A Trip to the British Museum

The British Museum has just finished a special exhibition on Coins and the Bible, which was opened, in 2012, to mark one thousand seven hundred years since the Edict of Milan in 312.  The Edict of Milan may mean nothing to you, but it is of major historical importance.  Through this edict the Emperor Constantine (died 337AD) introduced both toleration for Christians in the Roman Empire and gave them his backing. Up until then Christians had to live with the constant fear that they might be arrested and even executed for their faith.  Both St Laurence and St George met their death at the hands of the Roman Empire

In the exhibition you could see coins from the Old Testament right up the Emperor Constantine and his successors. I was particularly interested to see the coinage, which is thought to have been used to pay Judas Iscariot his ‘thirty pieces of silver’ for betraying Jesus Christ to the Temple authorities.  I was amazed to discover that the Temple authorities insisted that the tax paid to them by all Jews was made in Tyrian silver (Tyre was a city not that far away).  This was surprising because it has the head of a pagan god on one side and I had always thought the Jews refused to use anything with a graven image on it.  Apparently, however, they didn’t have a lot of choice, since the tax was traditionally paid in silver and this was the only locally pure version available to them.

I don’t suppose the Temple authorities thought this was ideal, but they had to live with it.  The Emperor Constantine also had to make difficult choices.  His policy shows a strong Christian tendency from the start of his reign with a humanizing of the criminal law, an improvement in the condition of slaves and the turning of Sunday into a public holiday.  On the other hand he murdered his opponents and chose to be baptized, just before his death, on the grounds he wouldn’t have time to do anything wrong again.

Today we may work to transform and improve the world, but we still have to live in it as it is.  Like the Temple authorities and the Emperor Constantine we have to find a way of being true to our faith, but working with what is there.  Jesus never cut himself off from the world, but always engaged with it and sought to transform it.  We too must do our best to follow our conscience and as Jesus said shine like lights in the world.

Father Michael

Posted By: valerie

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