Constantine’s Control

David Ascherl

Patterson

History 200

Blog Assignment #8

Constantine’s Control

            For the first two centuries it existed, Christianity was almost unknown to the world because of the small the population of its followers.  Now the Christian population is over 2.18 billion which is roughly a third of the global population.[1] How did a religion that was virtually invisible go from minority to majority? There is one man who played a pivotal role in elevating the Christians to a higher status and even shaped modern Christianity, his name is Emperor Constantine. With his help Christianity went from public persecution, to openly embraced and was eventually made the primary religion of the Roman Empire.

The year was 306 C.E. when Constantine ascends the throne and becomes emperor of the Roman Empire. Paganism is currently the primary religion of the Romans and the Imperial cult is in power. The Imperial cult believes that emperors’ and some members of their families to be divinely sanctioned authority over the Roman state.[2] Christianity is a minority during this time and their edicts tell of only one divine God with no others before Him. Since the Christians do not believe in the divinity of the Roman leaders they refuse to take part in the Imperial cult which is considered an act of treason. This leads to the discrimination and open persecution of Christians. Treason is punishable by death and people have been known to murder a Christian who was displaying their faith. Despite public opinion Constantine began to preach the acceptance of Christians, and even began passing laws and edicts to stop the mistreatment of Christians. Many were confused on why he seemingly favored this minority, but the Christians weren’t about to turn away the help, and glorified all his efforts, in time making him a saint. Modern historians look back and wonder why it was he chose this religion that he eventually converted the empire to. The reason why Constantine made the shift was for political power, but modern historians have suggested other reasons why he decided to make this change. I will discuss the other theories on why he chose this path, such as his own calling towards the Christian God, the military power, or for social stability and using evidence show that the most likely reason was for political gain.

The historiography of the change of the dominant religion of the Roman Empire is viewed differently by many because the motivation to change is still unclear. Until recently the common belief of historians, both Christian and not, was the perspective that Constantine’s transformation was divinely inspired, first with feeling a empathy and call towards the Christian people and having seen signs from the Christian God to carry the sign of Christ on the shields of his men, though most were pagans, in order to achieve victory over overwhelming odds, which will be discussed later. The emperor payed homage to this powerful God and declared this proof of God’s will and His approval of Christianity, which began to spread and be accepted throughout the empire.[3] This victory followed by many more, only encouraged the citizens that the Christian God was strong, and to be taken seriously. Most historians have viewed his actions regarding Christianity genuine, though the truth behind the conversion may never be known. As more evidence surfaced about Constantine through the years the theories of piety, military power, and social stability began to surface, but the most likely is that this conversion was for his own political progress.

The first theory behind the reason for the conversion that I will discuss is Constantine’s’ personal feelings towards the religion. This is thought to have been brought on by his mother Helena, who is also of great importance to the church. Helena was a devout Christian and is credited with her pilgrimage to Syria Palaestina where she claimed to have discovered the cross of Jesus’s crucifixion. When she gave birth to Constantine her husband Constantius divorced her to find a wife who would be more readily available to help with his rising status. This allowed her and her son to grow up in obscurity, having only each other they grew very close.[4] Many historians believe that during this time she passed on the teachings of Christianity to young Constantine who would grow up having a personal connection to the religion because of his mother’s efforts. Growing up in the faith could explain why he favored the Christians and why he stopped their persecution. Child rearing indeed can have a great impact on the beliefs of a child, but as many know, does not guarantee full devotion.

Before he became emperor, Constantine never showed much preference towards the religion through his adult life, his actual conversion to Christianity not occurring until he was in his 40’s.[5] While it is known that he respected and loved his mother, he was never fully committed to the Faith. Even after the empire formally converted to Christianity the sigil of the pagan sun god remained imprinted on their coins and Constantine still allowed public displays of the pagan faiths, until his subjects, ironically, began to turn on the pagans calling their ways blasphemous.[6] The coins did not change until later, the sun god could still be found up to five years after the change.[7] This shows that the emperor was still trying to remain appealing to his pagan citizens, much as a politician might do to remain appealing to a larger population. This evidence leads one to believe that piety was not the reason for the change.

The second theory of why Constantine decided to convert that I will discuss is for military power. The first major instance of Constantine referencing the Christian God was actually before the battle of Milvian Bridge. The battle was going to be brutal, Constantine and his man drastically outnumbered when he and his men allegedly received a vision in the sky from God telling them to bear “His symbol” on their shields and they would be victorious.[8] Though many of his men were pagan at this point, they all brandished the holy symbol and the Roman army was victorious. After this instance Christianity became widely accepted among the Roman citizens many now converting to the new and successful Deity. With the ability to divinely sanction his military campaigns Constantine became very powerful in the eyes of the public having the “Favor of God”, doubting his rule would be like doubting God, which is where he would garner his Military power from. Other countries would fear this new power the Romans had, allowing the Romans victory after victory.

Though this does seem like a fair point, Constantine was cleverer than just someone who was thirsty for military power. Years before the Battle of Milvian Bridge, in order to help give back to the persecuted Christians, the emperor elevated several into government positions and even helped return property and built churches.[9] Constantine saw how the Christians viewed him and knew the loyalty they would show him, but knew he would never have their full support if he were not Christian. When the time came before the Battle, Constantine was in need of an answer and found it in God, so to speak. He knew that should he win the upcoming battle and proclaimed it a sign from God he would sway the hearts of those he placed in power. It is said that Constantine built the first Christian empire, is this case it is especially true politically. After the battle with many of his subjects converting, his newly appointed officials would follow anything he said. Having fierce support of his own making no opponent would dare strike against him politically. Rather than a two dimensional power seeking man, Constantine was more than that and had a plan all along to benefit him at every move.

The final theory behind the shift that I will discuss is that Constantine enacted it to gain social stability. A few years after the conversion there came a dispute among the Christians as to what kind of Christianity was to be observed. The Roman government became frozen and caught up in the Arian controversy, which brought to light the question of was Jesus actually divine, or was he just a great man?[10] This controversy began to spiral out of control until it seemed a division was going to be made in the people. Constantine wasn’t about to let this happen, so he summoned all of the bishops and dukes and met them in Nicea, roughly 318 individuals. After forcing them into a room and demanding a compromise be made, they came up with the Nicene Creed. This creed declared that Jesus and God were made of the same substance[11] meaning they believed Jesus was divine.

While this evidence can be used to argue that Constantine was only interested in preserving social integrity, it can also be argued that Constantine was simply trying to hold on to the power he had so meticulously established. The emperor saw a split in his power imminent should this controversy find no end. The urgency that is expressed by summoning all of the holy men together then forcing them to reach a decision indicates that he wasn’t interested in allowing his subjects to be divided. If social integrity was his true interest the emperor could have issued another decree of accepting both edicts, but instead held fast to all the power he had created by not allowing any rift in the citizens. Constantine would be in a better position politically if all of the Romans were united under one banner, rather than allowed to have their differences.

After going over the different theories as to the motive for the change and viewing all the evidence it seems the most likely reason that Constantine made this shift was because he sought political power. By stopping the persecution of the Christians he gained new followers that would be loyal to him, then by elevating them politically he built a power base that would owe him a debt and would be open to his designs, ensuring that his place in society was firmly rooted. By proclaiming that he had God’s favor in battle won the hearts of the officials he appointed, and after seeing the “power” of the Christian God many of his subjects converted giving these new Christian officials new followers seeking them out to learn of this new God. As the belief that Constantine was divinely sanctioned spread, his grip over the empire only tightened. Then, by forcing a compromise with the Nicene Creed in order to reunite his citizens under one banner, it was assured there would be no division of power. Constantine was a master tactician politically and had the military expertise to back his claims. Truly Constantine was a great man but not because of his relationship with God, but because of his sharp mind and knowledge of how to control his people.

 

Bibliography

  • Bomgardner, D. L. The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre. New York: Routledge, 2000.
  • Brown, Peter. The Rise of Christendom. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.
  • Bryant, Joseph M. 1993. “The Sect-Church Dynamic and Christian Expansion in the Roman Empire: Persecution, Penitential Discipline, and Schism in Sociological Perspective.”The British Journal of Sociology 44 (2): 303–39. doi:10.2307/591221.
  • “Constantine I (Roman Emperor).” 2014. Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed December 8.http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/133873/Constantine-I.
  • Curran, John. 1996. “Constantine and the Ancient Cults of Rome: The Legal Evidence.” Greece & Rome, Second Series, 43 (1): 68–80.http://www.jstor.org/stable/643085.
  • Drijvers, J.W. Helena Augusta: The Mother of Constantine the Great and the Legend of Her Finding the True Cross. N.p.: Leiden, 1991.
  • Holloway, R. Ross. 2004.Constantine & Rome R. Ross Holloway. New Haven: Yale University Press, ©2004.
  • Nicene Creed, The American Book of Common Prayer
  • Noll, M. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. Inter-Varsity Press: n.p. 1997.
  • Percival, Jack. “On the Question of Constantine’s Conversion to Christianity.” CLIO History Journal, 2008.
  • Shean, J.F. 2010. Soldiering for God: Christianity and the Roman Army. Brill. http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/books/9789004187337.
  • “The World Factbook.” 2014. Accessed December 12. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/.
  • Wilken, Robert Louis. 2012. The First Thousand Years : A Global History of Christianity / Robert Louis Wilken. New Haven: Yale University Press.

 

 

 



[1] “The World Factbook.” 2014. Accessed December 12. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/.

[2] Bomgardner, D. L. The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre. New York: Routledge, 2000. p. 142

 

[3] “Constantine I (Roman Emperor).” 2014. Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed December 8.http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/133873/Constantine-I.

[4] Drijvers, J.W. Helena Augusta: The Mother of Constantine the Great and the Legend of Her Finding the True Cross. N.p.: Leiden, 1991.

[5] Brown, Peter. The Rise of Christendom. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003. p. 60

[6] Shean, J.F. 2010. Soldiering for God: Christianity and the Roman Army. Brill. http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/books/9789004187337.

[7] Percival, Jack. “On the Question of Constantine’s Conversion to Christianity.” CLIO History Journal, 2008.

[8] Wilken, Robert Louis. 2012. The First Thousand Years : A Global History of Christianity / Robert Louis Wilken. New Haven: Yale University Press.

[9] Bryant, Joseph M. 1993. “The Sect-Church Dynamic and Christian Expansion in the Roman Empire: Persecution, Penitential Discipline, and Schism in Sociological Perspective. “The British Journal of Sociology 44 (2): 303–39. doi:10.2307/5

[10] Noll, M. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. Inter-Varsity Press: p.52. 1997.

[11] Nicene Creed, The American Book of Common Prayer

Blog 7 draft

David Ascherl

Patterson

History 200

Blog Assignment #7

Constantine’s Control

For the first two centuries it existed, christianity was almost unknown to the world because of the small the population of its followers.  Now the christian population is over 2.18 billion which is roughly a third of the global population. How did a religion that was virtually invisible go from minority to majority? There is one man who played a pivotal role in elevating the christians to a higher status and even shaped modern christianity, his name is Emperor Constantine. With his help christians went from public persecution, to publicly embraced, to eventually the primary religion of the Roman empire.

The year is 306 C.E. when Constantine ascends the throne and becomes emperor of the Roman empire. Paganism is currently the primary religion of the Romans and the Imperial cult is in power. The Imperial cult believe that emperors and some members of their families to be divinely sanctioned authority over the Roman state. Christianity is a minority during this time and their edicts tell of only one divine God with no others before Him. Since the christians do not believe in the divinity of the Roman leaders they refuse to take part in the Imperial cult which is considered an act of treason. This leads to the discrimination and open persecution of christians. Treason is punishable by death and people have been known to murder a christian who was displaying their faith. Despite public opinion Constantine began to preach the acceptance of christians, and even began passing laws and edicts to stop the mistreatment of christians. Many were confused on why he seemingly favored this minority, but the christians weren’t about to turn away the help, and glorified all his efforts, in time making him a saint. Modern historians look back and wonder why it was he chose this religion that he eventually converted the empire to. The reason that Constantine made the shift was for political power, but modern historians have suggested other reasons why he decided to make this change. I will discuss the other theories on why he chose this path, which include his own calling towards the christian God, the military power, or for social stability and using evidence show that the most likely reason was for political gain.

The historiography of the change of the dominant religion of the Roman empire is viewed differently by many because the motive is still unclear. Until recently the common belief of historians, both Christian and not, was the perspective that Constantines transformation was divinely inspired, first with feeling a empathy and call towards the christian people and having seen signs from the christian God to carry the sign of Christ on the shields of his men, though most were pagans, in order to achieve victory over  overwhelming odds, which will be discussed later. The emperor payed homage to this powerful God and declared this proof of God’s will and His approval of christianity, which began to spread and be accepted throughout the empire. This victory followed by many more, only encouraged the citizens that the christian God was strong, and to be taken seriously. Most historians have viewed his actions regarding christianity genuine, though the truth behind the conversion may never be known. As more evidence surfaced about Constantine through the years the theories of piety, military power, and social stability began to surface, but the most likely is that this conversion was for his own political progress.

 The first theory behind the reason for the conversion that I will discuss is Constantine’s’ personal feelings towards the religion. This is thought to have been brought on by his mother Helena, who is also of great importance to the church. Helena was a devout christian and is credited with her pilgrimage to Syria Palaestina where she claimed to have discovered the cross of Jesus’s crucifixion. When she gave birth to Constantine her husband Constantius divorced her to find a wife who would be more readily available to help with his rising status. This allowed her and her son to grow up in obscurity, having only each other they grew very close. Many would speculate that during this time she passed on the teachings of christianity to young Constantine who would grow up having a personal connection to the religion because of his mother’s efforts. Growing up in the faith could explain why he favored the christians and why he stopped their persecution. Child rearing indeed can have a great impact on the beliefs of a child, but as many know, does not guarantee full devotion.

Before he became emperor, Constantine never showed much preference towards the religion through his adult life, his actual conversion to christianity not occurring until he was in his 40’s. While it is known that he respected and loved his mother, he was never fully committed to the Faith. Even after the empire formally converted to christianity the sigil of the pagan sun god remained imprinted on their coins and Constantine still allowed public displays of the pagan faiths, until his subjects, ironically, began to turn on the pagans calling their ways blasphemous. The coins did not change until later, the sun god could still be found up to five years after the change. This shows that the emperor was still trying to remain appealing to his pagan citizens, much as a politician might do to remain appealing to a larger population. This evidence leads one to believe that piety was not the reason for the change.

The second theory of why Constantine decided to convert that I will discuss is for military power. The first major instance of Constantine referencing the Christian God was actually before the battle of Milvian Bridge. The battle was going to be brutal, Constantine and his man drastically out numbered when he and his men allegedly received a vision in the sky from God telling them to bear “His symbol” on their shields and they would be victorious. Though many of his men were pagan at this point, they all brandished the holy symbol and the Roman army was victorious. After this instance Christianity became widely accepted among the Roman citizens many now converting to the new and successful Deity. With the ability to divinely sanction his military campaigns Constantine became very powerful in the eyes of the public having the “Favor of God”, doubting his rule would be like doubting God, which is where he would garner his Military power from. Other countries would fear this new power the Romans had, allowing the Romans victory after victory.

Though this does seem like a fair point, Constantine was more clever than just someone who was thirsty for military power. Years before the Battle of Milvian Bridge, in order to help give back to the persecuted christians, the emperor elevated several into government positions and even helped return property and built churches. Constantine saw how the christians viewed him and knew the loyalty they would show him, but knew he would never have their full support if he were not christian. When the time came before the Battle, Constantine was in need of an answer and found it in God, so to speak. He knew that should he win the upcoming battle and proclaimed it a sign from God he would sway the hearts of those he placed in power. It is said that Constantine built the first christian empire, is this case it is especially true politically. After the battle with many of his subjects converting, his newly appointed officials would follow anything he said. Having fierce support of his own making no opponent would dare strike against him politically. Rather than a two dimensional power seeking man, Constantine was more than that and had a plan all along to benefit him at every move.

The final theory behind the shift that I will discuss is that Constantine enacted it to gain social stability. A few years after the conversion there came a dispute among the christians as to what kind of christianity was to be observed. The Roman government became frozen and caught up in the Arian controversy, which brought to light the question of was Jesus actually divine, or was he just a great man? This controversy began to spiral out of control until it seemed a division was going to be made in the people. Constantine wasn’t about to let this happen, so he summoned all of the bishops and dukes and met them in Nicea, roughly 318 individuals. After forcing them into a room and demanding a compromise be made, they came up with the Nicene Creed. This creed declared that Jesus and God were made of the same substance meaning they believed Jesus was divine.

While this evidence can be used to argue that Constantine was only interested in preserving social integrity, it can also be argued that Constantine was simply trying to hold on to the power he had so meticulously established. The emperor saw a split in his power imminent should this controversy find no end. The urgency that is expressed by summoning all of the holy men together then forcing them to reach a decision indicates that he wasn’t interested in allowing his subjects to be divided. If social integrity was his true interest the emperor could have issued another decree of accepting both edicts, but instead held fast to all the power he had created by not allowing any rift in the citizens. Constantine would be in a better position politically if all of the Romans were united under one banner, rather than allowed to have their differences.

After going over the different theories as to the motive for the change and viewing all the evidence it seems the most likely reason that Constantine made this shift was because he sought political power. By stopping the persecution of the christians he gained new followers that would be loyal to him, then by elevating them politically he built a power base that would owe him a debt and would be open to his designs, ensuring that his place in society was firmly rooted. By proclaiming that he had God’s favor in battle won the hearts of the officials he appointed, and after seeing the “power” of the christian God many of his subjects converted giving these new christian officials new followers seeking them out to learn of this new God. As the belief that Constantine was divinely sanctioned spread, his grip over the empire only tightened. Then, by forcing a compromise with the Nicene Creed in order to reunite his citizens under one banner, it was assured there would be no division of power. Constantine was a master tactician politically and had the military expertise to back his claims. Turely Constantine was a great man but not because of his relationship with God, but because of his sharp mind and knowledge of how to control his people.

 

Bibliography

  • Bomgardner, D. L. The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre. New York: Routledge, 2000.

  • Brown, Peter. The Rise of Christendom. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.

  • Bryant, Joseph M. 1993. “The Sect-Church Dynamic and Christian Expansion in the Roman Empire: Persecution, Penitential Discipline, and Schism in Sociological Perspective.”The British Journal of Sociology 44 (2): 303–39. doi:10.2307/591221.

  • “Constantine I (Roman Emperor).” 2014. Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed December 8.http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/133873/Constantine-I.

  • Curran, John. 1996. “Constantine and the Ancient Cults of Rome: The Legal Evidence.” Greece & Rome, Second Series, 43 (1): 68–80.http://www.jstor.org/stable/643085.

  • Holloway, R. Ross. 2004.Constantine & Rome R. Ross Holloway. New Haven: Yale University Press, ©2004.

  • Nicene Creed, The American Book of Common Prayer

  • Noll, M. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. Inter-Varsity Press: n.p. 1997.

  • Percival, Jack. “On the Question of Constantine’s Conversion to Christianity.” CLIO History Journal, 2008.

  • Shean, J.F. 2010. Soldiering for God: Christianity and the Roman Army. Brill. http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/books/9789004187337.

  • Wilken, Robert Louis. 2012. The First Thousand Years : A Global History of Christianity / Robert Louis Wilken. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Project Map

Project Map

Introduction:

For the first two centuries it existed, christianity was almost unknown to the world because of the small the population of its followers.  Now the christian population is over 2.18 billion which is roughly a third of the global population. How did a religion that was virtually invisible go from minority to majority? There is one man who played a pivotal role in elevating the christians to a higher status and even shaped modern christianity, his name is Emperor Constantine. With his help christians went from public persecution, to publicly embraced, to eventually the primary religion of the Roman empire.

Historical Context:

The year is 306 C.E. when Constantine ascends the throne and becomes emperor of the Roman empire. Paganism is currently the primary religion of the Romans and the Imperial cult is in power. The Imperial cult believe that emperors and some members of their families to be divinely sanctioned authority over the Roman state. Christianity is a minority during this time and their edicts tell of only one divine God with no others before Him. Since the christians do not believe in the divinity of the Roman leaders they refuse to take part in the Imperial cult which is considered an act of treason. This leads to the discrimination and open persecution of christians. Treason is punishable by death and people have been known to murder a christian who was displaying their faith. Despite public opinion Constantine began to preach the acceptance of christians, and even began passing laws and edicts to stop the mistreatment of christians. Many were confused on why he seemingly favored this minority, but the christians weren’t about to turn away the help, and glorified all his efforts, in time making him a saint. Modern historians look back and wonder why it was he chose this religion that he eventually converted the empire to. The reason that Constantine made the shift was for political power, but modern historians have suggested other reasons why he decided to make this change. I will discuss the other theories on why he chose this path, which include his own calling towards the christian God, the military power, or for social stability and using evidence show that the most likely reason was for political gain.

<Insert Historiography here then tie back into paper>

<Main Body Paragraph #1>

 One of the theories behind the reason for the conversion was Constantine’s’ personal feelings towards the religion. This is thought to have been brought on by his mother Helena, who is also of great importance to the church. Helena was a devout christian and is credited with her pilgrimage to Syria Palaestina where she claimed to have discovered the cross of Jesus’s crucifixion. When she gave birth to Constantine her husband Constantius divorced her to find a wife who would be more readily available to help with his rising status. This allowed her and her son to grow up in obscurity, having only each other they grew very close. Many would speculate that during this time she passed on the teachings of christianity to young Constantine who would grow up having a personal connection to the religion because of his mother’s efforts. Growing up in the faith could explain why he favored the christians and why he stopped their persecution. Child rearing indeed can have a great impact on the beliefs of a child, but as many know, does not guarantee full devotion.

<Counter point>

Before he became emperor, Constantine never showed much preference towards the religion through his adult life, his actual conversion to christianity not occurring until he was in his 40’s. While it is known that he respected and loved his mother, he was never fully committed to the Faith. Even after the empire formally converted to christianity the sigil of the pagan sun god remained imprinted on their coins and Constantine still allowed public displays of the pagan faiths, until his subjects, ironically, began to turn on the pagans calling their ways blasphemous. The coins did not change until later, the sun god could still be found up to five years after the change. This shows that the emperor was still trying to remain appealing to his pagan citizens, much as a politician might do to remain appealing to a larger population. This evidence leads one to believe that piety was not the reason for the change.

< Main Body Paragraph 2>

The second theory of why Constantine decided to convert that I will discuss is for military power. The first major instance of Constantine referencing the Christian God was actually before the battle of Milvian Bridge. The battle was going to be brutal, Constantine and his man drastically out numbered when he and his men allegedly received a vision in the sky from God telling them to bear “His symbol” on their shields and they would be victorious. Though many of his men were pagan at this point, they all brandished the holy symbol and the Roman army was victorious. After this instance Christianity became widely accepted among the Roman citizens many now converting to the new and successful Deity. With the ability to divinely sanction his military campaigns Constantine became very powerful in the eyes of the public having the “Favor of God”, doubting his rule would be like doubting God, which is where he would garner his Military power from. Other countries would fear this new power the Romans had, allowing the Romans victory after victory.

<Counter Point 2>

Though this does seem like a fair point, Constantine was more clever than just someone who was thirsty for military power. Years before the Battle of Milvian Bridge, in order to help give back to the persecuted christians, the emperor elevated several into government positions and even helped return property and built churches. Constantine saw how the christians viewed him and knew the loyalty they would show him, but knew he would never have their full support if he were not christian. When the time came before the Battle, Constantine was in need of an answer and found it in God, so to speak. He knew that should he win the upcoming battle and proclaimed it a sign from God he would sway the hearts of those he placed in power. It is said that Constantine built the first christian empire, is this case it is especially true politically. After the battle with many of his subjects converting, his newly appointed officials would follow anything he said. Having fierce support of his own making no opponent would dare strike against him politically. Rather than a two dimensional power seeking man, Constantine was more than that and had a plan all along to benefit him at every move.

<Main Body Paragraph 3>

The final theory behind the shift that I will discuss is that Constantine enacted it to gain social stability. A few years after the conversion there came a dispute among the christians as to what kind of christianity was to be observed. The Roman government became frozen and caught up in the Arian controversy, which brought to light the question of was Jesus actually divine, or was he just a great man? This controversy began to spiral out of control until it seemed a division was going to be made in the people. Constantine wasn’t about to let this happen, so he summoned all of the bishops and dukes and met them in Nicea, roughly 318 individuals. After forcing them into a room and demanding a compromise be made, they came up with the Nicene Creed. This creed declared that Jesus and God were made of the same substance meaning they believed Jesus was divine.

<Counterpoint 3>

While this evidence can be used to argue that Constantine was only interested in preserving social integrity, it can also be argued that Constantine was simply trying to hold on to the power he had so meticulously established. The emperor saw a split in his power imminent should this controversy find no end. The urgency that is expressed by summoning all of the holy men together then forcing them to reach a decision indicates that he wasn’t interested in allowing his subjects to be divided. If social integrity was his true interest the emperor could have issued another decree of accepting both edicts, but instead held fast to all the power he had created by not allowing any rift in the citizens. Constantine would be in a better position politically if all of the Romans were united under one banner, rather than allowed to have their differences.

<Conclusion>

After viewing all the evidence it seems most likely that political power was Constantines main goal. By stopping the persecution of the christians he gained new followers that would be loyal to him and open to his designs, he ensured that his place was firmly rooted. Showing that he had God’s favor in battle won the hearts of the officials he appointed and even converted many of his subjects, allowing him even further control over the actions of the empire. Then, by forcing a compromise in order to reunite his citizens under one banner Constantine was a master tactician both politically and military wise.

Bibliography

  • Bomgardner, D. L. The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre. New York: Routledge, 2000.

  • Brown, Peter. The Rise of Christendom. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.

  • Bryant, Joseph M. 1993. “The Sect-Church Dynamic and Christian Expansion in the Roman Empire: Persecution, Penitential Discipline, and Schism in Sociological Perspective.”The British Journal of Sociology 44 (2): 303–39. doi:10.2307/591221.

  • Curran, John. 1996. “Constantine and the Ancient Cults of Rome: The Legal Evidence.” Greece & Rome, Second Series, 43 (1): 68–80.http://www.jstor.org/stable/643085.

  • Holloway, R. Ross. 2004.Constantine & Rome R. Ross Holloway. New Haven: Yale University Press, ©2004.

  • Nicene Creed, The American Book of Common Prayer

  • Noll, M. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. Inter-Varsity Press: n.p. 1997.

  • Percival, Jack. “On the Question of Constantine’s Conversion to Christianity.” CLIO History Journal, 2008.

  • Shean, J.F. 2010. Soldiering for God: Christianity and the Roman Army. Brill. http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/books/9789004187337.

  • Wilken, Robert Louis. 2012. The First Thousand Years : A Global History of Christianity / Robert Louis Wilken. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Historiography Analysis

Historiographical Essay

The historiography of the change of the dominant religion of the Roman empire is viewed differently by many because the actual reason the change was brought forth is unknown. The Romans switched from that of a polytheistic belief system to christianity, which at the time was a minority among the people. Some christians would argue that the change was brought about by the piety of emperor Constantine, while modern critics doubt the sincerity of Constantine’s conversion and say that the shift was a political move.

Some believe that Constantine’s conversion was due to his upbringing, his mother Helena being a christian, but most historians agree that he showed little interest in the faith until much later in his life. Those historians who favor the Christian perspective believe that Constantines transformation was divinely inspired, having seen signs from God to carry the monogram of Christ on the shields of his men, though most were pagans, and marched to the bridge over the Tiber called the Milvian Bridge despite Constantine being sorely outnumbered 100.000 to roughly 20,000 the Romans had a staggering victory. In payment to the christian God the emperor declared this proof of God’s will and christianity was widely accepted throughout the empire. This victory followed by many more, only encouraged the citizens that the christian God was strong, and to be taken seriously.

The more critical historians believe that Constantine did not make this conversion out of any callings or visions, but as a political move for power. Paganism used to be the dominant religion of the Romans and christians were often openly persecuted, sometimes brutally. The amount of christians however slowly began to increase, and Constantine was not blind to this. In order to have more power Constantine would need people he could trust underneath him in the government as allies. Putting a stop the the public persecution, and preaching acceptance of christians he quickly won the favor of the growing minority. Soon he began elevating christians to government positions. These new officials followed Constantine, but if he was a pagan, he knew he would never have their full support. Perhaps when being horribly outnumbered Constantine saw an opportunity arise, tell the men to bear the symbol of christ and fight, and if the Romans won he would instantly have the full loyalty of those he elevated, seemingly doing “God’s will”. This gamble was made in a desperate situation, but payed off even more than the emperor could have hoped.  Constantine had probably not intended for the whole empire to convert, but was simply trying to win the support of those he elevated, but soon many of his subjects openly embraced and even converted to christianity.

Whether by divine insight or political maneuvering one thing is clear, Constantine helped usher in a conversion and new age of the Roman empire. Though the historians may argue on why the shift happened, it is commonly agreed that choosing to convert was a surprise. Constantine having never shown much interest in the Faith, also with christianity being an openly disrespected minority, it was strange that he pick it to be the base of his power. Politically it can be argued that Constantine was just trying to grow his power with the new officials he appointed, but certainly he did not intend to sway the hearts of all his people.

After considering both sides the political approach seems most logical. Constantine, after all, was an emperor, and needed the support of the officials he selected. Though the christian argument could be valid by saying Constantine could have just as easily appointed officials from the pagans, and worshipped their dieties for their support, so it does seem something else spurred him into embracing christianity. I would say that the emperor hoped to have a new set of officails in government who would be open to him. After protecting christians from persecution, elevating their people, then declaring open worship of the christian God, this would firmly lock his power into place with his new subjects.

Bibliography

“CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Constantine the Great.” 2014. Accessed October 29. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04295c.htm.

Curran, John. 1996. “Constantine and the Ancient Cults of Rome: The Legal Evidence.” Greece & Rome, Second Series, 43 (1): 68–80.http://www.jstor.org/stable/643085

 

Primary Source Analysis, Revised

For my research project I chose to research the motive behind why Emperor Constantine converted the Roman empire from a polytheistic belief system to one of Christianity. Primary sources for this era are hard to find, but there is something that remains to this day as a result of Constantine’s rule, the Nicene Creed. The purpose of this paper is to examine the significance of the Nicene Creed and its profound effect on the Roman Empire, Christianity, and Constantine himself who helped write it, making this an ideal primary source that I can analyse.

It is estimated that between 250 and 318 bishops and deacons attended the Council of Nicene, which is where the Nicene Creed was written.  The Nicene Creed was written for all Christians to follow as a belief as to how Jesus was related to God. This debate was causing instability in the Roman Empire. In response Constantine sent a summons to all deacons and bishops to attend a council at Nicea to decide the matter. This suggests that the deacons and bishops were under a lot of pressure with the emperor forcing a compromise to agree upon something and so may have made some hasty decisions in in reaching a viable arrangment.

The Nicene Creed was written because after Jesus’ crucifixion many were still uncertain if Jesus was truly the son of God or just a great man. This uncertainty created a huge rift in the church until, ultimately, a divide was made. This division was primarily between the Arians and the Athanasius. The Arians were convinced that Jesus was just a great prophet who was not of actual relation to God. The Athanasius however, held a firm conviction that Jesus was the true son of God. There were many other groups who fell in the middle of this spectrum who said they were equally uncomfortable with the extremes from both sides. These groups in the middle ground viewed Jesus as the son of God, but not as one in the same; they believed there was significance in the separation of the Father and the Son.

As stated this division threatened the stability of the empire as politics became frozen within the government. As Constantine had given more power to the Christians by giving them government positions, he found that the debate of Aranism was consuming the politicians and religious figures until he foresaw a split imminent. This would divide the Roman Empire and the power Constantine held over it, which greatly troubled the Emperor. In response to these concerns Constantine stepped in and summoned all of the bishops and deacons to a council in Nicea. Constantine wanted to resolve the issue before it crippled his entire empire. He gathered 318 of the bishops and deacons together and they proceeded to write a creed they could all agree upon. I believe this source is best suited for qualitative analysis.

The authors relate to the Nicene Creed because they are all trying to find a compromise that will satisfy everyones needs while also trying to appease the emperor and do it in a timely manner. The audience of the creed would be the Christians of the time period, who will read this creed, and hopefully accept the decision of the bishops and deacons. I think that the authors being under such tremendous pressure; picked a side and stuck with it. The majority of the religious leaders believing that Jesus was one with God, however there were minorities who believed differently present, but with the Emperor breathing down their necks they seceded and agreed to the terms. With majority in control the Creed reads “… And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father Light of Light, very God of very God..” which indicates that Jesus and God are one. If the authors been given unlimited time to consider the Nicene Creed, and the pressure removed, there may have been a much different set of beliefs.

In my opinion this document is reliable because of the sheer amount of authors involved to confer and write it. The Nicene Creed is widely accepted by Roman Catholics as being an accurate portrayal of what they believe. In Conclusion; under the pressure of the emperor the religious leaders found a way to compromise with each other that pleased the majority of them and was ultimately able to bring stability back into the empire.

Bibliography

Christian History Institute. https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/nicea/.

 

Mazurek, Elizabeth. “The Reign of Constantine.” Open Course Ware.http://ocw.nd.edu/classics/ history-of-ancient-rome/eduCommons/classics/history-of-ancient-rome/lectures-1/the-reign-of-constantine.

Nicene Creed, from the American Book of Common Prayer

Primary Source Analysis

David Ascherl
Patterson
Historians Blog Assignment 3
Primary Source Analysis
For my research project I chose to research the motive behind why Emperor Constantine converted the Roman empire from a polytheistic belief system to one of Christianity. Primary sources for this era are hard to find, but there is something that remains to this day as a result of Constantine’s rule, the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed had a profound effect on Christianity, the Roman Empire, and Constantine himself helped write it so it is an ideal primary source that I can analyse.
It is estimated that between 250 and 318 bishops and deacons attended the Council of Nicene, which is where the Nicene Creed was written. The Nicene Creed was written for all Christians to follow as a belief as to how Jesus was related to God. This debate was causing instability in the Roman Empire. In response Constantine sent a summons to all deacons and bishops to attend a council at Nicea to decide the matter. This suggests that the deacons and bishops were under a lot of pressure with the emperor breathing down their necks to agree on something and so may have made some hasty decisions in reaching a compromise.
The Nicene Creed was written because after Jesus’ crucifixion many were still uncertain if Jesus was truly the son of God or just a great man. This uncertainty created a huge rift in the church until, ultimately, a divide was made. This division was primarily between the Arians and the Athanasius. The Arians were convinced that Jesus was just a great prophet who was not of actual relation to God. The Athanasius however, held a firm conviction that Jesus was the true son of God. There were many other groups who fell in the middle of this spectrum and could be said to be equally uncomfortable with the extremes from both sides. These groups in the middle ground viewed Jesus as the son of God but not as one in the same. They believed in the separation of the Father and the Son. As stated the division threatened the stability of the empire as politics became frozen within the empire. As Constantine had given more power to the Christians by giving them government positions, he found that the debate of Aranism was consuming the politicians and religious figures until he foresaw a split imminent. This would split up the Roman Empire and the power Constantine held over it, which greatly troubled the Emperor. In response to these concerns Constantine stepped in and invited all of the bishops and deacons to a council in Nicea. Constantine wanted to resolve the issue before it crippled his entire empire. He gathered 318 of the bishops and deacons together and they proceeded to write a creed they could all agree upon. I believe this source is best suited for qualitative analysis.
The authors relate to the Nicene Creed because they are all trying to find a compromise that will satisfy everyone needs while also being under pressure from the emperor to do it in a timely manner. The audience of the creed would be the Christians of the time period, who will read this creed, and hopefully accept the decision of the bishops and deacons. I think that the authors being under such tremendous pressure; picked a side and stuck with it, had they been given more time the Nicene Creed may have held a much different set of beliefs.
In my opinion this document is reliable because of the sheer amount of authors involved to confer and write in itself. The Nicene Creed is widely accepted by Roman Catholics as being an accurate portrayal of what they believe. In Conclusion; under the pressure of the emperor the religious leaders found a way to compromise with each other that pleased the majority of them and was ultimately able to bring stability back into the empire.

 

 

Bibliography

Christian History Institute. https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/nicea/.

Mazurek, Elizabeth. “The Reign of Constantine.” Open Course Ware.http://ocw.nd.edu/classics/ history-of-ancient-rome/eduCommons/classics/history-of-ancient-rome/lectures-1/the-reign-of-constantine.

Preliminary Annotated Bibliography

My thesis question

Why did Emperor Constantine decide to shift the dominant religion in Rome from polytheism to Catholicism?

My thesis stamen

Emperor Constantine shifted religions not because of his own piety, as is common belief, but to acquire more power politically.

 

Monographs

 

Martin, Thomas R. Ancient Rome From Romulus to Justinian. N.p.: Yale University Press, 2012.

This book is about how Rome started and eventually became the super power that it was. It has several chapters on the change from polytheism to monotheism and will allow me to get a more cultural historical context on Rome. This will also help me understand why Constantine made the change.

 

Wilken, Robert Louis,. The First Thousand Years : A Global History of Christianity / Robert Louis Wilken. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.

This book is about where and how Christianity started and how it spread throughout the world in the first thousand years it was created. This source will give me insight into how Christianity worked its way into the Roman Empire and eventually how it got into the political system.

 

Eusebius, Averil Cameron, and Stuart George Hall. Life of Constantine. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 29, 2014).

This book discusses Constantine’s life and looks into previous works that went over his life as well. It examines other texts and sources, and sources that have yet to be translated, in an attempt to piece together Constantine’s life story. This source will give me great insight into Constantine’s personal life and perhaps into his way of thinking. The personal information I will find about him should help me solidify my thesis on why he changed the Roman empire.

 

Journals

Bryant, Joseph M. “The Sect-Church Dynamic and Christian Expansion in the Roman Empire: Persecution, Penitential Discipline, and Schism in Sociological Perspective.” The British Journal of Sociology 44, no. 2 (June 1993): 303–39. doi:10.2307/591221.

This article discusses the impact the change from Polytheism to Christianity had on the Roman Empire and how it affected other European countries. This should be very helpful in my research of why Constantine changed religions. By seeing the impact of the change it will help me gauge the possible reasons why he made the decided to follow through with it.

 

Curran, John. “Constantine and the Ancient Cults of Rome: The Legal Evidence.” Greece & Rome, Second Series, 43, no. 1 (April 1996): 68–80. http://www.jstor.org/stable/643085.

This article discusses the relationship between Constantine and the ancient Roman cults. The article assess the problems Constantine was faced with and how skillful he was in handling them. This information will help me find out how Constantine was able to initiate and ultimately make the change to Christianity, while showing me the issues he was confronted with, and give me historical context.

Historiographies

Momigliano, Arnaldo. The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century : Essays. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.

This Historiography discusses the social background and the struggle between paganism and Christianity and how they influenced each other through the fourth century. Using this source I can find out the social relationships between these groups and perhaps find out why it would be more profitable for Constantine to convert the empire to Christianity.

 

Marasco, Gabriele. 2003. Greek and Roman Historiography in Late Antiquity : Fourth to Sixth Century A.D. Leiden: Brill, 2003. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 29, 2014).

This Historiography discusses how historians have studied events form the fourth century to the sixth century. This period is when Constantine made the change to Christianity and will help me analyze Constantine’s actions and reasons behind the change.

 

White, Lynn Townsend,. The Transformation of the Roman World : Gibbon’s Problem after Two Centuries / Edited by Lynn White, Jr. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966.

This historiography discusses the impact of the Christianity on the Roman empire and how it affected the surrounding countries and cultures like Islam. This source will give me insight into how the rest fo the world viewed the transformation of the Roman empire, and if these views were positive or negative.

Expository Essay: What is History?

  History is a succession of events that happened in the past that can be observed in some way, have sources found of the events scientifically evaluated for their credibility, then compiled into which are the most credible which can then be used to draw a conclusion of what happened. This process is like what the Positivists, who use scientific theory to define the past. (Galgano pg.8) Through the use of primary and secondary sources, as well as any empirical evidence that can be found this method will most accurately portray the events of the past. These steps are crucial parts of a formula that can be used to make the most accurate presentation of the past. The formula would be incomplete and would not function without even one part of it.

                 Observance is the first part of this formula and for good reason. Of course the past beyond a generation or two is unobservable physically, luckily through the use of primary and secondary sources the past can be observed. If an event can be observed with these methods, then it is on its way to becoming fact. If an event is in question of actually happening, then all sources should be gathered that observe this event, even sources that seem obscure, it is important to get all observable data of an event in order to accurately portray it. Once all this data is collected it is time to move on to the next part of the formula.

Evaluation is key in this formula because with just observation it is likely the amount of information to sort through is considerably large. Evaluation is the process in which one sifts through all evidence found and begins sorting it by which is the most credible. This process will likely be long and tedious, but after cross checking facts with primary and secondary sources, a historian will get a gradually clearer picture of which sources are most reliable and can be used as actual data. When all of this is done then the historian may then proceed to the final step.

Compilation is the final step in this formula and is the step where the most accurate conclusions about the event can be drawn. Using the primary and secondary sources found most credible in evaluation an historian can then piece together the event in question and make a reasonable representation of what happened. Of course as new evidence about an event surfaces through the years or closer examination, the historian can alter this end conclusion accordingly.

Using these three steps of the formula in succession will give the best presentation of the past. Each step being inseparable from the others, and each being incomplete without the other. Though this formula is the best way of depicting the past the foundation of it is grounded in primary and secondary sources. This formula is ineffective without the use of sources, and without them the past cannot be observed, thus ending the formula before it begins.

 

Sources

Galgano, Michael J., J. Chris Arndt, and Raymond M. Hyser. Doing History, Research and Writing in the Digital Age. 2nd ed. Boston, MA/USA: Wadsworth, 2008.