Who was Constantine?
Who was Constantine?
Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus (272-337), known as Constantine Constantine the Great, was emperor of the Roman Empire from the year 306 to 337. In history he passed as the first Christian emperor.
He was the son of a Greek official, Constantius Chlorus, who in the year 305 was named Augustus, instead of Galerius, and a woman who became a saint, Helen. When Constantius Chlorus died in 306, Constantine was acclaimed emperor by the local troops, amid a difficult political situation, aggravated by the tensions with the old emperor Maximiano and his son Magêncio. Constantine first defeated Maximian in 310 and soon afterwards Magenius, at the Battle of Ponte Mívio, on October 28, 312. One tradition claims that Constantine before that battle had a vision. Watching the sun, which was revered by the heathen, he saw a cross and ordered his soldiers to put on the shields the monogram of Christ (the first two letters of the Greek name superimposed). Although he continued to practice pagan rites, since that victory proved to be favorable to Christians. As Licinius the Emperor in the East, he promulgated the so-called “Milan edict” (see next question) favoring freedom of worship. Later the two emperors met and in 324 Constantine defeated Licinius and became the only Augustus of the empire.
Constantine carried out numerous reforms of an administrative, military and economic type, but was more prominent in political-religious dispositions, especially in those that would lead the Christianization of the empire. It promoted adequate structures to preserve the unity of the Church, to preserve the unity of the state and to legitimize its monarchical configuration, without excluding other personal religious motivations. Beside these ecclesiastical administrative arrangements, he took action against heresies and schisms. In order to defend the unity of the Church, it fought against the schism caused by the Donatists in North Africa and called the Council of Nicaea (see question: What happened at the Council of Nicaea?) To resolve the trinitarian controversy originated by Arius. In 330 it changed the capital of the empire of Rome to Byzantium, that called Constantinople, which supposed a rupture with the tradition, in spite of wanting to emphasize the aspect of Christian capital. As was often the case, he was only baptized shortly before his death. The one who baptized him was Eusebius of Nicomedia, bishop of Aryan tendency.
Among the shortcomings of his mandate – common in the time in which he lived – can not be denied, for example, those concerning his capricious and violent character; nor can it be denied that he has given freedom to the Church and favored his unity. But it is not historically certain that, to achieve this, Constantine determined among other things the number of books that the Bible should have. In this long process that ended much later, the four Gospels were long the only ones the Church recognized as true. The other “Gospels” were not suppressed by Constantine, for they had already been proscribed as heretics dozens of years earlier.
DE LA TOREE FERNÁNDEZ, J. and GARCÍA Y GARCÍA, A. “Constantine I, the Great” in Great Encyclopedia Rialp vol. VI (2nd ed.), Rialp, Madrid, pp. 309-312.
FORLIN PATRUCO, M. “Constantine I” in Patristic Dictionary and of Christian Antiquity (ed. By A. di Berardino), Sígueme, Salamanca 1991, pp. 475-477.
ADOLFI, A. Costantino tra paganesimo e cristianesimo, Laterza, Bari, 1976.