069: HOW EMPEROR CONSTANTINE CORRUPTED CHRISTIANITY

“Welcome to Zingcreed, the Christian/Atheist blog where there are no banned thoughts. In this personal polemic, I think aloud about religion and life. I hope you get something from it!” Peter Turner, M.A. M.Sc.

The fourth century Roman Emperor, Constantine the First, was not a Christian, far from it;  he worshipped the pagan  sun god Mithras. How he came to effectively take over the early followers of Christ and point their church in a totally different direction to that in which it had been travelling is quite a story. It shows the church up as a human institution like any other: looking to survive and increase its fan-base at all costs, even though it meant compromising its principles and selling its soul to the devil.

Constantine destroyed early Christianity of the sort we read about in Acts and the church fathers. In exchange for their support he offered them tax breaks, imperial protection and more in a package the persecuted church hierarchy could not resist. Like the Mafia he made them an offer they couldn’t refuse! Although it was a total betrayal of what Jesus stood for, it could be argued that if they hadn’t caved in, the church would not have survived at all! His influence is still pervasive today. The only Christians to opt out of his brave new church were the persecuted minority sects like the Hussites and the Anabaptists a thousand years later which I have described in some of my “Red Christians” blogs. Leo Tolstoy pointed out the corruption of the mainstream faith in his later writings, and showed a way back to the original message.

So what was the church like before Constantine’s  intervention?

  • the church did not support the state
  • Christians were generally persecuted and excluded from public affairs
  • though some Christians were in the Roman army, the church advocated pacifism and was a force for peace
  • the church was heavily taxed and received no state funds

So what happened?

Constantine’s dream

In 312 C.E., Constantine was about to fight the Battle of Milvian Bridge (over the River Tiber which flows through Rome). The empire was run as two separate halves, and while Licinius was installed as the Emperor of the eastern half, a rival contender Maxentius had to be defeated if Constantine was to headup the western half.  Like his rival, Constantine believed in omens and black magic. In a dream, he saw Jesus who told him to carry the sign of the cross into battle. (A generation earler this would have been outrageous to Romans and blasphemous to Christians.) The cross was duly painted on all his troops’ shields and banners. This may have been the traditional + sign, or more likely the greek letter Χ (chi) the first letter of the word “Christ” in Greek. Most Christians at that time used the symbol of the fish rather than the cross anyway.

Before the battle, Constantine had a second vision; he saw a flaming cross in the sky and the latin words “In hoc signo vinces” (In this sign you shall conquer) – a contradiction of Christianity and unutterable by Jesus himself.

He won and became emperor of the western half of the Roman empire. Henceforth:

  • persecution and taxation of the church stopped. With fellow emperor Licinius he issued the Edict of Milan which legalised Christianity, without making it the official state religion
  • he promoted christianity  and used it to solidify his power, using state funds to establish and control the clergy
  • the church became a major force in everyone’s daily  life
  • the church now supported the state and its wars. God now sanctioned killing! God took sides to help one band of killers triumph over an other, as the church prayed for victory
  • conscientious objectors were excommunicated
  • the prayer day of Mithras (sunday) was declared the official day of prayer and rest for the whole empire
  • he built the church’s 3 greatest centres of pilgrimage which still stand to this day: St Peter’s in Rome, Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

His mother, the Empress Helena, went to the Holy land where she claimed to discover relics of the true cross buried at Calvary. The cross came to replace the fish as the symbol of the religion.

fish

Consider in conclusion the words of two men, the first a Mexican Liberation Theologian and sociologist, the second a leading French communist:
“It is …necessary to approach the image of Christ as a ‘protestor’, a ‘subverter of the economic and political order’, a ‘political liberator.’ Indeed these are the traits that are most fascinating for the so-called implicit Christians  of today, or at least for those men and women who, though outside the visible boundaries of the churches, are committed to liberation and feel somehow near to Christ and Christians, as witness Roger Garaudy:
‘You concealers of  the great hope of which Constantine robbed us, give it back! His (i.e. Jesus’s – P.T.) life and death are ours too! They belong to all of us for whom they have meaning – to all of us who have learned from him that the human being has been created a creator.’  ” (iv) (v)

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Red Christians #8: The Hussites
Red Christians #15: The Anabaptists
‘My Religion’ by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy Quotes
Paul vs Jesus
548: Popes, what popes?

Sources: 
(i) Kurlansky, Mark “Non-violence. The history of a dangerous idea”  Vintage (2006)
(ii) Murray Stuart “The naked Anabaptist. The bare essentials of a radical faith” Paternoster (2011)
(iii) Stephenson, P. “Constantine. Unconquered emperor. Christian Victor” Quercus (2009)
(iv) Vidales, Raúl “How should we speak of Christ today?” in “Faces of Jesus. Latin American christologies” ed J. Bonino Orbis (1977)
(v) Garaudy, Roger ‘Le Monde’ (Paris) 25/12/1969 p.7
Also probably worth reading:-
Carroll, J. “Constantine’s Sword” Houghton Mifflin (2001)
Frend, W.H.C. “The rise of Christianity” Fortress (1984)

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9 comments

  1. […] Elaine “The gnostic gospels” Phoenix (1979) (p. 60) (iv) Pagels, op.cit. p.17 (v) How emperor Constantine corrupted Christianity (vi) Pagels, op.cit. p. 93 […]

  2. Dan Goodale · · Reply

    Constantine was NOT A Christian, as you so aptly described. He corrupted Christianity for his own evil Satan derived purposes, creating a hierarchy of followers of other “Gods” who transformed those “Gods” into the Saints who never existed. They turned pagan rituals and holy days into Pseudo-Christian holidays and melded religion and the government, becoming the first Pope of the Roman Catholic church. Turning those early Christians into worshipers of non-existent Saints and un-Christian like values. It was many years before real Christians were able to break away from this corrupt theocracy and become the Protestants of today.

    1. hi Dan
      Thanks for taking the trouble to reply. You know a lot more about Constantine than i do – I can see I shall have to do more research; your comments were fascinating.

    2. Dan, you are incorrect and misinformed on so many levels. The most glaringly obvious error here is that you claim Constantine was the first Pope. Wrong. Peter was the first Pope and the Catholic Church makes no claim whatsoever that Constantine was ever a Pope in any capacity. I can’t even understand how you could come up with such a major factual error. Furthermore, kindly give us some examples of these “non-existent Saints and un-Christian like values” that you claim were injected into the Catholic Church by Constantine, and held by the Catholic Church I assume to this very day? And in what way did the infinite sects of Bible changing protestants somehow get it right 1000+ years later?

  3. This blither has nothing to do with the incorruptible teachings of the Church. You have no true knowledge of the Catholic Faith or the Church’s history. I suggest an open study of Catholicism to remedy your utter lack of wisdom. Questions are welcome. PAX

    1. Hi Catholic Knights! Thank you for getting in touch with Zingcreed. I’ve never heard of you before. I welcome all comments on my blog. I’m sure I can learn a lot about Catholicism from you.How about telling me about yourselves, your core beliefs, your history etc and perhaps I’ll write a post. Peter Turner

  4. Lets start with your list of supposed ways that Constantine “corrupted” Christianity. Christianity is composed of beliefs that are summed up in the creed: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/credo.htm
    Now what part of your list has anything to do with corrupting those beliefs?

  5. I don’t think Christians today are going to get anywhere if they indulge in catholic vs protestant tribalism. It shows them in a bad light. I’m an atheist and I don’t want your petty squabbles on my blog: it’s both depressing and boring – if you have to attack other Christians, please go and do it somewhere else. The academics whose work I quote, e.g. the members of the Jesus Seminar, work together with their brother and sister Christians from all backgrounds. Finding the historical truth about Christianity and its founders is a passion that unites them, not petty medieval rivalries.

  6. Desiring the truth and calling out lies/error has nothing to do with “petty squabbles” or “medieval rivalries” bud. You may be okay with lies and error, but I’m not, and that’s why I’m a Catholic.

    You are a self proclaimed atheist and have obviously given up searching for truth and probably would not recognize it if it slapped you in the face, but I’ll give you some quick examples of error on your list: “he (Constantine) built the church’s 3 greatest centres of pilgrimage which still stand to this day: St Peter’s in Rome, Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.”

    Constantine lived from 272-337 AD
    Hagia Sophia: Start of construction: 532 AD
    St. Peters in Rome: Start of construction: 1506 AD

    How did he build these after his death?

    How can you base your accusation that Emperor Constantine corrupted Christianity on such poor examples of factual error? And even if he had built them, how does that corrupt Christianity?
    Need I go on? This stuff is pathetic.Try researching before posting this tripe.

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