Today, we’re looking at one of the most influential people in church history: Constantine (272-337).
• Also called Constantine the Great or Constantine I
• There would be 10 more emperors named Constantine.
• Constantine 11th was the last Roman emperor who died when the Muslims conquered Constantinople in 1453.
Constantine’s “Edict of Milan”1
• 303-313 - The Great Persecution
• 313 - Toleration granted to Christians and all religions
◦ Restore confiscated property
Constantine’s Favoring of Christianity
• Exemption from public office
• Tax exemption
• Use of cursus publicus
• Printing of Christian scriptures
• Closing of law courts on Sundays
• Abolition of face-branding as a punishment
Constantine and Churches
• Donated 3,000 bags of money to church in African provinces
• Rebuilt and enlarged damaged churches
• Built new churches, especially through his mother, Helena
◦ Helena also allegedly finds the true cross (relic).
• Appointed government officials that were Christians
• Sought advice from Christian bishops on decisions
• Shared his table with Christians
• Had bishops accompany soldiers
Christian Attitude Toward Military Prior to Constantine
• Jesus and his apostles taught to love enemies (Matthew 5.5, 9, 38-48; 1 Thessalonians 5.15; Romans 12.14, 17-21; 1 Peter 3.8-11)
• Didache 1.3-4; Justin Martyr, First Apology 39, Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.34, Tertullian, On Idolatry 19, Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 16.17-19, Origen, Against Celsus 5.33, Cyprian, Epistle I: To Donatus 6, Arnobius, Against the Heathen 1.6, Lactantius, Divine Institutes 5.8. 2
• Preston Sprinkle: “Despite the presence of Christians in the military, it is clear that no single Christian writer before Constantine sanctioned the use of violence, not even toward bad guys.”3
• Had been a worshiper of Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun)
• Allegedly saw something above the sun
• Had a dream in which Christ told him to use his initials, chi rho (also called, labarum), on his soldiers’ shields (“in this you will conquer”)
• At the battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantine defeated Maxentius, fished his body out of the river, decapitated him, and paraded his head through the city on a stick.
Christian Leaders Seek Favor
• Christians requested the emperor to persecute other Christians.
• Constantine’s Edict Against the Heretics
◦ Novatians, Valentinians, Marcionites, Paulians, Cataphrygians
• Currying imperial favor to defeat one’s Christian enemies became a standard tactic.
The Constantinian shift initiated a new stage in church history—Christendom, the idea that a society or nation could be Christian. Before long, all infants would be baptized, making everyone a member of the church by birth. Everyone would be raised Christian. The government would pay clergy their salaries. How many of these so-called Christians followed Christ? Evangelism was no longer needed. The kingdom had come. The Roman Empire became the holy Roman Empire and was seen as God’s kingdom on earth.
• Constantine’s involvement in Christianity brought several significant changes, both good and bad, initiating the “merger” of the church and the state known as Christendom.
• Constantine ended the persecution of Christians, issuing the Edict of Milan (along with Licinius) in 313.
• Constantine donated large sums of money to rebuild churches, build new churches, and support clergy.
• Constantine’s favoritism of Christianity incentivized people to join the church.
• Christians changed from discouraging military participation to blessing it.
• Christians pursued the emperor’s favor to persecute pagans, Jews, and other Christian sects with different beliefs.
• Constantine’s desire to have Christian advisors in his entourage caused some Christians to begin identifying the Roman Empire as God’s kingdom on earth.
• Rather than strict obedience to the teachings of Christ, Christendom came to lower the requirements for all, while the zealous left, pursued monasticism whether as isolated hermits or in communities.
1 Scholars point out that the “Edict of Milan” was
really a letter sent from Nicomedia.
2 More quotations in David Bercot, Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs.
3 Preston Sprinkle, Fight (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013), 212-3.