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Constantine & the Cross

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Holy War
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« on: June 19, 2012, 12:22:16 am »

Constantine: The Great

The use of a physical cross as a sign and symbol emerged gradually in Christian practices.

While the theology of the cross is taught by Paul and the sign of the cross for baptism and protection is reported fairly early, the use of a physical cross rarely appears before the fourth century.(1)

At that time, two events involving Constantine led to the use of a physical cross or cross form by the state, the emerging church, and Christians.

In the first event, Constantine reports having a vision of a sign, either while sleeping or seen in the sky, that came to be identified with Christ. With the vision and dream he saw the words, In Hoc Signo Vinces, "In this sign conquer", and assured his victory over Maxentius. He placed the sign at the top of his standard and on the shields of his men and won the battle of Milvian Bridge outside of Rome in 312 . (2) This victory made Constantine the emperor of the West. He surprised everyone by openly supporting Christianity. (3)

This sign, a Chi Rho, one of the monograms standing for the word Christ in Greek (XPIETOE), replaced the eagle as the military standard for the legions of the Roman Army. Known as the labarum, a term of unknown origin, over time this sign was gradually replaced by the cross.

The second event is the legend of the discovery of the original cross of Christ by Constantineís mother, Helena.




    Norman Laliberte and Edward N. West, The History of the Cross (New York: Macmillan Company, 1960) 6. St. Ignasius of Antioch (d 107) is believed to have initiated the practice of signing at baptism. Peter E. Moore, "Cross and Crucifixion in Christian Iconography," Religion 4 (1974) 105, writes, "The Christian sign of the cross originates not as an allusion to the Crucifixion but in the Hebrew letter taw, which represents the name of God." Anatole Frolow, "The Veneration of the Relic of the True Cross at the End of the Sixth and the Beginning of the Seventh Centuries," St. Vladimirís Seminary Quarterly 2, No.1 (winter 1958) AtlaReligion (22 February 2004), 14, traces the use of the shape of the cross from Paul to St. Justin then to an announcement by St. Cyprian in 248. [Return]
    Eusebius (340) "Life of Constantine,"The Conversion of Constantine, ed. John W. Eadie, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971) 13-14, reports a vision and a dream. Lactantius (318) "On the Deaths of Persecutors" The Conversion of Constantine, 11-12, reports the sign appeared in a dream. This was accompanied with the direction, in hoc signo vinces, "in this sign conquer." There has been much debate over the nature of the sign. Constantine scholar Timothy Barnes believes the sign was most likely a natural event that occurred in Gaul a few years before, cited by Rosella Lorenzi, "Christianity: Came from Outer Space," Discovery News (24 July 2003), http://dsc.discovery.com/news/briefs/20030623/constantine.html (4 March 2004). The article reports the speculation of a scientist that a meteor had landed nearby, creating the sign in the sky. [Return]
    Historical assessment of Constantine is mixed. He is viewed with great praise for his support of Christianity and great suspicion due to various acts, such as the apparent execution of his son Crispus and wife Fausta. Tradition places his remains with relics of the 12 apostles in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, the new Rome that he founded and stood as a stronghold of Christianity for over a thousand years. [Return]



   
   Constantine witnesses cross in sky
Conversion of Emperor Constantine, Print, 1869, Johnson, Fry & Company Publishers, New York. Sometimes the scene has a cross, sometimes a chi rho sign. Rarely depicted is the version of Constantineís dream, as in the Stavelot Reliquary.




   Profile of Constantine on bronze coin
Bronze coin, Smana mint, 17 mm, c. 320 (enlarged). Constantine is the first emperor to be shown on coins without a beard since Trajan, indicating a new age. On some coins he appears to be looking up, interpreted as a way of showing his religious nature.




   Bronze coin showing labarum standard
Bronze coin, Osis mint, 17 mm, c. 337-50 (enlarged) Obverse of Roman imperial coin of Constans, one of Constantineís sons, shows two soldiers on either side of the labarum standard. Many of these coins, used to pay the army, praise the army. The inscription on the coin is Gloria Exercitvs, "Glory to the Army.".




   Postcard of Arch of Constantine
Arch of Constantine, Rome, Postcard, c. 1950s. Completed in 315 to recognize Constantineís victory, the arch has no reference to Chrisitianity. The inscription at the base attributes the victory to instinctu divinitatis mentis magnitudine, "by the prompting of the divinity and the emperorís own greatn

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Holy War
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« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2012, 12:31:29 am »

Constantine Sees a Vision of the Cross in the Sky




Before the Battle at Milvian Bridge
The night before he was to launch an attack on his rival, Maxentius, just outside of Rome, Constantine received an omen...
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"Constantine Sees a Vision of the Cross in the Sky Before the Battle at Milvian Bridge"
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Constantine Sees a Vision of the Cross in the Sky Before the Battle at Milvian Bridge
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What sort of omen Constantine received is a matter of dispute. Eusebius says that Constantine saw a vision in the sky; Lactantius says it was a dream. Both agree that the omen informed Constantine that he would conquer under the sign of Christ (Greek: en touto nika; Latin: in hoc signo vinces).

Lactantius:

    Constantine was directed in a dream to cause the heavenly sign to be delineated on the shields of his soldiers, and so to proceed to battle. He did as he had been commanded, and he marked on their shields the letter X, with a perpendicular line drawn through it and turned round thus at the top (P), being the cipher of CHRISTOS. Having this sign, his troops stood to arms.

Eusebius:

    Being convinced...that he needed some more powerful aid than his military forces could afford him, on account of the wicked and magical enchantments which were so diligently practiced by the tyrant, he sought Divine assistance, deeming the possession of arms and a numerous soldiery of secondary importance, but believing the co-operating power of Deity invincible and not to be shaken. He considered, therefore, on what God he might rely for protection and assistance ....[W]hile he was...praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvelous sign appeared to him from heaven...

    He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, CONQUER BY THIS. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle. ... And while he continued to ponder and reason on its meaning, night suddenly came on; then in his sleep the Christ of God appeared to him with the same sign which he had seen in the heavens, and commanded him to make a likeness of that sign which he had seen in the heavens, and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies.

http://atheism.about.com/od/constantinethegreat/ig/Constantine-Emperor-Rome/Constantine-Vision-Cross-Sky.htm
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« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2012, 12:33:31 am »



The Cross Banner Used by Constantine as his Vision Instructed Him
"Cross Banner Used by Constantine at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, as his Vision Instructed Him"
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Cross Banner Used by Constantine at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, as his Vision Instructed Him
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Eusebius continues his description of Constantine’s vision of Christianity:

    At dawn of day he arose, and communicated the marvel to his friends: and then, calling together the workers in gold and precious stones, he sat in the midst of them, and described to them the figure of the sign he had seen, bidding them represent it in gold and precious stones. And this representation I myself have had an opportunity of seeing.

    Now it was made in the following manner. A long spear, overlaid with gold, formed the figure of the cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it. On the top of the whole was fixed a wreath of gold and precious stones; and within this, the symbol of the Saviour’s name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P being intersected by X in its centre: and these letters the emperor was in the habit of wearing on his helmet at a later period. From the cross-bar of the spear was suspended a cloth, a royal piece, covered with a profuse embroidery of most brilliant precious stones; and which, being also richly interlaced with gold, presented an indescribable degree of beauty to the beholder. This banner was of a square form, and the upright staff, whose lower section was of great length, bore a golden half-length portrait of the pious emperor and his children on its upper part, beneath the trophy of the cross, and immediately above the embroidered banner.

    The emperor constantly made use of this sign of salvation as a safeguard against every adverse and hostile power, and commanded that others similar to it should be carried at the head of all his armies.

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« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2012, 12:36:52 am »




Bronze Head of Constantine the Great
Located in the Musei Capitolini, Rome
"Bronze Bust of Constantine the Great, Located in the Musei Capitolini, Rome"
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Bronze Bust of Constantine the Great, Located in the Musei Capitolini, Rome
Photo by Anthony Majanlahti; Source: Wikipedia

Licinius married Constantine’s half-sister, Constantia, and the two of them formed a united front against the ambitions of Maximin Daia. Licinius was able to defeat him near Hadrinoupolis in Thrace, assuming control of the entire Eastern empire. There was now relative stability, but not harmony. Constantine and Licinius argued constantly. Licinius began persecuting Christians again in 320, eventually leading to Constantine’s invasion of his territory in 323.

After his victory over Licinius, Constantine became sole emperor of Rome and proceeded to further the interests of Christianity. In 324, for example, he exempted Christian clergy from all obligations otherwise imposed upon citizens (like taxation). At the same time, less and less tolerance was bestowed on pagan religious practices.

The above photo is of a huge bronze head of Constantine — about five times life-size, in fact. The first emperor in at least two centuries to be depicted without a beard, his head originally sat atop a colossal statue that stood in the Basilica of Constantine.

This image probably comes from late in his life and, as was characteristic of depictions of him, shows him gazing upward. Some interpret this as suggesting Christian piety while others argue that it’s simply characteristic of his aloofness from the rest of the Roman people.
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« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2012, 12:37:41 am »



Statue of Constantine on his Horse before the Battle at Milvian Bridge
Located in the Vatican
"Statue of Constantine on a Horse, Witnessing the Sign of the Cross Before: Battle at Milvian Bridge"
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Statue of Constantine on his Horse, Witnessing the Sign of the Cross Before the Battle at Milvian Bridge, Located in the Vatican
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In his statue created by Bernini and located in the Vatican, Constantine is first witnessing the cross as the sign under which he would conquer. Pope Alexander VII placed it in a prominent locate: the entrance of the Vatican Palace, just next to the grand staircase (Scala Regia). In this single statue viewers can observe the merging of important themes of the Christian church: the use of temporal power in the name of the church and the sovereignty of spiritual doctrines over temporal power.

Behind Constantine we can see drapery fluttering as if in the wind; the scene is reminiscent of a staged play with the curtain moving in the background. Thus the statue designed to honor Constantine’s conversion makes a subtle gesture in the direction of the idea that the conversion itself was staged for political purposes.
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« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2012, 12:38:37 am »



Roman Emperor Constantine Fights Maxentius in the Battle of Milvian Bridge
"Roman Emperor Constantine Fights Maxentius in the Battle of Milvian Bridge"
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Roman Emperor Constantine Fights Maxentius in the Battle of Milvian Bridge

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 but there were two others who claimed legitimate authority over the Roman empire: Licinius in Illyricum and Eastern Europe, Maximin Daia in the East.

The role of Constantine in shaping the Christian church and church history should not be underestimated. The first important thing he did after his victory over Maxentius was issue the Edict of Toleration in 313. Also known as the Edict of Milan because it was created in that city, it instituted religious toleration as the law of the land and ended the persecution of Christians. The Edict was issued jointly with Licinius, but Christians in the East under Maximin Daia continued to suffer severe persecutions. Most citizens of the Roman empire continued to be pagan.
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« Reply #6 on: June 19, 2012, 12:39:37 am »



Roman Emperor Constantine Fights in the Battle of Milvian Bridge
"Roman Emperor Constantine Fights in the Battle of Milvian Bridge"
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Roman Emperor Constantine Fights in the Battle of Milvian Bridge
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From the Edict of Milan:

    When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I, Licinius Augustus, fortunately met near Mediolanurn (Milan), and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule.

    And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts) may show in all things His usual favor and benevolence. Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation.

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« Reply #7 on: June 19, 2012, 12:40:13 am »



Constantine Presides Over the Council of Nicaea
"Constantine Presides Over the Council of Nicaea"
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Constantine Presides Over the Council of Nicaea
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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.

Christians may have been a minority in the empire, but they were a well-organized minority. In addition, no one had yet tried to claim their political allegiance, leaving Constantine no competitors and giving him a group of people who would be supremely grateful and loyal for finally finding a political patron.
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« Reply #8 on: June 19, 2012, 12:40:49 am »



Mosaic of Emperor Constantine from the Hagia Sophia
Scene: Virgin Mary as ConstantinoplePatroness; Constantine with Model of City
"Mosaic of Emperor Constantine from Hagia Sophia, c 1000, Scene: Constantine with Model of the City"
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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

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. Rome had always been defined by... well, Rome itself. In recent decades, though, it had become a nest of intrigue, betrayal, and political conflict. Constantine seemed to want to just start over — wipe the slate clean and have a capitol which not only avoided all the traditional family rivalries, but which also reflected the breadth of the empire.
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« Reply #9 on: June 19, 2012, 12:41:23 am »



Constantine and his Mother, Helena. Painting by Cima da Conegliano
"Constantine and his Mother, Helena. Painting by Cima da Conegliano"
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Constantine and his Mother, Helena. Painting by Cima da Conegliano
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Almost as important to the history of Christianity as Constantine was his mother, Helena (Flavia Iulia Helena: Saint Helena, Saint Helen, Helena Augusta, Helena of Constantinople). Both the Catholic and the Orthodox churches consider her a saint — partially because of her piety and partially because of her work on behalf of Christian interests during those earlier years.

Helena converted to Christianity after she followed her son to the imperial court. She became much more than just a casual Christian, though, launching more than one expedition to locate original relics from the origins of Christianity. She is credited in Christian traditions with having found pieces of the True Cross and the remains of the Three Wise Men.
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« Reply #10 on: June 19, 2012, 12:42:08 am »

Constantine's Cross

In Latin, vinces in hoc; in English, By this conquer. It is said that Constantine, on his march to Rome, saw a luminous cross in the sky, in the shape and with the motto here given. In the night before the battle of Saxa Rubra a vision appeared to him in his sleep, commanding him to inscribe the cross and the motto on the shields of his soldiers. He obeyed the voice of the vision, and prevailed. The monogram is CRistoz (Christ). (See Gibbon: Decline and Fall, chap. xix. n.)

This may be called a standing miracle in legendary history; for, besides Andrew's cross, and the Dannebrog or red cross of Denmark ( q.v.), we have the cross which appeared to Don Alonzo before the battle of Ourique in 1139, when the Moors were totally routed with incredible slaughter. As Alonzo was drawing up his men, the figure of a cross appeared in the eastern sky, and Christ, suspended on the cross, promised the Christian king a complete victory. This legend is commemorated by the device assumed by Alonzo, in a field argent five escutcheons azure, in the form of a cross, each escutcheon being charged with five bezants, in memory of the five wounds of Christ. ( See Labarum)
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894

Read more: Constantine's Cross — Infoplease.com http://www.infoplease.com/dictionary/brewers/constantines-cross.html#ixzz1yDOMMzSb


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