Emperor Constantine (272AD-337 AD) was the 57th Roman Emperor of the Western Empire and ruled from 306 AD up to his death in 337 AD.
He is remembered in history as Constantine The Great and also as the man who created the Holy Roman Empire, making Christianity the official religion of Rome.
I contend that he should be remembered as Constantine the Liar, and I further suggest that the Christian church were complicit.
During his reign, there were many and varied religions being practiced, not just throughout the empire, but in Rome itself. Constantine was himself, a committed follower of Mithraism.
It must be said that Christians did suffer for their religious beliefs and were persecuted at that time, which is why he met with Licinius of the East in 313 AD and proclaimed theLactantius Mediolanum (Edict of Milan), which established a policy of religious freedom for all:
When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I, Licinius Augustus, fortunately met near Mediolanurn (Milan), and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule. And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts) may show in all things His usual favour and benevolence. Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation. We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.
Moreover, in the case of the Christians especially we esteemed it best to order that if it happens anyone heretofore has bought from our treasury from anyone whatsoever, those places where they were previously accustomed to assemble, concerning which a certain decree had been made and a letter sent to you officially, the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception, Those, moreover, who have obtained the same by gift, are likewise to return them at once to the Christians. Besides, both those who have purchased and those who have secured them by gift, are to appeal to the vicar if they seek any recompense from our bounty, that they may be cared for through our clemency. All this property ought to be delivered at once to the community of the Christians through your intercession, and without delay. And since these Christians are known to have possessed not only those places in which they were accustomed to assemble, but also other property, namely the churches, belonging to them as a corporation and not as individuals, all these things which we have included under the above law, you will order to be restored, without any hesitation or controversy at all, to these Christians, that is to say to the corporations and their conventicles: providing, of course, that the above arrangements be followed so that those who return the same without payment, as we have said, may hope for an indemnity from our bounty. In all these circumstances you ought to tender your most efficacious intervention to the community of the Christians, that our command may be carried into effect as quickly as possible, whereby, moreover, through our clemency, public order may be secured. Let this be done so that, as we have said above, Divine favour towards us, which, under the most important circumstances we have already experienced, may, for all time, preserve and prosper our successes together with the good of the state. Moreover, in order that the statement of this decree of our good will may come to the notice of all, this rescript, published by your decree, shall be announced everywhere and brought to the knowledge of all, so that the decree of this, our benevolence, cannot be concealed.
I know, I know, tl;dr.
So allow me to draw your attention to one or two passages:
“…so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule.”
“We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship.”
As you can see, Constantine and Licinius agreed to allow complete religious freedom within both halves of the empire. Even though Christianity is singled out for protection from persecution and freedom to practice, these privileges must be implied for all religions within the empire.
But I suspect that he had another agenda. I suspect that it was for the sake of political expediency. Even though the Christians were a persecuted minority, they were still a fast growing cult and Constantine must have seen that their star was on the rise, regardless of what hardships they currently faced.
Also, a population free to practice whatever religion they desired was a happy and productive one. It may also have had something to do with his clashes with Licinius over the next 3-4 years that ended up with Constantine in complete control of the empire, both east and west.
Over the next few years, Christianity gained more and more followers and became quite a powerful political force, but there was a problem and that was a lack of a cohesive and universally accepted dogma.
To that end, Constantine convened the First Council of Nicea in AD 325 which basically hammered out some (but by no means all) of the issues that were causing a schism. Contrary to popular belief, they did not decide on which books would be included in the bible and which would not.
They were more interested in the ‘Substance of God‘ and when Easter (Pascha) should be celebrated.
This is when Constantine first shows himself to be a liar. Remember the Edict of Milan and the freedom of religion?
If that is going to apply for individual religions, then it must also apply within a religion. One member of the council, Arius, refused to follow the general opinion of the council and had five supporters:
- Eusebius of Nicomedia
- Theognis of Nice
- Maris of Chalcedon
- Theonas of Marmarica
- Secundus of Ptolemaïs.
Of these, Eusebius and Theognis both recanted and agreed with the council’s decision.
Constantine had Arius and the remainder of his followers banished… Does that sound like freedom of religion?
Follow the strictures of a religion completely or risk exile.
Nope. No freedom of religion there!
Where they agreed on complete religious freedom within the empire and outlawed the persecution of Christians, with the implication being that no faith could be the basis of persecution and ill treatment.
He proved himself a liar due to his action of banishing Arius, and several supporters during the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD, due to their not knuckling under and supporting the general consensus about the ‘Substance of God‘.
After this event, Constantine continued to support the Christian church, although there is no evidence that he ever actually truly converted from Mithraism.
He also changed his stance, rather than being a supporter of Christianity and in favour of religious freedom, he became hostile to Pagan religions, forbidding Pagan rituals.
A large number of temples were ransacked and their treasures confiscated and given to Christian churches. The only temples to escape desecration were those that were dedicated to the Imperial cult.
He also sought to stamp out ‘Heretic’ cults of dissension from the larger established Church, which were causing problems as well. Arguably the most notable being the sect of Arianism which was deeply dividing the concept of Christian thought.
So there you have it. Constantine’s second major lie.
So much for freedom of religion and freedom from persecution.
Not only that, but I believe his reasons for doing so were hypocritical too.
In 337AD, Constantine became very ill and stated a wish to be baptised in the river Jordan, as Jesus was alleged to have been. His reason for doing so was on the proviso that he would live a more Christian life should he live through his illness. Also, it must be noted that he put off his baptism for as long as he could in order to be absolved of as much sin as was possible. Unfortunately for Constantine, he died before he could be baptized.
It seems that he came up with the wager a few years before Blaise Pascal.
And now we come to the lies that the church has spread about him.
Holy Roman Emperor.
He never created the Holy Roman Empire, neither did he confirm Christianity as the official religion.
After his death, he was succeeded by his son, Constantine II who was a supporter of Paganism. But there was a power struggle with his two brothers, Constantius, a rabid supporter of Arian Christianity and Constans who was an adherent of strict Christian Orthodoxy.
After Constantine II was killed, Constantius was brutal in his pursuit of Christianity’s religious supremacy with the forcible expansion of Christianity on the populace, and violent suppression of Paganism.
He was succeeded byJulian the Apostate (so named later for his pro-Pagan stance) who, as a supporter of Paganism attempted to slow the advance of Christianity, although he brought in several laws that once again singled Christians out for what could be seen as persecution, he refrained from the use of violence.
Sadly for Julian, the Christians did not reciprocate in kind and several temples were overrun and ransacked by Christian mobs.
After a reign of just two years, Julian failed to stem the tide, and Christianity was once again on the rise.
The last nail in the coffin for Paganism was hammered home a generation later when Theodosius, an ardent Christian, was on the throne. He, along with his western counterpart Gratian, recognised Christianity as the official religion of the empire. Some forty-three years after Constantine I had died.
So while he may have laid the foundations, he cannot by any stretch of the imagination be known to history as the first Holy Roman Emperor.
Constantine ‘The Great’
There is no evidence to support Constantine taking the title of ‘The Great’ although he would have been entitled to, due to the large number of military victories he oversaw during his reign. The only title he took was Dacicus Maximus (The great Victor over the Dacian) due to his victories there.
In medieval times, Constantine was held up as a model ruler by the Catholic church and presented as a paragon of virtue and had the title ‘Constantine The Great’ bestowed on him sometime in the middle ages. Hundreds of years after his death.
The earliest references I could find to the honorific can be found here.
So, there we have it. Constantine was a lying hypocrite and the Christian church is complicit in making him out to be the hero that he never was.