Constantine s reign as the roman emperor from 306-337 was very important to the history of the Christian church. Although at this time Christianity had been spread steadily throughout the Roman empire and beyond, it was generally regarded unfavourably by the rulers of Rome who wished to return to the ways of their ancestors through maintaining the ancient pagan beliefs. Also at this time, the Romans were expected to adhere to the cult of the emperor. In it s early years Christianity was seen as a threat to the unity of the empire.
During the years immediately preceding the reign of Constantine, numerous actions were taken against the Christians. Their property was taken and burned, clergy was imprisoned, and their communities were often arrested and forced to sacrifice their beliefs publicly for the cult to the emperor.
Constantine was the first emperor of the Roman state to tolerate the Christians. After his victory at Milvian bridge which he attributed to the divine assistance of the Christian God, he took actions to return to the Christians what was rightfully theirs. He returned to them property, which had been confiscated as well as the freedom to worship openly without threat of persecution. He joined with Licinius in 313 to publish the edict of toleration. Throughout the years he was in power he built many churches and provided exemption of clergy members from some state taxes. He also promoted Christianity by giving preferential treatment to those Christians who sought to work in office. Though in his early years he tolerated paganism, eventually he began to use his power to condemn those who maintained the traditional pagan beliefs.
The counsel of Nicaea in 325 was one of his major contributions to the church. At this meeting of bishops representing the churches of the entire empire, they condemned Arianism, the belief that Jesus was a lesser essence than his father. At this meeting it was established that Father and Son were equal and of same essence. They also settled some ongoing disputes within the church such as the date of Easter. These subjects were agreed upon and came to be the Nicene Creed.
Constantine s reign was so important to the Christian church that upon his death he came to be called the 13th apostle. The changes that were implemented by Constantine endured after his death. It was finally legal to be a Christian. The stage that he set for Christianity continued to flourish until what it is today.
Burckhardt, Jacob. Age of Constantine. Translated by Moses Hadas. New York:
Doubleday and Company Inc., 1949.
Eusebius. The History of the Church. Edited by Betty Radice. Translated by G. A.
Williamson. Great Britian: The Chaucer Press, 1965.
Frend, W. H. C. The Rise of Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.