The Edict of Milan did not make Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine, having seen a vision of the Chi Rho in the sky and been successful in battle, did not immediately abandon the old Gods of Rome.
Constantine was born in February 272 AD, the son of Flavius Valerius Constantius who was a Joint Emperor (Tetrarch of the Western Region – Britain Gaul and Iberia) till he died in York, whilst extending the Empire there in 306. Constantine was declared Augustus (Tetrarch in succession) by the legions in York on the 25th of July 306 AD.
On the 28th of October 312, Constantine engaged Maxentius in the Battle of Milvian Bridge, and important crossing of the Tiber in Rome. Constantine was outnumbered. The soldiers, following a dream / vision carried shields marked with an X where the / was bent over to form a Chi Rho – a classic christogram. The victory marks the fall of the tetrarchy, ultimately Constantine became the sole Emperor of the whole empire East and West.
Constantine was clearly favourable to Christians. Though at this stage he was not understood as Christian, he was baptised in the last year of his life (by an Arian Bishop). As The Roman Emperor he had an official role in the Pagan cults in Rome, and held the title Pontifex Maximus (The Great Bridge Builder).
There are three reasons advanced for Constantine’s approach to the Christian Faith.
- The victory following the vision at Milvian Bridge was a point of inner conviction.
- Politically it made sense to acknowledge the importance of a religion that extended throughout the Empire and accounted for around 8% of it’s citizens.
- His wife and Mother in Law were christians (happy wife – happy life!)
Basically the three things we don’t talk about – Religion, Politics and Sex!
In 313 the Edict of Milan was developed and proclaimed. This did not make Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, however it did recognise that Christians had been persecuted, and required confiscated property be restored. However it did declare the right to free and open worship to Christians and people of all religious faiths with one expectation.
Wherefore, for this our indulgence, they ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the commonwealth may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes.
Constantine almost certainly regarded Christianity as a better religion, for a stronger God, and the universality of the message of the Gospel, not tied to specific geography or people.
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In the confusion of today’s world, one wonders if this expectation of the price of our religious freedom includes the responsibility to pray for the peace of the secular government and the community in which we exercise our freedom to worship. Clearly part of that is to acknowledge and respect the freedom of others to worship as they would.