News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

May 24, 2012

BRUCE’S HISTORY LESSON: Emperor Constantine changes the world

TERRE HAUTE — The Emperor Constantine, the first Christian ruler of the Roman Empire and the man who ended that empire’s persecution of Christianity, died this week (May 22) in 337 AD, having lived a life that would change the world.

Born a pagan, as were the vast majority of Romans, Constantine’s conversion to Christianity was the result of — or so legend has it — a vision that came to him as he prepared to fight the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD, a battle that would determine who would rule Rome and one in which the odds were stacked against him. According to Constantine, a Christian cross appeared to him with the exhortation “By this sign conquer.” Constantine subsequently ordered his soldiers to inscribe the cross on their shields, and when he did win the battle and became Roman Emperor he converted to Christianity. He also founded a new eastern capital city for the empire, Constantinople, which was his main base of operations. Under Constantine’s rule Christianity went from a persecuted religious sect with an insignificant number of followers to the Roman Empire’s dominant religion.

Scholars debate whether Constantine’s conversion to Christianity was immediate — as the legend of the cross suggests — or more gradual and influenced both by his interaction with religious teachers and his political circumstances.

Most scholars agree that Constantine was a genuine believer — he immersed himself in the theological issues of the day, he supported the church financially and granted the clergy privileges.

But there is also no denying that from a political standpoint, uniting his empire under one religious orthodoxy based on a single god minimized both religious disputes and social instability. That made his empire more peaceful and easier to control, which is why his promotion of many Christians to high office was probably as politically motivated as it was divinely inspired.  

Scholars also note that Constantine did not entirely abandon the pagan rituals of his early life. Indeed, after his victory at Milvian Bridge he built a triumphal arch — the Arch of Constantine — but decorated it not with Christian symbols but with sacrificial images to pagan gods.

Again, Constantine’s highest priority was to unite all Romans under his unquestioned rule, a goal that sometimes necessitated balancing the spiritual with the practical.

In any case, Constantine’s conversion to, and support of, Christianity would change history forever because without him Christianity most likely would not have survived. Instead it thrived and is today, with more than 1 billion followers, one of the world’s dominant religions. But theology aside, try to imagine our world today — our politics, our culture, our geography, our very notion of civilization and, of course, our recorded history — had Christianity not spread around the world.   

Bruce G. Kauffmann’s e-mail address is bruce@historylessons.net.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
History
Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Raw: Iowa Police Dash Cam Shows Wild Chase Dempsey: Putin May Light Fire and Lose Control Raw: Air Algerie Crash Site in Mali Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Police: Doctor Who Shot Gunman 'Saved Lives' Arizona Prison Chief: Execution Wasn't Botched In Case of Fire, Oxygen Masks for Pets Anti-violence Advocate Killed, but Not Silenced. Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites Raw: Protesters, Soldiers Clash in West Bank Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Gaza Residents Mourn Dead Amid Airstrikes Israeli American Reservist Torn Over Return Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Kerry: No Deal Yet on 7-Day Gaza Truce
NDN Video
Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years LeBron James -- Dropped $2k On Cupcake Apology ... Proceeds To Benefit Charity Snoop Dogg Says He Smoked Weed at the White House Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Chris Pratt Interrupts Interview To French Braid Intern's Hair Shirtless Super Mario Balotelli Dances While Ironing - @TheBuzzeronFOX Whoa! Watch "Housewives" Star Do the Unthinkable LeBron apologizes to neighbors with cupcakes Justin Bieber In Calvin Klein Underwear Shoot
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity