There are more then a handful of crucial historical events in the life of Constantine that changed the course of History forever. Western and Eastern. My knowledge is stronger of the impact these events played on western civilization.
Here are a few things to reflect on in the life of Constantine.
1. Though the head of the church had initially been in Jerusalem with Christ, Peter, and other apostles. Constantin’s conversion allowed overseers from all over the empire to gather in Rome. They did this first under Constantin’s approval and protection. There was no Pope in Rome early on but their was the Bishop of Rome who had great influence. Another city of great apostolic influence was Ephesus. From the time of Constantine things shifted more towards Rome.
2. Around 324 AD Constantine moved to the Greek city of Byzantium and it was later named Constantinople after the emperor. With the shift of Roman authorities further east and again Constantine welcoming and the church came leaders to Constantinople. The Later split of Eastern Orthodox leaders from those of the Roman Catholic Church in 1,000 AD was preceded by this event early 4th century AD.
3. Constantin’s conversion played a key role in the proclamation of the edict of Milan, which brought religious freedom throughout the Roman Empire. Some have falsely assumed that his conversion brought about the intolerance of pagan belief and worship. Constantine himself did not have a part in that. He was however, more concerned about religious freedom within the church. Heresy within the church was punished with the force of the empire.
4. The first counsel of Nicaea was called by Constantine. For the first time Christian overseers could gather without fear of persecution and death. Instead Constantine himself hosted Bishops from all over the Empire. They could finally narrow down the most beneficial text of the apostles, cut out those more destructive and inconsistent gnostic text that were harmful to their communities and to the view of Christ, his divinity and humanity. The overseers developed the Apostles Creed in order to help the church find unity on the essentials or orthodox views of the church. All other Christian Dogma could be up for debate without fear of being labeled heretical.
5. Because Constantine embraced Christianity himself and protected Christians he took funding that had been given from the empire to pagan temples and gave it to the church. There was a new incentive to converting to Christianity. As the church became the benefactor great wealth it became a target for people looking for an opportunity for power and wealth. Simony became an ongoing trouble with the “high church”. The church was impacted by this sudden 180* from the persecuted church to the church of privileged, influence, and wealth. Not all negative in themselves but this made Christianity attractive for all the wrong reasons.
So that’s just one handful of some basic impacts made by conversion of Constantine on the church and on western civilization. Jesus was clear with his disciples about the issue of kingdom/church authority. His disciples would become the great apostles who’s teachings and writings would be read and processed and help guide the churches witness for centuries. He said to them, “My kingdom is not of this world. Authority is different in my kingdom. If you want to be great you need to serve others. You need to feed my sheep. If you want to be great it wont be like Roman Authority. The leader is not simply in charge, telling those below what they must do, and making blind slaves to human authority. As those in authority you will serve others. You will feed and serve others so that they are better following the will of the father in heaven just as I do.” His apostles later appointed Bishops (overseers), and Deacons (servants). They were caretakers of the body of Christ. They were not commanders or slave drivers. They pointed others to the example of Christ by serving like Christ and laying down their lives for the spread of the gospel.
Constantin’s conversion effected the way that the church viewed its own authority. But scripture remains clear.
His conversion held blessing for organizing the church, centralizing core doctrines of faith, and bringing unity. The very scriptures we have are a result of Gods sovereignty in the lives of flawed men and women. This highlights something I think we can be aware of in our own time. While privileged, freedom, and wealth have served to strengthen the growth of the church it has also invited the insincere to take advantage and use it for personal gain and power. This can hurt the church.
Is the church to refuse wealth, influence, and freedom? Are we to embrace poverty, privacy, and persecution? What happens when we become the benefactor of influence, wealth, and opportunity.
Reflection on Constantin’s conversion and biblical authority is important because it causes us to question ourselves rather then judge dead people. What will we do with authority, influence, opportunity, and wealth?