I recently watched a lecture by a professor at Yale who mentioned Constantine's belief that he was a instrument of God, but the academic doesn't really explain why Constantine believed he was an instrument of God.
My question is did the belief that the emperor was a divine instrument stem from Constantine's predecessor's pagan beliefs? For example, Julius Caesar was worshiped as a God after he died.
Constantine had a dream about God telling him to put crosses on his soldier's shield and he did and his soldiers won the battle even though they were outnumbered 2:1. He converted and therefore thought he was an instrument of God to stop persecution of Christianity in Rome and legalize it.
This question cannot be answered. No sufficiant primary or secondary sources exist. We know that Constantine made this opinion known in public (great tool to rally the troops) but whether or not he believed it personally cannot be known from extan sources.
Church History: Constantine, an Emperor Who Defied God
Jesus Christ warned His followers, &ldquoDo not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword&rdquo (Matthew 10:34). His words have proven true throughout the centuries, and especially during the fourth century in the Roman Empire.
Another article on Church history discusses the loyalty of Polycarp and Polycrates in their defense of the New Testament Passover being kept on the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar. But persecutions continued against the Church. This article focuses on the decrees Constantine made regarding his interpretation of religious doctrine and the aftermath of his pronouncements.
Persecution toward the Church
In the years prior to Constantine, a number of Roman emperors had persecuted the Church Jesus established. One such campaign was sanctioned by Emperor Trajan after he received a letter from Pliny (A.D. 111-113). Pliny was a young lawyer and governor over the territory of Bithynia and Pontus, along the southern edge of the Black Sea where some in the Church had originally settled (1 Peter 1:1-2).
Following is a portion of Pliny&rsquos letter:
&ldquoIt is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. &hellip
&ldquoI have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished.&rdquo
Trajan responded: &ldquoYou observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it&mdashthat is, by worshiping our gods&mdasheven though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance.&rdquo
So, in the early part of the second century, we see persecution directed toward the Christians in the area of Asia Minor. This persecution continued, but the Church of God remained firm and loyal.
Persecution by Diocletian
Later, more persecutions took place. According to the historian Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History (Book 8, chap. 2, paragraph 4), we read: &ldquoIt was in the nineteenth year of the reign of Diocletian [A.D. 303], &hellip when the feast of the Saviour&rsquos passion was near at hand, that royal edicts were published everywhere, commanding that the churches be leveled to the ground and the Scriptures be destroyed by fire, and ordering that those who held places of honor be degraded, and that the household servants, if they persisted in the profession of Christianity, be deprived of freedom.&rdquo
Later, in chapter 5, we read about an unnamed man of zeal: &ldquoImmediately on the publication of the decree against the churches in Nicomedia, a certain man, not obscure but very highly honored with distinguished temporal dignities, moved with zeal toward God, and incited with ardent faith, seized the edict as it was posted openly and publicly, and tore it to pieces as a profane and impious thing and this was done while two of the sovereigns were in the same city. &hellip But this man &hellip after distinguishing himself in such a manner suffered those things which were likely to follow such daring, and kept his spirit cheerful and undisturbed till death.&rdquo
So, there still existed faithful men despite the terrible persecution that ensued.
It is also interesting to note that one of those trained at the court of Diocletian, who was also present in Nicomedia during the persecution in A.D. 303, was Constantine. He eventually became a great general and, after many victories on the battlefield, was hailed by his troops as the next Augustus and later became emperor.
The reign of Constantine
In A.D. 312 Constantine invaded Italy to oust Emperor Maxentius, who had up to four times as many troops. Constantine claimed to have had a vision on the way to Rome, during the night before battle. In this dream he supposedly saw the Chi-Rho symbol, the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, which some believed was a symbol of Christ, shining above the sun.
Seeing this as a divine sign, it is said that Constantine had his soldiers paint the symbol on their shields. Following this, Constantine went on to defeat the numerically stronger army of Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.
Religiously, Constantine was still a pagan who worshipped the gods of Rome, including the sun god. It wasn’t until much later, just before his death, that he supposedly converted to Christianity. Religiously, Constantine was still a pagan who worshipped the gods of Rome, including the sun god. It wasn&rsquot until much later, just before his death, that he supposedly converted to Christianity&mdasha Christianity he had helped shape that was quite different from the Christianity of the early New Testament Church.
In one of his first major decisions as emperor, Constantine coissued the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313. It basically ended any further persecutions of the Christians. Even though the edict gave Christianity legal status, Christianity did not become the official religion of the Roman Empire until Emperor Theodosius I in A.D. 380.
In A.D. 314 Constantine summoned the bishops of the western provinces to Arelate (Arles) after a schism had split the Catholic Church in Africa. In his readiness to resolve this matter through peaceful debate, he also revealed a desire to insert himself into religious issues concerning doctrine.
The Council of Nicaea
One of the most famous gatherings over which Constantine presided was the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. Over 300 bishops of the Roman church convened to discuss a number of theological questions. One of the decisions reached was that Easter should be observed instead of the Passover.
According to the historian Theodoret (393-458), Constantine wrote: &ldquoIt was, in the first place, declared improper to follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this holy festival, because, their hands having been stained with crime, the minds of these wretched men are necessarily blinded. By rejecting their custom, we establish and hand down to succeeding ages one which is more reasonable. &hellip
&ldquoLet us, then, have nothing in common with the Jews, who are our adversaries. &hellip Let us with one accord walk therein, my much-honoured brethren, studiously avoiding all contact with that evil way. They boast that without their instructions we should be unable to commemorate the festival properly. This is the highest pitch of absurdity. For how can they entertain right views on any point who, after having compassed the death of the Lord, being out of their minds, are guided not by sound reason, but by an unrestrained passion, wherever their innate madness carries them.&rdquo
So, here we see a complete reversal of a law of God (Leviticus 23:4-5 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, 26, 27-28). One of God&rsquos festivals was replaced by a pagan celebration.
Constantine went further: &ldquoTo sum up in few words: By the unanimous judgment of all, it has been decided that the most holy festival of Easter should be everywhere celebrated on one and the same day, and it is not seemly that in so holy a thing there should be any division.&rdquo
A more ominous decision
However, four years before the Council of Nicaea, an even more profound and long-lasting decision was implemented by Constantine. And it went directly to the core of God&rsquos laws.
In A.D. 321 Constantine decreed that Sunday would be observed as the Roman day of rest. In A.D. 321 Constantine decreed that Sunday would be observed as the Roman day of rest: &ldquoOn the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not so suitable for grain-sowing or vine-planting lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost&rdquo (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 1867, Vol. 2, p. 380, footnote 1.)
This decision had far-reaching effects. Not only was God&rsquos law rejected, but people began to celebrate a pagan day (in honor of the sun god) instead of the seventh-day Sabbath, which is the true Sabbath day upon which humanity was to worship and honor God (Deuteronomy 5:12-14, 15).
Later, in A.D. 365, long after Constantine had died, an infamous declaration was made at the Council of Laodicea: &ldquoChristians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord&rsquos Day and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ&rdquo (Council of Laodicea, 29th Canon).
Then, later in the early 400s, Augustine, one of the Roman Church&rsquos theologians, proclaimed, &ldquoThe holy doctors of the church have decreed that all the glory of the Jewish Sabbath is transferred to it [Sunday]. Let us therefore keep the Lord&rsquos Day as the ancients were commanded to do the Sabbath&rdquo (Robert Cox, Sabbath Laws and Sabbath Duties, 1853, p. 284).
The faithful held fast
As a result of these man-made edicts, a large portion of the world has been following false decrees, but not all people changed their beliefs to worship on Sunday. As persecutions over the Sabbath intensified, members of the Church of God migrated to the west, and history reveals that the Church thrived in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. But that is another story for another article.
In the meantime, take time to confirm what the Bible teaches about the seventh-day Sabbath. The following resources can help: &ldquoThe Sabbath, Sunday, Every Day or No Day at All?&rdquo and &ldquoWhich Day Is the Seventh Day?&rdquo
Constantine may not have been a Christian until his deathbed baptism. Constantine's Christian mother, St. Helena, may have converted him or he may have converted her. Most people consider Constantine a Christian from the Milvian Bridge in 312, but he wasn't baptized until a quarter century later. Today, depending on which branch and denomination of Christianity you're following, Constantine might not count as a Christian without the baptism, but it's not an event that clear in the first few centuries of Christianity when Christian dogma had yet to be fixed.
Why He Waited So Long to Be Baptized
Here are some responses from the Ancient / Classical History forum. Please add your opinion to the forum thread.
Was the deathbed conversion of Constantine the act of a moral pragmatist?
Was Constantine a duplicitous hypocrite?
See: "Religion and Politics at the Council at Nicaea," by Robert M. Grant. The Journal of Religion, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Jan. 1975), pp. 1-12
11 Unusual Facts about Constantine the First Christian Roman Emperor
C onstantine gets a bad rap. He’s Saint Constantine in the Eastern Churches, but just plain ol’ “Constantine” in the West. Is he an apostolic saint or an opportunistic sinner?
In the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on Constantine. I’ve taught a course three times in Rome called “History and Theology of Rome,” which touches on Constantine and his legacy. I’ve written a book The Eternal City which also explores his impact on Christianity (I was much more pessimistic about him in the book than I am now). Moreover, Constantine is a major literary character in my historical fiction Trilogy: Sword and Serpent: Trilogy.
[PS: Book III in the Sword and Serpent Trilogy is now complete and in the final editing stages – and young Constantine heavily present in the final novel.]
Since we live in times of political and ecclesiastical ambiguity, here are 11 facts about Constantine to help you see that God can use imperfect politicians (and imperfect bishops) to bring about great good:
- He was divorced and remarried. His first wife was Minervina, and he divorced her to marry his second wife was Fausta.
- Constantine killed his second wife. In AD 326, he had his first son Crispus (from his first marriage) killed. He also had his second wife Fausta killed. Both names were removed from public documentation. After Constantine had his second wife killed, he never married again until his death at age 65. (It was rumored that his son Crispus had an affair with his stepmother Fausta and that this revelation and their ordered deaths haunted Constantine to the grave.)
- During his early life, the Roman Empire was divided into a Tetrarchy of four emperors: two senior emperors with the title “Augustus” and two junior emperors with the title “Caesar.” Constantine’s father Constantius was the “junior emperor” or “Caesar” of the Western half of the Empire.
- Constantine spent his early life held captive in the East (away from his father in the West) by the senior emperor Augustus Diocletian (a great persecutor of Christians). Constantine escaped the Eastern emperors by night and fled to his father. It is said that he hamstrung every horse along the way so that he would not be caught! Constantine joined his father Constantius in York in Britain. His father died in 306 and his son Constantine was acclaimed “Augustus” or senior emperor of the Western Roman Empire by his soldiers.
- But Constantine needed to prove his title. Before defeating Maxentius in AD 312, Constantine saw the cross in the sky above the sun with the words “in touto nika” or, “In this sign, conquer.” Lactantius (who tutored his sons) says Constantine was instructed to conquer under the sign of the cross during a dream. Eusebius records that it happened during the day at noon and that all the troops saw it. Either way, Constantine is said to have placed the sign of the cross or a Chi Rho on the shields of his men. Scholar Peter Weiss suggests the public “sun miracle” happened in Gaul in AD 310 and the dream happened in AD 312 before the Battle at the Milvian Bridge. That in AD 310, Constantine began to shift to monotheism based on “Sol Invictus” and that by AD 312, this monotheism had become (or was becoming) Christian monotheism.
- Constantine legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan in AD 313, but he began to remove pagan symbols from imperial coins beginning around the year AD 318. He gave the Lateran Palace to the bishop of Rome in AD 324. His conversion seems gradual and is in full display after about 10-12 years of rule.
- Constantine didn’t likely convert for political reasons as most high school history teachers will tell you. The demographics were against him. It is estimated that in AD 312, Christians composed only 10-15% of the Roman Empire’s population and fell into the lowest levels of education, wealth, and political power. The influence, wealth, and political power were still held by those checking the box labeled: “Jupiter, et al. Give me that old school Roman religion.”
- In AD 325, he called the first Catholic and Ecumenical Council of Nicea, which condemned the heresy of Arius falsely teaching that the Son of God was created and not eternally begotten of the Father.
- Constantine left three living sons (each born from Fausta):
Constantine II (Catholic and anti-Arian). The first born.
Constantius II (Semi-Arian). The most powerful and through his influence, Semi-Arian theology spread.
Constans (Catholic and anti-Arian and anti-Donatist). Constans was rumored to be a man of unnatural vices.
- Constantine did not divide the Roman Empire into “East and West.” That had already been accomplished fully by Diocletian. Constantine, in a sense, re-united the entire Roman Empire under himself as one household or oecoumenos.
- Constantine fell ill and personally selected the Semi-Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia to baptize him just days before his death. He died on Pentecost AD 337.
Whatever your opinion of Constantine, it’s a historical fact that Christianity was spread to more souls by Constantine than by Saint Paul himself. This is why the Eastern Churches hail him as the “Thirteenth Apostle.” I’ll admit that this title is overly ambitious, but my opinion is that he was genuinely apostolic despite him being obviously imperfect.
Depending on your perspective: pray for Constantine’s soul or ask him to pray for you!
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Church of God News
Did you know that the “cross” became a military symbol after a sun-worshiping Emperor claimed to have a vision and a dream:
In 312, the Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great was in Trier, Germany where he had an unexpected vision of a cross that appeared in the sky..Constantine’s soldiers, the majority of whom were pagans, placed the sacred image of the cross on their shields (Mangan C.M. In This Sign You Conquer, 10/15/03 Copyright © 2004 Catholic Online).
said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens , above the sun, and bearing the inscription , Conquer by this…in his sleep the Christ of God appeared to him with the same sign which he had seen in the heavens , and commanded him to make a likeness of that sign which he had seen in the heavens , and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies….At dawn of day he arose, and communicated the marvel to his friends: and then, calling together the workers in gold and precious stones, he sat in the midst of them, and described to them the figure of the sign he had seen, bidding them represent it in gold and precious stones…
Now it was made in the following manner. A long spear, overlaid with gold, formed the figure of the cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it. On the top of the whole was fixed a wreath of gold and precious stones and within this, the symbol of the Saviour’s name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P being intersected by X in its centre…
The emperor constantly made use of this sign of salvation as a safeguard against every adverse and hostile power, and commanded that others similar to it should be carried at the head of all his armies. (Eusebius. The Life of Constantine, Book I, Chapters 28,30,31).
This type of cross is known as a labarum:
The Labarum (☧) was a vexillum (military standard) that displayed the first two Greek letters of the word “Christ” (Greek: ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ , or Χριστός) — Chi (χ) and Rho (ρ).It was first used by the Roman emperor Constantine I…
Though modern representations of the chi-rho sign represent the two lines crossing at ninety degree angles, the early examples of the Chi-Rho cross at an angle that is more vividly representative of the chi formed by the solar ecliptic path and the celestial equator. This image is most familiar in Plato’s Timaeus…Of Plato’s image in Timaeus, Justin Martyr, the Christian apologist writing in the second century, found a prefiguration of the Cross (Labarum. Wikipedia, viewed 03/04/09).
So, the Chi-Rho existed from at least the time of Plato (a pagan philosopher), but was adopted by Constantine centuries after Christ died. The heretic Justin was probably one who originally encouraged its adoption, and he apparently got it from Plato.
There is also a Catholic writer who indicates that the image or perhaps mark of the beast may be something that resembles that Constantinian cross:
Priest P. Huchedé (19th century): Antichrist will further make all men, great and small, rich and poor, freemen and bondmen, bear a sign on their right arm or their forehead. (Apoc. 13:16). What this sign shall be time alone will reveal. Yet there are some
commentators of the Holt Writ, who, according to a special revelation pretend to say that it shall be formed out of the Greek letters X and P, interlaced…which resembles the number of Christ. (Cornelius a Lapide in Epis. 2 to Thes.). No one can either buy or sell without this mark, as specified in the Apocalypse (13:17). (Huchedé, P. Translated by JBD. History of Antichrist. Imprimatur: Edward Charles Fabre, Bishop of Montreal. English edition 1884, Reprint 1976. TAN Books, Rockford (IL), p. 24).
If the cross is a symbol of the future Antichrist/Beast power as Priest P. Huchedé indicates it will be (and it is in a book with an official imprimatur), perhaps those who come from faiths descended from Emperor Constantine should be concerned about their religion now–before it becomes even further removed from the original faith. The Bible indicates that the true Christians will NOT have the symbol/mark needed to buy or sell when the two beasts of Revelation 13 are in power, but only those that will follow those beasts will (Revelation 13:16-17)–and while crosses may not necessarily be required everywhere, other Catholic writings suggest that in certain places, they will be.
Although all real scholars admit that the original Christians would not kill or intentionally participate in military service, after Emperor Constantine claimed to see a spear in the sky with a traverse bar (see Constantine is Why “Christians” War), the group that accepted his authority then allowed him to convene what is known as the Council of Nicea in 325. A.D.
Astoundingly, there are writings that indicate that those wear crosses will be persecuters:
St. Francis de Paul (1470): These holy Cross-bearers shall reign and dominate holily over the whole world until the end of time…(Culleton, G. The Prophets and Our Times. Nihil Obstat: L. Arvin. Imprimatur: Philip G. Scher, Bishop of Monterey-Fresno, November 15, 1941. Reprint 1974, TAN Books, Rockford (IL),p. 157-161).
St. Bridget of Sweden (died 1373): …war shall end when an emperor of Spanish origin will be elected, who will, in a wonderful manner, be victorious through the sign of the Cross. He shall destroy the Jewish and Mahometan sects… (Culleton, The Prophets and Our Times , p. 154).
Anne Catherine Emmerich (October, 1820): citizens and peasants, many of whom were marked on the forehead with a red cross. As this army drew near, the captives and oppressed were delivered and swelled the ranks whilst the demolishers and conspirators were put to flight on all sides (Emmerich AC. The Life of Lord Jesus Christ and Biblical Revelations. Schmöger edition, Vol. IV. Nihil Obstat: D. Jaegher, 14 Februari 1914. Imprimatur: A.C. De Schrevel, Brugis, 14 Februari 1914. Reprint TAN Books, Rockford (IL), 2004, pp. 290-291).
Notice what one claimed to be “Mary” allegedly stated in an apparition Pfaffenhofen, Germany on June 25, 1946:
I am the great Mediatrix of Grace. The Father wants the world to recognize His handmaid…My sign is about to appear. God wills it…I cannot reveal my power to the world as yet…Then I will be able to reveal myself…Chose a sign for yourself so that the Trinity may soon be adored by all! Pray and sacrifice through me!…I will impose crosses on my children that will be as heavy and as deep as the sea because I love them in my sacrificed Son. I pray, be prepared to bear the cross in order that the Trinity may be honored (Culleton, Reign of Antichrist, pp. 217-218).
Real Christians would not pray and sacrifice through Mary.
In 1958, Matous Losuta of Czechoslovakia claimed that “Mary” stated:
All my children will receive and carry the sign of the cross on their foreheads (Flynn, Ted & Flynn, Maureen. Thunder of Justice: The Warning, the Miracle, the Chastisement, the Era of Peace. Signs of the Times Illustrated by Kaleidoscope Graphics Staff Contributor Malachi Martin Published by Maxkol Communications, 1992, p. 331).
But this is not something that the Bible advocates. (More on Mary can be found in the article Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Apparitions.)
Thus, according to various Catholic mystics and writers, those that follow a persecuting power will wear some type of cross. And according to at least one Catholic priest, it is similar to the type of cross that Emperor Constantine used, and according to that same priest, it may be an important symbol for the beasts of Revelation 13 and their followers.
Some articles of possibly related interest may include:
Europa, the Beast, and Revelation Where did Europe get its name? What might Europe have to do with the Book of Revelation? What about “the Beast”? What is ahead for Europe?
Persecutions by Church and State This article documents some that have occurred against those associated with the COGs and some prophesied to occur.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Apparitions Do you know much about Mary? Are the apparitions real? What might they mean? Are Protestants moving towards Mary? How might Mary view them?
Some Doctrines of Antichrist Are there any doctrines taught outside the Churches of God which can be considered as doctrines of antichrist? This article suggests at least three. It also provides information on 666 and the identity of “the false prophet”. Plus it shows that several Catholic writers seem to warn about an ecumenical antipope that will support heresy.
Do Certain Catholic Prophecies About Antichrist Warn Against Jesus? Will the final “Anti-Christ” be Jewish, insist on Saturday, be opposed to the trinity, and bring in the millennium? Catholic writings indicate this, but what does the Bible show?
Two Horned Beast of Revelation and 666 This article explains how the LCG views this, and compares this to Ellen White.
Who is the King of the North? Is there one? Do biblical and Roman Catholic prophecies point to the same leader? Should he be followed? Who will be the King of the North discussed in Daniel 11? Is a nuclear attack prophesied to happen to the English-speaking peoples of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand ? When do the 1335 days, 1290 days, and 1260 days (the time, times, and half a time) of Daniel 12 begin? When does the Bible show that economic collapse will affect the United States?
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?
Hope of Salvation: How the Living Church of God differ from most Protestants How the Living Church of God differs from mainstream/traditional Protestants, is perhaps the question I am asked most by those without a Church of God background.
The Similarities and Dissimilarities between Martin Luther and Herbert W. Armstrong This article clearly shows some of the doctrinal differences between in the two. At this time of doctrinal variety and a tendency by many to accept certain aspects of Protestantism, the article should help clarify why the Living Church of God is NOT Protestant. Do you really know what the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther taught and should you follow his doctrinal example?
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Living Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions. Português: Qual é fiel: A igreja católica romana ou a igreja viva do deus? Tambien Español: Cuál es fiel: ¿La iglesia católica romana o La Iglesia del Dios Viviente? Auch: Deutsch: Welches zuverlässig ist: Die Römisch-katholische Kirche oder die lebende Kirche von Gott?
Some Similarities and Differences Between the Orthodox Church and the Living Church of God Both groups claim to be the original church, but both groups have differing ways to claim it. Both groups have some amazing similarities and some major differences. Do you know what they are?
Constantine had two visions. The first, according to pagan sources, was a vision of Apollo in the year 306. In this vision, he was given 30 wreaths, symbolizing the 30 years he would reign as emperor.
But according to Christian sources, the vision that mattered wasn’t in 306, but in 312. And it wasn’t at the temple of Apollo, it was at the battle of Milvian Bridge.
Eusebius describes the event:
A most marvelous sign appeared to [Constantine] from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person. . . . He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, CONQUER BY THIS. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle.
Was the whole incident fabricated? Was it a figment of his imagination? And, if he dreamed something or saw something, what was it?
A likely explanation is that he did indeed have some kind of experience—a dream, a vision, or both—but that the interpretation was provided by Christian advisers (notably Ossius, or Hosius, bishop of Cordoba, Spain). They may have helped Constantine to see in his experience the monogram of Christ as the Christian interpretation of what he saw.
After the vision, Constantine instructed his soldiers to put the Chi Rho monogram of Christ on their shields. This Christogram became an almost ubiquitous Christian symbol, often combined with the letters alpha and omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet), for Christ as the beginning and the end.
Constantine’s smaller army won the battle of Milvian Bridge, and he secured control of Rome. Eusebius interpreted the event in grand biblical terms, comparing the defeat of Maxentius’s army to the destruction of the Egyptians under Pharaoh in the Red Sea.
Constantine did not invent Catholicism, he simply made it legal
Constantine did not invent Catholicism, he simply recognized it and let people legally be Christian. Christians were having "Catholic" Masses long before this "legalization" of Christianity. Three hundred years before Constantine, Christians believed in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, honoured Mary, had elaborate ceremonies, prayed for the dead, respected the Church hierarchy, baptized babies, recognized Peter as the Rock, built the Church upon him with successors and followed a rich tradition of Christianity. That was the Christianity of the early days of Christianity and that is the Catholic Church of today. Catholic means "universal." A time line of the Catholic Church from 1-500 A.D. is here
Was Constantine the Great Baptized An Arian?
A common myth circulated by critics of Constantine the Great to discredit his character and the good he did for the Church is the accusation that he was baptized into the Arian heresy by Eusebius of Nicomedia, who was an Arian, in May of 337, a few days prior to his death.
Of course this is not a recent issue, as it was addressed about 150 years ago by the historian Constantine Paparrigopoulos (1815-1891), who criticized western historians for circulating such misconceptions, which he called “insults and slanders”. He writes of these historians:
“They have even gone to the point of erasing his orthodoxy because he was baptized by Eusebius of Nicomedia” (History of the Greek Nation, vol. 2 p. 150).
The whole misconception about Constantine the Great being baptized an Arian originated from an incident of the First Ecumenical Council, during which Eusebius of Nicomedia was presented as a leader of the Arians. This is the only connection critics have associating Constantine with being an Arian, having accepted baptism from a supposed heretic.
However, critics have not taken into account the entire historical data available to establish the truth of the matter, relying instead on speculation and conspiracy theories that are unfounded to push their own agenda. Without taking into account the fact that the Church faced these issues, they inevitably lead to the wrong conclusions. Because according to Ecclesiastical Tradition, which is crystallized in its Canon Law, one is not considered a heretic if he professes falsehood until he is invited to revoke and renounce his cacodoxy (false teaching).
The fact that one cannot be considered a heretic until one is invited to revoke and renounce his cacodoxy is a key element in arriving towards the truth of this issue regarding Constantine the Great. Furthermore, it must be emphasized that the characterization of a man as a heretic cannot be determined by one person or by a set of opinions, but must be determined by competent ecclesiastical organs, since it is not possible for every Christian to determine by himself who should be determined a christian and who should be determined a heretic.
Regarding Eusebius of Nicomedia’s confession of faith prior to the baptism of Constantine and during the First Ecumenical Council of 325, John Karmiris writes:
“All the Fathers of the Synod accepted unanimously the Holy Creed, including those who professed Arianism, other than the above two, after around the six day dogmatic deliberations, and they signed on the 19th of June in the year 325” (The Dogmatic and Symbolic Writings of the Orthodox Catholic Church, vol. 1 p. 118).
This makes clear that the 318 Fathers who attended the Council unanimously professed Orthodoxy. As for the phrase “other than the above two”, Professor Karmiris noted a few paragraphs earlier that Theonas and Secundus were the only ones who confessed Arian teachings and did not accept the Nicene Creed. Eusebius of Nicomedia, though he did struggle to defend Arian doctrines, in the end he did sign in favor of the Nicene Creed, but together with Theognis of Nicaea and Maris of Chalcedon refused to excommunicate Arius. For this refusal and disloyalty, Constantine had not only Arius, Theonas and Secundus exiled, but also Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nicaea and Maris of Chalcedon. Not long after however they were reinstated by the Church, according to the historian Sozomen, who writes:
Not long after, Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, and Theognis, bishop of Nicæa, regained possession of their churches after expelling Amphion and Chrestos who had been ordained in their stead. They owed their restoration to a document which they had presented to the bishops, containing a retraction:
“Although we have been condemned without a trial by your piety, we deemed it right to remain silent concerning the judgment passed by your piety. But as it would be absurd to remain longer silent, when silence is regarded as a proof of the truth of the calumniators, we now declare to you that we too agree in this faith, and after a diligent examination of the thought in the word ‘consubstantial,’ we are wholly intent upon preserving peace, and that we never pursued any heresy. Having proposed for the safety of the churches such argument as occurred to us, and having been fully convinced, and fully convincing those who ought to have been persuaded by us, we undersigned the creed but we did not subscribe to the anathema, not because we impugned the creed, but because we did not believe the accused to be what he was represented to us the letters we had received from him, and the arguments he had delivered in our presence, fully satisfying us that he was not such an one. Would that the holy Synod were convinced that we are not bent on opposing, but are accordant with the points accurately defined by you, and by this document, we do attest our assent thereto: and this is not because we are wearied of exile, but because we wish to avert all suspicion of heresy for if you will condescend to admit us now into your presence, you will find us in all points of the same sentiments as yourselves, and obedient to your decisions, and then it shall seem good to your piety to be merciful to him who was accused on these points and to have him recalled. If the party amenable to justice has been recalled and has defended himself from the charge made, it would be absurd, were we by our silence to confirm the reports that calumny had spread against us. We beseech you then, as befits your piety, dear to Christ, that you memorialize our emperor, most beloved of God, and that you hand over our petition, and that you counsel quickly, what is agreeable to you concerning us.” It was by these means that Eusebius and Theognis, after their change of sentiment, were reinstated in their churches. (Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, Chapter 16)
This letter given to us through Sozomen is significant, because it states that Eusebius of Nicomedia accepted the Orthodox Faith and sought communion with the Catholic Church and renounced the heresy of Arius. It also reveals why Eusebius was sent into exile originally – because he refused to excommunicate Arius.
Certainly in the years following the First Ecumenical Council in 325 Arian disputes continued to arise and gained resurgence, and Constantine did sometimes show favor to Arian bishops, but he did this sparingly in order to keep the peace of the Empire and the unity of the Church. For Constantine, as long as you showed loyalty to the undivided Church, he did not over-question personal intentions and thus disturb the peace. And if anyone did disturb the peace, be they Orthodox or not, they were sent into exile, as was the case with St. Athanasius of Alexandria. But as far as Constantine knew, Eusebius repented of his error in his letter and he was restored to his See and gained the favor of Constantine precisely because he was Orthodox. And it was from this canonical bishop of the Orthodox Church, Eusebius of Nicomedia, that Constantine received Holy Baptism, fully in canonical communion with the Church. Consequently, there is no hesitation on the part of the Orthodox Church, which takes the entire historical data into account, that Constantine the Great was baptized as an Orthodox Christian by an Orthodox bishop.
About Fr. John A. Peck
Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
Career and conversion
Constantine’s experience as a member of the imperial court—a Latin-speaking institution—in the Eastern provinces left a lasting imprint on him. Educated to less than the highest literary standards of the day, he was always more at home in Latin than in Greek: later in life he had the habit of delivering edifying sermons, which he would compose in Latin and pronounce in Greek from professional translations. Christianity he encountered in court circles as well as in the cities of the East and from 303, during the great persecution of the Christians that began at the court of Diocletian at Nicomedia and was enforced with particular intensity in the eastern parts of the empire, Christianity was a major issue of public policy. It is even possible that members of Constantine’s family were Christians.
In 305 the two emperors, Diocletian and Maximian, abdicated, to be succeeded by their respective deputy emperors, Galerius and Constantius. The latter were replaced by Galerius Valerius Maximinus in the East and Flavius Valerius Severus in the West, Constantine being passed over. Constantius requested his son’s presence from Galerius, and Constantine made his way through the territories of the hostile Severus to join his father at Gesoriacum (modern Boulogne, France). They crossed together to Britain and fought a campaign in the north before Constantius’s death at Eboracum (modern York) in 306. Immediately acclaimed emperor by the army, Constantine then threw himself into a complex series of civil wars in which Maxentius, the son of Maximian, rebelled at Rome with his father’s help, Maxentius suppressed Severus, who had been proclaimed Western emperor by Galerius and who was then replaced by Licinius. When Maximian was rejected by his son, he joined Constantine in Gaul, only to betray Constantine and to be murdered or forced to commit suicide (310). Constantine, who in 307 had married Maximian’s daughter Fausta as his second wife, invaded Italy in 312 and after a lightning campaign defeated his brother-in-law Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge near Rome. He then confirmed an alliance that he had already entered into with Licinius (Galerius having died in 311): Constantine became Western emperor and Licinius shared the East with his rival Maximinus. Licinius defeated Maximinus and became the sole Eastern emperor but lost territory in the Balkans to Constantine in 316. After a further period of tension, Constantine attacked Licinius in 324, routing him at Adrianople and Chrysopolis (respectively, modern Edirne and Üsküdar, Turkey) and becoming sole emperor of East and West.
Throughout his life, Constantine ascribed his success to his conversion to Christianity and the support of the Christian God. The triumphal arch erected in his honour at Rome after the defeat of Maxentius ascribed the victory to the “inspiration of the Divinity” as well as to Constantine’s own genius. A statue set up at the same time showed Constantine himself holding aloft a cross and the legend “By this saving sign I have delivered your city from the tyrant and restored liberty to the Senate and people of Rome.” After his victory over Licinius in 324, Constantine wrote that he had come from the farthest shores of Britain as God’s chosen instrument for the suppression of impiety, and in a letter to the Persian king Shāpūr II he proclaimed that, aided by the divine power of God, he had come to bring peace and prosperity to all lands.
Constantine’s adherence to Christianity was closely associated with his rise to power. He fought the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in the name of the Christian God, having received instructions in a dream to paint the Christian monogram ( ) on his troops’ shields. This is the account given by the Christian apologist Lactantius. A somewhat different version, offered by Eusebius, tells of a vision seen by Constantine during the campaign against Maxentius, in which the Christian sign appeared in the sky with the legend “In this sign, conquer.” Despite the emperor’s own authority for the account, given late in life to Eusebius, it is in general more problematic than the other, but a religious experience on the march from Gaul is suggested also by a pagan orator, who in a speech of 310 referred to a vision of Apollo received by Constantine at a shrine in Gaul.
Yet to suggest that Constantine’s conversion was “politically motivated” means little in an age in which every Greek or Roman expected that political success followed from religious piety. The civil war itself fostered religious competition, each side enlisting its divine support, and it would be thought in no way unusual that Constantine should have sought divine help for his claim for power and divine justification for his acquisition of it. What is remarkable is Constantine’s subsequent development of his new religious allegiance to a strong personal commitment.
Did Constantine Invent the Divinity of Jesus?
Church historians agree that next to the events in the New Testament, the most important event in the history of Christianity is the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in AD 312. In brief, here's the story: Constantine's troops were positioned at the Milvian Bridge just outside of Rome, where they were preparing to overthrow the Roman emperor Maxentius. A victory would, in effect, make Constantine the sole ruler of the empire. But the night before the battle Constantine saw a vision that changed his life and the history of the church.
In the words of Eusebius of Caesarea, who was both a historian and a confidant of Constantine, the emperor was praying to a pagan god when "he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross in the light of the heavens, above the sun and an inscription, Conquer By This attached to it.Then in his sleep the Christ of God appeared to him with the sign which he had seen in the heavens, and commanded him to make an likeness of this sign which he had seen in the heavens, and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies.
To make a long story short, Constantine crossed over the bridge and won the battle, fighting under the banner of the Christian cross. Later he issued the Edict of Milan, decreeing that Christians were no longer to be persecuted. And now, although a politician, he took leadership in the doctrinal disputes that were disrupting the unity in his empire.
Let's travel back to Nicaea (modern-day Iznik in Turkey, about 125 miles from modern-day Istanbul) to find out what happened there 1,700 years ago.
Welcome to the Council
Those of us reared in a country where religion is largely private and where diversity is gladly tolerated might find it difficult to believe that in the early fourth century, doctrinal disputes were tearing Constantine's empire apart. It is said that if you bought a load of bread in the marketplace of Constantinople, you might be asked whether you believe that God the Son was begotten or unbegotten and if you asked about the quality of the bread you might be told that the Father is greater and the Son is less.
Adding fuel to these disagreements was a man named Arius, who was gaining a wide following by teaching that Christ was not fully God but a created god of sorts. He believed that Christ was more than a man but less than God. Arius was a great communicator, and because he put his doctrinal ideas into musical jingles, his ideas became widely accepted. Although many church bishops declared him a heretic, the disputes nonetheless continued. Constantine called the first ecumenical council at Nicaea, hoping to suppress dissent and unify Christianity. In fact, the emperor even paid the expenses of the bishops who gathered.
Constantine did not care about the finer points of theology, so practically any creed would have satisfied him-as long as it would unify his subjects. As one historian has said, "Christianity became both a way to God and a way to unite the empire." He gave the opening speech himself, telling the delegates that doctrinal disunity was worse than war.
This intrusion of a politician into the doctrines and procedures of the church was resented by some of the delegates, but welcomed by others. For those who had gone through a period of bitter persecution, this conference, carried on under the imperial banner, was heaven on earth.
More than three hundred bishops met at Nicaea to settle disputes about Christology-that is, the doctrine of Christ. When Constantine finished his opening speech, the proceedings began.
Overwhelmingly, the council declared Arius a heretic. Though Arius was given an opportunity to defend his views, the delegates recognized that if Christ was not fully God, then God was not the Redeemer of mankind. To say that Christ was created was to deny the clear teaching of Scripture: "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers of authorities all things were created by him and for him" (Colossians 1:16). Clearly, if he created all things, he most assuredly could not have been created himself! To this passage many others that teach the deity of Christ were added, both from the Gospels and the Epistles (John 1:1 Romans 9:5 Hebrews 1:8 etc).
Affirming the divinity of Jesus, the delegates turned their attention to the question of how he related to the Father. Eusebius the historian presented his view, claiming that Jesus had a nature that was similar to that of God the Father.
Present, but not invited to the actual proceedings, was the theologian Athanasius, who believed that even to say that Christ is similar to God the Father is to miss the full biblical teaching about Christ's divinity. His argument that Christ could only be God in the fullest sense if his nature was the same as that of the Father was expressed by his representative, Marcellus, a bishop from Asia Minor in the proceedings. Constantine seeing that the debate was going on in Athanasius's favor, accepted the suggestion of a scholarly bishop and advised the delegates to use the Greek word homoousion, which means "one and the same." In other words, Jesus had the very same nature as the Father.
The council agreed, and today we have the famous Nicene Creed. As anyone who has ever quoted the creed knows, Jesus Christ is declared to be "Light of Light, very God of very God' begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made" (italics added). There can be no question that the delegates affirmed that Christ was deity in the fullest sense
Why should we be interested in this debate? Some critics have been amused that the Council of Nicaea split over one "iota." The difference between the Greek words for similar and same is but one letter of the alphabet: the letter i. Some people argue that it's just like theologians to split hairs, arguing over minutiae that have little to do with the real world. How much better to help the poor or get involved in the politics of the day!
But Williams E. Hordern tells a story that illustrates how a single letter or comma can change the meaning of a message. Back in the days when messages were sent by telegraph there was a code for each punctuation mark. A woman touring Europe cabled her husband to ask whether she could buy a beautiful bracelet for $75,000. The husband sent this message back: "No, price too high." The cable operator, in transmitting the message, missed the signal for the comma. The woman received the message "No price too high." She bought the bracelet the husband sued the company and won! After that, people using Morse code spelled out all punctuation. Clearly, a comma or an "iota" can make a big difference when communicating a message!
Although the Council of Nicaea was divided over the Greek words similar and same, the issue was incredibly important. Even if Christ were the highest and most noble creature of God's creation, God would then be only indirectly involved in the salvation of man As one historian has said, Athanasius realized that "only if Christ is God, without qualification, has God entered humanity, and only then have fellowship with God, the forgiveness of sings, the truth of God, and immortality been certainly brought to men."
In The Da Vinci Code, we read that the doctrine of Christ's deity passed by a "relatively close vote." That is fiction, since only five out of more than three hundred bishops (the number is actually believed to have been 318) protested the creed. In fact, in the end, only two refused to sign it. The outcome was not exactly a cliff-hanger.
That's not to say that the Council of Nicaea ended all the disputes. Arianism continued to have its adherents, and subsequent emperors sided with whichever view suited them at the time. But from this point on, Christian orthodoxy maintained that Jesus was "God of very God."
Whether Constantine was a very genuine convert to Christianity is a matter of debate. We do know that he had been a worshipper of the sun god before his "conversion," and it appears that he carried on such worship for the rest of his life. He is even credited with standardizing Christian worship by mandating Sunday as the official day of worship. There is no doubt that he used Christianity to further his own political ends.
But did he invent the divinity of Jesus? Before the council, was Christ believed to be just a remarkable man? There is not a single shred of historical evidence for such a notion. Not only was Christ's deity the consensus of the delegates, but as can easily be shown, this doctrine was held by the church centuries before the council met.
Contrary to Teabing's claim in The Da Vinci Code, many believed that Christ was more than a "mortal prophet" before the council met in AD 325. We must take a moment to read the writings of the apostolic fathers, those who knew the apostles and were taught by them. Then we can investigate writings of the second-and-third-generation leaders, all affirming in their own way the divinity of Jesus.