Images of Jesus' 12 Apostles, Paul, and Constantine

Hands of Saint Peter, Saint John and Jesus, from left to right, detail from the Last Supper, 1611-1616, painting by Andrea Bianchi called Vespino (active 1612-1640), oil on canvas, 118x835 cm
De Agostini / M. Ranzani / Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana / Getty Images

Apostle is an English transliteration of the Greek apostolos, which means "one who is sent out." In ancient Greek, an apostle might be any person "sent out" to deliver news - messengers and envoys, for example - and perhaps carry out other instructions. Via the New Testament, apostle acquired a more specific usage and now refers to one of the elect original disciples of Jesus. Apostolic lists in the New Testament all have 12 names, but not all the same names.

Christians see the apostles as a connection between the living Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, and the Christian church that developed after Jesus ascended to heaven. The apostles were witnesses to Jesus' life, recipients of Jesus' teachings, witnesses to appearances of the resurrected Jesus, and recipients of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. They were authorities on what Jesus taught, intended, and desired. Many Christian churches today base the authority of religious leaders on alleged connections to the original apostles.

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Saint John the Apostle

Saint John the Apostle: Did St. John Write Revelations, the Gospel of John, and Three Epistles?
Did St. John Write Revelations, the Gospel of John, and Three Epistles? Saint John the Apostle: Did St. John Write Revelations, the Gospel of John, and Three Epistles? Did John Really Die?. Image Source: Jupiter Images

John, the son of Zebedee, was called along with this brother James ("the Great") to be one of Jesus' twelve apostles who would accompany him on his ministry. John appears in the lists of apostles in the synoptic gospels as well as Acts. John and his brother James were given the nickname "Boanerges" (sons of thunder) by Jesus; some believe this was a reference to their tempers. Although younger than James, he appears to have first been a disciple of John the Baptist before following Jesus.

John has been an important figure for Christianity because he is believed to have been the author of the fourth (non-synoptic) gospel, three canonical letters, and the book of Revelations. Most scholars no longer attribute all (or any) of this to an original companion of Jesus, but that doesn't change John's stature for historical Christianity.

John, along with his brother James, is portrayed in the gospels as perhaps being more important than most of the other apostles. He was present at the resurrection of Jarius' daughter, at Jesus' transfiguration, and at the Garden of Gethsemane before Jesus was arrested. John is one of the first apostles to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead and one of the first to recognize him standing at the shore of Lake Genesareth.

Paul later describes John as a "pillar" of the Jerusalem church. Other than a few references to him in the New Testament, however, we have no information about who he was or what he did. Tradition has it that Polycarp, one of the earliest church fathers and a bishop of Smyrna, as personally trained by John. This story is used to advance the idea that there was a direction connection between early church leaders, the apostles, and therefore Jesus himself.

Christian legend says that he moved to Ephesus with the Virgin Mary and both died there from old age, which would make him one of the few apostles not believed to have been martyred for his faith. Mormons teach that John never really died at all but is instead waiting for Jesus' Second Coming.

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Saint Thomas the Apostle

Saint Thomas the Apostle: Who Was St Thomas the Apostle? Why Was He Called Didymus? Why'd He Doubt?
Who Was St. Thomas the Apostle? Why Was He Called Didymus and Why Did He Doubt? Saint Thomas the Apostle: Who Was St. Thomas the Apostle? Why Was He Called Didymus and Why Did He Doubt?. Image Source: Jupiter Images

Thomas, also known as Judas Thomas Didymus or Jude Thomas Didymus, was one of Jesus' twelve apostles and is included in each of the four apostolic lists. Thomas is also called Didymus (the twin) each of the three times he appears in the Gospel According to John. Thomas doesn't do much in the synoptic gospels but becomes important towards the end of John. Thomas agrees with Jesus about returning to Judea despite the dangers and protests during the Last Supper that they really don't know what's going to happen to him.

Thomas is most famous for how he is depicted in the Gospel According to John. He first appears as a symbol of strength, encouraging the others to follow Jesus to Judea where death awaits. Later he expresses doubts about following Jesus. Finally, after Jesus' resurrection, he is the "doubting Thomas" who refused to believe that Jesus really returned until he saw the scars and placed his fingers in Jesus' side.

Some Christian legends have Thomas being the only witness to the Virgin Mary being assumed bodily up into heaven. Origen says that Thomas went to evangelize to the Parthians, but evidence suggests that he may have gone much further -- all the way to India. When Catholic missionaries first arrived in India, they found a Christian community already there which they attributed to the evangelistic work of Thomas.

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Saint Philip the Apostle

Saint Philip the Apostle: Who was St. Philip the Apostle? What is Philip's Tie to Gnosticism?
Who was St. Philip the Apostle? What is Philip's Connection with Gnostics? Saint Philip the Apostle: Who was St. Philip the Apostle? What is Philip's Connection with Gnostics and Gnosticism?. Image Source: Jupiter Images

Philip is listed as one of Jesus' apostles in all four apostolic lists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts. He plays the largest role in John and appears little in the other gospels. The name Philip means "lover of horses." Writings attributed to Philip the Apostle played an important role in the development of early Christian Gnosticism. Gnostic Christians cited Philip's authority as justification for their own beliefs via the apocryphal Gospel of Philip and the Acts of Philip.

Philip is described in the Gospel According to John as being skeptical at first about following Jesus, only agreeing to do so after Nathanael tells him the Jesus is the Messiah. Philip is depicted as pragmatic other times as well and he is the one approached by Greeks seeking to speak with Jesus. It is possible that Philip was originally a follower or disciple of John the Baptist because John depicts Jesus calling Philip out of a crowd attending John's baptisms.

One Christian legend says that Philip and Bartholomew were crucified by the pagan governor of a city in Phrygia after he killed a serpent, but an earthquake caused the people to demand the release of the two apostles. Bartholomew survived, but Philip didn't make it. Another story says that Philip married, had children, and was buried in Hieropolis with his daughters -- both still virgins. If virginity was such a prize that they thought it important, why did Philip take the virginity of the woman he married?

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Judas Iscariot the Apostle

Judas Iscariot, Apostle: Who Was Judas Iscariot? Wh'dd Judas Betray Jesus? Should Judas be a Saint?
Who Was Judas Iscariot? Why Did Judas Betray Jesus? Should Judas be a Saint? Judas Iscariot the Apostle: Who Was Judas Iscariot? Why Did Judas Betray Jesus? Should Judas be a Saint?. Image Source: Jupiter Images

Every story needs a villain and Judas Iscariot fills this role in the gospels. He is the apostle who betrays Jesus and helps the Jerusalem authorities arrest him. Judas may have enjoyed a privileged position among Jesus' apostles -- John describes him as the band's treasurer and he is often present at important times. John also describes him as a thief, but it seems implausible that a thief would have joined such a group or that Jesus would have made a thief their treasurer.

Some read Iscariot to mean "man of Kerioth," a city in Judea. This would make Judas the only Judean in the group and an outsider. Others argue that a copyist error transposed two letters and that Judas was named "Sicariot," a member of the party of the Sicarii. This comes from the Greek word for "assassins" and was a group of fanatical nationalists who thought that the only good Roman was a dead Roman. Judas Iscariot could have been, then, Judas the Terrorist.

Judas Iscariot is known as the companion of Jesus who betrayed him -- but what and how did he betray? That isn't clear. He points out Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is hardly an action worthy of payment because Jesus wasn't exactly in hiding. In John, he doesn't even do that much. Judas doesn't actually do anything except fulfill the narrative and eschatological need for the Messiah to be betrayed by someone.

Judas Iscariot filled a necessary literary and theological role in the gospels by betraying Jesus. Someone had to do it and Judas was picked. It's questionable whether Judas even acted of his own free will. There was no option for Jesus not to be executed because without his crucifixion, he could not rise again in three days and thus save humanity. To be executed, though, he had to be betrayed to the Jewish authorities -- if Judas hadn't done it, someone else would have.

Since Judas Iscariot did something so critical and necessary for Jesus' mission, why is he reviled? Why isn't he also a saint? If Judas loved Jesus as much as the other apostles, wasn't his job much harder than theirs? According to John, Jesus said "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends," but didn't Judas do something very similar by sacrificing himself and his reputation in order to help Jesus fulfill prophecy?

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Saint Peter the Apostle

Saint Peter the Apostle: Who Was St. Peter the Apostle? What is Peter's Tie to the Catholic Papacy?
Who Was St. Peter the Apostle? What is Peter's Connection to the Catholic Popes? Saint Peter the Apostle: Who Was St. Peter the Apostle? What is Peter's Connection to the Roman Catholic Papacy?. Image Source: Jupiter Images

Peter was one of the most important of Jesus' twelve apostles. Peter is known as Simon Peter, the son of Jona (or John) and brother of Andrew. The name Peter comes from the Aramaic term for "rock" and Simon comes from the Greek for "hearing." Peter's name appears on all of the lists of apostles and his being called by Jesus appears in all three synoptic gospels as well as Acts. these texts are the only accounts of his life from this time period and are thus the most reliable source of information about him.

Most of Jesus' twelve apostles remain largely silent through the gospels; Peter, however, is often depicted speaking. He is the first to confess that Jesus is the Messiah; he is also the only one depicted actively denying Jesus later on. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter is depicted as traveling widely to preach about Jesus.

The years of Peter's birth and death are unknown. Christian tradition has it that Peter died in Rome during the persecution of Christians around 64 CE under emperor Nero. Archaeological digs have uncovered what might be a shrine to Peter under St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, a shrine that could conceivably have been built over his grave. Traditions about Peter's martyrdom in Rome were instrumental in the development of the idea of the primacy of Rome's Christian church.

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Saint Andrew the Apostle

Saint Andrew the Apostle: Who Was St. Andrew the Apostle? What is the Saint Andrew's Cross?
Who Was St. Andrew the Apostle? What is the Saint Andrew's Cross? Saint Andrew the Apostle: Who Was St. Andrew the Apostle? What is the Saint Andrew's Cross?. Image Source: Jupiter Images

Andrew, whose Greek name means "manly," was one of Jesus' twelve apostles. The brother of Simon Peter and son of Jona (or John), Andrew's name appears on all of the lists of apostles and his being called by Jesus appears in all three synoptic gospels as well as Acts. Andrew's name comes up multiple times in the gospels -- the Synoptics show him at the Mount of Olives and John describes him as a one-time disciple of John the Baptist.

Andrew appears to have been part of an inner circle among the disciples -- only he and three others (Peter, James, and John) were on the Mount of Olives with Jesus when he foretold the destruction of the Temple and then received a lengthy discourse on the End Times and coming apocalypse. Andrew's name is also among the first on apostolic lists, possibly an indication of his importance in early traditions.

The Acts of St. Andrew, an apocryphal work from the 3rd century, says Andrew was arrested and executed in 60 CE while preaching on the northwest coast of Achaia. A 14th-century tradition says he was crucified on an X-shaped cross, lasting for two days before dying. Today there is an X on Great Britain's flag representing Andrew, patron saint of Scotland.

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Saint James (the Great) the Apostle

Saint James (the Great) the Apostle: Who Was St. James the Great and What Was so Great About Him?
Who Was St. James the Great and What Was so Great About Him? Saint James (the Great) the Apostle: Who Was St. James the Great and What Was so Great About Him?. Image Source: Jupiter Images

James, the son of Zebedee, was called along with this brother John to be one of Jesus' twelve apostles who would accompany him on his ministry. James appears in the lists of apostles in the synoptic gospels as well as Acts. James and his brother John were given the nickname "Boanerges" (sons of thunder) by Jesus; some believe this was a reference to their tempers.

James, along with his brother John, is portrayed in the gospels as perhaps being more important than most of the other apostles. He was present at the resurrection of Jarius' daughter, at Jesus' transfiguration, and at the Garden of Gethsemane before Jesus was arrested.

Other than a few references to him in the New Testament, however, we have no information about who James was or what he did. One Christian legend says that King Herod had him executed by a sword, but there is no evidence of his occurring. Other Christian legends say that James traveled to and evangelized in Hispania.

James was one of the apostles who sought power and authority above the others, something that Jesus reproached him for: And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. (Mark 10: 35-40)

This James does not appear to be called "the Great" because he learned well this lesson from Jesus. Instead, he's called "the Great" to distinguish him from the other James (the Lesser, the Just) and because he was one of the first disciples called by Jesus to follow him.

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Saint Matthew the Apostle

Saint Matthew the Apostle: Who Was St. Matthew? Did Matthew the Apostle Write the Gospel of Matthew?
Who Was St. Matthew the Apostle? Did Matthew the Apostle Write the Gospel? Saint Matthew the Apostle: Who Was St. Matthew the Apostle? Did Matthew the Apostle Write the Gospel of Matthew?. Image Source: Jupiter Images

Matthew is recorded as one of Jesus' original disciples in all four gospels and in Acts. In the gospel of Matthew he is described as a tax collector; in parallel accounts, however, the tax collector Jesus encounters is named "Levi." Christians have traditionally thought that this was an example of a double naming.

Christian tradition has generally taught that the Gospel According to Matthew was written by Matthew the apostle, but modern scholarship had discredited this. The gospel text displays enough sophistication in terms of theology and Greek that it is most likely the product of a second-generation Christian, probably a convert from Judaism.

Not much information about Matthew the apostle is contained in the gospels and his importance for early Christianity is dubious. The author of the Gospel According to Matthew, however, has had a great deal of importance for the development of Christianity. The author relied heavily on Mark's gospel and also drew from some independent traditions not found elsewhere.

Some Christian legends say that Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia, others that he was martyred in Parthia. There is no evidence for the truth of any of these traditions or even that Matthew would have been martyred at all anywhere.

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Saint Bartholomew the Apostle

Saint Bartholomew, Apostle: Who was St. Bartholomew? Was He St. Nathanael in the Gospel of John?
Who was St. Bartholomew? Was He St. Nathanael, Apostle in the Gospel of John? Saint Bartholomew the Apostle: Who was St. Bartholomew? Was He St. Nathanael, Apostle in the Gospel of John?. Image Source: Jupiter Images

In Aramaic, Bartholomew would probably have been something like "bar Telemai," and thus meant "son of Telemai," which could have been a form of the Greek name Ptolemais. Most think that Bartholomew is the same as the apostle Nathanael who appears in the​ Gospel of John; Bartholomew is a name that only appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Scholars have made this connection because both Bartholomew and Nathanael are always mentioned in the context of the apostle Philip.

In fact, being listed with Philip is just about the only thing Bartholomew does, aside from getting listed as one of the apostles who witnesses Jesus' ascension in Acts. It's only under the name Nathanael that he gets much of a role. According to the Gospel of John, Nathanael is depicted as being very skeptical that the long-awaited messiah could possibly be from Nazareth before he finally confesses that Jesus is the Son of God.

Some Christian legends say that after seeing the risen Jesus at the Sea of Tiberias, Bartholomew traveled to India and brought Christianity to the people there. Other legends say that he traveled with St. Jude Thaddeus, another of the twelve apostles, to Armenia to bring Christianity to the people there. These same legends say that Bartholomew was martyred in Armenia by being flayed alive and then crucified upside down.

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Saint Simon the Zealot, the Apostle

Saint Simon the Zealot, the Apostle: Why Was St. Simon a Zealot? Was Simon a Canaanite?
Why Was St. Simon a Zealot? Was Simon a Canaanite? What Happened to Simon? Saint Simon the Zealot, the Apostle: Why Was St. Simon a Zealot? Was Simon a Canaanite? What Happened to Simon?. Image Source: Jupiter Images

Simon the Zealot, probably given this moniker in order to distinguish him from Simon Peter, may be the most obscure of all the twelve apostles -- and that's saying something, given how little some of them have to do in the gospels. Simon the Zealot appears in all the lists of twelve apostles in the synoptic gospels and in Acts (1:13), but that's it. No dialogue or acts are attributed to him anywhere in the gospels, in Acts, or in any of the epistles of the New Testament. The gospels also don't say anything about his background before becoming an apostle or the circumstances under which Jesus called him. It's as if he simply dropped off the face of the Earth.

Sometimes Simon the Zealot is referred to as Simon the Canaanite because the Hebrew root for zealot is qana and church father Jerome thought this mean Cana or Canaan. Thus he described Simon as coming from the town of Cana (the site of Jesus first miracle, when he transformed water into wine) or just more generally from the Canaan region.

Some Christian legends have Simon the Zealot traveling to Egypt to proselytize to the people there. Another has him making a missionary trip to Glastonbury and eventually being martyred in Lincolnshire with a saw.

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Saint Jude Thaddeus the Apostle

Saint Jude Thaddeus the Apostle: Who was St. Jude Thaddeus, Twelfth Apostle with the Disputed Name?
Who was St. Jude Thaddeus, the Twelfth Apostle with the Disputed Name? Saint Jude Thaddeus the Apostle: Who was St. Jude Thaddeus, the Twelfth Apostle with the Disputed Name?. Image Source: Jupiter Images

Also sometimes known as Jude Lebbeus or just Thaddeus, Jude Thaddeus was the brother of another apostle, St. James the Less and he is the "mystery" apostle because he's the one the synoptic gospels disagree on. Mark and some versions of Matthew list him as Thaddeus; some versions of Matthew list him as Lebbeus; some versions of Matthew list him as Judas the Zealot; Luke lists him as Judas, son of James.

It is assumed that these are all the same person and it's reasonable to think that some confusion resulted from efforts to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot. Jude Thaddeus certain doesn't appear very often in the New Testament stories. He is depicted as asking Jesus why he doesn't appear before the whole world after his resurrection, but otherwise, he only shows up when the names of various apostles are listed. The Epistle of Jude was originally attributed to him, but modern scholars generally date this work to the first quarter of the 2nd century and was not likely written by someone who was an adult during the first quarter of the 1st century.

With so little scriptural information about Jude Thaddeus, legends quickly developed. There was much demand from early Christians details about what happens to Jesus' companions and Christian leaders complied. Some said that he was the bridegroom for the wedding at Cana. Others said that he traveled to places like Syria, Libya, and Mesopotamia to preach the gospel.

Some traditions say that he was martyred in Persia and that his body was placed in a crypt in St. Peter's Basilica. Other traditions say that he brought Christianity to Armenia with Saint Bartholomew and that he was martyred in Armenia. There is no independent evidence for any of this.

Thaddeus is also the name of one of the "Seventy Apostles of Christ," a group of followers mentioned in Luke 10:1-20 who were appointed by Jesus to go out ahead of him and preach the gospel. This Thaddeus is believed to have been a Jew born in Edessa. According to Eusebius, he was martyred in Mesopotamia in 44.

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Saint Matthias, the Second Twelfth Apostle

Saint Matthias, Second Twelfth Apostle: Who Was St. Matthias, Apostle Who Replaced Judas?
Who Was St. Matthias, the Apostle Who Replaced the Apostle Judas? Saint Matthias, the Second Twelfth Apostle: Who Was St. Matthias, the Apostle Who Replaced the Apostle Judas?. Image Source: Jupiter Images

Not nearly as well known as any of the others, Matthias was the apostle chosen to replace Judas after he betrayed Jesus and committed suicide. Matthias wasn't chosen by Jesus and isn't even mentioned in the synoptic gospels. Instead, he was chosen by casting lots after Jesus reportedly ascended to heaven. After being chosen, Matthias disappears completely from the New Testament canon and isn't mentioned in any other reliable historical records.

The choosing of Matthias is depicted in the first chapter of Acts:

  • So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. [Acts 1:23-26]

There's no information about who Joseph Barabbas was, or why either of them were candidates for becoming an official member of the Twelve Apostles. It's not even clear why there was a need to replace Judas in the first place, unless it was for the sake of maintaining the symbolism of twelve, the number of the original Hebrew tribes. According to Clement of Alexandria:

  • Not that they became apostles through being chosen for some distinguished peculiarity of nature since also Judas was chosen along with them. But they were capable of becoming apostles on being chosen by Him who foresees even ultimate issues. Matthias, accordingly, who was not chosen along with them, on showing himself worthy of becoming an apostle, is substituted for Judas. [Stromateis vi.13]

A medieval Greek historian claims that Matthias was crucified in Colchis, an area of the Caucasus, but there is no independent evidence of this having really occurred. Another Christian legend claims that Matthias was stoned then beheaded by Jews in Jerusalem.

Clement of Alexandria quotes a single sentence which he attributes to a Gospel of Matthias, but that's the only piece of the document which remains. There are also mentions of the existence of this gospel in Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome. Given how many gospels were created and attributed to various apostles and other companions of Jesus, it's likely that a Gospel of Matthias existed. Since Clement died in the early 3rd century, this could have been a relatively early gospel.

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Saint Paul, the Thirteenth Apostle

Saint Paul, the Thirteenth Apostle: Why Did Paul Call Himself an Apostle When He Never Met Jesus?
Why Did Paul Call Himself an Apostle When He Never Met Jesus? Saint Paul, the Thirteenth Apostle: Why Did Paul Call Himself an Apostle When He Never Met Jesus?. Image Source: Jupiter Images

Born around the beginning of the Common Era, Paul was a Hellenistic Jew who, according to tradition, was a Pharisee and may have been a member of the Sanhedrin. He was responsible for working against the development of Christianity but, according to his own accounts, he heard the voice of Jesus and was struck blind while on his way to Damascus.

After this time, he became an ardent defender and promoter of Christianity, even taking for himself the title "apostle" and eventually became responsible for many of the books in the New Testament. Some lists of the apostles apparently include Paul as the twelfth apostle, replacing Matthias. Since Paul asserted the authority to be an apostle to the Gentiles, though, he is more appropriately listed as the thirteenth because for Christian symbolism to work there needs to be twelve apostles representing the original twelve Hebrew tribes and then a thirteenth for non-Jews.

Paul insisted on using the title apostle despite never having met Jesus and never being called personally by Jesus because of his vision on the road to Damascus. Paul claimed that the resurrected Jesus spoke to him and called him at that time. Taking the title "apostle" has clear political implications because the original apostles would have had the greatest authority within the growing Christian movement. They were, after all, the ones who had personally known and personally been called by Jesus. This would have put Paul in a secondary position at best, especially given his recent background as an opponent of Christianity.

Adopting the title apostle could have been perceived as an attempt to assert equal authority alongside the original apostles, especially since Paul claimed to have been called by the resurrected Jesus rather than by Jesus when he was still alive. On more than one occasion in his letters Paul has to defend his status as an apostle, suggesting that it was questioned by various people.

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Constantine the Great

Mosaic of Emperor Constantine from Hagia Sophia, c 1000, Scene: Constantine with Model of the City
Roman Apostle who Fused Christian Religion with Roman Imperial Power, Authority Mosaic of Emperor Constantine from the Hagia Sophia, c. 1000, Scene: Virgin Mary as Patroness of Constantinople; Constantine with a Model of the City. Source: Wikipedia

Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantine (c. 272 - 337), better known as Constantine the Great, was perhaps the most important person in the development of the early Christian Church (after Jesus and Paul, naturally). Constantine's defeat of Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge put him in a powerful position, but not one of supreme power. He controlled Italy, North Africa, and the Western provinces.

Constantine's chief goal was always creating and maintaining unity, be it political, economic or, eventually, religious. For Constantine, one of the greatest threats to Roman domination and peace was disunity. Christianity filled Constantine's need for a basis of religious unity quite well. Just as significant as Constantine's conversion to and official toleration of Christianity was his unprecedented decision to move the capital of the Roman empire from Rome itself to Constantinople.

Constantine is sometimes referred to as an apostle because of how much he did to spread Christianity and how important he was to the eventual rise of Christianity into a position of dominance over Europe.

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