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The History of Christianity: Constantine to Augustine

James Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, historian, and author of three non-fiction books. James enjoys people, music, film, and reading



Emperor Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great (b. 272) was a Roman general from Serbia, who became the first Emperor (306-337) of Rome that was a Christian.

His father, Constantius, had been Western Emperor, and had refused direct orders to murder innocent Christians solely because of their Faith, which was customary at the time. Constantine had an epiphany in 312 leading to his conversion to Christianity, a religion that had experienced enormous growth since the death of Jesus Christ about A.D. 30—despite incredible persecution by the Romans for over 250 years—from a few thousand Believers to more than a million.

I would like to state here what Constantine did not do: He did not "invent" Christianity; didn't write the Bible; didn't influence what books are in the New Testament; didn't tell Church Councils what to do; did not make Sunday the day of worship for Christians; did not make Christianity the "official" religion of the Roman Empire.

What he did do was end centuries of persecution and cruel execution of Christians; printed Bibles to make up for the thousands of them his predecessors confiscated and destroyed; built churches to replace the hundreds of them that previous Caesars had burned down; proclaimed religious freedom for all religions including Christianity and Paganism; banned gladiatorial games, the facial branding of slaves, child slavery, infanticide; and made sweeping prison reforms.

He did make Sunday an official day of rest—not worship—for all Romans. 99% of the Christians worshiped on Sunday by then, and Pagans worshiped the Sun on this day of the week; so it seemed practical for everybody—except for Jews; and Christians who preferred to worship on the Sabbath.



The Nicene Creed

The 4th Century is a fascinating time in the history of Christianity, as it proved to be a big adjustment from being an outlawed religion at the beginning of the century to becoming a favored religion by its end.

The first big controversy was between the followers of Arius and those of Athanasius. This was not merely a debate among theologians or the clergy. Regular citizens of the day were more knowledgeable about religious doctrines than today, and this dispute engaged people of all walks of life around the Roman Empire.

Arius (253-336) was a popular pastor from Alexandria. His belief was that Jesus was subordinate and separate from God the Father. Arius said, "God has not always been a Father. Once God was alone."

His novel teachings were that Jesus had attained his title Son of Go" by his own virtue during his life on Earth. That he could have failed, in other words—but didn't.

Athanasius (295-373) was the bishop of Alexandria, and he opposed these teachings of Arius.

Constantine was worried about the church splitting in half (keeping in mind that Jesus commanded unity among Believers) and so summoned the first worldwide council of bishops to Nicea in 325, to resolve the dispute. 300 bishops came from Gaul to Persia, many of whom were disfigured from torture suffered in persecutions.

Constantine politely asked to sit in on the proceedings, but was not allowed to vote since he was not clergy. The council voted nearly unanimously—there were 2 nays—to depose Arius and declare his doctrine heretical. Their official pronouncement became known as the Nicene Creed.

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father. By whom all things were made, both in heaven and on earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven. From thence he shall come to judge both the living and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit."




Eusebius (263-339) was present at the Council of Nicea, and later became known as the Father of Church History, for his books chronicling the early history of Christianity, in particular the succession of bishops from the Apostles. He established by verifiable historical facts, the unbroken line from the church of 300 AD directly back to Jesus and His Apostles.



St. Anthony

An important development in the history of Christianity is Monasticism. It developed first in Egypt.