When we look back at Christianity over the years, there are several people who are remembered for their impact on the religion. The first most important figure was Jesus Christ. However, if we travel forward a bit, into the 4th Century we come across Constantine. Historians agree that Constantine served as an important component in the spread of Christianity.
Although he spread the religion in a massive way, others wonder if his methods were more harmful then anything. In this paper I will be discussing Constantine in his rise to power and his impact on Christianity. Constantine provided a mean for the word of God to be spread, which is a major benefit. However, He also used violence and hate as a way to convert his people. In addition to his violence there is evidence that Constantine was not a believer himself.
According to A Dictionary of British History, “Constantine was the first Christian emperor known as ‘the Great’.” His reign was from 306-337 A.D. during which he widely spread the religion of Christianity. His main goal was to unify his empire. In order to do this he used a strategy in which he believed would blend the numerous religions existent in his empire already.
This idea was looked at as making the empire Catholic. In this instance the word Catholic stands for Universal. Constantine’s vision was for the whole empire to be united in religion. He believed that once the empire was united he would have a greater hold over the people. Therefore, this transition would make him a more powerful leader.
This shift in religious views among the empire had both beneficial and detrimental effect on Christianity. According to the The Journal of Roman Studies, “As all know the climax of Christianity was reached with the conversion of Constantine.”
The immediate benefit of Constantine’s strategy was the major spread of Christianity. Many historians argue that without him, Christianity would not be as prominent of a religion that it is today. With his help, Christianity became the most prominent religion in the Roman Empire. In the year 313 Constantine created and enforced the Edict of Milan. This was a basic letter, which was signed by Constantine, which created tolerance Christianity as a religion throughout the Roman Empire. This doctrine was created after what was called the Diocletianic Persecution. This persecution was the last of many persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire.
This was also the most violent and severe of all the persecutions. It included the legal obligation for all people of the Empire to practice traditional traditions when it came to religion. Because of this Christians were persecuted unless they agreed to follow the Gods of the Empire of the time. Without this doctrine, Christianity would have remained illegal to practice and prosecutions would have continued. Because of this bold move by Constantine, Christians were free to practice their religion free of persecution once again. In The true Face of Constantine The Great, They discuss that “Constantine was clean shaven, as well as handsome and youthful…perceived as the ideal calm.”
This made him extremely popular among the Christian people of the Roman Empire. In addition, both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox church regard Constantine as a saint for his tolerance of Christianity. Because of Constantine Christianity was allowed to flourish throughout the Roman Empire, and eventually there religious ideas were accepted and spread throughout the rest of the world as well. For these reasons Constantine’s work in Christianity was a chief stepping stone into the continued spread of the religion. This classifies his ascent into power and his reign successful to the Christian Church.
Although Constantine was a major benefit to the spread of the Christian religion, he also had a detrimental effect on the religion as well. Although Constantine promoted the spread of the Christian religion, he often had violent methods as a ruler. These methods were incontinent with the Church and its teachings. According to Constantine’s Porphyry Column, “Constantine brutally murdered his son and wife.”
These acts were directly against the Christian church, which gave the people of the Roman Empire an inaccurate portrayal of the word of God. Many historians also believe that Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity was rooted in his hatred for the Jewish People. He used his negativity of Judaism as a way to promote his new laws. Many of his new laws had Christian Characteristics. He believed that these new laws would help him to dominate his people. Despite the fact that he gave Christians legal freedom to practice their religion, he made them feel subordinate.
This is a crucial flaw in the strategy of Constantine. It removes the genuine nature of his acceptance. Because of this his actions are viewed as blasphemy rather than something to be celebrated. This is largely due to the fact that he accepted Christianity in the Roman Empire for selfish reasons. Because of his violent methods and selfish ruling, Constantine hurt Christianity’s image among the Roman people.
Besides Constantine’s hunger for power, there was another detrimental flaw in his strategy for the spread of Christianity. According to many historians, Constantine did not actually believe in the Christian religion. Although he made it a priority to spread Christianity through the Roman Empire, He continued to worship the Sun God.
According to The Impact of Constantine on Christianity there was, “the continued presence of pagan images on his coins for some time after 312, his unwillingness to use any but the most general terms for deity in his public utterances, and, most damningly of all, evidence that he not only permitted the old cults to survive but even actively patronized them, at least on occasion.” When Constantine had his profile imprinted on the coins used in the Roman Empire, he had the Sun God on the other side. This was an indication that although he preached Christianity he still had his beliefs entangled elsewhere.
This Coin can be viewed as a worship of another God. On a similar token Constantine also participated in the old cults of the Roman Empire. These clues that Constantine did not believe in Christianity explain several things. Most importantly it explains the inconsistency of the Christian religion since Constantine’s reign. Many theologians question the accuracy of Christianity today compared with the message Jesus brought to us.
They attribute these differences to Constantine. Because he was not considered to be a true believer he spread a false form of the religion to the rest of the Roman Empire. Although this new form of Christianity is viewed as tainted, or less pure, it is still an accurate portrayal. However many experts argue that because of Constantine’s selfish twist in Christianity, we practice a form of the religion that was not originally intended.
Constantine created an inconsistency in the Christian religion because he spread a religion in which he did not truly believe in. In fact, Constantine was not baptized until he was on his deathbed, which was about 25 years after he began to promote the spread of Christianity through the Roman Empire. Because of the wavering in beliefs that Constantine had, and promoted in his people, he is viewed as detrimental to the religion. *
Constantine is considered to be both beneficial and detrimental to the Christian religion. Because of his ability to spread the religion in a fast way to more people then imaginable many Christians praise his work. He was able to spread the acceptance of the church and more importantly the word of God. However, he was not a leader by example. He used violence, and he also continued to worship other Gods. By using these motives to gain power he was deliberately going against the laws God set forth for his people.
Although I believe that there were a lot of negative results to Christianity immediately after Constantine’s rise to power, I see his strategy as a benefit. This is because his acceptance of the Christian religion allowed it to spread much more then it would have otherwise. From the standpoint of Christianity in today’s society I view his efforts to spread Gods word as a benefit to believers today. Because of this although Constantine had both beneficial and damaging effects on Christianity, I look at his work in the spread of the religion as mostly beneficial. Works Cited
Cannon, John Ashton. A Dictionary of British History. New York: Oxford UP, 2009.
Constantine's Porphyry Column: The Earliest Literary Allusion * Garth Fowden, The Journal of Roman Studies * Vol. 81, (1991), pp. 119-131
Drake, H. A., "The Impact of Constantine on Christianity", "The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine", Eds. Noel Lenski, Cambridge University Press, 2006, Cambridge Collections Online, Cambridge University Press.04 May 2011,
* The Helmet of Constantine with the Christian Monogram Andreas Alföldi, The Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 22, Part 1: Papers Dedicated to Sir George Macdonald K.C.B. (1932), pp. 9-23
The True Face of Constantine the Great David H. Wright, Dumbarton Oaks Papers Vol. 41, Studies on Art and Archeology in Honor of Ernst Kitzinger on His Seventy-Fifth Birthday (1987), pp. 493-507