Was Constantine the Great a patron of the Church, convert, pagan, true Christian or pagan conniver?
For many Christians, he represents all that was wrong with Church-state relations in the ancient and medieval worlds. For others, he represents courage under fire, a convert willing to take a risk for the fledgling Christian Church.
A completely clear picture of
But what sort of influence did the emperor exert, and was it appropriate?
In The Da Vinci Code,
In the book, Teabing describes Constantine as “a lifelong pagan” and further claims that he was the head priest of the cult of Sol Invictus (Invincible Sun), for the official religion of Rome was “sun worship,” that he wasn’t ever a believing Christian and that he transformed Jesus from a mere mortal prophet into the “Son of God” and thus cemented the Catholic Church’s control of the person of Jesus.
In the late 200s,
That changed on Feb. 23, 303, when an edict was posted ordering the destruction of the Christian Scriptures and churches and the prohibition of all Christian meetings for worship. Christians were essentially reduced to the level of slavery and Christian leaders were required to sacrifice to pagan gods or else be executed.
Emperor Diocletian abdicated two
years later and Constantius was named Augustus of the
West. A year later, Constantius died while fighting
Ambitious and volatile in
The evidence, including the
writings of the Bishop Eusebius, indicates that
Part of this was probably due to his position as emperor, as well as the fact that the majority of the population was pagan.
For Constantine, who had small concern for theological precision, there was probably little distinction between the pagan and Christian notions of God (even though he surely recognized the differences in worship and morality). But he did see Christianity as a unifying force — and he was correct in his assessment that Christianity, not paganism, had the moral core and theological vision to change society for the better.
He may not have been a saint, but neither was he simply a political operator without concern for truth and goodness.
The Council of Nicaea
had nothing to do with turning a merely mortal Jesus into a god or God; all
those who attended already believed that Jesus was the divine Son of God. The
first ecumenical council of the Church came about because of
Arius (b. ca. 260-80; d. 336) was a priest from Alexandria who taught that the Son had not existed for all of eternity past, but was a created being who was begotten by the Father as an instrument of, first, creation and then, later, salvation.
Put another way, Arius believed that the Son was not God by nature, but was
a lesser god. Arius’ beliefs proved so popular and
On May 20, 325, a number of bishops,
the vast majority of them from the East, convened at
Although actively involved in the
Was he perfect? No, of course not.
But he was far more than a businessman. And his positive contributions to the Church and Western civilization should not be ignored or taken for granted.
Carl E. Olson is the co-author, with Sandra Miesel, of
The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code (http://www.davincihoax.com), published by Ignatius Press. He is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.