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Article Info:
published: 3/17/04
updated: 5/13/13

The Conversion of Constantine

Constative Becomes a Christian

Constantine the Great

A major turning point in Christian history occurred when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.

Whether this conversion was sincere or politically motivated, historians can only speculate. But the result was the end of persecution of Christians and the beginning of Christendom.

In 313 Constantine issued the "Edict of Milan," which commanded official toleration of Christianity and other religions. He ordered that Sunday be granted the same legal rights as pagan feasts and that feasts in memory of Christian martyrs be recognized.

Constantine outlawed the barbaric gladiatorial shows (although they persisted until the fifth century) and forbade Jews to stone to death other Jews who chose to become Christians.


Contrary to popular belief, however, Constantine did not make Christianity the official religion of the empire. This was to be accomplished by Emperor Theodosius in 380.

Constantine's program was one of toleration only, and he continued to support both Christianity and paganism. In 314, the cross appeared on Constantine's coins, but so did the figures of Sol Invictus and Mars Convervator.

He raised his children as Christians and secured Christian clergy as person advisors, but retained the title pontifex maximus, the chief priest of the state cult, until his death.

Later Life

At Easter 337 he completed and dedicated his great church of the Holy Apostles, in which he desired to be buried. In the week that followed, his health, hitherto extremely good, gave way, and he sought relief in the warm baths at Helenopolis.

Feeling his death approaching, he confessed his sins in the church of the martyrs (of the martyr Lucianus?), and now first received imposition of hands as a catechumen. Then he moved back to the villa Ancyrona, a suburb of Nicomedia (Eutrop. x. 8; Vict. Caes. 41), and desired Baptism of the bishops whom he there assembled (V. C. iv. 61). He had wished once, he said, to be baptized in Jordan, but God had decided otherwise.

He felt that now the blessing he had so long hoped for was offered him. "Let there be no doubt about it," he added, "I have determined once for all, if the Disposer of life and death sees fit to raise me up again to fellowship with His people, to impose upon myself rules of life such as He would approve" (V. C. iv. 62, see Heinichen's note).

Baptism was administered to him by the Arian predate Eusebius of Nicomedia (Hieron. Chron. ann. 2353). From that moment he laid aside the purple robe, and wore only the white garment of a neophyte. He died on Whitsunday 337, in the 31st year of his reign, dating from July 25, 306.

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  1. "Christianity." Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2004).
  2. Justo Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, Vol 1.
  3. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, Vol 1.
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