Christianity Triumphant

The Official Faith

Christianity had triumphed over paganism by the end of the century in which it was legalized, the fourth. Prior to Constantine, there had been three centuries of emperors who were all pagan; after him there would be a thousand years of emperors who were all Christian, save one, who ruled for only two years. The policy of these most powerful men in the Western world helped to establish the faith, as did occasional mob action directed against pagan statues, temples, and schools. And of course there were other deeper reasons that contributed to Christianity’s success.

Constantine was both a great conqueror and the first Christian emperor, and he is remembered as such in Rome. As noted also on an earlier page, different pods will take up the following sites or works of art dedicated to Constantine:

  • The Arch of Constantine next to the Colosseum
  • The Room of Constantine, the largest of the four Raphael Rooms in the Vatican Museums
  • Statues of Constantine in St. Peter’s Basilica and St. John Lateran
  • Frescoes in the Chapel of Sylvester in the Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati
Tommaso Laureti's Triumph of Christianity

Blake Buchannan’s photo of Tommaso Laureti’s Triumph of Christianity

The Fresco above is on the ceiling of the Raphael Room dedicated to Constantine. Titled The Triumph of Christianity, it shows Christ on the Cross looking down at a smashed statue of Hermes, the pagan messenger god. Its location implies that Constantine had much to do with the triumph it represents, and three of the large frescoes on the walls below show the Church’s view of just what his main contributions were.

A difficult and sensitive question concerns the extent to which the early Christians actively “cancelled” the culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans. It is easy to find instances in which they did so, especially in the eastern parts of the Empire. It is also easy to say that few statues and temples survive from ancient Rome and that “Christianized” remains fared better than ones not useful to the new faith. But there are not many details on what happened, for example, to Rome’s libraries. Nor is it always easy to distinguish between willful destruction and mere neglect. This is all of renewed interest, as some ponder the case for cancelling or ignoring the culture of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, or doing so again.

New Art for the New God