Constantine I turn against Paganism

Constantine I turn against Paganism evolved during Constantine I's reign, and went from the initial prohibition on the construction of new temples[1] and the toleration of Pagan sacrifices,[2] to orders for the pillaging and the tearing down of pagan temples by the end of his reign.[3][4][5]

Contents

Conversion to Christianity

According to Christian polemicists writing after his death, Constantine converted to Christianity and was baptised on his deathbed; this would make him the first Christian emperor, but no contemporary references exist to him ever having been a Christian during his lifetime.[6][7]

Ban on new temples, toleration of sacrifices

Constantine, though he made his allegiance clear, did not outlaw paganism; in the words of an early edict, he decreed that polytheists could "celebrate the rites of an outmoded illusion," so long as they did not force Christians to join them.[8][9] In a letter to the King of Persia, Constantine wrote how he shunned the "abominable blood and hateful odors" of pagan sacrifices, and instead worshiped the High God "on bended knee",[2][10] and in the new capital city he built, Constantine made sure that there were no pagan temples built.[1] Sporadically, however, Constantine would prohibit public sacrifice and close pagan temples; very little pressure, however, was put on individual pagans, and there were no pagan martyrs.[8]

Constantine dedicated Constantinople with two Neoplatonist and friends Sopater and Praetextus present at its dedication. A year and a half later after dedicating the City of Constantinople, on Monday 11 May 330, when the festival of Saint Mocius was celebrated, the city was finally dedicated. The goddess Tyche was invited to come and live in the city, and her statue was placed in the hand of the statue of the emperor that was on top of the Column of Constantine, on the Forum with the same name. Although by now Constantine openly supported Christianity, the city still offered room to pagan cults: there were shrines for the Dioscuri and Tyche. The Acropolis, with its ancient pagan temples, was left as it was. As for worshipping the emperor, Constantine's mausoleum gave him a Christ-like status: his tomb was set amid 12 monuments, each containing relics of one of the Apostles. Constantine had continued to engage in pagan rituals. The emperor still claimed to be a supernatural being, although the outward form of this personality cult had become Christian.[11]

According to some authors,[who?] the issuing of the Edict of Milan,[12] showed that Constantine continued the policy of toleration that Galerius had established.[citation needed] He "continued to pay his public honors to the Sun", on coins that showed him jointly with Sol, whereas other imperial coins showed the Chi-Rho sign (a symbol which had previously been used on coinage by the virulently anti-Christian Emperor Decius)[13]

Many historians, like MacMullen, have seen the seeds of future persecution by the state in Constantine's more belligerent utterances regarding the old religion.[3] Other historians[who?] emphasize that de facto paganism "was tolerated in the period from Constantine to Gratian.[Need quotation to verify] Emperors were tolerant in deed, if not always in word."[14] Constantine became the first Emperor in the Christian era to persecute specific groups of Christians, the Donatists, in order to enforce religious unity.[15]

Legislation against magic and private divination

Constantine legislated against magic and private divination, but this was driven out of a fear that others might gain power through those means, as he himself had achieved power through the sound advice of Pagan soothsayers, convincing him of the perspicacity of Pagan prophecy.[16] His belief in Pagan divination is confirmed by legislation calling for the consultation of augurs after an amphitheater had been struck by lightning in the year 320.[17] Constantine explicitly allowed public divination as well as public Pagan practices to continue.[18] Constantine also issued laws confirming the rights of flamens, priests and duumvirs.[19] In 321 he showed some state support for the faith of the Invincible Sun by legislating that the venerable day of the sun should be a day of rest for all citizens. In the year 323, he issued a decree banning Christians from participating in state sacrifices[20]

Pillaging and destrution of temples

During the course of his life he progressively became more Christian and turned away from any syncretic tendencies he appeared to favor at times and thus demonstrating, according to his biographers, that "The God of the Christians was indeed a jealous God who tolerated no other gods beside him. The Church could never acknowledge that she stood on the same plane with other religious bodies, she conquered for herself one domain after another".[21]

According to the historian Ramsay MacMullen Constantine desired to obliterate non-Christians but lacking the means he had to be content with robbing their temples towards the end of his reign.[22] He resorted to derogatory and contemptuous comments relating to the old religion; writing of the "true obstinacy" of the pagans, of their "misguided rites and ceremonial", and of their "temples of lying" contrasted with "the splendours of the home of truth".[4]

The first episodes of persecution of Paganism in the Christan history of the Roman Empire started late on Constantine's reign, with his orders for the pillaging and the torning down of pagan temples.[3][4][5]

Constantine had a complex attitude towards morality; he killed both his son and wife (the consensus view of ancient sources), destroyed the Temple of Aphrodite in the Lebanon,[23] and ordered the summary execution of eunuch priests in Egypt[3] because they transgressed his moral norms. Even if Constantine had desired to Christianize the state, expediency dictated otherwise; it is estimated that Christians formed only a small portion of the population, being a fifth part in the West and the half of the population in a large section of the East.[4][24] He therefore limited himself in the main to the pillaging of pagan temples,[3] to derogatory and contemptuous comments relating to the old religion; writing of the "obstinacy" of the pagans, of their "misguided rites and ceremonial", and of their "temples of lying" contrasted with "the splendours of the home of truth".[4] A Christian historian also records that he had some pagan temples torn down.[25] According to his Christian biographers, he progressively became more Christian during the course of his life, and turned away from any syncretic tendencies he appeared to favour at times, thus demonstrating, that "The God of the Christians was indeed a jealous God who tolerated no other gods beside him. The Church could never acknowledge that she stood on the same plane with other religious bodies, she conquered for herself one domain after another".[26][24]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b Gerberding, R. and J. H. Moran Cruz, Medieval Worlds (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004) p. 28.
  2. ^ a b Peter Brown, The Rise of Christendom 2nd edition (Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, 2003) p. 60.
  3. ^ a b c d e R. MacMullen, "Christianizing The Roman Empire A.D.100-400, Yale University Press, 1984, ISBN 0-300-03642-6
  4. ^ a b c d e Hughes, Philip (1949), "6", A History of the Church, I, Sheed & Ward, http://www.ewtn.com/library/CHISTORY/HUGHHIST.TXT 
  5. ^ a b Eusebius Pamphilius and Schaff, Philip (Editor) and McGiffert, Rev. Arthur Cushman, Ph.D. (Translator) NPNF2-01. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine quote: "he razed to their foundations those of them which had been the chief objects of superstitious reverence"
  6. ^ "Constantine The Great", Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908
  7. ^ "The Codex Theodosianus On Religion", XVI.v.1, 4 CE
  8. ^ a b Peter Brown, Rise of Christendom 2nd edition (Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, 2003) p. 74.
  9. ^ Codex Theodosianius 9.16.2.
  10. ^ Eusebius, Life of Constantine 4.10.
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ "Edict of Milan", 313CE.[2]
  13. ^ MacMullan 1984:44.
  14. ^ Garnsey 1984: 19
  15. ^ "There is No Crime for Those who Have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire", Michael Gaddis, p55-56, University of California Press, 2005, ISBN 0520241045
  16. ^ Zosimus 2.29.1-2.29.4, Theodosian Code 16.10.1. Laws against the private practice of divination had been enacted ever since the time of the emperor Tiberius. The fear of a rival had led many emperors to be severe against those who attempted to divine their successor.
  17. ^ Theodosian Code 16.10.1
  18. ^ Theodosian Code 9.16.1-9.16.3.
  19. ^ Theodosian Code 12.1.21, 12.5.2
  20. ^ Codex Theodosianus 16.2.5
  21. ^  "Constantine the Great". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  22. ^ MacMullan 1984:96.
  23. ^ J. Kirsch, "God Against the Gods", Viking Compass, 2004.
  24. ^ a b C. G. Herbermann & Georg Grupp, "Constantine the Great", Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911, New Advent web site.
  25. ^ "he razed to their foundations those of them which had been the chief objects of superstitious reverence" http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.txt
  26. ^ The modern Church takes a much less antagonistic stance to non-Abrahamic faiths. see Dignitatis Humanae and Nostra Aetate

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