Was Constantine Really A Christian?

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Was Constantine really a Christian?


Constantine I, also known as Constantine the Great, ruled the Roman Empire in the early fourth century CE. He served as Roman emperor from 306 until his death in 337 and was sole emperor from 324 to 337 CE. Constantine is best known for ending the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, legalizing the Christian religion, and converting to Christianity himself, becoming the first Christian Roman emperor (Edwards, p.99-102).

Constantine was born around 272 CE in the city of Naissus (Niš, Serbia). His father, Constantius, was the governor of Dalmatia under Emperor Diocletian. In 285, Diocletian split the Roman Empire in two; although it was still considered one political entity, Diocletian ruled in the east, from Nicomedia (Izmit, Turkey), and Maximian became co-emperor in the west, from Mediolanum (Milan, Italy) and Augusta Treverorum (Trier, Germany). In 293, Diocletian and Maximian appointed subordinate rulers, or Caesars, for each of their two subdivisions: Constantius in the west and Galerius in the east (Stephenson, p.223-231). This system of four rulers was called the Tetrarchy. In 305, both Diocletian and Maximian resigned and were succeeded as coemperors by Constantius and Galerius, with Severus and Maximian taking over as Caesars. When Constantius died in 306, Severus was promoted to emperor in the West and Constantine took over as Caesar, ruling over Britain, Gaul, and Spain. By 324, he was the sole emperor of the vast Roman Empire.

One of the most significant accomplishments of Constantine's rule was the reversal of the Christian persecutions that had gone on previously, including Diocletian's Great Persecution of 303. While he never declared Christianity the official religion of the realm, Constantine did legalize the religion with the Edict of Milan in 313. Although a similar edict was issued by Galerius in 311, the Edict of Milan went further because it not only ordered the removal of penalties for confessing to Christianity but also ordered confiscated property to be returned to the Christians (MacMullen, p.102-105).

Apart from legalizing Christianity, Constantine was influential in the development of the religion in a number of ways. Constantine's mother Helena was a Christian, and at some point, he converted to Christianity as well, becoming the first Christian emperor. The date of his conversion is debated but most likely occurred following the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. In 325, he convened the first ecumenical council, the Council of Nicea, the purpose of which was to establish unified doctrines for the religion. He also moved the empire's capital to Byzantium in Asia Minor, rebuilding the city and renaming it Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey). Constantinople served as the cultural and political center of the Roman Empire from 330 to 395 and as the seat of the Byzantine Church and capital of the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire from 395 to 1204 (Stephenson, p.223-231).


The policy of Constantine was to create a firm basis for the imperial power in the Christian religion itself, which was so important unity: for this reason, although not baptized, convoked several councils as "bishop of those ...
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