TheConversion of Constantinewas a pivotal event in Roman and world history which occurred on 28 October312 AD when the Roman emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity. Ever since the historian Jacob Burckhardt first suggested it in the 1850s, many have considered that the emperor’s conversion might have been motivated by cynical opportunism and ambition for total power, rather than by genuine spiritual belief. He may have been Christian since 312 when he won the Battle at the Milvian Bridge, although the accompanying medallion showing him with the Sol Invictus deity a year later raises questions. Constantine had a vision right before Milvian Bridge battle. Get updates from Zondervan Academic directly in your inbox. Later historians would sometimes question whether the conversion was genuine. Chapter 3. Many of his actions were designed not to offend pagans or were subject to ambiguous interpretation. After this, Constantine began to favor Christians, and he slowly began to shift the ideological underpinnings of the Roman Empire. Whether Constantine's conversion was sincere or politically motivated (or a combination of the two), historians can only speculate. Was it a figment of his imagination? The church was simply not prepared for the change from a persecuted church to a favored church. The problems of Arianism and Donatism both arose during Constantine’s reign. Constantine's Christian mother, St. Helena, may have converted him or he may have converted her. In this vision, he was given 30 wreaths, symbolizing the 30 years he would reign as emperor. Constantine dies. Constantine's conversion to Christianity was at best nominal and at no time did he see himself as an "apostle of Christ." Gill, N.S. In these posts, editor... Get expert commentary on biblical languages, fresh explorations in theology, hand-picked book excerpts, author videos, and info on limited-time sales. [Common Places]: Reading Notes: Theological Epistemology. For Instructors and School Administrators. The problems of Arianism and Donatism both arose during Constantine’s reign. The first and most straightforward explanation for his conversion is that he genuinely believed the dogma of Christianity and therefore decided to abandon paganism. Doctrinal controversy threatened the unity of the church and with it Constantine’s goal of harmony in the empire. Born in 273 during the Crisis of the Third Century, he was thirty at the time of the Great Persecution, saw his father become Augustus of the West and then shortly die, spent his life in the military warring with much of his extended family, and converted to Christianity sometime around 40 years of … The Journal of Religion, Vol. Some people, like Eusebius, saw the empire’s recognition of Christianity as an act of God’s providence. He did not, for example, make Christianity the “official” religion of the empire. Others say he had a genuine religious conversion. Just because you publicly convert to Christianity and legitimize Christianity when it used to be persecuted doesn’t mean you’re a Christian —whether Constantine genuine about … Constantine may have been Christian since before he became emperor. 4 (Winter, 1987), pp. He also initiated an extensive church building program. The most important event in this shift happened the next year, in 313, when Constantine entered into an agreement with Licinius at Milan. They may have helped Constantine to see in his experience the monogram of Christ as the Christian interpretation of what he saw. The changed circumstances also prompted the rise of monasticism. Even better, you can take advantage of an introductory discount for a limited time. Was the whole incident fabricated? This agreement, the “Edict of Milan,” granted the free exercise of religion to “Christians and all others.”. Constantine’s Gift to Christianity. Most people consider Constantine a Christian from the Milvian Bridge in 312, but he wasn't baptized until a quarter century later. Some say he supported Christianity as part of a cynical strategy to promote his rule. The story goes that Constantine had a vision of the words "in hoc signo vinces" upon the symbol of Christianity, a cross, that led him to promise to follow the Christian religion if victory were granted. Or, to learn how you can offer this online course at your church or school, contact us today! 1-12. And it wasn’t at the temple of Apollo, it was at the battle of Milvian Bridge. The second significant change happened in 330, when Constantine left Rome. Was Constantine a Christian? Gill, N.S. And still others believe Constantine’s conversion was sincere—but that he also used Christianity for his own gain. conversion comes from the debate over his legitimacy as a convert to Christianity. This shows that, five years after Constantine’s conversion according to Eusebius and Lactantius, Constantine still worshipped, or praised, an ancient Roman pagan god. One of the major turning points in the history of the church was Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Let’s take a deeper look at Constantine’s conversion—both the motives behind it and the effect it had on the church. In 313 Constantine … His rule in Constantinople laid the basis for the orthodox Christian empire known as the Byzantine Empire, which would last more than 1,100 years. They raised fundamental questions about the definition of the church and of the deity it worshiped. He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, CONQUER BY THIS. The definition of doctrinal orthodoxy was brought to the forefront by the Trinitarian controversy, sparked by the teachings of Arius. ThoughtCo. Others treat him as a politician, who only used Christianity for political purposes. As a next step, sign up for a brand new online course taught by Everett Ferguson, Church History 1. Denied literal martyrdom, they attempted a martyrdom of self-denial. https://www.thoughtco.com/was-constantine-a-christian-117848 (accessed January 22, 2021). It seems it was a bit of both, and more besides. Whether or not his conversion was "genuine," Constantine's reign was extremely important to the Christian church. A sculpture of the head of Roman Emperor Constantine. The Nature of the Supposed Conversion To see if Constantine’s conversion was valid we must first describe and understand it. Mission Statement The Founders Contact Us. At the same time, although he was permissive of Christian practice in the empire, he was also lenient toward pagan religious practices. Sometimes one’s faith and convictions prove to be the politically expedient course of action. (8) Constantine's main impact on history was his conversion to Christianity, becoming the first Christian Roman emperor. Constantine may have been Christian since before he became emperor. Historians have marvelled at this idea. You may unsubscribe from these email communications at any time. Instead, he began to favor the wealth, commerce, and culture of the eastern empire. He built the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem; the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem; churches to commemorate the martyrdom of Peter and Paul; the Lateran basilica; and many others. Though his troops revered Constantine, all Christian symbols, particularly the cross, were distasteful to them. The hijack of Christianity by Church 1700 years ago is its most significant event since the Crucifixion. Forums. Emperor Constantine, in 312, decided to convert to Christianity. While later historians would sometimes question whether the conversion was genuine or a "power grab", Constantine's conversion and his legalization of Christianity with his Edict of Milan led to … CNS/Paul Haring. In this vision, he was given 30 wreaths, symbolizing the 30 years he would reign as emperor. Constantine had two visions. 420-438.] Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/was-constantine-a-christian-117848. In addition to his successful military campaigns, Constantine made several administrative changes that established and extended his influence. ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/was-constantine-a-christian-117848. About Us. But according to Christian sources, the vision that mattered wasn’t in 306, but in 312. Strangely, Constantine wasn’t baptized until near his death. Christianity and Church today cannot be understood without knowing this. I approach Constantine by way of The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World This would indicate, as Christians are allowed to believe only in the one God, that Constantine did not convert to Christianity straight after the battle of the Milvian Bridge. And, if he dreamed something or saw something, what was it? "Was Constantine the Great a Christian?" A likely explanation is that he did indeed have some kind of experience—a dream, a vision, or both—but that the interpretation was provided by Christian advisers (notably Ossius, or Hosius, bishop of Cordoba, Spain). After the vision, Constantine instructed his soldiers to put the Chi Rho monogram of Christ on their shields. Constantinople: Capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Why Nat Turner's Rebellion Made White Southerners Fearful, M.A., Linguistics, University of Minnesota. Because he wanted to be popular he was easily deceived and taken advantage of. Constantine’s smaller army won the battle of Milvian Bridge, and he secured control of Rome. 1 (Jan. 1975), pp. "Was Constantine the Great a Christian?" The fake Conversion and skilful manipulation of the Roman Emperor Constantine is the key. Notes & Resources. Was the deathbed conversion of Constantine the act of a moral pragmatist? Others took a more sober line, and stressed the responsibilities now placed upon the authorities charged with Rome’s welfare. Here are some responses from the Ancient / Classical History forum. He gave bishops the privilege of adjudicating disputes, and their decisions had the same status as decisions by civil judges. Due to its pivotal historical significance to the Christian faith, many of my resources point directly to the conversion of Constantine at the Milvian Bridge. See: "Religion and Politics at the Council at Nicaea," by Robert M. Grant. Since these structures provided the model for church building during the first centuries after Constantine’s conversion, such churches came to be known as basilicas. Others say he had a genuine religious conversion. If Constantine did have a conversion experience before the Milvian Bridge then he would have championed the Church in the years after it. On the anniversary of Constantine’s conversion, we should consider why the West seems to be converting back to paganism. His conversion to Christianity had a huge impact on the Church and the religion itself. Today it’s the modern city of Istanbul. Constantine—also known as Emperor Constantine I or Constantine the Great—decreed tolerance for Christians in the Edict of Milan, convened an ecumenical council to discuss Christian dogma and heresy, and constructed Christian edifices in his new capital city (Byzantium/Constantinople, now Istanbul). The first is by Lactantius, a tutor to Constantine's son and a good authority. Constantine is one of the most powerful men in Rome, he became the emperor in 306. She has been featured by NPR and National Geographic for her ancient history expertise. Sign up now! Constantine’s conversion to Christianity (320 AD) The 4th century was a turning point in the history of the Roman Empire and, indeed, of the European continent. . Copyright © 2020 HarperCollins Publishers. He had become uncomfortable with the pagan associations of the city. The short answer is, "Yes, Constantine was Christian," or seems to have said he was, but it belies the complexity of the issue. Gill is a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin. Add Resource Latest reviews Search resources. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: Constantine and his successors created a civil society composed mostly of Christians, and in which Christianity was the dominant force. And the legislation making Sunday a legal holiday gave leisure to Christians for their church assemblies, but was worded as an honor to the sun. The relationship of Constantine to the Church is essential if we are to understand if he had a genuine conversion experience in 312 AD. What's new. N.S. Monks sought to work out the true Christian life with the same intensity that had characterized the times of persecution. Throughout his lifetime, Constantine favored Christians and the role of Christianity in the empire. Constantine had many Christian influences throughout his life. This caused three major problems: 1. By the Vision of the Cross, and by the Appearance of Christ, Constantine is led to embrace Christianity.— He receives Religious Instruction from our Brethren. He suffered from fits of anger brought about from a highly suspicious and jealous mind, occasionally resorting to murder. Books and articles that equip you for deeply biblical thinking and ministry. A contemporary of Constantine and a Christian, who became bishop of Caesarea in 314, Eusebius describes the series of events: The fifth-century historian Zosimus writes about the pragmatic reasons for Constantine seeming to embrace the newish faith: Constantine may not have been a Christian until his deathbed baptism. Home. A sidenote from the blog’s author: Pursue a deeper knowledge of God through self-paced college- and seminary-level online courses in Old and New Testament studies, theology, biblical Greek, and more. His reign began in 306, and after a series of internal struggles, he consolidated his rule over the entire Roman Empire in 324. A personal decision marked the Empire permanently. If you have any questions, please review our. The first, according to pagan sources, was a vision of Apollo in the year 306. There is much more to learn about Constantine. Not at all. The Roman emperor Constantine, a sun-worshiper, professed his conversion to Christianity [took place in 312 AD], although his subsequent actions suggest that the “conversion” was more of a political move than a genuine change of heart. Ancient Historians on the Conversion of Constantine. They raised fundamental questions about the definition of the church; Constantine called the Council of Nicaea to help resolve these questions. He began immediately to favor the Christians after his victory over Maxentius. Few events in the history of civilization have proved more transformative than the conversion of the emperor Constantine to Christianity in the year 312 CE. The first, according to pagan sources, was a vision of Apollo in the year 306. The ancients say it was genuine. The controversial issue of Constantine’s supposed conversion to Christianity has bedevilled serious students of his age, ever since the time of Gibbon (1737 – 1794). Please check errors and resubmit. A labarum was a Roman standard carried into battle, but here a Christian monogram replaced the traditional pagan symbols. Sozomen is relevant to our discussion of Constantine’s conversion because he describes the legend in its fullest version. One of the supposed watersheds in history is the ‘conversion’ of the emperor Constantine to Christianity in, or about, 312 AD. Was Constantine the Great a Christian? Constantine's legitimate interest in Christianity is not inconceivable considering that his … [For this theory, read "Constantine's Conversion: Do We Really Need It?" It was centered around X and P, the first two letters in the Greek word for Christ. During the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (AD 306–337), Christianity began to transition to the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. After his vision, he immediately declared Christianity legal in the Edict of Milan. 381. Constantine had two visions. In the history of Christianity, Constantine is most remembered for bringing state-sanctioned persecution to an end. He and his army saw a cross of light in the sky above the sun with words that are in Greek. 55, No. Oct. 28 is the 1,700th anniversary of a truly pivotal moment in the story of Western civilization and in the story of Christ’s Church — an event so decisive, in fact, that it led to the convergence of these two previously colliding cultures. Why Did Constantine Wait Until He Was Dying to Be Baptized? The short answer is, "Yes, Constantine was Christian," or seems to have said he was, but it belies the complexity of the issue. Christianity made state religion of Roman Empire. He founded a new capital on the site of the old Greek city of Byzantium and named it Constantinople. Some say he supported Christianity as part of a cynical strategy to promote his rule. Church-state relations changed radically in the years after Constantine’s conversion. Historians remain uncertain about Constantine's reasons for favoring Christianity, and theologians and historians have often argued about which form of early Christianity he subscribed to. A major turning point in western history occurred when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 CE. The conversion of Constantine is an event that elevated Christianity to political prominence and power. How do most Christians view Constantine today? In 313 AD he reached an agreement with the Emperor in the Licinius, that ended the persecution in the eastern half of the … ... Constantines Conversion to Christianity. All Rights Reserved. With Constantine’s conversion, the church found itself in a new position: the emperor became the most powerful proponent of Christianity. Can a church of the majority and of a ruling class be a holy church? 41, No. [For this theory, read "Constantine's Conversion: Do We Really Need It?" There are two accounts of Constantine's conversion to Christianity. New posts Search forums. I will explore the question of whether Constantine’s conversion was authentic or not. In a number of ways, Constantine’s conversion to Christianity had powerful effects on Christian belief patterns, worship patterns and position within the empire. By submitting your email address, you understand that you will receive email communications from HarperCollins Christian Publishing (501 Nelson Place, Nashville, TN 37214 USA) providing information about products and services of HCCP and its affiliates. Some Christians consider Constantine a saint. Please add your opinion to the forum thread. And I will explain how the conversion affected the Christian mission. sign up for a brand new online course taught by Everett Ferguson, Church History 1, Who the most important figures in church history are, What the key controversies in the church were, and how they still shape the church today, Which ideas defined and shaped the church during its first 1,200 years, The significant turning points in church history, including the Roman emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, the Great Schism between churches of the East and West, the Crusades, and numerous others, The dynamic relationship between broader world history and church history. Although it began with a vision, Constantine's faith permeated his reign. Your form could not be submitted. Constantine did not choose his new religion to chase after changing demographics in the Empire; Christianity was a lower-class religion disfavored by the pagans who overwhelmingly made up the Roman army and cavalry—the exact people that an emperor really needed to … A most marvelous sign appeared to [Constantine] from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person. . But was Constantine genuinely a committed Christian, or was he using religion for his own ends? There are numerous misunderstandings about Constantine’s role in Christianity. How Old Is 'the Dream of the Rood' and What Does It Mean? Enhance your school’s traditional and online education programs by easily integrating online courses developed from the scholars and textbooks you trust. But according to Christian sources, the vision that mattered wasn’t in 306, but in 312. Underneath was written, \"In this sign, conquer.\" But the Bishop Eusebius of Antioch, who would later write a favorable biography of Constantine, tells that he and his army experienced this vision just before the battle outside o… It prompted the church to respond to new challenges—both doctrinal and cultural. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle. Roman Empire: Battle of the Milvian Bridge, The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea. He completely abandoned paganism and put his full force of favor towards advancing the cause of the Church of Christ. But to Constantine himself and to spiritual advisors close to him, there appears to have been no doubt. Eusebius interpreted the event in grand biblical terms, comparing the defeat of Maxentius’s army to the destruction of the Egyptians under Pharaoh in the Red Sea. 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