Episode 2 – The Persecution of Diocletian
December 27, 2017
Introducing the Premium Series
February 1, 2018

Episode 3 – Constantine’s Vision

  • Then On 11 November 308, Gally called a council to put this nonsense to bed.
  • He invited Maximian and Diocletian.
  • Maximian was forced to abdicate again and Constantine was again demoted to Caesar.
  • Licinius, one of Galerius’ old military companions, and a close childhood friend, was appointed Augustus in the western regions.
  • But Conny wasn’t having it.
  • He continued to call himself Augustus.
  • Meanwhile Maximinus Daia, Galerius’ nephew, who was a Caesar, was frustrated that he had been passed over for promotion while the newcomer Licinius had been raised to the office of Augustus, and demanded that Galerius promote him.
  • Galerius offered to call both Maximinus and Constantine “sons of the Augusti”, and they were like “fuck off, what is that?”
  • By the spring of 310 AD, Galerius was referring to both men as Augusti.
  • Then old Maximian was getting bored in retirement and he started a rumour that Constantine was dead and he was the new Augusutus.
  • That didn’t go well.
  • Conny heard about it, returned from fighting the Franks across the Rhine, and defeated Maximian in battle.
  • Conny captured him and but gave him clemency.
  • Although he strongly suggested he commit suicide.
  • Which he did. He hung himself.
  • Maxentius promised to avenge his fathers’ death.
  • Conny then claimed that Maximian had actually tried to murder him in his sleep after his clemency, but Fausta had found out, so Conny told a eunuch to sleep in his place.
  • “Hey ummm Johnny, listen… you’ve always said you thought my bed looked really comfy, right? Well how would you like to try it out? Oh suuuure, no problem, it’s my pleasure, I’m that kind of king.”
  • The eunuch was murdered in his place.
  • And then the jig was up and Maximian committed suicide.
  • Conny then instituted a damnatio memoriae on Maximian.
  • This is all obviously propaganda to ruin Maxentius’ family’s reputation.
  • But it also had an impact on Conny’s legitimacy, because it was Maximian who first made him Augustus.
  • So, miraculously, he now discovered that he was actually distantly related to Claudius II, a soldier emperor of barbarian birth from the 3rd century.
  • So Conny was all like “well hold on a minute! I don’t need to be a tetrarch. I’m the real deal. Descended from an emperor. It’s mine! All mine!”
  • This is in 310.
  • BTW, there are some great stories about Claudius II.
  • Also known as Claudius Gothicus because he defeated the Goths.
  • He once knocked out a horse’s teeth with one punch.
  • When he performed as a wrestler in the 250s, before he was emperor, he supposedly knocked out the teeth of his opponent when his genitalia had been grabbed in the match.
  • Anyway, not Conny claims a divine vision of Apollo and Victory granting him laurel wreaths of health and a long reign.
  •  In the likeness of Apollo Constantine recognized himself as the saving figure to whom would be granted “rule of the whole world”.
  • He basically declared himself the saviour and sole ruler.
  • And his affiliation with the gods on his coinage changed too.
  • In his early reign, the coinage of Constantine advertised Mars as his patron.
  • From 310 AD on, Mars was replaced by Sol Invictus, the Unconquered sun, a god conventionally identified with Apollo.
  • The date of 25 December was the date of the festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti
  • Constantine decreed in 321 that the dies Solis—day of the sun, “Sunday”—as the Roman day of rest.
  • “On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.”
  • Sol had been worshiped since the founding of Rome.
  • So we see here that Conny was happy switching around his allegiance to the gods, depending on his agenda at the time.
  • In 310 Galerius fell ill and died a year later in 311.
  • According to the Origo, “he was attacked by a violent disease and wasted away so completely, that he died with the inner parts of his body exposed and in a state of corruption.”
  • His last official proclamation was an edict ending the persecution of the Christians.
  • Then the others went to war, just like Alexander’s successors.
  • Maxentius strengthened his support in the Christian community by allowing it to elect a new Bishop of Rome, Eusebius.
  • In the summer of 311 AD, Maxentius mobilized against Constantine while Licinius was occupied with affairs in the East.
  • He declared war on Constantine, vowing to avenge his father’s “murder”.
  • Constantine forged his own alliance with Licinius over the winter of 311–312 AD, and offered him his sister Constantia in marriage.
  • This lead to Maximinus and Maxentius doing a deal as well.
  • Early in 312, Conny went to Italy to battle Maxentius with 40,000 troops.
  • The fought several battles that Conny won.
  • Maxentius ended up in Rome, just preparing for a siege.
  • He destroyed all of the bridges across the Tiber cut.
  • but he eventually was worried that he wouldn’t survive a siege and ordered a temporary boat bridge across the Tiber in preparation for a field battle, that could be broken up if Constantine tried to cross.
  • Maxentius organized his forces—still twice the size of Constantine’s—in long lines facing the battle plain, with their backs to the river.[159]
  • Constantine’s army arrived at the field bearing unfamiliar symbols on either its standards or its soldiers’ shields.[160]
  • Lactantius, close to Constantine as his son’s tutor, told of a dream Constantine had had the night before the battle in which he had been told to place a sign of Christ (presumably the Chi-Rho, the first two letters in Greek of Christ’s name) on the shields of his men.
  • Twenty-five years later, Eusebius describes another version, where, while marching at midday, “he saw with his own eyes in the heavens a trophy of the cross arising from the light of the sun, carrying the message, In Hoc Signo Vinces or “with this sign, you shall win”;[162]
  • in Eusebius’s account, Constantine had a dream the following night, in which Christ appeared with the same heavenly sign, and told him to make a standard, the labarum, for his army in that form.[163]
  • Eusebius is vague about when and where these events took place,[164] but it enters his narrative before the war against Maxentius begins.[165]
  • Eusebius describes the sign as Chi (Χ) traversed by Rho (Ρ): ☧, a symbol representing the first two letters of the Greek spelling of the word Christos or Christ.[166][167]
  • In 315 AD a medallion was issued at Ticinum showing Constantine wearing a helmet emblazoned with the Chi Rho,[168] and coins issued at Siscia in 317/318 AD repeat the image.[169]
  • The figure was otherwise rare, however, and is uncommon in imperial iconography and propaganda before the 320s.[170]
  • But it actually predates Constantine by 500 years.
  • Ptolemy III. 246-221 BC had a coin minted with the Chi Rho.
  • It may have represented the Greek word chreston which means “useful”.
  • Or it was also the first two letters of Chronos, the god of time.
  • XP were also the first two letters in the Greek words for “gold” (χρυσός), “anointed” (χριστός) and “virtuous or good” (χρηστός)
  • Demosthenes, who had the phrase “good luck” emblazoned in gold letters on his shield at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE – possibly the same XP symbol.
  • Maybe Constantine was just saying “good luck” or calling himself “the virtuous” or “the good”.
  • Or maybe he had already planned to integrate the Christians into his empire and thought this was good PR.
  • Outside Eusebius’ Life, there is virtually no evidence that suggests that Constantine knew anything much about Christ or even of the requirements for Christian living.
  • His main concern may rather have been to ensure that the growing Christian communities supported his imperial rule.
  • And… Eusebius’ The Life of Constantine was not the first volume of contemporary history published by Eusebius.
  • He had already written a History of the Church, which he issued to the world in 326.
  • What, then, had the author to say in that year about this marvellous vision?
  • Nothing.
  • There is not a word about the flaming cross, or the coming of Christ to Constantine in a dream, or the fashioning of the Labarum.
  • All Eusebius says, in his History, of the conversion of Constantine, is that the Emperor “piously called to his aid the God of Heaven and his son Jesus Christ”
  • It is a strange silence.
  • If the heavenly cross had been seen by the whole army; if the current version of the story had been the same in 326 as it was in 337, it is at least difficult to understand why Eusebius omitted all mention of an event which must have been the talk of the whole Roman world and must have made the heart of every Christian exult.
  • Such manifest signs from Heaven were scarcely so common in the opening of the fourth century that an ecclesiastical historian would think any allusion to it unnecessary.
  • What about the version of Lactantius?
  • It is that just before the battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantine was warned in a dream to have the divine sign of the cross (caeleste signuni) inscribed on the shields of his soldiers before leading them to the attack.
  • Just a cross.
  • He did as he was bidden, and the letter X, was placed upon his legionaries’ shields.
  • That is the legend in its earliest guise.
  • There is not a word about Constantine’s anxiety and searching of soul.
  • The event is placed, not at the opening of the campaign, as Eusebius would seem to suggest though he does not expressly say so, but on the eve of the decisive battle.
  • There is nothing about the cross flaming in the afternoon sky, nothing of the inscription, “Conquer by This,” nothing of the entire army being witness of the portent.
  • Constantine simply has a dream and is warned (commonitus) to place the initial of Christ on his soldiers’ shields.
  • It is not even said who gave the warning; there is not a hint that it was Christ Himself — as in the story of Eusebius — who appeared to Constantine; there is no mention of the Labarum.
  • Obviously, Lactantius wasn’t aware of any triumphant answer to Constantine’s prayer for a sign.
  • According to him, the Emperor was merely warned in a dream that victory would reward him if he dedicated his weapons to the honour and service of Christ.
  • Assuming for a moment that Constantine did mean to fight in the name of Jesus, it might have been because he thought Maxentius had a monopoly on the old gods.
  • What then more natural than that he should take for granted that, if ever the gods of Rome had interfered in mortal affairs, they would do so now on behalf of Maxentius, who had been raised to empire as Rome’s champion?
  • Constantine was not one of those people who seek truth for its own sake without regard for material advantage.
  • Conversion in his case didn’t mean some sudden or even gradual change permanently altering his outlook upon life, and refining and transmuting personal character.
  • It merely meant worshipping at another shrine, entering another temple, reciting another formula.
  • Adding one more god.
  • His ruling motive was ambition.
  • Was the whole legend was an invention of the Emperor’s from beginning to end?
  • In this connection it is important to take into account the narrative of Nazarius, a rhetorician who delivered a formal panegyric upon Constantine in 321 on the anniversary of his fifteenth year of rule, and took the opportunity of reviewing the whole campaign against Maxentius.
  • Nazarius was a pagan;
  •  what then was the pagan version, if any, of the miracle described by Eusebius and the Emperor?
  • Did the pagans attribute divine assistance to Constantine throughout this critical campaign?
  • The answer is unmistakable.
  • YES.
  • Nazarius tells us that all Gaul was talking with awe and wonder of the marvels which had taken place, how the soldiers of Constantine had seen in the sky celestial armies marching in battle array and had been dazzled by their flashing shields and glittering armour.
  • Constantine’s soldiery had also heard the shouts of these armies in the sky, “We seek Constantine; we are marching to the aid of Constantine.”
  • Clearly the pagan as well as the Christian world insisted upon attributing divine assistance to Constantine and had its own version of how that succor came.
  • Nazarius’s explanation was simple.
  • According to him, it was Constantius Chlorus, the deified Emperor, who was leading up the hosts of heaven, and such miraculous intervention was due to the supreme virtue of the father, which had descended to the son.
  • Chlorus, of course, in Greek, starts with an X.
  • The question at once arises whether this is merely a pagan version of the Christian legend.
  • Did the pagans just steal the Christian version of the story?
  • Probably not.
  • We have to remember that public opinion in the fourth century — as indeed for many centuries both before and after — was not only willing to believe in supernatural intervention at moments of great crisis, but actually insisted that there should be such intervention.
  • The greater the crisis, the more entirely reasonable it was that some deity or deities should make their influence especially felt and turn the scale to one side or the other.
  • But was there some unusual manifestation in the sky which was the common basis of the stories of Eusebius and Nazarius?
  • It is not unreasonable to suppose so.
  • Scientists say that the natural phenomenon known as the parhelion or “sun dog”, not infrequently assumes the shape of a cross, an atmospheric optical phenomenon that consists of a bright spot to the left and/or right of the Sun.
  • It looks like a cross on the sun with a halo.
  • BTW, we have stories MUCH LATER in history of people believing the saw signs in the sky.
  • Such as the aurora borealis of November, 1848.
  • Throughout France, the people thought they saw in the sky the letters L. N. — the initials of Louis Napoleon — and took them as a clear indication from Heaven of how they ought to vote at the impending Presidential election, and as an omen of the result.
  • That was the interpretation in France.
  •  In Rome — where the people knew and cared nothing for Louis Napoleon — no one saw the Napoleonic initials.
  • They thought it was the blood of the assassinated politician Pellegrino Rossi, which had risen to heaven and was calling for vengeance.
  • BTW – his murderer’s name was Constantini.
  • If such varying interpretations of a natural if rare phenomenon were possible in the middle of the nineteenth century, what interpretation was not possible in the fourth?
  • The world was profoundly superstitious.
  • When people believe in manifest signs they usually see them.
  • But though we may be justly skeptical of the circumstances attending the conversion of Constantine, there is no room to doubt the conversion itself.
  • We do not believe that he fought the battle of the Milvian Bridge as the avowed champion of Christianity, but the probabilities are that he had made up his mind to become a Christian when he fought it.
  • In a recent book by Harold Drake, Professor Emeritus of History at UC Santa Barbara: “Constantine’s goal was to create a neutral public space in which Christians and pagans could both function . . . [and] he was far more successful in creating a stable coalition of both Christians and non-Christians in support of this program of ‘peaceful co-existence’ than has generally been recognised.”
  • Remember he had earlier claimed to have a vision from Apollo, promising him he would rule for thirty years.
  • Hard to imagine that having had a vision of ONE god, he’d now say “oh no there is only this other god.”
  • He wants ALL the gods on his side.
  • Or, at least, all of their followers.
  • Not a bad strategy.
  • Whatever his reasons, this was the first time Jesus was known to support a war.
  • I thought Jesus was all about peace and love?
  • This is the beginning of a long history of Christians using their religion for war and violence.
  • Constantine deployed his own forces along the whole length of Maxentius’ line.
  • He ordered his cavalry to charge, and they broke Maxentius’ cavalry.
  • He then sent his infantry against Maxentius’ infantry.
  • Defeated on the far side of the bridge, Maxentius and his men fled back over it towards Rome.
  • Under the weight of panicking soldiers, the “bridge” disintegrated and Maxentius was drowned with hundreds of his men.
  • Constantine announced that his victory was due to the support he had received from “the supreme deity,” by which Christians such as Eusebius and Lactantius claimed he meant the God of the Christians.
  • The earliest account we have is from two or three years after the battle.
  • Constantine entered Rome on 29 October 312.
  • He staged a grand adventus in the city, and was met with popular jubilation.
  • Maxentius’ body was fished out of the Tiber and decapitated.
  • His head was paraded through the streets for all to see.
  • After the ceremonies, Maxentius’ disembodied head was sent to Carthage, where there had been riots; the riots stopped.

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