REFRESHER ON THE HISTORY OF CONSTANTINE AND CATHOLICISM
Roman Empire under Constantine
The standard historical mythology followed by Rodimus et al can be described as follows: The true Church founded by Jesus Christ existed until c. 300 AD, when Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity and in the process, paganized the Church and turned into the Catholic Church.
Actually, the Evangelicals claim that Catholicism was founded in the 4th century, but couldn’t agree on exactly WHEN it was founded, just as they couldn’t agree on anything!
Followers of this myth further insist that the Roman Empire used the Catholic Church as an instrument to destroy the remaining Christians. Of course, the underlying assumption here is that Catholicism experienced continuous and uninterrupted peace under the protection of the Roman Empire — which is simply not true!
It is a myth that has no real academic support, and is totally at variance with the facts. The fact is that the Catholic Church continued to suffer violence even during Constantine’ s reign, and after Constantine. The Catholic Church suffered near-continuous persecution until the 7th century — first, at the hands of the Roman Empire, then at the barbarians.
Permit me to present my:
Refresher Course on Constantine and the Late Roman Empire vis-a-vis Catholicism
Constantine had his vision of the Chi-Rho and the “In Hoc Signo Vinces” shortly before the Battle of Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312 AD.
He and the Co-Emperor Licinius legalized Christianity in 313 AD in the Edict of Milan
In 316 AD Constantine helped the Church against the Donatist heretics. When Licinius renewed the persecution of Christians in the Eastern Empire in 320-324, Constantine deposed him and became sole Emperor of the Roman Empire from 324 to 337 AD.
In 325 AD Constantine helped convene the Council of Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council. This Council reiterated the ancient apostolic teaching on the Divinity of Christ against the novel teachings of Arius by a vote of 316 for and 2 against.
Beginning in 330 AD, Constantine began to be influenced by Arian bishops and theologians. By 335 he was clearly hostile to Catholic bishops (for quasi-political rather than truly theological reasons) and had exiled several of them; and in 337, he was baptized at his deathbed by the Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia. Although there is no clear indication that he himself was personally an Arian, he was an ambivalent Christian, at best. By no means can he be considered as a “founder” of Catholicism!
After Constantine’ s death, the Roman Empire was split into two, the West being ruled by a Catholic (Constans) and the East by an Arian (Constantius) . By 350 the Emperor of the West was dead, and the Eastern emperor Constantius — an Arian — ruled the entire Empire, fiercely persecuting the Catholic Church. He was followed by the pagan Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363) who was hostile to Christianity. From 364 to 378 the Eastern Roman Empire was once more ruled by an Arian, Valens, who persecuted the Catholics. In short, the period after Constantine saw the Catholic Church being severely persecuted once more by the Roman Empire. So much for the ignorant Evangelical myth that the Roman Empire had invented Catholicism beginning with Constantine! Only the ignorant who don’t bother to read, believe this kind of mythology!
In 379 the Catholic emperor Theodosius stopped the persecutions. In 381 he helped convene the Council of Constantinople I that defeated Arianism with finality. In 394 — after a final pagan attempt to restore paganism and destroy the Church — he proclaimed Catholicism as the state religion of the Roman Empire.
But wait! That is not the end of the story!
Even as Arianism was defeated in the Roman Empire, the Germanic and barbarian tribes became Arian in the 4th and early 5th centuries due to the missionary work of the heretical Ulfilas. From 378 AD to 476 AD the Roman Empire was repeatedly and continuously invaded by barbarians who were either pagans or Arians. This was an era that saw the Catholic Church lose many more martyrs. Many areas of the Roman Empire fell into the hands of Arian barbarians who continued to persecute the Catholic Church.
In short: the legalization of the Church in the Roman Empire did NOT stop the continuous killing and exiling of Catholics for their faith.
Beginning in the first years of the 5th century, continuous pagan Anglo-Saxon invasions of England resulted in the obliteration of the Church there by the late 5th century.
In North Africa, the Vandal barbarians (who were Arians) seized control from the Roman Empire c. 430 AD. In fact, St. Augustine died during the siege of Hippo by the Vandals. They also sacked Rome in 455, stealing from Catholic churches in the process. The Vandals continued to rule until 534 AD, when the Byzantines defeated them. Vandal rule from c. 430 AD until c. 530 AD was a long and dark night for the Church in North Africa, which suffered numerous martyrs.
In Spain and Gaul, the Arian Goths / Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 AD, ruled from c. 475 AD until 507 AD in France (when they were defeated by the pro-Catholic Franks) and in Spain from c. 475 AD until 718 AD. The Visigoths were Arians until 587 AD, and their rule was marked by the loss of much Catholic blood. In fact, the conversion of the Visigoths to Catholicism in 587 was due to the fact that the king at that time, Reccared, was deeply affected by the martyrdom of his brother St. Hermenegild, who had been killed for his faith by their devoutly Arian father King Liuvigild. As soon as Liuvigild died and was succeeded by Reccared, the latter became Catholic.
In Italy itself, the Arian Ostrogoths ruled from 476 AD until 555 AD, during which, despite their relative tolerance, they killed many Catholics, including St. Boethius and Pope St. John I, who was starved to death.
As late as the 7th century, the last barbarians — the Lombards — continued to be militantly Arian, and posed a threat to the Church.