If Constantine truly worshipped Sol Invictus, even portraying the icon on his coinage, why does the Church insist that he converted?
July 26th, 2010
First, you need to better understand Emperor Constantine, his family life, and get a better perspective of his entire life.
Did he worship the Sun prior to his supposed conversion? Yes.
I would urge you to read my article on Constantine and Christian faith where I cite from the text of leading Constantine scholar, Charles Odahl. Odahl clearly shows that after his supposed Christian conversion in 312AD, Constantine never worships the Sun or any other pagan god.
Many of the leaders of Christianity during his day did not question his conversion. There may have been some who questioned it, but some (like those who held a strict view of baptism, rebaptism, and lapsing during persecution) questioned the faith of many Christians. There are examples of bishops who excommunicate each other, or at least push for this to be done. Lactantius, a fairly strict Christian leader and historian of the period, had a high view of Constantine as both a Christian and a leader. Some try to argue that these bishops were afraid of challenging the faith of the Emperor. Wait, the men who had endured the severe persecution of Diocletian are now afraid? This is not a good argument.
You can read more about Constantine and the Sun here:
and here: http://www.churchhistory101.com/feedback/sunday-worship.php
Christians of his day appeared to believe that Constantine was legitimately saved.
They considered that:
- his father generally did not persecute Christians,
- his mother apparently was a believer,
- he credited the Christian God for his military victory and ascension to the throne,
- he passed a law to forbid Romans from being persecuted for their religious faith,
- and a law restricting businesses on Sunday, giving freedom for worship attendance,
- he returned buildings/properties to churches which had been confiscated,
- he gave money to rebuild churches which had been burned during persecution,
- he wrote letters calling bishops to prayer/unity in the name of the blessed Savior,
- he showed tender mercy to maimed bishops of persecution at the Council of Nicea,
- he called for Christian baptism on his death bed
(having not been baptized for fear that his oversight of capital punishment might be held against him) and many other smaller things, signs, or fruits of being a Christian were present in his life. Those who focus on his deathbed baptism need to read my paper on Second Repentance or at least (read the web page on Second Repentance) to understand why many believers chose to wait until the end of their lives to get baptized.
Secondly, the usage of the Sun on coins and other emblems was so common - very much like the American eagle to represent freedom. The Sun represented a form of monotheism in the Greco-Roman world. Having the Sun on a coin would have been similar to having "In God We Trust" on our coins/dollars. There are probably some who would argue that using US money is idolatry.
So how strict would we be to determine that Constantine "truly worshiped" the Sun, Sol Invictus?
I just returned from Ecuador where fellow Christian believers live in crude houses that many Christians would not want to use for an animal. When I consider our wealthy lifestyles - houses, cars, pets, iPhones, iPods, and Raybans - many committed Christians could be accused of bowing down to the idol of materialism and hedonism.
Am I trying to excuse Constantine? Well, yes and no.
What I am trying to do more than this is to suggest that we should avoid a knee jerk judgement against a man living 1,700 years ago in a far away land and culture.
You can read more about pagan influences in early Christianity here:
Lastly, we should realize that there is no clear interpretation of exactly what holiness is, or what the requirements are for obedience and holiness.
Every age and every culture has it's own set of requirements.
The tendency for every group, every "school" of thought, is to use their particular set of rules and apply them to everyone else. This is tempting, but is not a good way to read and understand history.
If we judge Constantine for Sun worship (Sol Invictus):
What do we do with Martin Luther and his anti-semitism?
What about John Knox and how he either encouraged or looked the other way while Protestants beat, whipped, and killed Catholics in St Andrews?
What about John Calvin and the brutal ways he and his flock executed "justice" in Geneva, even killing Michael Servetus who was critical of the doctrine of the trinity?
What about Dietrich Bonhoeffer who engaged in a plot to assasinate Hitler?
You can see the difficulty.
One of the struggles in Christianity has always been with how strictly do we hold to "holiness?" And who defines holiness?
Read more about the early church fathers and holiness here:
There is much I like in this comment and discussion:
05-02-2012 - by B.Z.
I disagree with your cultural analysis of holiness. The Apostles defined holiness as an abstract quality but not an unattainable quality nor as an unquantifiable quality. I think the living definition gets inculturated or intellctualized to the point of literally squeezing out the holiness of Christianity in the daily lives of believers because they have to ascribe to a "higher" or "more educated" authority on holiness.
Peter said we are a "priesthood of believers" and the by folowing the law by abiding in the Spirit that we will be rendered neither useless or ineffective for the kingdom - 2 Peter. Furthermore, the use of the word 5046 Teleios - used in Mt 5:48/19:21 and even other forms such as 5056 Telos 1 Pet 4:7, all imply holiness is the chief end of a life in Christ. In short, holiness is entirely expected to be understood first by the revelation of Holy Spirt upon conversion and subsequently through a life of discpleship through scriptural mentoring. The idea that holiness is relative from a believer's standpoint is unscriptural but the idea that holiness has been tainted and redefined through govt control, i.e. Constantine and quarrelling bishops is a very academic and real cultural issue that is best flushed out in the academy of research. Academics can provide a cold hard look at such things-especially relativism-that give us a more basic look at the people involved. Namely, quarrelling bishops, presbyters, deacons and/or political entities which some-with good intentions, but not without selfish benefit-desire to "unify" and make "official" or eradicate possible issues of disunity for political sake. Such was the case with Constantine. Thus, holiness is quantifiable according to scripture-the source alone that is the church's guide to living Christianity. However, holiness defined by any outside influence save the word of God, is a political voice and not the voice of the Holy Spirit lest we fall victim to the very words in Deuteronomy and revelation. "Do not add or take away from these words"
Thank you for your comments.
I cannot begin to answer/reply to each point, but I would suggest that you have not presented a solid enough argument for me. Do you (as you said) believe that "The Apostles defined holiness as an abstract quality?"
I also agree with you that "...the living definition gets inculturated or intellctualized to the point of literally squeezing out the holiness of Christianity in the daily lives of believers." Yes, this CAN happen, but it remains that "holiness" is somewhat abstract. Many of the truths we hold in our faith are held in tension, seemingly fighting against each other.
- We are saints, but we are also sinners.
- We are holy "in Christ," yet we must strive for holiness [as if it depends on our efforts] - yet Paul says that everything we have received has been received by faith.
- We are told that we should be living above or without sin, yet if we claim we have no sin we lie and the truth is not in us.
In my argument on Constantine I am not saying that I KNOW he was a Christian - but there is plenty of evidence that he was.
I am arguing that our lives reflect Christ, but not perfectly. In fact, we are striving to work out our salvation with fear and tremblng. We forget what is behind and strive forward. We press on knowing that we have not attained...yet. Now we see through a glass or mirror dimly ("in enigma" in the Greek).
But then you say that holiness IS quantifiable. Which is it? And can you please define it for me?
Just be careful, lest you be "adding" to the scriptural testimony.
Again, I really like much of what B.Z. says:
I see your point about seeing through glass darkly. I think what I am trying to communicate is more simple than it appears. Here goes. Holiness is an abstrtact principle to the world and in academic an unquantifiable thing and treated subjectively. that being said, the dichotemy that we are - sinners saved by grace, past, present, and future - makes our lives at times look unholy even though God sees us as holy through atonement of Christ. And thus, holiness is by faith but faith is not even of ourselves. Faith is not a blind leap it is a choice based upon revelation and a choice that all who are drawn by God make by His choosing us first. So, although we at times are not true to our sanctification, we are once and for all times sanctified regardless. I agree with you that this quality itself is the very tension that you speak of.
But, in the telios usage in scripture, holiness is an attribute to be attained by believers. And because it is an attrubute to be attained, it is also and attribute that is under constant scrutiny by Satan, i.e., "stretch out Your hand to smite him and he will curse you". In today's world, that smite is almost always an appeal to the intellect in tension with God, i.e., holiness is "relative" or ... "having a form of Godliness" and challenge to the first and greatest command to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and with all your strength and to have no other gods before Him. The very God of relativism is man and his intellect. It seems that our "tension" today is unfortunately our desire to alwys build and recast a new tower of Babel even if that tower is abstract and or "relative" if you will.
God Bless you my friend and thank you for responding. I hope we continue this conversation. I believe the Lord is in it.
Please send me the MOST critical NT telios texts that seem to uphold your thesis.
I agreed with most everything else you said, but the telios bit is where I begin to differ.
And I will tell you now that I am going to be most interested in what you find in Paul.
Paul is our most significant NT writer. He is writing to Gentile Christians which is:
1. What dominated Christianity from around 55 AD onwards
2. Paul's letters contain the bulk of "Christian" teaching for the Church...AND
3. I am a Gentile Christian
The main telios texts are from Jesus which is somewhat problematic for your point.
Jesus' teaching represents a first century Jew, living under the Law. His audience
was mainly first century Jews living under the Law (or they were supposedly living
under the Law).
I feel that after 20 years of struggling with the NT texts I finally began to get a grasp
when I allowed myself to see/accept tension rather than trying to force the texts to
be in perfect harmony. That was 16 years ago. I now believe that God has purposed
to have tension in His word to keep us from knowing/understanding 100% - it helps
to keep us humble IF we accept that we do not/cannot KNOW for certain.
Constantine and the Christian Empire, by Charles Odahl - represents 31 years of research, retracing the steps of Constantine across Europe and the Eastern Empire. This is possibly the most exhaustive work on Constantine ever published.
Numerous CH101 readers have written to me with questions and critical comments about what I have written regarding Emperor Constantine. There is a significant percentage of conservative Protestants who believe Christianity suffered greatly under Constantine. As a young man I was taught that the Catholic Church started with Constantine and was the beginning of Christianity losing its way.
One reader expressed it very close to how I learned it as a young man:
"Paul said that the 'mystery of iniquity' was already at work in the church even during his day (2 Thes. 2:7). How much more in the years following the death of Paul and the other Apostles would the 'mystery of iniquity' be working."
While there are some valid points to be made for Christianity losing its zeal and spiritual power, Constantine gets a bad rap in MY opinion. If you are interested in learning more about Constantine I would highly
recommend the text by Charles Odahl (to the right) to better decide if Constantine was a Christian or just a political opportunist. My articles will be edited using Odahl's excellent research:
Emperor Constantine comes to Power
Emperor Constantine and Christian Faith
Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicea
Emperor Constantine and Worship of the Sun (Sol Invictus)
Emperor Constantine and Christians in the Military
Emperor Constantine Against the Donatists
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