Constantine the Great Charlemagne and the growth of Christianity
Constantine the Great
The influence of the Popes, and bishops developed substantially to a point of autocracy. Constantine, and later Charlemagne respectively helped the growth of Christianity.
During their reigns, the crown had more power than the church in Rome. Constantine unified the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman Empire. He was an autocratic ruler, having sons executed.
During the 4th century AD, the Christian Church had a different position than in later years. For instance, Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity.
Christianity was in its development stage, with several interpretations, often warring each other. Before the rise of Constantine, Christianity was the religion of the lower classes and persecuted by many pagan emperors.
The Battle of the Milvian Bridge
A dramatic event changed Constantine’s view of Christianity. While on his way to fight Western Emperor Maxentius in the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD, Constantine had a miraculous experience. “Contemporaries wondered at Constantine’s apparently miraculous victory at the Milvian Bridge; Constantine himself later claimed that it was not fortuitous event, but the result of his adherence to the Christian God ”.¹
Constantine saw a light which he claimed to be a cross of which he painted on his shields. He believed that he could have victory in the name of Christianity, and the Cristian God.
Constantine used this sign as an omen to lead his outnumbered force to victory. He defeated Maxentius becoming the sole emperor of a unified Eastern and Western Empire. He made Christianity the empire’s official religion and moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople.
Constantine became a pious man and signed the Edict of Milan to grant the Christian Church freedom and lawfulness.
In addition, Constantine became the protector of the Christina Church. He commissioned several large building projects, most notably the Hagia Eirene in the 4th century AD.
According to <<Cantor?// in the Middle Ages, the Christian Bishops looked to Constantine. There were numerous cases where the Pope had less influence and power than the Bishop in Constantinople.
Rome was governed by the Catholic Popes with an umbrella of influence in the west. In Constantinople, the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical church had an umbrella of influence in the west.
Charles the Great
When it comes to Charlemagne the case repeated once more. There was mainly a single tribe in Germania, and modern-day France Christians, the Franks.
The Frankish King had converted to Christianity in 599 AD. The other Kings were all pagans or in some cases Arian Christians. However, all this changed when Charlemagne became the Frankish King from 771 to 814 AD.
Charlemagne channeled all his energy to the service of the church. For taking over most of Western Europe and a fair bit of the east, Charlemagne used military force to compel all his religious subjects to follow Christianity.
Charlemagne also sponsored more subtle missionary efforts and pushed for the spread of Benedictine monasteries and copied theological manuscripts. He also managed to defeat the Lombard and assumed the title “King of the Lombard” expanding his territories even closer to Rome.
Leadership in Western Europe was not in the hands not of the Bishop of Rome, but of Pepin’s, Charlemagne (768-814). 4
Charlemagne imposed his power on the Christian Church, how? Pope Leo III crowned him Holy Roman Emperor in 800 AD, perhaps out of fear. Charlemagne’s success in battle proved too much to handle by the Pope.
He created a Kingdom never before seen in the Middle Ages. “The Pope more and more found himself taking second place to the Carolingian King”. 5
Thus, it is certainly uncontested that both Constantine and Charlemagne held the upper hand in their relationships with the Christian Church in the respective times.
Perhaps their success proved made them, and made them viewed themselves second only to God in the Heavens. Nonetheless, they acted in the interest of Christianity but remained powerful monarchs nevertheless.
1. Cantor, Norman F. The Civilization of the Middle Ages. New York: Harper Perennial (1993). P 48
2. Ibid P. 50
3. Ibid P. 49
4. Ibid P.178
5. Ibid P. 178