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Research Papers on the 4th Century

Christianity blossomed into a major religion during the 4th Century. Emperor Constantine had become Emperor of the western part of the Roman territories in 312 and by 313 had signed the Edict of Milan making Christianity officially a legal religion. He eventually comes to rule the entirety of the Roman Empire and decides to move his capital to the more-Christian eastern region, marking the founding of the city that would eventually come to be known as Istanbul. After his pro-Jewish heir was overthrown (described by Roman Christians as an ‘act of God’), Emperor Theodosius bans paganism in 393 in response to the persistent invasions of the Germans from the west.

While Europe during the 4th century is marked by the consolidation of power and expansion of a singular religion, political power in Asia was being fractured and religious authority more divided. 4th Century

  • Civil war weakened the Chinese emperor in the early part of the century and tribal armies begin to rule northern China by 311.
  • India, though flourishing economically, has broken into distinct political fragments. The Gupta empire becomes the dominant force in the country by 352 and continues to rule through the rest of the century.
  • At the same time, Buddhism has moved from India through China and is beginning its take-over of the Korean peninsula. In 372, the King of Goguryeo has become a patron of Buddhism, solidifying its presence on the peninsula.

At the beginning of the rise of Christianity, the Roman Empire attempted to “squash” the religion, often victimizing Christians. This changed during the reign of Constantine. While it is uncertain what led to his conversion to his belief in Christianity, some sources report that he had a vision from Jesus Christ in the form of a dream. More specifically, in AD 312, on the eve of a battle against Maxentius, his rival in Italy, Constantine dreamt that Christ appeared to him and told him to inscribe the first two letters of his name (“XP” in Greek) on the shields of his shields of his troops. The next day, the Emperor is said to have seen a cross superimposed on the Sun and the words “in this sign you will be the victor.” As the result of his victory, Constantine legalized Christianity and contributed large amounts of money to its operation and establishment.

Some experts suggest that perhaps this vision and dream never occurred. They suggest an alternative reason for Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. This conversion was not religious or spiritual in natural but in fact was a political ploy. His primary goal was to “unify” his widely spread empire. The current religions that existed were “bland,” from the Orient, and other religions were secretive sects that most likely could not be depended upon. Christianity appeared to be a religion that fit in with his overall goals and ambitions for power.

Given the time period in which this occurred and the emphasis upon “signs” that existed during this age, most likely it would have taken some sort of vision and dream such as these to have resulted in Constantine’s conversion to a religion that was not held very highly. No doubt this sudden wealth and legitimacy was the basis of the survival of Christianity and may have contributed to its dominance around the world.  

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