Constantine’s Gift to Christianity: Catholic World Report
October 28, 2012 7 Comments
As we note the 1700th anniversary of the battle of Milvian’s Bridge we need to consider Constantine’s legacy and what it means to us as Christians in the modern world.
What were the ramifications of Constantine’s victory and eventual conversion? It’s rather an important question for us to answer as we seem to be converting back to paganism in our day. I think we, as Christians, defined as the author does here, those who believe in the Nicean Creed, need to face reality and recognize that if we want to continue to live in a basically Christian society, we have work to do.
On October 28, 312, Emperor Constantine met Emperor Maxentius in battle just outside the city of Rome at the Milvian Bridge, spanning the Tiber. This battle—occurring exactly 1,700 years ago—is one of the most important events in the history of Christendom, since it was through Constantine’s victory that Christendom began. It is a battle well worth reflecting upon.
As is well known, the previous day Constantine experienced a vision of a cross of light in the sky, with the words “By this sign you shall conquer” (in Greek, not Latin, by the way). That night, so we are told, Constantine had a dream wherein he was told to paint the cross on the shields of his soldiers.
He did. And so it happened, as the vision said.
The next day, October 28, 312, Constantine defeated Maxentius. Interestingly enough, Maxentius could have stayed within the walls of Rome. He was plentifully stocked to endure a siege. Inexplicably, he decided to go out and engage Constantine. His troops were defeated, and Maxentius himself drowned in the Tiber trying to escape.
Such was the beginning of Constantine’s embrace of Christianity, and such was the beginning of the transformation of the Roman Empire from paganism to Christianity.
It is, again, a well-known story, and unfortunately, as with other well-known stories, it is not well-known enough, or at least, not thought about deeply enough.
There are, for example, those who take Constantine’s conversion as the beginning of the end of real Christianity. Christianity, they argue, is the Christianity of the early Church, the Church before it became favored and hence entangled with the empire, the pure Church, the Church before Constantine, the Church of the martyrs.
The problem with this romantic vision of the pure early Church is that it wasn’t shared by the early Church. We owe it to them to take things, first of all, from their point of view.
From very early on Christians were horribly persecuted by the pagan Roman Empire. When the famous great fire in Rome in 64 AD wreaked such destruction (whether it was caused by Nero, or merely enjoyed by him), Nero blamed the Christians as scapegoats, and made of them an imperial spectacle.
As the historian Tacitus tells us, “Their deaths were made farcical. Dressed in wild animals’ skins, they were torn to piece by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight. Nero provided his Gardens for the spectacle, and exhibited displays in the Circus…”
Persecutions continued under the Emperors Domitian (ruled 89-96 AD), Trajan (98-117 AD), Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD), Septimius Severus (193-211), Maximinus (235-238), Decius (249-251 AD), and Valerian (253-260 AD), and then peaked in their severity under Diocletian (284-305) and Galerius (305-311).
Leading right up to Constantine’s conversion in 312, Christians periodically suffered the most horrible treatment by the pagan Roman state.
Christians were stripped and flogged with whips, put on the rack, scraped with iron combs used to card wool, and had salt and vinegar poured over their fresh wounds; they were slowly roasted to death over fires individually or thrown on great piles to be burned alive en masse (an entire town in Phrygia—men, women, and children—was set on fire by soldiers); they were strangled or run through with swords; they were tied hand and foot, put into boats, and once pushed out to sea, drowned; they were jailed, and then led into the arena to be torn to pieces by panthers, bears, boars, and bulls; they had their skin torn bit by bit with pottery shards, or they were decapitated; women were stripped and hung upside down for public humiliation, and sometimes believers were hung this way over a fire so as to be choked by the smoke; Christians had their limbs tied to trees that were bent down and then let snap, tearing their legs or arms from their bodies; sharp reeds were driven under fingernails, molten lead was poured down backs, genitals horribly mutilated, eyes gouged out and cauterized with a hot iron, and the list goes on.
Continue reading Constantine’s Gift to Christianity: Catholic World Report.
I have no desire to live in that world, do you?
- Constantine and the Christian Empire (psypress.com)