Before beginning this lecture you may want to

Read Arnold H.M. Jones's Constantine and the Conversion of Europe.

Constantine, however, worshiped the Unconquerable Sun, as did his father.

Constantius died in 306 A.D. at York. The legions there proclaimed Constantine the new Augustus.

However, Constantine's brother-in-law, Maxentius, was in Rome and had the support of the Praetorian Guard, which proclaimed him emperor a few months later.

Open hostilities did not erupt until 312 A.D., when Constantine led his troops to Rome.

Before the battle with Maxentius, Constantine claimed to have had a vision of a shining cross with the words "in this you will conquer." That night he had a dream in which Christ spoke to him, showing him the symbol of the labarum and telling him to use it to defeat his enemy.

Constantine believed with all his heart that Christ himself had chosen him both to conquer the enemies of the Church and also to lift it up.

The conversion of Constantine brought a dramatic change of fortune for the Church, paving the way for it to go from being under the heel of the Roman Empire to becoming its official religion.

Constantine was the son of Constantius, who served as Augustus in the West, 305 A.D. to 306 A.D. His mother, Helena, was of low birth, so her marriage was a form of concubinage.

It is likely that there were some pro-Christian sympathies in the family. The persecution decrees Constantius's rule.

Vision of the Cross

Stanza di Constantino fresco (detail) by Raphael's workshop, 1523-1525

were all but ignored in Gaul and Britain under

At the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantine defeated the numerically superior forces of Maxentius.

With his colleague, Licinius, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., which decreed tolerance for Christianity.

Constantine made no attempt to displace paganism, but he obviously favored his new faith.

His coins do not mention Christianity, nor do they say anything about the gods. The same is true for his arch, which still stands in Rome.

He gave the pope a palace on the Lateran, which would remain the pope's home for many centuries.

He poured money into the building of churches in Rome. These included the first foundations of St. John Lateran and St. Peter's.

A shrine outside the Circus of Nero already existed. It held the bones of Peter. Constantine expanded the shrine.

Subsequent rebuildings of the church would carefully place the high altar directly over the tomb of Peter.

Pagan ceremonies no longer played a role in civic events.

Sunday was made a day of rest.

Historians in past centuries used to argue that Constantine embraced Christianity as a political expedient, either as a way to gain support among a sizeable population or to use its dynamic qualities as a force of unity in the fractured empire. It is also sometimes said that Constantine hoped to use Christianity to support his own power.

These interpretations, though, require one to ignore the letters of Constantine and the accounts of his contemporaries—or at least to assume that they constitute only lies so as to deflect attention from an elaborate conspiracy.

Christianity was a minority religion. At most it claimed 15 percent of the West and perhaps 35 percent of the East.

Christianity was widely blamed for the decline of the Empire.

Christianity was itself torn by disunity

Although Christians would pray for the emperor, they were unwilling to participate in his cult.

Constantine was not baptized until just before his death, which was common at this time among people in positions of authority.

The Battle at Pons Milvus

Stanza di Constantino fresco (detail) by Raphael's workshop, 1523-1525

The Battle at Pons Milvus

Stanza di Constantino fresco (detail) by Raphael's workshop, 1523-1525

If his conversion was insincere, why not accept baptism immediately? Or avoid it altogether?

Believing that he was called by God to heal his Church, Constantine began at once to find solutions to the disputes that raged.

Donatism had led to intense unrest in the North African communities.

Synods in Rome and Aries ruled against the Donatists, but they refused to accept it.

Relations between Constantine and Licinius were tense. In part this was a pure power struggle. It was further aggravated by Licinius's resumption of Christian persecutions in the East.

In 324 A.D., open warfare erupted. Constantine defeated Licinius and became sole emperor.

Constantine soon learned of a dispute even more destructive than that of Donatism.

Arius, a priest in Alexandria, and his followers argued that Christ was made by God, and therefore was less than God.

The orthodox position, that Christ and the Father were one in being and that Christ was begotten, not made, was championed by a deacon in Alexandria, Athanasius.

Constantine attempted various avenues to bring about a reconciliation, which all failed.

To deal with Arianism and other matters of dispute, Constantine summoned the bishops of the Church to Nicaea in 325 A.D.: the First Ecumenical Council.

Constantine opened the council, but left the final decisions to the prelates. This was an important distinction that would lead in the West to the concept of Church and state as separate institutions.

Arianism was condemned. The authority of the three patriarchates was asserted. Easter date discrepancies were cleared up.

The Nicene Creed, based on the old Apostles' Creed, was drafted and approved.

Shortly after Nicaea, Constantine's mother, Helena, who probably converted with her son, traveled to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage.

She founded a church of the Holy Sepulcher and another at the site of the Nativity.

She is also credited with the discov- st Helena r .. -r ^ Cima da Conegliano, ca. 1495

ery of the True Cross. M

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