Constantine Imposes Christianity on Rome

Constanine the Great was born Flavius Valerius Constantinus, at Naissus, Serbia (so states Christian History Magazine, No. 27, page 23). But the year? “Probably 272”, however others put the range as from 274 to 288. His father was Constantius Chlorus, a Roman officer, and his mother was Helena, a concubine and a woman of inferior birth.

Emperor Diocletian had sought to frustrate the power of the Praetorian Guard by dividing the Roman Empire into four empires governed by tetrarchs. However this situation quickly led to rivalry among the various tetrarchs.

Constantine’s father was made the new Emperor of the West, on the resignation of his own father.

During that process Constantine recognised the weakness of Diocletian’s system, and when he became Western Emperor, or Caesar, on his father’s death, he sought to keep out of the rivalry.

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However the situation deteriorated after the death of the Easter Emperor, Galerius and Constantine found himself compelled to fight for his throne against Maxentius. Having been reluctant to engage in war over several years, Constantine made haste to confront his opponent, despite his weaker forces. His men were more highly disciplined and gained the advantage in several battles as he marched toward Rome for battle with Maxentius.

Their armies clashed at the famous Battle of Milvian Bridge, October 28, 312. (See the post for October 28, 2007)

According to two Christian writers, Constantine had a dream on the eve of that battle which convinced him to adopt a Christian emblem – and wage war with his rival, trusting in the Christians’ God. He had his men decorate their shields with the sign of the Cross.

Despite being heavily outnumbered Constantine won and Maxentius drowned in the Tiber River. Constantine became the new Emperor – and he professed Christianity. He quickly proclaimed the Edict of Milan, jointly with the tetrarch Licinius, early in 313, which approved Christian worship. The persecution of Christians which had been a reign of terror under Diocletian and Maximian was now ended. Christians were released from prison and from the mines. Many who had abandoned the faith to avoid persecution now returned, repentant.

Constantine also convened the great Council of Nicea in 325AD, where over 300 bishops gathered to deal with the Arian heresy.

Initially Constantine allowed Licinius, the sole surviving tetrarch appointed by Diocletian, to keep his power. Constantine married his sister to Licinius. However Licinius conspired against Constantine and 10 years of fighting ensued until Licinius was executed.

Constantine was then the sole and undisputed supreme ruler of the Roman Empire. He moved the capital of the Empire from Rome to Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople.

As part of his on-going support for Christianity, Clergy were exempted from taxes, Sunday was set aside as a day of worship … and his dear mother, Helena, made a trip to the Holy Land, where she found “the true cross” and a host of other relics.

Among his other achievements, he had Crispus, his eldest son, executed, and Fausta, his wife for 20 years, drowned in a hot bath! (Miller’s Church History, page 202).

He issued coins dedicated to the ‘sun god’ – and he was baptised by an Arian bishop shortly before his death on 22 May, 337.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Aurelius Augustine Sets the Course of Christian Doctrine

Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, was born on November 13 in Togaste, North Africa, in AD 354.

His father, Patricius was burgess of the town and a pagan, which set young Augustine toward a self-indulgent lifestyle. However his mother, Monica, was a Christian who devoted herself to prayer for both her husband and son. In years to come she saw both come to faith.

From his earliest days Monica instructed her son in the truth of Jesus Christ and initially her efforts appeared effective. When he fell ill he asked to be baptized, but he put the matter off once he recovered. He then threw aside all Christian principles and followed in his father’s sensual values. He had several mistresses, one which bore him a son, Adeodatus, whom he dearly loved.

While his mother prayed for him his ambition for knowledge led him eventually under the influence of Abrose in Milan. But not before he had become keenly devoted to several philosophies and heresies of the day. His demand for intellectual satisfaction saw his sour with each new hope of philosophic resolution. Meanwhile, however, he had gained a reputation as a teacher of rhetoric and was in some demand.

Thus Augustine came to Milan and came under the influence of Ambrose, of whom he said, “I was led to him unknowingly by God, that I might knowingly be led to God by him.” The main text that Ambrose pressed in those days was 2 Corinthians 3:6, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” This deeply impressed Augustine who was still questing for truth that liberated.

The testimony of Victorinus, a fellow teacher of rhetoric who converted to Christianity, shook Augustine. He told God, “I burned to imitate him. .… He appeared to me not so much brave as happy, because he had discovered an opportunity of waiting on You only. For this was what I was longing for, thus bound, not with the irons of another, but my own iron will.”

Augustine had given in to sensual desires and they now ruled him. He every attempt to transcend sin was defeated and he knew he was a slave to the chains of his own immoral choices. Desperate to come to faith he kept being pulled back by the fear of death to self and the total loss of all sensual addictions.

This is how Augustine described his slavery to evil self will. “The enemy held fast my will, and had made of it a chain, and had bound me tight with it. For out of the perverse will was lust made, and lust indulged in became habit, and habit not resisted became necessity. By these links, as it were, joined together (which is why I called it a ‘chain’), a hard bondage held me enthralled .… made strong by long indulgence.”

Unable to break free from his own evil choices Augustine ran into the garden and flung himself to the ground beneath a fig tree and there wept himself through repentance before God. He was then prompted by a voice telling him to “Take up and read” the Bible, which led him to Romans 8:13,14. “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof” He adds, “I had neither desire nor need to read farther. As I finished the sentence, as though the light of peace had been poured into my heart, all the shadows of doubt dispersed. Thus hast Thou converted me to Thee, so as no longer to seek either for wife or other hope of the world, standing fast in that rule of faith in which Thou so many years before hadst revealed me to my mother” (Confess., viii. 30).

Following his conversion Augustine sought a life of retirement and solitude. This became the basis for the monastic life which he later prescribed and which grew into the Augustinian order. After three years he went to Hippo to visit a friend and was there pressed by overwhelming popular demand to take the position of presbyter. He took the post and progressed from that to the position of Bishop of Hippo.

In that role he wrote extensively, contending with the popular heresies of the day, including some he had previously been devoted to. His writings and his piety set the course for future development of Christian theology and thought.

Augustine’s impact on church history cannot be estimated. Benjamin Warfield says “he transfigured the Christian faith for those who would follow”.

Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote “without Augustine’s massive intellect Western theology would never have taken the shape in which it is familiar to us”.

His autobiography, Confessions, is regarded as a classic of Christian literature.

Roman Catholics canonised him … and a young Martin Luther belonged to the Augustinian order of monks.

His treatises against the heresies of his day reveal him to be the church’s most able apologist. One statistician claims that Augustine – in his writings – quoted the Old Testament 13,276 times, and the New Testament 29,540 times! (Treasury of Evangelical Writings, by D.O. Fuller, page 51).

But not everybody sings the praises of this famous Bishop of Hippo.

Arminius disputes his teaching on election. Baptists question his paedo-baptist stance, pre-millennialists take issue with his prophetic views, and his emphasis that the church should “compel her erring sons to return to the fold” led to the deaths of thousands when baptism or the sword became a matter of ‘conversion’. His passionate insistence that infants need baptism to protect them from their sins is not a belief that is commonly held today.

At the end of Augustine’s life the Vandals, who had been gradually enclosing the Roman empire, laid siege to the city of Hippo. Being ill, Augustine only pray for his fellow-citizens. He passed away during the progress of the siege, on the 28th of August 430, at the age of seventy-five. Thus he was spared the distress of seeing the city all into enemy hands.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Born as a Free Man

Freedom is something that westerners take for granted. Consequently we don’t really know what it is. And consequently many Bible truths remain undiscovered, because we do not have a frame of reference for them.

The Son will set you free. The Truth will set you free. Stand strong in your freedom. A Christian slave is God’s “free” man. These Bible concepts are nothing more than mere poetry to most people.

John Freeman

As a young married man I had a friend from church named John Freeman. He and his wife were from some place in Scandinavia and his original name was hard for English men to pronounce. So he chose a new name when he came to Australia. He chose to be called a Free Man. So he took the name, John Freeman.

However, this man was not truly free. Several times he told me that he is not such a nice man as he presented to be. He seemed to be carrying some kind of shame and cloud from his past. He wanted to be a free man, and he had taken that as his name, but he was not free at all. His past mess was still in his heart.

Born Free

The book and film, Born Free, celebrated the freedom given to lions born in the wild. But it is not only lions who are born to be free. All humans are meant to be born as free people who can pursue their life with liberty.

John Freeman had been born free but he had somehow compromised that freedom, possibly through sin and failure. He tried to enshrine freedom by his new name, but the real freedom he had been born with was damaged and lost, somehow.

Buying Freedom

In some cultures freedom belongs to the minority. Israel in the promised land had various captive people’s living among them. These other nations were supposed to be destroyed, but were not. So those nations were slaves and servants to the Israelites. The Israelis had freedom, but not the others.

The same was true in the Roman Empire. Certain cities and places were considered to be the preserve of the Romans. Those who were born there were born as free men. Others could become citizens, but only at great cost.

The Apostle Paul was born in Tarsus, which was one of those places afforded citizenship status in the Roman Empire. So Paul was born as a free man. On one occasion, when he had been hastily arrested, his captors feared because they had imprisoned a free man.

“Then the chief captain came, and said to him, Tell me, are you a Roman? He said, Yes. And the chief captain answered, I paid a great sum for this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born. The examiners immediately left him: and the chief captain was also afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.” Acts 22:27-29

Freedom Lost

You were not born to be slaves, but born to be free men. However it is possible to lose the freedom that is rightly yours. This is done by making wrong choices.

The Prophet Jeremiah challenged the nation of Israel that they were not born to be slaves, but he pointed out that they were slaves, because they had rejected God’s leading.

“Is Israel a servant? Is he a home-born slave? Why is he spoiled?” Jeremiah 2:14

The answer is that Israel is not a servant or a home-born slave. So he should not be exploited by others who have power over him.

“Have you not procured this to yourself, in that you have forsaken the LORD your God, when he led you by the way?” Jeremiah 2:17

Israel had lost its freedom by forsaking God and rejecting His leading.

Preserve Your Birthright

You are born to be free. So don’t despise your birthright. Esau did that and could not get back what he lost, despite his bitter tears.

If you think nothing of your freedom it will become the ‘nothing’ that you think it is. So don’t be irresponsible with your freedom. Some people have paid an enormous price for theirs, and people have paid a terrible price to give you yours.

Battle of Milvian Bridge Changes Christendom

This is the day that the “Battle of Milvian Bridge” took place – in AD 312.

It was this historic battle, won by Constantine and his armies, which led to the Christianisation of the Roman Empire. Bear in mind that one uses the word ‘Christianisation’ in its broadest term.

The Milvian Bridge crossed the Tiber River, which was part of the western defences of Rome. The bridge was first built by Gaius Claudius Nero in 206 BC. In 63 BC the bridge was the site of an ambush by agents of Cicero.

Serbian born Constantine was at this time one of six contenders for leadership of the Roman Empire, following his father’s death in York, in Britain. Constantine marched on Rome and his forces met those of Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge.

Constantine’s victory was not the only significant event of that day. He claimed to have seen a vision at midday on that same day, seeing a Christian Cross superimposed on the sun, and the words “In This Sign, Conquer”, “In hoc signo vinces”.

Following his decisive victory, Constantine went on to become Emperor of the Roman Empire. He then made Christianity legal. Constantine claimed to be a Christian, and the changes that followed were momentous.

Persecution ceased. By March, AD 313, the Edict of Milan was published granting religious liberty to all, restoring previously confiscated church property and protecting Christian people from persecution. The Lord’s Day was set aside as a day of rest and worship. Favours were granted to the clergy. Churches were built.

Miller, in his Church History, records that in one year, in Rome, 12,000 men and women were baptised … “and a white garment, with 20 pieces of gold, was promised by the Emperor to every new convert of the poorer classes…” (page 194).

Three years after his victory at the bridge a triumphal arch was built with words telling how Constantine saved the republic ‘”by greatness of mind and impulse of divinity.” Roman troops then carried a pennant bearing the monogram of Jesus – the Greek letters “chi” and “rho” standing for the word “Christ”.

Within several years Constantine sponsored the Council of Nicaea to negotiate a statement of orthodox Christian belief that could be recognized across the Empire. The Nicaean Creed continues to be used today.

Some ‘state churches’ regard these events as a triumph in the history of the Christian faith; others, of ‘free church’ persuasion, are more likely to regard it as “almost as calamitous as the fall of Adam and Eve.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.