Constantine The Great

Constantine The Great

Flavius Valerius Constantinus, also known as Constantine the Great, was the first Roman emperor to adopt Christianity. He was educated in the imperial court of Rome and pursued to succeed his father. In 305 A.D., his father became the emperor of the Western Empire. But, when he died in 306 A.D., British troops declared that Constantine should replace his father. The Eastern emperor Galerius refused this claim and gave Constantine a lesser rank.
The Emperor Constantine I was the sole ruler of the Roman world between 324 and 337 A.D. His reign was one of the most crucial of all the emperors in determining the future course of western civilization. By making Christianity the religious foundation of his domain, he set the religious course for the future of Europe which remains in place to this very day. Because he replaced Rome with Constantinople as the center of imperial power, he made it clear that the city of Rome was no longer the center of power and he also set the stage for the Middle Ages. His view of monarchy became the foundation for the concept of the divine right of kings.
Constantine, the son of Constantius Chlorus and Helena, seems to have been born in Naissus in Serbia on 27 February ca. 272 or 273 C.E. When his father had become Caesar in 293 A.D., Constantius had sent his son to the Emperor Galerius as hostage for his own good behavior; Constantine, however, returned to his father in Britain on July 25th, 306. Soon after his father's death, Constantine was raised to the purple by the army.
The period between 306 and 324, during Constantine?s rule, was a period of constant civil war. Two sets of campaigns not only guaranteed Constantine a spot in Roman history, but also made him sole ruler of the Roman Empire. On October 28th, 312 he defeated Maxentius at The Battle of the Milvian Bridge. In 314, 316, and 324, he repeatedly defeated his last remaining rival Licinius. Once he had overcome him, he was the undisputed ruler of the Roman world. Incidentally, Maxentius and Licinius were both brothers-in-law of Constantine.
Of the two campaigns, however, it was the first against Maxentius which guaranteed Constantine an important place in the history of western civilization because he attributed his victory to Jesus Christ. On the evening of October 27th, 312, he had seen the Chi-Rho, the sign of Christ, in the heavens outside of the city of Rome. Starting in February, 313, Constantine began the process of making Christianity the official religion in place of paganism. He did this by passing laws which favored Christianity. Although Constantine himself seems to have been sympathetic to the Christian faith, he only converted to Christianity shortly after April 3rd, 337.
Because Constantine wanted to replace paganism with Christianity as the official state religion, he needed a unified faith which would serve as the religious backbone of the empire. He quickly found that persuasion was not enough to forge a solid, unified faith. In an attempt to resolve the Arian controversy, he assembled the first unified council in the history of the church, which assembled for its first session at Nicaea in Bithynia during June, 325. This action was the most profound event of his reign because it set a precedent that remains in place today. When either the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Churches have major disciplinary problems to resolve, they would assemble a unified council to settle the matters in dispute.
The nature of Constantine's conversion to Christianity has long been a matter of dispute--primarily because the sources, all of them Christian, offer conflicting testimony. The outlines of his religious development, however, are clear enough. Before 312, Constantine seems to have been a tolerant pagan, willing to accumulate heavenly patrons but not committed to any one deity. Between 312 and 324, however, he gradually adopted the Christian God as his protector and on several occasions granted special privileges to individual churches and bishops. His alliance with Christianity was strengthened by the political quarrel with Licinius. The death of Galerius in 311--and that of his successor in the East, Maximinus Daia, in 313--left Constantine and Licinius in control of both halves of the empire. The two rulers were soon at odds. In the ensuing civil war, politics and religion became so entangled that contemporaries described Constantine's conflict with Licinius (a pagan)