Constantine the Great: A Prophet in the 4th Century A.D

Sunday, March 13, 2016





MARCH 2015


CHAPTER 1- INTRODUCTION…………………………………………………………... 2
A.    STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM……………………………………………... 3
B.     SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY………………………………………………. 3
C.     SCOPE AND LIMITATION……………………………………………………... 4
D.    METHODOLOGY…………………..……………………………………………. 5

CHAPTER II- THE STORY OF CONSTANTINE “THE PROPHET”………………………………………………………………………………….. 6
A.    THE YOUNGER FLAVIUS VALERIUS CONSTANTINUS……………………………………………………………....... 6
B.     THE VISION OF CONSTANTINE……………………………………………… 7
C.     THE PROPHETIC CROSS………………………………………………………. 12
D.    THE EDICT OF MILAN…………………………………………………………. 14

A.    CONSTANTINE’S ACTION…………………………………………………….. 22

CHAPTER IV- CONCLUSION……………………………………………………………. 26
A.    SUMMARY………………………………………………………………………  26
B.     FINDINGS………………………………………………………………………..  27
C.     RECOMMENDATION…………………………………………………………..  29

Bibliography………………………………………………………………………………….  30






People today think of a prophet as any individual who grasps to tell the future. While the gift of prophecy certainly includes the ability to see the future, a prophet is far more than just a person with that ability. A prophet is basically a spokesman for God, a person chosen by God to speak to people on God's behalf and convey a message or teaching. Prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship and closeness to God. They set the standards for the entire community.
In Christianity a prophet is one inspired by God through the Holy Spirit to bring a message for a specific purpose. God's calling as a prophet is not to uplift an individual for their own brilliance, but for the glory of God and to bring back people to him. The reception of a message is called revelation and the delivery of the message is designated prophecy.
At the baptism we were marked with oil as a sign that we are consecrated to God and anointed by the Holy Spirit. Our anointing also was a sign that we are joined to Christ and share in his threefold mission as prophet, priest, and king. The Israelites anointed their priests and kings with oil. They spoke of their prophets as being anointed with the spirit. Jesus, known as the Christ, the anointed one, fills all three roles. According to Luke, at the outset of his public ministry, Jesus read from Isaiah and claimed that the words referred to him: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Luke 4:18). Moreover, prophet is a messenger sent by God, a person who speaks for God. He or she witnesses to God, calls people to conversion, and may also foretell the future. Prophets often are killed for their message. Jesus fits this description. He is none other than the Word of God in the flesh. He called the world to turn from sin and return to the Father and was put to death for it. In Scripture Jesus is presented as a prophet. Crowds identified him as “Jesus the prophet” (Matthew 21:11). He spoke of himself as a prophet: “No prophet is accepted in his own native place” (Luke 4:24). He foretold his passion and resurrection.
Furthermore, in this paper the student would try to present historical accounts that will present Constantine the Great as an individual who lived his three- fold mission through baptism as king, priest and especially prophet. The topics below presented Constantine as a messenger of God in the times of persecution on 300 year-old Church. What he had done to the Church in his time and all that he had experienced like his “vision” of the Cross was indeed qualified Constantine not only a champion of the faith but eventually a prophet to unify and strengthen the Church in the 4th century.
Finally the paper followed the history of the Church in account. Church history treats of the growth in time and space of the Church founded by Christ. Inasmuch as its subject matter is derived from and rooted in the faith, it is a theological discipline; and in this respect it differs from the history of Christianity.[1] The idea of the Church should not only be derived on the understanding of structure and its governance as such but on the divine origin founded on the teaching of Jesus Christ. This is the very reason why we view the Church as ship “sailing fully rigged and unchanged over the ocean of the centuries”[2] guided by human sailor through the divine selection of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the historical character of the Church rests ultimately on the Incarnation of the Logos and Its entry into human history.[3] It understands on the basis that Christ willed his Church to be a society of human beings. It rests on the fact that the Logos believes in the capacity and will of human beings to reinforce the Kingdom of  Heaven mirrored in the Church under the leadership of men and women: the apostolic college, the episcopate, the papacy and even to Emperors.
The history of the Christian church is account of men and women who because of their prophetic mission exemplified extraordinary work to contribute on humanities religious heritage. These are individuals who professed the Lordship of Jesus Christ and went on their way to express this faith in many countless terms. These people in the church contributed not only for the development of Christian communities but also for the furtherance of various fields such as politics, science, arts and literature.
The researcher ventures on the historical theology specifically on the role of Constantine in the first ecumenical council of Nicaea in the year 325 on the occasion of heresies of Arianism and Donatism. Here, we will explore who Constantine the Great is and his contribution to the Christological foundation of the Church started in his reign through his prophetic mission. Constantine, the emperor of the Roman Empire also vowed for the unity of his territory, we would like also to perceive the political and even personal interests of Constantine in convoking the Council of Nicaea.

In this work, the researcher attempts to answer the question “ Is Constantine a prophet in the 4th century?” It aims also to answer the following questions, first, who is Constantine the Great? And second, what is the political and theological influence of Constantine in the life of 300 year-old Church with regard to the prevailing error of his time?

Church history as a theological discipline in the light of prophetic mission of a person is not the Church’s cabinet of antiquities. It is her understanding of herself and therefore an integral part of theology. He who studies the development and growth of the Church in the light of faith enters into her divine-human nature, understands her as she is, not as she ought to be, learns to know the laws by which she lived and himself gains a clear view of her from within. A condition of this study of writing must of course be a strictly scientific investigation and an impartial presentation of the facts. If these tasks are carried out, Church history can and draws conclusions that will be important for the understanding of the present day and modern problems.
In times like this, Church history is constantly confronted with problems of the present day. We are confronted with various shifts in our beliefs, traditions and relations to one another, from church to church, from nation to nation and so much more. In this regard, the importance of historical theology must be emphasized as to realize the roots of the Church, including her centuries-old beliefs, in the midst of twists and turn. Furthermore, I would like to highlight the value of historical theology following the discussion of the prophetic mission that it lies in the fact that it opens up rich possibilities of the Christian life, and faces squarely the problems of human element in the Church, of power, of sin, and failure. Historical theology can and will uphold our identity as prophets even in the midst of plurality.
Specifically, this paper would like to point on, first, on the value of secular power in helping the Church realize its prophetic mission as an institutional organization. That the secular power, in a positive way helps improve and defend the rights and even privileges of the people of God throughout history. Second, that the Christians as modern prophets should realize their humble beginnings in the hands of secular authority. Third that the readers may understand a specific part of profane and sacred history in which these two joined together, in a collaborative effort, in whatever agenda they have, for the betterment of the people of God.

The researcher is investigating the prophetic mission of Constantine the Great, who convoked and guided the first ecumenical council of Nicaea in the year A.D. 325. Specifically, the paper covers the brief background of the young Flavius Valerius Constantinus who later became Constantine the Great. The researcher also tries to investigate on the importance of Edict of Milan in the year 313 on the life early Christians, the vision of Constantine according to available sources, and the true cross ‘discovered’ through the effort of Empress Helena and on its prominence and centrality to Constantine’s theology and ecclesiastical power. Furthermore, the researcher ventures on the dominant error of faith on Constantine’s time- the Arianism that prompted the Emperor to convoke the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea. These efforts were made to keep the unity in the empire including his increasing toleration for Christianity, as well as stricter regulations against traditional Roman religious practices until his baptism in his death bed in the year A.D. 337.
However, the researcher would like to establish the parameters of the paper by considering mainly on secondary sources written and available regarding the subject matter. Nevertheless, there are translated documents and records to further enhance the paper.  Other books and articles are also cited in further understanding of the topic. This work is not more than thirty pages and so the readers would expect a general and broad discussion of the subject matter. In addition, the paper is not intended for a deep and detailed Christological reflection especially in the third chapter but a simple presentation on the issues and events happened in the life of the Church during the reign of Constantine the Great.

The paper is qualitative research maximizing sources from libraries, book rooms and other written records containing important data on the subject matter. Library research is done to gather necessary and relevant information and data needed in the study. Critical thinking, however, is very much part of research writing. In view of this, analysis and introspection are employed by the researcher. Furthermore, the paper is a historical theology in nature. Historical theology is the systematic investigation, corrections and improvements of the information of the past in regarding Church and humanity in relation to God as ever present in our history. Hence, the researcher encourages the readers to take and proceed on the paper in the light of Christian faith.


The third century was a period of civil war, barbarian invasion, and general social breakdown throughout the empire. As chaos mounted, so did the power of the military, which successfully asserted authority over the Roman state, and even over the seat of the emperors, who came and went so quickly that they were unable to establish power centers of their own.[4] On the other side, the church also went through unimaginable persecution from the Roman Empire, though all the time growing and spreading. So imagine what an extraordinary turn of events it was when the Roman emperor himself became a Christian later in the story. Indeed the society needed a prophet.
The Emperor Flavius Valerius Constantinus, surnamed the Great was born February 27, 272 or 274.[5] His birthplace is believed to be Naissus, today’s Nis in Serbia.  His father was Constantius Chlorus[6] a native of that vicinity and famous as a general under the Emperor Diocletian.  His mother was Helena,[7] the daughter of a humble innkeeper, whom Constantius had met during his military sojourn in that area.  Constantine, born out of wedlock, had grown to school age before he and his mother were united with Constantius, now governor of Dalmatia, to live as a family at the mansion in Salonae on the Adriatic coast.  It was there that the young Constantine received the attention of his parents, his basic education, and an early exposure to a military environment. His father’s mild and tolerant disposition toward his subjects, his soldiers, and even his defeated opponents, may explain Constantine’s own forthcoming attitude in favor of free religious expression.  Constantius may have had Christian leanings since the early years.  He had ascended to the position of power through the military ranks.  Later, based on Emperor Diocletian’s arranged conditions, he advanced by divorcing Helen and marrying Emperor Maximian’s daughter, Theodora.  Another arrangement was that his son, Constantine, would serve in Diocletian’s imperial court.[8]  It was in 293 that Diocletian and Maximian appointed their own Caesars under their charge to bolster the administration of their respective jurisdictions.  Diocletian took Galerius as his Caesar and Maximian took Constantius.  Galerius was the instigator of the mandated Christian persecution.  Constantine followed Diocletian to the imperial city of Nicomedia in Asia Minor, while Helen, now divorced, took up residence in Drepanum, a small town near Nicomedia, in order to be near her son.  The period of service at the court and in the field under Diocletian, provided the opportunity for Constantine to distinguish himself as a soldier, and proved to be very valuable to him later in his role as an administrator.  He also served under Galerius, when the latter replaced Diocletian at the helm.  In this case, however, Constantine became a virtual hostage to his superior who held on to the young centurion as an assurance against any aggression on the part of Constantius.[9]  In time, Constantine made his move and in a very swift escape rejoined his father at Eboracum—today’s York in Britain.  Constantius died on July 25, 306 and the young and popular Constantine was proclaimed Augustus by his troops.[10] At his side was his son Constantine, who is commonly said to have been about eighteen years old. He was described by contemporaries as a large, impressive-looking man, and he certainly had impressed his father’s troops. They spontaneously hailed him as the successor to Constantius, the August of the Western empire.[11] The event marked the beginning of Constantine’s climb to the top.

The “vision” of Constantine launched him as a person who had received a particular message from the Christian God.  Constantine took the first step towards the realization of his idea in the autumn of 312 when, against the advice of his entourage, he took the field against the Maxentius, then master of Italy and Africa, and whose troops outnumbered his.[12] Maxentius is Maximian’s son, seeing shunted himself, staked his own claim to be emperor of the West.[13] Previously, Constantine obtained Licentius’ agreement (another emperor) to this undertaking and promised him the hand of his sister Constantia in return. Constantine stormed Italy, moving against Maxentius’ army, fortified in Rome. The story is that Constantine’s legion were spent by now, demoralized, and uncertain so far from home. In the coming battle against Maxentius, who would be fighting on his home ground, they would be decided underdog.[14] The decision turned in Constantine’s favour at the battle of the Milvian Bridge to the north city on October 28, 312.[15] Maxentius lost throne and life, and the way was on for Constantine into the Western capital consecrated tradition. He was in possession of the whole of Western Europe and had victoriously concluded the first stage of his journey to universal rule.[16]
Prior to the battle in the Milvian Bridge, the emperor, in desperation raised his eyes to the sky and implored the Deus Summus to reveal his identity and to proffer his help. Constantine later confided to Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea what followed, and he swore by an oath that his story was true. He said,

“Accordingly he called on him with earnest prayer and supplications that he would reveal to him who he was, and stretch forth his right hand to help him in his present difficulties. And while he was thus praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvelous sign appeared to him from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person. But since the victorious emperor himself long afterwards declared it to the writer of this history, when he was honored with his acquaintance and society, and confirmed his statement by an oath, who could hesitate to accredit the relation, especially since the testimony of after-time has established its truth? He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, ‘Conquer by this.’ At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle.”[17]

            The account of “vision” of Constantine will eventually be doubted by some historians and offering some explanations from the experience of real miracle or vision to that of merely invention of his mind because of the great circumstance he was facing. Moreover, if it was truly happened, it has been thought that what Constantine’s “vision” was merely a natural phenomenon from the sun or from the formation of the cloud in the sky. This skeptical explanation from other historians is a response of the unavailability of any proof recorded apart from Eusebius and Lactantius or from any vivid description. It must have been the emperor was purely in destress of how he could claim victory from the enemy and so his mind seek refuge for some alternative gods including the God of Christians.
 The emperor did not completely comprehend the meaning of this apparition; but that night he had a dream in which Christ appeared to him and admonished him to use the sacred sign of the Christian faith as a defensive charm for his army. As Constantine had been a protector of Christian believers in his domains, there were Christian clergymen traveling in his entourage and praying for the success of his campaign.[18] He questioned them on the meaning of his revelations and on the sacred signs of their religion. They responded that the cross was the symbol of the victory over death won through the saving act of Christ. They probably informed him that Christian fideles were marked with the sign of the cross at baptism, and were told to invoke the name of Christ whenever they felt endangered by demonic forces.[19] The emperor learned that the crux et nomen Christi were potent signs which could be used against the forces of evil.[20] Constantine probably remembered the famous incidents when the failure of an haruspex at Antioch to find any signs in a sacrificial animal had been blamed on the hexing of the sacrifice by a Christian palace worker marking his forehead with the symbol of the cross; and when the failure of the Oracle of Apollo at Didyma to utter prophecies was blamed on the existence of the iusti.[21] The emperor must have reasoned that if Christian signs were more powerful than pagan rites, the Christian Divinity would be the Deus Summus, and the sacred symbols of Christ would overcome the superstitious magic of Maxentius. At this moment, Constantine converted to the Christian God.[22] His conversion was not the final decision in a long internal search for moral regeneration and personal salvation; but it was not a momentary act of pure political expediency either.
Solar syncretism had made him a seeker of the “Highest God.” Cultural toleration had opened him to Christian influences. Superstitious religion had made him a believer in symbols. His revelatory experiences convinced him that the God of the Christians had answered his sincere prayers, and that the sign of their cult would meet his urgent needs. The following morning he summoned his workmen, and directed them to fashion a new battle standard known as the Labarum[23]—it was a gold spear crossed by a bar holding a banner with the imperial portrait, and topped with a monogram made out of the first two letters of the name of Christ in Greek, the letter Chi traversed by the letter Rho.[24] It therefore combined the two potent symbols of Christianity. Constantine communicated his religious revelations to his soldiers, and ordered them to mark their shields with the monogram of Christ, which would serve as a safeguard against the enemy. If this personal account of his conversion experience had not been preserved by Eusebius, something similar to it would have to be assumed based on the references to prayers, dreams, divine inspiration, and sacred sign found in other written sources, and on the use of crosses and Christograms seen on Roman imperial coins.[25] Suffice it to say here that Constantine did not just tell this story to his biographer, but he also related it to his family and friends, and that it became common knowledge in late antiquity. When a usurper tried to overthrow his heirs a dozen years after his death, his daughter Constantina and his son Constantius II reacted by issuing bronze coins invoking the divine vision of their father and the divine institution of their dynasty.
            Eusebius added, “thus then the God of all, the Supreme Governor of the whole universe, by his own will appointed Constantine, the descendant of so renowned a parent, to be prince and sovereign: so that, while others have been raised to this distinction by the election of their fellow-men, he is the only one to whose elevation no mortal may boast of having contributed.”[26]


Just as Constantine’s battle-eve vision of the cross at Milvian Bridge in 321 was not reliably recounted until 325, so the full story of Helena’s “discovery” of the True Cross was first told only years later, by Saint Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, in the year 395.[27] Eusebius, our source for Constantine’s Nicaean telling of her vision, was, as we saw, the bishop of Caesarea in Palestine. In that role, he accompanied Helena on her pilgrimage, and he records the fact of that journey’s having taken place.[28] Meanwhile, the promulgation of the Nicaean creed, unanimous or not, hardly settled the quarrels in the Church, with the objections being raised especially in the East. “It would have been Helena’s task in her ‘pilgrimage’ to help solve the problem.”[29] Drijvers provides an exhaustive history of the legend of the True Cross, and in what follows I rely on his account “Helena’s journey was not restricted to Palestine, but included in fact a visit to all eastern provinces, as Eusebius himself states. She did not travel as a humble pilgrim but as an Augusta.”[30] In Drijver’s view, Helena made her dramatic journey to further Constantine’s effort to Christianize pagans.[31] Her related purpose was to help Christians overcome their reluctance to embrace the policy of unification of the Church.
There are reasons to accept as historical the underlying fact of the legend of the True Cross. That under Constantine, within a short time of Nicaea, something thenceforth revealed as the cross on which Jesus died was discovered. Constantine, writing to the bishop of Jerusalem in 326, refers to a “token of that holiest Passion” that had only recently been rescued from the earth, and he implicitly defined the basilica,[32] to be known as the Martyrium, as a shrine to the True Cross.[33] This is a geographical and physical extension of his placing the cross at the center of Christian symbolism at Milvian Bridge, and at the center of theology at Nicaea. As in reflected in the adjustments to the Nicene Creed in these years- “crucified…suffered, died, and was buried”- the idea of the centrality of the cross spread quickly.[34]
Saint Cyril, a successor bishop of Jerusalem, writing in 351 to a successor emperor, Constantine’s son Constantius II, connects the dots by the Milvian Bridge vision to the discovered True Cross in Jerusalem.[35]
“For if in the days of your imperial father, Constantine of blessed memory, the saving wood of the Cross was found in Jerusalem (divine grace granting the finding of the long hidden holy places to one who nobly aspire to sactity, now, sire, in the reign of your most godly majesty, as if to mark how far your zeal excels your forebear’s piety, not from the earth but from the skies marvels appear: the Only-begotten Son of God, even the holy Cross, flashing and sparkling with brilliant light, has been seen at Jerusalem”[36]

The cross became the central figure of Christianity in the time of Constantine the Great. From his vision of this sign to the discovery of the True Cross facilitated by his mother Helena. It seems that after the victory in the Milvian Bridge, the idea of searching for the relic became dominant in the life and works of Constantine and Helena. Through their efforts, the Church developed a theology and spirituality centered on the Cross of Christ.

The edict of Milan is a declaration that permanently recognized religious toleration for Christianity within the Roman Empire. It was the outcome of a political agreement concluded in Milan between the Roman emperors Constantine and Licinius in February 313. The Edict of Milan gave Christianity a legal status, but did not make Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire. Hilarion Alfeyev, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, presented a paper in the opening of the academic year at the Pontifical Theological Faculty of Southern Italy. He said,
“Two years ago, the Christian world solemnly celebrated the 1700th anniversary of the edict signed in Milan in 313 AD by the emperors of the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman Empire Constantine and Licinius. The Edict of Milan is in essence the first official state document in the Roman Empire to which the ‘Catholic Church’ gained the right not only to exist, but also the right to state and public recognition. If before Christians were persecuted and destroyed, if they could exist only in the catacombs and deep underground, then the Edict of Milan Christians for the first time, on an equal footing with pagans, were given the right to confess and preach openly their faith, to build churches and open monasteries and schools.” [37]
 The great achievement of the Constantine era was the recognition of the Church as a full participant in the social process, which allowed her to not only freely organize her internal life but also to exercise an important influence on the life of the state and society.[38] Many Christians of that time still remembered how the persecutors of the Church obliterated her from the public arena and drove her out from city.[39] We can have an idea of the worldview of Christians in the era of persecution by reading, for example, the Apology of Tertullian.[40] Christians in the era of persecution had to prove to the imperial authorities their loyalty and their usefulness by participating fully in the life of civil society.[41] Yet the authorities remained deaf to such proof. And suddenly the same generation of persecuted and harassed Christians became a witness to the recognition of the Church as an integral part of society.[42] Moreover, several years after the issue of the Edict of Milan Christianity was transformed into a spiritual force that in many ways defined the course of the subsequent history of the empire and the entire world.
As a result of the Milan Accords the emperors Constantine the Great and Licinius affirm something completely new. They are publicly declaring:
 “We have, therefore, determined, with sound and upright purpose, that liberty is to be denied to no one, to choose and to follow the religious observances of the Christians, but that to each one freedom is to be given to devote his mind to that religion which he may think adapted to himself in order that the Deity may exhibit to us in all things his accustomed care and favour… now everyone who has the same desire to observe the religion of the Christians may do so without molestation… Christians are granted unrestricted liberty… Liberty is granted to others also who may wish to follow their own religious observances; it being clearly in accordance with the tranquility of our times, that each one should have the liberty of choosing and worshiping whatever deity he pleases.”[43]
It is important to note that this document granted freedom to Christianity not to the detriment of the other religions of the Roman Empire;[44] the followers of the various pagan cults retained their rights and freedoms as before.[45] However, the Edict of Milan in essence recognized the fact that the Church is not some marginal sect that corrupted the traditional pillars of society. On the contrary, the document’s authors were convinced that Christians were capable of directing the mercy of God to all the people.[46] That Christians could please God and be useful to society is what the new edict was based upon, expressing the hope that the ‘Deity’ would send down upon the authorities and the people ‘in all things his accustomed care and favour’.[47] These lines did not merely give rights and freedoms to the Christians on an equal footing with the pagans, but also opened up to them the possibility of declaring themselves to be a new force capable of having a positive influence on society and to fill its life with divine meaning.[48]
In these new conditions Christians – bishops, theologians, monks and many laymen – found their place. Within the empire there unfolded a riotous blooming of Christian thought and culture, there was born a Christian philosophy of history, there was formed a new relationship of the Church towards the world that surrounded her.[49] The era which was initiated by the publication of the Edict has entered history as a golden age of Christianity, while for the empire this era became a time of shifts in worldview paradigms.[50] The Church’s theology lay at the foundation of a new understanding of personal, social and governmental responsibility, influenced the renewal of all of society’s institutions, gave a new integral foundation to family relationships and the attitude towards women, and ensured the gradual eradication of the institution of slavery in the empire.[51]
The Edict of Milan has been justly called within the scholarly world the ‘edict of toleration’.[52] And yet it is with the Edict of Milan that a new era was begun both for the Church and for the Roman state, which ultimately led to the issue in 380 AD of the decree of emperor Theodosius I which proclaimed Christianity to be a state religion and placed the traditional pagan religion in effect outside of the law.[53]

This will be his greatest contribution in the Church not only as an emperor but as person with prophetic role. Constantine remained in northern Italy into the spring of 313 until he was sure that Licinius had gained ascendancy over Maximin in Thrace. While his ally pushed the persecutor back into Asia, overcame their foe, and liberated Christians in the east, Constantine moved up into Gaul, defeated Franks on the Rhine, and returned to Trier in triumph in the west. Although he believed that power from the great Deity of the Christians had aided him in winning victory over his enemies and in gaining supremacy in the empire, Constantine as yet knew little about the beliefs and practices of Christianity. Over the next few years, his study of Christian doctrines and his involvement in Church disputes would strengthen his knowledge of his new religion, and stir within him a sense of mission. When he returned to Rome for the celebration of the Decennalia of his accession, he became convinced that he was the divinely appointed agent of the omnipotent Christian Divinity, and began a building program which would transform the city from a pagan capital into the Apostolic See.[54]
In the decade following, the political alliance and religious agreement between Constantine and Licinius would crumble, and the two emperors would struggle for supremacy in the Roman world. First, they quarreled over the appointment of a Caesar in Italy, and fought two battles by which Constantine gained control of the Illyrian and Balkan provinces (316–17).[55] Then, they carried on a “cold war” over religion, with Constantine expanding his support for the Christian Church and Licinius affirming his loyalty to the pagan cults.[56] Finally, a campaign against barbarians in Licinian territory by Constantine and a persecution of Christians in the east by Licinius ignited a “holy war” in which Constantine and the Christian cause triumphed over Licinius and the pagan gods. In the aftermath of his victory, Constantine would proclaim Christianity the favored religion in the Roman Empire, and would extend his imperial beneficence to the Eastern Church. When he found that the eastern clergy were divided over the definition of the Deity, the pious emperor climaxed his political triumphs by summoning an Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church known as Council of Nicaea.
This council opened on 19 June in the presence of the emperor, and regarded the most important in the history of the Church.[57] In the extant lists of bishops present, Ossius of Cordova, and the presbyters Vitus and Vincentius are listed before the other names, but it is more likely that Eustathius of Antioch or Alexander of Alexandria presided.[58] The bold text in the profession of faith of the 318 fathers constitutes, according to Tanner "The additions made by the council to an underlying form of the creed", and that the underlying creed was most likely "derived from the baptismal formula of Caesarea put forward by the bishop of that city Eusebius" or that it "developed from an original form which existed in Jerusalem or at any rate Palestine".[59] "A direct descent from the creed of Eusebius of Caesarea is manifestly out of the question."[60]  The figure of 318 given is from Hilary of Poitier and is the traditional one. Other numbers are Eusebius 250, Eustathius of Antioch 270, Athanasius about 300, Gelasius of Cyzicus at more than 300.[61]
They were united in the confession of faith, and also about the date of Easter. And each individual put his signature to their common doctrine. This is the agreement of faith that the great council of Nicea, assented to with a loud acclamation:
“We believe in one God the Father all powerful, maker of all things both seen and unseen. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten begotten from the Father, that is from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, CONSUBSTANTIAL with the Father, through whom all things came to be, both those in heaven and those in earth; for us humans and for our salvation he came down and became incarnate, became human, suffered and rose up on the third day, went up into the heavens, is coming to judge the living and the dead. And in the holy Spirit.”[62]
And those who say: "There was a time when he was not", and "before he was begotten he was not", and that he came to be from things that were not, or from another hypostasis or substance, affirming that the Son of God is subject to change or alteration these the Catholic and Apostolic church condemns.[63]
It was called by the Emperor Constantine as a prophet with the aim of bringing peace and harmony to the church. The issues that needed to be resolved were the date of Easter and the Arian controversy. Constantine’s concern was above all for unity and harmony. The bishops, while sharing this concern, placed a higher premium on theological truth. For them the resolution of the Arian affair had to preserve the truth of the Gospel as well as the unity of the church. Those who were concerned to maintain the full deity of Christ had every reason to be satisfied with the creed that emerged from the council. The two original aims were met in that Arianism was condemned and the date of Easter was fixed. Other disciplinary matters were also resolved in the canons of the council.

A prophet is someone who would reject the errors of time. And hence, Constantine became aware of the prevailing errors of Arianism in his empire. The conflict had started in Alexandria during the “cold war” era, and characterized it according to Eusebius as “mighty fire” centered on the precise relationship of Christ the Son to God the Father.[64] The New Testament had indicated clearly that Jesus was the promised Messiah of Old Testament prophecies, and in some special sense the Son and Word of God who communicated the perfect revelation of divine will to humanity.[65] However, some texts in the Bible emphasized the humanity of Christ and his subordination to the Father (Mt 24:36: “But as for that day and hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, no one but the Father alone”); while others emphasized the divinity of Christ and his equality with the Father (Jn 10:30: “The Father and I are one”).[66] Church theologians had struggled for centuries to maintain the Old Testament doctrine of a single God while making room for the New Testament teachings about the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Christian definition of the Deity.[67] The Church in the Latin west, following the lead of Tertullian, had settled on the concept of a Triune God of one substance and three persons, emphasizing the unity and equality of the persons within the Trinity.[68] The Church in the Greek east had split over this issue, with some leaders largely in agreement with the western definition; but others following the lead of Origen, emphasizing the unique nature of the Father, and the separate and subordinate qualities of the Son and the Spirit.[69] Lucian of Antioch, a celebrated but controversial Christian teacher/martyr in the early fourth century—along with several of his influential students—had taken the speculations of Origen to the extreme, and seemed to be denigrating the status of Christ the Son in order to preserve the unique quality of God the Father.[70] Such was the case with Arius, the man whose name defined the theological controversy which now engulfed the eastern church— Arianism.[71] Arius was a senior presbyter serving the Baucalis parish in a rural district of Alexandria during the reign of Licinius. He was a tall, ascetic, and eloquent preacher, who delighted in using Platonic speculation in his biblical homilies and in receiving passionate adoration from his faithful hearers.[72] Starting from Platonic premises, he taught that God was the eternal and indivisible monad[73], and that once He was alone and not a Father.[74] Wishing to create the cosmos, God made a Son out of nothing, and endowed him with his Word through whom the created order came into being. The Son, therefore, was neither co-eternal nor consubstantial with the Father: he was both posterior in time to, and different in essence from, the Father. The Father was unoriginated and without a beginning, but the Son was originated and with a beginning. Although anterior to other creatures, the Son was still a creature, and, like them, subject to change.[75]

Constantine strategically elevated the Catholic Church into a power that somehow will unite his empire. At least, this was in the mind of the emperor. However, he found himself in the middle on internal conflicts of beliefs on the Christian deity. As a result, the emperor halted his imperial tour at Antioch, composed a long and eirenic[76] letter to Alexander and Arius, and commissioned his Christian advisor Ossius of Cordova to take the letter to Alexandria and see if he could settle the theological conflict at its source.[77] Ossius seems to have carried out his mission in the early months of the year 325. Although Constantine probably understood the seriousness of the theological dispute from his readings in Lactantius and from his discussions with Ossius, he attempted to minimize the significance of the conflict and to play the role of a peacemaker in his epistle in public on obscure issues that the feebleness of human faculties could never fully understand; he argued, rather, that it was more important for them to maintain a spirit of concord and a unity of fellowship in service to “our great God and common Savior.” He urged them to resume a united judgment of faith and mutual feelings of friendship.[78]
After Ossius had returned to Nicomedia in the spring from dealing with this “blazing fire’, Constantine and his imperial entourage journeyed southwest to Nicaea, and prepared the palace for the upcoming council which was convoked by Constantine himself to settle the dispute between two parties.[79] The imperial audience hall was lined with seats which were organized according to the status of the episcopal leaders. As the date for the council approached, Christian bishops—often accompanied by presbyters and deacons— arrived in the Bithynian city and settled in their appointed accommodations.[80] Only a few Church leaders came from the west, where there was little interest in the eastern conflicts: Ossius from Spain; Caecilian from Africa; Marcus of Calabria, and the Roman presbyters Victor and Vincentius, representing Pope Sylvester, from Italy; Nicasius from Gaul; and Domnus from Pannonia.[81] Most of the bishops and clergy came from the east, where the conflicts had been very divisive: among the anti-Arians, Alexander of Alexandria and his charismatic deacon Athanasius; Macarius of Jerusalem; Eustathius of Antioch; and Marcellus of Ancyra; among the pro-Arians, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nicaea, Eusebius of Caesarea, and Narcissus of Neronias.[82] Besides these primary figures, there were scores of lesser-known bishops from small towns, who seemed more interested in meeting the imperial champion of their faith than in debating the divisive issues of the day.[83] Since about 300 bishops—and three or four times that many associated clergy— descended upon Nicaea from across the empire and beyond its borders, this gathering has rightly been called the “First Ecumenical Council of the Church.”[84]

Meanwhile, the great defender of the Nicene faith had come fully on the scene. Athanasius was born in Alexandrea about 295.[85] In the early stages of the Arian controversy, he was a deacon, and served as private secretary to Bishop Alexander. Not a great speculative theologian, Athanasius was in great character.[86] Hence, Eusebius of Nicomedia soon saw in Athanasius the real enemy. Constantine would not desert the Nicene decision, but the same practical result could be achieved, Eusebius thought, by striking at its defenders.[87] The Eusebians determined to secure the embarrassment of Athanasius and the restoration of Arius.[88] The latter, who had returned from exile even before Eusebius, now presented to Constantine a creed carefully indefinite on the question at issue. To Constantine’s untheological mind this seemed a satisfactory retraction, and an expression of willingness to make peace. He directed Athanasius to restore Arius to his place in Alexandria. Athanasius refused. Charges of overbearing and disloyal conduct were brought against Athanasius.[89] Constantine was finally persuaded that the main obstacle in the path of peace was Athanasius’ stubbornness. The bishops assembled for the dedication of Constantine’s just completed church in Jerusalem, under Eusebian influences, and decided in favor of Arius’ restoration in 335, and near the end of the year Constantine exiled Athanasius in Gaul.[90] The leading defender of the Nicene creed being thus struck down, the Eusebians planned the restoration of Arius himself to church fellowship; but on the evening before the formal ceremony was to take place Arius suddenly died in 336. He was an aged man, and the excitement may well have been fatal.[91]
            The Nicene faith seemed thus not officially overthrown, but practically undermined, when Constantine died on May 22, 337. Shortly before his death he was baptize at the hands of Eusebius of Nicomendia.[92] The charges which his life had witnessed, and he had largely wrought, in the status of the church were enormous; but they were not by any means wholly advantageous.[93] If persecution had ceased, and members were rapidly growing under imperial favor, doctrinal discussions that earlier would have run their course were now political questions of the first magnitude, and the Emperor had assumed a power in ecclesiastical affairs which was ominous for the future of the Church.[94] Yet in the existing constitution of the Roman Empire such results were probably certain, once the Emperor himself should become, like Constantine, an adherent of the Christian faith.
The third century was a period of civil war, barbarian invasion, and general social breakdown throughout the empire. Alongside with it, the church also went through unimaginable persecution from the Roman Empire, though all the time growing and spreading. So what an extraordinary turns of events it was when the Roman Emperor himself became a Christian later in the story. He became a champion of faith and a prophet of his time. The young Flavius Valerius Constantinus, surnamed the Great was born February 27, 272 or 274. His birthplace is believed to be Naissus, today’s Nis in Serbia. He grew in the palace with the emperor to keep him fit in battle while his father is ruling the Western part of the empire- the Gaul. He is brilliant, advance in battle skills and respectable stature. This character of Constantine was seen by his army when he fought together with his father who is advancing in age. Later in the battle, the latter died while eventually Constantine was unanimously proclaimed as the new emperor of the West. This was the start of the promising career of the young Constantine who made every way possible to claim victories against enemies. In the battle of Milvian Bridge against emperor Maxentius of East, he earnestly prayed and had a “vision” or message of the cross instructing him to carry the sacred sign of the Christian faith as a defensive charm for his army. He had won the battle and became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire. Through his prophetic cross he had conquered the whole empire and through the same sign of the Christians, he earned respect and honor from his people especially from the Christians in which took its height when his mother Helena “discovered” the True Cross in Jerusalem. By this, the cross became the central political and theological manifestation of his power in the empire. As a sign of his gratitude to the God of Christians who had placed him in the highest position in the land, he was beginning to show toleration to the Christian religion by giving them rights and privileges in the empire. Although, to understand that even in the beginning he was shown toleration on Christians, it reached summit when he signed the Edict of Milan or Edict of Toleration.
            In the mind of the emperor was the unity of his empire that is why he bound his people in the mantle of Christianity. However, later he realized and ever witnessed the disturbing internal faction of Christians in understanding the nature of Jesus Christ their Lord. In search for the truth, Arius, a priest from Alexandria tried to explain that Jesus Christ was were human and not divine. Therefore, Jesus did not share on the divinity of the Father. The empire was stunned by this controversy until the emperor convoked the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 to clarify the nature of Jesus Christ. The issue is fundamental in such a way that the whole Christian faith and the unity of the empire depend on the problem of Arianism. As a result of the Council, Constantine together with the bishops condemned Arius and his heretical ideas.  However, this was not solved the controversy and Arianism continued to flourish in the all parts of the empire. Nevertheless, Constantine the “Prophet” in his untheological political background paved the way of convening the bishops to define a fundamental yet summit article of faith that Jesus is truly human and truly divine. Constantine may not be satisfied of what was happening in his empire yet he was instrumental in guiding a younger Church.


The prophetic role of Constantine in the Council of Nicaea could also be interpreted as the influence of Constantine in the life of the Christian Church, not only in the life time of the emperor but until today. The research, though simple and direct offers indications that will prove that indeed, Constantine is one of the secular rulers who exercised his prophetic mission in the Church in its entirety.
            The vision of Constantine in the Milvian Bridge and the discovery of the True Cross by the empress Helena are significantly linked to one another. These events influenced greatly not only in the life and culture of the whole empire but also in the theological development in the Church. This sacred symbol of Christianity became the center piece in many great buildings and places of the empire not to mention its centrality in every house of the Roman Christians. Moreover, the Church beginning to this age, gradually remove the shameful concept of the cross from symbol of criminal death to its supremacy in theology and spirituality. The cross which was the object of vision of Constantine is one way or another became the supreme symbol on human history. The cross starting from this era became the symbol of our prophetic mission as Christians.
            Following the argument above, the research would like also to assert the intervening influence of the secular power with the ecclesiastical authority, and vice versa. In the life of Constantine it is very obvious how the secular power kept the Church from further persecutions of the enemies of the Church. Constantine became the refuge of an infant Church which was shattered by the overwhelming persecution in all parts of the empire. His toleration policy toward the Christian religion paved the way for the declaration of Church as the official religion of the empire by his successors. Nevertheless, this intertwining cooperation of powers will eventually emerged a new face after Popes will have become superpower who will play the lead role in the middle ages.
            What is significant in this research is the fact that Constantine was baptized shortly before his deathbed by Eusebius of Nicomendia who in history is obvious as a sympathizer of Arianism, or an Arian himself. Therefore, Constantine was baptized as a Christian in a heretical group of Arianism. If our three-fold mission as king, priest and prophet is to be received by the power of baptism, can we qualify a great leader who established the Church as a truly prophet without the sacrament of baptism?

In this section, the researcher finally has the opportunity to present the actions that future readers should take as a result of the paper. First, the field of historical theology following the topic of prophetic mission is interesting in such a way that it gives us a background of what is present today. For example, we could understand the name “Roman” in the official name of the Church if we look back on its history during reign of Roman Empire in the ancient and Middle Ages. These, should also consider by the students to further understand our contextual theology now a days. Second, the readers or students should also deliberate on the importance of secular power like Constantine in the development of theology and the Church as a whole throughout history. We should understand that what the Church possesses right now are linking efforts and labors of ecclesiastical and secular power in the history. Third and lastly, the readers of this paper should also try a deeper theological reflection using the prophetic mission as its background in creating and sustaining a Church.

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DRIJVERS, Jan Willem. Helena  Augusta: The Mother of Constantine the Great and the Legend of Her Finding of the True Cross. Netherlands: E.J Brill, 1992.

FRANZEN, August and John Dolan, John.  A History of the Church. Herder: Palm Publishers Montreal, 1965.

GRANT, Robert. Augustus to Constantine: The Rise and Triumph of Christianity in the Roman World. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1900.

HILARION OF VOLOKOLAMSK. “The Theology of Freedom. Christianity and Secular Power: From the Edict of Milan to the Present.” Opening of the Academic Year at the Pontifical Theological Faculty of Southern Italy (17 October 2014), (accessed November 15, 2015).

JERIN, Hubert and Dolan, John, ed.  History of the Church.  New York: The Seabury Press:  1980.

JOHNSON, Luke Timothy. Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity. USA: Yale University Press, 2009.

MC BRIEN, Richard. The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

NEUNER, Jacob and DUPUIS, Jacques, eds. The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, 7th ed. Bangalore: Theological Publication of India, 1978.

ODAHL, Charles Matson. Constantine and the Christian Empire. New York: Routledge, 2004. pdf format.

PAMPHILIUS, Eusebius and Schaff, Philip ed. NPNF2-01. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine,Oration in Praise of Constantine. New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890. pdf format.

SHARP, Pamela June Oberg. Constantine’s Policy of Religious Tolerance:
Was It Tolerant or Not? MA Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies, New Mexico: University of New Mexico, 2010. pdf format.

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WALKER, Williston. A History of the Christian Church. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959.

[1] Hubert Jerin and John Dolan, ed., History of the Church (The Seabury Press: New York, 1980), 1.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4]James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews (Houghton Mifflin Company: New York, 2001), 165.
[5] Eusebius Pamphilius and Philip Schaff, ed., NPNF2-01. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine,Oration in Praise of Constantine (New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890), pdf format.
[6] August Franzen and John Dolan, A History of the Church (Herder: Palm Publishers Montreal, 1965), 57.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Eusebius Pamphilius, Eusebius Pamphilius, 412.
[9] Ibid, 413.
[10]James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword, 170.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Huber Jerin, Church History, 410.
[13] James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword, 170.
[14] Ibid, 171.
[15] Huber Jerin, Church History, 411.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Eusebius Pamphilius, Eusebius Pamphilius,740.
[18] Charles Matson Odahl, Constantine and the Christian Empire (New York: Routledge, 2004), pdf format,91.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Huber Jerin, 411.
[23] Eusebius Pamphilius, Eusebius Pamphilius, 491.
[24] Charles Matson Odahl, 92.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Eusebius Pamphilius, Eusebius Pamphilius, 489.
[27] Jan Willem Drijvers, Helena Augusta: The Mother of Constantine the Great and the Legend of Her Finding of the True Cross (Netherlands: E.J Brill, 1992), 5.
[28] James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword, 195.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Jan Willem Drijvers, Helena Augusta, 67.
[31] Ibid, 64.
[32] Basilica shrine on the site of the tomb of Jesus.
[33] Jan Willem Drijvers, Helena Augusta, 85.
[34] James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword, 196.
[35] Ibid, 196.
[36] Cited by Drijvers, Helena Augusta, 82.

[37] Hilarion of Volokolamsk, “The Theology of Freedom. Christianity and Secular Power: From the Edict of Milan to the Present,” Opening of the Academic Year at the Pontifical Theological Faculty of Southern Italy (17 October 2014), (accessed November 15, 2015).

[38] Pamela June Oberg Sharp, “Constantine’s Policy of Religious Tolerance:
Was It Tolerant or Not?” (MA Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies, New Mexico: University of New Mexico,2010) pdf format, 16.
[39] Volokolamsk, The Theology of Freedom.
[40] Apologeticus is Tertullian's most famous work, consisting of apologetic and polemic; In this work Tertullian defends Christianity, demanding legal toleration and that Christians be treated as all other sects of the Roman Empire. It is in this treatise that one finds the phrase: "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”.
[41] Volokolamsk, The Theology of Freedom.
[42] Ibid.
[43] Sharp, Constantine’s Policy of Religious Tolerance.
[44] Jerin, History of the Church, Vol. 2, 7.
[45] Sharp, Constantine’s Policy of Religious Tolerance.
[46] Ibid.
[47] Ibid.
[48] Ibid.
[49] Volokolamsk, The Theology of Freedom.
[50] Jerin, History of the Church, Vol. 2, 10.
[51] Volokolamsk, The Theology of Freedom.
[54] Odahl, Constantine and the Christian Empire, 106.
[57]Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959), 108.
[58] Norman P. Tanner, ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, (accessed November 15, 2015).
[59] Ibid.
[60] Ibid.
[61] Ibid.
[62]J. Neuter and J. Dupuis, The Christian Faith (Bangalore: Theological Publication of India, 1978), 6.
[63] Ibid, 7.
[64] Jerin, History of the Church, Vol. 2, 16.
[65] Odahl, Constantine and the Christian Empire, 167.
[66] Ibid.
[67] Jerin, History of the Church, Vol. 2, 21.
[68] Ibid, 20.
[69] Walker, A History of the Christian Church, 107.
[70] Ibid.
[71] Odahl, Constantine and the Christian Empire, 168.
[72] Jerin, History of the Church, Vol. 2, 17.
[73] Single unit, an indivisible and hence ultimately simple entity, such as an atom or a person (philosophy)
[74] Odahl, Constantine and the Christian Empire, 167.
[75] Walker, A History of the Christian Church, 108.
[76] A part of Christian theology concerned with reconciling different denominations and sects.
[77] Odahl, Constantine and the Christian Empire, 169.
[78] Ibid.
[79] Ibid.
[80] Ibid.
[81] Jerin, History of the Church, Vol. 2, 22-23.

[82]Ibid, 23.
[83] Odahl, Constantine and the Christian Empire, 172.
[84] Walker, A History of the Christian Church, 108.
[85] Walker, A History of the Christian Church, 109.
[86] Ibid.
[87] Eusebius Pamphilius, Eusebius Pamphilius, 438.
[88] Ibid.
[89] Ibid.
[90] Eusebius Pamphilius, Eusebius Pamphilius, 439.
[91] Ibid.
[92] Walker, A History of the Christian Church, 110.
[93] Ibid.
[94] Ibid.