The Day God was Involved in a War

God-war-Christogram-vision

A Brief History

According to Orthodox Christian tradition, on October 27, 312, the night before the Battle of Milvian Bridge against the Roman Emperor Maxentius, the Emperor Constantine the Great adopted as his motto the Greek phrase “ἐν τούτῳ νίκα” after having a vision of a Christogram in the sky.

Digging Deeper

This is one of the most unusual and controversial stories in the history of Christianity, and probably the only time the Christian religion was involved so energetically in the military battlefield. Of course nothing can be officially proved, and this story is a matter of faith most of all, but the life of Constantine the Great and the story of this incident can be examined a little more closely.

Constantine was the emperor who transferred the capital of the Byzantine Empire from Rome to Constantinople, laying the foundation for the transformation of the Empire from a Roman state to a Greek one.  He was the first Christian emperor, the first ruler to adopt the religion that would go on to dominate the entire Byzantine Empire – Orthodox Christianity.  In most Orthodox Christian countries such as Greece, Russia, and Romania he is considered a saint equal to the twelve Apostles.

One of the keys to achieving all this was the Battle of the Milvian Bridge against the Roman Emperor Maxentius on 28 October 312, a victory for Constantine forever linked with his famous vision – a luminous cross in the sky that took the form ☧, from the Greek letters Chi and Rho (X and P), the first two letters of the name “Christ” in Greek.  The Christogram in the sky bore the inscription «᾿Εν Τούτῳ Νίκα» [Latin: In hoc signo vinces; English: In this sign you will conquer].

Over the years, many historians have tried to provide a scientific account of the vision of Constantine, but without any significant success. According to psychological interpretations of this event, Constantine, while he could not know that the outcome of the battle would determine the future of Europe as a whole, certainly did realize how decisive was the upcoming clash for his Byzantine Empire.  Therefore, many historians try to explain his vision from a psychological point of view, claiming that the vision was nothing more than an illusion caused by his excessive anxiety and stress about the outcome of the battle. Other historians, appealing to the findings of astronomy, note that the positions of the planets on that day formed an X and a P cruciform alignment. So they suggest that the vision Constantine saw that evening was nothing more than an astronomical phenomenon. Of course the Orthodox Church, which honors the great Constantine as a saint equal to the Apostles, insists that the vision was a miracle, a divine sign from God.

Whatever the truth, the historical fact remains that Constantine experienced something significant enough to lead him to a historic decision shocking for its time. To insure the victory foretold in his vision – “In this sign you will conquer,” he had the Roman legions replace the pagan gods on their shields with standards bearing red banners with the Chi (χ)-Rho (ρ) monogram ☧. This banner, called a labarum, was hung suspended from the crossbar, making it an excellent symbol for the crucified Christ.

Because it was too difficult and too costly, the coins of the time did not bear the new symbol.  But a new era had begun, and Constantine adopted the monogram as his own, eventually even topping his Byzantine crown with the Christogram whose appearance in the sky led him to victory.

Historical Evidence

For more information about Constantine and a deeper look at this particular incident, you can read The Life and Times of Constantine the Great by D. G. Kousoulas.



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If you fancy a more religious view of the topic, you should check out Constantine the Great: And the Christian Revolution by G. P. Baker.



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Theodoros II

Theodoros II graduated with a degree in Law from the historic University of Athens in Greece, and holds a Master’s in Legal History from the Law University of Pisa, Italy.

  • Ann

    Hey, that was a pretty good anecdote.
    I never knew all that stuff about Constantine before.

    Good article.

    ~ Ann

  • Penelope Kara

    Nice article and very informative, thank you!

  • Kate Eustace

    Made for interesting reading! Nicely done.

  • Logan Rieck

    I can’t really believe that the Orthodox Church equalizes Constantine with the Apostles themselves, that seems a bit exaggerated.

    • Baby Socrates

      I am afraid the big majority of them does. You can do your own research if you don’t believe me, but it does. They actually say “If there was no Constantine, there would be no Christianity today”

  • Lia Hart

    Constantine being the first ruler to dominate the Byzantine Empire with the orthodox christianity religion was a great accomplishment. I believe that Constantine deserved to be called “the great” because that is a great accomplishment.

  • BD

    The biggest accomplishment would have to be spreading the religion and expanding the empire. I think he deserves to be called a great just as much as the other guys do because he lead them through a victory and helped on expanding the empire and religions to go with it.

  • Abigail Allison

    The biggest accomplishment is that he expanded the empire and spread Christianity. His influence on the spread of Christianity was great and continues to be celebrated. Modern Christianity would be very different without his influence.

  • Garrett Marino

    Constantine’s biggest achievement by far was his spreading of Christianity. The fact that he is considered a saint equal to the twelve apostles in some countries is enough for me to believe he is deserving of being called “the Great”.

  • Ty Rodgers

    I think Constantine’s greatest achievement was being the first Christian emperor. It is not easy to set a precedent that is remembered for so long. Because of this achievement he does deserve the title “Constantine the Great”

  • krt

    Constantine’s greatest achievement was the fact that he helped spread christianity throughout the bzyantine empire and he was the first emperor to adapt the religion but i dont think this would constitute him being “the great”.

  • Angela Reed

    His greatest accomplishment was the spread of Christianity. It’s still a common religion so many years after his death, that I do believe he deserved his ‘great’ title.

  • Justin D

    Good article he was a great ruler I think he did a lot of good in Rome by converting there religion.

  • merl1

    I think that he just lied.

  • JLS

    His greatest accomplishment was converting so many people to Christianity because even today millions of people still practice this religion. I do not think that he really needed to be called “The Great” though. It was probably his ego that landed him that name. After all, how great can someone be who forces people to convert their religion or die?

  • TMK

    TMK
    I don’t know if anyone really deserves the title “The Great”. Especially when you name yourself that. He did spread Christianity which was a good thing, maybe a large ego here!

  • Jake Woolf

    Whether it was calculated insight or just a lucky toss, moving the Capital from Rome to Byzantium would be, in my opinion, his greatest success. Having the seat of Imperial power in a centralized, incredibly defensible location allowed for the empire (and the imperial city itself) to withstand centuries of attacks while also allowing for use of the secret fire (Greek Fire) in siege events (as Constantinople’s location sprawled over a waterway), something that would have been nigh impossible in landlocked Rome. Couple this with having readily identifiable enemies near Byzantium as opposed to the constant political flip-flops of European factions adds to the move’s success.

  • Ashley Arthur

    I feel that because Constantine was the first ruler to rule the Emperor Byzantine and because his greatest accomplishment was the spread of Christianity, Constantine should of been know as Great, in my opinion. So many people were converted to Christianity and because of that he is Great.

  • Titus Rice

    First off, to know God, is to know that God would never give
    a sign to go to war (love not war). Constantine knew of the Christian faith
    from his mother who was a secret Christian. That being said, Constantine was
    more than likely a secret Christian himself. Constantine knew by making up a
    story that Joshua Ben Joseph (Jesus) had sent him a sign to win the war, he
    could legalize Christianity.

    I have much respect for Constantine, even though he lied, he
    lied for the greater good to legalize Christianity.

  • Joe Roskos

    For the rise of Byzantium (later Constantinople) and taking the major step of recognizing Christianity, yes, Constantine earns the title of Great. However, I think that Byzantium’s rise came at the cost of Rome’s decline as the center of imperial authority. Strategically, it makes sense for Constantine to build up the eastern frontier, for the rise of the Sasanid Dynasty was a greater threat than the barbarians in Europe

  • Vanzetti

    I think Constantine was great, however, he did strengthen the East relative to the West, and he did give legitimacy to Christianity, which Gibbon claims destroyed the empire.

  • Michael Pukay

    Constantine should be considered “the Great,” because of the mere fact that he essentially changed the formation of modern Europe. By accepting Christianity, a pathway for expansion would be created.

  • Rf

    I mean come on he had to be great in order to name Jesus’ birthday as the 25th of December and most of the world celebrates his birthday in one way or another….as well as many historical events have taken place on Christmas day like coronations and crownings.

  • Brandon Yurick

    It is so interesting to see how someone from so many years ago was so influential in how the world operates and works today. I wonder if Constantine had any idea that his ideas and decisions would have such long term effects.