Lately I've been trying to figure out whether or not Constantine is a Nicene Christian. He was baptised by Eusebius who was of course an Arian. And since he was very close to Eusebius, he was influenced by Arian views (exiling Saint Athanasius). Some sources I have looked at say that he favored Arianism instead of the Orthodox christian view. Others say that he also exiled Eusebius because he continued to teach Arianism. Was Constantine an Orthodox/Nicene Christian believing Christ was in fact God?
This answer is based on the following 3 resources I found:
- A 2015 article Was Constantine the Great Baptized An Arian?
- A 2012 paper The Spread Out of Arianism. A Critical Analysis of the Arian Heresy published in the International Journal of Orthodox Theology
- A 2005 article How Arianism Almost Won by Christopher A. Hall published in Christian History Issue #85
There was quite an upheaval between the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) and Constantine's baptism shortly before his death (AD 337) by an Arian sympathizer bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia. But although Eusebius tried to bring back Arianism, he DID sign the creed, making him an Orthodox bishop. Initially after Nicaea Constantine was strongly opposed to Arianism, ordering Arius's works to be burned. But,
[w]ithin ten years of the Council of Nicaea, though, Constantine became convinced that Arius’s ideas fell within the pale of orthodoxy, though the exact details of Arius’s position — at least as represented to the emperor in the years following Nicaea — remain somewhat murky. What is clear, though, is that neither Constantine nor later sons such as Constans and Constantius were skilled biblical interpreters or theologians. These Roman emperors were more concemed to preserve the unity of the church than to engage in prolonged debates over what to them often seemed theological nitpicking. [...skipped...] Both Arius and Athanasius experienced Constantine’s displeasure. It was Constantine who in A.D. 335 ordered the first of Athanasius’s five exiles—the same year Arius regained the favor of the Roman emperor. [from "How Arianism Almost Won"]
The resurgence of Arianism was fought in earnest only after Constantine's death, but then suffered a definitive defeat at the Council of Constantinople 56 years after Nicaea.
Therefore, it appears that since Constantine was not a theologian, he was under the impression that he believed the orthodox faith.
... as far as Constantine knew, Eusebius repented of his error in his letter and he was restored to his See and gained the favor of Constantine precisely because he was Orthodox. And it was from this canonical bishop of the Orthodox Church, Eusebius of Nicomedia, that Constantine received Holy Baptism, fully in canonical communion with the Church. Consequently, there is no hesitation on the part of the Orthodox Church, which takes the entire historical data into account, that Constantine the Great was baptized as an Orthodox Christian by an Orthodox bishop. [from "Was Constantine the Great Baptized an Arian"]
Constantine The Great was not an Arian at all. In fact he was quite orthodox in his thought and to further this notion he is considered a saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Regarding Eusebius of Nicomedia’s confession of faith prior to the baptism of Constantine and during the First Ecumenical Council of 325, John Karmiris writes:
“All the Fathers of the Synod accepted unanimously the Holy Creed, including those who professed Arianism, other than the above two, after around the six day dogmatic deliberations, and they signed on the 19th of June in the year 325” (The Dogmatic and Symbolic Writings of the Orthodox Catholic Church, vol. 1; p. 118).
This makes clear that the 318 Fathers who attended the Council unanimously professed Orthodoxy. As for the phrase “other than the above two”, Professor Karmiris noted a few paragraphs earlier that Theonas and Secundus were the only ones who confessed Arian teachings and did not accept the Nicene Creed. Eusebius of Nicomedia, though he did struggle to defend Arian doctrines, in the end he did sign in favor of the Nicene Creed, but together with Theognis of Nicaea and Maris of Chalcedon refused to excommunicate Arius. For this refusal and disloyalty, Constantine had not only Arius, Theonas and Secundus exiled, but also Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nicaea and Maris of Chalcedon. Not long after however they were reinstated by the Church, according to the historian Sozomen, who writes:
Not long after, Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, and Theognis, bishop of Nicæa, regained possession of their churches after expelling Amphion and Chrestos who had been ordained in their stead. They owed their restoration to a document which they had presented to the bishops, containing a retraction:
“Although we have been condemned without a trial by your piety, we deemed it right to remain silent concerning the judgment passed by your piety. But as it would be absurd to remain longer silent, when silence is regarded as a proof of the truth of the calumniators, we now declare to you that we too agree in this faith, and after a diligent examination of the thought in the word ‘consubstantial,’ we are wholly intent upon preserving peace, and that we never pursued any heresy. Having proposed for the safety of the churches such argument as occurred to us, and having been fully convinced, and fully convincing those who ought to have been persuaded by us, we undersigned the creed; but we did not subscribe to the anathema, not because we impugned the creed, but because we did not believe the accused to be what he was represented to us; the letters we had received from him, and the arguments he had delivered in our presence, fully satisfying us that he was not such an one. Would that the holy Synod were convinced that we are not bent on opposing, but are accordant with the points accurately defined by you, and by this document, we do attest our assent thereto: and this is not because we are wearied of exile, but because we wish to avert all suspicion of heresy; for if you will condescend to admit us now into your presence, you will find us in all points of the same sentiments as yourselves, and obedient to your decisions, and then it shall seem good to your piety to be merciful to him who was accused on these points and to have him recalled. If the party amenable to justice has been recalled and has defended himself from the charge made, it would be absurd, were we by our silence to confirm the reports that calumny had spread against us. We beseech you then, as befits your piety, dear to Christ, that you memorialize our emperor, most beloved of God, and that you hand over our petition, and that you counsel quickly, what is agreeable to you concerning us.” It was by these means that Eusebius and Theognis, after their change of sentiment, were reinstated in their churches. (Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, Chapter 16)
This letter given to us through Sozomen is significant, because it states that Eusebius of Nicomedia accepted the Orthodox Faith and sought communion with the Catholic Church and renounced the heresy of Arius. It also reveals why Eusebius was sent into exile originally – because he refused to excommunicate Arius. - Was Constantine the Great Baptized An Arian?
Not only was Constantine not an Arian, has is according to Catholicism and Orthodoxy a saint and thus is in heaven. Constantine lived at an epoch when the Orthodox and Catholic Churches we’re still united in faith.
Constantine himself preferred the company of Christian bishops to that of pagan priests. The emperor frequently invited the bishops to court, gave them the use of the imperial postal service, invited them to his table, called them his brothers, and when they had suffered for the Faith, kissed their scars. While he chose bishops for his counsellors, they, on the other hand, often requested his intervention-- e.g. shortly after 313, in the Donatist dispute. For many years he worried himself with the Arian trouble, and in this, it may be said, he went beyond the limits of the allowable, for example, when he dictated whom Athanasius should admit to the Church and whom he was to exclude. Still he avoided any direct interference with dogma, and only sought to carry out what the proper authorities--the synods--decided. When he appeared at an oecumenical council, it was not so much to influence the deliberation and the decision as to show his strong interest and to impress the heathen. He banished bishops only to avoid strife and discord, that is, for reasons of state. He opposed Athanasius because he was led to believe that Athanasius desired to detain the corn-ships which were intended for Constantinople; Constantine's alarm can be understood when we bear in mind how powerful the patriarchs eventually became. When at last he felt the approach of death he received baptism, declaring to the bishops who had assembled around him that, after the example of Christ, he had desired to receive the saving seal in the Jordan, but that God had ordained otherwise, and he would no longer delay baptism. Laying aside the purple, the emperor, in the white robe of a neophyte, peacefully and almost joyfully awaited the end. - Constantine the Great (Catholic Encyclopaedia).
Despite the vigorous efforts of some Western and Eastern bishops to exonerate themselves and Constantine, the fact is that he had innumerable opportunities to “bear The witness” by being baptized and “owning” it publicly well prior to his demise. He refused. He retained the company of Pagans and did not earn the “offense of the cross” in keeping his unbaptized state. He clearly did not want to take the mark of the baptized.