Flavius Valerius Constantinus, also known as Constantine the Great, is believed to have been born sometime between the years 274 and 288. He was born in Naissus, which is now known as Nisch Serbia, to the Roman officer Constantius Chlorus. Constantius belonged to one of the Leading families of Moesia and his mother was a niece of the capable and soldierly Claudius, the conqueror of the Goths. Constantine’s mother Helena is said to have been the daughter of an innkeeper o Drepanum, and later became known as St. Helena the Christian Empress.
There is, however, nothing to support the assertion sometimes made that she was already baptized before Constantine’s birth and her early influence ultimately brought him to Christianity. Such facts about her life as are known would suggest the contrary- Eusebius of Caecarea declares that Constantine in fact converted his mother. There are, however, other indications that Helena was not a Christian during her son’s early years. At what date Helena did embrace Christianity remains a mystery. Nor can anyone say wither certainty what gods she worshipped during her son’s childhood.
Of Constantine’s early years we know almost nothing, though we may suppose that they were spent in the eastern half of the Empire. In 293 Constantine was betrothed to Fausta the daughter of Madimian, and in this year his father Constantius was made Caesar. Constantine chose to join his father in the west at Boulogne on the expedition against the Picts and before his father’s death he was proclaimed to be his successor. After Constantius’ death Constantine’s troops immediately proclaimed him Caesar in acceptance to his father’s wishes.
During the beginning of Constantine’s reign there were great political complications having to do with multiples of emperors ruling over different territories, which lead to the political movement of many wars between different leading parties. Constantine during this time was known to have the most efficient army, but was busy defending his own frontier and had not taken part in any of the quarrels amongst the different Caesars, until 311. In 311 Caesar Maxentius claimed Constantine to be a tyrant and threatened Constantine’s land with his overwhelmingly large and powerful army.
On Constantine’s march into war against Maxentius to save his land and his self-respect he received a vision. This vision assured him that he would conquer in the sign of the Christ, and his warriors were to carry Christ’s Monogram on their shields. On the day of battle Constantine’s troops prevailed despite their poor numbers against Maxentius’ army, fulfilling the promising vision he had received. Upon winning this battle Constantine became the soul ruler of the west and issued an edict in 313 known as the Edict of Toleration. This edict stated that Christianity was a legal religion and that the persecution of Christians was to be stopped.
The issuing of this edict led to his personal following of the Christian faith. While Constantine held rule in the west, Licinius who had to cede his land to Constantine in 314 after a lost war held the east. After this war Constantine spent the next nine years devoted to correcting the abuses and strengthening the new frontiers he had created. Having again in 323 defeated Licinius and put him to death, Constantine became the permanent sole ruler of the Roman world. He chose during this time to move the ancient Greek city of Byzantium for his capital and in 330 inaugurated it under the name Constantinople.
Christianity in 324 became an official state religion although paganism was not persecuted. Constantine himself preferred the company of Christian bishops to that of pagan priests and was known to frequently invite bishops to court. In his palace chapel he was known to often go and read passages from the Bible and pray, but as a catechumen he was not permitted to assist in or be part of the Eucharistic mysteries. He obeyed as strictly as possible the rules and guidelines of Christianity observing especially the virtue of chastity and strongly respected the virtues of celibacy.
Constantine also sought to elevate morality and punished with great severity the offenses against morals, which were promoted and encouraged among the pagan church. In 325 Constantine held the first Ecumenical Council in Nicea where over 2,000 representatives of the Christian Church attended. Of all the representatives in attendance, only six came from the Western churches. The Nicean Council had been called primarily because of the widespread movement of the Arians and its main function was to solve the problem concerning the nature of Christ.
A bitter controversy raged between the followers of Arius and the followers of Trinitarianism who championed the doctrine of the Trinity. The Eastern churches and their followers were divided between the doctrines of Arianism and Trinitarianism. Finally the Council decided in favor of Trinitarianism and wrote its ideas into what has become the Nicean Creed, the first written creed of the Church, although the one that is used today by the Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican Churches does not date back to the Council. The Council as it sat representing the Church was recognized as the infallible, sovereign power of the Church.
Because of the rapid growth of the city of Constantinople, it was made a Bishopric and was placed directly under the city of Alexandria. The bishop of Rome (or Patriarch of Rome) was acknowledged as the only Patriarch in the West. All the Western churches were to be subject, therefore, to Rome. Constantine held the Council to solve problems between the split of Christianity that was between the East and the West. Unfortunately very few problems were solved, but in light the spread of the faith across the Empire proceeded.
During these times the schism of beliefs between the East and West spread, but eventually led to the final taking of Arianism when Constantine proclaimed to follow the beliefs of Arianism. During his rule Constantine also did much to help children, slaves and women. He created asylums for children within the cities in which they could go if there was no other place for them, but the greater burden of saving the children was placed on the church. Also, the abduction of girls during this time was also strictly prohibited. It was stated that the abductor and those who aided him by influencing the girl were threatened with severe punishment.
Divorce under the rule of Constantine was also made more difficult especially when the demand of separation came from only one side of the party. It was said that a man could put away his wife for adultery, poisoning, pandering and along with divorcing her he would retain her dowry, but if he discarded her for any other reason the man was forbidden to marry again and could not retain his wife’s dowry. By doing this Constantine believed that fewer women would be traded out of marriages for the simple attainment of money and more loyalty would be placed between the couples within their homes and marriages.
Constantine claims the title of ‘Great’ because he single handedly managed to turn the historical path of the world and make Christianity an accepted religion that was brought out of the depths of persecution. He held a mighty strength and brazened desire to bring progression throughout the Roman Empire and create a unity amongst its many territories. His reasoning and desire for equality amongst his people is what drove him into popularity and acceptance amongst those in the empire. History had not been quick to forget his name, because of the progressions he has made and the effects he has had on the path of the world.