Emperor Constantine: Pagan, Christian, or First Pope?


Roman Emperor Constantine, bronze statue in York, EnglandEmperor Constantine the Great: Pagan, Christian, or First Pope?

This is a reply to the claim of some Protestant fundamentalists that the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great or Constantine I (born c. 280 - died 337 A.D.) remained a pagan, was never a Christian, and was the first Pope. Here is a typical false history believed by fundamentalists. The following was posted on the Catholic Answers boards:

When Christians were on the verge of growing, Satan’s forces started to move. Persecutions, under Satan’s command, hit the early believers in Christ. But instead of destroying them, they grew in numbers. The Force was ruling over Rome, using the Pagan Roman Caesars to slaughter the followers of Christ. The time was getting close for Satan then to give the world his own version of the “Christian” church. And paganism was about to get a new face. When the Emperor of Rome died, two men claimed the throne: Constantine, and the other Roman General named Maxentius.

In 312 AD, Constantine’s army faced his enemy, Maxentius, who stood between him and the Roman Empire. It was during this battle when he “apparently” saw a sign of the cross in the heavens saying, “In this sign Conquer.” Having backed up by “The Force,” he won the battle…and owned Rome. A few years after, he “Christianized” Rome. As a result of this battle, Constantine claimed that his conversion to Christianity had taken place. He publicly issued his edict of toleration in 313 AD, and supposedly stopped the persecutions against the Christians and brought peace. His job, under the direction of Satan, was to merge paganism in the perverted form of Christianity, which he did, and turned it into ROMAN CATHOLICISM.

Testified records from the underground vaults of the inner Vatican tell the truth about Constantine and his family. Constantinus Maximus was NOT really “Christianized” for he still worshipped the sun god “Sol” (Roman name for Nimrod) even until his death in 337 AD. He also had been ordering the killing of the true believers who were hiding in the mountains to survive, and to protect the Word of God. And as a claim aside from the apostle Peter, Constantine was the FIRST pope. Yet the seducing spirits, just like every pope that followed him, controlled him. In short, he was the second coming of NIMROD.

Even after his “Conversion,” facts testifying that he wasn’t really saved were his devious family affairs from his brother-in-law, to his wives and to his sons which most, resulted in murders. Some of the political and personal reasons. F.Y.I. Another point of “Christianized” contribution was Constantine's mother Helena, who claims to have found the real cross where Christ was crucified!!! A Pope's Title: Sumo Maximus Pontifix -- after his retirement as the “first Pope,” he gave the bishop of Rome his title and moved to Byzantium, Turkey in 330 AD. Then, he gave it a face lift and renamed the place “Constantinople.” Amidst the retirement, he remained loyal to the Catholic Church, fulfilling the prophecy of Revelation 17:9.

Excerpted from my Da Vinci Code Fraud article

Constantine was indeed a Roman emperor (reigned from 306 to 337 AD, born in Naissus [Nish] in modern Yugoslavia, about 280) but was not a lifelong pagan; he became a Christian sometime in 312 AD. His deathbed baptism was not against his will, and its delay was not unusual. Since in orthodox Catholic teaching this Sacrament cleansed one from all sin, where one became "saved" and "born again" by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-7; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11; 1 Peter 3:21; Titus 3:5), some in the early Church postponed this powerful Sacrament's effects (e.g. see Tertullian On Baptism 18; and St. Augustine Confessions 1:17-18). Infants were also frequently baptized (Origen Commentary on Romans 5:9; St. Cyprian of Carthage Letters 64:2-5; St. Gregory of Nazianz Orations on Holy Baptism 40:17; St. Augustine Forgiveness...and Baptism of Infants 1:9:10; 1:24:34; 2:27:43; Letters 98:2).

Other claims made by Seventh-day Adventists are also false: Constantine did not "shift" the day of worship to Sunday; this day (called the "Lord's day") was well established in the New Testament (Rev 1:10; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2; Col 2:13ff), and recognized by the earliest Christian believers and Fathers, Bishops and Saints. Ignatius (c. 110 AD), Justin (c. 150), the Didache (1st or 2nd century AD), Clement of Alexandria (c. 200), Tertullian (c. 200), all identify the "Lord's day" with the day of public Christian worship in honor of Christ's Resurrection on the "first day of the week" which is Sunday (Mt 28:1; Mk 16:2,9; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1).

Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code fame claimed Constantine "turned Jesus into a deity." However, the deity of Jesus Christ (as Lord, God, and Son of God) is clearly affirmed and established in the New Testament documents and by the Church Fathers, Bishops, and Saints hundreds of years before the Council of Nicaea. As for Christ's "human traits" they are on full display in the four canonical Gospels; it is the so-called "Gnostic Gospels" where the humanity of Christ is denied. (See my Da Vinci Code Fraud article).

Here are some facts on Constantine summarized from the New Catholic Encyclopedia (NCE, 2003, 2nd edition) article "Constantine I, the Great, Roman Emperor" (NCE, volume 4, pages 179-181):

  • Before his conversion to Christianity, Constantine refused to accept the rank of caesar given him by Galerius and Licinius (Nov 11, 308); he practiced forbearance in regard to the Christians;
  • the Emperor Galerius published (Apr 30, 311) an edict of religious tolerance for Christians signed by Constantine;
  • Each emperor (Constantine, Licinius, and Maximin Daia in the east) issued mandates restoring rights and property to Christians (Lactantius, De morte 48; Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 10:5:1-14);
  • Constantine's conversion to Christianity in 312 is "now almost universally acknowledged" although the quality of his conversion is still disputed; that he postponed Baptism until his deathbed is no criterion since this was common, and he late insisted he hoped to be baptized in the Jordan;
  • Lactantius claimed (De morte 44) the emperor saw Christ in a dream and was told to paint on his army's shields a Chi-Rho (transversa X littera summo capite circumflexo) which formed the Christian monogram;
  • Labarum or Chi-Rho (first two letters of Christ in Greek)In Vita Constantini (Life of Constantine) Eusebius maintains that before the battle Constantine saw a cross over the sun with the inscription "In this sign, conquer" -- that night Christ appeared to him and told him to paint the cross (called the Labarum, a staff surmounted with globe, and capped with the Chi-Rho) on his soldier's shields (Vita 1:27-32); the authenticity of the Vita (c. 335 or 338) is generally admitted;
  • Constantine wrote to Maximin Daia opposing the persecution of Christians and gave the palace of Fausta at the Lateran to Pope Miltiades for a synod, later as the papal residence;
  • He completed the building of a civil basilica, constructed new public baths, and erected a Christian church at the Lateran which was completed with a baptistery;
  • He published the decree of Galerius giving religious freedom in his realm, and ordered the prefect in Africa (Anullinus) to restore Christian property and aid the bishops;
  • He dedicated a statue of himself in the Forum with the inscription "Through this salutary sign...I have freed your city from the yoke of the tyrant" (Eusebius, Eccl History 10:4:16; Vita 1:40) -- the vexillum, first known on the statue of an emperor, apparently was decorated with the Christian Chi-Rho monogram;
  • Silver coins struck at Treves in 312 or 313 depict the emperor's crown with a helmet and the Christian monogram -- although the Sol Invictus and other pagan signs did not disappear until after 321, the vexillum and Christian monogram appeared regularly after 320, the Labarum after 326;
  • the Constantinian arch depicting his victory over Maxentius contains pagan symbols, but no gods are named; the victory is attributed to an instinctu divinitatis (an impulse of divinity), an expression acceptable to Christians and pagans;
  • Constantine attempted (313) to settle the Donatist schism in Africa; on appeal against the Catholic Bishop Caecillian he had Pope Miltiades hold a Roman synod that condemned the Donatist heretics (Eusebius, Eccl History 10:5:18-20); on second appeal he ordered a synod in Arles (314) and wrote to the bishops asking them to achieve unity and not allow critics to dishonor the Christian religion;
  • He recognized the bishops as counselors of state, extended to them juridical rights; he gave legal force to their solution of civil suits, permitted the emancipation of slaves in church, and recognized bequests to the Church; he considered himself a colleague of the bishops (Codex Theodosianus 1:27:1; 16:2:4);
  • Constantine seems to have felt himself divinely prompted to handle situations beyond the power of the bishops, gradually becoming involved in all the Church's affairs;
  • He wrote to the Persian King Sapor in favor of Christians in his realm, and supported the Christian kingdom of Armenia;
  • He did not enroll among the catechumens, but read the Scriptures and organized religious ceremonies for the Christian community in his palace;
  • He made Sunday a civil holiday and freed Christian soldiers for religious services (Codex Theodosianus 2:8:1);
  • the majority of his citizens were pagans, so he retained the office of pontifex maximus and continued the Sol Invictus and lux perpetua legends on his coinage and monuments which were expressions of the eternal quality of the Roman state;
  • the Sol Invictus had been adopted in a Christian sense as demonstrated in the Christ as Apollo-Helios in a mausoleum (c. 250) discovered beneath St. Peter's in the Vatican;
  • In a letter to the Orient, Constantine spoke of his experience of God's providence (Vita 2:24-42) and claimed a divine vocation to protect Christians in the Orient and the West; in a second letter he exhorted pagans to convert to "God's holy law" but proclaimed religious liberty for all (2:48-60);
  • In an appendix to book 4 of the Vita, Eusebius edited an Oration to the Assembly of Saints that he attributed to Constantine; its authenticity is disputed, but it is a model of contemporary Christian apologetics;
  • Constantine refused religious honors to the Roman Senate on the anniversaries Decennalia and Vicennalia (316 and 326);
  • He leveled a cemetary on Vatican hill and built a vast martyr basilica on the spot where tradition located the grave of St. Peter the apostle;
  • He induced his mother Helena to become a Christian, and she built a church on her property near the Lateran known as the Sessorianum, later called Santa Croce in Gerusalemme;
  • He constructed the churches of St. Agnes, St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls, and Sts. Peter and Marcellinus in conjunction with Helena's mausoleum;
  • A double church was built at Treves and in Antioch (328), an octagonal edifice close to the imperial palace;
  • He aided in the construction of the Nativity basilica in Bethlehem (Vita 3:41-43), the Eleona church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives (3:41-43), the basilica on the site of Abraham's sacrifice (3:51-53), and the basilica of the Resurrection in Jerusalem (3:25-40) to whose dedication he called the bishops from a synod at Tyre (4:43-46) in 335;
  • In 330 he wrote to Eusebius, asking him to have fifty copies of the Christian scriptures (both Testaments in Greek) prepared for use by the churches in the city; the fifty copies were made on good parchment by trained scribes, the emperor would defray the entire cost and authorize use of two public carriages to transport the copies to Constantinople; Eusebius proceeded without delay and the scriptures were prepared as specified and sent in "magnificent and elaborately bound volumes" (Vita or Life of Constantine 4:36-37; see F.F. Bruce The Canon of Scripture, page 203).

To summarize: Constantine the Great converted to Christianity in 312 which is "now almost universally acknowledged"; painted the Christian monogram on his army's shields; opposed the persecution of Christians; practiced forbearance toward, signed an edict of religious tolerance for, and issued mandates restoring rights and property to Christians; published decrees giving religious freedom to all; built several Christian basilicas and churches; restored Christian property; aided the bishops and became involved in all affairs of the Church; supported Christian communities, parishes, kingdoms; held Christian synods and councils; a statue of himself and silver coins were decorated with the Christian monogram; he read the Scriptures and organized Christian religious ceremonies; made Sunday a civil holiday; freed Christian soldiers for religious services; the "Sol Invictus" was adopted in a Christian sense; he spoke of God's providence; claimed divine protection for Christians; an Oration to the Assembly of Saints attributed to Constantine is a model of contemporary Christian apologetics; refused religious honors to the Roman Senate; induced his mother Helena to become a Christian; asked that fifty copies of the Christian scriptures in "magnificent and elaborately bound volumes" be used by the churches in the city.

If the man was a pagan, he was a very bad pagan.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia (NCE, 2003, 2nd edition) article concludes:

“As a colleague, then as guide of the bishops, the emperor felt he had a vocation to lead all men to unity in honoring the divinity within the Christian Church (Vita 2:65:1). In the Scriptures, Constantine found justification for his idea of the Church as a peace-bringing house of truth, the unifying element of the state as a kingdom of God (Vita 2:56,67). He respected the decisions of the bishops in synod, particularly the decrees of the Council of Nicaea, and considered all further theological dispute as nugatory. Hence his policy hardened toward pagans and Jews as time wore on. Although he employed pagan terms in speaking of the 'divinity,' 'the highest god,' and 'divine providence,' he had in mind the unique God of the Christians, the creator and judge of all who saved fallen man through His Son....In dealing with heretics and in his policy toward pagans, he exercised astute forbearance. There can be no doubt that he was a convinced Christian, whatever may have been the limitations in his understanding of the full significance of that faith.” (NCE, volume 4, page 182)

Constantine was not the first Pope. Here are the actual popes (the bishops of Rome) of the Catholic Church during the life of Emperor Constantine ( Name, Dates [A.D.] )

  • St. Felix I, 269-274
  • St. Eutychian, 275 - 283
  • St. Caius, 283 - 296
  • St. Marcellinus, 296-304
  • St. Marcellus I, 308-309
  • St. Eusebius, 309-311
  • St. Meltiades, 311-314
  • St. Sylvester I, 314-335
  • St. Marcus, 336-336
  • St. Julius I, 337-352

See also The Title Pontifex Maximus by Mark Bonocore
and The Primacy of Peter, the Papacy, and Apostolic Succession

Recommended Books and Articles:

Life of Constantine by Eusebius of Caesarea (Oxford Univ Press, 1999)
Constantine and the Christian Empire by Charles M. Odahl (Routledge, 2004)
The Emperor Constantine by Hans A. Pohlsander (Routledge, 2004)
Constantine: History, Historiography, and Legend by Samuel Lieu and Dominic Montserrat (Routledge, 1998)
Constantine the Great: The Man and His Times by Michael Grant (Scribners / Macmillan, 1994)
Constantine and Eusebius by Timothy D. Barnes (Harvard Univ Press, 1981)

Constantine (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Constantine (Wikipedia)


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