Around the year 317, the Roman Emperor Constantine fell ill with leprosy. Desperate for a cure, the stricken ruler turned to pagan priests, who instructed him to bathe in the blood of slaughtered infants. Constantine refused this abhorrent act. That night, the Christian apostles Peter and Paul appeared to the emperor in a dream. The two saints told him to find Sylvester, bishop of the Christian community in Rome, who had taken refuge outside the city due to the persecution of his people by Roman authorities. Constantine summoned Sylvester, who baptized the emperor after he had rejected Satan and confessed his faith in God the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ, born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. Immersed three times in baptismal waters, Constantine emerged free of his leprosy. Out of gratitude, the now Christian emperor exalted the Roman Church above his “empire and earthly throne,” giving to it “imperial power, the dignity of glory, vigor, and honor.” Constantine also decreed that the bishop of Rome should enjoy primacy over the other principal churches of the world. In addition, he granted Rome’s chief priest the use of imperial vestments, the diadem, tiara, and purple robe, surrendering control over the western regions of the Roman Empire to the “universal pope,” Sylvester, along with his successors. Finally, recognizing that the city of Rome belonged to the heavenly authority of the Church rather than a worldly ruler, Constantine transferred the capital of his empire to a new location at Constantinople.
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Brett Edward Whalen
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