Constantine’s “Sign of the Cross”
WORSHIP today of the so-called cross of Christ leans heavily for support on the story told about Constantine the Great as he set out to conquer the world. It seems he had a vision, then a dream, then a victory, and subsequently was “converted” to Christianity, and all this was due, it is said, to the miraculous power of Christ’s cross.
In the year 312, Constantine, who at the time was emperor of what is now known as France and Britain, set out with his army to war against Maxentius, then emperor of Italy, and who, incidentally, was the brother of Constantine’s wife. Somewhere along the way one day, at about high noon, Constantine was amazed to see in the sky a pillar of light in the form of a cross on which was written Hoc Vince, meaning “By this, Conquer”.
The following night, so the story goes, Jesus Christ himself appeared to Constantine while he was asleep, and told him to make a banner bearing this heavenly cross and to carry it at the head of his army, for it was to be a token or sign of victory. This he did, and, besides, had the monogram cross painted on the shields of his warriors before the final and decisive battle at the Milvian Bridge near Rome where Maxentius was killed.
On the face of it there are many things about this story that seem incredible. But when the honest seeker after the truth digs into the historical facts in search for authenticity, one is simply amazed that anyone calling himself a Christian would put any credence in this purely pagan fable. First of all, the story is based only on the ancient writings of Eusebius, Lactantius and a few others, and all of these violently contradict one another. True, many famed writers of history since their day have rewritten the story, but their strained efforts to iron out the conflicting defects are purely conjectural guesswork and hence of no authentic worth.
To begin with, take the simple matter of time and place where Constantine is supposed to have had his vision and dream. Eusebius in his Life of Constantine (L. ii, c. 28, p. 410) states in no uncertain language that the emperor determined to go to war with Maxentius only after he had seen the cross, after he had had the dream, and after he had set the crossbearing banner at the head of his army. Now all historians agree that Constantine determined to wage war on Maxentius while he was still in Gaul, now called France, and before he had crossed the Alps. So Eusebius definitely places the “miracle” north of the Alps. However, Lactantius, with as much authority, says in his treatise, De Mortibus Persecutorum (c. 44, p. 999), that Constantine got his vision and dream after he had crossed the Alps and just before the decisive battle near Rome. Whom, then, are we to believe?
WAS THE VISION FROM THE LORD?
Passing over this discrepancy to more important questions, one must consider who this man Constantine was to whom it is said the Lord bestowed this singular favor. Prior to receiving the vision Constantine had lived the life of a soldier. Killing people was his business and in this enterprise he was very successful. Publicly, he had distinguished himself on the battlefield, first as a soldier and then as a general, and in his private life he had murdered his own father-in-law, Maximian Herculius.
Religiously, Constantine was a worshiper of the sun, like other pagans of his day. Apollo was his “patron saint”. It may be related, for example, that after putting down rebellion among the Franks in the year 308, he went immediately to the temple of Apollo and offered up gifts and prayers of thanksgiving to that pagan god.
Now to such a man, we are supposed to believe, the Lord gave exceeding precious privileges and blessings. What, then, were the results? Did Constantine demonstrate that he did such things in ignorance and was at heart really an honest and sincere man? Did this soldier follow the course of the centurion Cornelius, make a consecration to God and symbolize it by being baptized? (Acts 10) Did Constantine immediately reform, turn about, abandon his old course and become a true Christian and faithful follower of Jesus’ example? Did he do all of this and besides enter the field of gospel-preaching in imitation of Saul who became Paul the apostle? (Acts 9) Did he give up his emperorship and abandon this old world which is under the overlordship of the Devil, even as all true Christians must do?—Jas. 4:4; John 15:19; Luke 4:5-8.
No! is the emphatic answer to these questions, an answer that fairly screams from the pages of history. Instead of abandoning his former course of iniquity Constantine simply enlarged his field of activity, increased his appetite for conquest, and expanded his business of killing people. His pride, high-mindedness and arrogance ripened to the full. Like the avaricious dictators of modern times, he coveted world domination in the worst way and was not content until he was sole ruler of the Western world.
Constantine’s sideline was a sort of “Murder, Inc.”, a hobby with him, out of which he seemed to get a special joy. Of his known murders, his father-in-law headed the list. His second victim, the first after seeing the vision of the cross, was his sister Anastasia’s husband, Bassianus by name. Next he killed his 12-year-old nephew, Licinianus, the son of his sister Constantina. His wife, Fausta, he killed in a bath of boiling water. Next was a friend named Sopater. Then his sister Constantina’s husband, Licinius, he murdered. Number seven on the list was his own son, his firstborn, Crispus, whom he beheaded.
People in their gross ignorance may call Constantine a “Christian”; they call the butcher Franco a “fine Christian gentleman”; but, praise be to God, none of such murderers will ever enter the kingdom of the new world! (Gal. 5:21; 1 Pet. 4:15; 1 John 3:15; Rev. 21:8; 22:15) So, if there were no further proof than this, the claim that Constantine was “converted” to Christianity falls flat. He was a son of the Devil.—John 8:44.
ONLY A FICTITIOUS CHRISTIAN
Apologists who attempt to defend Constantine’s “Christian” qualities overlook and excuse his monstrous crimes as due to mere human frailty and weakness. They tear down Maxentius as a tyrant, and Maximian, the Eastern emperor, they portray as a cruel persecutor of Christians. The other emperor, Licinius, they charge with treachery and double-crossing. This accomplished, they then build up Constantine and justify his liquidation of the other emperors, and thus robe and crown him as a savior and deliverer, a chosen vessel of the Lord. With triumphant jubilation they hail his victorious edicts issued from Rome in favor of Christians as proof conclusive of his conversion through the power of the cross. Such specious arguments, however, demand closer examination.
Constantine’s highly advertised edicts in favor of the so-called Christians offer absolutely no proof that the man had been converted. Long before he saw the apparition in the sky he had proclaimed similar laws throughout Gaul. His edicts issued after Rome’s capture were therefore only an extension of a policy he had already established, and which was like the one fashioned by his father, who was in no sense a Christian. Be it noted, this policy did not raise up and exalt apostate Christianity above the other religions and at their expense. The same freedom, privileges and favors granted to the so-called Christians were extended to all the other sects. It is therefore very apparent that the motive behind this shrewd politician’s middle-of-the-road policy was to strengthen his own power and domination over the religiously divided Roman empire.
To say that the vision of the cross, or the dream that followed, in any way turned this profane imperial dictator away from his pagan ways is to deny and contradict all the facts in the case. After this pagan became supreme ruler, “as pontifex maximus he [Constantine] watched over the heathen worship and protected its rights.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 299) Seven years after the vision Constantine the pagan issued laws protecting the demon-worshiping soothsayers. Eight years after the vision this pagan decreed that if lightning struck a public building or an imperial palace the officials were to consult the soothsayers and heathen diviners as to what the significance of the omen was, and then send him their report. Nine years after his vision this confirmed pagan dedicated one day of the week for special worship of the sun, dies solis, or “Sunday”.
And eighteen years after supposedly being converted by the vision, he had the city of Constantinople dedicated to his own honor with a great display of heathen pageantry, concerning which the Catholic Encyclopedia (vol. 4, p. 299) says: “The chariot of the sun-god was set in the market-place, and over its head was placed the Cross of Christ [that phallic symbol of pagan origin], while the Kyrie Eleison [another relic of the pagans according to Cardinal Newman] was sung.”
VISION FROM THE DEVIL
The idea that the Lord God Almighty commanded Constantine to make a military banner and go forth conquering in such a sign is wholly inconsistent and contrary to God’s Word of truth. God takes no sides in the conflicts between dictators of this old world, whose god is the Devil. (2 Cor. 4:4) “My kingdom is not of this world,” declared Christ.—John 18:36.
Did the individual who is said to have appeared to dreamer Constantine command him to abandon his pagan ways, forsake his murderous course, and refrain from his proud and wanton living? Did he tell Constantine to give up the sword lest he perish by the sword? (Matt. 26:52) Did he point out that God’s heavenly kingdom is mankind’s only hope? He did not!
The eminent historian, J. L. von Mosheim warns against such demonic impersonators. “Let us beware,” he says, “lest by too eager defence of the miracles told us by the ancients in their age, we should do injustice to the majesty of God, and to the most holy religion which teaches us to subdue ourselves, not our enemies.”—Mosheim’s Historical Commentaries on the State of Christianity, Murdock’s trans., 1853, vol. 2, p. 478.
Had God shown Constantine a sign in the heavens to represent the instrument upon which His beloved Son had been put to death, he would have shown him a simple torture stake and not a phallic cross used by the sex-worshiping heathen. In our issue of The Watchtower, November 1, 1950, much proof was given to show that Christ was hung on an upright stake without any crossbars, whereas the cross in its various forms was shown to be the emblem worshiped by all the ancient pagans as a filthy symbol of life.
The historian Edward Gibbon, in questioning the authenticity of the story in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapter 20, says: “If the eyes of the spectators have sometimes been deceived by fraud, the understanding of the readers has much more frequently been insulted by fiction. Every event, or appearance, or accident, which seems to deviate from the ordinary course of nature, has been rashly ascribed to the immediate action of the Deity; and the astonished fancy of the multitude has sometimes given shape and color, language and motion, to the fleeting but uncommon meteors of the air.”
Taking advantage of this superstitious trait of ignorant men, the Devil causes those who worship him to communicate with the unseen demon forces. In ancient times the pagans always consulted their demon gods before every major undertaking. It was a common thing for them to see visions and have dreams like those of Constantine. A modern case in illustration is that of demonized Hitler, who also saw in his mad dreams a vision of a cross, the swastika, which he interpreted to be the sign by which he should conquer the world.
But to say that such visions originate from the Lord God Almighty is wicked blasphemy of his great and holy name. This claim Constantine made, not at the time, but many years later, when he got around to uniting the degenerate Christianity of his day with all the pagan customs, beliefs and superstitions, to form what has since been known as the Roman Catholic church. It was then that he intimated to Eusebius, a bishop in his church-state setup, that this apparition he had seen many years prior could just as well be labeled “Christian” as pagan, and so it was. Hence, only the tag on this tale resembles Christianity.