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Constantine I

(ca. 280–337). “The Great.” Roman emp. 306–337; son of Constantius I (Flavius Valerius; Chlorus, “the Pale”; ca. 250–306; Roman emp. 305–306) and Helena. Sent to the court of Diocletian* 292; Constantius succeeded Diocletian 305 as W emp. and proclaimed Constantine his successor (caesar). The army acclaimed Constantine as Augustus on the death of Constantius at York, Brit., 306; but he was not est. as sole emp. of the W till 312, when he defeated rival Maxentius at the Mulvian Bridge near Rome. On this occasion, according to tradition, he saw the sign of the cross in the sky with words often given in Gk. as en touto nika (“conquer by this”) and in Lat. as in hoc signo vinces (“by this sign thou shalt conquer”). On his standard, called labarum,* Constantine replaced the pagan emblems with the Chi-Rho (initial letters of Christ in Gk.). In 313 he and E emp. Licinius* agreed in granting equal toleration to all religions. Licinius later renewed persecutions of Christians, but was decisively defeated 324 by Constantine, who became sole Roman emp. 325. Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea* (see also Arianism; Councils and Synods, 4). Beginning in 326 he moved the seat of govt. from Rome to Byzantium, which he rebuilt and 330 renamed Constantinople. One tradition says he was bap. by Sylvester I (see Popes, 1) at the Lateran*; another account has him bap. at or near Nicomedia by Eusebius* of Nicomedia; M. Chemnitz,* Examen, Part IV, Locus II, Section IV, Chap. I, near the end, speaks of the story of Constantine's baptism as a fable. After his death the empire was divided bet. 3 sons (Gaul, Sp., and Brit. to Constantine* II; Asia and Egypt to Constantius* II; It., Afr., and territory along the Denube to Constans*) and 2 nephews (most of the Balkans to Delmatius; Armenia, Pontus, and Cappadocia to Hannibalianus). In the E Ch. he is venerated as a saint and regarded as equal with the apostles, or as the 13th apostle.

The most diverse opinions have been held on Constantine's personal relations to Christianity and the motives that governed his imperial policy. The extreme view of the E Ch. referred to above was held by Eusebius* of Caesarea in Life of Constantine. The other extreme (first put forward by Ammianus Marcellinus [ca. 330–ca. 400], a pagan writer) sees in Constantine nothing but a shrewd, calculating politician, who allied himself with the new religion in order to realize his imperial ambitions. Though Constantine's conduct in gen. was determined by policy rather than by principle, his preference for Christianity was not only prudential but also personal. His life is stained with crimes, but the softening and humanizing effects of Christianity are evident in his legislation. His concern for the unity of the ch., threatened with division by Arianism, was probably subordinate to higher concern for the unity of the empire. He was drawn to Christians by his interest in purity of life, his genuine humanity, and shrewd statesmanship. He ascribed his victory over Maxentius to the vision of the cross mentioned above, exempted the clergy from military and municipal duties, abolished some practices offensive to pub. morality, est. asylums for foundlings, mitigated slave laws, and placed restrictions on concubinage and divorce. Patron of science and art.

Constantine's importance for the hist. of the ch. lies in 3 areas. He was the 1st emp. to grant Christianity legal standing and imperial support. He set a pattern of imperial interest in ecclesiastical concerns that easily became policy of imperial control for his successors. He moved the seat of govt. to the E, forcing the Roman bp. to become the pol. and administrative as well as spiritual leader in the W

See also Antioch, Synods of; Church and State, 3; Courts, Spiritual.

M. A. Huttmann, The Establishment of Christianity and the Proscription of Paganism (New York, 1914); N. H. Baynes, Constantine the Great and the Christian Church (London [1931]); C. N. Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture (Oxford, England, 1940); L. B. Holsapple, Constantine the Great (New York. 1942): A. Alföldi, The Conversion of Constantine and Pagan Rome, tr. H. Mattingly (Oxford, England, 1948); A. H. M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe (London [1948]); H. Dörries, Das Selbstzeugnis Kaiser Konstantins (Göttingen, 1954); H. Dörries, Constantine and Religious Liberty, tr. R. H. Bainton (New Haven, Connecticut, 1960); MPL, 8, 9–672. HTM

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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