Christianity has claimed Constantine as one of their own for a long period although there is no clear evidence about it. Even at the end of his reign, the emperor was still open to new philosophical ideas. Pagan Sopater influenced him so much that he ended up being assassinated at the instigation of the prefect of Christian praetorian. The more incongruous is Christian emperor approving the killing, just the way he had seen previously his wife and son being executed.
During the same time of the demise of Sopater, Christian bishops were removed from office by Constantine with whom he already had all the reasons to quarrel and for Constantine, it was all about brokering religious power.
The first-hand knowledge of Constantine is drawn from the writings of Eusebius who came from Caesarea also known as a historian of the contemporary church. When he met the emperor, Eusebius admired him and later wrote about Constantine’s life. As the Caesarea bishop, Eusebius said that Constantine was a pro-Christian and also proclaimed as the first emperor of Christians. in bishops point of view, Gods kingdom was already established with the emperor’s advent and this view was developed further by church historians of the subsequent generations.
pagan writers pointed out the ambiguities and gaps that were left as Eusebius was giving accounts of Constantine to the extent that, historians of centuries that followed wrote stories that aimed at stopping gaps over inadequacies of the bishop as a historian. The Constantine donation and Acts of Sylvester are fraudulent works that are known to have already been written yet they lacked historicity but still shaped Christian views of many centuries towards the history of the church. (Walker, 1985 pp33-37)
The changing empire and Constantine
The Roman world underwent significant unrest in the late third century following military anarchy for half a century. Emperor Diocletian had established a system of governance which involved the division of power in fourfold for the empire to have order. Diocletian was an emperor in the east, Maximian was Augustus and Constantine served as his Caesar in the west. the four tetrarchs engaged in military activity that was constant but Constantines exploits are best remembered.
The time when Constantine was in court coincided with Christian prosecution under Diocletian and is considered as last effort made in the pagan world to stem the nascent Christianity tide. More than one hundred years earlier, at the end of second century, there was a mission developed by Christianity more that what had been witnessed by the empire before. At the progress of third century, the movement was a great challenge to state institutions.
Some Christians were willing to be martyrs instead of submitting to the practice of pagan which amounted to a challenging emperor’s position and added problems to imperial governance. It was not every Christian who was devoutly committed. However some decided to be traitors and changed their religions from one to another depending on the circumstances. Men who occupied offices of ecclesiastical and at he same time vacillated this way resulted to bitter fights in the church. (Neander, 2007 pp25-29)
Caesar to Augustus
Constantine moved to be with his father in 306 who at that time was in Eburacum where he was campaigning against Picts and both of them participated in the campaign. recently, scholars explains that the Constantine journey to York was due to his fathers ill health but some still say Constantine was playing for power. When his father died, Constantine was declared new Caesar of Western. In a few months, Maximian stepped down his position as Western Augustus and Constantine took over the role. Constantine had considerable military ability and overcame superior forces many times and was compared with Alexander the great. Due to military conquest, his control had increased over the empire and in 324, he became sole emperor.(Scowcroft, 1999 pp24-28)
Unification of state and church
Even before Constantine became the empire, he was aware of Christianity reach. Many religions were established in Roman Empire but they were localized and posed no challenge as long as they worshipped the emperor. Christianity had already spread in the whole empire and its followers refused to worship the emperor. Instead of Constantine deciding to rid his domain of influencing Christian, he thought about the growing religion as a means of bringing back unity that was existing under Augustus Caesar.
Christianity was used to win the empire by keeping it throughout his reign. Christians were able to occupy every reign of the empire but hey were not unified. There were centers of power in Rome, Egypt, Syria and Antioch. Language was difficult and disagreement over many issues of corruption and interpretation that made Christian religion has fissures and acted as a threat to the empire. Constantine was the Augustus in West and tried to resolve issues that brought about division in the church.
In North America, he faced the first challenge where rival groups wanted him to favor them where he responded by establishing synods for resolving the issue. The church turned to subject of how the state ruled and appeal from synod reached to the state. Structures that were existing in the church was not a big issue to the emperor because, he was able to put himself in a position that helped to determine the kind of religion that Christianity would be and went ahead to declare himself the bishop.
Subsequently, Constantine in the east had summoned bishops to famous council and Nicea and charged them because of establishing uniform position on Christs place within the head of God. This issue resulted to division in eastern as bishops held debate on ideas of Arius. Constantine was not participating actively in the proceedings but has supervisory role of ensuring there was consensual outcome. He used his own words in evicting the council to show how he was informed on philosophical issues that were discussed and establish orthodoxy feeling in the church and resolve fractious schisms that acted as hallmark of the church that was developing at that time. Having such an agreement, he was able to anathematize bishops who failed to hold to the doctrines.
The changes that Constantine implemented had effects because leaders of the church were able to access state machinery to be able to exercise ecclesiastical control. Constantine himself established priorities that suited his goals. Thus, Constantinople bishop outranked other Bishops in East and was the rival of Bishop of Rome. (Vasiliev, 1992 pp50-53)
Despite Constantine having supervisory in Nicea council and as self-appointed bishop, he was not baptized until 337. Whether he was baptized or not, he was actively involved where he shaped traditional Christianity. Eusebius approved Constantine’s actions as demonstration of Christianity that was true but his reflection may have produced different perspective. If we reevaluate both pagan and Christianity of that time, the conclusion might be that, Christianity was used by Constantine for his purpose where he controlled and unified his empire.
Constantine made Roman Christian church hostage to state to be able to serve needs of empire and emperor. At he end of fourth century, church was already modeled on Roman Empire political structure and the power of state established right thinking on the members. Orthodox was the order of the day and diverse Christian groups and pagans coexisted and shaped ecclesiastical debates. a powerful organization was created to expunge and control any religion elements that were deemed unorthodox from the empire. (Hugh, 1990 pp12-15)
The figure of influence in the history of the church
The turning point in the church history was first half of fourth century when freedom, acceptance and favoritism was brought by state to community believers that were outwardly oppressed and persecuted during the age of Emperor Constantine. Constantine was able to rise as developer and pivotal of outward strength and inward life of the church. Although some people were against his influence using his actions, Constantine who was associated with triumph of Christ indeed led to formation of early church.
Constantine and the influence he had on early church are well understood by having a focus on his background where he developed Roman Theocracy and eventually converted to Christianity. He played integral role by passing laws and creating Constantinople, building churches and developing Jerusalem. At Constantines time, Roman empire was well prepared religiously and philosophically to accept Christianity. Philosophically writings made by Plato and Neo-Platonism development by Plotinus created way for monotheistic faith and primary goal were deification and salvation. Although Neo-Platonism was impersonal, it proclaimed one God an had the concept that, mans highest goal was union of human soul with divine mind.
When Constantine was marching to unite Roman Empire and called on God his father to help him by revealing himself in his endeavors what took place was “Vision of the Cross”. While still praying, marvelous sign from heaven appeared to him. When the day was declining, he saw trophy of across with his eyes that was appearing above the sun bearing inscription, CONQUER BY THIS. At this time he was amazed and his army followed him and witnessed that miracle.
Eusebius went to relate that Constantine was in doubt about the import this apparition could be and continued to pounder and reason about its meaning and the night came suddenly and while asleep, Christ appeared to him with same sign he had already seen in heaven and was commanded to make a sign like the one he had seen and use it for safeguarding all his engagements with enemies. Constantine with the sign of the cross conquered Maximillian and took control and united people under his rule where half of Western empire was united and Rome under single empire that was sympathetic to Christianity.
Vision of the cross taking place when Constantine was an Emperor was significant because it helped the military campaign. In the mind of Constantine, Christian faith of having faith in Christ did not come to him because of attending the church but was directly and personally bestowed to him to have victory over the enemy and was only fulfilling the impartial duty. Consequently, his victory was helped by God and the emperor was protected by the cross and depended on Christ directly. (Schmemann, 2003 pp23-26)
Constantine borrowed the concept of an empire that was anointed and was made double edged sword of difficulty and strength in early church. It had strength in the ability of emperor who was chosen to unite and ensure Christians are joined together into believers who are in a single body and there was danger because mind of Christians would be bewitched by Constantine conversion thereby distracting the church from taking honest and close look at theocratic absolutism of state in Roman and allowing Christian philosophy to be integral part of how the world view Christianity.
According to Roman, Religion was a matter of state because state had divine establishment and Constant believed the state is the one that bear religion because of expressing divine rule directly for the world in the society of human. This belief in empire that is sacred later led to abuses of matters of faith by the state.
The East refer to Constantine as holy initiator of Christian world but the west refer to Constantine era as the time when the state begun to enslave the church. Constantine had a striking conversion because original it did not get involved with baptism which was recognized as a form of entering into the church. The greatest contribution of Constantine to the church took place at a time when he was not Christian officially. As an empire, one would become Christian even if he had not passed through baptismal trial.
Constantine passed first great law of Edict of Milan as codification and improvement of previous edict that was formed by Licinius and Constantine and signed by both of them. This was first move to tolerate all religions officially including Christianity. Therefore, all conditions concerning Christians were removed and anyone interested in observing Christian religion was free to do so openly without being molested. There was nobody who was supposed to be denied an opportunity forgiving his heart to observe religion of Christianity and do about what the religion is best for him.
Constantine favored Christianity but still maintained peace in the transitioning empire although he had limited time to offer paganism freedom and pronounced that, the freedom available was for the sake of ensuring there is peace. Paganism was always doomed to persecution. If theocratic government was ordained by Christian God, it could not belief that was false for a long period. Theocratic emperor was on focus but it is necessary to note that, religious toleration was affirmed by Edict of Milan but a formal rejection was made by Constantine on idea of sacred monarchy that was absolute. In addition, toleration to religion declared that Christian properties the ended up being confiscated during prosecution were supposed to be returned.
Constantine wrote a letter that stated that if there was anything that belonged to Catholic Church of Christians, in any place or city and are held by other people or citizens, they were supposed to be restored to the churches that owned them.
At the end of Christianity prosecution, it was fierce before Constantine under Diocletian and other indirect results such as flourishing of monasticism that increase direct relation to acceptance and popularity and Christianity. There was no coincidence in monasticism developing immediately after Constantine was converted at the time when there was end of prosecution and Christianity was in fashion. The empire became Christian and the flight into desert commenced from the christened empire.
There was a decree where clergies were exemptedfrom civic duties and were granted the rights that were reserved for pagan clerics. The people in Catholic Church who offered services to holy religion were called clergymen and were exempted from public duties. The decree continued and concept of church as being the spiritual provider for state welfare from Roman view became apparent because when great reverence was seen for Deity, the state accrued the greatest benefit.(Sherrard, 1992 pp12-16)
Constantine Christianized the empire and customs of Romans which offended Christians and included decree of forbidding using Gladiators in sports. Later on, Constantine waged war on paganism by tearing temples down and putting to an end any rite of public or private worship by pagans. the Christian churches legalizing Bequests and civil observance of Sunday as a resting day was declared but there are still pagans that do not observe it. Constantine legalized ability of individuals to be able to bequest the inheritances to the church and this tradition was enduring and provided financial security of the church in future and conversion of Constantine was not just temporary innovation.
When Licinius was in battle with Constantine, he began to renew Christian persecution which was the reason for aggressive retaliation by Constantine. Licinius favored syncretism and did not leave paganism. Constantine aggressively showed favor to Christians but Licinius favored pagan and issued decrees tyrannizing and oppressing Christians of Eastern Empire. In his actions, he commanded soldiers to be cashiered and stripped their rank off unless they offer sacrifice to the demons. Christian churches were also destroyed and clergy murdered. Eusebius believed that this motivation was because of jealousy to the work Constantine instead of the people whom he assisted.(Ware, 1964 pp43-45)
The decrees by Constantine increased his power and authority to Christian episcopacy. During his reign he did much more than granting Christianity equal rights as a religious doctrine that is definite. Christian clergy were given many privileges and tried to strengthen Episcopal courts by decreeing that, man has the right if agreed by his opponent to have suit at court of Episcopal even if the proceedings were already in civil court. the power of Episcopal court was increased more than appeals to civil court even after appeals have already began in civil court and this placed Christians above civil court.
The bishop’s decision was accepted to be final in all cases that concerned people of any age and there was transfer of civil case to Episcopal during any stage of proceedings even if this was not in agreement with the opposing side and decision of Episcopal courts was sanctioned by the civil judges. The benefits and empowering that the church was granted by Constantine power and centralizing Christian government came along with its price. Theocratic vein of Constantine caused difficulties in the church and the best example is Constantine interfering with the matter of Donatist rebellion that took place in Carthage.
The Donatists went ahead to react to collaboration and apostasies of Christians during their fierce persecutions before Constantine time. They did not accept sacraments and Priests authority and authority of bishops who compromised their faith when persecutions were taking place and ended up appointing their bishops and one of them was Donatus. At this moment Constantine continued to provide financial support to Christian communities that were persecuted for their rebuilding and maintenance. (Schaff, 1994 pp54-55)
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