The Imperial Church

After almost three centuries of on-again, off-again persecution by the Roman government, the Edict of Toleration was issued at Milan in 313AD. Soon after, Christianity went from simply being officially tolerated by the Roman Empire, to actually becoming the official state religion of the empire. Did this represent a success story for the Church that Jesus Christ built? Had true, biblical Christianity triumphed in the Roman Empire?

Far from it! What we have seen is a Gentile-influenced religion that appropriated Christian terminology while retaining pagan traditions—all enforced by the Roman emperor, Constantine. It was vastly different from the persecuted, Judeo-Christian Church established by Jesus Christ Himself in the first century. Constantine recognized the important role that religion could play in uniting his empire and giving his populace a common identity. Motivated primarily by these political concerns, Constantine forged an alliance with the bishop of Rome and began the process of creating a "standard brand" of "Christianity" throughout his empire. He was instrumental in calling the Council of Nicea in 325AD and actually presided over it himself. Keep in mind that Constantine was not even baptized yet! In fact he put off baptism until he was on his deathbed, at which point he was too ill to be immersed. His personal example of being sprinkled contributed much to an abandonment of immersion in favor of sprinkling.

The Council of Nicea primarily sought to resolve two thorny issues that had not been fully settled earlier. These involved controversies about the nature of God as well as the Easter/Passover question. Backed up by imperial muscle, the views of the Roman church prevailed at the council. All opposition was squelched.

Constantine was also responsible for making "the venerable day of the Sun" a state holiday when the courts were to be closed and most businesses were to shut their doors.

This Roman emperor had previously been a devotee of Sol Invictus ("the Unconquered Sun") and with his "conversion," many motifs of sun worship, such as the use of the cross and the halo in art, entered "Christianity." Also at this time, there began to be mass conversions of the populace. To facilitate this, popular holidays such as Saturnalia and Lupercalia were recycled into new "Christian" observances, now called Christmas and St. Valentine's Day. The leaders of the church at Rome claimed that they were merely broadening the way, making Christianity more accessible to the masses and certainly much less "Jewish." Anti-Semitism was a motivating force in Roman Christianity.

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