A thought, and yes, I know, one that if even true, would not be popular. But, as a thought, I wanted to explore the possibility, that, if the anti-Christ is, or was to be a real person, an actual individual, that would come to persecute the faithful, and lead them into heresy, Constantine could fit that bill.
First, before Constantine became emperor of Rome, and before is signed the Edict of Milan, allowing for “freedom” of religious expression, Christianity was illegal. Tolerated by some emperors, ignored by others, and then, with some like Nero or Diocletian, severely punished. Christianity was forced to remain in the “communal” model of the the Book of Acts (not yet canonized, yet believed to be wide spread), truly living the message of Christ, to love one another, etc, to provide for the poor, the widow, etc, to take care of each other, etc, and to worship God with fellowship, etc. On top of this, the followers of the Way, or Christians, were not only given the privilege to suffer for their faith, as both Christ commanded them as well as predicted, but they also were honored – as the Church has taught – to be allowed to give their lives for their faith, i.e., to be martyred.
However, once Christianity became legalized, and then eventually became the state religion on Rome, this all began to change, and thqat change has never looked back. Now, before going further, it is well documented that persecutions towards the faith, as well as martydom continued and still continues, however, the entire faith, world wide, has never since felt persecution like they did under the old pagan Roman Empire – unless of course you include how the Church persecuted believers once they became legal, “ending” in things such as the Inquisition, Witch Hunts, the “Glorious” Revolution, The IRA, Kosovo, etc etc etc.
Once the changes Constantine made took hold, Christianity not only went from being poor to rich, but it went from being a religion constituted by relationship with fellow believers and God, to being a state religion that melded both the State and the Religion like a welder placing two pieces of steel together. Of course, this is what the Romans knew, religion to them was the state, and the state was religion, so naturally, Constantine (who did not “convert” until his death bed), kept the natural Roman way. This continues even today, no longer do Christians solely rely on God for their provision, but look to the state to be the hand in which God must move… this, all thanks to Constantine. Even so, not to be out done with himself, he himself convened the council of Nicaea, he himself prosided, and though the debates were done by the bishops, etc, he himself ratified the council’s decision. This of course completed the welding process, and gave rise to the Church being the power broker in politics, especially in the West for centuries, even continueing today in places in the world… in other words, the focus went from God, and His Kingdom, to the Church and Her Kingdom, and sadly, these two entities have not always been the same, in fact, I would argue, on the historical record, it was hardly the case.
My question is not whether Constantine was a bad man, he was typical of men then, and now, and he was brilliant, for he knew the empire needed a fresh start, a fresh face, and a fresh religion. My question is, was this truly the greatest thing for the Church? Yes, I know the arguments that is was, etc, and frankly, I understand them, but I do not buy them. For if you look at the Church in Acts, and you look at the Church of today, and you see how it got here, and the main catalyst is obviously Constantine, then I believe the argument has a sound foundation.