CONSTANTINE AND CHRISTIANITY
Constantine Byzantine mosaicConstantine (A.D. 312-37) is generally known as the “first Christian emperor.” The story of his miraculous conversion is told by his biographer, Eusebius. It is said that while marching against his rival Maxentius, he beheld in the heavens the luminous sign of the cross, inscribed with the words, “By this sign conquer.” As a result of this vision, he accepted the Christian religion; he adopted the cross as his battle standard; and from this time he ascribed his victories to God, and not to himself. The truth of this story has been doubted by some historians; but that Constantine looked upon Christianity in an entirely different light from his predecessors, and that he was an avowed friend of the Christian church, cannot be denied. His mother, Helena, was a Christian, and his father, Constantius, had opposed the persecutions of Diocletian and Galerius. He had himself, while he was ruler in only the West, issued an edict of toleration (A.D. 313) to the Christians in his own provinces. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]
Holland Lee Hendrix told PBS: “Constantine's conversion to Christianity, I think, has to be understood in a particular way. And that is, I don't think we can understand Constantine as converting to Christianity as an exclusive religion. Clearly he covered his bases. I think the way we put it in contemporary terms is "Pascal's Wager" — it's another insurance policy one takes out. And Constantine was a consummate pragmatist and a consummate politician. And I think he gauged well the upsurge in interest and support Christianity was receiving, and so played up to that very nicely and exported it in his own rule. But it's clear that after he converted to Christianity he was still paying attention to other deities. We know this from his poems and we know it from other dedications as well. [Source: Holland Lee Hendrix, President of the Faculty Union Theological Seminary, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]
“But what's important to understand and appreciate about Constantine is that Constantine was a remarkable supporter of Christianity. He legitimized it as a protected religion of the empire. He patronized it in lavish ways. ... And that really is the important point. With Constantine, in effect the kingdom has come. The rule of Caesar now has become legitimized and undergirded by the rule of God, and that is a momentous turning point in the history of Christianity. ...
“To appreciate the remarkable dramatic evolution that had occurred in so short a period, one might counterpose the image of Pliny and his courtroom under the Emperor Trajan — sending Christians off to their execution simply for being called Christians — to the majesty of Constantine presiding over the great gathering of bishops that he had called to resolve particular questions. The Imperium on the one hand being used clearly to extinguish a religious movement. The Imperium on the other hand being used clearly to undergird and support a religious movement, the same religious movement in so short a period of time.”
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“Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu;
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Was Constantine a Christian or a Pagan?
Pat Southern wrote for the BBC: “When he became sole emperor in 324 AD, he rewrote his own history with the help of Christian authors. He actively promoted the Christian Church, though he was baptised into the faith only on his death bed. Throughout his life he also acknowledged Sol Invictus - the 'Unconquered Sun' - as a god. He may have been a true convert, or he may have used the Church as a strong unifying force - the debate continues.” [Source: Pat Southern, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]
Dr Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe wrote for the BBC: “One of the supposed watersheds in history is the ‘conversion’ of the emperor Constantine to Christianity in, or about, 312 AD. Historians have marvelled at this idea. Emperors had historically been hostile or indifferent to Christianity. How could an emperor subscribe to a faith which involved the worship of Jesus Christ - an executed Jewish criminal? This faith was also popular among slaves and soldiers, hardly the respectable orders in society. [Source: Dr Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]
“The story of Constantine’s conversion has acquired a miraculous quality, which is unsurprising from the point of view of contemporary Christians. They had just emerged from the so-called ‘Great Persecution’ under the emperor Diocletian at the end of the third century. The moment of Constantine’s conversion was tied by two Christian narrators to a military campaign against a political rival, Maxentius. The conversion was the result of either a vision or a dream in which Christ directed him to fight under Christian standards, and his victory apparently assured Constantine in his faith in a new god. |::|
“Constantine’s ‘conversion’ poses problems for the historian. Although he immediately declared that Christians and pagans should be allowed to worship freely, and restored property confiscated during persecutions and other lost privileges to the Christians, these measures did not mark a complete shift to a Christian style of rule. Many of his actions seemed resolutely pagan. Constantine founded a new city named after himself: Constantinople. Christian writers played up the idea that this was to be a 'new Rome', a fitting Christian capital for a newly Christian empire. |But they had to find ways to explain the embarrassing fact that in this new, supposedly Christian city, Constantine had erected pagan temples and statues. |::|
How Sincere was Constantine's Christianization?
Raphael's Constantine at Milvian BridgeHans A. Pohlsander of SUNY wrote: “When Diocletian and Maximian announced their retirement in 305, the problem posed by the Christians was unresolved and the persecution in progress. Upon coming to power Constantine unilaterally ended all persecution in his territories, even providing for restitution. His personal devotions, however, he offered first to Mars and then increasingly to Apollo, reverenced as Sol Invictus. [Source: Hans A. Pohlsander, SUNY Albany, Roman Emperors ]
Dr Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe wrote for the BBC: ““How should we characterise Constantine’s religious convictions? The differing but related accounts of his miraculous conversion suggest some basic spiritual experience which he interpreted as related to Christianity. His understanding of Christianity was, at the stage of his conversion, unsophisticated. He may not have understood the implications of converting to a religion which expected its members to devote themselves exclusively to it. However, what was certainly established by the early fourth century was the phenomenon of an emperor adopting and favouring a particular cult. What was different about Constantine’s ‘conversion’ was merely the particular cult to which he turned – the Christ-cult – where previous emperors had sought the support of pagan gods and heroes from Jove to Hercules. | [Source: Dr Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]
How complete and how sincere was Constantine's conversion? Professor Allen D. Callahan told PBS: “[To answer that] is absolutely impossible. This is one of the worst abuses of arm chair psychology in the historiography of early Christianity. Constantine continued to behave like a pagan well after his so-called conversion. It didn't stop him from killing people. It didn't stop him from doing all of the kinds of unsavory things that Roman emperors were wont to do. But again, I think from an institutional perspective, the change that was inaugurated by, let's say, the re-orientation of his personal commitments... signaled the reconfiguration of relations between institutions in the late Roman Empire. When we go farther than that, we go to Eusebius and other apologists for Constantine and we know what they really want to do. They want to put his best face forward even if they've got to put a lot of makeup on it. ... We understand Eusebius' motivations, but I think the real important thing there is that conversion experience, how we understand that that particular individual signals something for the culture and the institutions of late antiquity and that's the most important aspect of that one single conversion experience for us.” [Source: Allen D. Callahan, Associate Professor of New Testament, Harvard Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998]
Constantine's Conversion to Christianity
In 310, Constantine decided he was going to take Rome. He lead a small army to the Alps for an important battle outside Rome on the Tiber River against his rival Maxentius, the emperor of Rome. According to the historian Eusebius, while on his way to the battle, Constantine had a vision while staring up at the sky. He reportedly saw a flaming cross above the sun with the words " In hoc signo vinces " ("in this sign you will conquer"). The words " In hoc signo vinces " are featured on the label of Pall Mall cigarettes.
That night Constantine dreamed that Jesus told him to take the cross as his standard. Constantine ordered that new standards be made up, emblazoned with the cross. The next morning at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, on October 28, 312 he scored a victory against great odds against Maxentius, whose forces were swept into the Tiber, where Maxentius drowned.
Raphael's Baptism of Constantine Constantine attributed his military victory to the Christian faith and entered Rome with Maxentius's head on a pike. He erected the triumphal Arch of Constantine in Rome and took control of the western half of the Roman Empire. Maxentius had been the strongest member of the Tetrarchy. By 323, Constantine had unified the Roman Empire and brought it under his control by defeating another rival, the eastern co-emperor Licinius.
Hans A. Pohlsander of SUNY wrote: “Lactantius, whom Constantine appointed tutor of his son Crispus and who therefore must have been close to the imperial family, reports that during the night before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge Constantine was commanded in a dream to place the sign of Christ on the shields of his soldiers. Twenty-five years later Eusebius gives us a far different, more elaborate, and less convincing account in his Life of Constantine. When Constantine and his army were on their march toward Rome - neither the time nor the location is specified - they observed in broad daylight a strange phenomenon in the sky: a cross of light and the words "by this sign you will be victor" (hoc signo victor eris or ). During the next night, so Eusebius' account continues, Christ appeared to Constantine and instructed him to place the heavenly sign on the battle standards of his army. The new battle standard became known as the labarum. [Source: Hans A. Pohlsander, SUNY Albany, Roman Emperors ]
“Whatever vision Constantine may have experienced, he attributed his victory to the power of "the God of the Christians" and committed himself to the Christian faith from that day on, although his understanding of the Christian faith at this time was quite superficial. It has often been supposed that Constantine's profession of Christianity was a matter of political expediency more than of religious conviction; upon closer examination this view cannot be sustained. Constantine did not receive baptism until shortly before his death (see below). It would be a mistake to interpret this as a lack of sincerity or commitment; in the fourth and fifth centuries Christians often delayed their baptisms until late in life.”
Eusebius on The Conversion of Constantine
On the Conversion of Constantine, Eusebius wrote: Chapter XXVII: “Being convinced, however, that he needed some more powerful aid than his military forces could afford him, on account of the wicked and magical enchantments which were so diligently practiced by the tyrant, he sought Divine assistance, deeming the possession of arms and a numerous soldiery of secondary importance, but believing the co-operating power of Deity invincible and not to be shaken. He considered, therefore, on what God he might rely for protection and assistance. While engaged in this enquiry, the thought occurred to him, that, of the many emperors who had preceded him, those who had rested their hopes in a multitude of gods, and served them with sacrifices and offerings, had in the first place been deceived by flattering predictions, and oracles which promised them all prosperity, and at last had met with an unhappy end, while not one of their gods had stood by to warn them of the impending wrath of heaven; while one alone who had pursued an entirely opposite course, who had condemned their error, and honored the one Supreme God during his whole life, had formal I him to be the Saviour and Protector of his empire, and the Giver of every good thing. [Source: “Library of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers,” 2nd series (New York: Christian Literature Co., 1990), Vol I, 489-9, sourcebooks.fordham.edu]
“Reflecting on this, and well weighing the fact that they who had trusted in many gods had also fallen by manifold forms of death, without leaving behind them either family or offspring, stock, name, or memorial among men: while the God of his father had given to him, on the other hand, manifestations of his power and very many tokens: and considering farther that those who had already taken arms against the tyrant, and had marched to the battle-field under the protection of a multitude of gods, had met with a dishonorable end (for one of them had shamefully retreated from the contest without a blow, and the other, being slain in the midst of his own troops, became, as it were, the mere sport of death (4) ); reviewing, I say, all these considerations, he judged it to be folly indeed to join in the idle worship of those who were no gods, and, after such convincing evidence, to err from the truth; and therefore felt it incumbent on him to honor his father's God alone.
Chapter XXVIII: Accordingly he called on him with earnest prayer and supplications that he would reveal to him who he was, and stretch forth his right hand to help him in his present difficulties. And while he was thus praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvelous sign appeared to him from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person. But since the victorious emperor himself long afterwards declared it to the writer of this history, when he was honored with his acquaintance and society, and confirmed his statement by an oath, who could hesitate to accredit the relation, especially since the testimony of after-time has established its truth? He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, CONQUER BY THIS. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle.
Constantine's conversionChapter XXIX: He said, moreover, that he doubted within himself what the import of this apparition could be. And while he continued to ponder and reason on its meaning, night suddenly came on ; then in his sleep the Christ of God appeared to him with the same sign which he had seen in the heavens, and commanded him to make a likeness of that sign which he had seen in the heavens, and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies.
Chapter XXX: At dawn of day he arose, and communicated the marvel to his friends: and then, calling together the workers in gold and precious stones, he sat in the midst of them, and described to them the figure of the sign he had seen, bidding them represent it in gold and precious stones. And this representation I myself have had an opportunity of seeing.
Chapter XXXI: Now it was made in the following manner. A long spear, overlaid with gold, formed the figure of the cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it. On the top of the whole was fixed a wreath of gold and precious stones; and within this, the symbol of the Saviour's name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P being intersected by X in its centre: and these letters the emperor was in the habit of wearing on his helmet at a later period. From the cross-bar of the spear was suspended a cloth, a royal piece, covered with a profuse embroidery of most brilliant precious stones; and which, being also richly interlaced with gold, presented an indescribable degree of beauty to the beholder. This banner was of a square form, and the upright staff, whose lower section was of great length, bore a golden half-length portrait of the pious emperor and his children on its upper part, beneath the trophy of the cross, and immediately above the embroidered banner. The emperor constantly made use of this sign of salvation as a safeguard against every adverse and hostile power, and commanded that others similar to it should be carried at the head of all his armies.
Chapter XXXII: “These things were done shortly afterwards. But at the time above specified, being struck with amazement at the extraordinary vision, and resolving to worship no other God save Him who had appeared to him, he sent for those who were acquainted with the mysteries of His doctrines, and enquired who that God was, and what was intended by the sign of the vision he had seen. They affirmed that He was God, the only begotten Son of the one and only God: that the sign which had appeared was the symbol of immortality, and the trophy of that victory over death which He had gained in time past when sojourning on earth. They taught him also the causes of His advent, and explained to him the true account of His incarnation. Thus he was instructed in these matters, and was impressed with wonder at the divine manifestation which had been presented to his sight. Comparing, therefore, the heavenly vision with the interpretation given, he found his judgment confirmed; and, in the persuasion that the knowledge of these things had been imparted to him by Divine teaching, he determined thenceforth to devote himself to the reading of the Inspired writings. Moreover, he made the priests of God his counselors, and deemed it incumbent on him to honor the God who had appeared to him with all devotion. And after this, being fortified by well-grounded hopes in Him, he hastened to quench the threatening fire of tyranny.”
Implications of Constantine's Conversion
Professor Allen D. Callahan told PBS:“The benefits of imperial patronage were enormous. There are a lot of questions about the profundity of his conversion experience, since he still seems to carry on pretty much like a pagan, even after the vision on the Milvian Bridge. But I think all those matters are matters of the apologies that are written for Constantine afterwards. What's important is that he signals a kind of detente that's reached between the church as a force to be reckoned within imperial society and the Roman state. ... I think that these were two projects in which a lot of people were very, very heavily involved, and they are on a collision course with each other and some kind of resolution has to be accomplished by somebody, otherwise they're going to destroy each other or compromise each other's integrity. And so, Constantine is a historical point man with respect to the relation of the Roman state to the growing Christian movement as an institutional force in late antique society. [Source: Allen D. Callahan, Associate Professor of New Testament, Harvard Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]
“There's an imperial underwriting of pilgrimage and pilgrimage sites, and so a lot of money goes to refurbishing those pilgrimage sites that exist and making them bigger and better and even greater and grander attractions, and creating pilgrimage sites where none existed previously. ...[This] sends a kind of cultural shockwave to the entire society. Now, pilgrimage is a very important activity among Roman elites and others who now identify themselves as Christians — to go to the holy places and see the holy things. Christianity becomes another kind of institutional force after this detente, so to speak. ...
“From the beginning of the Jesus movement, there was always the problem of negotiating the proper relation between the members of the movement, who owed their allegiance to a different Lord, and the powers of the state — the state which, incidentally, killed Jesus. [There is] the story of the coin that's produced for Jesus and they say, "Shall we pay tribute to Caesar?" and Jesus says,"Well, show me a coin. Whose face is on it? Caesar's. We'll render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto God that which is God's." [This is] Jesus' famous non-answer to the question of that relation between the Jesus movement and the powers of the state. In early Byzantine political ideology, after the detente between Rome and Jerusalem, after the so-called conversion of Constantine, it's possible to have two thrones set side by side. In one, the emperor sits. tTe other is left empty because there, Christ, the ruler of the world, is presumed to be reigning and the emperor is seen as a vice-regent of Christ. This resolution, this answer to that nagging problem, is possible after Constantine's [conversion].
Constantine Christianizes the Roman Empire
Constantine was accepted as a Christian after the Battle of Milvian Bridge and is regarded as the first Christian emperor. He wasn't baptized, however, until he was on his deathbed and called for a priest, shouting “Let there be no ambiguity." In March 313, Constantine issued his famous Edict of Milan which gave every person the right to practice any religion they wanted. With the edict Constantine formally recognized Christianity and put an end to the persecution of Christians.
Bulgarian icon of
Constantine and HelenaIn 324, Constantine made Christianity the state religion: stating there was "No distinction between realm of Caesar and the realm of God." Under Constantine, pagan temples were expropriated, their treasuries were used to build churches and support clergy, and laws were adjusted for Christian ethics.
Before Constantine's time Christians practiced their faith in private. Under Constantine, suddenly they could practice their faith openly. Constantine went on a church building spree, constructing churches from Jerusalem to Rome. His grandest church was the original St. Peters which was destroyed by fire.
Before Constantine, the attitude of the Roman government toward Christianity varied at different times. At first indifferent to the new religion, it became hostile and often bitter during the “period of persecutions” from Nero to Diocletian. But finally under Constantine Christianity was accepted as the religion of the people and of the state. A large part of the empire was already Christian, and the recognition of the new religion gave stability to the new government. Constantine, however, in accepting Christianity as the state religion, did not go to the extreme of trying to uproot paganism. The pagan worship was still tolerated, and it was not until many years after this time that it was proscribed by the Christian emperors. For the purpose of settling the disputes between the different Christian sects, Constantine called (A.D. 325) a large council of the clergy at Nice (Nicaea), which decided what should thereafter be regarded as the orthodox belief. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]
Edict of Toleration by Galerius 311
Edict of Toleration by Galerius, A.D. 311 (Chapter 34) reads: “Among other arrangements which we are always accustomed to make for the prosperity and welfare of the republic, we had desired formerly to bring all things into harmony with the ancient laws and public order of the Romans, and to provide that even the Christians who had left the religion of their fathers should come back to reason ; since, indeed, the Christians themselves, for some reason, had followed such a caprice and had fallen into such a folly that they would not obey the institutes of antiquity, which perchance their own ancestors had first established; but at their own will and pleasure, they would thus make laws unto themselves which they should observe and would collect various peoples in diverse places in congregations. [Source: Lactantius, De Mort. Pers., ch. 48. opera, ed. 0. F. Fritzsche, II, p 288 sq. (Bibl Patr. Ecc. Lat. XI). Translated in University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]), Vol 4:, 1, pp. 28-30, sourcebooks.fordham.edu]
Constantine and Pope Sylvester I “Finally when our law had been promulgated to the effect that they should conform to the institutes of antiquity, many were subdued by the fear of danger, many even suffered death. And yet since most of them persevered in their determination, and we saw that they neither paid the reverence and awe due to the gods nor worshipped the God of the Christians, in view of our most mild clemency and the constant habit by which we are accustomed to grant indulgence to all, we thought that we ought to grant our most prompt indulgence also to these, so that they may again be Christians and may hold their conventicles, provided they do nothing contrary to good order. But we shall tell the magistrates in another letter what they ought to do.
“Wherefore, for this our indulgence, they ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the republic may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes.” Chapter 35: “This edict is published at Nicomedia on the day before the Kalends of May, in our eighth consulship and the second of Maximinus.”
Edict of Milan by Constantine (A.D. 313)
Hans A. Pohlsander of SUNY wrote: ““In February 313, probably, Constantine and Licinius met at Milan. On this occasion Constantine's half-sister Constantia was wed to Licinius. Also on this occasion, the two emperors formulated a common religious policy. Several months later Licinius issued an edict which is commonly but erroneously known as the Edict of Milan. Unlike Constantine, Licinius did not commit himself personally to Christianity; even his commitment to toleration eventually gave way to renewed persecution. Constantine's profession of Christianity was not an unmixed blessing to the church. Constantine used the church as an instrument of imperial policy, imposed upon it his imperial ideology, and thus deprived it of much of the independence which it had previously enjoyed.” [Source: Hans A. Pohlsander, SUNY Albany, Roman Emperors]
The Edict of Milan by Constantine (A.D. 313) reads: “When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I Licinius Augustus d fortunately met near Mediolanurn (Milan), and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought -, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts) may show in all things His usual favor and benevolence. [Source: Lactantius, De Mort. Pers., ch. 48. opera, ed. 0. F. Fritzsche, II, p 288 sq. (Bibl Patr. Ecc. Lat. XI). Translated in University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]), Vol 4:, 1, pp. 28-30, sourcebooks.fordham.edu]
“Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation. We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases ; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.
“Moreover, in the case of the Christians especially we esteemed it best to order that if it happens anyone heretofore has bought from our treasury from anyone whatsoever, those places where they were previously accustomed to assemble, concerning which a certain decree had been made and a letter sent to you officially, the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception, Those, moreover, who have obtained the same by gift, are likewise to return them at once to the Christians. Besides, both those who have purchased and those who have secured them by gift, are to appeal to the vicar if they seek any recompense from our bounty, that they may be cared for through our clemency,. All this property ought to be delivered at once to the community of the Christians through your intercession, and without delay. And since these Christians are known to have possessed not only those places in which they were accustomed to assemble, but also other property, namely the churches, belonging to them as a corporation and not as individuals, all these things which we have included under the above law, you will order to be restored, without any hesitation or controversy at all, to these Christians, that is to say to the corporations and their conventicles: providing, of course, that the above arrangements be followed so that those who return the same without payment, as we have said, may hope for an indemnity from our bounty. In all these circumstances you ought to tender your most efficacious intervention to the community of the Christians, that our command may be carried into effect as quickly as possible, whereby, moreover, through our clemency, public order may be secured. Let this be done so that, as we have said above, Divine favor towards us, which, under the most important circumstances we have already experienced, may, for all time, preserve and prosper our successes together with the good of the state. Moreover, in order that the statement of this decree of our good will may come to the notice of all, this rescript, published by your decree, shall be announced everywhere and brought to the knowledge of all, so that the decree of this, our benevolence, cannot be concealed.
Christianity Advances Under Constantine
Constantine became like a Pope. He called the first general ecumenical council, in Nicaea in A.D. 325, to settle questions of doctrine. The most important decision was the adoption of Nicene creed: the assertion that the denial of Christ's divinity was a heresy. This became the basis of all church doctrine from that time forward. Anyone who departed from the creed was branded a heretic. See Christianity
St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, became one of the most cherished saints in the Greek Orthodox church. On her first pilgrimage to the Holy Land she came back with the True Cross, Christ's crown of thorns and the lance used to pierce his skin before his crucifixion. And if that wasn't enough she identified Christ's tomb, which had been covered over by a temple dedicated to Aphrodite. The site is now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem."
Under Constantine, Christians who deviated from official church doctrine were branded as heretics. They were given no support, were punished with penalties and were ordered to stop meeting.
After Constantine died in 337, the Roman Empire was divided up among his sons. Christianity spread gradually but inexorably through the Roman Empire and beyond its borders. Paganism was banned at the end of 4th century and restrictions were placed on Judaism. The power and the wealth of the church grew quickly with the help of faithful Christians who donated their land and other possessions. By the beginning of the 6th century Christianity had 34 million followers. They made up half of the Roman Empire.
Constantine's Imperial Christianity
Professor Shaye I.D. Cohen told PBS: “One of the first things Constantine does, as emperor, is start persecuting other Christians. The Gnostic Christians are targeted...and other dualist Christians. Christians who don't have the Old Testament as part of their canon are targeted. The list of enemies goes on and on. There's a kind of internal purge of the church as one emperor ruling one empire tries to have this single church as part of the religious musculature of his vision of a renewed Rome. And it's with this theological vision in mind that Constantine not only helps the bishops to iron out a unitary policy of what a true Christian believes, but he also, interestingly, turns his attention to Jerusalem, and rebuilds Jerusalem just as a righteous king should do. [Source: Shaye I.D. Cohen, Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies Brown University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]
“But what Constantine does is take the city, which was something of a backwater, and he begins to build beautiful basilicas and architecturally ambitious projects in the city itself. The sacred space of the Temple Mount he abandons. It's not reclaimable. And what he does is [to] religiously relocate the center of gravity of the city around the places where Christ had suffered, where he had been buried, or where he [had] been raised. So that in the great basilicas that he built, Constantine has a new Jerusalem, that's splendid and beautiful and... his reputation as an imperial architect resonates with great figures in biblical history like David and Solomon. In a sense, Constantine is a non-apocalyptic Messiah for the church.
“The bishops are terribly grateful for this kind of imperial attention. It's not the western Middle Ages. The lines of power are unambiguous. Constantine is absolutely the source of authority. And there's no question about that. But the bishops are able to take advantage of Constantine's mood and his curious intellectual interest in things like Christology and the Trinity and Church organization. They're able to have bibles copied at public expense. They are finally able to have public Christian architecture and big basilicas. So there's a comfortable symbiotic relationship between the empire and the church, one that, in a sense, is what defines the cultural powerhouse of Europe and the West.
First Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325
In A.D., 325, the Council of Nicaea, held in Nicaea (present-day Iznik In Turkey), inaugurating the ecumenical movement. Called by Constantine to combat heresy and settle questions of doctrine, it attracted thousands of priests, 318 bishops, two papal lieutenants and the Roman Emperor Constantine himself. The attendees discussed the Holy trinity and the eventual linkage of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, argued whether Jesus was truly divine or just a prophet (he was judged divine), and decided that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
The early councils were shaped largely by Christian scholars from Alexandria and their views were in line with modern Coptic doctrine that the God and Christ are of the same essence and that Christ's divinity and humanity are unified.
Constantine made a grand entrance at the council. According to one witness he “proceeded through the midst of the assembly” and acted like a Pope. The greatest debate was between Arius, a priest from Alexandria, who argued that Christ was not the equal of God but was created by him, and Athanasius, the leader of the bishops to the west, who claimed that the Father and Son, where distinct, but hatched from the same substances and thus were equal. Arus's argument was rejected in part because it opened to the door to polytheism and a doctrine was codified that stated Christ was “begotten not made” and that God and Christ were “of the same stuff."
The Council of Nicaea gave us the Roman version of Christianity rather the Nestorian. The most important decision was the rejection of Arius's arguments and the adoption of Nicene creed: the assertions that Christ's divinity, the Virgin Birth and the Holy Trinity were truths and the denial of Christ's divinity was a heresy. This became the basis of all church doctrine from that time forward. Anyone who departed from the creed was branded a heretic.
Arian Controversy, the Council of Nicaea, and its Aftermath
Hans A. Pohlsander of SUNY wrote: “Early in the fourth century a dispute erupted within the Christian church regarding the nature of the Godhead, more specifically the exact relationship of the Son to the Father. Arius, a priest in Alexandria, taught that there was a time when Christ did not exist, i.e. that he was not co-eternal with the Father, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were three separate and distinct hypostaseis, and that the Son was subordinate to the Father, was in fact a "creature." These teachings were condemned and Arius excommunicated in 318 by a council convened by Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria. But that did not by any means close the matter. Ossius (or Hosius) of Cordova, Constantine's trusted spiritual advisor, failed on his mission to bring about a reconciliation. [Source: Hans A. Pohlsander, SUNY Albany, Roman Emperors ]
“Constantine then summoned what has become known as the First Ecumenical Council of the church. The opening session was held on 20 May 325 in the great hall of the palace at Nicaea, Constantine himself presiding and giving the opening speech. The council formulated a creed which, although it was revised at the Council of Constantinople in 381-82, has become known as the Nicene Creed. It affirms the homoousion, i.e. the doctrine of consubstantiality. A major role at the council was played by Athanasius, Bishop Alexander's deacon, secretary, and, ultimately, successor. Arius was condemned.
“If Constantine had hoped that the council would settle the issue forever, he must have been bitterly disappointed. The disputes continued, and Constantine himself vacillated. Eusebius of Nicomedia, a supporter of Arius exiled in 325, was recalled in 327 and soon became the emperor's chief spiritual advisor. In 335 Athanasius, now bishop of Alexandria and unbending in his opposition to some of Constantine's policies, was sent into exile at far-away Trier.
Major Personalities and Issues in Council of Nicea (A.D. 325)
Professor Harold W. Attridge told PBS: “The Emperor Constantine was the moving force in the Council and he, in effect, called it in order to solve this dispute. He did so because at that time he had just completed his consolidation of authority over the whole of the Roman Empire. Up until 324, he had ruled only half of the Roman Empire. And he wanted to have uniformity of belief, or at least not major disputes within the church under his rule. And so he was dismayed to hear of this controversy that had been raging in Alexandria for several years before his assumption of total imperial control. And in order to dampen that controversy he called the Council. [Source: Harold W. Attridge, Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament Yale Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]
Carl A. Volz of the Luther Seminary wrote: “Three important questions were agitating the minds of Christians at this time. The first problem was the practical difficulty in deciding the precise date of Easter. Different methods of calculation were in vogue in different places. This caused difficulty especially in those places where Christians from East and West were living together, as at Rome, so that some were celebrating the Ressurection while others were still observing the fast of Lent. The second problem was the Meletian schism at Alexandria. After Diocletians's persecution, Bishop Peter of Alexandria allowed those Christians who had lapsed to return to the Chruch after undergoing a mild penance. Meletius, also a bishop, considered the terms too mild, and he rebelled by ordaining some of his own supporters, whereupon he was excommunicated by Peter. Meletius founded his own church with his own clergy. He wanted a purer church composed only of those stalwarts who had not lapsed in persecution. The third problem was Arianism, a theological issue. Arius was a priest from the suburbs of Alexandria, who was also a supporter of Meletius against the Bishop of Alexandria. He recognized the difficulty of accepting three co-equal Persons in the Godhead, and of believing that it was truly God who became Incarnate. Since he was dealing with many pagans in the vicinity of the university, the first thing he wanted was to get them to accept monotheism and to deny polythesim. The notion of the Trinity seemed to him nothing more than a revived polythesim. The Son was therefore a creature, said Arius, the first-born to be sure, but inferior to God nonetheless. A characteristic phrase of the Arians was "There was a time when He (the Son) was not." [Source: Carl A. Volz, professor of church history at Luther Seminary, web.archive.org, martin.luthersem.edu =]
“The effect of Arius' teaching was to produce a piece of mythology. The personal unity of the Supreme God might be retained, but Christ belonged to no order of being that the church could recognize. Since he was not perfect God but he was more than mere man, he was neither God or man, and like Mohammed's coffin, hovered between heaven and earth belonging to neither (Wand, The Four Great Heresies, p. 42). =
“Arius found himself in sharp opposition to his bishop, Alexander. The latter was supported by a rising young theologian, deacon Athanasius. They felt that if Jesus was not fully God, He could not be the savior of men. Arius was summoned before a local council in Alexandria and condemned. Constantine dispatched Bishop Hosius of Cordova to Alexandria to reconcile the factions. Meanwhile Arius had appealed to another Bishop, Eusebius of Nicomedia, who gave him full support. It was at this point that the emperor decided to call a council. Since Christianity was still largely confined to the East, the majority of bishops came from that area. Out of 318 in attendance, only 4 represented the West. The Bishop of Rome (Sylvester) sent two priests as his delegates.” =
Proceedings of the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325)
Carl A. Volz of the Luther Seminary wrote: “The council ran from May 30 to August 25, 325 AD. The doors of the church at Nicea were left open, however, for even pagan professors took part in some of the debates as hired lawyers, and no one wanted to run into the danger of witchcraft or demons. Many of the bishops still bore upon their bodies the scars of wounds they had suffered in the recent persecutions. At one of the early sessions Constantine shamed the Christian leaders by procucing a packet of letters he had received from many of those present, accusing others of false teaching. The emperor tore them up and threw them into the fire. It seems that the emperor himself chaired most of the sessions, and according to the procedures used in the Roman Senate, intruded himself actively in the debates. Eusebius, however, praised Constantine for the patience and fairness with which he conducted the meetings, allowing all sides to express themselves. [Source: Carl A. Volz, professor of church history at Luther Seminary, web.archive.org, martin.luthersem.edu =]
“There were primarily three factions at the council. On the one side were the convinced Arians, a group numbering about 20. They were determined to gain endorsement for their creed. Opposing them were the Alexandrians, led by Anthanasius and Alexander, who were equally determined that Christ's deity must in no way be compromised. The large majority of bishops comprised the middle group, of whom Robertson says, "Simple shepherds like Spyridian of Cyprus, and men of the world who were unintersted in doctrinal issues, theologians, a numerous class, who on the basis of half-understood ideas were prepared to recognize in Christ only the Mediator appointed between God and the world." On this middle party the Arians, with good reason, based their hopes of at least toleration ifnot support. When the council opened it was not at all clear that the Athanasian party would eventually win the field. =
“The only effective means of stopping the Arians was the use of the term "homousios", "of one substance (with the father)." But most of the bishops objected strenously to this term: 1) Its use had always been branded heretical by the Council of Antioch in 268 AD. 2) It opened the door to Sabellianism, which denied any distinctions at all within the godhead. It permitted men to say the Son and Father were the same. 3) Dionysius of Alexandria (d. 265) had objected to its use. It was inscriptural, that is, not found in Scripture. 4) None of the orthodox Fathers prior to Nicea, Athanasius included, had ever used the term. =
“Despite their hesitancy, the Fathers ultimately adopted the term. The fact that it had been suggested by the emperor may have been a factor in its acceptance. A new creed was drawn up (or that of Eusebius of Caesarea revised) incorporating the "homousios" plus a number of anathemas. Five Arians were exiled by the emperor, thereby establishing the unhappy precedent of imperial punishment of heretics, yet the bishops acquiesced in this procedure. On the other two issues, the council took a lenient view of the Meletians. Meletius himself was forbidden to exercise episcopal functions, but those whom he had consecrated were allowed to retain their status, though they were to be subject to the bishops in communion with Alexandria. On the date of Easter the council decided in favor of the usage at Rome, Italy, Africa, and the West. =
“But far from settling the Arian issue, the Council of Micea ushered in the beginning of a half-century of turmoil. Once the mass of half-convinced "middle party" bishops returned home, they ignored the Nicene definition or substituted their own. After 350 AD the Arian sympathizer, Constantius, was sole ruler. By 357 AD practically the entire episcopacy of Christendom had repudiated the homoousios, though there were notable exceptions in the West who were persecuted for their stand (Athanasius, Hilary, Hosius). The period following Nicea was a bleak one for the Church, in which intrigue, double-dealing, court factions, etc. played a large role. It was due to the influence of Athanasius, the Cappadicians, and others, that a reaction set in about 360 AD. The Arians had succeeded too well, for their formula, "Christ is of another substance than the Father," went too far in the opposite direction. By the time of the second ecumenical council (Constantinople 381 AD) the Fathers were prepared to reaffirm the Nicene formulation. Our present Nicene Creed is a product of this second council.” =
Constantine’s Laws for Christians
Soon after Constantine made his decision to favor the Christian Church he began regulating it. Many of his laws worked to the advantage of the Church, although they also implied a hitherto unknown state control and interest in internal Church matters. Eusebius recorded many of these laws in his Ecclesiastical History. [Source: Eusebius, “Church History,” trans in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace, (repr. Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955), I, 380-384]
On the Law for Restoration of Goods only to Catholic Christians, Eusebius wrote in Book 10, Chapter 5; “It is the custom of our benevolence, most esteemed Anulinus, to will that those things which belong of right to another should not only be left unmolested, but should also be restored. Wherefore it is our will that when thou receivest this letter, if any such things belonged to the Catholic Church of the-Christians, in any city or other place, but are now held by citizens (15) or by any others, thou shalt cause them to be restored immediately to the said churches. For we have already determined that those things which these same. churches formerly possessed shall be restored to them. Since therefore thy devotedness perceives that this command of ours is most explicit, do thou make haste to restore to them, as quickly as possible, everything which formerly belonged to the said churches,-whether gardens or buildings or whatever they may be, — that we may learn that thou hast obeyed this decree of ours most carefully. Farewell, our most esteemed and beloved Anulinus."
Law Ordering a Synod in Rome: “Copy of an epistle in which the Emperor commands that a synod of bishops be held at Rome in behalf of the unity and can-card of the churches: Constantine Augustus to Miltiades, bishop of Rome, and to Marcus: “Since many such communications have been sent to me by Anulinus, the most illustrious proconsul of Africa, in which it is said that Caecilianus, bishop of the city of Carthage, has been accused by some of his colleagues in Africa, in many matters; and since it seems to me a very serious thing that in those provinces which Divine Providence has freely entrusted to my devotedness, and in which there is a great population, the multitude are found following the baser course, and dividing, as it were, into two parties, and the bishops are at variance, — it has seemed good to me that Caecilianus himself, with ten of the bishops that appear to accuse him, and with ten others whom he may consider necessary for his defense, should sail to Rome, that there, in the presence of yourselves and of Retecius (22) and Maternus (23) and Marinus, (24) your colleagues, whom I have commanded to hasten to Rome for this purpose, (25) he may be heard, as you may understand to be in accordance with the most holy law. But in order that you may be enabled to have most perfect knowledge of all these things, I have subjoined to my letter copies of the documents sent to me by Anulinus, and have sent them to your above-mentioned colleagues. When your firmness has read these, you will consider in what way the above-mentioned case may be most accurately investigated and justly decided. For it does not escape your diligence that I have such reverence for the legitimate Catholic Church that I do not wish you to leave schism or division in any place. May the divinity of the great God preserve you, most honored sirs, for many years."
Law: A Synod to be Held Against Dissension: Copy of an epistle in which the emperor commands another synod to be held for the purpose of removing all dissensions among the bishops. Constantine Augustus to Chrestus, bishop of Syracuse: “When some began wickedly and perversely to disagree among themselves in regard to the holy worship and celestial power and Catholic doctrine, wishing to put an end to such disputes among them, I formerly gave command that certain bishops should be sent from Gaul, and that the opposing parties 382 who were contending persistently and incessantly with each other, should be summoned from Africa; that in their presence, and in the presence of the bishop of Rome, the matter which appeared to be causing the disturbance might be examined and decided with all care. But since, as it happens, some, forgetful both of their own salvation and of the reverence due to the most holy religion, do not even yet bring hostilities to an end, and are unwilling to conform to the judgment already passed, and assert that those who expressed their opinions and decisions were few, or that they had been too hasty and precipitate in giving judgment, before all the things which ought to have been accurately investigated had been examined, — on account of all this it has happened that those very ones who ought to hold brotherly and harmonious relations toward each other, are shamefully, or rather abominably, divided among themselves, and give occasion for ridicule to those men whose souls are aliens to this most holy religion. Wherefore it has seemed necessary to me to provide that this dissension, which ought to have ceased after the judgment had been already given by their own voluntary agreement, should now, if possible, be brought to an end by the presence of many. Since, therefore, we have commanded a number of bishops from a great many different places to assemble in the city of Arles, before the kalends of August, we have thought proper to write to thee also that thou shouldst secure from the most illustrious Latronianus, corrector of Sicily, a public vehicle, and that thou shouldst take with thee two others of the second rank whom thou thyself shalt choose, together with three servants who may serve you on the way, and betake thyself to the above-mentioned place before the appointed day; that by thy firmness, and by the wise unanimity and harmony of the others present, this dispute, which has disgracefully continued until the present time, in consequence of certain shameful strifes, after all has been heard which those have to say who are now at variance with one another, and whom we have likewise commanded to be present, may be settled in accordance with the proper faith, and that brotherly harmony, though it be but gradually, may be restored. May the Almighty God preserve thee in health for many years."
On the Law Granting Money to Churches, Eusebius wrote in Book 10, Chapter 6: “Copy of an Imperial Epistle in which Money is granted to the Churches: Constantine Augustus to Caecilianus, bishop of Carthage: “Since it is our pleasure that something should be granted in all the provinces of Africa and Numidia and Mauritania to certain ministers of the legitimate and most holy catholic religion, to defray their expenses, I have written to Ursus, the illustrious finance minister of Africa, and have directed him to make provision to pay to thy firmness three thousand folles. Do thou therefore, when thou hast received the above sum of money, command that it be distributedamong all those mentioned above, according to the briefs sent to thee by Hosius. But if thou shouldst find that anything is wanting for the fulfillment of this purpose of mine in regard to all of them, thou shalt demand without hesitation from Heracleides, (10) our treasurer, (11) whatever thou findest to be necessary. For I commanded him when he was present that if thy firmness should ask him for any money, he should see to it that it be paid without delay. And since I have learned that some men of unsettled mind wish to turn the people from the most holy and catholic Church by a certain method of shameful corruption, do thou know that I gave command to Anulinus, the proconsul, and also to Patricius, vicar of the prefects, when they were present, that they should give proper attention not only to other matters but also above all to this, and that they should not overlook such a thing when it happened. Wherefore if thou shouldst see any such men continuing in this madness, do thou without delay go to the above-mentioned judges and report the matter to them; that they may correct them as I commanded them when they were present. The divinity of the great God preserve thee for many years."
On the Law Exempting Clergy from Civic Duties, Eusebius wrote in Book 10, Chapter 7: Copy of an epistle in which the emperor commands that the rulers of the churches be exempted from all political duties: Greeting to thee, our most esteemed Anulinus. Since it appears from many circumstances that when that religion is despised, in which is preserved the chief reverence for the most holy celestial Power, great dangers are brought upon public affairs; but that when legally adopted and observed it affords the most signal prosperity to the Roman name and remarkable felicity to all the affairs of men, through the divine beneficence, — it has seemed good to me, most esteemed Anulinus, that those men who give their services with due sanctity and with constant observance of this law, to the worship of the divine religion, should receive recompense for their labors. Wherefore it is my will that those within the province entrusted to thee, in the catholic Church, over which Caecilianus presides, who give their services to this holy religion, and who are commonly called clergymen, be entirely exempted from all public duties, that they may not by any error or sacrilegious negligence be drawn away from the service due to the Deity, but may devote themselves without any hindrance to their own law. For it seems that when they show greatest reverence to the Deity, the greatest benefits accrue to the state. Farewell, our most esteemed and beloved Anulinus."
Constantine On the Keeping of Easter
On the Keeping of Easter, Constantine wrote to all those not present at the Nicaea Council: ““When the question relative to the sacred festival of Easter arose, it was universally thought that it would be convenient that all should keep the feast on one day; for what could be more beautiful and more desirable, than to see this festival, through which we receive the hope of immortality, celebrated by all with one accord, and in the same manner? It was declared to be particularly unworthy for this, the holiest of all festivals, to follow the custom[the calculation] of the Jews, who had soiled their hands with the most fearful of crimes, and whose minds were blinded. In rejecting their custom,(1) we may transmit to our descendants the legitimate mode of celebrating Easter, which we have observed from the time of the Saviour's Passion to the present day[according to the day of the week]. [Source: From a Letter by Constantine to all those not present at the Nicaea Council, found in Eusebius, Vita Const., Lib. iii., 18-20.) selected from Henry R. Percival, ed., “The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church,” Vol XIV of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, edd. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, (repr. Edinburgh: T&T Clark; Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988) , pp. 54-56]
We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews, for the Saviour has shown us another way; our worship follows a more legitimate and more convenient course(the order of the days of the week); and consequently, in unanimously adopting this mode, we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews, for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep this feast. How can they be in the right, they who, after the death of the Saviour, have no longer been led by reason but by wild violence, as their delusion may urge them? They do not possess the truth in this Easter question; for, in their blindness and repugnance to all improvements, they frequently celebrate two passovers in the same year. We could not imitate those who are openly in error. How, then, could we follow these Jews, who are most certainly blinded by error? for to celebrate the passover twice in one year is totally inadmissible. But even if this were not so, it would still be your duty not to tarnish your soul by communications with such wicked people[the Jews]. Besides, consider well, that in such an important matter, and on a subject of such great solemnity, there ought not to be any division. Our Saviour has left us only one festal day of our redemption, that is to say, of his holy passion, and he desired[to establish] only one Catholic Church. Think, then, how unseemly it is, that on the same day some should be fasting whilst others are seated at a banquet; and that after Easter, some should be rejoicing at feasts, whilst others are still observing a strict fast. For this reason, a Divine Providence wills that this custom should be rectified and regulated in a uniform way; and everyone, I hope, will agree upon this point.
“As, on the one hand, it is our duty not to have anything in common with the murderers of our Lord; and as, on the other, the custom now followed by the Churches of the West, of the South, and of the North, and by some of those of the East, is the most acceptable, it has appeared good to all; and I have been guarantee for your consent, that you would accept it with joy, as it is followed at Rome, in Africa, in all Italy, Egypt, Spain, Gaul, Britain, Libya, in all Achaia, and in the dioceses of Asia, of Pontus, and Cilicia. You should consider not only that the number of churches in these provinces make a majority, but also that it is right to demand what our reason approves, and that we should have nothing in common with the Jews. To sum up in few words: By the unanimous judgment of all, it has been decided that the most holy festival of Easter should be everywhere celebrated on one and the same day, and it is not seemly that in so holy a thing there should be any division. As this is the state of the case, accept joyfully the divine favour, and this truly divine command; for all which takes place in assemblies of the bishops ought to be regarded as proceeding from the will of God. Make known to your brethren what has been decreed, keep this most holy day according to the prescribed mode; we can thus celebrate this holy Easter day at the same time, if it is granted me, as I desire, to unite myself with you; we can rejoice together, seeing that the divine power has made use of our instrumentality for destroying the evil designs of the devil, and thus causing faith, peace, and unity to flourish amongst us. May God graciously protect you, my beloved brethren.”
The Excursus on the Subsequent History of the Easter Question (Hefele: Hist. of the Councils, Vol. I., pp. 328 et seqq.) reads: “The differences in the way of fixing the period of Easter did not indeed disappear after the Council of Nicea. Alexandria and Rome could not agree, either because one of the two Churches neglected to make the calculation for Easter, or because the other considered it inaccurate. It is a fact, proved by the ancient Easter table of the Roman Church, that the cycle of eighty-four years continued to be used at Rome as before. Now this cycle differed in many ways from the Alexandrian, and did not always agree with it about the period for Easter — in fact(a), the Romans used quite another method from the Alexandrians; they calculated from the epact, and began from the feria prima of January.(b.) The Romans were mistaken in placing the full moon a little too soon; whilst the Alexandrians placed it a little too late.(c.) At Rome the equinox was supposed to fall on March 18th; whilst the Alexandrians placed it on March 21st.(d.) Finally, the Romans differed in this from the Greeks also; they did not celebrate Easter the next day when the full moon fell on the Saturday.
“Even the year following the Council of Nicea — that is, in 326 — as well as in the years 330, 333, 340, 341, 343, the Latins celebrated Easter on a different day from the Alexandrians. In order to put an end to this misunderstanding, the Synod of Sardica in 343, as we learn from the newly discovered festival letters of S. Athanasius, took up again the question of Easter, and brought the two parties(Alexandrians and Romans) to regulate, by means of mutual concessions, a common day for Easter for the next fifty years. This compromise, after a few years, was not observed. The troubles excited by the Arian heresy, and the division which it caused between the East and the West, prevented the decree of Sardica from being put into execution; therefore the Emperor Theodosius the Great, after the re-establishment of peace in the Church, found himself obliged to take fresh steps for obtaining a complete uniformity in the manner of celebrating Easter. In 387, the Romans having kept Easter on March 21st, the Alexandrians did not do so for five weeks later — that is to say, till April 25th — because with the Alexandrians the equinox was not till March 21st. The Emperor Theodosius the Great then asked Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria for an explanation of the difference. The bishop responded to the Emperor's desire, and drew up a chronological table of the Easter festivals, based upon the principles acknowledged by the Church of Alexandria. Unfortunately, we now possess only the prologue of his work.
“Upon an invitation from Rome, S. Ambrose also mentioned the period of this same Easter in 387, in his letter to the bishops of AEmilia, and he sides with the Alexandrian computation. Cyril of Alexandria abridged the paschal table of his uncle Theophilus, and fixed the time for the ninety-five following Easters — that is, from 436 to 531 after Christ. Besides this Cyril showed, in a letter to the Pope, what was defective in the Latin calculation; and this demonstration was taken up again, some time after, by order of the Emperor, by Paschasinus, Bishop of Lilybaeum and Proterius of Alexandria, in a letter written by them to Pope Leo I. In consequence of these communications, Pope Leo often gave the preference to the Alexandrian computation, instead of that of the Church of Rome. At the same time also was generally established, the opinion so little entertained by the ancient authorities of the Church — one might even say, so strongly in contradiction to their teaching — that Christ partook of the passover on the 14th Nisan, that he died on the 15th(not on the 14th, as the ancients considered), that he lay in the grave on the 16th, and rose again on the 17th. In the letter we have just mentioned, Proterius of Alexandria openly admitted all these different points.
“Some years afterwards, in 457, Victor of Aquitane, by order of the Roman Archdeacon Hilary, endeavoured to make the Roman and the Alexandrian calculations agree together. It has been conjectured that subsequently Hilary, when Pope, brought Victor's calculation into use, in 456 — that is, at the time when the cycle of eighty-four years came to an end. In the latter cycle the new moons were marked more accurately, and the chief differences existing between the Latin and Greek calculations disappeared; so that the Easter of the Latins generally coincided with that of Alexandria, or was only a very little removed from it. In cases when the id fell on a Saturday, Victor did not wish to decide whether Easter should be celebrated the next day, as the Alexandrians did, or should be postponed for a week. He indicates both dates in his table, and leaves the Pope to decide what was to be done in each separate case. Even after Victor's calculations, there still remained great differences in the manner of fixing the celebration of Easter; and it was Dionysius the Less who first completely overcame them, by giving to the Latins a paschal table having as its basis the cycle of nineteen years. This cycle perfectly corresponded to that of Alexandria, and thus established that harmony which had been so long sought in vain. He showed the advantages of his calculation so strongly, that it was admitted by Rome and by the whole of Italy; whilst almost the whole of Gaul remained faithful to Victor's canon, and Great Britain still held the 'cycle of eighty-four years, a little improved by Sulpicius Severus. When the Heptarchy was evangelized by the Roman missionaries, the new converts accepted the calculation of Dionysius, whilst the ancient Churches of Wales held fast their old tradition. From this arose the well-known British dissensions about the celebration of Easter, which were transplanted by Columban into Gaul. In 729, the majority of the ancient British Churches accepted the cycle of nineteen years. It had before been introduced into Spain, immediately after the conversion of Reccared. Finally, under Charles the Great, the cycle of nineteen years triumphed over all opposition; and thus the whole of Christendom was united, for the Quartodecimans had gradually disappeared.(1)
Constitutum Constantini (Donation of Constantine) and Its Unraveling as Forgery
The Pope's authority over all of Europe is based the Constitutum Constantini (the Donation of Constantine), a 3,000-word documented purportedly written by Constantine between A.D. 315 and 325 that legalized Christianity and gave the See of Rome and the pope spiritual power over the entire world in addition to political power over Europe. The document was not made public until the ninth century when it was used as evidence in dogma debates when the Christian church split into the Catholic church and Eastern Orthodox Church.
In the A.D. 8th century Pope Stephen II and the military leader Pepin (king of the Franks and father of Charlemagne) gained control of huge chunk of land in central Italy, that included Rome and Ravenna, by using the Constitutum Constantini . The chunk of land, known as the Patrimony of St. Peter, was ruled by the popes for most of the next 11 centuries.
The Constitutum Constantini (the Donation of Constantine) was later revealed to be, in the words of Voltaire, the "boldest and the most magnificent forgery." One of the documents flaws was that it gave Rome authority in New Rome (Constantinople) at least a decade before the city was founded.
In 1440,the Constitutum Constantini was labeled a fake by Lorenzo Valla who was called into settle a dispute between King Alfonos and Pope Eugenius IV over who had secular authority over Italy. Valla showed the Constitutum Constantini was a fake. An authority on Latin, Valla pointed out that a diadem in Constantine's time was not a gold crown as the the Constitutum Constantini claimed but was coarse cloth and the word "tiara" was not even in use at the time the document was said to have been written. A number of other words in it were not used in Constantine's time.
Valla was later convicted of heresy for pointing out the "Apostle's Creed" could not have been composed by the Twelve Apostles. He was convicted on eight counts and probably would have been burned at the stake were it not for his patron King Alfonso. Valla's criticism of the Bible itself were not well received either.
Julian’s Attempt to Bring Back Paganism
The Emperor Julian ("the Apostate") (born A.D. 332, ruled .361-d.363) ruled about three years about 25 years after Constantine’s death. A follower of Mithraism, which he called "the guide of the souls", he tried to undo the work of Constantine and led a concerted effort to re-instate paganism as the dominant religion in the empire. He may not have expected to uproot the new religion entirely; but he hoped to deprive it of the important privileges which it had already acquired. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org]
In a letter to Arsacius, Julian wrote: “The religion of the Greeks does not yet prosper as I would wish, on account of those who profess it. But the gifts of the gods are great and splendid, better than any prayer or any hope . . . Indeed, a little while ago no one would have dared even to pray for a such change, and so complete a one in so short a space of time [i.e., the arrival of Julian himself, a reforming traditionalist, on the throne]. Why then do we think that this is sufficient and do not observe how the kindness of Christians to strangers, their care for the burial of their dead, and the sobriety of their lifestyle has done the most to advance their cause? [Source: Based in part on the translation of Edward J. Chinnock, A Few Notes on Julian and a Translation of His Public Letters (London: David Nutt, 1901) pp. 75-78 as quoted in D. Brendan Nagle and Stanley M. Burstein, The Ancient World: Readings in Social and Cultural History (Englewood Cliffs, NJ; Prentice Hall, 1995) pp. 314-315.
“Each of these things, I think, ought really to be practiced by us. It is not sufficient for you alone to practice them, but so must all the priests in Galatia [in modern Turkey] without exception. Either make these men good by shaming them, persuade them to become so or fire them . . . Secondly, exhort the priests neither to approach a theater nor to drink in a tavern, nor to profess any base or infamous trade. Honor those who obey and expel those who disobey.
“Erect many hostels, one in each city, in order that strangers may enjoy my kindness, not only those of our own faith but also of others whosoever is in want of money. I have just been devising a plan by which you will be able to get supplies. For I have ordered that every year throughout all Galatia 30,000 modii of grain and 60,000 pints of wine shall be provided. The fifth part of these I order to be expended on the poor who serve the priests, and the rest must be distributed from me to strangers and beggars. For it is disgraceful when no Jew is a beggar and the impious Galileans [the name given by Julian to Christians] support our poor in addition to their own; everyone is able to see that our coreligionists are in want of aid from us. Teach also those who profess the Greek religion to contribute to such services, and the villages of the Greek religion to offer the first-fruits to the gods. Accustom those of the Greek religion to such benevolence, teaching them that this has been our work from ancient times. Homer, at any rate, made Eumaeus say: "O Stranger, it is not lawful for me, even if one poorer than you should come, to dishonor a stranger. For all strangers and beggars are from Zeus. The gift is small, but it is precious." [Julian is quoting from the Odyssey, 14-531.] Do not therefore let others outdo us in good deeds while we ourselves are disgraced by laziness; rather, let us not quite abandon our piety toward the gods . . . “While proper behavior in accordance with the laws of the city will obviously be the concern of the governors of the cities, you for your part [as a priest] must take care to encourage people not to violate the laws of the gods since they are holy . . . Above all you must exercise philanthropy. From it result many other goods, and indeed that which is the greatest blessing of all, the goodwill of the gods . . .
“We ought to share our goods with all men, but most of all with the respectable, the helpless, and the poor, so that they have at least the essentials of life. I claim, even though it may seem paradoxical, that it is a holy deed to share our clothes and food with the wicked: we give, not to their moral character but to their human character. Therefore I believe that even prisoners deserve the same kind of care. This type of kindness will not interfere with the process of justice, for among the many imprisoned and awaiting trial some will be found guilty, some innocent. It would be cruel indeed if out of consideration for the innocent we should not allow some pity for the guilty, or on account of the guilty we should behave without mercy and humanity to those who have done no wrong . . . How can the man who, while worshipping Zeus the God of Companions, sees his neighbors in need and does not give them a dime — how can he think he is worshipping Zeus properly? . . .
“Priests ought to make a point of not doing impure or shameful deeds or saying words or hearing talk of this type. We must therefore get rid of all offensive jokes and licentious associations. What I mean is this: no priest is to read Archilochus or Hipponax or anyone else who writes poetry as they do. They should stay away from the same kind of stuff in Old Comedy. Philosophy alone is appropriate for us priests. Of the philosophers, however, only those who put the gods before them as guides of their intellectual life are acceptable, like Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics . . . only those who make people reverent . . . not the works of Pyrrho and Epicurus . . . We ought to pray often to the gods in private and in public, about three times a day, but if not that often, at least in the morning and at night.
“No priest is anywhere to attend shameful theatrical shows or to have one performed at his own house; it is in no way appropriate. Indeed, if it were possible to get rid of such shows altogether from the theater and restore the theaters, purified, to Dionysus as in the olden days, I would certainly have tried to bring this about. But since I thought that this was out of the question, and even if possible would for other reasons be inexpedient, I did not even try. But I do insist that priests stay away from the licentiousness of the theaters and leave them to the people. No priest is to enter a theater, have an actor or a chariot driver as a friend, or allow a dancer or mime into his house. I allow to attend the sacred games those who want to, that is, they may attend only those games from which women are forbidden to attend not only as participants but even as spectators.”
Theodosian Makes Christianity the State Religion and Bans Paganism
Constantine I’s actions beginning in A.D. 311 paved the way for the toleration of Christianity but Christianity did not become the legal religion of the Roman Empire until the reign of Theodosius I (A.D. 379-395). He not only made Christianity the official religion of the Empire, he declared other religions illegal.
The Codex Theodosianus reads: “XV.xii.1: Bloody spectacles are not suitable for civil ease and domestic quiet. Wherefore since we have proscribed gladiators, those who have been accustomed to be sentenced to such work as punishment for their crimes, you should cause to serve in the mines, so that they may be punished without shedding their blood. Constantine Augustus. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. IV: The Early Medieval World, pp. 69-71.
“XVI.v.1: It is necessary that the privileges which are bestowed for the cultivation of religion should be given only to followers of the Catholic faith. We desire that heretics and schismatics be not only kept from these privileges, but be subjected to various fines. Constantine Augustus.
“XVI.x.4: It is decreed that in all places and all cities the temples should be closed at once, and after a general warning, the opportunity of sinning be taken from the wicked. We decree also that we shall cease from making sacrifices. And if anyone has committed such a crime, let him be stricken with the avenging sword. And we decree that the property of the one executed shall be claimed by the city, and that rulers of the provinces be punished in the same way, if they neglect to punish such crimes. Constantine and Constans Augusti.
“XVI.vii.1: The ability and right of making wills shall be taken from those who turn from Christians to pagans, and the testament of such an one, if he made any, shall be abrogated after his death. Gratian, Valentinian, and Valens Augusti.
“XI.vii.13: Let the course of all law suits and all business cease on Sunday, which our fathers have rightly called the Lord's day, and let no one try to collect either a public or a private debt; and let there be no hearing of disputes by any judges either those required to serve by law or those voluntarily chosen by disputants. And he is to be held not only infamous but sacrilegious who has turned away from the service and observance of holy religion on that day. Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius Augusti.
“XV.v.1: On the Lord's day, which is the first day of the week, on Christmas, and on the days of Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost, inasmuch as then the [white] garments [of Christians] symbolizing the light of heavenly cleansing bear witness to the new light of holy baptism, at the time also of the suffering of the apostles, the example for all Christians, the pleasures of the theaters and games are to be kept from the people in all cities, and all the thoughts of Christians and believers are to be occupied with the worship of God. And if any are kept from that worship through the madness of Jewish impiety or the error and insanity of foolish paganism, let them know that there is one time for prayer and another for pleasure. And lest anyone should think he is compelled by the honor due to our person, as if by the greater necessity of his imperial office, or that unless he attempted to hold the games in contempt of the religious prohibition, he might offend our serenity in showing less than the usual devotion toward us; let no one doubt that our clemency is revered in the highest degree by humankind when the worship of the whole world is paid to the might and goodness of God. Theodosius Augustus and Caesar Valentinian.
“XVI.i.2: We desire that all the people under the rule of our clemency should live by that religion which divine Peter the apostle is said to have given to the Romans, and which it is evident that Pope Damasus and Peter, bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic sanctity, followed; that is that we should believe in the one deity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with equal majesty and in the Holy Trinity according to the apostolic teaching and the authority of the gospel. Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius Augusti.
“XVI.v.iii: Whenever there is found a meeting of a mob of Manichaeans, let the leaders be punished with a heavy fine and let those who attended be known as infamous and dishonored, and be shut out from association with men, and let the house and the dwellings where the profane doctrine was taught be seized by the officers of the city. Valentinian and Valens Augusti.
Another translation of “Theodosian Code XVI.i.2 reads: “It is our desire that all the various nation which are subject to our clemency and moderation, should continue to the profession of that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one diety of the father, Son and Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in out judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that the shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of divine condemnation an the second the punishment of out authority, in accordance with the will of heaven shall decide to inflict. [Source: Henry Bettenson, ed., Documents of the Christian Church, (London: Oxford University Press, 1943), p. 31]
Consolidation & Dominance of Christianity (A.D. 325-590)
Consolidation & Dominance of Christianity (A.D. 325-590)
325: Christian First Ecumenical Council, at Nicea (Asia Minor), changes the date of Easter from Passover and forbids Jews from owning Christian slaves or converting pagans to Judaism.
330: Jerusalem becomes part of Constantine's Byzantine Empire.
ca. 325-420: Jerome (Christian author, translator).
339: Constantine forbids intermarriage with Jews and the circumcision of heathen or Christian slaves, declaring death as the punishment.
354-430: Augustine (Christian author in North Africa).
359: Hillel creates a new calendar based on the lunar year to replace the dispersed Sanhedrin, which previously announced the festivals.
368: Jerusalem Talmud compiled.
370-425: Hillel founds Beit Hillel, a school emphasizing tolerance and patience. Hillel, a descendant of King David, is one of the first scholars to devise rules to interpret the Torah.
380/391: Christianity becomes THE religion of Roman Empire.
401: Christianity takes root in Gaza thanks to Bishop Porphyry.
410: Rome sacked by Visigoths.
415: St. Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria, champions violence against the city's Jews and incites the Greeks to kill or expel them. Some Jews return within a few years, but many return only after the Muslims conquer Egypt.
425: Jewish office of Nasi/Prince abolished by Rome.
426: Babylonian Talmud compiled.
439: Theodosis enacts a code prohibiting Jews from holding important positions involving money. He also reenacts a law forbidding the building of new synagogues.
451: Christian Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon.
500: After conquering Italy in 493, Ostrogoth king Theodoric issues an edict safeguarding the Jews and ensuring their right to determine civil disputes and freedom of worship.
501: An earthquake hits Israel, partially destroying Acre and incuring damage as far east as Jersusalem.
511: Rebellion leader Mar Zutra usurps power from Kobad the Zenduk, establishing an independant Jewish state in Babylon that would last for seven years, until Zutra's forces defeated Zutra's army, killing him and instituted a harsh policy toward the remaining Jews.
516: Southern Arabian king Ohu Nuwas adopts Judaism, possibly as a rampart against the spread of Christianity. King Eleboas of Abyssinia, with the help of Justin I, later defeated Nuwas.
519: After Ravenna residents burnt down local synagogues, Ostrogoth ruler Theodoric orders the Italian town to rebuild the synagogues at their own expense.
587: Recared of Spain adopts Catholicism, banning Jews from slave ownership, intermarriage and holding positions of authority. Recared also declares that children of mixed marriages be raised Christian.
570: Birth of Prophet Muhammad, Makkah.
590: Pope Gregory the Great formulates the official Papal policy towards Jews, objecting to forced baptism and tolerating them according to the previous council's regulations.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2018