Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Emperor Constantine, Friend or foe to Christianity?

Emperor Constantine (285-337) is known as the Emperor who became a Christian and then granted Christians freedom of worship, expanded their privileges, and made Christianity the religion of the empire.  But what sort of "Christian" was Constantine?

Last week we saw how Constantine's influence brought Christians out of homes and into huge church buildings.  But what was his reasoning? Was it purely to glorify God and lift up Jesus?  What many people don't know is that Constantine's thinking was dominated by superstition and pagan magic. Even after his conversion to Christianity, he never abandoned sun worship. He placed the image of the sun on his coins and erected a statue of the sun god that bore his own image in Constantinople. He also built a statue of the mother goddess, Cybele.  He borrowed the notion of sacred objects and places from the pagans and thus relic worship became common in the church, rising to such a frenzy that some Christian leaders spoke out against it.  Constantine's mother made a pilgrimage to Palestine and is said to have brought back the nails and cross used to crucify Christ. Constantine then declared that the wood from the cross possessed spiritual powers.

In AD 321 when he decreed that Sunday would be a day of rest, his intention was to honor the god Mithras, the Unconquered Sun, hence the name "Sun" day.   He functioned as the high priest of paganism, retaining the pagan title, Pontifex Maximus which means chief of the pagan priests.  When he dedicated Constantinople as his new capital in 330 AD, he decorated it with treasures taken from heathen temples, and he used pagan magic formulas to protect crops and heal diseases.

When he built the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople, he added monuments dedicated to the twelve apostles and formed them in a circle surrounding a single tomb, reserved for himself, in effect making him the thirteenth apostle.  Last but not least, Constantine is noted for instituting the idea into the Christian faith of a "Holy site" or "Sacred place" which led quite nicely to the belief that the new church buildings he was erecting were places where God dwelt and were thus holy.

This flies in the face of everything Jesus tried to teach us, that we are the church, that only God is holy, and that we are the living temple of God's Spirit. Constantine's negative influence on Christianity cannot be overstated. By the third century, Christianity had borrowed so much from the heathen culture that it changed the face of our faith forever. No longer was the church a group of Holy Spirit filled people meeting together to worship god. It now became, much like the pagan temples, a physical building made with hands where they believed God dwelt in a special way.

Taken from Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna


  1. Tues May 29th,
    "Morning, MaryLu."
    More history I did not know about ! This was very interesting and thought-provoking to say the least.
    It "almost sounded" like Constantine considered himself 'like a type of god' ... (sort of). Raising 'himself' higher and more significant than others; while still partaking in heathen rituals. And, I can see how his negative influences 'changed the face of our faith forever'.
    Thanks for sharing with us, MaryLu.
    Oh ... and glad to hear you enjoyed your holiday yesterday. And absolutely .... God Bless "all" of the men and women serving to fight for freedom for our Countries !!!
    Take care, and, God Bless,
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  2. I recently did a research paper on Eusebius and I do believe that Constantine did a number of good things for Christianity that cannot be overstated. During Eusebius' time Christians were being persecuted unmercifully by the whims of the Roman rulers. According to Fox's book of Martyrs, Christians would be stretched on the "rack" until their joints were dislocated, were stripped naked and burned with boiling oil, and other numerous tortures. Church officials were arrested, thrown into prison, and eventually beheaded. Many Christians both leaders and laymen alike were tortured. Constantine stopped the torture of Christians in the Roman world and made Christianity the official religion. He also declared Sunday the official day of worship, and called to order the council of Nicaea, where church leaders discussed the issue of the Trinity and set down the firm set of beliefs that we hold today. In my opinion, whether he was truly saved or not, we have A LOT to thank him for!

  3. Yes, Brenda, I believe he did view himself as divine, as did most Roman emperors.

    Anonymous. I completely agree. Constantine stopped the torture of Christians and made it the official religion. I certainly wasn't disputing that at all. I was merely pointing out that perhaps his personal beliefs and motivations were not born of a heart devoted to God, and thus some of the rituals and traditions he started for the Christian faith were not Scriptural, and certainly didn't follow the Biblical traditions laid down by the first century church. Although he certainly did rescue our faith from being annihilated, and we should thank him for that, I believe it's good to understand where some of our Christian traditions actually came from. That was my only intent here. But thank you for pointing out his most definite contributions. :-)

  4. Wow. I'd known before about how he and his mother started all the stuff with the cross, nails, and other "relics" supposedly being magic, but I had no idea that he still kept so many *overtly* pagan practices going. Thanks for sharing. :-)

  5. Yes, very interesting and a little disturbing. Amazing how someone can be granted a phenonmenal amount of power, and then call the shots - whether right or wrong, and often suiting their own desires and supporting their own ideas. Of course, the halting of the evil torture of believers was GREAT, but some of his other actions set the tone for the church after that and still today. Shouldn't God and His Word ultimately be setting the tone? Shouldn't God, and God alone be the One who establishes Christianity amongst people? He definately uses us to spread the Word and reach others, but when humans begin to dictate the how and the way to do it, doesn't the focus come off of Christ and doesn't the way we do things become about us, instead of about the way He does things? He's given us His Word to tell us about how He desires the church to be, and I believe that 'the church' has come very far from that.
    I'm very intrigued by this man and this time in history - I'll have to do some researching myself now and read up on it all! Thanks for the insight here, MaryLu!

  6. Glad you enjoyed, Sapphire!

    Caroline, Yes, I thought it was disturbing too. He did such great things about protecting Christians, but may have started us on the wrong path as far as our services and rituals. Very sad. I realize some of these posts may be a bit controversial and may rub people the wrong way.. but I feel strongly led to relay the information I've been learning. I truly believe God is leading his people in a different direction in these last days.

  7. Thanks MaryLu. I stand in agreement with you on this. Please continue to share as God leads you. It's facinating from an historical point of view - some things are so far removed from us by time span that we just aren't aware of them, or we become numb to their reality. It's good for us to learn this history because it affects us still today in huge ways, and people just don't know it! We can learn from it and the church of Christ can rise up again in powerful ways - it's exciting too! I'll pray that you continue to discover and share your discoveries with us.

  8. Ahoy, MaryLu!
    I'm glad you are posting these truths. Have you read Ace Collins book on the stories behind Christmas traditions. He speaks on some of this.

    Keep posting and shining the light!

  9. Constantine may have paved the way for the spread of Christianity - just as Roman roads, but as to true doctrine, he was far from it. I've done some research on this topic as well. It was at this point and under this Emperor that the falling away of the universal church was cemented (Council of Nicea ~325 A.D.) I could say a lot more but each of us owes it to ourselves to look into these matters. The first church sermon was delivered by the Apostles Peter (he received the keys to the kingdom of Heaven) on the day of Pentecost. Read Acts Chapter 2 to see Jesus' instructions carried out and the plan of salvation given in its entirety for the fist time (culminating in Acts 2:36-39).

  10. I am coming at this more from a historian's perspective than a Christian's, but I have to say this is the biggest oversimplification of the rich and complicated cultural traditions of Christianity that I have ever seen.

  11. I see here that you have a photograph related to the Church of the Apostles in Istanbul.
    I am currently writing a book about Empress Pulcheria and would very much like to include pictures related to this church and its environs. May I ask where you acquired the photo and if there are others that might fit my purposes.
    Sharon Lawlor

    1. Sharon,I wish I could help you but I have no idea. I assume I pulled the pictures off the web. Sorry.