University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Role of Roman Emperors in the Spread of Christianity
The very cruelty and hate of Christianity that various Roman emperors exhibited actually worked in favor of that religion. As it is said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church,” for in many ways, persecution was beneficial to the new religion. Persecution gave the Christians a chance to flex their spiritual muscles, which many did, to great effect. The miracles that took place during these martyrdoms converted many of the pagans, which in turn led to more martyrdoms. Persecution served, essentially, to strengthen the faith of those already Christians, and to convert those who were not.
By the very cruelties with which the emperors attempted to crush the young religion they actually aided it. But one emperor who supported christianity is the one who played the biggest role among all emperors in spreading christianity. His name was Constantine. Constantine was a hugely influential emperor who changed the course of history and greatly affected the spread and development of Christianity. During Constantine’s reign, Roman art became less realistic. Simple and massive effects were preferred over classical forms and styles, and so art became more stylised.
This culminated in the Christian era of artwork that would follow. For the next twelve years, Constantine and Licenius shared the government of the Empire. Constantine, convinced of the power of his vision and subsequent victory in battle, was the first Roman Emperor to adopt Christianity. Christians were still persecuted at this time, and so in 313 Constantine issued an official edict of toleration. The Edict of Milan not only protected Christians, but granted greater rights to followers of all religions. In 324 the Empire faced many difficulties, and Constantine defeated Licinius and became the sole Emperor.
As the emperor, Constantine quickly moved the capital of the Roman empire from Rome to Constantinople (now known as Istanbul). In 325, Constantine assembled the Council at Nicaea with a group of bishops. The counsel debated many doctrinal points concerning Christianity, and created the Nicaean creed to unify Christian doctrine and practices. Some common beliefs of the early Christian church were at this point voted against and eradicated from the Church’s teachings. This was the first time that church and state began to merge, and that the imperial office was used to strengthen a church.
For Constantine, his motivations were probably as much political as religious. The number of Christians was increasing within the empire, as was the influence of the church. Merging the two strengthened the power of both. From Constantine’s rule on, Christianity was the official religion of the empire. The Christian Church was granted tax exempt status, and Roman coins issued during this period have a cross on them. Although Constantine had long supported Christianity, he was not baptized until he was on his deathbed. He died in 337.
Constitine, who was the Emperor of Rome was a Pagan. Before going into battle he thought he saw Jesus’ initials in the clouds and determined it was an omen and had his men put those initials on their shields. Well, Constitine won that battle and subsequently summoned all priests of stature into Rome to create the Bible. They went through the various books that had been written and pared that big pile of writings down into what became the bible. Constitine then proclaimed that christianity was the official religion of Rome and the Roman Empire.