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Period I The Imperial State Chu

The history of the Church in the first period of the second division of
the history of ancient Christianity has to deal primarily with three lines
of development, viz.: first, the relation of the Church to the imperial
authority and the religious forces of the times, whereby the Church became
established as the sole authorized religion of the Empire, and heathenism
and heresy were prohibited by law; secondly, the development of the
doctrinal system of the Church until the end of the Arian controversy,
whereby the full and eternal deity of the Son was established as the
Catholic faith; thirdly, the development of the constitution, the fixation
of the leading ecclesiastical conceptions, and the adaptation of the
system of the Church to the practical needs of the times. The entire
period may be divided into two main parts by the reign of Julian the
Apostate (361-363); and the reign of Constantine as Emperor of the West
(312-324) may be regarded as a prelude to the main part of the history. On
the death of Theodosius the Great in 395, the Empire became permanently
divided, and though in the second period the courses of the Church in the
East and in the West may be treated to some extent together, yet the
fortunes, interests, and problems of the two divisions of the Church begin
to diverge.

Chapter I. The Church And Empire Under Constantine

Constantine was the heir to the political system of Diocletian. The same
line of development was followed by him and his sons, and with increasing
severity the burden pressed upon the people. But the Church, which had
been fiercely persecuted by Diocletian and Galerius, became the object of
imperial favor under Constantine. At the same time in many parts of the
Empire, especially in the West, the heathen religion was rooted in the
affections of the people and everywhere it was bound up with the forms of
state. The new problems that confronted Constantine on his accession to
sole authority in the West, and still more when he became sole Emperor,
were of an ecclesiastical rather than a civil character. In the
administration of the Empire he followed the lines laid down by Diocletian
( 58). But in favoring the Church he had to avoid alienating the heathen
majority. This he did by gradually and cautiously extending to the Church
privileges which the heathen religion had enjoyed ( 59), and with the
utmost caution repressing those elements in heathenism which might be
plausibly construed as inimical to the new order in the state ( 60). At
the same time, Constantine found in the application of his policy to
actual conditions that he could not favor every religious sect that
assumed the name of Christian. He must distinguish between claimants of
his bounty. He must also bring about a unity in the Church where it had
been threatened ( 61), and repress what might lead to schism. Accordingly
he found himself, immediately after his accession to sole authority,
engaged in ecclesiastical discussions and adjudicating by councils
ecclesiastical cases ( 62).

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