Julius Caesar stood at the commencement of the Roman empire, so did Constantine stand at the end of the Roman empire. Remarkably, there are still the historical landmarks that helped define the contemporary Christianity and its spread in the earlier decades. In Rome, the Milvian Bridgestill stands over the murky waters of Tiber River, it is upon these grounds that the battle that would be a critical milestone in the unfolding of European and Christian civilization. The factual records that were written almost 1700 years ago are still accessible in the libraries and the information on Constantine can still be objectively analyzed and used to tell the expansion trend of the early church and the relationship that there is between Christianity and the state.
Constantine rule and the influence on the church expansion
Historically, Diocletian, who was the last great prosecutor of the church managed to reform the administration of the Roman Empire and appointed three leaders who would act as co-rulers. After his retirement, there was a struggle for the leadership and power, one of the protagonists was called Constantine, he was a general in the Roman Empire and son to one of the co-rulers. In October 312 AD Constantine and his troops marched to Rome ready for battle and there was a second troop by Maxentius, who would later on become a tyrannical emperor. This was the first greatest challenge that the young Constantine had ever faced. Te two forces were at logger heads for the control of Rome, the mightiest empire in the face of the earth up that given moment (Haykin M. A. G., 1999: Pp5-6).
Constantine had a pit stop to reevaluate his battle plans and realized that he required far much more than just the military prowess to win the Roman Empire battle. On the other side, apart from the military force, Maxentius had significantly high magical enchantments. It was great challenge to Constantine since he was brought up in a monotheist background and his father believed only in the existence of God. Constantine knew that the pagan gods failed to protect their followers. With such a strong belief in Christian God, he decided to consult the heavenly intervention in the battle. He pleaded with the God of his father to stretch forth His arm and intervene in the battle. As he was engaged and engulfed in the prayer mood, Constantine suddenly was absorbed into a deep vision. He had a reverie in which he saw the sign of the cross clearly embedded on the sky and the inscriptions reading ‘In hoc signo vinces’, which in English means “In this sign you will win.” With these revelations and vision, Constantine was amazed, deeply. It was so practical that even his army witnessed the miracle and the revelation. In the fall of the night, the vision and revelation was confirmed to Constantine when he saw that it was the son of God, Christ himself, that he was dealing with. Constantine embraced the revelation and agreed with the revelations of vision that he saw. He consequently had the sign of the cross inscribed on armors that the soldiers were going to use in the battle. When he went to the battle, despite the inferiority in terms of number, Constantine won the battle (Curtis K., 2017).
The victory that Constantine had, which was overwhelming, and his subsequent rise to the emperor of Rome seat meant that the world would never be same as before. The Milvian Brideg battle also changed the role and place of the church in the empire. It is ironical, that the church, which previously suffered extensive persecution yet never formed resistance armies or engage in subversive political campaigns, would not be the institution that got entrenched and protected by the political and military conquest. The church became more powerful in the matters of the state. Secular power started mixing up with the religious might and daily endeavors. The new emperor, Constantine started to patronize the then church with gifting and favors which the church had never seen before his rise to power. Constantine edged more towards entrenching Christianity as the official empire or state religion. This was done in systematic and systemic manner, not an instant overhaul to the new system. It was incremental. First it was made clear that it was Christianity that had prevailed in the battle and not any other religion or superstitious beliefs. By the end of the 4th Century, Christianity had been made the authorized faith of the Roman Empire. It was at this time and with such a drastic change that the political centers and powers that existed became significantly weakened. This gave room for the church to be more established and stabilized. The church became the unifying factor of the Roman society. It ended up edging out the empire in terms of time and powers hence ultimately replaced the empire.
The success that the church achieved, eventually proved too much to handle. The church was unable to handle the success with humility and service to God. The power and the prestige that the church got during this time made them forget the pain of persecution that they had been subjected to years before. The church spread more rapidly than ever before, indeed it was easily embraced and it became fashionable to be a Christian. The pagans were given good accommodation within the Christian fraternity and their past was forgotten. Unfortunately, and sadly so, the church, that once had seen the evils of persecution meted upon it, started persecuting others now that it was in power.
Following the persecution that the church had turned to mete on others, it makes many scholars question the Christian nature of Constantine. It is highly doubted whether he was a true Christian or just an opportunist who saw it fit to use the Christian religion to achieve his military conquest. It is questioned why he had to wait for the time of his death then get baptized before finally dying a few days after his baptism in 337 AD. However, Constantine has his defenders who say that he actually helped build the Christian religion, he presided over the Council of Nicea that was charged with the responsibility of checking heresy and also prescribed the orthodox doctrines which were instrumental in the making the church stronger and more relevant in the society of the time. However, there are many who still felt that he was responsible for plunging the Christian church into the gross departure from the faith of the Bible and practice.
The Christianity of Constantine came to the Roman Empire and the then Christian community with mixed fortunes. These have followed the church to the contemporary times. It brought up doubts and many questions about the nature of the Christian church.
On a hind sight, there are three major changes that the Constantine period entrenched in the church that still defines the relationship between the church and state. These changes still mean that the church in the contemporary times still has a significant role to play and influence on the formation of governments and the running of most states as below.
The first major change was introduction of formalism in the church, in that the church started to embrace the pomp in the civil ceremonies (Capoccia T., 1986). The church was shaped by the world around them and even the services started having elements of the civil ceremonies. This is an aspect that to date sticks in the church, and the state greatly influences the trends in the church as same applies to the society in general.
Another aspect is the nominalism which meant that the Romans, in great numbers, became Christians hence making the church a mixed community of believers and unbelievers (Alliance World Fellowship, 2017). The church today ahs the same consistency and the running of the state significantly affects the church conduct without the church caring much whether the state is Christian or not, they always work closely with the church.
There is also the aspect of hierarchy system that the church embraced and propagated during the Constantine times and still exists to date. The church structure of the time copied the Roman organization. By then, the church was under the control of the state with the emperor as the head of the church (Catholic Pages, 2007). This definition of the church by the state still exists with the heads of the church hierarchy considered as influential figures all round even into the political spheres. These figure heads are widely seen as the links between the church and the state or governments. If there arises an issue that the church needs to express to the state, then the hierarchy comes into play, which was the making of the state in the times of Constantine.
From the synthesis of the church during the times of Constantine and the influence it had, and the church in the contemporary times, it is evident that the church is not inherently poised to oppose the state. There are various aspects and activities that bring the church and the state together. The ceremonies, the constitution of any country will always have the considerations of the church in it. The petitions of the church are always keenly listened to by many states. There are nations that currently have declared Christianity as the official religion of the state, and the same applies to most Middle East and Arabic nations that have entrenched Islam as the official state religions. Globally, there are nations that use Christian referenced and reference to God in their official communications. There are procedures in state related functions like ceremonies and parliamentary sessions among others that are always presided over by the Christian figureheads and repeated reference to God is made. Indeed, many nations and citizens prefer to put into positions of authority leaders who are Christians and God fearing as opposed to secular people. These bring the conclusion that the church is not inherently poised to stand against the state but can work within the acceptable manner with the God ordained authorities in place, to run the affairs of the state in collaboration.
Alliance World Fellowship, (2017). Christian Nominalism: Causes and Cures. Retrieved April 13, 2017 from http://www.awf.nu/resources/study/christian-nominalism-causes-and-cures/
Capoccia T., (1986). Formalism. Retrieved April 13, 2017 from http://www.biblebb.com/files/ryle/PRACT11.TXT
Catholic Pages, (2007). Church Hierarchy. Retrieved April 13, 2017 from http://www.catholic-pages.com/church/hierarchy.asp
Curtis K., (2017). Constantine: Church History Timeline. Retrieved April 13, 2017 from http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/301-600/constantine-11629643.html
Haykin M. A. G., (1999). Constantine and His Revolution. Retrieved April 13, 2017 from http://sgfcanada.com/files/frps/constantine-27-6.pdf
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