Constantine the Great

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No man should be denied leave of attaching himself to the rites of the Christians, or to whatever other religion his mind directed him, that thus the supreme Divinity, to whose worship we freely devote ourselves, might continue to vouchsafe His favour and beneficence to us.

Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus (c. 27 February 27222 May 337), commonly known as Constantine I, Constantine the Great, or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine reversed the persecutions of his predecessor, Diocletian, and issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious liberty throughout the empire.

Quotes[edit]

Chi Rho.svg
In this sign thou shalt conquer
  • ἐν τούτῳ νίκα, [transliterated: en toutoi nika]
    • "In this sign thou shalt conquer" or ""In this sign you will conquer", often rendered in its Latinized form: In hoc signo vinces; this motto is said to have been adopted by Constantine after his vision of a Chi Rho sign in the heavens just before his decisive battle with Maxentius, A.D. 312
      • As recorded in the Life of Emperor Constantine [De vita Imperatoris Constantini] by Eusebius
  • Liberis Mentibus
    • With Free Minds"
    • Affirming that "With Free minds all are to worship their Gods", quoted in Defending Constantine : The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom (2010) by Peter J. Leithart

Edict of Milan (313)[edit]

Each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.
Edict of Milan proclaimed religious tolerance in the Roman Empire, issued by Constantine and Licinius - Online English translation - Latin text
  • When we, Constantine and Licinius, emperors, had an interview at Milan, and conferred together with respect to the good and security of the commonweal, it seemed to us that, amongst those things that are profitable to mankind in general, the reverence paid to the Divinity merited our first and chief attention, and that it was proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best; so that that God, who is seated in heaven, might be benign and propitious to us, and to every one under our government. And therefore we judged it a salutary measure, and one highly consonant to right reason, that no man should be denied leave of attaching himself to the rites of the Christians, or to whatever other religion his mind directed him, that thus the supreme Divinity, to whose worship we freely devote ourselves, might continue to vouchsafe His favour and beneficence to us. And accordingly we give you to know that, without regard to any provisos in our former orders to you concerning the Christians, all who choose that religion are to be permitted, freely and absolutely, to remain in it, and not to be disturbed any ways, or molested. And we thought fit to be thus special in the things committed to your charge, that you might understand that the indulgence which we have granted in matters of religion to the Christians is ample and unconditional; and perceive at the same time that the open and free exercise of their respective religions is granted to all others, as well as to the Christians. For it befits the well-ordered state and the tranquillity of our times that each individual be allowed, according to his own choice, to worship the Divinity; and we mean not to derogate aught from the honour due to any religion or its votaries.
    • As translated in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (1886) edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Vol. 7, p. 320
    • Variant translation: When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I Licinius Augustus fortunately met near Mediolanurn [Milan], and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought —, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule. And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, or of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts, may show in all things His usual favor and benevolence. Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation. We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.

Constantine the Great : Letters[edit]

Constantine the Great : Letters edited by Rev. Daniel R. Jennings Book 1 - Book 2 - Book 3
BY keeping the Divine faith, I am made a partaker of the light of truth: guided by the light of truth, I advance in the knowledge of the Divine faith...I profess the most holy religion; and this worship I declare to be that which teaches me deeper acquaintance with the most holy God; aided by whose Divine power, beginning from the very borders of the ocean, I have aroused each nation of the world...through my agency to a far happier state.
How pleasing to the wise and intelligent portion of mankind is the concord which exists among you...what can be more honorable than gladly to acquiesce in the prosperity of all men?... In my own judgment, he whose first object is the maintenance of peace, seems to be superior to Victory herself
  • This is certainly the Will of the Supreme God, who is the Author of this world and its Father, (through whose goodness we enjoy life, look up to heaven, and rejoice in the society of our fellow-men), that the whole human race should agree together and be joined in a certain affectionate union by, as it were, a mutual embrace... Let us...my Brothers, follow after the things that are ours, let us walk in the way of the Commandments, let us by good actions keep the Divine Precepts, let us free our life from errors and with the help of the mercy of God, let us direct it along the right path
    • Letter of Constantine to the Numidian Bishops (330)
  • How pleasing to the wise and intelligent portion of mankind is the concord which exists among you! And I myself, brethren, am disposed to love you with an enduring affection, inspired both by religion, and by your own manner of life and zeal on my behalf. It is by the exercise of right understanding and sound discretion, that we are enabled really to enjoy our blessings...Indeed, amongst brethren, whom the selfsame disposition to walk in the ways of truth and righteousness promises, through the favor of God, to register among his pure and holy family, what can be more honorable than gladly to acquiesce in the prosperity of all men?...O holy faith, who givest us in our Saviour's words and precepts a model, as it were, of what our life should be, how hardly wouldst thou thyself resist the sins of men, were it not that thou refusest to subserve the purposes of gain! In my own judgment, he whose first object is the maintenance of peace, seems to be superior to Victory herself; and where a right and honorable course lies open to one's choice, surely no one would hesitate to adopt it. I ask then, brethren, why do we so decide as to inflict an injury on others by our choice? Why do we covet those objects which will destroy the credit of our own reputation?...Lastly, in accordance with your usual sound judgment, do ye exhibit a becoming diligence in selecting the person of whom you stand in need, carefully avoiding all factious and tumultuous clamor; for such clamor is always wrong, and from the collision of discordant elements both sparks and flame will arise. I protest, as I desire to please God and you, and to enjoy a happiness commensurate with your kind wishes, that I love you, and the quiet haven of your gentleness, now that you have cast from you that which defiled, and received in its place at once sound morality and concord, firmly planting in the vessel the sacred standard, and guided, as one may say, by a helm of iron in your course onward to the light of heaven.
    • Letter of Constantine to the Antiochians (332)
  • By keeping the Divine faith, I am made a partaker of the light of truth: guided by the light of truth, I advance in the knowledge of the Divine faith. Hence it is that, as my actions themselves evince, I profess the most holy religion; and this worship I declare to be that which teaches me deeper acquaintance with the most holy God; aided by whose Divine power, beginning from the very borders of the ocean, I have aroused each nation of the world in succession to a well-grounded hope of security; so that those which, groaning in servitude to the most cruel tyrants and yielding to the pressure of their daily sufferings, had well nigh been utterly destroyed, have been restored through my agency to a far happier state. This God I confess that I hold in unceasing honor and remembrance; this God I delight to contemplate with pure and guileless thoughts in the height of his glory. THIS God I invoke with bended knees, and recoil with horror from the blood of sacrifices from their foul and detestable odors, and from every earth-born magic fire: for the profane and impious superstitions which are defiled by these rites have cast down and consigned to perdition many, nay, whole nations of the Gentile world. For he who is Lord of all cannot endure that those blessings which, in his own loving-kindness and consideration of the wants of men he has revealed for the rise of all, should be perverted to serve the lusts of any. His only demand from man is purity of mind and an undefiled spirit; and by this standard he weighs the actions of virtue and godliness. For his pleasure is in works of moderation and gentleness: he loves the meek, and hates the turbulent spirit: delighting in faith, he chastises unbelief: by him all presumptuous power is broken down, and he avenges the insolence of the proud. While the arrogant and haughty are utterly overthrown, he requires the humble and forgiving with deserved rewards: even so does he highly honor and strengthen with his special help a kingdom justly governed, and maintains a prudent king in the tranquility of peace. I CANNOT, then, my brother believe that I err in acknowledging this one God, the author and parent of all things: whom many of my predecessors in power, led astray by the madness of error, have ventured to deny... For I myself have witnessed the end of those who lately harassed the worshipers of God by their impious edict. And for this abundant thanksgivings are due to God that through his excellent Providence all men who observe his holy laws are gladdened by the renewed enjoyment of peace. Hence I am fully persuaded that everything is in the best and safest posture, since God is vouchsafing, through the influence of their pure and faithful religious service, and their unity of judgment respecting his Divine character, to gather all men to himself
    • Letter of Constantine to Sapor, King of the Persians (333)

Quotes about Constantine[edit]

This great king was the first Roman ruler to champion the Cause of Christ. He spared no efforts, dedicating his life to the promotion of the principles of the Gospel...His blessed name shines out across the dawn of history like the morning star. ~ `Abdu'l-Bahá
Alphabetized by author
It is one thing acting with free will to enter into contest for immortality, another to compel others to do so by force through the fear of punishment. No one should greatly trouble another, rather, everyone should follow what his soul prefers.
The devil is a subtle worm … He failed to get Jesus, but he came again, to get Jesus' church. He came when, through the power of the new revolutionary idea, the Church had won a position of tremendous power in the decaying Roman Empire; and the subtle worm assumed the guise of no less a person than the Emperor himself… ~ Upton Sinclair
  • The first person to establish public clinics throughout the Roman Empire where the poor, the injured and the helpless received medical care, was the Emperor Constantine. This great king was the first Roman ruler to champion the Cause of Christ. He spared no efforts, dedicating his life to the promotion of the principles of the Gospel, and he solidly established the Roman government, which in reality had been nothing but a system of unrelieved oppression, on moderation and justice. His blessed name shines out across the dawn of history like the morning star, and his rank and fame among the world's noblest and most highly civilized is still on the tongues of Christians of all denominations.
  • Constantine declared his own will equivalent to a canon of the Church. According to Justinian, the Roman people had formally transferred to the emperors the entire plenitude of its authority, and, therefore, the emperor’s pleasure, expressed by edict or by letter, had force of law. Even in the fervent age of its conversion the empire employed its refined civilization, the accumulated wisdom of ancient sages, the reasonableness and subtlety of Roman law, and the entire inheritance of the Jewish, the pagan, and the Christian world, to make the Church serve as a gilded crutch of absolutism.
  • Constantine fostered an atmosphere of religious liberty … Since it favored all religions equally, the edict expressed a policy of religious liberty, not toleration...All should try to share the benefits of their religious understanding with others, but no one should force his or her truth upon another. … (for according to Constantine)..."it is one thing acting with free will to enter into contest for immortality, another to compel others to do so by force through the fear of punishment. No one should greatly trouble another, rather, everyone should follow what his soul prefers...This edict is a paradigmatic statement of concord. … Since Constantine hopes that common fellowship and the persuasion "of those who believe" will lead everyone freely to choose (what he called) the straight path, he indicates his wish that religious unity will ultimately evolve.
    • Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, in The making of a Christian Empire: Lactantius & Rome
  • Constantine may have been a lifelong pagan but he was also a pragmatist and in 325 Anno Domini he decided to unify Rome under a single religion, Christianity.… And to strengthen this new Christian tradition, Constantine held a famous ecumenical gathering known as the Council of Nicaea, and at this council the many sects of Christianity debated and voted on well, everything from the acceptance and rejection of specific gospels to the date for Easter to the ministry of sacrament, and of course, the immortality of Jesus.
  • In principle he (Constantine) treated religion as a matter of choice and conscience, an arena free of state meddling...Liberis mentibus — "With Free minds" — all are to worship their Gods. It is a remarkable policy, an unexpected one, since it would have been natural for a ruler after his conversion to Christianity to shift all the previous relations. … Most of the apologists who defended the Church in the early centuries advocated freedom of religion...the latin rhetor Lactantius developed a theological arguement for religious freedom. Lactantius was close enough to Constantine later to serve as tutor to the emperor's sons, and his influence is evident in many ways in Constantine's own writings. …He (Lactantius) asked those who believed in compulsion of religion: "What good can you do, then, if you defile the body but cannot break the will?" It is a surprisingly modern statement, arguing, that religious freedom is the "first freedom", rooted in the very nature of religious life as an exercise of free will...Under Constantine's policy of concord, the Church was flooded with new converts, not through coercion but by force of Imperial example...Eventually, Christian Emperors abandoned Constantinian religious policy... Constantine favoured the Church but gave serious attention to protecting the rights of non-Christians. One cannot help but muse how European history would have been different if Christians had had the patience to let Constantine's original settlement alone.
    • Peter J. Leithart, in Defending Constantine : The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom (2010)
  • In the most deeply significant of the legends concerning Jesus, we are told how the devil took him up into a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time; and the devil said unto him: "All this power will I give unto thee, and the glory of them, for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it. If thou, therefore, wilt worship me, all shall be thine." Jesus, as we know, answered and said "Get thee behind me, Satan!" And he really meant it; he would have nothing to do with worldly glory, with "temporal power;" he chose the career of a revolutionary agitator, and died the death of a disturber of the peace. And for two or three centuries his church followed in his footsteps, cherishing his proletarian gospel. The early Christians had "all things in common, except women;" they lived as social outcasts, hiding in deserted catacombs, and being thrown to lions and boiled in oil.
    But the devil is a subtle worm; he does not give up at one defeat, for he knows human nature, and the strength of the forces which battle for him. He failed to get Jesus, but he came again, to get Jesus' church. He came when, through the power of the new revolutionary idea, the Church had won a position of tremendous power in the decaying Roman Empire; and the subtle worm assumed the guise of no less a person than the Emperor himself, suggesting that he should become a convert to the new faith, so that the Church and he might work together for the greater glory of God. The bishops and fathers of the Church, ambitious for their organization, fell for this scheme, and Satan went off laughing to himself. He had got everything he had asked from Jesus three hundred years before; he had got the world's greatest religion.
    • Upton Sinclair, in The Profits of Religion : An Essay in Economic Interpretation (1918), Book Seven : The Church of the Social Revolution, "Christ and Caesar"
  • 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.

External links[edit]

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