Constantine & Christianity — It was just politics
Updated: Jan 27
It all starts with accounts that describe Constantine’s vision, as that is where we get our information from. According to Eusebius in ‘Life of Constantine’, in which Eusebius writes a favourable biography of the emperor, Constantine sees something in the sky.
In 312 C.E. at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, which was essentially a battle between Emperor Constantine and Maxentius over the throne of Rome, Constantine looked up to the sun before the battle and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the Greek words - "Ἐν Τούτῳ Νίκα" meaning 'in this sign, conquer', which is often rendered in to the Latin version - "in hoc signo vinces", which means in this sign, you will conquer. Constantine then commanded his troops to adorn their shields with a Christian symbol, 'chi-rho' (XP) which are the first two letters of ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ which is Greek for Christos.
Eusebius says that Constantine didn't know which God gave him the sign in the sky, but that he was so moved by his vision of the cross that he vowed to worship no other God than the one represented to him. He then began to seek out those who might help him to learn more about what he has seen. We are told the priests of God became his close advisers, and he believed that it was his duty to honor the God who had appeared to him in his original vision and it is known, or again, we are told that Bishops regularly traveled with Constantine, those being Maternus from Cologne, Recticius from Autun, Marinus from Arles, and Ossius from Cordoba.
From what we read, we are given to understand that these Bishops made Constantine confidently believe that Jesus was the only begotten son of God and that the cross he had seen in his vision was a symbol of Jesus' triumph over death.
However, because Lactantius, a tutor to Constantine's son, states that in Gaul, before setting out towards Rome, Constantine and his army saw a great cross in the sky and underneath was written, "In this sign, conquer", that means that these accounts contain discrepancies.
Eusebius says that Constantine saw this vision just before the Battle began, whilst
Lactantius says that Constantine and his army saw a great cross in the sky whilst in Gaul, before setting out towards Rome.
So obviously one of these accounts is wrong or confused, which makes neither one reliable.
But the important factor that comes from this information and time in history, is the fact that it starts the process of making Christianity the official religion of Rome, which it would eventually become in 380 C.E. under Theodosius I.
This then brings me to the reason for this article and the problem that has always been present when researching this period of history, and in particular, Christianity's history. It is no secret that every source of information for this religion's history comes from one direction, Rome. It is believed that Christianity was a fast-growing religion at the time, but it wasn't. The use of the 'Christian' scriptures by Constantine was a great tactical move to unite the disparate Pagan tribes in the Roman Empire under just one belief system, leading to more unity right across the empire.
The sources from around Constantine's time paint highly positive biased arguments for highly complex Christian theology, and describes converts apparently rapidly accepting these ideas, and in so doing, changing their lives for this religious movement.
Even after his supposed 'vision' and then 'conversion', Constantine still retained many pagan attributes and until 321 C.E., his coins were still inscribed with the symbols of Apollo and the sun and he still allowed pagan temples to be built. Now one possible reason for this is because although he had 'converted', the act of forcing others to convert at that time was an unknown practice. However, he did grant toleration to all religions in 313 C.E. with the edict of Milan, but this only benefited Christianity.
But a factor that would have a profound effect on all the subsequent history of the church was that he not only saw himself as its patron but also its governor and the leaders of the church accepted this role, most likely because of the privileged position he gave them.
Constantine would take the understanding that Christianity had a variety of beliefs with no reason to insist that only one was correct, to insisting that only one doctrine could be tolerated. Many problems arose from this change, one of which concerned the theology around the Trinity and the nature of free will and original sin. To tackle these problems that arose, church councils were set up by the emperor, one of which was at Nicaea in 325 C.E.
These councils would debate and vote on various issues, a main issue being the acceptance and influence of the church, which would result in many pagan elements being incorporated into Christian beliefs.
During the fourth century, Christianity, through imperial policy, gained more power, privileges and wealth, with money being obtained through donations, tax exemptions and the looting of temples. It is clear that the success of Christianity as we know it today is mainly due to Constantine's long reign and that his family and all emperors after, apart from Julian, or rather Flavius Claudius Julianus, whose short reign had no real impact, were Christians. But, as the genealogies on this site show, Constantine's family could only have been "Christians" in the political sense, not ‘believer’ sense.
The motivation for Constantine 'converting' to Christianity was clearly not a divine one, because for one thing there is no evidence for it being a divine one, well there is evidence, but that evidence is incredibly unreliable. Constantine's 'conversion' was a purely political decision and his 'divine vision' was created as a 'convincer' story to give a dramatic reason for his 'conversion', a story which could neither be debunked or verified, which seems to be the norm with many "vision" stories regarding religion. He realized that a Christian belief was the route to success which is evident in the fact that he gave official orders which began the feudal system, or in other words, a slave system.
The word 'serf' used for an agricultural laborer who is bound by the feudal system, is just a synonym for slave and when research is carried out in regards to the hierarchy structure of this system, we find the Pope/Emperor at the top, then below that, you have the Cardinals and religious and military individuals. But as you get to the bottom you see the serf (laborer/slave) who is literally an animal, sometimes even a sheep. The official orders given by Constantine, which began the transition of Christianity being made into the state religion, are presented as being separate from the orders that created the feudal system, but they are not separate at all, they are part of the same process.
In reality, Constantine effectively created a feudal system that replaced an existing system which was more democratic.
And we can see this is true when researching a whole class of citizens called the Coloni, who developed ownership rights by essentially cultivating the wildland. They would colonize the land, which is where the expression 'colonization' comes from, and they would then turn the wild land into farming land and they could own the product produced from that land. But Constantine changed this and began to issue official orders which stated that you couldn't own the land or the product of that land, and if the magistrate decided they needed more population in some other area, then your children could be sold. As far as occupations were concerned, it had to be the same occupation as your father and you couldn't change occupations, or ever leave the land.
So what we have here is the beginning of the feudal system, and the Roman Catholic Church is an element of that feudal system, but if we take a step back and think about it carefully, it is obvious how it functioned.
The serf (laborer/slave) was given a religious context for slavery, whereby they were told that the representative of 'Jesus Christ' was basically telling him to accept his hardship. They were told that there was going to be a "worker’s paradise" for the individual once he dies, but in the meantime just do what the magistrates tell you to do and everything will be fine.
Emperor Constantine's ancestors were the authors of the Christian scriptures. Just like his ancestors, to Constantine Christianity was simply a way to control how the slaves thought, so they would think they were doing the work of their God as opposed to following the commands of the emperor. Christianity was not a banned religion for most of the centuries prior to Constantine. As I explain in my book, it wasn't even a religion, it only appears to have been a growing religion because Emperor Constantine's ancestors portrayed it that way in their writings. There are many people who have not understood the argument regarding the purely political reason for Constantine "adopting" Christianity, some feel he would have enjoyed no practical benefit from conversion.
I can understand this viewpoint, because it is coming from a 'current understanding' way of thinking about Christian history. However, my understanding, based on a plethora of research and facts, is coming from the viewpoint that only roman royalty could publish, and the Christian scriptures were written by the families of the Roman and Jewish aristocracy.
Really, this political strategy by Constantine was just a way of starting the process of getting rid of rebellion, which, as history tells us, had been a major problem for the aristocracy of Rome.