Milvian Thoughts

“Εν Τούτῳ Νίκα”

In this sign, you shall conquer. Thus, according to one account, Constantine is victorious at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge while fighting under the sign of the cross. It paved the way for Constantine’s conversion and the eventual establishment of Christianity in the West.

Yet the conversion of Constantine is troubling. If the vision and promise are true, it means God affected Constantine’s conversion by promising a victory in battle, which is more in line with the growth of Islam than Christianity.

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2 thoughts on “Milvian Thoughts

  1. bryce1618 says:

    I’ve never really thought of it as more than a legend; not mentioning Constantine didn’t convert to Christianity, except maybe on his deathbed.

  2. Jared Olar says:

    It is Emperor Constantine himself, rather than the Christians, who claimed he saw the “In Hoc Signo Vinces” vision, and thus ordered that his troops place the sign he saw (the Chi-Rho, meaning “Christ,” not the sign of the cross) on their shields. There is no evidence that Constantine really had any such dream or vision, and his placing his troops under the sign of the Chi-Rho may have been a bit of political calculation on his part.

    Or perhaps he really did have that vision. If he did, God may have granted him victory in battle as a means of bringing about the end of the persecution and the legalisation of Christianity: certainly God is capable of reaching people in all kinds of ways and in different kinds of circumstances . . . and after all, even victory in battle is not possible apart from God’s providence and at least His permissive will. On the other hand, he could have misinterpreted the vision — Christians overcome the world through Christ, and so we can say that “In this Sign we shall conquer.” What if God was calling Constantine to conversion and telling him that he would become a Christian, and he misinterpreted his dream as a literal instruction to have his troops fight under a particular banner? Constantine was thinking about temporal battles and material success in this world, but the true victory is the one we achieve over our unruly will, over our passions and fears.

    Bryce 1618 partly correct, in that Constantine didn’t actually become a Christian until he was on is deathbed. It was common in those days for public officials and soldiers to delay baptism until they were old, retired, or near death, since their vocations usually involved a lot of killing and coercion: things apt to lead one into sin, or not in keeping with the Christian ideal. Constantine did abandon paganism, however, and was patron and guardian of the Church throughout his reign (although he tolerated non-Christian religions), years before his deathbed baptism. His official status in the Church was “catechumen,” someone preparing for conversion and baptism.

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