"The Church was pure until Constantine"

I used to buy into this lie at one time.
Now, I ask for proof of this assertion.

Do those who buy into it also buy into the Church fathers who believed in the Eucharist, the Bishop of Rome, Apostolic succession, veneration of Mary, the communion of Saints, and prayer for the dead? Hah!

It’s a lie that I used to believe until I actually looked at what the ECF’s actually believed before him and after him. There was no difference.

Welcome home!

One look at the Acts of the Apostles would prove that it was not totally pure. There were people such as Judas, Ananias and Saphira, Jews who taught Gentiles had to become Jews before they could be Christians, Simon the Magician, The Corinthian Church where a man was living in sin with his step-mother. The split between Barnabus and Paul. and these were just the tip of the iceberg, as it were.:eek:


I have a priest friend who says that the proof of God’s love for the Church is that it has managed to survive itself.

It isn’t one you heard in Lutheranism, Swiss.


I admire Saint Constantine. Yes he had his faults (and there are suspisions surrounding the deaths of his wife and son) but he was also ahead of his time in many respects:

He was noted for his remarkable tolerance of pagan religions, and indeed defence of freedom of religion.

He allowed any person to convert to Catholicism from another religion and vice-versa. What he didn’t tolerate was dissent and doctrinal difference within his own Church.

Some quotes from his edicts and writings:

“…Each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion…It is one thing acting with free will to enter into contest for immortality, another to compel others to do so by force through the fear of punishment. No one should greatly trouble another, rather, everyone should follow what his soul prefers…”

***- Saint Constantine the Great (c.272 – 337) ***

“…Amongst those things that are profitable to mankind in general, the reverence paid to the Divinity merited our first and chief attention, and that it was proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best; so that that God might be benign and propitious to us, and to every one under our government. And therefore we judged it a salutary measure, and one highly consonant to right reason, that no man should be denied leave of attaching himself to the rites of the Christians, or to whatever other religion his mind directs him, that thus the supreme Divinity, to whose worship we freely devote ourselves, might continue to vouchsafe His favour and beneficence to us. And accordingly we give you to know that, without regard to any provisos in our former orders to you concerning the Christians, all who choose that religion are to be permitted, freely and absolutely, to remain in it, and not to be disturbed any ways, or molested…For it befits the well-ordered state and the tranquillity of our times that each individual be allowed, according to his own choice, to worship the Divinity; and we mean not to derogate aught from the honour due to any religion or its votaries…”

- Saint Constantine the Great (c.272 – 337)

*(continued…) *

Rodney Stark, a renowned sociologist, speaks of Constantione’s religious policy in a recent 2011 book:

“…Although Constantine played a central role in repressing all Christian dissent, he was remarkably tolerant of paganism throughout his reign. Constantine neither outlawed paganism nor did he condone persecution of non-Christians. In fact, although Constantine subsidized and gave official standing to the Catholic Church, he continued also funding pagan temples…More significant even than his toleration of pagan temples, Constantine continued to appoint pagans to the very highest positions, including those of consul and prefect. In addition, pagan philosophers played a prominent role in his court and depictions of the sun god appeared on his coins. Indeed Constantine directed his most ferocious rhetoric not against pagans, but against Christian dissidents…Historians cite the persistence of pagan elements in his reign as examples of his commitment to religious harmony. Of critical importance are two edicts issued by Constantine soon after he defeated Licinius to reunite the empire. Both stressed peaceful pluralism. The Edict to the Palestinians is notable for the pluralism of its language. In it, Constantine repeatedly referred to God, but never mentioned Christ, using phrases common to Christians and pagans alike which is consistent with the search for a common denominator that was the hallmark of his religious policy. But, it is the Edict to the Eastern Provincials that fully expresses Constantine’s commitment to accomodation and his rejection of coercive forms of conversion. He began with a prayer, invoking “the most mighty God” on behalf of “the common benefit of the world and all mankind, I long for your people to be at peace and to remain free from strife”. He went on: “Let those who delight in error alike with those who believe partake of the advantages of peace and quiet…Let no one disturb another, let each man hold fast to that which his soul wishes, let him make full use of this”. He continued, “What each man has adopted as his persuasion, let him do no harm with this to another…For it is one thing to undertake the contest for immortality voluntarily, another to compel it with punishment”. Finally, Constantine condemned “the violent opposition to wicked error…immoderately embedded in some souls, to the detriment to our common salvation”. Thus, in both word and deed Constantine supported pluralism, even while making his own commitment to Christianity explicit. In fact, during Constantine’s reign, “friendships between Christian bishops and pagan grandees” were well known, and the many examples of the peaceful intermingling of pagan and Christian thought may be thought of as proof of the success of Constantine’s policy of consensus and pluralism…”

"…Constantine fostered an atmosphere of religious liberty … Since it favored all religions equally, the edict expressed a policy of religious liberty, not toleration…All should try to share the benefits of their religious understanding with others, but no one should force his or her truth upon another. … (for according to Constantine)…“it is one thing acting with free will to enter into contest for immortality, another to compel others to do so by force through the fear of punishment. No one should greatly trouble another, rather, everyone should follow what his soul prefers…This edict is a paradigmatic statement of concord. … Since Constantine hopes that common fellowship and the persuasion “of those who believe” will lead everyone freely to choose (what he called) the straight path, he indicates his wish that religious unity will ultimately evolve…”

***- Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, in The making of a Christian Empire: Lactantius & Rome ***

“…In principle he (Constantine) treated religion as a matter of choice and conscience, an arena free of state meddling…Liberis mentibus — “With Free minds” — all are to worship their Gods. It is a remarkable policy, an unexpected one, since it would have been natural for a ruler after his conversion to a new religion to shift all the previous relations. … Most of the apologists who defended the Church in the early centuries advocated freedom of religion…the latin rhetor Lactantius developed a theological arguement for religious freedom. Lactantius was close enough to Constantine later to serve as tutor to the emperor’s sons, and his influence is evident in many ways in Constantine’s own writings…He (Lactantius) asked those who believed in compulsion of religion: “What good can you do, then, if you defile the body but cannot break the will?” It is a surprisingly modern statement, arguing, that religious freedom is the “first freedom”, rooted in the very nature of religious life as an exercise of free will…Under Constantine’s policy of concord, the Church was flooded with new converts, not through coercion but by force of Imperial example…Eventually, Christian Emperors abandoned Constantinian religious policy…Constantine favoured the Church but gave serious attention to protecting the rights of non-Christians…”

***- Peter J. Leithart, in Defending Constantine : The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom (2010) ***


"…Constantine achieved true religious freedom for pagans and Christians. He did this while cooperating with the Christian church to produce a Roman Empire with ethical standards and moral development.

Constantine outlawed an ancient version of “no fault divorce,” which led to the abandonment of women, gladiatorial games, which littered arenas with bodies, and the exposure of children, which usually resulted in infanticide. He also passed laws that would provide welfare for poor people who couldn’t afford to raise a new baby. He reformed the justice system by eliminating the buying and selling of judgeships, and allowed those who couldn’t afford an attorney to appeal to an ecclesiastical court.

It appears that the true pax Romana did not occur under Caesar Augustus but under Constantine, and that we often look positively barbaric next to the first Christian Emperor…"

***- Matt Heckell ***

Judging by the above, I can well understand why he is a canonised saint in the Eastern Churches. The man was way ahead of his time, as even the Old Catholic Encloepedia says, in this 1911 article.

Here’s the key excerpt:

In 313…he [Constantine] issued at Milan the famous joint edict of tolerance. This declared that the two emperors had deliberated as to what would be advantageous for the security and welfare of the empire and had, above all, taken into consideration the service which man owed to the “deity”. Therefore they had decided to grant Christians and all others freedom in the exercise of religion. Everyone might follow that religion which he considered the best. They hoped that “the deity enthroned in heaven” would grant favour and protection to the emperors and their subjects. This was in itself quite enough to throw the pagans into the greatest astonishment. When the wording of the edict is carefully examined there is clear evidence of an effort to express the new thought in a manner too unmistakable to leave any doubt. The edict contains more than the belief, to which Galerius at the end had given voice, that the persecutions were useless, and it granted the Christians freedom of worship, while at the same time it endeavoured not to affront the pagans. Without doubt the term deity was deliberately chosen, for it does not exclude a heathen interpretation…Nevertheless the change from the bloody persecution of Christianity to the toleration of it, a step which implied its recognition, may have startled many heathens…The Christians also may have been taken aback. Before this, it is true, it had occurred to Melito of Sardes (Eusebius, Church History IV.33) that the emperor might some day become a Christian, but Tertullian had thought otherwise…At all events, a happy day now dawned for the Christians…The feeling of emancipation from danger is touchingly expressed in the treatise ascribed to Lactantius (How the Persecutors Died), concerning the ways in which death overtook the persecutors. It says: “We should now give thanks to the Lord, Who has gathered together the flock that was devastated by ravening wolves, Who has exterminated the wild beasts which drove it from the pasture. Where is now the swarming multitude of our enemies, where the hangmen of Diocletian and Maximian? God has swept them from the earth; let us therefore celebrate His triumph with joy; let us observe the victory of the Lord with songs of praise, and honour Him with prayer day and night, so that the peace which we have received again after ten years of misery may be preserved to us.” The imprisoned Christians were released from the prisons and mines, and were received by their brethren in the Faith with acclamations of joy; the churches were again filled, and those who had fallen away sought forgiveness.

For a time it seemed as if merely tolerance and equality were to prevail. Constantine showed equal favour to both religions. As pontifex maximus he watched over the heathen worship and protected its rights…“We do not forbid”, said the emperor, “the observance of the old usages in the light of day”…Shortly before his death Constantine confirmed the privileges of the priests of the ancient gods…Thus he commanded the heathen troops to make use of a prayer in which any monotheist could join, and which ran thus: “We acknowledge thee alone as god and king, we call upon thee as our helper. From thee have we received the victory, by thee have we overcome the foe. To thee we owe that good which we have received up to now, from thee do we hope for it in the future. To thee we offer our entreaties and implore thee that thou wilt preserve to us our emperor Constantine and his god-fearing sons for many years uninjured and victorious.”…
In the same way religious freedom and tolerance could not continue as a form of equality, the age was not ready for such a conception. It is true that Christian writers defended religious liberty; thus Tertullian said that religion forbids religious compulsion (Non est religionis cogere religionem quae sponte suscipi debet non vi.–To Scapula, near the close); and Lactantius, moreover, declared: “In order to defend religion man must be willing to die, but not to kill.” Origen also took up the cause of freedom. Most probably oppression and persecution had made men realize that to have one’s way of thinking, one’s conception of the world and of life, dictated to him was a mischief-working compulsion. In contrast to the smothering violence of the ancient State, and to the power and custom of public opinion, the Christians were the defenders of freedom

The church may have been around for 2000 years, despite two major schisms, but the problem with this assertion is that he also has to account for Buddhism (circa 2500 years), Islam (circa 1400 years), Hinduism (circa 3000 years if you allow the Vedas as the "formal starting point), and Shintoism (circa 2500 years).

They’re still going strong. We’re facing a major challenge today because Islam claims it is the true God-given religion, and one can easily imagine an Iman making the same assertion as your priest friend.

But, only One was named long before He appeared on earth. And, no one has seen the other religions’ founders since they died.

Her comment was about the Church, not the religion as a whole, and Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Shinto do not have anything which really answers to “the church”: they are much too decentralised and disorganised.

It is partly on that basis that I am less than bothered by the alleged challenge which Islam presents. On a daily basis, I work with people from about two dozen countries, and almost none of them has anything positive to say about Islam unless they are themselves Muslim, the major turnoff being the gender rules. Christianity, on the other hand, receives a fair few positive comments even from those who do not believe in it.

I saw a book advertised on an political evangelical webpage, now very popular throughout the world. It was about the shocking truth that Constantine started the Roman Catholic Church.

I questioned some articles in the past that hinted at a bias against the Catholic Church.

After I saw that book being promoted, as well as other gnostic sounding reading materials regarding the faith in the early church, I no longer return to that website. It is based in my state. I am wondering if this is a new spin put out by splintered evangelical groups who do not know history, and Constantine did not become a Christian until days before his death.

I agree that freedom of religion is an admirable thing.

What I don’t find admirable is that Constantine treated Christianity as “his own church,” rather than, say, Jesus Christ’s church.

Is there any evidence that Constantine put thought or prayer into what the doctrine should be, other than everyone needed to come to agreement or else?

Constantine outlawed an ancient version of “no fault divorce,” which led to the abandonment of women, gladiatorial games, which littered arenas with bodies, and the exposure of children, which usually resulted in infanticide.

I believe that all of what you just said is true. Certainly it all occurred within a generation of Catholicism becoming the state religion. And they are commendable acts!

Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that the number of Christians murdered by other Christians in the century after Constantine Romanized Catholicism while Catholicizing Rome, by far eclipses the number of Christians who died in Rome’s arenas in the previous 4 centuries.

That is nicely said.

I think if that was true many are making Constantine this religious, political genius who somehow systamatically corrupted a faith which until then had been willing to suffer for it.

I don’t believe it. The church history I’ve read shows plenty of problems, “impurities” if you will, before Constantine.

As I mentioned in a previous post the problems started not long after the crucifixion of our Lord. In fact there were problems even BEFORE that, what with the apostles arguing amongst themselves of “who would be the greatest” Who would get to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in his kingdom, Peter and Judas’ denial and betrayal of the Lord, etc.

Right. The church wasn’t flawless even while Jesus was still with them, as one can see just from the Gospels. Later on, in Acts and the Epistles, there are further problems. But I was thinking of church history that wasn’t in the Bible. Either way, there never was a time when the church came near to perfection.

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