The Conversion of Constantine and the Impact on Early Christianity
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The Conversion of Constantine and the impact on early Christianity
This paper will focus on one of the biggest events in the history of not only Rome, but also in the history of ChristianityÐ–Constantines conversion. Constantines conversion to Christianity allowed the church to emerge from early persecution and later become the official religion of Rome. The rapid spread of Christianity because of this made a definite impact on western civilization. This essay will attempt to show that while Constantine may not have immediately made a full conversion to Christianity like it may seem, his efforts in establishing Christianity in the Roman Empire helped to further the churchs cause greatly.
Constantines father, Constantius, came from Lllyria and had served as governor of Dalmatia before being made one of the empires two Caesars by Diocletian and given control in the west. (Pohlsander 23) Constantine was release to join his father in the west after serving in one of Diocletians tribunals but arrived just before his fathers death in 306. Constantius troops embraced Constantine as the new Augustus, which led him to write Galerius for his approval to the newly vacated position. Galerius would not accept such a dramatic promotion and appointed him to the post of Caesar instead. (Pohlsander 24) Constantine proved himself to be a great organizer and military strategist whose main goal was stability. He was in the process of gaining control of the
area around the Rhine River when he was forced to address Maximians rebellion. Constantine was in the process of preparing for the Battle of the Milvian bridge when the event occurred that changed the Roman world forever.
In the night before the battle, Constantine was said to have been commanded in a dream to place the symbol of the cross on the shields of his soldiers. Twenty five years later, however, Pope Eusebius gave a far different description of the vision, one in which Constantine saw a cross of light cover the sun followed by the words, “By this sign, you will be the victor.” (Pohlsander 22) Both interpretations are debated but one thing is for certain, Constantine had an experience at that time that prompted him to embrace Christianity. His willingness to embrace the faith was helped by the interpretation of Bishop Ossius of Cordoba who demonstrated to him the power of “the God of the Christians”. (Pohlsander 23) Its understood that Bishop Ossius presence there helped to interpret and fill in Constantines understanding of this religion in which the Caesar knew very little of. It is also important to understand that Constantine had no political motivation to accept the upstart religion that was Christianity at this time. The Christians were still the established minority at this time in the west and Constantine did not feel the need to appease this group of Romans by accepting their religion. Constantine embraced the faith because of a real experience, not to help align himself for more political power.
Upon completion of his campaign against Maximian, Constantine met with fellow emperor Licinius in Milan. They met for the wedding of Constantines half sister Constantia but also decided on a religious policy that would go into effect in all of Rome.
They recorded this policy in a letter called the Edict of Milan. This letter was addressed to all of the governors in all of Roman provinces of this time to inform them of the
changes in religious toleration that were being made. It was in this letter that Christianity was recognized as a legal religion for the first time. It was not at this time however, that the faith was made the official religion. This edict established the Roman citizens right to practice whatever religion that they chose. This could be due to the fact that after Constantine recognized Christianity, he is believed to not have turned away from the old pagan practices that he was accustomed to immediately after his conversion.
This could be because of fact that in all reality, Constantine knew very little about Christ. He had grown up accustomed to the Gods and Goddesses of his fathers and had very little exposure to the faith as it was just beginning to gain a foothold during the time of his rise to power. What Constantine is believed to have hoped to achieve was a peaceful co-existence between both pagans and Christians at this time. He understood that unlike before his conversion the events that took place at the Battle of Milvian Bridge was going to give the movement of Christianity new life in Rome and the importance of this growing community