Constantine the Great and Christianity - Mr. Weiss

Constantine the Great and
By Vickie Chao
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
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 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.!
Copyright © 2007 edHelper
Constantine the Great and Christianity
1. Which of the following about
Constantine the Great and
Christianity is correct?
Constantine the Great
commissioned the construction of
several grand cathedrals.
Constantine the Great was
baptized shortly after the Battle of
the Milvian Bridge.
Constantine the Great
2. Which of the following events
took place last?
Constantine the Great
crushed all opponents and became
the sole ruler of the Western
Roman Empire.
Constantine the Great joined
his father on a military campaign
in Britain.
Constantine the Great
drafted and issued the Edict of
Milan alone.
Constantine made
Christianity the sole religion of
the Roman Empire.
3. What was the Edict of Milan
To pick a day for celebrating
To tolerate all religions
To name Christianity the
sole religion of the Roman
To determine whether Jesus
was a divine or a created being
organized the Council of Nicaea.
Constantine issued the Edict
of Milan.
4. For how many years did
Constantine the Great rule the
united Roman Empire?
49 years
13 years
63 years
31 years
5. When Constantine the Great died, 6. What symbol did the soldiers of
where was his capital?
Constantine the Great carry?
Alpha and Omega
Constantine the Great and Christianity
7. Which two Greek letters did
Constantine the Great order to be
painted on all the shields of his
Chi (X) and Rho (P)
Tau (T) and Beta (B)
Zeta (Z) and Chi (X)
Alpha (A) and Rho (P)
8. With whom and in what year did
Constantine the Great issue the
Edict of Milan?
Constantius, 293 A.D.
Licinius, 313 A.D.
Galerius, 306 A.D.
Crispus, 326 A.D.