The Influence of Constantine Key source: F. W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom: A History of the Church of Christ, Delight, Arkansas: Gospel Light Publishing Company, 1961
Constantine • He was taken to the court of Diocletian “to be educated,” but as a hostage. • In 305, he fled to be with his father, Constantius. • His father offered a measure of protection to Christians. • His mother was a Christian.
Constantine • When Diocletian and Maximian abdicated in 305, Constantius and Galerius became Augusti. • Galerius had ruthlessly persecuted Christians and died a miserable death. • With his dying breath, Galerius recognized defeat in his opposition to Christianity, and signed an edict of toleration.
Constantine’s Rise to Power • In 306 Constantius died and his army proclaimed Constantine “Augustus.” • After a period of conflict, Constantine emerged sole Emperor in the West. • On the way to Rome, he is said to have seen the sign of the cross in the sky with the statement under it, “By this conquer.” • He overthrew Rome with 40,000 men up against an army of 170,000 men.
Constantine the Great • He seems to have come under the conviction that the God of the Christians was the strongest supernatural force in the world. • He adopted a Christian monogram and inspired his soldiers with the belief that God would give them victory. • After winning this great victory, favor for the Christians was assured. • During Constantine’s early reign, he outwardly supported the Christian religion and used it for his purposes.
Support of the Church • He gave assurance that there would be no more persecution and began to favor Christianity as though it were a state religion. • He first decreed that all church buildings should be returned and the state would reimburse those who had obtained possession of them. • He encouraged construction of additional elaborate buildings, allotting state money for this purpose. • He authorized money to be distributed to ministers.
Support of the Church • He issued decrees that ministers were excused from all public offices, so they could fully serve in the church. • He took a hand in all internal affairs in order to preserve the unity of the church. • When he received word of a rising faction in the church, he ordered ten bishops on each side of the issue to come to Rome so the matter could be tried by a synod under his authority and supervision.
Support of the Church • He issued an edict against soothsayers. • He decreed that all judges, city people, and craftsmen should rest on Sunday, with a provision that farmers could work if their crops required it. • This made it possible for Christians to give themselves to worship without affecting their occupations. • His favoritism of the church seems to have been more a matter of expediency than conviction.
The Church Was Used As a Center of Unity to Preserve the Empire • His actions as emperor are not in harmony with Christian conduct. • In 326, he put his son to death on charges of treason brought by his wife, Fausta. • Soon after, he became displeased with Fausta and had her executed. • He kept his position as chief priest of the Pagan state religion. • He was influenced by his father’s protection of Christians and peace/prosperity that had been the result.
Council of Nicaea • As long as the church had been under persecution the fine points of theology had not been a chief matter of concern. • After persecution ceased, problems, both great and small, crept in and the church needed to study scripture carefully to separate truth from opinion.
Conflict Over the Nature of Christ • In 325, conflict arose over the nature of Christ. • Alexander, “the bishop” had preached a sermon on “Unity of the Trinity.” • Arius, one of the elders and a popular preacher, took issue with the sermon, saying Alexander did not make enough distinction between God the Father and Jesus, and this view made three Gods instead of one. • In order to defend his view, Arius believed Christ was above man but beneath God, a view that was immediately challenged.
Synod at Alexandria • Alexander called a synod [at Alexandria] to debate the nature of Christ. • In the discussion, the nature of Christ and the length of His existence were debated. • Arius said that He was in existence long before the world began, but that He had not existed eternally as had the Father. • He also said Christ was of different essence than the Father. • Arius was accused of denying that Christ was divine, of false teaching, and driven out of Alexandria.
The Council of Nicaea (325) • Constantine called a council of bishops (Nicaea), of which he was considered bishop of bishops and presided as chairman. • 318 bishops assembled – Constantine’s chief concern initially was not who was right, but that unity be restored. • In his keynote address Constantine, said the gospel, the Apostolic writings, and the ancient prophecies teach what we are to believe concerning the divine nature. • He called for contentions to be set aside, and for all to seek in the divinely inspired word the solution of all doubtful topics.
The Council of Nicaea • The council drew up a creed. • Aruis was excommunicated. • After Constantine changed some of the wording of the creed it became the adopted creed, called “The Articles of Faith maintained by the Council.” • Another decision of the council was that Easter should be celebrated on the same day in all churches.
Results of the Council of Nicaea • Constantine sent letters to the churches stating: • Widows and orphans – they should be cared for from the public treasury. • The change concerning Easter, He sent an open letter to all his subjects exhorting them to renounce their superstition and accept Christianity. • Bishops in every city were to build churches and furnish them with money. • In these letters he gave the council the position of speaking for God.
Following the Council of Nicaea • Constantine called upon Eusebius to have made for him 50 copies of the Scripture “on fine parchment” to be placed in the churches in Constantinople. • He specified that the bishops in Jerusalem were to build elaborate buildings.
Conclusion • Constantine’s active interest in behalf of the church led Christians to exalt him and rely on his decisions. • He soon took the affairs of the church into his own hands and became dictatorial. • Arian bishops gained the Emperor’s ear and eventually control in church matters, a most violent period from 325-381. • In 324 Constantine selected the city of Byzantium (later Constantinople) to be rebuilt as his capital, the center of government and the church.
Conclusion • On Constantine’s death bed he received baptism and communion. • The church had given up her independence and relied on the state for its organization and authority. • Leaders did not seem to see the danger in these developments.