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The Seven Church Ages - 17. The Roman World in Turmoil




During the last decade of the third century, the Roman world was relatively stable with the West Roman Empire ruled over by Emperor Maximian, and the East Roman Empire ruled over by Emperor Diocletian, but from the beginnings of the fourth century, up till the Council of Nicaea in 325 A. D., the Roman world was in great turmoil. Christianity had reached the four corners of the empire, and in Rome itself, even immediate members of Roman Emperor Diocletian’s household (including his wife and daughter) had become Christians, and many in high places, were either Christians or favourably disposed to Christianity. But in the last three years of Emperor Diocletian’s reign, he turned on the Christian Church. This action may have been to gain a more enthusiastic support from the army, which tended to be strongly anti-Christian. 


In 303 he ordered the destruction of all church buildings, the confiscation of all Christian books, the dismissal of Christians from the government and army, and the imprisonment of clergy. This was follow in 304 with an order that Christians had to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods. What followed was the worse period of persecution the Church had ever suffered. Shortly after giving these orders, Diocletian became ill. Although he did recover, Diocletian became the first Emperor to voluntarily abdicate; and at his urging, Maximian also retired with him in 305. 


Constantius was promoted to augustus in the West, while Galerius became master of the state, and military commander in the East. Then Galerius chose his nephew, Maximinus Daia and fellow officer Severus, as his caesars, to rule with him over the East Roman Empire. 


In 306 Maximinus Daia extended the reign of terror against the Christians, ordering that everyone regardless of age or sex was to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods   


With the death of Constantius in 306, the army in the West urged his son Constantine to except the title of augustus, or full emperor. But because Constantine knew this would mean war with Galerius, he chose the lesser title of Caesar. 


In the meantime, in the East, Galerius promoted Severus as augustus. Then when Severus died in 307, Galerius appointed his old friend and brother in-law Licinus as augustus. On hearing news of this, Constantine, and Maximinus Daia, who thought his uncle would appoint him as augusti, both declared themselves to be augusti in the West. 


Maximinus Daia continued his with his fanatic paganism, ordering all food sold in the markets to be sprinkled with the blood from pagan sacrifices, and that everyone be forced to taste sacrificed meat.


In the spring of 311 Galerius developed a painful malady, and he began to fear he had angered the God of the Christians. At the urging of his wife, in the April of 311 Galerius issued an edict of toleration towards Christians, and ordered the release of all Christian prisoners.   Galerius died within a week of issuing the edict of toleration. With his death the empire would go to the man who first claimed it, and could hang on to it.


With Constantine in north at war with the Franks, Maxentius took control of Italy, while Maximinus Daia took control of Asia Minor, thus ousting Licinius, who subsequently teamed up with Constantine. Then to better their own chances, Maximinus Daia and Maxentius conspired against Constantine and Licinius. 


In 312 Constantine crosses the Alps with his army and headed towards Rome. On the 28th October, nine miles north of Rome, the army of Constantine met and decisively defeated the army of Maxentius. History records on the day before this important battle, Constantine saw a vision of the cross of Jesus, in front of the sun, with the words, “by this sign conquer.” To a sun worshiper like Constantine this would mean, it is all right to worship Jesus, the god of the cross, as long as I acknowledge the sun as the supreme god and ruler over Jesus Christ.


Constantine was a sun worshiper, a religion that is often referred as either paganism, or Emperor worship. A sun worshiper was allowed to worship as many gods as he liked, providing he did two things.


1. He recognized the sun as the supreme god and ruler over all gods, all kingdoms, all persons and all things. One of the accepted ways of doing this was to place a sunburst or hallow behind and above the head of the leaser god’s image or idol. Thus signifying the lesser god’s servitude to the superior sun god.  


2. He recognized the Emperor as the one who sat on the throne of the sun god, and as his spokesperson here on earth. It was believed when the Emperor spoke, he spoke with the power and authority of the supreme god.  


It was not unusual for pagans to worship their emperor as the son of god; this was so in ancient Egypt, and is still so in Japan today. The ancient Greeks believed that Hercules was conceived by a union between the god Zeus and one of the daughters of a man, thus Hercules was recognized as a son of god. For these reasons sun worshipers were often happy to worship Jesus Christ as the son of god, has long as it was not claimed that Jesus was God or equal to God.


In some ways trying to convert a sun worshiper to Christianity was a bit like trying to convert a Hindu to Christianity. The Hindus believe in and worship many gods. This creates a problem for Christian evangelist, when presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ to them. For all to often they will accept Jesus as the god of salvation, or god of healing, while still retaining all their other gods. Like wise Constantine would have seen nothing wrong in receiving Jesus Christ as the god of salvation, while he still worshiped the sun as the supreme god.   


In the lead up to this Church age, despite having suffered great persecution at the hands of pagan Rome, the number of Christians throughout the empire had increased greatly. So greatly, that Constantine would of feared the possibility of Christians raising up against Roman authorities, or even joining forces with Constantine’s enemies.  


The main reason for Rome’s persecution of Christians was not to kill them all, but to persuade then to reject Christian beliefs, and to return to the worship of pagan gods.  Ten-years of the worst ever persecution of the Church had failed achieve this, and it was time for the devil, through Constantine to try one of his old tricks; if you cannot beat them join them. Back in Numbers 22; Balaam had taught Balak to beat God’s people by joining them.  


History records that after Constantine’s great victory, the Senate commissioned a statue of Constantine carrying a Christian symbol in his hand, while at the same time Constantine authorized the minting of a medallion, giving honour to the sun god, for Rome’s liberation.  


This minting of medallion giving glory to the sun god for Rome’s liberation, is a clear indication that Constantine did not become a Christian at this time, but merely added Jesus Christ to his list of many gods that he considered inferior to the sun god. 


Following Constantine’s acceptance of Jesus Christ as a lesser god, many other pagans flooded into the Church of Jesus Christ bringing all their idols of pagan gods with them. In time these pagan idols were renamed after Christian saints, and the worship of many saints replaced the worship of many gods. Nevertheless what Satan meant for evil God turned to good, and many good things for the long-term benefit of God’s people came out Constantine’s so called conversion.      



Written by Kenneth Allan Clark and printed and published by

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