Catherine Booth vs. Constantine

Today we're back for our second helping of Saintly Sixteen action as the round of Quirks and Quotes continues. Catherine Booth takes on Constantine as 19th century meets 3rd century -- a pairing you'll only ever encounter in the looniness of Lent Madness. To get here, Catherine upset Joan of Arc, while Constantine got past Miguel Pro.

Yesterday, in a hotly contested matchup, Camillus de Lellis snuck past Melangell 52% to 48% to become the first saint to snag a spot in the Elate Eight. Serious bracketologists will note the battle also made Lent Madness history for most "Ls" in a single pairing.

Well, we're off for the weekend, but we'll be back bright and early Monday morning as Arnulf of Metz faces Egeria. Try not to miss us too much.

Catherine Booth
Catherine Booth was a gifted preacher, teacher, and evangelist—and fearlessly carried those gifts at the height of the Victorian era—where the leadership of women in preaching and the church was at best unknown, and at worst derided and mocked. Booth once preached “There is no improving the future, without disturbing the present, and the difficulty is to get people to be willing to be disturbed.” Truly, Booth was a pioneer willing to be disturbed; not only her preaching but her work among England’s poor and disenfranchised are a legacy that lasts to this day.

Indeed, Catherine understood that disruption as part and parcel of the Christian life, and the church all too often seeks to ease its discomfort with easy solutions—thereby showing the motive for her ministry in the hardest and most difficult places, and in spite of opposition: “It is a bad sign for the Christianity of this day that it provokes so little opposition. If there were no other evidence of it being wrong, I should know from that. When the Church and the world can jog along together comfortably, you may be sure there is something wrong. The world has not altered. Its spirit is exactly the same as it ever was, and if Christians were equally faithful and devoted to the Lord, and separated from the world, living so that their lives were a reproof to all ungodliness, the world would hate them as much as it ever did. It is the Church that has altered, not the world."

Indeed, Catherine didn’t have time for lukewarm Christianity: “Here is the reason why we have such a host of stillborn, sinewless, ricketty, powerless spiritual children. They are born of half-dead parents, a sort of sentimental religion which does not take hold of the soul, which has no depth of earth, no grasp, no power in it, and the result is a sickly crop of sentimental converts. Oh! the Lord give us a real, robust, living, hardy, Christianity, full of zeal and faith, which shall bring into the kingdom of God lively, well-developed children, full of life and energy, instead of these poor sentimental ghosts that are hopping around us.”

This was not an abstract concept for Catherine: “The Gospel represents Jesus Christ as a real, living, mighty Savior, able to save me now.” That same hope able to save her now was to be communicated to as many people in the way they can receive it: “Here is the principle—adapt your measures to the necessity of the people to whom you minister. You are to take the Gospel to them in such modes and circumstances as will gain for it from them a hearing.” Above all, she prayed that she would be found true, with the whole church, to the call of God: “We are made for larger ends than Earth can encompass. Oh, let us be true to our exalted destiny.”

—David Sibley


The marriage between Christianity and the state will always be tendentious. The benefits to both in the marriage are real as are the great costs. Constantine’s momentous step to bring the two into closer harmony must thus be received with a certain ambivalence. As one noted historian wrote of Constantine, “Zeal for the church did not absolve him of the harsh realities of power.”

As seen in Round 1 of this august competition, according to Christian hagiographers, Constantine’s rise to power came with a sign from God as he was preparing to engage Maxentius in battle at the Milvian Bridge. Outnumbered and overmatched, Constantine saw the chi-rho and was promised, “In this you will conquer.” Christian signs were erected on banners and painted on shields and Maxentius and his army were driven into the waters. For some Christian historians at the time, the similarities to the Pharaoh and his army thrown into the sea at the exodus was uncanny. There was hope for a new liberation.

Constantine set out to create space for the Christian minority. The Edict of Milan calls for toleration in religious practice, not just for Christians. One line reads, “…the open and free exercise of their respective religions is granted to all others, as well as to the Christians.” (Roberts-Donaldson, trans.) In this way, Constantine can be seen as an advocate for tolerance between and within a variety of religious traditions.

Unfortunately, Christians would not always cooperate. Constantine was dragged into conflicts within Christianity by bishops seeking the official endorsement of their positions. In an early conflict with the Donatists, Constantine tried more subtle forms of persuasion. The recalcitrance of the disputants led to a more heavy-handed approach at Nicaea. He summoned the bishops and lavishly supported the council. In the council itself, he likely had a hand in the homoousios formulation and later he would call Arius “the mouthpiece of Satan.” Certainly, his desire was for peace in the Roman Empire but it could be argued that his hope for unity in Christianity was for the sake of Christianity. And yet, any unity that is enforced by political coercion will be fundamentally distorted.

Constantine’s commitment to the church and his place as an emperor thus opens an important dialog about how power is wielded in Christianity. His prominence in the debate is a gift.

David Creech


Catherine Booth vs. Constantine

  • Catherine Booth (70%, 4,571 Votes)
  • Constantine (30%, 2,004 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,575

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Image of Catherine Booth: Public domain
Ramazanov Nikolay, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons





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109 comments on “Catherine Booth vs. Constantine”

  1. When we get right down to it, none of the saints chosen for Lent Madness past, present, or future would have been brought to our notice had Constantine not issued the Edict of Milan. So my vote goes to Constantine despite my great admiration for Catherine and all those of her ilk.

    1. Thank you, Deborah. My mother was an orphan in Philadelphia, USA. Her mother was Catholic and her father was Presbyterian. When my grandmother went to each church for help raising her 2 granddaughters (orphans) 2 nephews (orphaned) as well as her 8 children, both churches turned her away, stating that the household was not Catholic enough and not Presbyterian enough. The Salvation Army helped her without concern about their denomination but with great concern about their need. I support them today.

    2. I disagree that Constantine's Edict was quintessential. In many ways and in many places around the world the church (and the gospel) survived without government or even ecclesiastical involvement, almost as though God can work with people whether institutions cooperate or not.

  2. St. Celia's observations pushed me over the edge this morning. Blessed be the 'disturbed' community of Lent Madness!

  3. I was all set to vote against Catherine because I was so upset that she won out over Joan of Arc. However...I must admit that Catherine is the kind of saint that the church needs at this time as we try to wean ourselves away from a Christianity that has been married to country for too long. I appreciate David Creech's write-up of Constantine and pointing out that he made space for Christianity, which had been persecuted up to this point. But, as someone else said, other than that, Constantine kind of ruined what Christianity was supposed to be. So I have reluctantly voted for Catherine Booth today.

  4. We need as many feisty women as we can get, unafraid to chase away the sacred cows of ‘how we’ve always done it’. I love Catherine’s hatred and the scathing descriptions of the lukewarm Christians.

  5. Catherine Booth Yes indeed 🙂 (a Co-Founder of the Salvation Army in the UK).

    Although Constantine was attempting to achieve unity between people of all faiths, David Creech (the author of Constantine's story here) lost me when I had to seek out definitions to the poly-syllabic words in his writing. I appreciate that you are a professor, David Creech; please consider the audience to whom you are speaking while speaking to the masses who are hungry for the higher Knowledge.

    1. Would have bee worthwhile to look up the meaning of those words. Increase your knowledge

    2. Thank you Adelaide Kent - you captured my meandering thoughts on C. Booth with that great quote!!

    3. I respectfully contend that opening another window in the browser to look up a word is not a bad thing. Few of us know the true definition of every word we encounter, and the Lent Madness audience may be a motley crew (even without youngsters like Oliver) however we are all capable of learning new things. If we weren't, we wouldn't be here.

  6. What tipped me in favor of Catherine was the last line in the text: “We are made for larger ends than Earth can encompass. Oh, let us be true to our exalted destiny.” I could not agree more.

  7. It had to be a lot easier for a male with power to proclaim that Christianity would be an accepted religion to follow faithfully than for a woman to be accepted as having power to proclaim that Christianity was not being followed faithfully. Emperor Constantine had only to decree; Catherine had to persuade - both to persuade others to listen to her, and to persuade them to action. Constantine made Christians more comfortable in their practice (not having to fear for their freedom and lives any longer), while Catherine made Christians uncomfortable for the sake of deepening their practice. And it's Women's History Month. And I feel we often fall into the trap of being weak and comfortable Christians.

  8. “There is no improving the future, without disturbing the present, and the difficulty is to get people to be willing to be disturbed.” 'Nuff said. Go Catherine!

  9. My problem with Catherine is that zeal for zeal's sake can lead to all kinds of mischief. We've seen this throughout history but especially in the modern world. I wish there had been a bit more to the story explaining where Catherine wanted that zeal directed. With Constantine, we get the good (tolerance of all faiths) with the bad (melding of church and state). He reflects to me the complex and imperfect world in which we find ourselves - each doing good while also making significant errors. He gets my vote.

  10. Although Constantine had the greater influence in history and the Christian religion as an institution, I had to vote for Catherine whose solid faith and steadfast purpose I hope to share. Bell ringing has been a part of my Advent for a dozen years now.

  11. Wonderful to hear some of Catherine's words in the write up and comments today. As someone who tries to discomfort the comfortable, I vote for Catherine and for all who recognise that we cannot change the future without disturbing the present.

  12. This is a difficult choice, as I find neither of today's saints inspiring or appealing. Constantine called Arius "Satan"; yet anyone who has ever seen the Arian mosaics in the churches of Ravenna, Italy has seen and felt the profound spiritual witness of Arius's followers. And I'm not particularly happy about Nicea and its aftermath either: every week we chant a set of theological beliefs rather than reciting the actions of our Lord. I just completed a parallel Gospel speed reading of the canonical Gospels and Jesus spends most of his time healing, feeding, and teaching about the Kingdom not worrying about intricacies of theology that are ultimately unknowable. Catherine's empasis on how Christianity should be at variance with society is hitting me the wrong way in an era in which Trumpified evangelicals (and I was raised Southern Baptist so they are my people in heritage) embrace ugly actions along with a victim mentality about how the "world" is out to get them. Sigh. Can I write in Joan of Arc?

  13. Could have done without Sibley's penultimate paragraph. Methinks he over protested.

    1. Sibley's penultimate paragraph is almost entirely a quotation from Catherine Booth. You don't like the passionate vision of "a real, robust, living, hardy, Christianity, full of zeal and faith, which shall bring into the kingdom of God lively, well-developed children, full of life and energy"? A cup of weak tea for you, then, with a soggy biscuit.

  14. Catherine was a pioneer for women to be clergypersons. She reminds me of some of those back in the 1960's and '70's who pushed for the ordination of women. The success of her efforts eventually led to another Katharine, the amazing Katharine Jefferts Schori, becoming the first Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
    Constantine was no slouch, mind you, but in honor of all women clergy, whatever the denomination, I voted for Catharine.

  15. I couldn't cast for Constantine--
    but a huge nod to celebrity biographer, David Creech.
    "...any unity that is enforced by political coercion will be fundamentally distorted."
    Words to live by.

  16. I am certainly cut from the same cloth as Catherine Booth. When I preach, I take no prisoners. Yes, we have become lukewarm . Constantine probably marked the end of Christianity as Jesus would have recognized it. Why my vote for Constantine? Because the Booths have survived, but without=, for good or ill, government approbation, Christianity well might have either disappeared, or become another odd cult. We needed the institution of the secular world a well aw the institution of the Church, which are often not kind or Christian. But they are the structure of our survival for those from Benedict to Booth who carry the Word.

  17. Seems unlikely at this point - so many worthies yet to battle -- but wouldn't a red cross vs red kettle final matchup be fun?

    CB sure has a mouth on her. Love it. Thanks for finding those great quotations, David S.

  18. I am delighted to vote for Catherine Booth, to honor her work for the Salvation Army and Christian service. Also, to vote against Constantine for deserved revenge for Miguel Pro.

  19. Catherine Booth and Gen. William Booth:
    Booth led boldly with his big bass drum
    (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
    The Saints smiled gravely and they said, "He's come,"
    (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

    Onward, Christian soldiers
    Marching as to war.
    Is Constantine the inspiration for the 1950s slogan, "Kill a commie for Christ?

  20. It is a joy to me indeed to have yet another opportunity to vote against Constantine. It will be a cold day in hell before I will vote for Empire. I am quite sure that I would have taken issue with some of Catherine Booth's views but I agree with her that Christianity should be willing to disturb, which is in stark contrast to any religion that is in league with Empire and no doubt would have wound Constantine up no end. Catherine has my vote.

  21. Voting for Catherine in honor of my great grandmother, Olive Marshall Gay. At age 14, she met Jesus in a cornfield and thereafter became a nurse, helped start a hospital in Kansas, then became a Methodist deacon and a preacher on the Chatauqua circuit. Someone I wish I could have met.

  22. voted for Booth but came away from the read on Constantine with another nugget added to my meagre grasp of christian history viz:
    Homoousios is one of the most important words in the Christian theological vocabulary, since it was used at the Council of Nicaea to express the divine consubstantiality of the Son with the Father. However, long and complicated debates have not yet produced any significant agreement among scholars concerning its origin and meaning.