2) Ironic Fulfillment of the Judaic Messiah

Ripened Needs

Setting the Stage for Constantine

King David
Under the yoke of Roman domination, the Jews of Judea had prayed for the prophetic fulfillment of a Messiah, an anointed one who would lead the Jews to freedom from Rome while establishing a new world order. According to the beliefs of Abrahamic Judaism, this individual would be a ruler like King David. Neither divine nor miraculous, he was to lead the Jews through a new Messianic Age, fighting God's wars. For most Jews of the ancient Roman Empire, the humble, other-check bearing Jesus simply could not fill this job description.

Ironically, by the beginning of the fourth century, some three hundred years after the passing of Christ and almost two hundred and fifty years after the fall of Jerusalem, Constantine the Great would more faithfully fulfill this specific messianic prophecy. However, he would do so as the sword bearing messiah of Christendom and not the much prayed for Jewish deliverer.

Rebel Religion

Constantine's emergence and triumph were the bi-products of a colliding chain of events that had begun with the birth of Christ. The arrival of Christ and the development of his subsequent rebel faction within Judaism would, after the death of the Apostles, morph and grow into an entirely new religion.

11th-century icon of Jesus from Greece
After the Church sanctioned the conversion of gentiles, early Christian missionaries would recruit from the congregations of pagan worship and thereby force a decline in public sacrifices. It would be this drop in government sanctioned rituals and subsequent loss of taxation that would force early Christians before the scrutinous eye of Roman government officials.

Roman Sacrifice
Up until the advent of Christianity, Rome's officiating had been tolerant of a variety of beliefs. Christians not participating in state-run sacrifice rituals were one thing, something that may be overlooked. However, Christian criticism and outright refusal to participate was interpreted as insurrection. These incidents would closely coincide with political uprisings within Judea, making Roman officials impatient with Jews as well as this new religion spawned from Jewish beliefs. When barbarous raids would increase in the West or Persian hostilities would threaten Eastern frontiers, oracles and soothsayers reading animal entrails would inevitably place the blame on the non-practicing inhabitants of the empire.

Fertile Period for Change

Religious upheaval, Jewish military insurrection and the encroachment on its borders by organized Vandals, Ostrogoths, Visigoths and Persian armies presented a formidable challenge for Rome. Moreover, the suicide of Emperor Nero in 68 CE would forever end the revered Julio-Claudian dynasty and that patriarchy's formidable grip on the reigns of government. All of the above would strain Rome's ability to govern.

Consequently, taxation would increase with a decline in living conditions. Invasions and defending armies would strangle the movement of goods in a highly mercantile economy, causing a drop in trade and much needed tax revenue. What follows are centuries of unrest, civil war and, eventually, the East/West Empire partitioning by Emperor Diocletian. Subsequently, a climate would develop that was ripe for a change in social beliefs, placing the social reforms of Jesus and his apostles before an eager audience. Ultimately, cumulative events would place Constantine on the frontline of history.

Growth of Christianity (simplified)
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Persistance, Persecution and Poverty

The arrest and execution of early Christians did little to halt the growth of the Jesus cult phenomena. This is partially due to the fact that early persecution by the Roman government was limited mostly to the inhabitants of the city of Rome, the emperor's backyard. Also, polytheistic Hellenists were, as a rule, extremely tolerant, even experimental, of other beliefs. There were Romans that made regular sacrifices to the Egyptian god Isis. Emperor Tiberius had made several unsuccessful bans on this practice, but eventually Egyptian beliefs were simply relegated to everyday magic (which was legal). What mattered most was that a Roman citizen cooperate and participate in the rite of public sacrifice.

Christian Martyrs
Conversely, arrests and public executions often times brought considerable public attention to the Christians agenda, which would likely raise an eyebrow or two. The Roman Empire consisted of the "haves" and the "have-nots". The wealthy and upper middle class being the "halves", there was little to no middle class and the majority of the population consisted of the very poor, or the "have-nots". Christians, like their Christ would stick out because of their social policies, including care for the poor and sick.

Roman Citizen
Most early Christians were poor and the poor caring for the poor had to arouse considerable interest in all classes. Consequently, amphitheater executions of Christians would oftentimes have the reverse effect on those that didn't have a developed appetite for pain, torture and death. One group in particular that proved supportive were the nouveau riche of the mercantile class, individuals that had clawed their way to advance their own financial stations. In fact, Saints Paul and Barnabas would target this group for fund organization and donations during early missionary travels.

Another group would be the soldiers and magistrates involved in endless punishments and executions. Sympathy in this class would be recorded by historians describing how soldiers would hold the hands of Christians and do the sacrifices while the Christians looked away and then released them. Magistrates were known to allow slaves or pagan friends to do the sacrifices for resistant Christians. Like the persecution of the Jews by the Nazi's in WWII, arrests and executions of seemingly ordinary people would oftentimes promote unintended sympathy, sometimes support.

Diverse Demographics

There were other Christian activities promoting change in the Roman Empire. Adding to the Christian growth factor was the incredibly successful missionary work performed by the early Christians, Saint Paul being the most effective. Subsequent to Christianity being an Eastern religion, there developed several centers for Christianity throughout the empire, oftentimes far from the watchful eye of emperor or senate. In less than three centuries after the death of Christ, there were theology centers throughout the Roman Empire. By the time of Constantine, slightly less than half of the empire's population was Christian (see chart above).

However, the cosmology of beliefs within the remaining pagan population remains uncertain. As sited earlier, there was no strict canon to hellenistic beliefs, subsequently beliefs tended to differed amongst individuals. In short, by the early fourth century the population of the Roman Empire was composed of Christians, quasi-Christians (Christians with shared pagan beliefs), jews, non-denominational, casually observant pagans, and, to a very small extent, strictly observing pagans (if such a thing ever existed within the Empire).

Click for Wikipedia Article

Uniting Force

Verge of a Wider Epoch

Constantine the Great
Ultimately, Constantine would vanquish all foes at the final Battle of the Milvian Bridge with the Chi-Rho symbol ☧ painted on his soldier's shields with the message "In Hoc Signo Vinces (with this sign you will conquer)". However, whether divine or otherwise, as this article states, there was more to this formula of success than a dream before a battle.

From a social, economical and political standpoint Constantine's arrival was equivalent to the prophetic sword bearing Messiah foretold within Jewish faith. Through his own personal struggles he had become the flesh and blood liberator that would free the oppressed and fight God's war, in this instance, Christ's war of social change. 

Constantine Sees the Cross
All his foes had drowned from a collapsed bridge. Yet Constantine himself would bridge a climate of change that included a firm establishment of a belief begun by a simple Nazarene. A faith that believed in peace and brotherhood. The stage was set for social reform to be embraced by an eager audience. Poverty was to be replaced with shared wealth. The sick would henceforth be cared for through contributions obtained by missionaries spreading the love of their founder. "The peacemakers" could now "be called the children of God"

Today's Poverty
So, what went wrong? Today's poor and hungry outnumber those that have means to care for themselves. Taxpayers no longer see a need to support social programs similar to those started by Saint Paul. Nursing and medical care has never been more out of reach for the needy. War certainly didn't end at the Milvian Bridge. Intolerance, indifference and bigotry are more prevalent than ever. 

Perhaps if man could put aside dogma and canon and, like Constantine, simply believe a bit more in himself and the welfare of others, all things may just become possible.

Go to: Chapter 3) Rise of Byzantium, Orphaned West 

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