The Thirteenth Disciple
by Nozrem ha Brit
It is said that the thing that motivates and inspires mankind the most is faith. The most widespread faith in the world today is that of Christianity, yet it must be noted that there is no correlation between number of adherents and validity of truth. Christians claim to follow the teachings of the one they call Jesus Christ, but their traditions today are radically different than the original teachings of that man. The process of the development of Christianity is a long and complicated one, but there are a number of key influential figures who played a crucial role in it. While most are familiar with the names of the 12 apostles, they are usually unfamiliar with the one who claimed to be the 13th, Constantine the Great, the first Holy Roman Emperor.
He was born Flavius Valerius Constantinus on February 27, circa 290 CE, to the son of an army officer at Naissus (present day Serbia). His father was promoted and sent away during his early youth, and Constantine grew up at Nicomedia (Izmit, Turkey) in the lavish court of Diocletian, the senior emperor. It is likely that he first encountered Christianity here, as the policy of their persecution and discussions on how to deal with the impending threat was common place in the court. Since the institutions of the East were often Latin speaking, Constantine was far less proficient in the Greek language than the average aristocrat, an impediment which was to impact him later in life.
With the abdication of the two emperors in 305, Constatine’s father briefly served as deputy emperor in place of Maximian, and requested his son’s presence in Gesoriacum (Boulogne, France). Constantine fought a campaign in Britain where his father died by his side in 306 at Eboracorum (York), and in classic military coup style the army proclaimed him emperor. It is likely that Constantine’s support for Christianity in those days of persecution made him quite popular with the common folk, from which most adherents of the faith were found.
In 307, Constantine took as his second wife the daughter of Maximian, the previous emperor, thus solidifying his rule further. Maximian, who had helped his son Maximinius subjugate the Western emperor, then joined Constantine where he eventually betrayed him and was murdered in 310. Constantine then set out to Rome for Maximinius, whom he defeated in 312 at the Battle of the Mivian Bridge. Constantine attributed his success to his belief in the Christian god. He had commanded his troops to paint the Christian monogram, the Greek letters chi and rho superimposed, on their shields prior to the battle. Constantine explained later in his life to Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea, that the sign appeared to him in the sky. It was accompanied by a message, en hoc signo vinces , “In this sign we conquer.” Apparently G*D had conveniently accompanied the Greek anagram with a Latin inscription for Constantine, who was less than literate in Greek.
A contemporary account of the same vision was given by a pagan orator in 310 CE. It relates that on the march to Rome, Constantine received this vision in Gaul at a shrine to the Roman god Apollo. This would prove interesting if accurate, as it would provide the motivation for Constantine’s conversion. The suspicion also grows when one notices such things like his declaration of the change of the Sabbath. It was Constantine who changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. His justification was that it was Sunday that Jesus was resurrected, and hence it was more appropriate to celebrate this event on that day, despite the fact that Yeshua, the Aramaic name of Jesus, and all of the apostles strictly observed the Sabbath on Saturday. It is more likely that his decision was influenced by the fact that Sun-Day was the Roman day of worship of the Sun-God, Apollo, as well as for the followers of the god Mithras. Heathens and Christians alike were obliged by Constantine to raise their hands on this day and recite a prayer that was free of Christian theology and quite ambiguous in nature, a unison of all people through supplication.
It would not be uncharacteristic for the Roman emperor to use religion for secular goals. The Roman Empire, being highly militaristic in nature, commonly conquered new peoples along the frontiers who had a faith that differed from their own. This was never a problem, as these gods were commonly “Romanized” and included into the belief system. The polytheistic nature of the Roman faith allowed such inclusions, but it was also necessary to acknowledge the deity of the Emperor. It was believed that the Emperor ruled by divine will, and sometimes was even viewed as a god himself. This was necessary for the justification of the rule, and ensured allegiance to the throne. For this reason, Christianity was extremely problematic to the beaurocrats as it undermined their very authority. In a manner typical to only the cleverest of leaders, Constantine solved this problem by proclaiming himself the virtual head of the church, thus maintaining the allegiance of people.
It was important for Constantine to establish some form of spiritual justification for his rule as he was insurgent against the Emperor Maxentius, who claimed divine rule through the authority of Zeus and the Roman pantheon of gods. Christianity was the obvious choice, as it was a faith rapidly spreading and had many sympathizers. Constantine erected a monumental arch in celebration of his triumph in Rome, as well as to his own ingenuity and Divine inspiration. It was accompanied by a semblance of himself carrying a cross with an inscription, “By this saving sign I have delivered your city from the tyrant and restored liberty to the Senate and people of Rome.” It is interesting that Constantine chose to display so prominently the symbol of the cross. This was not a common symbol for the persecuted Christians of the time as it was too noticeable and obvious, the acronym and symbol of the fish was far more covert and subtle. The cross at that time had more semblance to some of the European pagan traditions such as the Stoic and Celtic crosses, in regions existing back even before the inception of Christianity.
The greatest accomplishment of Constantine during his lifetime was yet to come; the legalization of Christianity which entrenched itself in the Roman world henceforth. Constantine had signed a treaty with Licinius, who had become the sole Eastern Emperor after defeating Maximinius, but broke the treaty in 324 a conquered the entire Empire himself. His next task was to unify the Empire under a single religion, that of Christianity. The basis of modern Christianity is the Trinity, but at that time this concept had several different variations. The spectrum ranged from those who rejected it and claimed Jesus to be a prophet, to those who could count that 1+1+1= 3, and claimed Jesus to be one of three gods. The foundation for the Trinity being outlined in very advanced Greek, it was impossible for Constantine to entirely comprehend it himself. Yet, he naturally chose the diplomatic middle position and decided that God was three-in-one based on the theologians Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine. He convened the council of Nicaea in 325, in which the Creed outline his version of the relationship between Jesus and the Father. It is unfortunate that the relationship of Constantine and his own son could not be so close, as while he was in the West he had his eldest son and deputy emperor, Crispus, and his wife, Fausta, executed for reasons that remained a mystery. All other forms of Christianity that did not comply to this Creed, including Arianism, were labeled as heretics and were to be eliminated. To this day, Constantine’s Nicean Creed is used as the basis for determining who is a Christian, which is why Jehovah’s Witnesses, that rely heavily on the doctrine of Arianism, are still labelled as heretics today.
Though he set out on a theological war, Constantine also set out to commemorate his military and civil vicories as well. Constantine was responsible for many of the physical icons in the Christian world today. It was him who arbitrarily decided the location of Jesus’ resurrection, and built a huge basilica on the spot now known as the Holy Sepulcher. In addition, he laid the foundation for the Holy Wisdom, which was to latter become the Hagia Sophia. He built numerous other churches across the Empire, including that of St. Peter. According to Leo the Great, it was customary even for Christians of the time to pay pray to the sun on the steps of St. Peter. Constantine also rebuilt Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople, after himself. During its dedication in 330 CE there was a strange celebration of the merging of Christianity and pagan doctrine, where both the sun chariot and the cross were prominently displayed in the marketplace. It seemed as if though Christian heretics were abhorable to Constantine, he had no problem with the coalescence of pagan theology. Though renowned for looting pagan temples, he endowed pagan priests with considerable privileges before his death in 337. He was buried in his self-constructed Church of the Apostles in Constantinople, with memorials of the 12 Apostles on each side, typical of someone who was believed and was confirmed by the church to have a special and personal relationship with God.
The effects of pagan influences on Christian traditions can most clearly be seen in its’ celebrations, for every single one has a pagan celebration as its origin. One festivity that was personally initiated by Constantine was All Saint’s Day, quite appropriate as the mythology of pagan traditions were transferred the stories of the Saints. Constantine’s own mother Helena, born of the lowly status of a concubine, was elevated to that of a saint, the greatest honor any child could wish to honor his mother. St. Helen was responsible for discovering the True Cross, as well as the location of the Church of Nativity, the location of Jesus’s birth, which had previously been a pagan shrine to Mithras. Between Constantine and cohorts, the entire foundation of modern Christianity was developed. It is unlikely the faith would have persevered in the face of the relentless persecution, but instead it was the pagan traditions that vanished within ten years of Constantine’s death, the one of the sun worship being the very last. Yet perhaps we should ponder if it would have been better for Yeshua’s teachings to have disappeared than to have them so utterly corrupted and perpetuated as his own.
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