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Interactive video lesson plan for: Early Christian Schisms - II: The Woes of Constantine - Extra History

Activity overview:

Constantine had restored full rights to Christians in the Roman Empire with the Edict of Milan, but he did not expect theological debates to divide the church. Conflict between the orthodox church and both the Donatists and the Arians drew him to intervene.
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Disclaimer: This series is intended for students, to give them a broad overview of a complicated subject that has driven world history for centuries. Our story begins and focuses on Rome.

Constantine had gained control of the Roman Empire, its first Christian emperor, and he restored full rights to people of the Christian faith with the Edict of Milan. But his generosity immediately raised a question: what did the church do with so-called traditors, who had renounced the Christian faith during the days of persecution and now wanted to return? The Roman Church demanded they be restored, because the doctrine of penance declared that anyone could repent for any sin, no matter how grievous. But in North Africa, one group was outraged when a traditor named Caecilian was not only restored to the faith but elected Bishop of Carthage. They refused to accept him and elected their own bishop, Donatus, instead. Donatus performed the role of a bishop without official church authority and he insisted on re-baptizing traditors in contradiction to the doctrine of penance. The church wanted to put him on trial, but since Donatus had rebelled against the people calling for his trial, he didn't believe it would be a fair trial. He wrote Constantine asking for help and the emperor decided to intervene, setting a dangerous precedent for imperial involvement in affairs of the church. Over a series of several trials, church leaders continued to condemn Donatus and he continued to ask Constantine for retrials until the emperor grew fed up and washed his hands of the matter. The unrepentant Donatists went on to become a splinter church that divided North Africa for centuries. Around the same time, a bishop named Arius had begun to teach a view on the nature of the Father and the Son which contradicted the trinitarian belief in co-equal and co-substantial natures. The Bishop of Alexandria excommunicated him when his teachings attracted too many followers and again threatened to split the church. Since the debates continued to rage, Constantine sent a cleric to try and broker peace between the two sides - but the cleric he sent was a strident trinitarian who only tried to put down the Arian sect and sparked riots instead. That cleric attempted to call a local council to resolve the matter, but Constantine - well aware by now that his representative was probably laying a trap for the Arians - suggested instead that a universal council of bishops from across the empire be called together at Nicea.
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Tagged under: church,christian,christianity,documentary,history,world history,jesus christ,jesus,extra credits,extra history,james portnow,daniel floyd,educational,study,learn,history lesson,trinity,holy trinity,trinitarian,arian,donatist,arius,donatus,dontus magnus,arianism,donatism,Alexandria,Caecilian,bishop,Carthage,Edict Milan,Constantine,Emperor Constantine,orthodox,Roman Church,sect,heresy,schism,The Father,The Son,The Holy Spirit,theology,North Africa,Council,Nicea

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