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Church History: The Age of the Christian Roman Empire (312-590) Part 1
Dn. Mervin Lin
14 January 2020
The conversion of Constantine to Christianity was a major turning point in history. It marked the beginning of the Age of the Christian Empire. Before Constantine came to power, Diocletian was on the throne. It was during the turmoil of the power transition after Diocletian’s rule that Constantine arrived into Rome itself to capture the throne.
His victory was secured by obeying instructions he received in a dream that called him to fight under the sign of the cross. He attributed his victory to the Christian God. This led to Christianity becoming an official religion of the Roman Empire. But this new status allowed the church to be filled with people who did not have any convictions. The church also started to establish closer ties with the secular state.
When Constantine tried to use Christianity as a unifying force for his weary empire, he found Christians quarrelling over doctrinal issues. The most potent of these was about the Trinity. He called for a council to meet at Nicaea and allowed the church leaders to resolve the conflict among themselves. The Nicene Creed was written and was the first of many instances of the emperor influencing the church. After much struggles Arianism faded away as an alternative understanding of the Trinity.
The nature of Christ or Christology became the next doctrine to be debated. The church had since the beginning worshipped Christ as God, but it was Origen who coined the term God-man that helped focus the church’s understanding. However, heretical views of the nature of Christ arose by depicting an incomplete picture of the incarnation. Some denied either Jesus’ humanity or divinity, teaching that it was impossible for Him to possess two natures at the same time.
The Council of Chalcedon was eventually called to affirm the distinctiveness and coexistence of the divine and human natures of Christ. This became the foundation of the doctrine of salvation in the unique God-man, Jesus Christ.
With the threat of persecution slowly fading away, the church found itself diluted with influences from the secular state. This eventually led to the Papacy wielding secular power in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the peace enjoyed by the church allowed her time to crystalize her doctrines and firmly establish her theology against the heresies that threaten to obscure the truth.
Dn. Mervin Lin