‘The emperor granted many privileges to the Church for the reason that it took care of the poor and was active in benevolence. The Church obtained immunity for its ecclesiastics, including freedom from taxation and compulsory service, and from obligatory state offices. The Church further obtained the right to inherit property, and Constantine moreover placed Sunday under the protection of the State.’
Constantine was liberal to prodigality, was generous in almsgiving, and adorned the Christian churches magnificently. No doubt he was endowed with a strong religious sense, was sincerely pious, and delighted to be represented in an attitude of prayer, with his eyes raised to heaven. In his palace he had a chapel to which he was fond of retiring, and where he read the Bible and prayed. “Every day”, Eusebius tells us,
“at a fixed hour he shut himself up in the most secluded part of the palace, as if to assist at the Sacred Mysteries, and there commune with God alone ardently beseeching Him, on bended knees, for his necessities“.
As a catechumen he was not permitted to assist at the sacred Eucharistic mysteries. He remained a catechumen to the end of his life, but not because he lacked conviction nor because, owing to his passionate disposition, he desired to lead a pagan life. He obeyed as strictly as possible the precepts of Christianity, observing especially the virtue of chastity, which his parents had impressed upon him; he respected celibacy, freed it from legal disadvantages, sought to elevate morality, and punished with great severity the offenses against morals which the pagan worship had encouraged. He brought up his children as Christians. Thus his life became more and more Christian, and thus gradually turned away from the feeble syncretism which at times he seemed to favor. The God of the Christians was indeed a jealous God who tolerated no other gods beside him. The Church could never acknowledge that she stood on the same plane with other religious bodies, she conquered for herself one domain after another.’
Many of the Romans believed in the pagan sun god, Mithras, who had similar aspects to the christian God. They believed in only one god and worshiped on Sundays, (from whence comes the name sun day). Constantine at first tried to mix these two religions together, but later on he found that this syncretistic mixture of Catholicism with the pagan monotheistic religion did not work.
We see this syncretism in the prayer that he encourage both pagans and Catholics to pray.
“We acknowledge thee alone as god and king, we call upon thee as our helper. From thee have we received the victory, by thee have we overcome the foe. To thee we owe that good which we have received up to now, from thee do we hope for it in the future. To thee we offer our entreaties and implore thee that thou wilt preserve to us our emperor Constantine and his god-fearing sons for many years uninjured and victorious.”
‘He avoided any direct interference with dogma, and only sought to carry out what the proper Church authorities–the synods–decided. When he appeared at an ecumenical council, (like Nicaea in A.D. 325), it was not so much to influence the deliberation and the decision as to show his strong interest and to impress the heathen. He banished bishops only to avoid strife and discord, that is, for reasons of state. He opposed Athanasius because he was led to believe that Athanasius desired to detain the corn-ships which were intended for Constantinople;’
In A.D. 333, Constantine gave bishops judicial powers, that the state had to enforce. He passed laws that protected babies from being exposed to die, that emancipate some slaves and gave them greater protection, that protected girls from abduction and criminals were no longer branded on their faces, (because they were made in the image of God).
By divine grace, Constantine defeated Emperor Licinius in A.D. 325 and made Constantinople the New Capital of the Roman Empire.
Constantine was the political leader of the Roman Empire, but he also, in a way, baptized it by giving so many powers to the Church. He understood how God and religion were greater than he was. This was the beginning of the long struggle of Christendom in Europe.
Yet, while he still rule along with the Catholic Church, the Arian conflict began to rear its ugly head, which for many years would challenged the Catholic Church and Roman Empire.
‘When at last he felt the approach of death he received baptism, declaring to the bishops who had assembled around him that, after the example of Christ, he had desired to receive the saving seal in the Jordan, but that God had ordained otherwise, and he would no longer delay baptism. Laying aside the purple, the emperor, in the white robe of a neophyte, peacefully and almost joyfully awaited the end.’
‘His second and favorite son, Constantius, was a more pronounced Christian, but it was Arian Christianity to which he adhered. Constantius was an unwavering opponent of paganism; he closed all the temples and forbade sacrifices under pain of death. His maxim was: “Cesset superstitio; sacrificiorum aboleatur insania” (Let superstition cease; let the folly of sacrifices be abolished).’ Quotes from the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia.In this period of the beginning of Christendom, we see a man, Emperor Constantine, but we also see a woman, his holy Catholic mother, St. Helen. Without her Catholic influence on him, we would never have had the beginnings of Christendom. We will see the great influence of Catholic mothers and wives throughout the course of history who will convert emperors and kings, and in their turn will convert all of their kingdoms.
“In order to defend religion man must be willing to die, but not to kill.” Lactantius said this at the time of Constantine. It is something to be meditated on as we go forward to study the rise and fall of Christendom.
We are so blessed to be traditional Catholics and to have so many blessing from God as we worship and obey Christ our King.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.