Constantine and the Edict of Milan (313 AD)

Jesus Christ Savior | Five centers of Christianity within the Roman Empire – Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Byzantium, and Rome – evolved into Patriarchates after Constantine recognized Christianity in the Edict of Milan in 313 (image: Remains of the Imperial palace of Mediolanum (Milan). The imperial palace (mainly built by Maximianus, colleague of Diocletian) was a large complex with several buildings, gardens, courtyards, for Emperor’s private and public life, for his court, family and imperial bureaucracy by Lorenzo Fratti).

Christians were severely persecuted through three centuries of the Roman Empire, especially at the hands of Nero (64 AD), Trajan (98-117), right up to Diocletian (284-305). But their powerful witness through martyrdom only served to spread Christianity!

Constantine became Emperor of the West in 306. As he was in Gaul at the time, he still had to capture Rome where Maxentius held sway. Prior to battle, he had a dream or vision of Christ on the Cross, a cross of light, and was instructed to ornament the shields of his soldiers with the Savior’s monogram – the Greek letters Χ (chi) and Ρ (rho). He defeated Maxentius at the Battle at Milvian Bridge over the River Tiber and became the sole Roman Emperor in 312, attributing his victory to the Christian God.

Welcome relief from Christian martyrdom came with the Edict of Milan in 313, through which Constantine and Licinius, the Emperor of the East, granted Christianity complete religious tolerance. His defeat of Licinius in 324 made him sole Emperor of the entire Roman Empire, and he moved the seat of the Empire to Byzantium in 330 and renamed it Constantinople.

Constantine considered himself Christian and did much to protect and support Christianity. Sunday as the Lord’s Day was made a day of rest, and December 25 was celebrated as the birthday of Jesus. He restored property that once belonged to Christians. After his mother Helena discovered the True Cross, Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the site of the crucifixion, burial, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. He also built the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of St. Peter in Rome.

Five centers of Christianity within the Roman Empire – Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Byzantium, and Rome – evolved into Patriarchates after Constantine recognized Christianity in the Edict of Milan in 313.

Christianity remain undivided until mankind sought to define the hidden nature of God and the mystery of Christ. A dispute concerning the relation of the Father and the Son arose in Egypt known as the Arian controversy. Constantine called the First Ecumenical Council in 325, known as the Council of Nicaea. The Council declared that the Son was of the same substance – ὁμοούσιος – homoousios – with the Father, and formed the initial Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed was expanded and finalized at the Council of Constantinople in 381 to include homoousios for the Holy Spirit as well, by quoting John 15:26, “the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father,” to form the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (still called the Nicene Creed). The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are important to the Tradition of the Church.

Constantine considered himself both head of state and father of the Christian Churches. The alliance of Church and State in the Roman Empire first seen under Constantine was the beginning of Christendom. 1, 17-22.

Our anonymous author is a physician and a Masters graduate in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio. He teaches Sunday Bible Class at St. James Catholic Church and serves both Pastoral Care and the Medical Staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital.