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In History: Constantine – the Beginning of an end to Persecution

Ring featuring Coin of Constantine The Great
Ring featuring ancient coin with the image of Constantine The Great

On this day Oct 28, 312, Constantine the Great defeats Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius at the Mulvian Bridge.

Why does this matter to the faithful of today? The history of the world over the last 2 millennium is deeply entwined with the history of the Church. In this Year of Faith as we follow the lead of Pope Benedict and reflect on the works of the the most recent Ecumenical Council, Vatican II, a thread connects us to Constantine who summoned the first Ecumenical Council, the Council of Nicaea.

Read on for a history lesson on these events from Dr. James P. Campbell, Theologian and Grandfather.

Constantine the Great (c. 272 –  337) Ruled 306 – 337
Constantine was born the son of a general in the Roman army, Constantius, who had a number of high positions in the Roman Empire. Constantius was appointed by the Roman Emperor Diocletian as a subordinate Ceasar in Gaul, present day France. As a son of such an important official, Constantine was raised in Diocletian’s court in Nicomedia. There he was educated and mixed with local Christians. This all ended in 303 when Diocletian initiated the most severe persecution of the Christian Church.

In 305 Diocletian resigned, and Constantine was able to join his father in Gaul. After his father’s death, Constantine was appointed Caesar of Britain, Gaul, and Spain. But he was ambitious. Years of political wrangling over the succession of various rulers led to Constantine leading his armies into Italy for a final battle in 312 against his enemy Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber River north of Rome.

Chi Roh, a symbol of Chris

Facing an army twice the size of his own, Constantine’s soldiers arrived in the field with a Chi Roh, a symbol of Christ on their shields. According to Christian writers, the night before the battle Constantine had a visitor in a dream who advised him to use this  mark. In another telling of the story, Constantine on seeing this symbol, also heard the message In Hoc Signo Vinces “with this sign you will conquer.

In the battle that followed Constantine defeated his enemies armies, with his foe, Maxientius drowning in the river.

With one of the remaining Caesars, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which officially granted full tolerance to Christianity and all religions in the Empire. The days of persecution of Christians by pagans in Rome were over.

Constantine continued his fight with his rivals for full authority in the Roman Empire, finally becoming the sole emperor of the Roman Empire in 325. He moved the capital of the Empire to the east, founding the city of Constantinople.

As emperor, Constantine is most importantly remembered by the Christian Church as summoning the first Ecumenical Council, the Council of Nicaea. At this council the teaching of Arius, denying the full divinity of Christ, was condemned. The council is also important for proclaiming the first version of the Nicene Creed.

While Constantine favored Christianity during his reign, he did not become Christian until his dying days when he was finally baptized by bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia in 337.

Thank you Dr. Campbell. In this Year of Faith we will be providing additional glimpses into history, of the world and the Church.

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