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Mr. Smith's two previous books (both on the papacy in the High Middle Ages) were marked by an understanding of the complex interaction of politics and theology, and by a stylistic facility that eludes most purveyors of such profundities. This new work, a biography of Constantine, exhibits the same characteristics, and superadds a talent for unraveling the motivational skein of one of history's most enigmatic personalities. Smith's approach is chronological, but he concentrates on the years (312 to 335) most important for an understanding both of Constantine himself and of his attempts to impose peace and unity upon the Empire. The author is thoroughly at home in the almost preternaturally complicated theological crises of Constantine's reign, and picks his way confidently, and often amusingly, through a maze of subtleties that have been the nemesis of lesser biographers. As to the enigmas that surround Constantine himself, Smith is content to let fact, rather than theory, speak. The sincerity of Constantine's conversion, for example, is treated not by an exploration of his psyche, but by an examination of the conversion's effect upon Constantine's politics and personal life. The result is a book at once more delicately focused than the standard Age of Constantine of Burkhardt, and more revelatory of the subject than such recent works as MacMullen's Constantine. The notes are excellent; the bibliography, generally adequate, but somewhat sketchy in the category of ""Modern Authorities."" A first-quality work for the student and the general reader.

Pub Date: July 2nd, 1971
Publisher: Scribners