Constantine – Rome, Italy
“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head was a crown of twelve stars…Then another sign appeared in the sky…” (Rev 12:1).
A great battle was about to be waged, one that would have tremendous historical consequences upon the world in general, and Christianity in particular. The place was Rome, capital of an empire that ruled most of the known world; the year, A.D. 312; the battle, October 28.
By July, 306, the Roman Empire was split into two parts, governed by co-Emperors. These men were rulers who had similar backgrounds and were very close in age. In fact, they were in-laws. They should have been allies or, at the least, friends; instead, they became the bitterest of enemies.
One of them, Constantine, dissatisfied with the manner in which the capital was being governed by Emperor Maxentius, chose to do battle with him. The winner was destined to become sole Emperor of Rome!
After marching all day Constantine’s troops arrived at a location just outside the city, stopping overnight to rest prior to crossing the Tiber River from whence the battle would begin the following morning. It was now October 27th.
Later that day, Constantine experienced quite an extraordinary event. While looking up just above the sun, he saw a cross of light and he clearly heard the Greek words “Εν Τούτ Νίκα” which, translated into Latin, are “In Hoc Signo Vinces!” (By this [sign] win).
Constantine immediately commanded his troops to adorn their shields and banners with that Christian symbol, much to the chagrin of many of these battle-hardened soldiers. Try to imagine their thoughts as they affixed these signs onto their shields, asking themselves just what did they signify, for they knew full well they would have to face a formidable enemy in the morning!
Maxentius was worried. Although he had almost four times as many troops they were not as battle hardened as Constantine’s, nor as well disciplined. He could have fought him from the heavily fortified Roman city itself, but the citizens were restless. So, on that fateful October 28th, his army left the city and crossed over to the right bank of the Tiber River.
A ferocious confrontation began and, when the fighting neared the Milvian Bridge, another bridge of pontoon boats was constructed to facilitate the additional troops crossing the river. However, when Constantine’s army forced his opponent’s army back onto the pontoon bridge, it collapsed under the strain. In the ensuing melee, Maxentius himself drowned along with many of his soldiers. When Constantine’s soldiers recovered his body they paraded his head through Rome on a pike.
After the battle, Constantine the Great, now the sole Emperor, understood that the sign of the cross he saw in the heavens meant Rome would not survive without the Church. Ignoring the altars to the gods prepared on the Capitoline, he did not perform the customary sacrifices to celebrate a general’s victorious entry into Rome. Instead, he headed directly to the imperial palace.
From that time on, persecution of the Christians ceased! In fact, owing to that sign, Constantine took over the role as patron for the Christian faith by supporting the Church financially. He built an extraordinary number of basilicas, granted privileges to members of the clergy and promoted Christians to high-ranking offices. He returned property that was confiscated during the Great Persecution of Diocletian and endowed the Church with land and great wealth.
In 330, Constantine built a new imperial capital at Byzantium, called the great city of Constantinople. He was finally baptized as a Christian on his deathbed. It is likely he chose to delay this inasmuch as, in the early Church, confession was only permitted once in a lifetime. Since then, that privilege has been relaxed and one may receive the sacrament as often as desired.