News From Terre Haute, Indiana


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

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Latest News Poll
AP Video
Netanyahu Vows to Destroy Hamas Tunnels Ravens' Ray Rice: 'I Made a Huge Mistake' House Leaders Trade Blame for Inaction Cantor Warns of Instability, Terror in Farewell Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers Obama Slams Republicans Over Lawsuit Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Busy Franco's Not Afraid of Overexposure Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Raw: Deadly Taiwan Gas Leak Explosion Malaysian PM: Stop Fighting in Ukraine Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo 3 People Killed, Deputies Wounded in NC Shootout LeBron James Sends Apology Treat to Neighbors Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve
NDN Video
Famous Internet Cats Help Big Cause With Viral Video Raw: Obama Gets Hug From Special Olympian Snoop Dogg Narrating Animal Footage Is Perfect Tigers Acquire David Price - @TheBuzzeronFOX Russell Brand Slams Sean Hannity Over Gaza Conflict Segment Chapter Two: Composing for a film in retirement Woman's Dive Goes Terribly Wrong Brian Williams Reports on Daughter Allison Williams' 'Peter Pan' Casting News Did Jimmy Fallon Look Up Heidi Klum's Dress? What Drama? Miranda Kerr Poses Topless Plane crashes in San Diego Costco parking lot Justin Bieber Takes To Instagram To Diss Orlando Bloom You Won't Believe the Celeb Cameos in "Sharknado 2" Pitch Invading Morons Cause Chaos - @TheBuzzeronFOX Orlando Bloom 'Takes a Swing' at Justin Bieber In Ibiza Sadie Doesn't Want Her Brother to Grow Up "Maxim" Hotness! See Jessica Alba's Sizzling Spread Two women barely avoid being hit by train Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber Reportedly Came To Blows In Ibiza

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