Constantinian conversion

I don’t know Roman history well enough to understand Constantine’s conversion. Help!

This is a very vague question. What aspect of it don’t you understand?

Constantine thought Christianity was the up and coming religion so he figured supporting it would help unify the Empire and strenghten his control of it.

If we’re going that route, we’ll likely end up in Great Debates. I think we need to at least try to give some facts first. Unfortunately, all I know is quite basic.

He had a Christian mother, may have fought a battle where he claimed to see a cross in the sun, with a note from God written under it, and then reformed Rome into a Christian state. He started off by giving freedom of religion in 312, but then only gave money to the Christian churches, so the other ones fell to ruins. When he got close to death, he follows the custom of being baptized then. Many people refer to this as his conversion, but it’s clear he, like a lot of other people, considered himself a Christian who had postponed baptism until late in life.

The reason for the deathbed baptism, incidentally, is that it was the belief of the church of the time (and still is, of the Catholics) that baptism removes all stain of sin from the soul (including original sin, but also all other “ordinary” sin from deeds you’ve done in your life), but baptism can only be performed once. So, the theory goes, if you postpone your baptism until your deathbed, and then manage to avoid committing any other sins in the few minutes before you die, you die completely without sin, no matter what you’d done before that-- Sort of a “get-out-of-Hell-free card”. The risk, of course, is that you might die unexpectedly before your baptism, and thereby end up with both the sins you’ve committed in life and original sin still on your soul when you die, which is why the modern Church strongly encourages everyone to be baptized as soon as possible, even as infants.

Constantine made a very significant contribution to Christian theology. He convened the Council of Nicaea, with the big question being whether Jesus was just another “son of God” or was himself a God. Constantine, though no philosopher, dominated the proceedings and chose the latter position, perhaps because many Roman Emperors had been promoted to “God” after death so making Jesus a God might have seemed like no big deal!

Constantine’s Council produced the Nicene Creed:

This thread keeps grabbing me because I think it is about Constantan, the fascinating alloy whose electrical resistance changes so little with temperature and yet whose Seebeck coefficient is so surprising.

Saying Constantine converted because he thought Christianity would be a unifying faith is more controversial than saying he saw a giant glowing cross in the sky?

Yes, if you accept the emendation to your question that I inserted (underscored) above. Constantine’s putative vision at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge is well documented historically, including IIRC from non-Christian sources. His reason for conversion, which may have included both political expediency and sincere belief, are speculative. (Note to Little Nemo and board staff: I assume this sort of edit of a quote, where there is no intent to mislead, is acceptable. If not, PM me and delete the post, and I will instead post a revised comment.)

I wasn’t just speculating that Constantine had some political motives - they’re as well-documented as his spiritual motives. He stated that he believed state religion was a unifying force and control of that religion was a sign of his power.

I rather think that what is well documented is that he said he saw a giant cross in the sky, not that he actually thought he did. His saying so (and indeed, any actions that might have gone along with it, such as falling to knees) is perfectly consistent with Little Nemo’s claim.

On the other hand, even if it is true that he announced his conversion mainly for cynical reasons, it does not follow that he did not actually come to believe. (And I should think a Christian might quite reasonably hold that God might have been been working on him through his lust for power.)

It’s been suggested that the cross Constantine saw in the sky was a sun dog or a solar halo.

Wait, I thought the symbol Constantine (purportedly) saw was not the cross, but the superimposed letters “Chi Rho” (the first two letters of “Christ” in Greek). Which would be a little more difficult for a natural phenomenon to produce.

This is more or less the point I was attempting to make in differing with Little Nemo – whatever a time-traveling skeptic might have seen in the sky at the Milvian Bridge, this is what Constantine claimed to have seen.