Momentous changes occurred both in the Church and in the political structure of the Roman Empire during the forth century. Christianity, once a persecuted minority faith, became the religion of the empire by the end of the century by Constantine's conversion in 312 CE. The relationship between the Church and the state was changed to reunite the once separated provinces to favour Christianity. Constantine achieved the unification of the East and West of the Roman Empire by 325 CE but his sincerity to the Christian Church is still doubt.
FOUR MODELS OF CHURCH/STATE RELATIONS
There are four classifications of Church/state relations, these are separation, church domination, state domination and collaboration. Separation can be defined where there is minimal interplay between Church and State authorities, with each operating in their own separate spheres, the sacred and the secular.
Church Domination is when religious authorities and concepts dominate the life and culture of the country to the exclusion of secular governments.
In its most extreme form, it is known as theocracy, in which all laws and functions of the State are determined by absolute religious beliefs.
State Domination is when the state controls all aspects of life and denies the Church any role, even to the point of persecuting it and making its existence illegal. In extreme cases, believers have had their property confiscated, been denied the right to worship and have been executed for their beliefs
Collaboration can be defined as that at times there has been a mutual recognition and respect for the respective roles of Church and State in a given country or empire. In these circumstances, both institutions work together for a common purpose. This relationship is characterised by tolerance and acceptance of the role of both agencies to contribute to the common good of society
In 248 CE the Emperor Diocletian took power with army support. He was a soldier from Dalmatia and he massively reorganised the empire on a military basis to sort out the Roman Empire. In doing so, he split the Roman Empire into two provinces. This was an attempt to control and prevent enterprising governors from becoming too powerful and endeavour to over rule. Diocletian took over the West Side of the empire to include Rome while Maxentius controlled the East as co-emperor. For the first nineteen years in power, the persecution of the church was not depicted in his policy. Because of this Christian numbers prospered to a high 20%. It was not until the infiltration of Christianity in high places (marginally through governors' wives) and in high command in the army that caused disturbance to Diocletian. Diocletian insisted that all the army had to make sacrifices and this immediately caused problems for the Christians. Many persecutions took place with Christians and Diocletian has been named as being the most severe persecutor. Not only were Christians being persecuted but Diocletian ordered Churches to be destroyed, the Christian books seized and to arrest the clergy. The official state religion was known as the cult of the emperor. State domination over the church became evident as Diocletian controlled all aspects of life and denied the Christian Church of any role. It could also be seen that the relationship between the two parties was separation as the interaction between the Church and the State was at a bare minimum with each operating in their separate spheres. The Church's rulings were limited to spiritual matters only and were given no place to worship in the affairs of government.
THE RISE OF CONSTANTINE
In 306 CE Constantine was declared as Emperor. Constantine was raised in Rome while Diocletian was Emperor and learnt the benefits of having one absolute authority figure. With this is mind Constantine decided that once again, the Roman Empire should be a unifying Empire and he to be the one absolute authority figure. Constantine then went on to defeat the other Emperor in the Battle of the Milan Bridge in 312 CE.
Constantine interpreted this victory as the response of the Christian God to his prayer for help. He believed he won the battle because of the cross he saw in the sky. The cross was sighted by Constantine in the noonday sky above the sun and with it was the words "Conquer by this." With Constantine's new interest in the Christians the Edict of Milan was introduced in favour of the Christian community. This edict allows the people to follow and worship whom ever they like and Christianity became the soul religion of the Empire replacing the cult of the empire. Christianity spread because of the favourable treatment by Constantine by the new legislation, the Edict, the construction of Church buildings and the use of signs and symbols on currency and shields for battle. This new relationship between the Christian Church and Emperor stemmed the history of the Church and State relationship.
The Church and State Collaborated with each other where both institutions work together for a common purpose.
By 324 CE when Constantine became the soul emperor, a major dispute had already risen between Alexander, bishop of Alexandria and Arius, a priest. They were disputing over the relationship of the Son to God the Father. This resulted in the creation of the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. Although Constantine could not attend this Council, his opinion and orders were passed through a bishop to announce at the meetings indicating the state as controlling religion. Constantine basically controlled the Council of Nicaea and also summoned the bishops when he wanted this still supporting State Domination.
Constantine's motivation to favour Christianity can be interpreted in two ways. "What has the Emperor to do with the Church?" This question proposed conflict between the church and state during the forth century to try and understand Constantine's liking to the Christian Church. From the very beginning of Constantine's reign, he had a lot to do with the Church, but why?
Firstly, Constantine's motivation could be seen as being genuine. Constantine may have supported Christianity truthfully and because of this he accidentally ended up with unifying the empire. His sightings just before his defeat at the battle of Milvian of a cross and his dream where Christ appeared to him and commanded him to use the sign may have been his link to God. He may have interpreted this as his own special deity recommending the worship of the Christian God.
Secondly Constantine's conversion to Christianity could be foreseen as being insincere. Constantine wanted to unite the empire so he turned to Christianity to do so. Constantine wanted a unifying state and Christianity to him was his answer to do this. The empire was breaking down and Christianity was a unifying force as 20% of the population in the Empire were Christian. This is because it was appealing to all classes because it supported love and was simple. Constantine also didn't convert immediately, his conversion took place at the end of his life and he also kept pagan symbols on coins and a pagan title as emperor this could be seen that he only used Christianity for a political purpose to unify his empire.
From this Constantine's sincerity is in question when it comes to his conversion to favour Christianity. Besides his motivation to Christianity, Constantine's other main issue was his interpretation of his Status in relation to God and the Pope. The Papal Theory saw God as the overall ruler followed by the Pope then the Emperor. But Constantine saw himself more suited to the Imperial Theory where the overall ruler was God but directly beneath him was equally the Pope and Himself. Constantine thought that it was his job to rule by looking after both his interest and the Pope's interest hence the Church/ State relations was collaboration.
Even though Constantine's motives to support Christianity can not be determined, it can be seen undoubtedly that his conversion did change the Church and State relationship. While under the reign of Diocletian, the state domination and complete separation over the church, under Constantine's power, his adoption of Christianity gave many benefits to the Church including the collaboration between the Church and the State. The Council of Nicaea was the main event that showed State domination by Constantine's control over the bishops but also showed collaboration between the state and the church. This set the stage of a continual struggle between the Holy Roman Empire and the Pop over who had ultimate power. The Papal Theory and Imperial Theory were in question as to which one was correct, this continued on until the Reformation. Therefore consequential changes occurred between the Church and the State relationship from Constantine's conversion to the Christian Church.