Emperor Constantine
(c.274 - 337)

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Synopsis

CONSTANTINE THE GREAT AND HIS SONS. 1. Constantine, Roman Emperor from 306 to 337; was born in 274, at Naissus in Upper Moesia, a son of Constantius Chlorus and Helena, and was, after the death of his father at York (July 25, 306), proclaimed emperor by the legions of Gaul. He immediately took possession of Britain, Gaul, and Spain; and after a series of brilliant victories over Maxentius, ending with the bloody battle at the Milvian Bridge, just under the walls of Rome, he also became master of Italy (312). He now ruled over the ‘Western Empire, as Licinius over the Eastern: but war broke out between them in 314; and in 323, after the battle of Chalcedon, in which Licinius was killed, Constantine became sole lord of the whole Roman world. He died in 337, at Nicomedia.

Tradition tells us that he was converted to Christianity suddenly, and by a miracle. One evening during the contest with Maxentius, he saw a radiant cross appearing in the heavens, with the inscription, "By this thou shalt conquer." The tradition is first mentioned by Eusebius, in his De Vita Constantini, written after the emperor’s death. This miracle has been defended. with ingenious sophistry by Roman-Catholic historians and by Card. Dr. Newman (Two Essays on Biblical and on Ecclesiastical Miracles, 3d ed., Lond., 1873, pp. 271 sqq.), but cannot stand the test of critical examination. Constantine may have seen some phenomenon in the skies; he was no doubt convinced of the superior claims of Christianity as the rising religion; but his conversion was a change of policy, rather than of moral character. Long after that event he killed, his son, his second wife, several others of his relatives, and some of his most intimate friends, in passionate resentment of some fancied infringement of his rights. In his relation to Christianity he was cool, calculating, always bent upon the practically useful, always regarding the practically possible. He retained the office and title of Pontifex Maximus to the last, and did not receive Christian baptism until he felt death close upon him. He kept Pagans in the highest positions in his immediate surroundings, and forbade every thing which might look like an encroachment of Christianity upon Paganism. Such a faith in such a character is not the result of a sudden conversion by a miracle: if it were, the effect would be more miraculous than the cause. Judging from the character both of his father and mother, it is probable that he grew up in quiet but steady contact with Christianity. Christianity had, indeed, become something in the air which no one occupying a prominent position in the Roman world could remain entirely foreign to. But the singular mixture of political carefulness and personal indifference with which he treated. it presupposes a relation of observation rather than impression. He knew Christianity well, but only as a power in the Roman Empire; and he protected it as a wise and far-seeing statesman. As a power not of this world, he hardly ever came to understand it.

His first edict concerning the Christians (Rome 312) is lost. By the second (Milan, 313) he granted them, not only free religious worship and the recognition of the State, but also reparation of previously incurred losses. Banished men who worked on the galleys or in the mines were recalled, confiscated estates were restored, etc. A series of edicts of 315, 316, 319, 321, and 323, completed. the revolution. Christians were admitted to the offices of the State, both military and civil; the Christian clergy was exempted from all municipal burdens, as were the Pagan priests; the emancipation of Christian slaves was facilitated; Jews were forbidden to keep Christian slaves, etc. An [547] edict of 321 ordered Sunday to be celebrated by cessation of all work in public. When Constantine became master of the whole empire, all these edicts were extended to the whole realm, and the Roman world more and more assumed the aspect of a Christian state. One thing, however, puzzled and annoyed the emperor very much, - the dissensions of the Christians, their perpetual squabbles about doctrines, and the fanatical hatred thereby engendered. In the Roman Empire the most different religions lived peacefully beside each other, and here was a religion which could not live in peace with itself. For political reasons, however, unity and harmony were necessary; and in 325 the Emperor convened the first great oecumenical council at Nicæa to settle the Arian controversy. It was the first time the Christian Church and the Roman State met each other face to face; and the impression was very deep on both sides. When the emperor stood there, among the three hundred and eighteen bishops, tall, clad in purple and jewels, with his peculiarly haughty and sombre mien, he felt disgusted at those coarse and cringing creatures who one moment scrambled sportively around him to snatch up a bit of his munificence, and the next flew madly into each other’s faces for some incomprehensible mystery. Nevertheless, he learnt something from those people. He saw that with Christianity was born a new sentiment in the human heart hitherto unknown to mankind, and that on this sentiment the throne could be rested more safely than on the success of a court-intrigue, or the victory of a hired army. The only rational legitimation which the antique world had known of the kingship was descent from the gods; but this authority had now become a barefaced lie, and was difficult to use even in the form of a flattery. At Nicæa, however, the idea of a kingship of God’s grace began to dawn upon mankind. Constantine also met there with men who must have charmed and awed him by their grand simplicity, burdened, and almost curbed, as he was by the enormous complexity of Roman life. After the Council of Nicæa, he conversed more and more frequently and intimately with the bishops. his interest in Christianity grew with the years; but, as was to have been foreseen, he was sure to be led astray, for the needle lacked in the compass. He was more and more drawn over to the side of the Arians, and it was an Arian bishop who baptized him.

2. Of Constantine’s three sons (1) Constantine II. died early; (2) Constans belonged to the Nicæan party, and enforced (in 349) the re-instatement of Athanasius in Alexandria; while (3) Constantius was at one time almost the leader of the anti-Nicæan party, and interfered in the affairs of the Church in a very high-handed manner. He fell out, however, with the rigorous Arians; and his success in propagating semi-Arianism was probably small, just as his violent measures against Paganism (he forbade sacrifice under penalty of death) proved almost futile.

Clemens Petersen, "CONSTANTINE THE GREAT AND HIS SONS," Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn., Vol. 1. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. pp.546-547.

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Primary Sources

Constantine, To the Assembly of the Saints.
Eusebius, Church History 9-10.
Eusebius, In Praise of Constantine.
Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 24-48.
Socrates, Church History 1.
Sozomen, Church History 1-2.

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Secondary Sources

A. Alföldi, The Conversion of Constantine and Pagan Rome. Oxford: Clarendon, 1948 / Oxford University Press reprint, distributed by Sandpiper books, 1969. ISBN: 0198143567. pp.140. {Amazon.com}
On-line Resource J.H. Barber, “Constantine in Relation to Christianity,” Review & Expositor 9.1 (Jan. 1912): 63-82. View in PDF format [This material is in the Public Domain]
Book or monograph Barnes: Constantine and EusebiusTimothy D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, new edn. Harvard University Press, 1984. Pbk. ISBN: 0674165314. pp.464. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph Timothy D. Barnes, The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine. Cambridge, MA / London: Harvard University Press, 1982. Pbk. ISBN: 0783722214. pp.305. {Amazon.com}
Article in Book T.D. Barnes, "Constantine's Speech to the Assembly of the Saints: Place and Date of Delivery," Journal of Theological Studies 52.1 (2001): 26-36.
Book or monograph Karl Baus et al, The Imperial Church from Constantine to the Early Middle Ages. History of the Church 2. New York: Seabury, 1980. Hbk. ISBN: 0816404445. pp.xvii + 846. {Amazon.com}
Norman H. Baynes [1877-1961], Constantine the Great and the Christian Church. London: British Academy, 1932 / Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Pbk. ISBN: 0197256724. {Amazon.com}
Article John L. Boojamra, "Constantine and The Council of Arles: The Foundations of Church and State in the Christian East," Greek Orthodox Theological Review 43.1-4 (1998): 129-141.
Book or monograph Diana Bowder, The Age of Constantine and Julian. London: Paul Elek, 1978. Hbk. ISBN: 0064906019. pp. xv + 230. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph Brown: Power and Persuasion in Late AntiquityPeter Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsion Press, 1992. Pbk. ISBN: 0299133443. pp. x + 182. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph The Age of Constantine the GreatJacob Burckhardt, The Age of Constantine the Great. New York: Pantheon, 1949 / California: University of California Press, 1982. Pbk. ISBN: 0520046803. {Amazon.com}
Article Erica Carotenuto, "Six Constantinian Documents (Eus. H.E. 10, 5-7)," Vigiliae Christianae 56.1 (2002): 56-74.
Article Henry Chadwick, "Conversion in Constantine the Great," Derek Baker, ed. Religious Motivation: Biographical and Sociological Problems for the Church Historian. Papers read at the sixteenth summer and seventeenth winter meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society. Studies in Church History. Oxford: Blackwell, 1978. Hbk. ISBN: 0631192506. pp.10-13. {Amazon.com}
Article P.S. Davies, "Constantine's Editor," Journal of Theological Studies 42.2 (1991): 610-618.
Hermann Dörries, Constantine the Great, Roland H. Bainton, translator. New York: Harper & Row, 1972. pp. xi + 250.
Article H.A. Drake, "Constantine and Consensus," Church History 64.1 (1994): 1-15.
Article Thomas G. Elliott, "Constantine and `the Arian Reaction after Nicaea'," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 43.2 (1992): 169-194.
Article Thomas G. Elliott, "Constantine's Preparations for the Council of Nicea," Journal of Religious History 17.2 (1992): 127-137.
Article Constantine K.R Gutzman, "Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea and His Life of Constantine: A Heretic's Legacy," Greek Orthodox Theological Review 42.3-4 (1997): 351-358.
On-line Resource Constantine Converts to Christianity. (Corrie Ferguson and Amy N. Grupp)
Robert M. Grant, Augustus to Constantine. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. Pbk. ISBN: 0062503502. pp.253-279. {Amazon.com}
Article Constantine K. R .Gutzman, "Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea and His Life of Constantine: A Heretic's Legacy," Greek Orthodox Theological Review 42.3-4 (1997): 351-358.
Article R.P.C. Hanson, "The Oratio Ad Sanctos Atrributed to the Emperor Constantine and the Oracles at Daphne," Journal of Theological Studies 24.2 (1973): 505-511.
Article E.B. Harrison, "The Constantinian Portrait," Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 21 (1967): 79-96 & plates.
On-line Resource Constantine The Great and Byzantium (Hellenism Network)
On-line Resource Constantine the Great (Charles G. Herbermann & Georg Grupp)
Article E.D. Hunt, "Constantine and Jerusalem," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 48.3 (1997): 405-424.
Article Oded Irshai, "Constantine and the Jews: The Prohibition against Entering Jerusalem History and Hagiography [In Hebrew]," Zion 60.2 (1995): 129-178.
On-line Resource Edward A. Johnson, "Constantine the Great: Imperial Benefactor of the Christian Church," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 22.2 (June 1979): 161-169.View in PDF format
Article A.H.M. Jones, "Notes on the Genuineness of the Constantinian Documents in Eusebius's Life of Constantine," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 5.2 (1954): 196-200.
Book or monograph Arthur Hugh Martin Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe. London: English Universities Press, 1948 / Toronoto: University of Toronto Press Inc., 1979. Pbk. ISBN: 0802063691. pp.223. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph Alistair Kee, Constantine Versus Christ: The Triumph of Ideology. London: SCM Press, 1982. ISBN: 0334002680. pp.192. {Amazon.com}
Article Bill Leadbetter, "Constantine and the Bishop: The Roman Church in the Early Fourth Century," Journal of Religious History 26.1 (2002): 1-14.
Book or monograph The Cambridge Companion to the Age of ConstantineNoel Lenski, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Pbk. 2005ISBN: 0521521572. pp.488. {Amazon.com}
Ramsay MacMullen, Constantine. New York: Dial, 1969. Reprint. Routledge, an imprint of Taylor & Francis Books Ltd., 1987. Pbk. ISBN: 0709946856. pp.277. {Amazon.com}
On-line Resource Anthony McRoy, “The Faith of Constantine: Pagan Conspirator or Christian Emperor?” Foundations 58 (November 2007): 15-28.View in PDF format
Book or monograph Markus: The End of Ancient ChristianityR.A. Markus, The End of Ancient Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Pbk. ISBN: 0521625106. pp. xvii + 258. {Amazon.com}
Article Oliver Nicholson, "Constantine's Vision of the Cross," Vigiliae Christianae 54.3 (2000): 309-323.
Article Oyvind Norderval, "The Emperor Constantine and Arius: Unity in the Church and Unity in the Empire," Studia Theologica 42.2 (1988): 113-150.
Article Charles Odahl, "Constantine's Epistle to the Bishops at the Council of Arles: A Defence of Imperial Authorship," Journal of Religious History 17.3 (1993): 274-289.
Article Charles Odahl, "God and Constantine: Divine Sanction for Imperial Rule in the First Christian Emperor's Early Letters and Art," Catholic Historical Review 81.3 (1995): 327-352.
On-line Resource Constantine I (306 - 337 A.D.) (Hans A. Pohlsander)
Article Claudia Rapp, "Imperial Ideology in the Making: Eusebius of Caesarea on Constantine as Bishop," Journal of Theological Studies 49.2 (1998): 685-695.
On-line Resource Resources for Constantine the Great.
On-line Resource Dr. Philip Schaff, "Constantine the Great, and the Downfall of Paganism in the Roman Empire," Bibliotheca Sacra 20 No. 80 (1863): 778-798.View in PDF format [This material is in the Public Domain and can be freely distributed and copied]
Article T.C. Skeat, "The Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Vaticanus, and Constantine," Journal of Theological Studies 50.2 (1999): 583-625.
Article Rudolph H. Storch, "The 'Eusebian Consatantine'," Church History (1971): 145-155.
Article Thomas J. Talley, "Constantine and Christmas," Studia Liturgica 17 (1987): 191-197.
Article Robert Louis Wilken, "In Defense of Constantine," First Things 112 (2001): 36-40.
Article David Woods, "Where Did Constantine I Die?" Journal of Theological Studies 48.2 (1997): 531-535.

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Biographies

Book or monograph EusebiusEusebius, Eusebius' "Life of Constantine". Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999. ISBN: 0198149247. pp.414. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph The Emperor ConstantineMichael Grant, The Emperor Constantine. Phoenix Press, 1998. Pbk. ISBN: 0753805286. pp.288.
Book or monograph Emperor ConstantineHans A. Pohlsander, Emperor Constantine. Routledge, 1996. Pbk. ISBN: 0415131782. pp.128. {Amazon.com}

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