August 25, 2014

Constantine Influenced Christianity For Good

I read an interesting article (see below) this morning that taught me things I didn't know about the Roman Emperor Constantine.  After reading it, I appreciate what Constantine did to help establish Christianity all over the world.  I had no idea that one man had this impact on the world.  Pretty amazing.  And the timing was critical-- I'll explain.

Constantine lived a few hundred years after Christ's birth and ministry.  His mom Helena was a Christian, but living among nobles in Rome, Constantine grew up with Pagan idols.  His dad, Constantius Chlorus had divorced his mom to marry a woman who would help him become more prominent in government, which left his upbringing mainly to his mom.   And yet he wasn't a Christian like his mom.

Christians had been persecuted for hundreds of years at this point in time in Rome.  They were blamed for the burning of Rome, and the government turned a blind eye to crimes against them.  They were robbed, burned out of homes, killed, and the like while the government did nothing.  We read the beginnings of this persecution among the Christians in the Bible after Christ's death. 

Constantine served in the military, hoping to become a leader in the military and be able to govern territories as he proved himself capable of defending and protecting the people.  His father had risen to become Caesar or Emperor this way.  Over time, Constantine rose to assume the title his father had after his father died, ruling the lands of Britain, Gaul and Spain.

Although Constantine was recognized as Caesar, a rival named Maxentius felt like he deserved the throne.  He led a rebellion against Constantine and a great battle began.  The night before, Constantine saw a sign in the heavens that read 'Through this, conquer' and the letters which spelled out 'Christ' in Greek.  The next day Constantine beat Maxentius at the great battle at Milvian bridge.  He attributed his victory to Christ and became a Christian (although he wasn't baptized until years later so that his many sins as an emperor could be forgiven.) 

One of the first things he did after this victory was that he made Christ the 'patron deity of the Roman Empire.'  Declaring a deity for the whole empire wasn't new, but it was the first time an Emperor actually picked the right god.  Another first, Constantine encouraged Christian worship but didn't persecute any other religion, although he stopped funding the others.  He formed a state-sponsored 'Imperial Church' which worshipped Christ.  Similarly important, he declared that it was not a crime to be a Christian anymore, and declared that it was a crime to persecute them.  That ended hundreds of years of terrible persecution!

This moved Christianity from a small misunderstood, even hated religion into a world religion, accepted and practiced by millions.  Constantine built shrines on holy places and paid for artwork depicting events in Christ's life.  This started the vast creation and collection of Christian art we see today.  He declared holidays based on Christ's teachings that remain to today.  He built three cities, two of which remain the centers of Christian thought (Rome and Jerusalem.)  And as discord came into church leadership, he ordered a convention for them to work out their differences.  That resulted in the flawed but cooperative effort called the 'Nicean Creed' which attempted to describe God.  That ensured that all the leaders in their various places taught the same thing, helping it be similar throughout the kingdom. 

Although Constantine wasn't perfect, he did a lot of good.  He stopped persecution of the early Christians, probably saving the faith from total extinction.  He established Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire, which allowed it to take hold and spread over the world.  Scholars say that Constantine was easily one of the most influential people in Christian History. 

I really like this story because it shows me that we can trust God and his timing.  Heavenly Father waited until Constantine was Emperor before helping him convert to Christianity.  Being a Christian any earlier would have made Constantine's rise in the military and country leadership impossible.  He may have instead been persecuted along with the rest of the religious Christians; he certainly would not have been elevated to the leader of the empire.  We can trust that Heavenly Father knows when to intervene in our lives and that He will help us wait for His timing.  He will bear us up and dry our tears and succor us through the waiting.

Take courage in knowing that Heavenly Father knows you so well, He has all the hairs on your head numbered.  He knows what is best for you and how to help you with your problems. 
(The article I read:  Constantine's Influence Can Scarcely Be Measured by William J. Hamblin and Daniel Peterson.  Deseret News, August 10, 2014 p. 6.)
References:  Wikipedia
Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

1 comment:

  1. There is not one single piece of historical evidence to prove that Jesus ever existed. Not one single scholar or historian from the first century AD mentioned even a single word about Jesus. That's pretty strange, considering that Jesus was supposed to have been some big public figure, going around raising the dead, performing miracles, with thousands of followers. Very odd indeed that not one single scholar or historian from that time period mentioned even a single word about Jesus.

    The truth is- JESUS NEVER EXISTED!