Study On Constantines Christianization History Essay
Imagine if our newly elected president began to cast the old way of government aside and construct a complete theocratic Christian government. This new president would also dispose of all non Christian ways of life and request that all the citizens of the United States convert to Christianity. The term Christianity would refer to all denominations within the Christian faith. The imagined government would be close to opposite of prosperous government systems found today. In America, separation of church and state institutions draws a distinction between such a society and more familiar societies in the world. Looking back on well-known, prosperous nations like the Roman Empire, one such ruler is found. He is known as “Constantine the Great.” He is responsible for the Christianization of the Roman Empire and the overall social acceptability of Christianity itself. It’s not to say that our government today isn’t influenced by Christianity. Our right to marriage law is based on the teachings of the Christian bible (Loflin). The money spent on a day to day basis has the phrase “In God We Trust” printed on it. Our pledge the country that is said daily by millions of children at school clearly states “One nation under God”. During the early years of our country, a Christian influence was highly prevalent. Not only is God mentioned in the constitution, He is mentioned in every major document leading up to its final draft (Loflin). I would like to point out that I myself am a Christian and wish to state that I have no hidden agenda I just believe in what I write. Constantine’s Christianization of the Roman Empire was a decision to overall improve the empire. Many scholars and historians believe that it was just a means for Constantine to gain more political power, but most rulers want to gain as much political power as possible, no matter the motive involved. Constantine wanted what every ruler wants for his people: progress of the empire and an increasingly better society.
I believe that Constantine’s motives to Christianize the empire were just and pure, and they were only a means to better it. Constantine was introduced to Christianity by his mother and did not announce his beliefs until he was forty two years old. As a boy growing up in the Eastern province of the empire, he saw the atrocities that had fallen upon the Christians which may have affected him very deeply (Constantine). It was not until the Battle of Milvian, where he proclaimed his Christian faith after he looked in the sky and saw the cross above the sun. He then instructed his soldiers to paint the cross upon their shields. Shortly thereafter, they were victorious in battle. Following the battle, the now emperor, Constantine ignored the sacrifices to the gods, prepared for him upon his victorious entry into Rome and instead went straight into the imperial palace (Constantine).This evidence alone shows that his motives were pure. After seeing the Christian symbol of the cross in the sky, he instructed his men to adorn it, and they won their battle. He noticed what God had accomplished for him with his soldiers and wanted the same for his people and nation. To support the argument that his motives were just, Christianity did not hold its popularity as a religion that it does today. Up until the point in which Constantine gains power, Christians were persecuted throughout the empire. They were seen as a “scapegoat” for Nero during the great fire of sixty four A.D. It was also held at a low level, in respects to other religions, because it was the religion of the poor and the slaves (Van). The reason for this is that a loving and just god where the meek inherit the earth is right up the lowest of society’s avenue. If Constantine wanted more political power, wouldn’t he have chosen a religion that is a little more popular with the majority and the upper class of Rome? Constantine chose Christianity because he believed in God and knew God would help him rule the empire. Another reason that he wanted to Christianize the nation was to unify Rome under one single religion. A counter argument to this would be that America is a melting pot of religions and our country is not tearing apart at the seams. That is true, but one has to understand the vastness of the Roman Empire due to their extensive and highly efficient road system (Van). They were not instantly connected through the internet, television, or even newspaper to news in their country. The people of Rome were spread far and wide and had wait for someone to bring them the news. Constantine noticed this disunity caused by Rome’s own lust to expand its borders and believed that a common ideal amongst the people would strengthen the nation.
The methods that Constantine used to implement his Christian faith upon the empire were a series of laws that would slowly Christianize the empire. Constantine’s first step as a Christian emperor was his Edict of Milan. It stated that every Roman could choose the religion that suited him or her best and thereby making Rome officially neutral in regards to religious worship. It also went a step further by saying that any church property that was previously confiscated must be returned (Constantine). The next task that Constantine had was to integrate Christianity into Roman Society. Constantine became the proprietor for the Christian nation. He supported the church financially and had hundreds of basilicas built. He also built the now new imperial capital of Constantinople and unlike “old” Rome, it had churches within the city walls and contained no pagan temples. In doing this, Constantine did have the pagans foot the bill. He taxed the people of Rome so that those who worshipped in pagan temples could no longer support them and this eventually leads to their closures (Constantine). The next big change that occurred is that Christians could now hold important governmental roles. Constantine would still allow pagans to receive appointments but leading Roman families who refused Christianity were denied positions of power. Constantine also made many legal reforms that still hold value with Christians today. He declared that Sunday be a day of rest and that no market or public office be open on this day. One of his biggest contributions for Christianity is the Nicene Creed. Constantine gathered the most prevalent religious leaders of the time for the Council of Nicaea and they recorded all the important aspects of the religion into one creed which is still stated today (Constantine). Despite the literal Christianization of the empire he did not outlaw paganism; he did however close down pagan temples and outlaw public sacrifice throughout the empire (Constantine). Constantine is considered to be one of the most influential men in Christian history and gave Rome common unity and perhaps stretched a dying nation’s life.
The results that Constantine achieved were very successful, however, many do not know the troubled path he had to take in order for his motives to become a reality. Prior to the fourth century, the Christian Church was quite fragmented, with different sects holding different beliefs on important issues (Constantine). All the funding that Constantine did for the Christian church gave it the financial kick it needed to spread its ideals throughout the empire. The building of Constantinople also helped to unify the church; since there were no pagan temples within the city walls, it gave the church the entire membership of the city. When he appointed Christians to the high governmental roles in society, he established a Christian hierarchy which led to the overall solidity of Christianity in society. Constantine also recognized that a church not unified under common beliefs couldn’t possibly unify his nation. The Nicene Creed was his solution to church disunity and thereby his solution to Roman disunity. His support made membership of the Christian Church socially and politically desirable for some, thus leading to the surge in Church membership that enabled Christianity to become the state religion later in the fourth century (Constantine).
Constantine’s Christianization of the Roman Empire was one of the most significant decisions for Rome at the time; not only for the empire itself but for Christianity as a whole. Constantine accomplished what he set out to do, better his empire. The only way he knew to accomplish this was through the works of God. Not because it would gain him political power, but because he strongly believed in what he was doing and no obstacle could withhold him from accomplishing his goals. I believe that America can take a chapter form Constantine’s book. His ideas may not have held their weight in modern America, but he did what was best for the people despite its lack of popularity.