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Raphael's </i><a href="/content/The_Baptism_of_Constantine" style="color:blue">The Baptism of Constantine</a>*.
Raphael's The Baptism of Constantine*.

During the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (AD 306–337), Christianity began to transition to the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. Historians remain uncertain about Constantine's reasons for favoring Christianity, and theologians and historians have often argued about which form of early Christianity he subscribed to. There is no consensus among scholars as to whether he adopted his mother Helena's Christianity in his youth, or, as claimed by Eusebius of Caesarea, encouraged her to convert to the faith he had adopted himself.

Constantine ruled the Roman Empire as sole emperor for much of his reign.

Constantine's decision to cease the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire was a turning point for early Christianity, sometimes referred to as the Triumph of the Church, the Peace of the Church or the Constantinian shift. In 313, Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan decriminalizing Christian worship. The emperor became a great patron of the Church and set a precedent for the position of the Christian emperor within the Church and raised the notions of orthodoxy, Christendom, ecumenical councils, and the state church of the Roman Empire declared by edict in 380. He is revered as a saint and isapostolos in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, and various Eastern Catholic Churches for his example as a "Christian monarch".

Before Constantine


The first recorded official persecution of Christians on behalf of the Roman Empire was in AD 64, when, as reported by the Roman historian Tacitus, Emperor Nero attempted to blame Christians for the Great Fire of Rome. According to Church tradition, it was during the reign of Nero that Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome. However, modern historians debate whether the Roman government distinguished between Christians and Jews prior to Nerva's modification of the Fiscus Judaicus in 96, from which point practicing Jews paid the tax and Christians did not.[8]

Christians suffered from sporadic and localized persecutions over a period of two and a half centuries. Their refusal to participate in the Imperial cult was considered an act of treason and was thus punishable by execution. The most widespread official persecution was carried out by Diocletian. During the Great Persecution (303–311), the emperor ordered Christian buildings and the homes of Christians torn down and their sacred books collected and burned. Christians were arrested, tortured, mutilated, burned, starved, and condemned to gladiatorial contests to amuse spectators.[9] The Great Persecution officially ended in April 311, when Galerius, senior emperor of the Tetrarchy, issued an edict of toleration, which granted Christians the right to practice their religion, though it did not restore any property to them.[10] Constantine, Caesar in the Western empire, and Licinius, Caesar in the East, also were signatories to the edict of toleration.[11] It has been speculated that Galerius' reversal of his long-standing policy of Christian persecution has been attributable to one or both of these co-Caesars.[12]

Conversion


It is possible (but not certain) that Constantine's mother, Helena, exposed him to Christianity; in any case he only declared himself a Christian after issuing the Edict of Milan.[13][14] Writing to Christians, Constantine made clear that he believed that he owed his successes to the protection of that High God alone.[14]

Eusebius of Caesarea and other Christian sources record that Constantine experienced a dramatic event in 312 at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, after which Constantine claimed the emperorship in the West. According to these sources, Constantine looked up to the sun before the battle and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the Greek words "Ἐν Τούτῳ Νίκα" (in this sign, conquer), often rendered in a Latin version, [[LINK|lang_"en|In_hoc_signo_vinces|in hoc signo vinces"]] (in this sign, you will conquer). Constantine commanded his troops to adorn their shields with a Christian symbol (the Chi-Rho), and thereafter they were victorious.[16]

Following the battle, the new emperor ignored the altars to the gods prepared on the Capitoline and did not carry out the customary sacrifices to celebrate a general's victorious entry into Rome, instead heading directly to the imperial palace.[14] Most influential people in the empire, however, especially high military officials, had not been converted to Christianity and still participated in the traditional religions of Rome; Constantine's rule exhibited at least a willingness to appease these factions. The Roman coins minted up to eight years after the battle still bore the images of Roman gods.[16][14]%202nd%20edition]][17]

In 313 Constantine and Licinius announced "that it was proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best,"[18] thereby granting tolerance to all religions, including Christianity. The Edict of Milan went a step further than the earlier Edict of Toleration by Galerius in 311, returning confiscated Church property. This edict made the empire officially neutral with regard to religious worship; it neither made the traditional religions illegal nor made Christianity the state religion, as occurred later with the Edict of Thessalonica of 380. The Edict of Milan did, however, raise the stock of Christianity within the empire and it reaffirmed the importance of religious worship to the welfare of the state.[19]

Patronage of the Church


The accession of Constantine was a turning point for early Christianity. After his victory, Constantine took over the role of patron of the Christian faith. He supported the Church financially, had an extraordinary number of basilicas built, granted privileges (e.g., exemption from certain taxes) to clergy, promoted Christians to high-ranking offices, returned property confiscated during the Great Persecution of Diocletian,[16] and endowed the church with land and other wealth.[21] Between 324 and 330, Constantine built a new imperial capital at Byzantium on the Bosporos, which would be named Constantinople for him. Unlike "old" Rome, the city began to employ overtly Christian architecture, contained churches within the city walls, and had no pre-existing temples from other religions.[16]

In doing this, however, Constantine required those who had not converted to Christianity to pay for the new city.[21] Christian chroniclers tell that it appeared necessary to Constantine "to teach his subjects to give up their rites... and to accustom them to despise their temples and the images contained therein,"[23] This led to the closure of temples because of a lack of support, their wealth flowing to the imperial treasure;[24] Constantine did not need to use force to implement this.[21] Only the chronicler Theophanes has added that temples "were annihilated", but this was considered "not true" by contemporary historians.[25]

Constantine respected cultivated persons, and his court was composed of older, respected, and honored men.

Constantine's laws enforced and reflected his Christian attitudes.

Some laws made during his reign were even humane in the modern sense, possibly inspired by his Christianity:[29] a prisoner was no longer to be kept in total darkness but must be given the outdoors and daylight; a condemned man was allowed to die in the arena, but he could not be branded on his "heavenly beautified" face, since God was supposed to have made man in his image, but only on the feet.[30] Publicly displayed gladiatorial games were ordered to be eliminated in 325.

In 331, Constantine commissioned Eusebius to deliver fifty Bibles for the Church of Constantinople. Athanasius (Apol. Const. 4) recorded around 340 Alexandrian scribes preparing Bibles for Constans. Little else is known. It has been speculated that this may have provided motivation for canon lists, and that Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus are examples of these Bibles. Together with the Peshitta and Codex Alexandrinus, these are the earliest extant Christian Bibles.[31]

Christian emperorship


The reign of Constantine established a precedent for the position of the Christian emperor in the Church.

Constantine had become a worshiper of the Christian God, but he found that there were many opinions on that worship and indeed on who and what that God was.

Nicaea dealt primarily with the Arian controversy. Constantine himself was torn between the Arian and Trinitarian camps. After the Nicene council, and against its conclusions, he eventually recalled Arius from exile and banished Athanasius of Alexandria to Trier.

Just before his death in May 337, Constantine was baptised into Christianity.

Constantine's position on the religions traditionally practiced in Rome evolved during his reign.

Beyond the limes, east of the Euphrates, the Sasanian rulers of the Persian Empire, perennially at war with Rome, had usually tolerated Christianity. Constantine is said to have written to Shapur II in 324 and urged him to protect Christians under his rule.[42] With the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, Christians in Persia would be regarded as allies of Persia's ancient enemy. According to an anonymous Christian account, Shapur II wrote to his generals:[43][44]

Constantinian shift


Constantinian shift is a term used by some theologians and historians of antiquity to describe the political and theological aspects and outcomes of the 4th-century process of Constantine's integration of the Imperial government with the Church that began with the First Council of Nicaea.[46] The term was popularized by the Mennonite theologian John H. Yoder.[47]

The claim that there ever was Constantinian shift has been disputed; Peter Leithart argues that there was a "brief, ambiguous 'Constantinian moment' in the fourth century," but that there was "no permanent, epochal 'Constantinian shift'."[48]

See also


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