- Did Constantine want to bring the internal Pauline disharmony to an end as stated by Doug Mason?
- Was there also the goal to use Christianity to achieve harmony and unity in the wider Roman Empire, not just within Christianity?
- Was Constantine himself involved in this aspect?
- Do we know why Constantine converted to Christianity?
The following is a quote from Professor Dale B. Martin who teaches the Yale University open course INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT HISTORY AND LITERATURE:
"Constantine also wanted to stop all this feuding about what was orthodox Christianity. So he uses the power of the emperor's throne to force bishops to come together in several different councils.
The most famous of which, in 325, is the council of Nicaea, and of course this is where we get the term the Nicene Creed, which if you're Roman Catholic or Episcopalian or several other kinds of Christianity, you may recite the Nicene Creed on certain holy days or in church. This is the longer creed, which talks about Jesus being fully man, fully human. It brings in the Trinity, so you have Trinitarian theology becoming a bit more solidified at the council of Nicaea. It didn't win the day because throughout the fourth century you still had fights among different bishops, some people not accepting the Nicene Creed. Years later you had another creed pronounced at Chalcedon, so that's called the Chalcedonian Creed.
And all of these were attempts though promoted by the emperors. The emperors wanted to use Christianity to solidify a one empire again and to keep it from being split. You couldn't do that if you had different groups claiming to represent the right Christianity and claiming that everybody represents the wrong Christianity. That was the real push for what counts as orthodox Christianity and the bringing of more unity to Christianity.
What we have not seen in this semester is what you would call correct Trinitarian doctrine in the New Testament, it's just not there. You've got all kinds of views about Jesus that would later be declared heretical. They're still there in the New Testament, and what Christians do is that we just read kind of carefully and interpret it a little bit slickly so that it makes it look more orthodox than it actually is. That's because there was no orthodoxy that could claim to rule different Christians who called themselves Christians throughout the empire. This is what starts changing in the fourth century. Like I said, they don't succeed.
So you have debates about orthodoxy for centuries, but it's with Constantine in the beginning of the fourth century, and he had a long dynasty. His progeny, his sons, and then their sons, and their sons retained the throne for years after that. So you had this Constantinian dynasty that was able to bring a good bit of solidity to the Roman Empire in the fourth century that it hadn't enjoyed in the third century. And therefore, they used this to sort of bring about orthodox Christianity as the single form of Christianity. That's the most important change, therefore, for the fourth century.
Do we know why Constantine converted?
He says it's because he saw a vision right before the battle. Scholars debate that. Some scholars say he converted because he looked around and he saw that this was, although it was a minority movement, there was no way that this was a majority, it was a vibrant movement that was going on in Rome, in the Roman Empire, and maybe he said, that's something I can use. He was already an admirer of the sun god, and he was moving toward a certain form of monotheism where the sun was the only god. Some people say it wasn't that big of a jump for him to switch that to Jesus, and so some people say, he had this political idea that it would be a smart thing to do and that he made up the vision later.
There are different reasons. We don't really know truly his psychological motivations for conversion.
Obviously with Constantine you get the emperor promoting this religion now."