Saturday, March 24, 2012

Constantine: First Pope?

Claims have been made by some non-Catholics that Constantine the Emperor founded the Catholic Church despite the evidence contrary. It's almost as if they want this claim to be true, otherwise they would have to acknowledge that the Church IS the true Church founded by Christ upon Peter. The Catholic Church is the only christian church today that can actually trace her lineage back to the first century and to the apostles and no amount of misinterpretation of history will ever change that truth.

The evidence that is presented as "proof" that Constantine founded the Catholic Church is the Edict of Milan. Like any king, emperor  or dictator, Constantine wanted peace in his empire and sought to assuage his subjects by allowing them the right to worship freely without being killed or otherwise molested.  Here is an excerpt of the Edict that says; (emphasis mine)

 Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation. We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.

You can read the entire Edict of Milan here:  Edict of Milan

No where does the Edict mention the Catholic Church or the Roman Catholic Church by name, but instead uses the general term Christians. The name Roman Catholic Church was first used by protestants and foremost, the Anglicans in the 16th century because they themselves wanted to keep the name Catholic, thus differentiating themselves from the Catholic Church in Rome. Another thing to note is that the Edict gave freedom to ALL religions and not just the Christians. Contrary to the belief that Constantine purposely founded a church or religion in order to be the head, we find out instead that his sole purpose was  "for the sake of the peace of our times". 

If Constantine did actually establish the Catholic Church, then he would have had to pull off a real neat trick, because the Catholic Church already existed, and the name Catholic, meaning universal, was in use long before Constantine was, shall we say, a twinkle in daddy's eye.

 St. Ignatius of Antioch 35-107 A.D.
You must all follow the lead of the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed that of the Father; follow the presbytery as you would the Apostles; reverence the deacons as you would God's commandment. Let no one do anything touching the Church, apart from the bishop. Let that celebration of the Eucharist be considered valid which is held under the bishop or anyone to whom he has committed it. Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not permitted without authorization from the bishop either to baptize or to hold an agape; but whatever he approves is also pleasing to God. Thus everything you do will be proof against danger and valid. 

The name Catholic was obviously in use by the time Ignatius had written this letter since he expected his readers to know what he meant when he used the name Catholic. Some scholars attribute its use to the latter part of the 1st century, well before the Edict of Milan. Even if non-Catholics do not hold the Apostolic Fathers in high regard, they cannot ignore the historical significance of this document and the use of the word and name, Catholic. Ignatius, who was a disciple of John the Apostle, wrote this letter a mere 10 years after the death of John ca. 100 A.D. Surely John would have been aware of the name Catholic in his time, yet not a peep of protest from John, and as a matter of record, the Church was already on her fifth pope by the time John had died, and by the time the Edict of Milan came to be, the Church had their 32nd pope in Rome.  

Supposedly, the Edict marked the beginning of the pagan Catholic Church with Constantine as its head. If that is the truly the case, then those that hold the Holy Bible dear to them have a big problem, for it wasn't until AFTER the death of Constantine did the Church compile the different writings of what we call the Bible into its canon of divinely inspired books. If the Church was indeed pagan by then, then non-Catholics hold a pagan bible in their hands. You can't have it both ways.

Claims have been made that Constantine was indeed Catholic, for he built churches, helped finance certain Catholic projects and overall, supported the Church. What of it? Doing all these things didn't make Constantine anymore Catholic than Cyrus the Great becoming a Jew simply because he allowed the Jews to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple. Not only did he allow the Jews to go home, Cyrus let them return with sacred vessels taken from the earlier Temple, and even paid for the construction of the new temple.

One final note: Many denominations were founded after Luther broke away from the Catholic Church. Each and every denomination had a founder who was considered the leader of that denomination, such as Luther, Calvin, Wesley etc...down to all those we have today. They were all considered the authority  in their new church and taught their followers, through practice, their brand of faith.. What of Constantine? If he was Catholic, why did he not become a practicing Catholic through baptism? What better way to lead a people than by example? Why did he spend his whole life being non-catholic, delving into paganism here and there,  and only at the end of his life receive baptism into the Church he purportedly founded? Even better, if he was truly the founder of the Catholic Church why did he not proclaim himself the Pope? Luther et al were considered the founders and leaders of their denominations and practiced their faith, but why not Constantine?

This myth of Constantine has been repeated so often by so many that it is assumed to be true. A little fact checking and even a slightly opened mind goes far to dispel ignorance.

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