This story, most famously told by Jehovah Witnesses and Fundamentalist Protestants, came out of their necessity to support their lie that there was an apostasy in the early Church. It is their way to explain how their reform and late arrival is justifiable.
The Actual Documented History:
In 312 A.D., outnumbered but determined, Constantine moved against Maxentius, marching his army down across the Alsps at lightning speed. Maxentius drew up his forces along the Tiber River, some nine miles north of Rome. He was confident of victory, for he had received a prophecy: “On this day the enemy of Rome shall perish.” He took it as a good omen, for certainly god meant Constantine when they spoke of “enemy of Rome.” So confident was Maxentius that he made no plan for retreat. His only avenue of escape was over the narrow Milvian Bridge, which spanned the Tiber.
Before the battle, Constantine had a dream or a vision, He saw a strange sign in the heavens and heard the words en toutoi nika â€“ Greek for “In this, conquer.” (The Latin is sometimes rendered as In hoc signo vinces, “In this sign you will conquer.” Constantine ordered that a new imperial standard bearing the sign be made immediately, and that the mysterious sign be painted on the shields of all his troops. The sign was formed from two greek letters, chi (X) and rho (P), the first two letters of the title â€˜Christ” (XPISTOS â€“ CHRISTOS) in Greek.
Through it was smaller, Constantine’s army routed Maxentius’ dispirited troops. Then ran from the field, trying to retreat over Milvian Bridge. So many people were fleeing across the bridge that thousands were thrown into the river from the narrow span and died in the flood waters of the Tiber. Maxentius himself, the “enemy of Rome,” perished that day in the river. Constantine was victorious â€“ and was now the new Augustus of the Western Roman Empire.
Together with his ally and brother-in-law Licinius, the Augustus of the west, the two Augusti joined in issuing a new edict of toleration, the Edict of Milan, in 313 A.D. This edict granted freedom of worship to all religious groups within the empire, making special mention of the Christians:
“When you see that this has been granted to [Christians] by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made that we may not seem to detract from any dignity of any religion.” â€”â€¯”Edict of Milan“, Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors (De Mortibus Persecutorum), ch. 48. opera, ed. 0. F. Fritzsche, II, p 288 sq. (Bibl Patr. Ecc. Lat. XI).
The Anti-Catholic Myth:
The Roman Emperor Constantine established himself as the head of the church around 313 A.D., which made this new “Christianity” the official religion of the Roman Empire. Later, in 325 A.D., Constantine called the Council of Nicaea in an attempt to unify Christianity. Constantine envisioned Christianity as a religion that could unite the Roman Empire, which at that time was beginning to fragment and divide. As head of this new church, Constantine merged Christianity with pagan beliefs to create the Whore of Babylon as we read about in the book of Revelation.
Alternatively, some non-Catholics will assert that the Catholic Church began in 325 when Constantine called the First Council of Nicaea.
13 Logical Problems with the Constantine Founder Myth:
- If Constantine started the Catholic Church, then it would, therefore, seem to follow that Constantine himself was a Catholic Christian. This was not the case. Constantine (possibly) was not be baptized into the faith until he was on his deathbed on May 22, 337 A.D. (SEE ALSO: Was Constantine Baptized an Arian).
- For Christianity to become the official religion of the Roman Empire, would require an Edict. The Edict of Milan, which was issued by Constantine and Licinius (as noted above) only put Christians on equal footing with all the other recognized religions in the Roman Empire; granting the same religious freedom that was already being extended to the pagans and Jews. It would not be until 392 A.D. when Emperor Theodosius removed government support from the old Roman pagan religions and established the Christian Faith (Catholicism) as the sole religion of the empire.
- If by virtue of Constantine calling a general council of all the bishops of the Church to meet with him at Nicaea (a resort town in the hills of Asia Minor just south of Constantinople), a Church was created, it then, therefore, follows that: (a) the Church that existed prior to the Council from which all the bishops were called merged themselves into the new church of Constantine; (b) we should see no continuity between the preexisting church and the new Church; (c) we should see no continuity between the pre-Nicaea Church and modern day Catholic Church. I’ll dismiss these non-sequitur arguments below.
- If by virtue of Constantine issuing an edict of religious freedom for Christians and calling together the First Council of Nicaea means that he started the Catholic Church, it would, therefore, mean that anytime a Roman Emperor granted religious freedom to any religion or stepped into resolve their controversies that they had become the founder of that pagan or Jewish religion. We don’t see such a claim by Protestants about the Emperor of Rome in any other circumstance than with the Catholic Church. In addition, this assumption also fails to recognize that the Roman Emperor thought himself to be in charge of all things in his empire. Therefore, it would have been natural and welcomed for the Emperor to extend his leverage and protection to assemble together all of the Catholic bishops of the Roman Empire.
- The reason why Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicaea was to resolve the controversy over Arius’ teaching that Christ Jesus was not consubstantial with God the Father. Therefore, it then follows that for there to have been a heresy or even an counter belief to create a controversy, there must have been prior to Arianism a well-established belief about the nature Jesus Christ in a Church community that all agreed with this understanding. Otherwise, the teachings of Arius would not have caused such a controversy.
- That Constantine assembled together all of the bishops of the Roman Empire proves that there were well-organized dioceses and churches prior the First Council of Nicaea who were in agreement with each other. Further research into this area will demonstrate the precise areas in which they agreed, such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, about many of the books which were thought to be inspired Scripture, and the Bishop of Rome being the successor of Peter and the head of the universal Church.
- 218 years before the Council of Nicaea Saint Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, appointed by Saint Peter, wrote a letter to the Smyrnaeans in which he used the word â€˜Catholic’ to denote the Church established by Jesus Christ:
“Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people also be: as Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”
- In that same letter Saint Ignatius gave a teaching about the Holy Eucharist that continues to be taught only by the Catholic Church today:
“They abstain from the Eucharist and from the public offices; because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ; which suffered for our sins, and which the Father of his goodness, raised again from the dead. And for this cause contradicting the gift of God, they die in their disputes: but much better would it be for them to receive it, that they might one day rise through it.”
- 170 years before the Council of Nicaea Saint Justin Martyr wrote in First Apology (a letter to pagan emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161 A.D.) explaining what Christians did at Mass):
“On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.
“When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things. Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves . . . and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation. When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.
“Then someone bring bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharstian) that we have been judges worthy of these gifts. When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgiving, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: â€˜Amen.’
“When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give those present the “eucharsited” bread, wine and after and take them to those who are absent.”
- 136 years before the Council of Nicaea Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, and a disciple of Saint Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John, proclaimed that all churches must be in unity with the Church of Rome, which was established by Peter and Paul:
“But since it would be long to enumerate in such a volume as this the succession of all the churches, we confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether, through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assembled other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition.”
- It is true. If Emperor Constantine started the Catholic Church, then there should be no way to trace the continuity of every Bishop of Rome, from Peter to Francis today. To the contrary, there is only one Church on the face of this earth that can verifiably point to the Church in Rome, established by Peter and Paul, and by continuity in leadership, doctrine, and tradition show a seamless continuity from the first century until today, and that Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
- Prior to the Council of Nicaea there had been many local councils where local bishops, priests, and deacons gathered to issue canons to the faithful; such as the Councils of Carthage, where Saint Cyprian presided at the Seventh Council in 256 A.D. where a canon was issued stating, “. . . heretics, who are called antichrists and adversaries of Christ, when they come to the Church, must be baptized with the one Baptism of the Church, so that friends may be made of adversaries, and Christians of antichrists.” Another example of the Council of Elvira, Spain in 300 A.D. where 19 bishops and 26 priests and deacons gathered together to issue 81 canons. Canon 16 stated, “Heretics, if they do not which to come over to the Catholic Church, are not to be given Catholic girls in marriage.” Therefore, how could Constantine have started the Catholic Church in 325 A.D. if it already existed in Spain in 300 A.D.?
- The Romans were aficionados when it came to documenting the legal affairs and history of the Empire. If it had been the case that Constantine established his own state religion or established a new state Church, we would have been able to find it documented somewhere in history that such an event happened, but when we examine the history and legal documents from ancient Rome, we find no traces that the myth that Constantine founded the Catholic Church is true.
Moreover, if Constantine did found the Catholic Church at the First Council of Nicaea then we should be able to find at least some once reference to the Roman Emperor in the creed and canons of the Council, but in the Creed of Nicaea and in its Twenty Canons nothing was mentioned about the Roman Emperor. Nothing at all.
To the contrary, what all the canons are dealing with is membership of those who had rejected the faith during the persecution, fallen lapse, or who had been excommunicated, primacy of Churches, and the administration of the Sacraments. Altogether the canons are concerned with establishing a solidarity and uniformity of administration and liturgy in the Catholic Church. There is no concern whatsoever in these canons for the Roman Empire or the Roman Emperor in the Canons of the Council of Nicaea.
In regards to the Nicene Creed, it was dealing with more fully proclaiming the Apostle’s Creed, which the Church already affirmed in manner that resolved the Arian heresy. We find nothing in the Creed of this Council that supports the Myth of Constantine Founding the Catholic Church:
“The Synod at Nice set forth this Creed.
The Ecthesis of the Synod at Nice.
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten (Î³ÎµÎ½Î½Î·Î¸á½³Î½Ï„Î±), not made, being of one substance (á½Î¼Î¿Î¿á½»ÏƒÎ¹Î¿Î½, consubstantialem) with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost. And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not (á¼¤Î½ Ï€Î¿Ï„Îµ á½…Ï„Îµ Î¿á½Îº á¼¦Î½), or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion â€” all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.”
Indeed, the only place we see name of Constantine mentioned in reference to the Council of Nicaea is in a post-Council Synod Latter written to the Church of Alexandria, but only in regards paying him deference and honor due to him as the Emperor of Rome who called the bishops together to resolve the Arian heresy:
“To the Church of Alexandria, by the grace of God, holy and great; and to our well-beloved brethren, the orthodox clergy and laity throughout Egypt, and Pentapolis, and Lybia, and every nation under heaven, the holy and great synod, the bishops assembled at Nicaea, wish health in the Lord .
Forasmuch as the great and holy Synod, which was assembled at Niece through the grace of Christ and our most religious Sovereign Constantine, who brought us together from our several provinces and cities, has considered matters which concern the faith of the Church, it seemed to us to be necessary that certain things should be communicated from us to you in writing, so that you might have the means of knowing what has been mooted and investigated, and also what has been decreed and confirmed.
First of all, then, in the presence of our most religious Sovereign Constantine, investigation was made of matters concerning the impiety and transgression of Arius and his adherents; and it was unanimously decreed that he and his impious opinion should be anathematized, together with the blasphemous words and speculations in which he indulged, blaspheming the Son of God, and saying that he is from things that are not, and that before he was begotten he was not, and that there was a time when he was not, and that the Son of God is by his free will capable of vice and virtue; saying also that he is a creature. All these things the Holy Synod has anathematized, not even enduring to hear his impious doctrine and madness and blasphemous words. And of the charges against him and of the results they had, you have either already heard or will hear the particulars, lest we should seem to be oppressing a man who has in fact received a fitting recompense for his own sin. So far indeed has his impiety prevailed, that he has even destroyed Theonas of Marmorica and Secundes of Ptolemais; for they also have received the same sentence as the rest.” (â€¦ continue reading here)
Conclusion of the Emperor Constantine Founder Myth
Those who posit that Constantine founded the Catholic Church either with the Edict of Milan or by calling together the First Council of Nicaea are unable prove their claim. There is no documentation from that time, either explicit or implicit by historian or theologian that even hints that such an event transpired or was the intention of Constantine or the bishops of the Catholic Church to transpire.
This story, most famously told by Jehovah Witnesses and Fundamentalist Protestants, came out of their necessity to support their lie that there was an apostasy in the early Church. It is their way to explain how their reform and late arrival is justifiable. The myth is that because the Church of the Apostles fell in to apostasy, a remnant of the true and orthodox believers of Jesus remained hidden from and often persecuted by the Catholic Church until THEY brought the reform and true faith back. Prior the rise of Protestantism, no one ever dared to tell this lie. Only in the space of the unintelligent, uncurious, and hostile can such a myth and lie bear fruit.
Again, none of which can be proved or supported by the documented facts that the Churches we read about in the Bible started calling themselves Catholics by the early Second Century, and the unique teachings of that Church founded by the Apostles are only present in the Catholic Church today that is in union with See of Rome where the successor of Peter presides.
*Used with permission.
Original blog can be found at the following link.
* Jurgen, William A. The Faith of the Early Fathers. Volume One. The Liturgical Press. Collegeville, Minnesota. 1970
* Lasseter Rollin A. ed. Light to the Nations. Part One. Catholic Textbook Project. 2014.