From his Christian conversion under the influence of revelatory experiences outside Rome in A.D. 312 until his burial as the thirteenth Apostle at Constantinople in 337, Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of the Roman world, initiated the role of and set the model for Christian imperial theocracy. Through his relationship with the Christian Divinity, his study of the Bible and apologia with leading Catholic intellectuals, and his assessments of divine interventions in imperial history, the emperor came to feel that he had been placed in power by the Almighty God of Christianity, that he had been chosen as a special servant of that God, and that he had been entrusted with a mission to protect the Catholic Church in the empire and to propagate the Christian faith throughout the world. This article surveys the reign of the first Christian emperor and examines how he developed the role of the Christian imperial theocrat in his public letters and imperial actions, how Lactantius in the west and Eusebius in the east codified that role in their writings to and about Constantine, and how the role pioneered by him in Late Antiquity served as a model for Byzantine emperors in eastern Europe and for medieval kings in western Europe over the next millennium. Illustrations from the Roman, Byzantine, and medieval periods reveal how the concept of imperial theocracy was conveyed in contemporary art (Illustration I).
This document was originally published in Connections: European Studies Annual Review by Rocky Mountain European Scholars Consortium. Copyright restrictions may apply.