Was the Emperor Constantine a True Christian or Was He a Secret Pagan? (2023)

Constantine the Great is known in history as the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. However, legends and archaeological evidence suggest a different story– it seems that Constantine had a secret about his faith which was hidden for centuries.

Constantine built many churches. He celebrated faith in one (Christian) God and his son Jesus by creating many of the greatest churches in the world, including: St. Peter’s in Rome, The Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, The Eleona on the Mount of Olives, The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and others.

Was the Emperor Constantine a True Christian or Was He a Secret Pagan? (1)

The spectacular Hagia Sophia, Istanbul. Credit: BigStockPhoto

Constantine became emperor in 306 AD and ruled for 31 years. According to tradition, just before the battle of the Milvian Bridge (Rome) in 312, he experienced a vision of a flaming cross with the inscription ''In his sign conquer''.

As the legends say, he understood it as a sign from the Christian God asking him to convert. Constantine believed that he would be awarded with unusual power, the support of a deity, and the greatest kingdom of the world if he followed through with the vision.

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By the decree of Constantine Christianity became the official religion of Rome in 324. However, did he really become a true Christian, or was he just seeking the support of powerful bishops for political purposes?

The Christian Emperor of Rome

In the group of his closest advisors there were bishops such as Hosius, Lactantius, and Eusebius of Caesarea. He appointed a group of converted Christians to high positions in many parts of his empire. The Christian ministers had special privileges. He also extended many benefits to pagan priests who became Christian ministers. For example, they received monetary support from the Empire and didn't pay taxes.

Was the Emperor Constantine a True Christian or Was He a Secret Pagan? (2)

Eusebius in a modern imagining. ( Public Domain )

The bishops were a faithful army for the ruler, but apart from creating some laws, temples, and supporting the growing group of priests, Constantine didn't appear to be much of a Christian. He agreed with the bishops’ suggestions to legislate against magic and private divination. But if a change in these kinds of laws was not put forth by an influential bishop, Constantine wasn't interested in making the changes.

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By his decree many pagan temples were destroyed. For example, he ordered the destruction of the Temple of Aphrodite in Lebanon and many other ceremonial pagan places. It seems that he was interested in destroying some of the important places of pre-Christian cults, but at the same time destruction didn't apply to all of them.

In every decision to destroy a pagan temple it was written that the place could not exist because it was a site of misguided rites and ceremonies - a place of true obstinacy. He never outright banned pagan rituals like sacrifices, but only closed and destroyed important temples when the bishops felt the sites were dangerous to their own faith.

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Apart from his political motives to support the growing army of priests, Constantine may have had a secret. What is more interesting, is that it seems that the bishop of Rome knew about it and supported him in this hidden aspect of his life. The truth was that Constantine outwardly supported the new religion but still worshiped the sun and pagan symbols.

Was the Emperor Constantine a True Christian or Was He a Secret Pagan? (3)

The Baptism of Constantine, as imagined by students of Raphael. ( Public Domain )

A Christian who Worshiped the Sun?

Constantine grew up in the court of the emperor Constantine Chlorus, who was a Neoplatonist and a devotee of the Unconquered Sun. His mother, Empress Helena, was a Christian who traveled through the Middle East searching for key sites connected to Jesus.

According to ancient texts, she identified important places mentioned in the Bible. But young Constantine didn't appear to follow his mother's religious interests. He worshiped the sun, or was devoted to Mithraism.

Was the Emperor Constantine a True Christian or Was He a Secret Pagan? (4)

Orthodox Bulgarian icon of Constantine and his mother, St. Helena. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

After his official conversion to Christianity in 312, Constantine built his triumphal arch in Rome. It is interesting that it wasn't dedicated to the symbols of Christianity, but to the Unconquered Sun. During his reign, he changed many aspects connected with pagan cults , but that doesn’t mean that he stopped the cultivation of old traditions.

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He often named them differently, but still allowed for pagan practices in many ways. For example, in 321 Constantine legislated that the celebration of the Day of the Sun should be a state holiday – a day off for everyone.

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The Mysterious Column of Emperor Constantine

In 330, Constantine set up a statue which is a key to understanding his private beliefs. After decades of supporting Christianity, he appeared as a statue of the sun god in the forum. The column became the center of the Forum of Constantine, nowadays known as Cemberlitas Square in Istanbul.

Today, the column is 35 meters (114.8 feet) tall, but in ancient times it was 15 meters (49.2 feet) taller and ended with an impressive statue of the emperor. The column was decorated with pagan symbolism supported by some Christian decoration.

Was the Emperor Constantine a True Christian or Was He a Secret Pagan? (5)

The Column of Constantine. ( Haluk /Adobe Stock)

The statue on the top of the monument presented Constantine in the likeness of Apollo with a sun crown, a symbol of the kings from the times of Alexander the Great. It is said that he carried a fragment of the True Cross in his hand - a relic of the cross of Jesus.

At the foot of the column there was a sacred place which contained relics, including other parts of crosses, a basket from the biblical story of the loaves and fishes miracle , a jar which belonged to Mary Magdalene, and a wooden statue of Pallas Athena from Troy.

Was the Emperor Constantine a True Christian or Was He a Secret Pagan? (6)

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The Column of Constantine in its original form, with the statue of Constantine as Apollo on top. ( Public Domain )

The Byzantine emperor Manuel I Komnenos (1143 – 1180) saw this monument as too pagan, and he decided to put a cross in place of the statue on the top of the column. The monument was damaged a few times in history, but the column has survived until modern times. Parts of the statue of Constantine are located in a museum, but the Column of Constantine is still one of the most important examples of Roman art in Turkey.

Pagan, Christian, or a God?

After his death in 337, Constantine became one of the pagan gods. An analysis of archaeological sites suggests that Constantine, like previous emperors of Rome, had never stopped seeing himself as a son of the ancient deities.

It is hard to believe that Constantine’s Christian beliefs were as strong as his mother Helena’s. He appears to have been more of a cunning politician than a man who truly wanted to Christianize the world.

Was the Emperor Constantine a True Christian or Was He a Secret Pagan? (7)

Colossal marble head of Emperor Constantine the Great, Roman, 4th century, located at the Capitoline Museums, in Rome. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Top Image: Fresco of the Baptism of emperor Constantine in main apse of church Chiesa di San Silvestro in Capite by Pope Sylvester by Ludovico Gimignani. Source: Renáta Sedmáková /Adobe Stock

By Natalia Klimczak


Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire, 1986

Charles M. Odahl, Constantine and the Christian Empire, 2004.

(Video) Why Christianity Owes a Lot to the Roman Emperor Constantine

Michael Grant, Constantine the Great: The Man and His Times,1994.




Is Constantine a pagan? ›

Although Constantine lived much of his life as a pagan and later as a catechumen, he began to favor Christianity beginning in 312, finally becoming a Christian and being baptised by either Eusebius of Nicomedia, an Arian bishop; or by Pope Sylvester I, which is maintained by the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox ...

Why was Constantine a Christian? ›

Just before his death in May 337, it is claimed that Constantine was baptised into Christianity. Up until this time he had been a catechumen for most of his adult life. He believed that if he waited to get baptized on his death bed he was in less danger of polluting his soul with sin and not getting to heaven.

How many books did Constantine remove from the Bible? ›

In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine removed the twenty-three [23] books contained within this volume from the Holy Bible.

Who was the last Roman emperor who was a pagan rather than a Christian? ›

Emperor Julian the Apostate was Rome's last pagan leader. He came to power after many years of Christian rule and did his utmost to topple the Christian faith.

What did Constantine do to the Bible? ›

He made the persecution of Christians illegal by signing the Edict of Milan in 313 and helped spread the religion by bankrolling church-building projects, commissioning new copies of the Bible, and summoning councils of theologians to hammer out the religion's doctrinal kinks.

Did Constantine write the Bible? ›

The Fifty Bibles of Constantine were Bibles in the original Greek language commissioned in 331 by Constantine I and prepared by Eusebius of Caesarea.

Who came up with Christianity? ›

Christianity originated with the ministry of Jesus, a Jewish teacher and healer who proclaimed the imminent Kingdom of God and was crucified c. AD 30–33 in Jerusalem in the Roman province of Judea.

Who started the first church in the Bible? ›

According to Acts 11, at the start of their missionary journeys, Paul the Apostle and Barnabas created a church and preached in Antioch for a year, during which time the followers of the church were called "Christians" for the first time. This was the first mention of the word "Christians" in the Bible.

What was the first church after Jesus? ›

Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Nisan 14 or 15), the Jerusalem church is founded as the first Christian church with about 120 Jews and Jewish Proselytes (Acts 1:15), followed by Pentecost (Sivan 6), the Ananias and Sapphira incident, Pharisee Gamaliel's defense of the Apostles (5:34–39), the ...

WHO removed the 7 books from the Bible? ›

They don't seem to realize that Luther removed seven entire books and parts of three others from it for no other reason than that they didn't fit his idea of “what God really wanted.” Luther claimed they celebrated Judaism and because he wanted to justify his challenging the authority of the Catholic Church, he threw ...

Who removed books from the Bible? ›

One of them state that, under the evil claws of the Pope and his bishops, in 1684, the Bible was altered significantly. The Catholic Church removed fourteen books which collided with its doctrine, and hid them from public view.

Who decided the books of the Bible? ›

Eventually, the question was taken up by Church councils. At the Council of Hippo, held in north Africa in AD 393, a group of church leaders recognized a list of books that they believed to be scripture. Later, the Council of Carthage affirmed that decision in AD 397.

When did Rome go from paganism to Christianity? ›

The First Christian Emperor

After this vision, Constantine legalized Christianity and promoted religious tolerance in 313 CE through the Edict of Milan.

Which Roman emperor made Christianity the only religion? ›

Who was Constantine? Constantine made Christianity the main religion of Rome, and created Constantinople, which became the most powerful city in the world. Emperor Constantine (ca A.D. 280– 337) reigned over a major transition in the Roman Empire—and much more.

What was the last pagan religion? ›

It signified the official adoption of Christianity by Lithuania, the last pagan country in Europe. This event ended one of the most complicated and lengthiest processes of Christianization in European history.

What council put the Bible together? ›

First Council of Nicaea
Accepted byCatholic Church Eastern Orthodox Church Oriental Orthodox Church Assyrian Church of the East Ancient Church of the East Anglican Communion
Next councilFirst Council of Constantinople
Convoked byEmperor Constantine I
PresidentHosius of Corduba
5 more rows

Who was the Roman emperor when Jesus was crucified? ›

According to the Gospels, Jesus of Nazareth preached and was executed during the reign of Tiberius, by the authority of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea province.

Was the Bible canonized at the Council of Nicea? ›

There is no evidence among the canons of the First Council of Nicaea of any determination on the canon; however, Jerome (347-420), in his Prologue to Judith, makes the claim that the Book of Judith was "found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures".

What was Constantine's original religion? ›

Constantine And Sol Invictus

Many fantastic churches were built during his reign, and some pagan temples were limited. Despite this, it is not obvious that Emperor Constantine was a very committed Christian, and he would continue to venerate the sun god, Sol Invictus, for most of the first half of his reign.

Did Emperor Constantine believe in Christianity? ›

Constantine stood out because he became a Christian and unabashedly made Jesus the patron of his army. By 313, just two contenders remained, Constantine and Licinius. The two jointly issued the Edict of Milan, which made Christianity a legal religion and officially ended the persecution.

Why is the Catholic Bible different? ›

The Differences

Catholics and Protestants have the same 27-book New Testament. Thus, the differences between their Bibles concerns the boundaries of the Old Testament canon. In short, Catholics have 46 books, while Protestants have 39.

Who was the first person to spread Christianity? ›

After Jesus, the two most significant figures in Christianity are the apostles Peter and Paul/Saul. Paul, in particular, takes a leading role in spreading the teachings of Jesus to Gentiles (non Jews) in the Roman Empire.

Who created Jehovah Witness? ›

The Jehovah's Witnesses are an outgrowth of the International Bible Students Association, which was founded in 1872 in Pittsburgh by Charles Taze Russell.

What language did Jesus speak? ›

Most religious scholars and historians agree with Pope Francis that the historical Jesus principally spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic. Through trade, invasions and conquest, the Aramaic language had spread far afield by the 7th century B.C., and would become the lingua franca in much of the Middle East.

Why do Catholics pray to Mary? ›

Catholics do not pray to Mary as if she were God. Prayer to Mary is memory of the great mysteries of our faith (Incarnation, Redemption through Christ in the rosary), praise to God for the wonderful things he has done in and through one of his creatures (Hail Mary) and intercession (second half of the Hail Mary).

What were Christians called before they were Christians? ›

While around 331 AD Eusebius records that Christ was called a Nazoraean from the name Nazareth, and that in earlier centuries "Christians" were once called "Nazarenes".

Why is the Catholic Church the one true church? ›

CATHOLIC - The church is CATHOLIC or Universal because she teaches all nations while subsisting in all ages, and was established by Jesus Christ to aid all men to salvation, and she teaches all the doctrines of Jesus Christ.

Which church was church of Jesus? ›

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, informally known as the LDS Church or Mormon Church, is a nontrinitarian Christian church that considers itself to be the restoration of the original church founded by Jesus Christ.

What religion was Jesus? ›

Of course, Jesus was a Jew. He was born of a Jewish mother, in Galilee, a Jewish part of the world. All of his friends, associates, colleagues, disciples, all of them were Jews. He regularly worshipped in Jewish communal worship, what we call synagogues.

What year did Christianity become a religion? ›

In 313 CE, the emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which granted Christianity—as well as most other religions—legal status.

What religion is John Constantine? ›

Constantine wasn't actually baptized, which is to say he didn't enter the Church, until he was near death. At the time he was baptized Catholicism was the only game in town. So he was, in the end, a Christian, and since the only Christian group at the time was Catholicism, he was also a Catholic.

Who is Constantine in the Bible? ›

Constantine I was a Roman emperor who ruled early in the 4th century. He was the first Christian emperor and saw the empire begin to become a Christian state.

Which Roman emperor converted to paganism? ›

Upon ascending to the throne, Julian almost immediately announced that he had secretly converted to paganism years earlier and committed himself to secure the assistance of the pagan gods for the good of the empire.

Was Constantine an Arian or Catholic? ›

Constantine himself leaned toward Arianism later in his reign, and his eventual successor, his son Constantius, was openly Arian.

What religion was Rome before Constantine? ›

The Roman Empire was primarily a polytheistic civilization, which meant that people recognized and worshiped multiple gods and goddess.

What does John Constantine arm tattoo mean? ›

The tattoo on Constantine's arms is the alchemical symbol of the Red King, which was worn (by him) for protection. It is "the fire triangle with three radiating arrows below represents the 'Perfect Red King,' the Sulfur of the Philosophers."

Did King Shark have a relationship with Constantine? ›

In the process, we learn that King Shark and Constantine are exes in the scene above. Notably, this represents the first time King Shark has been presented as overtly queer, but the humanoid shark and son of the Shark God has always embodied a certain relationship to one's body that could be read through a queer lens.

How did Constantine find Jesus? ›

In the year 325 A.D., according to historical sources, Constantine, Rome's first Christian emperor, sent an envoy to Jerusalem in the hopes of locating the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. His representatives were reportedly told that Jesus' burial place lay under a pagan temple to Venus, which they proceeded to tear down.

Did Constantine change the Sabbath to Sunday? ›

It was not until the Council of Laodicea, in the 4th Century AD, was the non-observance of the Sabbath officially approved and replaced with Sunday, following Emperor Constantines Blue Laws in 321AD.

Who converted the pagans to Christianity? ›

Augustine was most likely living as a monk in Rome when in 595, Pope Gregory the Great chose him to lead a mission to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons to the Christian faith.

Who was the last pagan? ›

The violent death of the emperor Julian (Flavius Claudius Julianus, AD 332-363) on a Persian battlefield has become synonymous with the death of paganism. Vilified throughout history as the “Apostate,” the young philosopher-warrior was the last and arguably the most potent threat to Christianity.

Who is the real founder of Catholic church? ›

Origins. According to Catholic tradition, the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ. The New Testament records Jesus' activities and teaching, His appointment of the twelve Apostles, and His instructions to them to continue His work.

Who baptized Constantine? ›

Eusebius of Nicomedia (/juːˈsiːbiəs/; Greek: Εὐσέβιος; died 341) was an Arian priest who baptized Constantine the Great on his deathbed in 337.


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