Constantine wanted unity in his realm, and his call in 325 C.E. for a council of his bishops at Nicaea, located in the Eastern, Greek-speaking domain of his empire, across the Bosporus from the new city of Constantinople was in a certain way his goal to achieve some agreement by which many could live.
Constantine did not make Christianity the religion of the empire, but he granted important concessions to the church and its overseers or bishops.
His foundation of Constantinople (conceived to be the new Rome) as a Christian city untainted by pagan religion profoundly affected the future political and ecclesiastical structure of the empire and the church, whilst his conversion encouraged other Roman citizens also to join Christian communities.
It is said that anywhere from 250 to 318 bishops attended, only a minority of the total number, and most of those attending were from the Greek-speaking region.
Lots of real followers of Christ were not interested into going to the pagant his conference and kept to their ecclesiae, where they kept worshipping the only One True God. The apostles who had warned against the dangers of false preachers had crossed wide regions and several of their affiliates got based in Athens, Antioch, Ethiopia, Constantine, Armenia, Milan, and other locations around Europe, Africa, and Asia Minor. Particularly influential Churches were established in Corinth (by Paul), Alexandria (by Mark), and Rome (by Peter).
Those ecclesiae or churches had people taking care of them and as overseers managed the daily concerns. In Ancient Greek those overseers also got called bishops and as such the apostles were considered the first bishops, who passed on the responsibility of overseeing Churches to others. But those real followers of Christ had no intention to place themselves higher than somebody else in the ecclesia.
On the other hand, there were those false teachers who were eager to gain more power and therefore wished to place themselves higher than the other church members. Thus, they created a hierarchy in their midst. Their high positions did not mean they all agreed with those other bishops and people who called themselves pope.
However, they felt strengthened by the call to oppose those faithful to the apostles who renounced the world and therefore did not wish to give in or yield to human traditions whereby more followers could be gained in the community.
Even Pope Sylvester I who was pope from 314 to 335 and whose long pontificate saw the beginnings of the Christian Roman Empire, was not present at the requested meeting to come to an agreement about the future of Christendom.
The Roman emperor Constantine the Great had allegedly given him the Donatio Constantini (Donation of Constantine), a grant of spiritual supremacy over the Eastern patriarchates and over all matters of faith and worship as well as temporal dominion over Rome and the entire Western world. The Donation is now universally admitted to be an 8th-century forgery, but it was important in the development of the medieval theory of church and state.
During the brief reign of Constantine‘s nephew Julian (361–363), a persistent enemy of Christianity, who acquired the epithet “the Apostate” many efforts were made to reinstate paganism in its former place of supremacy. But after him, the Church received growing support, until, under Theodosius the Great (379–395), orthodox Christianity, which stood upon the platform adopted at Nicaea in 325, was finally established as the sole official religion of the state, and heathen worship was put under the ban, though in itself that Nicean doctrine covered up a sort of paganism, having a three-headed god worshipped, namely a God the Father (1), a god the son (2) and a God the Holy Spirit (3).
By accepting a similar three-headed god, like in the Roman-Greek religion, they came into an agreement also that figures of those gods could be accepted to be sold to the public and as such not anymore endangering the trade in god figures or idols
The union between Church and State thus constituted continued unbroken in the East throughout the Middle Ages.
The last of Constantine his line and his Byzantium Empire, Theodosius I (379–395), was the last emperor to rule over a unified Roman Empire. The Western Empire, suffering from repeated invasions (a.o. from the Visigoths) and the flight of the peasants into the cities, had grown weak compared with the East, where spices and other exports virtually guaranteed wealth and stability. When Theodosius died, in 395, Rome split into Eastern and Western empires.
The fall of Rome was completed in 476, when the German chieftain Odoacer (Odovacar) entered Italy with the Sciri tribe to revolt against the Roman general Orestes (475). Besieging and killing Orestes in Pavia they deposed the last Roman emperor of the West, Romulus Augustulus.
The division of the Empire resulted finally in the division of the Church, which was practically complete by the end of the 6th century but was made official and final only in 1054, and the Eastern and Western halves, the Greek Catholic and the Roman Catholic Churches, went each its separate way.
Next: Religion and believers #15
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