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I have been listening to 12 Byzantine Rulers, a series of lectures about the Byzantine Empire as seen through its rulers. Constantine is a particularly interesting character in history – the man who turned the Roman Empire from a pagan state into a Christian one. He comes along at a pivotal time for Christianity – a time when orthodoxy was in serious jeopardy. The interesting part is that Constantine was not a very good man – he killed his own son and wife when they were seen as threats to him. He also really wasn’t concerned with orthodoxy – he called the council of Nicaea, which is a watershed moment in establishing Christian orthodoxy, but he personally did not see the dispute, which was over the issue of Christ’s divinity, as anything worth fighting over, and only called the council because it threatened his power. Constantine was a bit of a megalomaniac as well, equating himself with Christ on many occasions. However, despite this, he was an important figure in Christian history.

First off, he defeated the last persecutors, and this allowed Christianity to begin fleshing out its doctrines. The council of Nicaea was an important moment – this set up many important aspects of the Christian faith, and defined the basis of the Christian faith as well. Christ’s divinity was set up as crucial, and anyone who denied it would be forever seen as a Christian heretic: something that may not have happened had Constantine not called the council in the first place. In addition, Constantinople, Constantine’s splendid capital city, became such a formidable defense that Europe was protected against the onslaught of Islam until they could defend themselves – this again probably saved the Christian faith and allowed it to develop. It also allowed for other important movements like the Reformation to occur – a Muslim Europe would never have been a stage for this, and Constantinople prevented Muslims from taking the obvious route of expansion – from the mid-east through modern day Turkey and into Europe. They instead took a longer road through Africa, a place where Christianity had lost its hold before they arrived.

Constantine, despite his flaws and possible lack of faith himself (or at least lack of strong faith), was a person of great importance to Christianity, and we owe many of our creeds to him and the Empire that he brought to Constantinople.

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