The Conversion of Constantine and Pagan Rome

The Conversion of Constantine and Pagan Rome

The Conversion of Constantine and Pagan Rome

The Conversion of Constantine and Pagan Rome

Excerpt

Ever since modern rationalism opened its campaign of 'enlightenment' against the Church, while the Church has reacted to its attacks with a vigorous defence, both parties have been trying, consciously or unconsciously, to fit the conversion of the first Christian Emperor into their own scheme and to interpret it accordingly. And what has been the result? The moderns have declined to reach their understanding of Constantine's fateful resolve from the conditions of late antiquity, from the spiritual state of the fourth century, from its proper environment, in fact. Generation after generation has shifted its valuation of that decisive step of Constantine, nay, more, of his whole life-work, to suit its own point of view, has involuntarily but relentlessly modernized it. Even to-day this procedure has not yet reached its end.

The farthest departure from historical fact has, in my opinion, been achieved by those who have tried to obliterate the miracle of the hoc signo victor eris with the drastic thoroughness of the housewife, who used such a powerful acid to take the stain out of her son's coat that she destroyed the cloth as well. The champions of this view have not stopped with the miracle that took place in front of the Mulvian Bridge. With it they have discarded all the plain evidences of the religious fervour that brimmed the heart of Constantine, and have made of him a cynical figure, a divided and hypocritical personality who, only late and after long vacillation, placed himself on the Christian side. To justify this procedure all the elaborate resources of modern research have recently been applied. The impeccable documents, preserved in the contemporary Church historian, Eusebius, who from this point of view is entirely reliable, have been branded as forgeries. So, too, have the uniquely valuable deeds that relate to the sectarian movement of the Donatists in Africa. The Christian signs on the official coinage under Constantine have been disposed of by interpretation as ambiguous, if not actual pagan, symbols; or, alternatively, their evidence has been decried on the plea that they . . .

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