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Constantine

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Constantine the Great and Christianity
Since the beginning of time, the ancient Romans worshipped hundreds of gods
and goddesses. Many of those deities came from foreign lands that the Romans
had conquered. As different faiths sprang up across the ever-expanding empire,
they were more or less tolerated. Such open attitude, however, was not the case
for Judaism and Christianity. Both religions pointedly refused to honor Roman
gods and to idolize Roman emperors. As a result, the Jews and Christians
endured centuries of hardship. One good example would be Emperor Nero. In
64 A.D., a big fire engulfed Rome and destroyed much of the city. Emperor Nero
pinned the blame on the Christians. Through relentless persecution, he also
allegedly killed two Christian apostles -- Saint John and Saint Peter.
At the onset of the 4th century, Constantine the Great (or Constantine I) ascended the throne. He held a different
view toward Christianity and gave the religion a big break. Seven years after he seized power, in 313 A.D., he
and Licinius (his brother-in-law and co-emperor in the east) issued the famous Edict of Milan. They declared that
both the Eastern and Western Roman Empires would keep a neutral position on all faiths. Constantine the Great
even commissioned the construction of several grand cathedrals. For the first time in ancient Rome, Christians
could openly practice their religion without fear.
No doubt, Constantine the Great was the driving force behind the spread of Christianity. But who was
Constantine the Great, and what were his other accomplishments?
Constantine the Great was born Flavius Valerius Constantius around 274 A.D. His father, Constantius, was an
ambitious army officer. His mother, Helena, was probably the daughter of an innkeeper. When Constantine the
Great was just a teenager, his father left him and Helena in order to marry Theodora. Theodora came from a very
prominent family. Her stepfather -- Emperor Maximian -- was, in fact, the most powerful man in the entire
Western Roman Empire. Through this new marriage, Constantius was able to make a huge leap in his career. His
father-in-law gave him the title of Caesar (junior emperor) in 293 A.D.
As Constantius worked hard on proving himself in the Western Roman Empire, Constantine the Great did the
same in the Eastern Roman Empire. The young boy joined the military and served with distinction.
On May 1, 305 A.D., Maximian and Diocletian (the ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire) both decided to retire.
They each had a junior emperor to whom they would pass the power. Maximian's successor was Constantius, and
Diocletian's Galerius. After the transition, Constantius requested his son's presence from Galerius. Galerius
agreed, so Constantine the Great moved to the Western Roman Empire to join his father on a military campaign
in Britain. Sadly, the reunion between the father and the son turned out to be short-lived. On July 25, 306 A.D.,
Constantius got sick and died at Eboracum (modern day's York). Upon his death, his loyal soldiers hailed
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Constantine the Great as their new emperor, but not everybody in the Western Roman Empire accepted the
decision. For the next six years, Constantine the Great engaged himself and his troops in a series of civil wars.
At last, he managed to crush all his opponents to become the sole ruler of the Western Roman Empire. It was
often said that the night before his deciding battle, the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, he had a dream. In it, he
received the instruction of painting the first two Greek letters of the word "Christ" -- Chi (X) and Rho (P) -- on all
his soldiers' shields. When he woke up, he did just that and went on to win the war. Since then, he had become a
committed Christian and continued to have his armies bearing this unique symbol of Christ, known as labarum.
One year after Constantine the Great finally secured his power, he and his co-ruler from the Eastern Roman
Empire, Licinius, issued the Edict of Milan together. Though both men pledged to tolerate all faiths in their
respective kingdom, Licinius later strayed from his commitment and began the practice of persecuting the
Christians once again. Furious, Constantine the Great waged wars against Licinius. After several years of
fighting, Constantine the Great finally defeated Licinius. In 324 A.D., he united both the Eastern and Western
Roman Empires. From that point on to his death, he had the throne all to himself. He no longer needed to share
his power with somebody else as he had done so previously.
The following year, in 325 A.D., Constantine the Great organized the first ever council of the Christian church
at Nicaea (today's Iznik, Turkey). The objective of the council was to resolve the disagreement over whether
Jesus was a divine or a created being. With about 300 bishops attending the meeting, they eventually reached the
conclusion that Jesus was of the same or of similar substance as God the Father. They also agreed on the date for
celebrating the Christian Passover or Easter.
As Constantine the Great dedicated tremendous resources to promote Christianity, his personal life was a mess.
He first killed Licinius, then Crispus (his eldest son and heir apparent), and finally Fausta (his second wife). All
the slaughtering took place over a short period of two years, from 325 A.D. to 326 A.D. Around the same time as
one family tragedy after another unfolded, Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, embarked on a
pilgrimage to Jerusalem or the Holy Land. Constantine the Great did not join her. He stayed behind to plan for a
new capital. He completely demolished the city of Byzantium (modern day's Istanbul, Turkey) and rebuilt a new
one on site. The new capital was unveiled in 330 A.D. It was called Constantinople after himself.
Interestingly, though Constantine the Great did many things in favor of Christianity, he himself was not
baptized until his final days. Shortly before he died on May 22, 337 A.D., he finally changed into a white robe so
he could get baptized.
To the Christians, Constantine the Great was one of their staunchest supporters. Through his efforts,
Christianity was able to spread to all corners of the Roman Empire and eventually become the kingdom's sole
religion in 380 A.D.!
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Constantine the Great and Christianity
Questions
1. Which of the following about Constantine the Great and Christianity is correct?
A. Constantine made Christianity the sole religion of the Roman Empire.
B. Constantine the Great drafted and issued the Edict of Milan alone.
C. Constantine the Great commissioned the construction of several grand cathedrals.
D. Constantine the Great was baptized shortly after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.
2. Which of the following events took place last?
A. Constantine issued the Edict of Milan.
B. Constantine the Great crushed all opponents and became the sole ruler of the Western Roman Empire.
C. Constantine the Great joined his father on a military campaign in Britain.
D. Constantine the Great organized the Council of Nicaea.
3. What was the Edict of Milan about?
A. To name Christianity the sole religion of the Roman Empire
B. To determine whether Jesus was a divine or a created being
C. To tolerate all religions
D. To pick a day for celebrating Easter
4. For how many years did Constantine the Great rule the united Roman Empire?
A. 49 years
B. 31 years
C. 13 years
D. 63 years
5. When Constantine the Great died, where was his capital?
A. Eboracum
B. Nicaea
C. Milan
D. Constantinople
6. What symbol did the soldiers of Constantine the Great carry?
A. Trefoil
B. Alpha and Omega
C. Rose
D. Labarum
7. Which two Greek letters did Constantine the Great order to be painted on all the shields of his soldiers?
A. Zeta (Z) and Chi (X)
B. Chi (X) and Rho (P)
C. Alpha (A) and Rho (P)
D. Tau (T) and Beta (B)
8. With whom and in what year did Constantine the Great issue the Edict of Milan?
A. Crispus, 326 A.D.
B. Galerius, 306 A.D.
C. Constantius, 293 A.D.
D. Licinius, 313 A.D.
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How many of these can you write about? Think! Write! Check all the ones you answered.
Suppose Constantine the Great never had the vision the night before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. What
would history be like? Use your imagination and write a story about it.
Suppose you were Helena. Write about what your pilgrimage was like.
Don't stop writing. Use a blank piece of paper to continue.
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