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Constantine Essay

1795 words - 8 pages

The emperor Constantine has rightly been called the most important emperor of Late Antiquity. His powerful personality laid the foundations of post-classical European civilization -- his reign was eventful and highly dramatic. His victory at the Milvian Bridge counts among the most decisive moments in world history, while his legalization and support of Christianity and his foundation of a 'New Rome' at Byzantium rank among the most momentous decisions ever made by a European ruler. The fact that ten Byzantine emperors after him bore his name may be seen as a measure of his importance and of the esteem in which he was held. Flavius Valerius Constantinus, the future emperor Constantine, was ...view middle of the document...

Constantine later claimed the rank of Augustus. Constantine and Maxentius, although they were brothers-in-law, did not trust each other. Their relationship was further complicated by the schemes and consequently, in 310, the death of Maximian. Open hostilities between the two rivals broke out in 312, and Constantine won a decisive victory in the famous Battle of the Milvian Bridge. This made Constantine the sole ruler of the western half of the empire. When Diocletian and Maximian announced their retirement in 305, the problem posed by the Christians was unresolved and the persecution in progress. Upon coming to power Constantine unilaterally ended all persecution in his territories, even providing for restitution. His personal devotions, however, he offered first to Mars and then increasingly to Apollo, reverenced as Sol Invictus.Lactantius, Crispus' tutor, reports that during the night before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge Constantine was commanded in a dream to place the sign of Christ on the shields of his soldiers. Twenty-five years later Eusebius gives and less convincing account in his Life of Constantine. When Constantine and his army were on their march toward Rome neither the time nor the location is specified, they observed in broad daylight a strange phenomenon in the sky: a cross of light and the words 'by this sign you will be victor' (hoc signo victor eris). During the next night, so Eusebius' account continues, Christ appeared to Constantine and instructed him to place the heavenly sign on the battle standards of his army. The new battle standard became known as the Labarum. Whatever vision Constantine may have experienced, he attributed his victory to the power of 'the God of the Christians' and committed himself to the Christian faith from that day on, although his understanding of the Christian faith at this time was quite superficial. It has often been supposed that Constantine's profession of Christianity was a matter of Political expediency more than of religious conviction -- upon closer examination this view cannot be sustained. Constantine did not receive baptism until shortly before his death. It would be a mistake to interpret this as a lack of sincerity or commitment -- in the fourth and firth centuries Christians often delayed their baptism until late in life. Licinius did not commit himself personally to Christianity -- even his commitment to toleration eventually gave way to renewed persecution. Constantine's profession of Christianity was not an unmixed blessing to the church. Constantine used the church as an instrument of imperial policy, imposed upon it his imperial ideology, and thus deprived it of much of the independence which it had previously enjoyed.To his dismay Constantine soon discovered that there was a lack of unity within the church. In the province of Africa, specifically, there were those who took a rigorist position towards the lapsi (those who had shown a lack of faith during the preceding...

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