Constantine and Council of Nicea




1-The last decade of the third century found the Roman empire facing a series of external and internal crises.

            a. Constant warfare with Persia

            b. Germanic tribes to the North

            c. Fewer citizens who would join the army

            d. heavy burden of taxation

            e. new religions: Manichaeism, Mithraism and Christianity


2-On 1 March 293, two Caesars were appointed, junior in rank to the Augusti but members of the imperial college and possessing most of the privileges of their senior colleagues.  Constantius was assigned Gaul, Spain and Britain.


"The Great Persecution"


1-In 299 while the emperors (Diocletian and Galerius) were engaged in sacrifice and divination, some Christians in their household made the sign of the cross to ward off demons. 

a. Desired divination not discovered.

b. Christians blamed.

c. Imperial household and army must sacrifice to gods.


2-The philosopher Porphyry (234-c.303) wrote his vast Against the Christians in Sicily either shortly before or shortly after Diocletian issued the first of the persecution edicts.

            a. Met Origen-Christian (?)

            b. Pupil of Plotinus

            c. Objected to faith above reason

            d. Jewish prophecies no more important than any other race.

            e. Incarnation-logical impossibility

            f. Allegory could prove anything.

            g. Complained-prominent role of women

            h. Apostasy from Greek tradition desires persecution.


3-At dawn on 23 February 303, the praetorian prefect came with generals, tribunes, and financial officials to the Christian church in Nicomedia.  The doors were torn down, copies of the Bible found and burned, and the rest of the church's contents plundered.  The church was then razed. 



            a. Destruction of churches

            b. Scriptures

            c. Liturgical books

            d. Must sacrifice to gods before court trials.


5-Intensity of persecution varied from region to region since Diocletian left it up to local magistrates to enact the edict.


6-Apphianus, a well-born Lycian who was studying with Eusebius in the household of Pamphilus, protested in an ostentatious and provocative fashion.  On 31 March 306, as Urbanus [governor of Palestine] prepared to pour a libation, Apphianus dashed past the governor's bodyguard, seized Urbanus' hand, and urged him to desist from the adoration of lifeless idols and evil spirits....Urbanus ordered him thrown into the sea.


7-Types of torture and death

            a. Bears

            b. Drowning

            c. castration and women placed in brothels

            d. Tendons of their left ankles destroyed with hot irons and their right eyes put out.

            e. Bishops compelled to tend imperial camels and horses

            f. Whole towns burned.

            g. Axe, broken legs, roasted, gradually dismembered

8-Tried to restore pagan temples and reorganize the leadership.




1-Born Feb. 27. c. 272.


2-Perhaps as early as 293, Constantine came to the East, where he served as an officer in the Roman army, first in the campaigns of the Persian War and later under Galerius on the Danube.  By 301/2 he was with Diocletian's court: when the emperor traversed Palestine, Constantine rode at his right hand, in the place of honor.  By March 305 Constantine was a man of thirty-two or thirty-three whose rank in the Roman army and accomplishments in war rendered him a candidate for the purple on the grounds of merit as well as descent.


3-In 305 Constantine joined his father in Britain.  Constantius marched beyond Hadrian's Wall, defeated the Picts, and before the end of the campaigning season of 305, claimed a victory.  Constantine was always at his father's side.  On 25 July 306 at York, Constantius died, with the children of both of his marriages in attendance.  His army and his entourage saluted Constantine as emperor in his father's stead.  Both then and later Constantine asseverated most categorically that the dying Constantius had made him his heir in the fullest senseÑas the ruler of Britain, Gaul, and Spain with the rank of Augustus.


4-The new Augustus at once decreed a formal end to the persecution of Christians in his domains and restored Christianity to its former status and privileges. 


Conquest of Rome


1-The news of Galerius' death (311) had immediate political consequences.


2-In the summer of 311, Maxentius (Augustus) gambled all on a sudden offensive while Licinius was occupied in the East.  He declared war on Constantine.


3-After several victories-Constantine marched on Rome.


4-The regime of Maxentius now rested on naked military force.  Neither the Senate nor the populace liked him.  One story: Maxentius had a reputation of seducing the wives of respectable men. 


5-Maxentius stayed in Rome and prepared for a siege.  An oracle declared that the enemy of the Romans would die that very day.  The date was 28 October 312.  He left Rome, crossed the Tiber, and confronted Constantine.


6-The army encamped beyond the Milvian Bridge had an unusual appearance.  Constantine was preparing t fight under the banner of Christ.  One afternoon on their march, both he and the whole army had seen a cross of light in the sky and the words "in this conquer": during the next night, in a dream, Christ appeared to him with the heavenly sign and instructed him to make standards for his army in this form.  The next day Constantine inquired of Christians in his entourage for the meaning of the dream.  They explained that Constantine had indeed seen Christ and that the sign signified immortality and victory over death.  He then replaced the pagan standards of his troops with a new Christian sign.


7-Constantine entered Rome on 29 October 312. 


Constantine's First Reforms


1-The army which defeated Maxentius on 28 October 312 fought under the labarum, an avowedly Christian banner.  After this momentous step, the army of Constantine became officially Christian, whatever private religious sentiments his troops might cherish.  Constantine gave his Christian soldiers leave to attend church on Sundays and ordered that his pagan soldiers assemble every Sunday to recite in Latin a monotheistic prayer.


2- Bishops dined at Constantine's table and accompanied him wherever he went.


3-In his newly acquired territories Constantine hastened the still incomplete restoration of Christian property confiscated during the persecution.


4-Everywhere in the West, Constantine now gave freely from the imperial treasury, both to build or enlarge churches and to decorate them richly.


5-He gave money, clothing, and shelter to the poverty-stricken, he supported orphans and widowsÑhe provided dowries to enable indigent women to find second husbands.


6-His contribution was to elevate Christianity to a privileged position among the religions of the Roman Empire.


7-He abolished crucifixion as a legal punishment....


8-Constantine made divorce and remarriage more difficult: he laid down that a wife could divorce her husband only if he were a murderer, poisoner, or tomb violator; while a husband could divorce his wife only for adultery, poisoning, or running a brothel.


9-A year later Constantine joined forces with Licinius, the emperor in the east, to form an alliance that was to last for more than a decade.  Together they issued in 313 a proclamation known as the Edict of Milan, guaranteeing freedom of religious practice in lands under their rule.


War with Licinius (324)


1-When war came in 324, the Christians of the East prayed for the success of the Christian emperor, and not merely passively or in secret.  The aged Lactantius added to his Divine Institutes an invocation of Constantine which invited him, as a pious emperor, to rescue "the just in other parts of the world" which he did not yet rule, and hence, by implication, to depose the persecuting emperor.  Constantine was justified in presenting the final campaign against Licinius as a Christian crusade.  Despite his hesitations, Licinius had adopted a policy which again produced Christian martyrs and confessorsÑand a Christian liberator.  The repression suited Constantine excellently.  In 324 he made war on Licinius, on the plausible excuse that he wished to prevent a general persecution of eastern Christians.


2-Constantine delivered the Speech to the Assembly of the Saints to a Christian audience.  (Speech given in Thessalonika) In the last section he noted that Diocletian was on the verge of madness when he issued laws against the Christians; God's vengeance involved harm to the state, and the persecution led inexorably to Constantine's victories in civil war and to the liberation of the city where he spoke.  Finally, he confesses a mighty obligation; he must persuade his subjects to worship God, he must reform the wicked and unbelievingÑand he alludes to his own conversion in the prime of life.


3-On 18 September 324 at Chrysopolis outside Chalcedon, the two armies met: Constantine was again victorious.

            Byzantium and Chalcedon opened their gates.  Licinius fled to Nicomedia.  On the day after the battle, he offered submission.  His wife, Constantia, sister of Constantine, and Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, came to the victor's camp requesting that Licinius be allowed to live out his remaining days in peace.  Constantine swore to spare his life.  Licinius then came in person, laid his imperial purple at Constantine's feet, performed homage to his new emperor and master, and sought pardon for his past actions.


Constantine's Second Reforms


a.  Christian exiles may return home.

            b.  All property and wealth restored.

            c.  All  honors and seats of authority are returned.

            d.  He ordered new churches to be built, anticipating many new converts with his

                 victory.  Paid by imperial funds.

e.     Forbade consultation of new pagan oracles, divination and sacrifice to the gods.

f.      Pagans are allowed to keep their temples and practice their religion and he did continue to subsidize much of the pagan religion.

g.     Also prohibited were certain sort of attacks on Christians (Porphyry's Against the Christians is to be burned.

h.     The day that Christians regularly gathered for the eucharist to celebrate the resurrection, previously a regular workday in the Roman world, became a legal day of rest throughout the empire.

i.      Episcopal appointments in major sees now came under the emperor's scrutiny. 

j.      Bishops became close advisors to Constantine thus furthering the connection between church and state.


Council of Nicea (325)




1-The position that Arius staked out resolved the intellectual problem by conceptualizing the Logos as a secondary god....The Logos was still conceived to be the divine agent of creation but was itself a created being.  In this theological modal the Logos stood as an intermediary between the divine nature and the created world, thereby providing a bridge between the two.


2-"There was when the Son was not."ÑArius


3-Proverbs 8:22 [Arian proof text]


4-The Arians were fearful of falling into Modalism.


5-Modalism had never been officially condemned and still seemed a great threat to orthodox teaching about the Trinity.  It reduced Father, Son and Holy Spirit to three modes or aspects of God and implied patrpassianismÑthe idea that the Father suffered on the cross. 




145-Alexander was assuming a view of salvation going back to Irenaeus....


Nicea (325)


1-The Arian controversy forced itself on his attention just at the period when he most wished to concentrate on converting pagans to Christianity.  By 324 not only were bishops denouncing one another, but congregations were divided into two parties, and in the theatre pagans taunted Christians about their dissensions.


2-Bishops converged on Nicaea, nearly three hundred in all, the emperor for their travel and expenses during the council.  The bishop of Rome did not come, pleading old age as an excuse, but he sent two priests who represented him and occupied a place of honor.  Prestige did not depend mainly on a bishop's see nor on his subtlety in debate.  Confessors, especially those whose missing eyes and maimed ankles manifested proof of their steadfastness during the persecution, enjoyed enormous authority.  The bishop of Alexandria received advice throughout the proceedings from his deacon Athanasius, and Constantine, though not even a baptized Christian, participated in the debates.


3-The council commenced about the beginning of June.  After requesting permission from the bishops, Constantine sad down; the rest followed suit.  He expressed gratitude to God for allowing him to see the bishops assembled together in concord, and he deprecated violent dissention within the Church as more lamentable than even civil war.  Could the Devil sully the Church even after the persecutors had been destroyed?  His own victories in war could be fully complete only when the consecrated servants of God united in peace and harmony.  When Constantine finished, he received petitions from the bishops, many of whom had already approached him privately with accusations against one another.  He sat with the petitions (which were later burned) in his lap and reproved the bishops for letting private animosities interfere with God's business.  The debates then began.


4-Other bishops came from Gaul, Spain, Africa, and Syria as well as one who was listed simply as John, bishop of India and Persia.


5-Constantine sat apart from the bishops, but close enough to participate in the discussions.    


6-Someone called for the Arian position to be stated.  Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia stood before the council and read a clear and blatant denial of the deity of the Son of God, emphasizing that he is a creature and not equal with the Father in any sense.  Before Eusebius finished reading it, some of the bishops were holding their hands over their ears and shouting for someone to stop the blasphemies.  One bishop near Eusebius stepped forward and grabbed the manuscript out of his hands, threw it to the floor and stomped on it.


7-After some wrangling and little agreement, Constantine himself proposed that the new creed include the affirmation that the Son is homoousiosÑone substanceÑwith the FatherÑthat they share all the same essential attributes of deity.


8-Nicene Creed


9-"But as for those who say, There was when He was not, and, before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance, or is created, or is subject to alternation or changeÑthese the Catholic Church anathematizes."


10-for the first time a Christian heretic was condemned and punished by a secular ruler for nothing more than believing and teaching the wrong doctrine.




1-By the 350s many were willing to affirm the more moderate assertion that the Logos was of a similar substance (homoiousios) with the Father and fully united with the flesh of Jesus.


2-That final and definitive condemnation of Arianism that truly "stuck" was at the Council of Constantinople in 381.


Death of Constantine


1-The emperor delayed his own baptism until he was on his deathbed in 337.  He was buried in Constantinople in the church of the Twelve Apostles, reportedly joining them as the thirteenth.