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Constantine’s vision of the Cross of Victory

September 11, 2020

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The great Roman military commander Constantine reported that on the night of October 27-28, 312, the eve of the greatest battle of his career, he received a vision of the Cross and heard the voice of Jesus speak to him. It was under extremely dire conditions.

“The Emperor Constantine,” St. Constantine’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Constantine (272-337) was the son of Constantius, the Roman emperor, who died in 307. The years that followed were tumultuous. There were no formal rules of hereditary succession regarding the highest position in the empire. Constantius’ soldiers declared that Constantine was the emperor. Diocletian had retired as emperor. Maximian also retired, and his son Maxentius laid claim to the throne. Galerius, Servus II, and others vied for control. Assassinations and battles followed. Maxentius had strong local support and assembled a large army. Constantine had been on a military expedition to the north and had a smaller army composed of soldiers who had served under his father, as well as soldiers from Britain and Gaul. In the spring of 312 Constantine marched over the Alps and returned to Italy. A confrontation was inevitable.

“In Hoc Signo Vinces, In This Sign You Will Conquer,” Church of Our Lady, Manannah, Minnesota.

It was the night before the battle. Tension was high. Maxentius’ troops were poised on one side of the Tiber River. Constantine’s troops were positioned on the opposite bank. Constantine’s army was outnumbered 2 to 1. The disadvantage seemed insurmountable.

Many of Constantine’s soldiers were Christians but he was not, and he was wavering between paganism and Christianity. As he anxiously awaited the upcoming hostilities, Constantine knew that his rival Maxentius was praying to his pagan gods for divine assistance. Constantine did not want Maxentius to gain an advantage and he decided to pray to the God of the Christians.

Constantine had his vision around midnight. An enormous luminous cross appeared shining in the sky. Along the side of the cross were the words, originally in Greek and translated into Latin, In hoc signo vinces, “In this sign, victory” or “In this sign you will conquer.” Later that night he had a dream in which Jesus appeared to him in dazzling white robes holding a glowing cross. Jesus asked him to remove the Roman eagles and other pagan insignia from their banners and armor and replace it with Cross insignia, and if they would do so, they would prevail. Constantine, in turn, promised that if his army triumphed, he would become Christian.

“The Chi-Rho Cross,” Queen of Peace Catholic Church, Rogers, Minnesota.

Constantine knew that his Christian soldiers had an emblem that signified their faith in Jesus, an overlapping X and P, the chi and rho, the first two Greek letters of the word for Christ (XPIETOE), Christos. The next morning Constantine ordered his troops to replace the Roman military symbols with the Chi-Rho Cross, now referred to as the Labarum of Constantine. It was placed on their standards, shields, helmets, and other military equipment, and they marched into battle under the power of Jesus and the sign of his Cross.

Constantine’s army enjoyed a stunning victory in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312, and he attributed his conquest to the power of the Cross of Christ. He subsequently became a catechumen. The victory established him as uncontested emperor. In 313 Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, an imperial decree of toleration that legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. It also abolished crucifixion as a form of capital punishment. Constantine remained a catechumen for the rest of his life and was baptized shortly before his death in 337.

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