Greatest Turning Point in the History of the Church and the World: Constantine Conversion. Vol. 5 No. 4

Constantine was the son of the co-Emperor Constantius Chlorus and Helena (his mother). Constantine was hailed as Emperor by his troops on the death of his father in 306 but immediately had to face a rival, Maxentius, who had managed to secure Rome as his stronghold.
When Constantine finally emerged victorious in 312, he attributed his victory to the help of the Christian God. As recorded by Lactantius (d. 320), a Christian writer, on the eve of Constantine’s fateful battle with Maxentius, Constantine had a vision of Christ, who told him to ornament the shields of his soldiers with the saviour’s Monogram (i.e. the Greek letter Chi and Rho) Constantine obeyed and in the ensuing battle was victorious as promised. Eusebius, in his life of Constantine, later gave a more sensational account; Constantine and his whole army saw a luminous cross appear in the afternoon sky with the message “in this Conquer.”
Sequel to this, Constantine showed increasing sign of favour to the Christians. In 313, he reached agreement with the ruler of the Eastern half of the Empire at Milan, on a policy of complete religious tolerance. And Christians received back their property.
Nevertheless, Constantine still remained the supreme pontiff of paganism as he paid homage to the sun god on the official coinage. Surreptitiously, he imposed restrictions on pagan practice and publicly displayed the Christian symbols. He attached the standards of the army to a cross emblazoned with the monogram of Christ, and issued coins picturing himself wearing a helmet stamped with the same monogram.
Far more significantly, Constantine increasingly identified the interest of the state with those of Christianity. Anxious to secure unity in the church as well as the state, he did not hesitate to intervene in church affairs and tried to use the power of the state to end the Donatist Schism in Africa (i.e. a division between those who apostatized during persecution and those who did not but refuse to welcome the former back to Christianity). More so, he ensured unity of the church when presbyter Arius challenged his bishop, Alexander, on the question of God the son’s relation to God the father at Alexandria.
The Emperor showed great generosity to the church in lavishing donations on it and erecting numerous sumptuous basilicas, including the magnificent one over the supposed site of the tomb of Peter at Rome, and another over the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. He surrendered his Lateran palace in Rome to the bishop of Rome for a residence, and it remained the papal residence until 1308. When in 324, he moved the capital of the Empire to Byzantium, which has remained Constantinople after him, he erected numerous churches there, including the two great ones dedicated to peace and to the Holy apostles.
That is not all, Constantine bestowed important privileges on the Christian clergy. They were recognized as a distinct social class and exempted from military service and forced labour. He invested the Judicial decisions of the bishop with civil authority. He modified the Roman Law in the direction of Christian values. Sunday, the day when Christians assembled, was made a day of rest. Sexual offences, such as adultery, concubinage, and prostitution, were treated severely. On the other hand, a more humane attitude was shown toward slaves, children, orphans, and widows. Under Constantine, the church was firmly set on the road to union with the state. He was thus in a real sense, the architect of the Middle Ages.
This alliance with the state profoundly influenced every aspect of the church’s thought and life. It carried many advantages, but it also entailed some serious drawback (as we shall see later). The church would never be the same again; for better and for worse. Indications therefore emerge that Constantine’s conversion is certainly one of the greatest turning points in the history of the church and of the world. In spite of all these efforts in favour of Christianity, Constantine was not even baptized (as he so desired) until his final illness. Does he deserve to be saint?

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