By Theodore Shoebat
Out of all the greatest figures in Christian history, one of the most misconstrued and slandered against is Constantine. They say that he founded the Catholic Church, and he bonded it with paganism mixed with Christianity, but is this true?
This assertion has been being used to wrongly deceive countless Christians, and bring false information to Messianics and Evangelicals. It was first originated by anti-Christian writers, such as Franz Cumont.
What many don’t recognize is that Franz Cumont introduced this theory with an overall anti-Christian intention. He wrote that Christianity
took from its opponents their own weapons, and used them; the better elements of paganism were transferred to the new religion. (1)
With this said, we can agree that the beliefs which try to prove that Constantine configured his own church and mixed it with paganism, was originally produced by haters of the Faith, and has succeeded in causing further division in the Church, with Christians who hate Constantine going against those Christians who they perceive as subscribing to beliefs founded by Constantine. Such contention is founded on false historicity.
To refute the notion that Constantine invented a new church, and to show that the Church did not change after, or was supplanted by, Constantine, I will almost always use primary source accounts such as Eusebius, Tertullian, St. Ambrose, St. Irenaeus, Firmicus, St. Justin Martyr, and St. Augustine.
This is important because it shows that once we look to the original sources of the Church, and not anti-Christian writers or information from the internet, what we find is not Constantine repressing Christians, but heretics who would be rejected by both learned Protestant and Catholic scholars.
One of the most frequent accusations is that Constantine founded, or at least helped establish, an official church of the empire, and then began slaughtering Bible believing Christians who refused to conform, and forced them into an “underground” church.
The evidence presented for this persecution of these obscure believers is an edict of Constantine in which certain sects are listed as being heretical and banned from preaching or assembling religious meetings, it states:
Understand now, by this present statute, ye Novatians, Valentinians, Marcionites, Paulians, ye who are called Cataphrygians, and all ye who devise and support heresies by means of your private assemblies, with what a tissue of falsehood and vanity, with what destructive and venomous errors, your doctrines are inseparably interwoven, so that through you the healthy soul is stricken with disease, and the living becomes the prey of everlasting death. Ye haters and enemies of truth and life, in league with destruction! All your counsels are opposed to the truth, but familiar with deeds of baseness, fit subjects for the fabulous follies of the stage. …We have directed, accordingly, that you be deprived of all the houses in which you are accustomed to hold your assemblies, and our care in this respect extends as far as to forbid the holding of your superstitious and senseless meetings, not in public merely, but in any private house or place whatsoever. Let those of you, therefore, who are desirous of embracing the true and pure religion, take the far better course of entering the Catholic Church, and uniting with it in holy fellowship, whereby you will be enabled to arrive at the knowledge of the truth. (2)
Now, I know that such fierce and overly zealous words may set alarms off in your heads. These poor believers are banned from preaching their theologies, and not only that, they are being coerced into joining the Catholic Church which, as many believe, is the Harlot of Babylon.
But, the question that needs to be asked is, what did these named sects believe in, and were they really Christian? To elucidate this, I will describe each of the sects listed in the edict, and what we will realize is that these sects were completely foreign to any Christian denomination (Protestant or Catholic) and more akin to heretical groups such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and other cults which we would deem false and dangerous.
Firstly, the five sects condemned by Constantine cannot be considered as original Christians, simply for the reason that all of them broke away from the Catholic Church many years before Constantine was ever emperor, and were not pre-existing to Constantine, or the Catholic Church.
1. The Valentinians. These were founded by one Valentinus, and his doctrine was blatantly heretical. He denied that Christ came in the flesh, (3) *St. Ambrose, Of the Christian Faith, 2.5* coinciding directly with the heresy condemned by St. John when he wrote:
Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. (2 John 1:7)
They believed that the Father was both male and female, and that he impregnated a type of goddess named Silence, and through this intercourse, she gave birth to an “aeon” named Only-Begotten who then emitted Christ and the Holy Spirit. (4)
This bizarre belief is reminiscent to Mormonism, which teaches that the Father had literal sex with the Virgin Mary in order to beget Christ. For example, Mormon leader Orson Pratt, once said:
But God having created all men and women, had the most perfect right to do with His own creation, according to His holy will and pleasure: He had a lawful right to overshadow the Virgin Mary in the capacity of a husband
The Valentinians were so blasphemous, that they believed that Christ was in a conjugal relationship with the Holy Spirit. (5) The Valentinians were condemned by St. Polycarp, was he then an agent for the Catholic Church pursuing innocent Bible believers? No. It is true that he was a Catholic, but he pursued heretics, and not only that, he was a student of St. John himself, a fact which cannot go ignored. Irenaeus, a student of St. Polycarp, wrote of St. Polycarp’s relation with the Apostles:
And Polycarp, a man who had been instructed by the apostles, and had familiar intercourse with many that had seen Christ, and had also been appointed bishop by the apostles in Asia, in the church at Smyrna. ...He always taught what he had learned from the apostles, what the church had handed down, and what is the only true doctrine. (6)
How could the Valentinians be true Christians if they were teaching such false doctrine and were condemned by a man who had been directly appointed by the Apostles themselves? Either the Apostles lacked discernment when choosing a bishop, or Polycarp was orthodox and the Valentinians were indeed heretical.
This further shows the historical rape which many modern day Christians have done to Church history when condemning Constantine as a repressor of Christians, when he in fact was striving to protect the Church against these very wolves.
2. The Marcionites. These heretics, which are rejected by both Catholic and Protestant scholars, were founded by one Marcion, a native of Pontus, who taught that there was a god greater than the God of the Old Testament, and that, as Islam teaches, God was not the Father of Christ. (7)
They affirmed that the God of the Old Testament was evil and corrupt, while the god who Marcion invented, was good. (8) One of their other beliefs was that Christ did not actually fulfill the Law, but abolished it as the work of evil, and that the prophets were all sinister writers and not of God. (9)
The Marcionites were as well condemned by Polycarp, the student of St. John, and when Marcion said to Polycarp, “Acknowledge us,” the saint wittingly responded: “I acknowledge the first-born of Satan.” (10)
3. The Novatians. These were founded by Novatian, a bishop of Rome, over half a century before Constantine’s conversion in 312 AD, and his emperorship in 306 AD.
They were a controlling and legalistic cult, whose main tenet was that Christ could not forgive Christians who, under pain of death, acknowledged the gods of the Roman state, a belief rejected and condemned by the Catholic Church in the third century, (11) and which would be indefinitely condemned by any Protestant or Evangelical church.
He was in fact condemned by a pope, Pope Cornelius, which disproves the common accusation that Constantine was the first pope and the founder of the Catholic Church, and substantiates that the office of pontificate pre-existed the first Christian emperor. Two other popes who reigned in the Church right before Constantine, were Pope Gaius and Pope Marcellinus, who were martyred by the pagans.
Novatus was not only a schismatic, but had to be treated by exorcists on account of demonic possession which lasted for some time. Can a man of Christ’s Way be overtaken by demons, as Muhammad and Joseph Smith were?
He was a violent madman, who robbed money from the Church, taking even charity funds from orphans and widows, allowed his father to starve to death and did not care to even bury him, and murdered his own son by kicking his pregnant wife in the belly. St. Cyprian described his vicious and evil behavior as such:
Orphans despoiled by him, widows defrauded, moneys moreover of the Church withheld, exact from him those penalties which we behold inflicted in his madness. His father also died of hunger in the street, and afterwards even in death was not buried by him. The womb of his wife was smitten by a blow of his heel; and in the miscarriage that soon followed, the offspring was brought forth, the fruit of a father’s murder. And now does he dare to condemn the hands of those who sacrifice, when he himself is more guilty in his feet, by which the son, who was about to be born, was slain? (12)
While he refused to accept the lapsed Christians, he himself was terrified of persecution, to the point that when asked to assist the Christians being oppressed by the emperor Decius, he imprisoned himself in fear and even denied that he was a presbyter, affirming that he was “an admirer of a different philosophy.” (13)
When he gave the communion bread to his followers, he did not bless them in anyway, but forced them to promise not to betray him, telling them: “Swear to me, by the body and blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, that you will never desert me, not turn to Cornelius [the Pope].” Instead of the receiver saying “Amen” when accepting the bread, he was compelled to say: “I will no longer return to Cornelius.” (14)
Could you imagine Holy Communion being done like this in your church? It was not done to remember Christ, but to compete with the Catholic Church and gain power over it. Again, this was before Constantine, and it was a cult which broke away from the Church, and did not exist before it. It had no Apostolic succession, but was merely a schism which abused and forced its followers to be loyal to Novatus.
They broke the precept taught by St. Paul,
That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. (I Corinthians 12:25)
4. The Paulians. Their name did not, as some may think, come from St. Paul, but a deceiver named Paul of Samosata who, like Muhammad, taught that Christ was not the Son of God, (15) and that He was not divine, but a mere man. (16)
Constantine repressed this sect, but again, they were heretical and they broke away from the Church, and never had pre-existing church.
5. The Cataphrygians. These are more usually known as Montanists, from their second century Phrygian founder Montanus, He founded his cult similarly to how Joseph Smith founded the LDS, or how Muhammad founded Islam, through a demonic vision.
It was said that he was taken away by an evil spirit which compelled him to go into a violent frenzy in which he uttered all sorts of blasphemies. He attracted two women to join his movement, who has well would enter into hysterical and ecstatic states of ecstasy. They were like Muslim Sufis. They soon founded a cult of wild charismatics who broke away from the Church and believed that they were the true prophets foretold by God. (17)
As the Mormons and the Muslims replaced Jerusalem with Salt Lake City and Mecca, the Montantists declared that the two Phrygian cities, Pepuza and Tymium, were a Jerusalem. *Euseb. Eccles. Hist. 5.18* If the Catholic Church rejected Jerusalem and the Holy Land, as many have said, why would they then condemn this heresy? The Montanists even had a prophet who, like Muhammad, dyed his hair and put on mascara, (18) which reminds us of a lot of a lot of people in the modern day church.
This sums up the five heresies which Constantine’s edict suppresses. They were not Christian, and thus the allegations that Constantine persecuted the original church, founded the Catholic Church and was the first pope, are false.
Those who use these heresies as examples for the original church, are now compelled to either accepts these cults, or admit that the established Church in the time of Constantine, was the same one before Constantine, and that there was no underground church.
Moreover, the fact that Constantine repressed these groups shows that he had a knowledge on the Scripture, and possessed enough discernment to realize that they were dangerous to the Faith.
DID THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ADOPT MITHRAISM?
Furthermore, the usual assertion that Constantine introduced Mithraism, or an ancient Persian cult, and Roman paganism, into the Church, is again fallacious.
Mithraism involved the worship of a bull fighter named Mithra, and of fire, and had nothing to do with Christianity. In fact, the cult was repeatedly condemned by Christian authorities before and after the time of Constantine, because the Church never changed its position in regards to the false religion.
For example, the Christian writer Firmicus, who lived during and after the time Constantine, heavily denounced Mithraism as such:
The male they worship as a cattle rustler, and his cult they relate to the potency of fire, as his prophet handed down the lore to us, saying: … ‘Initiate of cattle-rusting, companion by handclasp of an illustrious father’. Him they call Mithra, and his cult they carry on in hidden caves, so that they may be forever plunged in the gloomy squalor of darkness and thus shun the grace of light resplendent and serene. O true consecration of a divinity! O repulsive inventions of a barbaric code! (19)
Was Firmicus going against the Church when he wrote this? No, if he was, why was he never anathematized as a dissenting heretic? Firmicus was simply agreeing with the Church’s teaching on Mithraism, which was affirmed and taught centuries before Constantine was ever emperor. There was no new church to go against, when combating Mithraism.
Another frequent claim by anti-Christian writers (and sadly Christians who believe their lies), is that the idea of Holy Communion originated from Mithraism (the Mitraists used bread and water in their rituals, which is radically different to Christianity and is what Mormons actually do) and that the Catholic Church took this ritual for their Communion.
Justin Martyr, writing in between 151 and 155 AD (20) (around 277 years before Constantine’s conversion), not only chastised and condemned Mithraism, but concluded that its bread and water ritual was a demonic plagiarism of Holy Communion:
For we do not receive these things as common bread nor common drink; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior having been incarnate by God’s logos took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food eucharistized through the word of prayer that is from Him, from which our blood and flesh are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who became incarnate. For the Apostles in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, thus handed down what was commanded them: that Jesus took bread and having given thanks said: “Do this for my memorial, this is my body”; and likewise He took the chalice and having given thanks said: “This is my blood”‘ and gave it to them alone. Which also the wicked demons have imitated in the mysteries of Mithra and handed down to be done; for that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain words said over them in the secret rites of initiation, you either know or can learn. (21)
The fact that Holy Communion was observed, and Mithraism was condemned, before and after Constantine, shows a consistent tradition being maintained and protected, and not a new church being created after 312 AD.
DID CONSTANTINE ENFORCE PAGANISM INTO THE CHURCH?
Constantine hated paganism and its violent and homosexual practices with such fury, that he passed laws to repress them, and to exterminate the pagan priests of Egypt. Eusebius, one of our major primary writers on Constantine, recounts that:
Consistently with this zeal he [Constantine] issued successive laws and ordinances, forbidding any to offer sacrifice to idols, to consult diviners, to erect images, or to pollute the cities with the sanguinary combats of gladiators. And inasmuch as the Egyptians, especially those of Alexandria, had been accustomed to honor their river through a priesthood composed of effeminate men, a further law was passed commanding the extermination of these as a corrupt and vicious class of persons, that no one might thenceforward be found tainted with the like impurity. (22)
We could reasonably compare these laws to those of Moses, which prescribe the death penalty for paganism and homosexuality. These laws were definitely influenced by Biblical laws, for, according to Eusebius, he would “devote himself to the perusal of the inspired writings.” (23)
Not only that, but Constantine built Constantinople to be a city without the blemish of heathenism and idolatry, without the worship of devils and pagan temples. In the words of St. Augustine, it was to be a city “without any temple or image of the demons.” (23A)
DID CONSTANTINE OUTLAW THE BIBLE?
A frequent accusation is that Constantine outlawed the Bible from being read privately. The truth is that he respected the Bible to the point that he ordered fifty Bibles to be copied for the churches. This was a very laborious project, because in those days there was no printing machines or internet, books had to be copied down by hand, it was costly and time consuming.
Most people in that age would not have been able to afford purchasing a Bible, and Constantine was charitable enough to give Bibles to churches so that the Scriptures could be read to the congregants.
Constantine issued this order to the bishop Eusebius for this to be done, writing:
Do you, therefore, receive with all readiness my determination on this behalf. I have thought it expedient to instruct your Prudence to order fifty copies of the sacred scriptures (the provisions and use of which you know to be most needful for the instruction of the Church) to be written on prepared parchment in a legible manner, and in a commodious and portable form, by transcribers thoroughly practiced in their art. (24)
After Constantine defeated one of the greatest persecutors of the Church, the pagan emperor Maxentius, the Roman senate erected an arch in honor of the victory, and unlike former emperors, it did not give any praise to Jupiter, Apollo, or Mars. (25)
Before 312 AD, the year of Constantine’s conversion, Roman coins were minted with pagan symbolism, but after 312, the coins are seen with Christian imagery. (26) All of these indications lead to the conclusion that there was indeed a significant change in the empire after Constantine’s conversion.
Did pagan influence remain in the empire? Yes, but was there a new Church established, made with both Christian and pagan beliefs and rituals? No. The Church was the same as it was prior to Constantine, the only difference was that it was allowed to exist without pagan government despotism.
Because of Constantine, the great persecutors of the church, such as Maxentius, Gallerius, and Licinius, were vanquished, Christianity was allowed to thrive. Because of Constantine’s liberation of the Church, Christianity spread as it did, and became the dominant Faith in the world, but of course this is not the case today.
Let this essay teach a good lesson, that history has been lacerated and defiled, and that the Church, in antiquity, was a beacon of light destroying the forces of evil and heresy, unlike today, where it has became a circus.
The Church is here to destroy the works of the devil, and let us do so in light of what the early Christians did, and not defile their history, but repeat it.
(1) *Cumont, The Oriental Religions, intro, p. xi*
(2) *Constantine’s Edict Against The Heretics, in Eusebius, Life of Constantine, 3.53, Christian Roman Empire, vol. 8*
(3) *St. Ambrose, Of the Christian Faith, 2.5*
(4) *St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 1.1-2*
(5) *St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 1.2*
(6) *St. Irenaeus in Euseb. Eccles. Hist. 4.14*
(7) *Euseb. Eccles. Hist. 4.11*
(8) *Tertullian, Against Marcion, 1.2*
(9) *St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 1.27*
(10) *Euseb. Eccles. Hist. 4.14*
(11) *Euseb. Eccles. Hist. 6.43*
(12) *St. Cyprian, epistle 48, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis.*
(13) *Euseb. Eccles. Hist. 6.43*
(14) *Euseb. Eccles. Hist. 6.43, trans. C.F. Cruse, brackets mine*
(15) *St. Ambrose, Of the Christian Faith, 5.8.104*
(16) *Euseb. Eccles. Hist. 2.27*
(17) *Euseb. Eccles. Hist. 5.16*
(18) *Euseb. Eccles. Hist. 5.18*
(19) *Firmicus, The Error of the Pagan Religions, 5.2, trans. Clarence A. Forbes, ellipses mine*
(20) *Leslie William Barnard, intro to Justin Martyr’s Apologies, Ancient Christian Writers*
(21) *St. Justin Martyr, I Apology, 66, trans. Leslie William Barnard*
(22) *Eusebius, Life of Constantine, 4.21, brackets mine*
(23) *Eusebius, Life of Constantine, 1.32*
(23A) *City of God, 5.25, trans. Marcus Dods*
(24) *Eusebius, Life of Constantine, 4.32*
(25) *Peter J. Leihart, Defending Constantine, ch. 4, p. 75, 2010*
(26) *Peter J. Leihart, Defending Constantine, ch. 4, p. 77, 2010*