Secularization of the Church Through Constantine

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Samantha Rough
Rome – Spring 2013
Susan Pitchford
Essay 1

Christianity: Started From the Bottom, Now We’re Here

“It is a bitter thought, how different a thing the Christianity of the world might have been, if the Christian faith had been adopted as the religion of the empire under the auspices of Marcus Aurelius instead of those of Constantine.” John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

People of the Christian religion went through numerous trials, such as mass persecutions, being executed and imprisoned, edicts banning Christian practices such as freedom to worship and their churches being destroyed, until Constantine and the Edict of Milan, “an agreement to treat Christians benevolently” (Cross and Livingstone, 1974), helped Christendom move from something criminalized to one of the world’s largest religions. After the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312, where Constantine had his vision that later led to his conversion, Christians would start to see positive dramatic change under Constantine in the seat of emperor. From the year 313, when Christianity became legalized under Constantine’s rule, to the year 380, when Christianity became the official state religion (Cross and Livingstone, 1974), Christians were no longer persecuted which meant that they were now allowed to freely worship and publically express their beliefs. Large, ornate churches were built which enabled Christians to come together for worship but at the same time changed the nature of worship from something personal and intimate to something very public. Christians were now being furthered socially by the church, being given different political and administrative jobs with better benefits, eventually leading to the line between church and state constantly diminishing over time.

These changes were, in large part, responsible for the survival of Christianity throughout the 4th century.

After Constantine’s conversion, members of the church no longer had to hide their faith or live in fear of being killed or imprisoned for what they believed in. Christians no longer had to hide the bodies of their dead loved ones underground in catacombs on the outskirts of Rome to avoid torture; instead they could now receive a proper burial above ground. Christians were now safe from persecution, which then opened up positions for work in the government and military, giving them a chance to work for their money and up their status in society (Meyendorff, 1989) This helped the Christian movement soar, going from an subterranean and even criminally prosecuted religion to one of continuously heightening power within the Roman society. The legalization caused enough conversion that Christianity became the dominant religion, and the compensation was no longer as severe (Stark 1997). That is to say, since all of these things were now possible under Constantine’s ruling, Christians no longer had to worry about being killed in spite of their faith and more people were more likely to convert to the Christian religion knowing that they could provide for themselves and their families.

However, now that the main focus of persecution was taken off of Christians, the fear that Christians felt before the legalization was now being imposing on those who had imposed that fear just years before. Pagans were now the ones that were killed for their practices, their temples burned to the ground and laws were established to get rid of the Pagan ways of life just as the Christian tradition was before they came into power. (McLachlan 2010)

When Constantine became emperor, social reforms had to be made. Mass quantities of people flocked to the Christian religion, among them were members of the aristocracy and people of higher social status, which eventually helped Christianity grow as a strong political entity (Gonzalez 1996). He supported the Church financially by exempting the clergy from certain taxes, which encouraged more people to want to join the...
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