Did you know that today is Milvian Bridge Day? October 28th is the day we commemorate the battle at the Milvian Bridge, and the victory that took place exactly 1,700 years ago today.
In the year 312, a general named Maxentius occupied the city of Rome and terrorized its citizens. Coming down from the north, the legions of Constantine approached. Maxentius had the bridges destroyed so Constantine’s army could not enter the city – so Constantine and his men camped outside the city and waited.
Maxentius consulted the pagan soothsayers, who told him that if he went out to meet Constantine in battle, the enemy of Rome would perish. Of course, Maxentius didn’t bother to ask who they meant by “the enemy of Rome.” He did march out to meet Constantine, by constructing a makeshift bridge out of a row of boats tied together.
Meanwhile, Constantine had a dream. In his vision, he saw the monogram of Christ emblazoned on the sky, and heard the voice of God saying, IN THIS SIGN, YOU WILL CONQUER! He put that symbol on the standards of his legions and marched into battle under the banner of Christ. Maxentius was defeated, and drowned in the river. Rome welcomed Constantine as a liberator, and the following year he was able to issue the Edict of Milan, which legalized Christianity, and in fact granted freedom of worship to all religions for the first time in history.
The point is not to glorify Constantine – there are many reasons why he should not be held up as a model Christian, not least of which is the fact that he postponed his baptism until the end of his life, so that he could be free to exercise the emperor’s right of capital punishment – even when the accused was a member of his own family. But in a time when religious freedom is becoming increasingly rare around the world, it’s worth remembering that for “one brief shining moment” (to quote the musical Camelot), there was an empire that gave religious freedom a shot. It didn’t last long because Constantine’s sons got too involved in the battles over heresy within the church, and then the emperor Julian tried to bring back paganism. All this led a later emperor named Theodosius to declare Christianity the only legal religion in the empire and the tables were irreversibly turned.
I know you’ve probably heard all kinds of myths about the emperor Constantine. Some of the worst stories about him are actually true. But he did not invent the doctrine of the Trinity*, he did not decide what books would be in the Bible, he did not write the Nicene Creed, and he did not create a marriage of church and state that made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Theodosius was the one who made Christianity the official religion of the empire, but not until almost 70 years later. So before you think Constantine was the worst thing to happen to the church and the world, think again. Granted, he was no saint (well, I guess he is a saint in the eastern Orthodox tradition), but he was no demon, either.
Milvian Bridge Day also marks the two year anniversary of the Spiritual Blueprint blog, and with that, this blog comes to an end. But a new blog will be launched in about a month, at the beginning of Advent. This new blog will continue the themes of living intentionally, and making life a journey, but will take this to the next level. If life is a journey, why not make it a pilgrimage?
My new blog will be called, Romesick: The Pilgrimage, and will include bite sized bits of spirituality for the daily walk. It will be found at www.Romesick.net (but not yet). I hope you will continue reading…
* If you want to find out how the doctrine of the Trinity really did get clarified, check out my newest book, Trinity 101.