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How Constantine Established the Roman Catholic Church and the Roman Empire: Edict of Milan to the Crusades

Updated on October 11, 2020
mosaic of Constantine
mosaic of Constantine | Source

Edict of Milan - 313

Constantine signed the Edict of Milan in 313. He granted religious freedom to all inhabitants of the Roman Empire, no matter what their religious preference was. In addition, the property that had been confiscated from the Christians was to be returned. The Edict of Milan should not be confused with the institution of Christianity as the official religion of Rome. It did NOT make Christianity a state religion. It did, however, allow the Christians to worship as they pleased. Others who wanted to worship different religions were also granted permission to do so. Constantine had the general safety and well-being of the people in mind when he did this because previously there was a lot of strife over what religions were allowed and many people of different religions were persecuted. This was primarily because of Diocletian's belief that everyone in the empire should worship the Roman gods and not practice other religions. He saw religion as a way to unite the people, and enforced it with strict laws and the death penalty for disobedience.

Council of Nicea 325

Constantine, a practicing Christian, was concerned with uniting the Roman Empire. In 325, he called the church leaders together for an ecumenical council. They discussed the beliefs of the Christian faith with the goal of determining what should be the standard or orthodox Christian belief. This had to be discussed and agreed upon because up until this point people who called themselves Christians had a wide variety of beliefs. There was no "Bible" to speak of as we know it today and many people were illiterate. So, in effect, there were a lot of stories, legends and opinions about just what Christianity was supposed to look like. Some say that Constantine was so determined that a set of authoritative beliefs should be agreed to that he would not let the leaders out of the chamber until they had an acceptable answer. The Nicene Creed was developed and became the outline of the basic beliefs that were to be held by Christians. It was short enough to be memorized and each of the leaders could take it with them and pass it on to all of their congregations. Several similar variations of this Creed are still regularly repeated in Christian churches the world over. In essence, the beliefs are as follows:

  • There is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus, who was the son of God.
  • Jesus: conceived of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, crucified by Pontius Pilate, buried and resurrected from the grave on the third day.
  • After the resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and is now seated on the right hand of the Father and will come again to judge the world.
  • there is only one church, the holy Catholic and apostolic Church.
  • People are to be baptized for the remission of their sins.

Augustine - Late 300's

Augustine, St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, was not raised as a Christian. He lived a wild sort of lifestyle as an adolescent, then was converted to Christianity. He quickly became immersed in Christianity and soon became the Bishop of Hippo. In order to come to terms with his past, he wrote an autobiography he called Confessions in 398. He intended this work to be read by other Christians and used as an admonition and instruction on how one should live and think as a Christian. In this work, he warned against the dangers of carnal pleasure and sexuality, which he considered to be a base state of mind. He believed that any bodily pleasure, especially sex, was basically sinful and that when people have sex, the original sin of Adam is transmitted to others. He also promoted the idea of "just and holy" war, that could be waged in the advancement of Christianity. Augustine's powerful ideas about original sin, the corruption of sexuality and "holy" war are still evident in many Christian denominations to this day. Augustine also wrote a work called The City of God, (354-430) which was a theological history of the Roman Empire.

Carolingian Renaissance - 700's

Pepin the Short, of the Carolingian Family was elected Emperor with the Pope’s blessing in 751. The Pope anointed Pepin protector of the church and anointed the Carolingian family as "Kings by the grace of God." Pepin led his army into Italy, crushed Germanic Lombards and turned the territory he had won over to the Pope. The land given to the church became known as the Papal states.

In the Carolingian era, lliteracy was promoted and facilitated. Schools were developed for children and a system of standardized, legible writing was developed.Benedictine Monasteries were built. These elaborate facilities housed monks and were centers of learning. The concept of Chivalry came into being in the Carolingian Renaissance period.

The City of God

The City of God was written by the bishop of Hippo, Augustine. It was a history of the Roman Empire from a theological viewpoint. In this work, Augustine created a dualistic vision of humanity and of the human enterprise of Empire-building. Augustine argued that there were two cities; the earthly city of men and the heavenly city of God. He put forth his theory that the sack of Rome by the Visigoths was inevitable due to the inherently corrupt and sinful nature of humanity. Augustine believed that any and all earthly cities and civilizations would continue to rise and fall because mankind is corrupt. He said that this will eventually lead to the Judgment day, after which the uncorruptable heavenly city, will be established by God.

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shining city
shining city | Source

Jerome - 400

Jerome was a priest who translated ancient scriptural texts into Latin. He translated the Hebrew books that we know today as the Old Testament and the Greek books we know today as the New Testament. This became known as the Vulgate, which means common or popular. This translation became the official Bible of the Roman Catholic church around the year 400 and was used for the next thousand years. Roman Catholics considered this text to be infallible.

Justinian mosaik ravenna - PD-US
Justinian mosaik ravenna - PD-US | Source

Justinian - 527

Justinian Took the throne in Byzantium as the Emperor of Rome in 527 and set forth on a massive mission to rebuild Constantinople after much of it was destroyed by rioting and destruction. Around the time that Justinian took over, rival gangs had been ransacking the city, overthrowing and killing government officials, burning buildings and inciting a coup. Justinian was about to give up and leave the city but his wife, Theodora, encouraged him to stay and set things straight. Justinian's building campaign included the construction of bridges, roads, aqueducts, monuments, churches and monasteries. It also included rebuilding of a new, gigantic and elaborate church called Hagia Sophia. Justinian had St. Catherine's monastery built and fortified to protect the monks and pilgrims who went there from the raiding Sacrens. Justinian is also responsible for construction of the church of San Vitale in Ravenna.


Charlemagne - 768

Pepin’s son, Charles the Great, took the throne in 768 and continued to subdue the pagan tribes in Europe. He forced them to submit to his authority and agree to the Nicene Creed. He expanded the empire to include Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, France, most of Germany and some of Northern Italy. Pope Leo III Crowned Charlemagne emperor of the "Holy Roman Empire" on Christmas Day of 800. This event more accurately marks the time from which Christianity began to be the "state religion" of Rome. Charlemagne promoted Christianity aggressively and was instrumental in the promotion of literacy throughout the empire.

San Vitale - 540

Under Justinian’s rule, around 540, after Belisarius conquered Ravenna, Italy, church leaders were to oversee the construction of a grand church called the San Vitale. It was an imposing structure similar to Santa Costanza in Rome but was octagonal instead of round. It was two stories high and had a dome. It was beautifully decorated inside with arches and elaborate mosaics. Two famous mosaics depict Justinian and Theodora in a procession. In the mosaic with Justinian, his right foot is over the foot of the civil authority figures on his right, but his left foot is not over the foot of the church authority figures on his left. This was the artist's way of showing that while the Emperor was over the civil authority, he was considered to be on equal terms with the authority of the church.


Crusades One through Three

After the collapse of Constantine’s Byzantium (Roman) Empire, there were many attacks from Arab nations seeking to spread Islam after the death of Muhammed. In the 700’s Muslims conquered North Africa, territories in the Eastern Mediterranean region, some of Italy and almost all of Spain. In the mean time, with the crowning of Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Empire was growing and people started to see Christianity as an ideal worth fighting for. In 1095, Pope Urban II preached that the Christians needed to free the Holy land of Jerusalem from Muslim control. The idea of a holy war caught on and many people volunteered. In July of 1099, many inhabitants of Jerusalem were slaughtered and the Christian forces had their victory. In the 1100’s, the second and third crusades were not as successful and there was much bloodshed. The holy land was taken back by the Muslims. Christians had to resort to diplomacy to gain access to Jerusalem.


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    • Civil War Bob profile image

      Civil War Bob 

      8 years ago from Glenside, Pennsylvania

      Well done hub, WR! It appears that you are widely read in history...keep it up.

    • WiseRabbit profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Western North Carolina

      Thanks, Wetnose! I enjoyed writing it and am glad it was useful to you.

    • wetnosedogs profile image


      8 years ago from Alabama

      I enjoyed this well-written hub. So much of this, I didn't know and I am glad to have read this. Great job.


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