Constantine Christianity Before Legalization Term Paper

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Christianity before legalization

Legalization of Christianity

Effects of legalization

Potential negative consequences of legalization

With Constantine legalizing Christianity and Christian worship with the Edict of Milan, Christianity became a recognized religion in the Roman Empire. With his act, Constantine was able to take Christianity out of the illegitimacy it was in and pave the way for its accession to the position of the dominant religion in the world in terms of geographical expansion and number of faithful adepts. In many ways, through legalizing Christianity, Constantine paved the way for the future of the Church.

On the other hand, this recognition also paved the way for a negative future projection of Christianity, that of its intrinsic continuous relationship with royalty and of a moral justification for secular deeds. This has been persistent throughout the Middle Ages, but has had significant reverberations in our days as well (Pope Pius XII lack of response during the Holocaust could have been seen as a potential tacit acceptance of the fact).

This essay will aim to analyze the Christian status before Constantine's act of legalizing Christianity, as a premise of defending the idea that his act paved the way for subsequent Christian evolution. The eventual recognition of Christianity and its path ever since will be subsequently presented, along with the potential negative outcomes that may have arisen.

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The essay will determine that, while the period preceding Constantine's legalization of Christianity, the religion found the resources to consolidate its own faith, characteristics and place among the other religions, with Constantine's recognition, its path opened for a bivalent participation in worldly matters, both for the case of simple individuals, as the case of nation - states.

Christianity before legalization

TOPIC: Term Paper on Constantine Christianity Before Legalization Legalization of Christianity Assignment

Initially, Christianity develops around the personality of Jesus Christ, more as "a movement of people around a single charismatic teacher or preacher." The moment of Jesus Christ's death transforms the movement of people into a sect, because these are individuals that have been able to transform real life happenings into something bearing a religious and mystical meaning. The Christian mythology and cosmogony is this born, along with the main writings of the new religion.

Starting with Paul, the new religion begins to spread in the Mediterranean area, into all areas of the Roman Empire. Many have pointed to the second century AD as the true moment when Christianity defines itself as a religion different from Judaism. Due to the fact that this is a defining century, Christianity is fragmented during this time between different sects and ideas, although it is able to become a unitary voice at the end of this period.

The 3rd century AD is generally referred to as the confrontational century for Christianity. This is because this is the century when the Roman Empire acknowledges the existence of Christianity, as well as the potential danger that this might bring about, and starts its persecution against it. Whether or not the large number of martyrs actually existed or whether they were more used as a subsequent instrument of promoting Christianity to unbelievers remains to be determined, but the fact that the Christian community survives persecution (even just political persecution) leaves it prepared for Constantine's rule and its eventual legalization. From the perspective of the thesis presented, the period of persecutions and confrontation with the Roman Empire authorities is just a preliminary phase in the religion's recognition and in paving the way for its future propagation. From the persecutions, Christianity emerges as a strengthened force and entity, simply because its faith was consolidated during this period rather than being given up on.

Legalization of Christianity small note is worth mentioning on the context of legalizing Christianity. Following the defeat of Maxentius and a conference between Constantine and Licinus, the Edict of Milan was made public in 313. Its publication, however, promoted religious freedom and tolerance to all religions in the Roman Empire, not necessarily only on the Christian religion. The fact that the Christians were relatively numerous at this time and that this Edict gave them the possibility to consolidate their infrastructure (in terms of number of churches) and gain new adepts made Christianity the main beneficiary of the edict, however, it was not the sole one.

The first elements to support the thesis mentioned in the first paragraphs are physical evidences of the way that Christianity began to make its way into the most important areas of the Empire. Previously forced into hiding and facing widespread persecution, at the point of recognition, Constantine protects Christianity against all forms of persecution, draws the Christian cross on the empire flags and celebrates many of the Christian traditions.

Effects of legalization

The effects of legalization are numerous, many of them supporting the idea that the moment of legalization paved the way in which the Christian Church subsequently evolved. First of all, there were significant consequences for the Christian believer as well. With the legalization of Christianity, the Christian now had two allegiances. The first one was, as it had been before, towards his Church and towards the Christian God. However, this had been in existence even before legalization. The moment of legalization brought about a new allegiance, that towards the State.

Indeed, as odd as this might seem, the legalization of Christianity also meant a recognition of the Roman State by the Christians, a situation of dual recognition that in many ways characterizes authority recognition even in our days (the Christian believer will be equal in recognizing both state and church authority). This was the first time when State and Church recognized each other mutually, paving way for future cohabitation.

There is another significant way by which the legalization of Christianity paved the way for the future of the Church and this time it is an internal matter. With the legalization of Christianity, Constantine allowed himself to become a mediator between the numerous sects that began to torment the Church during the 4th century, but also as a regulator. Not necessarily as a direct interventionist, Constantine sets secular laws, such as the confiscation of the property of sectarian bishops, that impact Christian religious life.

However, it is important to point out to the limitations of a perception according to which Constantine's legalization of Christianity entirely determined the subsequent evolution of the Church. During the previous three centuries, the new religion had gradually propagated through the Roman world, reaching already administrative and noble ranks as well. It is likely that, in the absence of Constantine, Constantine would have had to be invented.

The analysis so far has centered on the actual moment of legalization, on the general conditions of the environment at that point and on the immediate consequences. In order to support the initial thesis, the essay will concentrate on the centuries to come following the legalization by Constantine.

Indeed, from that point forward, Christianity seems to take off as a main player on the political scene as well. The first step occurred in 380 AD when, under Theodosius, Christianity was recognized as the official religion of the empire. The legalization had thus paved the way to another great success: if only a couple of decades previously, the religion was persecuted, now it was the official religion of the state.

The moment 380 AD cannot be underestimated in importance. First of all, this is the moment when the Emperor refuses the usual title of Pontifex Maximus and leaves this authority to the Pope in Rome. As previously shown, up to this point the Roman Emperor encompassed all the main functions of the Empire and, in fact, this is where his entire authority came from. At this point, he voluntarily renounces one of equal importance to his military or political and administrative functions. Probably from this point forth, as it will happen in numerous occasions throughout the Middle Ages, the Pope, as head of the spiritual world, will always be able to promote himself as a supreme secular ruler as well, one to which all other ruling entities in the Christian faith will need to be accountable to.

On the other hand, the 380 AD moment also marks a moment when authorities of Christianity can begin their own persecutions. This goes not only towards Pagan religions, but also towards factions of Christianity themselves. Only a couple of decades from official legalization, we see Christianity reorganizing itself in the form of an institution, eliminating factions that have derived from the central path and combating other religions and cults.

At the end of Antiquity and of the Roman Empire, Christianity is more powerful and more prestigious than the Empire itself. There are several useful historical facts to prove this. First of all, Christianity is reaching, at this point, where the Roman Empire cannot. Areas such as Britain or Germany are partially Christianized, while the Roman authority has never extended so far or no longer does.

Second of all, Christianity is prestigious even with the Barbarians: Attila the Hun pulls away from Rome after Pope Leo comes to meet with him, while… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Constantine Christianity Before Legalization.  (2007, October 8).  Retrieved October 27, 2021, from

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"Constantine Christianity Before Legalization."  8 October 2007.  Web.  27 October 2021. <>.

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"Constantine Christianity Before Legalization."  October 8, 2007.  Accessed October 27, 2021.