Constantinian turn

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First Council of Nicaea (325): Emperor Constantine unrolls the text of the Nicano-Constantinopolitanum .

The religious development initiated by the Milan Agreement (often incorrectly referred to as the Edict of Tolerance ) enacted by the Roman emperors Constantine I and Licinius in 313 is called the Constantinian turn . In the course of this, Christianity gained influence in the Roman Empire and was finally made the state religion in 380 .

The Constantinian turn made from the state discriminated against and phased bloody persecuted Orthodox - Catholic Church an initially tolerated then legally privileged institution, and finally under Theodosius I , a state church .

Constantine's Religion and Religious Policy

See also: Constantine the Great # Constantine and Christianity

Emperor Constantine is of central importance, although the motives for his turn to Christianity are controversial. In the older literature in particular, the term Constantinian turning point also describes Constantine's turn to Christianity and the associated turning away from traditional cults. According to Christian sources, the event is said to have taken place in 312 shortly before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge . In the more recent research hardly any "conversion" is assumed, but rather a process according to which Constantine found his Christian faith through Apollo and the sun god Sol Invictus . Whether this was already the case in 312 is disputed. Although many related questions are still being discussed, the personal religiosity of the emperor is hardly called into question in recent research (unlike Jacob Burckhardt in the 19th century).

Constantine was only baptized at the end of his life, tolerated the traditional imperial cult and hardly acted against the traditional cults. However, he kept himself away from the pagan (pagan) cults and no longer promoted them after 312. The new capital Constantinople did not contain any temples of the old main gods, but places of worship of the traditional civil religion such as Rhea or Tyche . In the years that followed, Constantine often gave Christians and Christian institutions fiscally (especially tax) benefits. The decisive factor was the fact that he had his sons raised in a Christian way. Because they were already far less willing to tolerate other cults.

The consequences

“The policy, which was primarily tailored to his, Constantine, person, was borne by the gratitude of a long-suffering church, which gave him credit for ending the Diocletian persecution , liberating Christianity from its illegality and making it a recognized religion.” The relief of Christians At the end of the persecution, some court officials and bishops in particular turned into a hasty state piety, which in the fourth century was initially largely Arian ; there were also persecutions of Arians or by Arians (depending on the confession of the respective emperor and his religious policy ). At the end of the 4th century, the Nicea Confession prevailed, later followers of the old cults were also persecuted by the imperial church. The Roman state, like all ancient communities, was based on religious and cultic principles and Christianity now took the place of the old pagan cults. However, there were so-called pagans in the empire until the end of late antiquity .

Within just a hundred years, the increasingly Christianized Roman Empire was almost equated with both the biblical kingdom of God and Christianity (see the imperial theology of Eusebius of Caesarea ), which Augustine of Hippo opposes in his De civitate Dei . With the large influx of less religiously motivated people into the church, the strict disciplinary and liturgical standards of the early church were weakened.

Constantine with his mother Helena and the relic of the alleged Holy Cross that she discovered (icon from the 16th century)

Christian monasticism emerged as an internal corrective almost simultaneously with the Constantinian turning point in Egypt . The attempt to return to paganism by Constantine's nephew Julian (emperor from 361 to 363), partly connected with a hardening of the fronts on both sides, failed. The end point of the development initiated by Constantine was the elevation of Christianity to the state religion by Theodosius I , whereby pagan cults were now prohibited in the sense of Christianity's claim to exclusivity. An exception is Judaism , which was restricted by law, but not prohibited. Despite very strict laws against ancient paganism (under Theodosius, for example, looking at statues or temples was considered high treason), it was only rarely subjected to systematic state attacks. Rather, the laws provided a basis for the violence perpetrated by Christian institutions, which was primarily directed against pagan cultural assets. After the various pagan cults had increasingly lost their influence up to the middle of the 4th century, because they had nothing to oppose the charitable work and the missionary impetus of Christianity, this process was accelerated in the 6th century by further state legislation. In this context, the real penetration of the population with Christianity is not exactly tangible and is consequently controversial in research. The empire eventually turned into an Imperium Romanum Christianum .



  1. Pedro Barceló : The Roman Empire in the Religious Change of Late Antiquity. Emperor and bishops in conflict . Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-7917-2529-1 , pp. 43 and 48.
  2. Pedro Barceló: The Roman Empire in the Religious Change of Late Antiquity . Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 2013. In it the chapter Why Christ? , Pp. 46-50.
  3. Pedro Barceló: The Roman Empire in the Religious Change of Late Antiquity . Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 2013, p. 51.