This Day in History: July 25th

This Day In History: July 25, 306

emperor-constantineConstantine the Great is probably best remembered for being the first Christian Roman emperor, but he was a ruler of historical significance for other reasons as well.

When Constantius was appointed as one of the two caesares, or junior emperors, of the Tetrarchy in 293, his son Constantine went to Nicomedia to serve in the court of Diocletian as his father’s heir presumptive. In 305, the Augustus Maximian abdicated, leaving Constantius as the head honcho in Rome.

Only a year later, Constantius fell ill while fighting the Picts and Scots in Britain, and he died in York, England on July 25, 306 C.E. His son was at his side, and the general Crocus along with the troops loyal to his father’s memory and wishes proclaimed Constantine an Augustus (“Emperor”).

But Constantine couldn’t just sit on his laurels. He would have to fight for the title against other factions, including Maxentius, the son of Maximian. In 312, Constantine met Maxentius and his men on the Tiber River at the Milven Bridge.

According to legend, before the battle Constantine had a vision assuring him he could take the field, but only under the protection of a Christian symbol. Constantine had the emblem he had supposedly seen in his vision painted on his soldier’s shields and, sure enough, they won the battle and triumphantly entered Rome.

Constantine was now, without question, the Western emperor. He used his new-found power to issue the Edict of Milan, which decriminalized Christianity and returned confiscated property to the church.

For a few years, Constantine was content to cool his heels as Licinius ruled as the Eastern Roman Emperor. But by 324 C.E., after Licinius reneged on his former agreement not to oppress Christians, Constantine’s patience had run out and after a series of battles, Licinius was defeated. Finally, Constantine was sole ruler of a reunited Roman Empire. To celebrate, he established the city of Constantinople.

As before, he continued to use his reign to further the interests of the Christian Church. He arranged and presided over the council of Nicaea in 325 C.E., which established certain Christian doctrine – such as nailing down the matter of the divinity of Christ.

Constantine also tended to more earthy matters such as his army, which underwent a complete overhaul during his tenure. These changes made facing such foes as the Sarmatians and Visigoths a much easier proposition.

The Emperor was in Helenopolis planning an attack on Persia when he became ill. Constantine decided to head back to Constantinople, but his condition worsened and he had to abort his journey. He had yet to be baptized in the Christian faith – no-one was quite sure why – but underwent the rite on his deathbed.

Constantine the Great died on May 23, 337 C.E at approximately age 57 near Nicomedia, where he had spent so much time early in his career. He was eventually made a saint of the Christian Orthodox Church.

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  • Quoting from the article: “… before the battle, Constantine had a vision assuring him he could take the field, but only under the protection of a Christian symbol.”

    As an Internet reference work states: “[Early Christian historian] Eusebius of Caesarea recounts that Constantine and his soldiers had a vision of the Christian God promising victory if they daubed the sign of the Chi-Rho, the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek, on their shields.” The “Chi-Rho” (or “Labarum”) has always been a common symbol in the ancient, original Christian churches (Catholic and Orthodox), and it can be seen here:

    Quoting from the article again: “As before, he continued to use his reign to further the interests of the Christian Church.”

    It would be good for readers to know that the only body that was called the “Christian Church” at the time of Constantine — and, in fact, until about 1050 A.D. — was also called the “Catholic Church.” The Christian Church was known as the Catholic [i.e., worldwide/universal] Church at least as far back as 107 A.D., when the soon-to-be-martyred bishop, St. Ignatius of Antioch, used that term in writing a letter that still exists today — although the term, Catholic Church, may have been used even for decades before the year 107.

    Near the year 1050, what are now called the Eastern Orthodox Churches (composed of many local “churches,” headed by true bishops in nations east of Italy) definitively separated themselves from the Catholic Church, because of an unwillingness to remain under the pope’s ultimate authority. [For almost a millennium now, the two authentic, original segments of the Christian Church have been searching for a way to reunite. It may happen in the 21st Century, or it may not.]

    Quoting again from the article: “[Constantine] was eventually made a saint of the Christian Orthodox Church.”

    The quoted sentence has two errors:

    (1) A church [whether Catholic or Orthodox] cannot “make” someone a saint. It can only recognize the sainthood of a person. Catholicism refers to the event of official recognition as the saint’s “canonization.” Although only the Christians within Eastern Orthodoxy speak of a “St. Constantine,” Catholics would have no trouble believing that Constantine became a “saint” — with his soul going directly to heaven upon his death — IF he truly was baptized at the very end of his life (something that was disputed by those who believed that he was baptized earlier in life). Catholics believe that the sacrament of Baptism not only removes the deprivations associated with “original sin,” but also forgives all personal sins committed earlier in life.

    (2) The term, “Christian Orthodox Church” — used in the above article — is rarely (if ever) used by anyone within Orthodoxy. Instead (as stated by an Internet reference source), the following terms are used: “The Eastern Orthodox Church, … also referred to as the Orthodox Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Orthodoxy,” which, after the Catholic Church, “is the second largest Christian Church in the world.”

    In reality, Eastern Orthodoxy is not just one, perfectly united “Church” with a single leader (such as a pope or “presiding bishop”), but is instead a large group of autonomous, autocephalous (self-headed) “local churches,” each led by a separate bishop, who have tried their best to remain in union with each other and to cling to their ancient doctrines. Unlike the Catholic Church, which has had several Ecumenical Councils convoked by its popes during the past millennium, the Eastern Orthodox churches, lacking a single head bishop, have never been able to agree to convoke a council since they separated themselves from the Catholic Church.