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Emperor Constantine and the Jews

February 27, 2018

[caption id=“attachment_68950” align=“alignleft” width=“300”] Fragments of the “Colossus of Constantine”[/caption]

Constantine the Great, emperor of Rome from 306 to 337 CE, and the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity (in 312, according to legend), was born on this date in 280. Constantine ceased the persecution of Christianity in the Roman Empire in his Edict of Milan (313), and built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (completed by 335), on the site that his mother Helena had determined was the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. In 325, Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, which formally disengaged the Church from the Hebrew calendar and separated the Easter holiday from Passover. “[I]t appeared an unworthy thing,” Constantine declared in a letter to the churches summarizing the Council, “that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin . . . Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd . . .” Later Church councils would prohibit Christians from celebrating Passover with Jews and from receiving holiday gifts from them. Overall under Constantine’s successors, including Constantius II (337-361), Theodosius II (408-450), and Justinian I (527-565), Jews would steadily become second-class citizens of the Empire.

According to the Holy See, the persecution of Jews by the Roman Empire had nothing to do with Constantine and his conversion. The persecutions took place after the fourth century. . . . But the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, disagrees. ‘The conversion of Constantine changed everything.’ ” —Giacomo Galeazzi (April 18, 2012) in La Stampa