superstitious. They were images intended to represent abstract qualities or values. Securitas represented Security with Salus and Spes representing Health and Hope, respectively. The inference here is that Helena represented the stability and authenticity of the dynasty, while Fausta represented its vitality and hope for the future, particularly as she nestles in her arms two future emperors.

Women in C.S. Lewis’ Life

For symmetry, we won’t discuss Minto here. Lewis’ mother and wife did, however, exert a great influence on the man he became. Whereas, with Constantine, one a saint, and the other a murderer, Lewis’ ladies both lived their Christian faith.

Flora Augusta Hamilton Lewis (1862-1908) was the daughter of an Anglican priest in Belfast. (By odd coincidence, her name included Helena’s regal title, Augusta.) Flora was quite gifted, and taught young Jack French and Latin. Her untimely death, during her boys’ childhood, left a last mark on both of them.

My father never fully recovered from this loss. Children suffer not (I think) less than their elders, but differently. For us boys the real bereavement had happened before our mother died.

We lost her gradually as she was gradually withdrawn from our life into the hands of nurses and delirium and morphia, and as our whole existence changed into something alien and menacing, as the house became full of strange smells and midnight noises and sinister whispered conversations. (Surprised by Joy)

Despite the great loss, life continued. Everyone eventually came to view Professor Lewis as a confirmed bachelor. Himself included. That is, until Joy Davidman entered his life. She turned his life upside down. Much has been written about their deep love for one another, and how well suited they were for each other.

Some have criticized Lewis for insensitivity to women. I consider this allegation utterly fallacious. Like all interpersonal relationships in this fallen world, bonds between (and within) genders are complex.

For those who consider Lewis’ personal outlook on male/female roles to be unenlightened, might I suggest you compare them to the example of any other man. Constantine perhaps?


* Minervina may have been Constantine’s wife, or official concubine. Since Crispus was regarded as a fully legal heir, the former is most likely. She may have already died before Constantine strengthened his political position with his second marriage.

⁑ The most probable account is that Fausta falsely accused Crispus of molesting her. After mercilessly condemning his own son, Constantine learned of the deceit and had Fausta executed as well. Crispus already held the rank of Caesar, and was heir apparent to his father. The story is extremely complicated, and heartbreakingly tragic.

8 responses to Constantine’s Augustae & C.S. Lewis’ Joy

  1. 

    You would find Alistair McGrath’s biography of C.S. Lewis enlightening. Both before and after his conversion he was in a (lowkey) relationship with one of his wartime comrade’s mothers, until her death.

    • 

      Yes, I’m familiar with Lewis’ WWI promise and the presence of Minto in the home he shared with Warnie. I’ve mentioned it in the past. Problem is that we don’t know the facts about this very complex subject. One thing we know is it began before his conversion to Christianity.

      As McGrath records, the relationship was based upon an earnest oath: “that Maureen Moore overheard Lewis and her brother enter into a pact. If either of them should die during conflict, the other would look after the deceased’s remaining parent.”

      That Mrs. Moore was about the age his mother would have been, had she survived, only complicated the matter.

  2. 

    The recent biographical novel about Joy Davidman, “Becoming Mrs Lewis” is highly recommended.

    Regarding Lewis’s attitude to women — it’s widely misunderstood, I think. See Kat Coffin’s excellent articles and tweets on the “Problem of Susan” (e.g. a guest post on Brenton Dickieson’s blog). I’ve never had a problem with Lewis’s views on women, and I’m a feminist.

    • 

      Thank you, Yvonne, for your affirmation of Lewis and for the book recommendation. I’ve not yet read the latest book, but I know several folks who have… and none were disappointed.

  3. 

    Hi Rob,

    I heard that his wife really brought out the best in Lewis, especially how to understand the patience of love. People have to understand his temperament and everyone has their way of expressing emotions.

    In Christ,

    Gary

    On Wed, Dec 11, 2019 at 9:40 AM Mere Inkling Press wrote:

    > robstroud posted: ” C.S. Lewis considered war a hated necessity in a > fallen world. Emperor Constantine I, in contrast, did not shirk from waging > violent conflict to reunite the Roman Empire in the early fourth century. > What could these two men, humble and proud, have in” >

    • 

      Yes, Joy brought much growth and happiness to Lewis’ life. Unfortunately, though, the marriage did place a strain on his relationship with J.R.R. Tolkien.

      When a marriage is good–as God desires that they all be–wives and husbands make one another better and healthier people than either would be alone. Not that everyone is called to be married… but for those who are, it is a natural (divinely designed) process wherein we experience greater fullness than we would have without our spouse.

      [Just the thoughts of a man who knows without a doubt that his wife has helped him become a far, far better human being than he would have been without her.]

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