Constantine's conversion to Christianity in 312 at the battle of the Milvian Bridge is highly debated among scholars. There is on the other hand no doubt that the Roman population was widely pagan at that time and did not convert to Christianity overnight on October 28, 312. The fourth century AD was however that of the triumph of Christianity. From an ardently persecuted religion in the first decade of the fourth century, Christianity had clearly become the most powerful and prevalent one in the Empire by the end of the emperor Theodosius I's reign in 395. This paper aims to explain the progressive shift of the Christian emperors' attitude toward paganism throughout the fourth century AD from toleration under Constantine to proscription under Theodosius. To a large extent, our knowledge of Christian emperors' legislation is based on the Theodosian Code, it is therefore essential to be aware of its limits. The Theodosian Code was compiled between AD 429 and 437. It contained only a part of the imperial legislation of the fourth century and moreover the compilers of the Code edited the laws so that only the essential aspects of each were included.
[...] Although a Christian himself, he tried to gain support from the pagan senatorial aristocracy by being very tolerant of pagan practices. On the other hand, he issued bronze coins representing the monogram of Christ with Alpha and Omega to left and right of it (Fig. which was very probably an exhortation addressed to Orthodox Christians to join his cause and fight against the Arian Constantius II. Magnentius's use of Orthodox Christian imagery on coinage was particularly notable because Christian emperors issued very few Christian coins throughout the fourth century. [...]
[...] Social Background of the Struggle between Paganism and Christianity” in The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century. Momigliano, Arnaldo (edit.) London: Oxford University Press Markus, R. A. Christianity in the Roman World. London: Thames & Hudson Mattingly, Harold. Christianity in the Roman Empire. New York: Norton Library Cameron (1993) p.56 Although it is called ‘Edict of Milan' by Lactantius, it was actually an oral agreement between Constantine and Licinius. It is likely that there was no such an Edict published at Milan but only an imperial letter sent out by Licinius in the east and issued by convention in joint names. [...]
[...] The period from the death of Constantine in 337 to the raise to the purple of Theodosius in 379 is essential to determine if proscription of paganism at the end of the century was a brutal rupture or the result of a progressive hardening of anti-pagan legislation. Until the year 353 that constituted a turning point for Pierre Chuvin, Constantine's sons continued their father's policy of relative toleration. Shortly after Constans had eliminated his elder brother Constantine II, the two remaining Augusti Constans and Constantius II promulgated a law which read: “Superstition shall cease; the madness of sacrifices shall be abolished”. [...]
[...] In conclusion, it is not actually tough imperial legislation that made paganism decline but rather the decline of paganism throughout the century that enabled emperors to harden their legislation and finally proscribe pagan worship. Indeed, as long as paganism remained prevalent, emperors found difficult to enforce religious practice and consequently most of them adopted relative religious toleration. That does not mean at all that Constantine's conversion to Christianity had no impact on paganism. However, the effects were indirect. Christian Emperor greatly contributed to the spread of Christianity by giving legitimacy, protection, wealth and power to the Church. [...]
[...] However, as Baynes noticed, Constantine's early legislation provides clear evidence of his commitment to support the Christian Church. Constantine's edicts and letters preserved in the Theodosian Code indeed confirm the image of the emperor protective of and generous with the Christians that Eusebius described. In 312, in a letter addressed to Anullinus, pro-consul in Africa, Constantine ordered restoration to the Catholic Church of all its property confiscated during the persecutions. In 313, he exempted clerics of the Catholic Church of any taxation and compulsory public services. [...]
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