The Effects Of Constantine's Conversion On The Church In The West

2492 words - 10 pages

Constantine’s conversion made him more tolerant of Christianity in Rome, allowing the Church to spread to other parts of his empire and to preach in public society. Constantine is praised as the emperor who made Christianity no longer anti-Roman. Had Constantine not converted and reformed Rome, the Church would have never been able to gain as much of a foothold in Rome and the West. His conversion ended the widespread persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire and greatly increased Christian power and influence in Rome. Additionally, his conversion contributed Roman law to the Catholic Heritage of the West, forming a basis of Western thought on law and justice. The time frame significant to Constantine and the Church stretches back to as early as Nero’s persecution in AD 64 all the way to after the death of Constantine in ca. AD 400, when paganism in Rome finally fell.
In the time before Constantine, the Roman Empire was a vast expanse covering all of Spain, Gaul, Asia Minor, Italy, the Balkan Peninsula, and the North African coastline, giving Rome a vast influence in the Mediterranean world. This influence was a largely pagan culture, interspersed with a faint Christian presence (since Christianity had been legal for forty years, but not endorsed). By the time of Diocletian, Christians were persecuted to a lesser extent than in times past. Even so, Roman officials that were Christian prayed and worshipped in secret. If they were suspected to be Christian, the officials would be put through a “Christian test” based on the principle that “no committed Christian would offer a sacrifice.” If the official failed the test, he would be expelled from his position. At this time, a Church Council in Spain ruled that if someone, having been baptized Christian, offered pagan sacrifice, he would not receive last rites. Furthermore, the same council stipulated that a duumvir (co-mayor) could not receive communion until the end of his term.
In the years leading up to Constantine, there was still persecution in the Roman that stemmed from the rule of Nero. In AD 64, a large fire spread through Rome and nearly destroyed it, crippling its economy and forcing many citizens to flee. Nero, who is often accused of “fiddling while Rome burned,” irresponsibly stood by as much of Rome was consumed. Now in a difficult position, he blamed Christian arsonists. This led to a large, state-sanctioned killing of Christians that continued, on-and-off depending on various historical events and periods of peace, to AD 313, when Constantine ended it with the Edict of Milan. One of the supporters of this persecution was Emperor Diocletian. Beginning in AD 303, Diocletian’s persecution of Christians was the worst and final persecution in the Roman Empire. Diocletian dictated that the Church at Nicomedia be demolished and the scriptures burned. Christian men, women, and children were gathered together and told to offer a collective sacrifice to pagan gods. If...

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