Born on this day in the year 272 AD, Constantine, the Great, was the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity during is reign. His father , Constantius, was tolerant and skilled in the politics of the day. Being a military officer, he was often gone and out of his son’s life most of the time. He advanced through the ranks and earned a position as governor of Dalmatia. His mother, Helena, was a Greek woman and it isn’t clear if she was married to Constantius.
Not much is known about his early life, but we know that his father rather quickly advanced and eventually became one of two Caesars, when Diocletian divided the Roman Empire in 293 AD, making it possible for Constantine to inherit the title after his father’s death. When that occurred in 306 AD, Constantine was declared emperor by his troops.
Almost immediately, he became involved in a number of civil wars and eventually became the Western emperor. In the year 324, he became sole emperor of the entire Roman Empire and the establishment of Constantinople on the site of Byzantium was founded.
Constantine was the first emperor to stop Christian persecutions. He also made Christianity legal, along with all other religions and cults in the Roman Empire. In the Edict of Milan, it was stated that Christians would be allowed to follow their faith without oppression and any penalties for doing so would be lifted. The Roman Empire would also be required to return any church property obtained during past persecution.
Constantine was probably over 40 when he declared himself to be a follower of
Christ. It is not known if he followed his mother’s Christianity or simply grew into it through his early life. Whatever the case may be, he became a champion for Christianity. He was not baptized until shortly before his death – believing that he wanted to make sure that every one of his sins would be forgiven.
His influence over the early Church councils was to make sure that worship was upheld ecclesiastically. He would enforce doctrine, root out heresy, and make sure that doctrine and dogma would be determined by the bishops of the church. In 325 AD, he summoned the Council of Nicaea as the first Ecumenical Council and instituted the Nicene Creed, which is still used in churches today, to clearly define the trinity of God.
Shortly after his baptism, he died at the age of 65. His body was returned to Constantinople for final burial.
“Constantine saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing this inscription: conquer by this. At the sight, he himself was struck with amazement and his whole army also.”