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Constantine And Christianity (Brief)

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Gaius Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus, or Constantine, is commonly referred to as the fist Christian emperor of the Roman Empire and as the defender of Christianity. Such grand titles are not necessarily due for the reasons that people commonly think of them today.

The first clear instance where Christianity is seen in Constantine's life is during his campaign against Maxentius. In the spring of 311, when Constantine was marching to Rome to battle against Maxentius, he saw a vision in the sky, a bright cross along with the words "by this sign conquer." Later that night, he had a dream in which God told him to use that sign as a safeguard to use in all of his future battles. Constantine awoke and immediately ordered his troops to inscribe the chi-rho, the sign he saw - a combination of the Greek letters chi and rho, onto their shields (Constantine Converts to Christianity 312). Some historians have deemed it more appropriate to consider Constantine a patron of Christianity at this point rather than a convert as it appears that he is using it as a means to conquer and attributes his success to it rather being convicted and committed to Jesus Christ as a true Christian should (Legitimization Under Constantine). Meanwhile, at the same time that Constantine is having holy visions and dreams, Maxentius sought guidance and confirmation from pagan oracles and found a prophecy declaring the "the enemy of the Romans would parish." Emboldened by this prophecy, he left the defensive position of Rome and met Constantine at Milvian Bridge. Constantine was victorious despite having an army about a third of the size of Maxentius'. It is said that Maxentius' army became confused and scattered during the battle. Maxentius was driven off of the wooden bridge spanning the Tiber by his own army and subsequently drowned under the weight of his own armor (Christian History - Constantine - 131).

Once Constantine became the ruler of the entire Western Roman Empire, he met with Licinius, the co-emperor of the eastern empire, in Milan in 313. The intended purpose of this visit was to secure an alliance between the two rulers by the marriage of Constantine's half-sister Constantia to Lucinius. It was at this time that the emperors established what is now known as the Edict of Milan. It granted the freedom to pursue any religion within the empire, not just Christianity. Christianity was merely made legal at this point, not the state-sponsored religion. The edict also granted the return of properties seized from Christians by governors. Maximinus Daia, who was the co-ruler of the eastern empire invaded Lucinian territory in the Balkans and was defeated by Lucinius' army. After a time, relations soured between Constantine and Lucinius. Lucinius eventually went back on the agreement made during the Edict of Milan and in 322 and began persecuting Christians once again (Constantine I). This led to the conflict between him and Constantine in 324, which was viewed as a war of religious beliefs in which Lucinius and his army of Goth mercenaries represented ancient pagan beliefs, and Constantine and his army of Francs represented Christianity. The opposing armies met at Adrianople on the third of July and eventually led to Constantine besieging the city of Byzantium with his ground troops and naval fleet. Lucinius, recognizing his defeat, surrendered and was spared by Constantine only to be condemned to death by the senate when he took up the offensive once again in 325 (Constantine the Great). The Roman Empire was again ruled by a single person after having been divided between multiple rulers. Christianity was now acceptable throughout the entire Roman Empire due to Constantine's political conquest over the whole of the Roman Empire.

Constantine took it upon himself to wage a war against the many Gnostic sects of Christianity that were wide-spread. He was against Christians that did not have the Old Testament as a part of their canon. It could be conceived that he greatly admired the rulers of the ancient cities for their model of combining church and state functions. One important dispute in Christianity that he helped to solve was addressed in the Council of Nicea. The Council of Nicea took place in 325, and he called it because he wanted to standardize the set of beliefs that people held about Christianity for the sake of securing his empire. The council addressed the issue of Christ's divinity. One side of the argument, led by a priest from the church in Alexandria, maintained that Christ was not himself divine along with the father. The other side maintained that Christ was of the same divinity as the father. The council ended up deciding that Christ and the father were of the same being (Legitimization Under Constantine).

Speculation about the genuineness of Constantine's conversion has been and continues to be one of the most pondered conundrums of his person. He certainly did not give up aspects of the pagan lifestyle. He considered himself Pontifex Maximus, or high priest of the pagan religion, even after he professed Christianity. He did not remove the gods form the face of the roman coins. He affected a sort of blending of pagan and Christian religions when, during the ceremony for the dedication of Constantinople, his newly acquired capital formally known as Byzantium, he placed a statue of the chariot of the sun-god in the market-place with the cross of Christ on top of the head while playing the music Kyrie Eleison. Constantine also persuaded people to follow the laws and promoted tolerance by combining aspects of pagan worship with those of Christianity. It is no coincidence that December 25, the day formally recognized as Jesus' birthday in the western church is the same day as the birthday of the pagan Unconquered Sun God. It is also likely that the dates of the holidays of Easter and Lent can be traced to those of pagan holidays (Constantine Converts to Christianity 312). Dates for the feasts of the old gods were now the dates to celebrate Christian martyrs. Constantine's thoughts and personal convictions about religion can easily lead one to believe that Constantine was using religion, specifically the toleration of all religions as a political tool to secure his empire and curry support, because, in portions of the eastern empire especially, Christianity had a firm hold, was rapidly spreading, and Christians held no small amount of power. At the same time, he could not afford to affront the majority, which were pagans,



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