The anti-Catholics argued that when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, he founded the Catholic Church and made it the State Religion of the Roman Empire. However, is it historically true?
For more or less three centuries, the Christians in Rome suffered severe persecution including extreme torture and martyrdom. But such horrible fate was given a temporary relief, for the second time, when Constantine the Great, together with Emperor Lucius of the East, issued the Edict of Milan in AD 313. Below is an excerpt from that Edict:
“… so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts) may show in all things His usual favor and benevolence.”
HENCE, the Edict of Milan only gave Christianity a legal status, but did not make Holy Catholic Church the official religion of the Roman Empire. This Edict, moreover, was also just a reaffirmation of the religious freedom already granted by Emperor Galerius through the Edict of Toleration in AD 311 at Serdica. Below is an excerpt from that Edict:
“… in view of our most mild clemency and the constant habit by which we are accustomed to grant indulgence to all, we thought that we ought to grant our most prompt indulgence also to these, so that they may again be Christians and may hold their conventicles, provided they do nothing contrary to good order.”
Well, from the facts presented above, it is certain that Constantine did not make the Holy Catholic Church the state religion of the Roman empire due to following reasons:
- It was not only Contantine the Great who issued the Edict of Milan but also Lucius, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire;
- The Edict of Milan was not the first document issued providing religious freedom for Christians but only second to the Edict of Toleration by Galerius, and;
- The Edict of Milan was issued only to end persecution by giving the Christians the liberty to worship their God in public and not to grant the Catholic Church a status as the Official Religion of the Roman Empire.
BUT, if not by Constantine the Great, who made the Holy Catholic Church the State Religion of Rome?
By the virtue of the Edict of Thessalonica, also known as Cunctos Populos, issued by Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II in AD 380, ordering all the citizens of the empire to profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria, making the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church the state religion of the Roman empire. Below is a citation from the said Edict:
EMPERORS GRATIAN, VALENTINIAN AND THEODOSIUS AUGUSTI. EDICT TO THE PEOPLE OF CONSTANTINOPLE.
It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our Clemency and Moderation, should continue to profess that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition, and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since, in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give to their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation and in the second the punishment of our authority which in accordance with the will of Heaven we shall decide to inflict.
GIVEN IN THESSALONICA ON THE THIRD DAY FROM THE CALENDS OF MARCH, DURING THE FIFTH CONSULATE OF GRATIAN AUGUSTUS AND FIRST OF THEODOSIUS AUGUSTUS.
—Codex Theodosianus, xvi.1.2—
CONTRARY to a common tradition, the edict came before Theodosius had been baptized by the bishop Acholius of Thessalonica upon suffering a severe illness in Thessalonica.
Finally, it seems that those who persecute the Holy Catholic Church because of their fallacious claim that Constantine the Great made the Catholicism the state religion of Rome should study deeply the history of Christianity, for they just turned to be ignorant and fools rather than smart and intelligent.
Remember what the book of Proverbs has said: “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.”