Ask Your Preacher

Ask Your Preacher

“Constantinian Shift”

In a previous post, you stated "Both the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church trace their history back to the days of Caesar Constantine.  …Constantine made Christianity the national religion and forced all people to join it.  By forcing people to join Christianity, Constantine removed all traces of the volunteer Bible-based faith that Christ died for."
The edict of Milan issued by Constantine only proclaimed religious toleration in the Roman Empire.  There is no historical record of Constantine "forcing" anyone to become christian.  Constantine was actually against conversion by coercion: “It is one thing voluntarily to undertake the conflict for immortality, another to compel others to do so from fear of punishment”.  As a student of history, could you please clarify for me your historical sources for your previous statements regarding this period of Christianity?

Cite Your Sources Please

Dear Cite Your Sources Please,

You are correct that the edict of Milan only proclaimed toleration and that Constantine is on record as saying that conversion by coercion was a bad thing, but like all good politicians, what Constantine said and what he did were two different things.

Constantine issued the edict of Milan legalizing Christianity and then subsequently began to provide “inducements” to conversion.  These inducements included:

  1. Government-conferred benefits for church leaders (this included immunity from military service)
  2. Cash gifts to congregations
  3. Building elaborate buildings for churches
  4. Christians received career advancements within the government over and above pagans
  5. Exile of preachers that upset him (even subsets of Christian beliefs – such as Arianism)

These inducements are well-documented in various sources, but one good book to look at is “Christianizing the Roman Empire” by Ramsay MacMullen.  It is also important to note that the edict of Milan, which legalized tolerance, was only the beginning of a movement to make Christianity a state religion.  The edict of Milan promoted tolerance in 313 AD, but by 380 AD, emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official state religion, and in 392 AD, all other worship was made illegal.  Constantine was the tip of the spear for a movement to turn Christianity into a government entity (eventually Catholicism) over the next hundred years.