Constantine The Great
First Emperor of Christian Liberationby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
“The struggle for deathlessness must be free”. In these words, Constantine, the first emperor to legalize Christianity conveys the struggle for immortality (achieved through Christ).
Flavius Valerius Constantius was born in 274 A.D. in Nassius, the modern city of Nish in Yukoslavia. His mother, Helena was the daughter of an innkeeper while his father was the Roman official Constantius Chlorus. In 293 when Constantine’s father became Caesar of the east under Augustus Maximian, he divorced Helena. At this point, the Roman Empire had been divided between 2 rulers in Byzantium (Turkey) and Rome (Italy). Constantine distinguished himself under the Western Augustus, Diocletian in the Egyptian expedition in 296 and later in the Persian war under Galerius. When Maximian and Diocletian abdicated the throne, Constantine’s father became Augustus of the west and Galerius became Augustus of the East. Within a year Constantine was declared Augustus by his father, before his death. Constantine concentrated his efforts in the west, particularly with settling the barbarians.
In 311 Galerius died and was succeeded by Maxentius, Maximian’s son who was anxious to claim the west. Constantine did not comply with the demands of Maxentius to retire the throne, marching into battle with 40,000 soldiers. Maxentius was falsely self-assured that his army of 120.000 was bound to prevail. As Constantine was a brilliant commander and strategist, he was victorious at the battle of Turin, tearing Maxentius from his certainty. The citizen’s of Rome turned to favor the remarkable leader who had won despite the odds.
In Eusebius’s account of Constantine’s life, it states that before Constantine went into battle he considered what power to honor and rely on for protection. He contemplated weather to choose multiple deities or to fight in the name of the single, God Almighty. In this account, the leader chose to pursue God and prayed for his assistance. At broad daylight he claimed to witness a magnificent and radiant figure of a cross above the sun. Above the sign was the inscription “In hoc signo vinces “by this sign conquer”. The next morning he had his army paint their shields and carry this “sign” that he had seen early into battle. He was confident that Christ would deliver him. This sign was made using the Greek letters chi “X” and rho “P” as an abbreviation for Christos, meaning Christ. In 312, Constantine met his opponent in battle at Red Rocks, nine miles north of Rome, surrounded by large hills and the Tiber River. Constantine’s force sent Maxentius and his army fleeing to the single Milvian Bridge across the Tiber River where Maxentius drowned.
Constantine was again restored to supreme power in the west. He had the Arch
of Constantine erected in his honor for the Battle at the Milvian Bridge. In
mutual effort with Licinius, who governed the Balkans, Constantine issued the
Edict of Milan which granted Christians the freedom to worship and allowed citizens
to recover property taken by the government. In 323 the two emperors fought
partly due to religious differences, and again Constantine succeeded and became
sole emperor of the Roman Empire, allowing Christianity to become the state
Byzantium was renamed Constantinople and was rebuilt as the “New Rome” The city had a strategic military position, but because of its isolation it was not an ideal political location. The emperor beautified the city by increasing taxation, ultimately bring poverty to the citizens and attempted to correct abuses in the administration of laws. The city was finally dedicated, finalizing the separation from Rome in 330. Although he was not entirely successful he did bring about a revolution of state and religion.
Constantine believed his success in his life was due to his profession of faith in Christianity and that he was “God’s chosen instrument” to bring peace and prosperity to all lands, and “Bishop to those outside the church”. He donated imperial property of Lateran to the Bishop where the Basilica Constantiniana was built. In the late 320’s Constantine became interested in churches and had the Holy Wisdom and the Church of the Apostles built, as well as indirectly sponsoring the construction multiple churches at other locations. As congregations were growing in Constantinople, Constantine commissioned new copies of the Bible to be distributed.
In 325, Constantine held the Council of Nicaea to discuss the Arian controversy over the interpretation of the Holy Trinity. The Council fell on the 20th anniversary of Constantine’s reign and in 326 he left his son, Crispus in charge of the east. Upon his return, he was told by he second wife, Fausta that Crispus was planning to seize power. Constantine had his first son, as well as Fausta slain when he discovered that she was in fact conspiring to aid her eldest son in gaining the throne.
Although Constantine was one of the greatest influences in promoting the Christian faith, he is also credited with infiltrating it with pagan practices, and bringing idols into the church. While Christianity was growing in popularity, sun worship or Mithraism remained strong in the empire. Sun worshipers were converted to Christianity because of their surface similarities, practices, and analogies such as “the sun of righteousness” which were later implemented into the church.
Mithra, the sun god was celebrated in the solar paganism and their day of rest and worship was on the day of the sun. Constantine issued laws conflicting with the fourth commandment, changing the day of worship from Sabbath to Sunday to coincide with the sun worship day of rest. Constantine’s motives for promoting the pagan influences on Christianity are not certain. His mutual compensation was possibly for political purposes of gaining favor or out of ignorance of the laws of the Bible. One mystery is The Arch of Constantine, built to honor his triumph in the name of God. The monument displays no symbolic relevance to God, but does have images of Mithra.
As Constantine grew older his health and principles began to disintegrate. He endowed himself with ornaments, garments, and a throne of previous arrogant emperors. Constantine was finally baptized in the church by Eusebius after he fell ill at Helenopolis, and soon after died in the year 337. This was a usual practice as the idea that Christians could not be forgiven after baptism became pervasive. After his death the empire was divided among his three sons Constantius, Constantine II, and Constans. Although the empire was not at the height of prosperity during Constantine’s reign, he nurtured the growth in knowledge and worship of our Savior.
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