Nicaea and the World

The treasures of pagan temples were confiscated and used to pay for the construction of new Christian churches.  Jews were forbidden from owning Christian slaves. 

Constantine continued to reorganise his army, quickly moving to control trouble spots.  Gothic presence continued to increase and this was a great concern.    

The Emperor finally came to the conclusion that Rome had ceased to be a practical city from where he could take effective control over his frontiers and planned to move the capital.  He set up court in a few different places, but decided on the ancient Greek city of Byzantium. Immediately he began formulating his plans.  26  

In AD324, the church was not at peace with itself.   Arianism was growing fast and Constantine did not want another schism. 

It was his practise that when churches in different regions had a disagreement, he called his ministers to a conference.  The Emperor was not above sitting with them in their meeting, and even taking part in their discussions.  He took charge of everything that concerned the peace of God. Those who knew him well saw him as calm, conciliatory and sound in judgment.  He delighted in harmony and agreement, and did not look kindly on the unyielding and dogmatic.  27

During the next months, Constantine tried to help church leaders find common ground on the contentious aspects of Christian doctrine. Especially did he try to deal with the problem of Arius and his doctrine of a begotten Son.  It was becoming more popular by the day.  

It was not as if Constantine knew nothing about the teachings of Arius.   His sister Constantia was an Arian and his son Constantius.  His close friend and advisor, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, was an Arian, also his friend Eusebius Bishop of Nicomedia.

Constantine wanted peace among the warring parties.

Suddenly an idea came to his mind.  He would convene a council of the church from all parts of the globe.  It would be ecumenical, not only from the West, but the East too.

He said it sprang ‘by a divine inspiration’.  He may have been advised  by  the  clergy,  but  he  claims  the  idea  was  his  own ‘under God’.   Years later it was suggested Sylvester, bishop of Rome had combined with him in convening the assembly, but there is no evidence for this assertion.     

The council would begin in early Summer of AD325 when it was suitable for travelling.   The city eventually chosen was Nicaea, twenty miles from the Emperor’s residence in Nicomedia.   ‘I shall be at hand as a spectator and participator in what is done’, stated Constantine. 

The city was easily accessible for travellers from every direction.    ‘Nicaea has a healthy climate’, added the Emperor.

But Nicaea was more than pleasant weather.  The name Nicaea (Nikaea or Nike in Greek) means ‘victory’, ‘conquest’, or ‘conquer’, an appropriate name for a council the Emperor thought would be a victory over all disputes.  It was also the very word that had been used in his vision of the cross prior to Milvian Bridge -- νίκη ‎:  níkē – conquer!

Thus Nicaea became ‘the city of victory’ for the Emperor.

The timing was perfect as this would be the 20th year of Constantine’s reign. 

It was a custom that every ten years some-thing important should take place.  On the 10th year of his reign he made his son Constantine a colleague with him in the Empire. In this 20th year (AD325), he would make his son Constantius a colleague. 

The Arian controversy had been raging for five years prior to AD325, but Constantine had been unable to deal with it.  Other matters occupied his time.  It was now one year since his defeat over Lucinius, and the Council of Nicaea would be part of his victory celebration.

Constantine hurriedly began to write very respectful letters to 2000 bishops around the world telling them to come promptly to Nicaea for a council.  28  

Mail services were good.  The great lines of communication were like roads, straight as arrows, from one extremity of the Empire to the other.    A few years later records reveal 200 post stations and 92 inns, each a half a day’s journey apart.

How many bishops will respond?

What will be the result of the council?

These were the questions Constantine asked himself as he mailed the letters.

Travelling would not be easy, either in public carriage or on the back of a horse or mule.  The inns would probably not be able to accommodate all the travellers;  many may have to sleep under the stars.   No doubt travelling would be too much for the older men.

The Emperor was excited and full of hope.

Perhaps his dream for the whole church to be united in the Faith would be achieved.


Chapter 4

Emperor Constantine

Constantine was born in AD272 to Helena and Flavius Valerius Constantius I, an army officer in the Eastern Empire.  Their son was raised and educated at the court of Diocletian in Nicomedia. 1   

In AD303, Diocletian began his great persecution.  Constantine was 31 years old and he saw firsthand the fierce persecution of Christians.  It made a strong impression upon his mind.

In AD304, Constantius requested his son’s presence from Galerius who ruled under Diocletian, and Constantine joined his father.  They crossed together to Britain and fought a campaign in the north.  A year later, Constantius died and Constantine became a colleague of Galerius.  2   

It was Galerius, the adopted son of Diocletian, who first induced Diocletian to turn persecutor, and together they resolved to destroy Christianity throughout the Empire.  It was a cruel and horrible plan and many thousands of Christians suffered painful deaths.

Two years after the persecution began, Diocletion became very ill and abdicated. 3  The fierce persecution continued under Galerius.

In AD311, Galarius also became very ill with a loathsome disease.  Seeking to appease the God of the Christians, he issued an Edict of Toleration.  It bore his own name and the names of his colleagues Licinius, Maximinus II and Constantine. Maximinus, ruler of Egypt, refused to sign.  4   

The Edict said in part, “… we have hitherto endeavoured to restore a universal conformity to the ancient institutions and public order of the Romans;  and in particular it has been our aim to bring back to a right disposition  the Christians who had abandoned the religion of their fathers…

Many of them were brought to order through fear, while many were exposed to danger… since we have observed that they now neither show due reverence to the gods nor worship their own God, we therefore, with our wonted clemency in extending pardon to all, are pleased to grant indulgence to these men, allowing Christians the right to exist again and to set up their places of worship provided always that they do not offend against public order.”  5

This brought a partial end to the persecution of Christians.  

Galarius died in May AD311 and  Diocletian died in December that same year.  Maximinus continued the persecution until August of AD313 when he died.

Constantine became a general in the army.  He fought and won battles in Turin and Verona.  Having had great success, he then began to wonder if he should risk marching on Rome.   Emperor Maxentius had four times as many troops, but they were undisciplined and inexperienced.  

Constantine made his decision and left for Rome. 

The day was beginning to decline and the young general bowed his head in prayer. He had observed that the gods of the Romans were powerless, but the God of the Christians, and of his father, claimed to be the supreme God. 

When he had concluded his prayer, he saw in the sky a cross of light shining above the sun, with the Greek words, ‘en toútōi níka’, which literally meant, ‘In this, conquer’ or ‘In this victory’.  6   

Constantine was filled with amazement.  The whole army had witnessed the vision and his soldiers were asking, What does it mean?’ 

During the night Constantine had a dream.  In the morning, he told his soldiers, ‘Jesus appeared to me during the night and we are to go forward under the sign of the Christian cross.   Prepare to conquer - en toútōi níka - under the sign of the true God.’

The Chi Rho            675px-Anastasis_P10_Christiano_Inv31525

A statue was erected at the same time showing Constantine himself holding aloft a cross and the legend, ‘By this saving sign I have delivered your city from the  tyrant.’  11 

In AD313, Licinius defeated Maximinus, leaving Licinius as sole ruler of the East.  Constantine, ruler of the West, made it clear that he was still the senior Augustus of the Roman Empire.  He ordered Licinius to return all confiscated property to the Christian Church in the Eastern provinces. 

Constantine then issued the Edict of Milan in his own name and that of Licinius, which granted further liberties to the Church.  It said in part,  “… we decided that of the things that are of profit to all mankind, the worship of God ought rightly to be our first and chiefest care, and that it was right that Christians and all others should have freedom to follow the kind of religion they favoured;  so that the God who  dwells in heaven might be propitious to us and to all under our rule.”  12  

No sooner did Constantine lift the Church into partnership with the State than vast wealth began to flow into ecclesiastical hands. “The Emperor himself lavished on the hierarchy and clergy rich endowments of both movable and immovable property. His lay subjects emulated the example of their prince in filling the Church coffers to overflowing.” 13  He handed over the Lateran palace to the bishop of Rome and Bishop Miltiades took it up as his residence. 

The accumulation and handling of such large resources called for elaborate statutory enactments and customary law.   One policy shaped the entire legislative and judicial program — the policy of vesting all lands and chattels in the hierarchy with supreme and ultimate custody and control of the Roman pontiff.     

Canon 1495 makes this declaration of the law:  “Sec. 1. The Catholic Church and the Apostolic See have the inherent right, FREELY AND INDEPENDENTLY OF ANY CIVIL POWER, to acquire, retain, and administer temporal goods for the pursuit of their own ends.

Sec. 2. Individual churches and other corporations established as such by ecclesiastical authority are also endowed with the right of acquiring, retaining, and administering their own property, according to Canon Law.”  14

The Florentine poet Dante wrote in his poem ‘The Inferno’, “Alas! Constantine! What evil you bore into the world. Not by your conversion but by your dowry, Which the first rich father took from you.”  15 

“As the wealth and political power of the Roman bishops increased, so did the position and influence of the cardinals…. Those cardinals stationed at the Vatican brought wealth and prestige with them from their families, or they acquired them once they took office from its emoluments.

Outside Rome, it was the same story.  Landed property, liquid wealth, military force, family connections, and sometimes the mere acquisition of what were called prince bishoprics, conferred princely power, and with it always came as association with political and economic fortunes of the land they inhabited.” 16

Constantine became more and more involved with the church, doing much for its benefit.  

His connection certainly had political interests, but his letters show that he believed God would bless him.  

The Emperor began construction of St Peter’s basilica on a site that  once  was Nero’s  circus.   It  took  30  years  to  build  and lasted over one thousand years.  17 

A problem had arisen with the Donatists, causing a schism that split the African Church.  Donatus was a fierce African.  His solution to all opposition was ‘Kill them’.   He refused to believe the Emperor and his authorities could become Christians.  

“The church is to be pure and spotless for the chosen few. Sin and riches are identical”, he said.    18

Donatus refused to allow those who had lapsed during persecution to re-join the church. He was adamant. “The renegades can never be saved.” 19 Various councils were held, but the problem continued. 

In AD314 the Donatists appealed to Constantine.  He summoned the bishops to a council at Arles where the issue and other theological disputes would be discussed. The Emperor hoped it would solve the schism, but it was fruitless. 

In AD317,  Donatist buildings were confiscated,  but the people  of Carthage refused to surrender their churches.  Troops were sent to remove them. After a period of persecution, which was encouraged by Bishop Hosius of Cordova, Constantine relented and said the Donatists should be tolerated and left alone. 20 

In AD321, Constantine was approached by the bishops of the West demanding he issue a law for the observance of Sunday. He complied with this request and passed Sunday legislation, a civil law for the whole Empire. 

It said in part, “Constantine, Emperor Augustus, to Helpidius: On the venerable day of the sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops  be  closed.  In the country,  however,  persons  engaged  in  agriculture  may  freely and lawfully

continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not so suitable for grain-sowing or for vine-planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations, the bounty of heaven should be lost…” 21 

Sozomen wrote in his history, “… the observance of the day termed the Lord’s day, which the Jews call the first day of the week,  and which the Greeks dedicate to the sun,  (Constantine) commanded that no judicial or other business should  be transacted  on this day, but that  God should be served with prayers and supplications.” 22

Constantine also ordered that on Sunday “there should be a suspension of business at the courts and in other civil offices, so that the day might be devoted with less interruption to the purposes of devotion.” 23    He forbade all military exercises on Sunday.

Bishop Sylvester I of Rome stated after the law was passed, “If every Sunday is to be observed joyfully by the Christians on account of the resurrection, then every Sabbath on account of the burial is to be an execration [loathing or cursing] of the Jews.” 24

Constantine could not have understood the prophetic implications of Sunday laws in the future, nor did he know the corruption to which the bishops of the West were heading.

The Eastern and Western Empires continued to be hostile towards each other, and in AD323, a reason was found by Constantine to start a new civil war against Lucinius.   A year later, he was victorious.   Lucinius was imprisoned and later executed.   Constantine was now the sole Emperor of the entire Roman world.  25  

Soon after his victory, Constantine outlawed all pagan sacrifices. 

     Old engraving Two Republics 1891.

It is probable Constantine saw the Chi-Rho, as it is on his shields and military standards. The Chi-Rho (pronounced kee-roe) is a monogram of chi (Χ) and rho (Ρ) as the first two letters of the Greek Khristos (Christ).  7  

Emperor Maxentius left Rome to meet Constantine at the Tiber River near Milvian Bridge.

Although heavily outnumbered, Constantine easily defeated the Roman Emperor.   Maxentius fled back to Rome.   Before reaching the city, he fell into the Tiber River and drowned.

Constantine immediately assumed complete control of the Western Empire, becoming the dominant figure.    He regarded himself as ‘an Emperor of the Christian people’, and saw his victory as a direct result of the vision.  The new Emperor offered a prayer with his soldiers.  8  

“We acknowledge Thee the only God; we own Thee as our king and implore Thy succor. By Thy favor have we gotten the victory; through Thee are we mightier than our enemies. We render thanks for Thy past benefits and trust Thee for future blessings. Together we pray to Thee and beseech Thee to preserve to us, safe and triumphant, our Emperor Constantine and his pious sons.”  9

The Senate welcomed him warmly. 

After Constantine’s victory in AD312, the two remaining Emperors, Licinius and Maximinus II, could do little else but agree to his demand to be the senior Augustus.  In this position he ordered Maximinus to cease his persecution of Christians. 

The triumphal arch in Rome was erected in honour of Constantine and his defeat over Maxentius.   Some say it does not mention the vision, but it does ascribe his victory to the ‘inspiration of the Divinity’, as well as Constantine’s own genius.10   

                              Constantine I               Chris Domey --