The year was 312 A.D. The Emperor of the East, Constantine, was marching his small army to Rome, preparing to challenge the larger army of the Emperor of the West, Maxentius. He had ignored the advice of his military advisors, and of his pagan soothsayers not to march against Maxentius. He was obeying an inner calling, one he did not yet understand.
The night before battle, a remarkable sign appeared in the sky; the sign of the cross, and in Latin, the words, “In hoc signo vinces” (In this sign you will conquer). Constantine ordered a cross made, and on top of it, the Greek letters Chi and Rho, the first two letters of Christ in Greek. This was to be the standard for his army. For the first time, an army was to march under the banner of Christ. He also ordered his men to paint the Chi Rho sign upon their shields.
The battle of Milvian Bridge, on the banks of the Tiber River, was fought on Oct. 28, 312. Constantine led his men in the attack. Maxentius’ line broke and he and his men were driven toward Rome. When they crossed the Milvian Bridge, it collapsed under their weight. Maxentius, in his heavy armor, sank into the mud and drowned.
With the sign of the cross, Constantine had conquered.
Constantine, although not yet a Christian (he would be baptized on his deathbed), proceeded to govern his new empire based upon Christian principles. He took the unusual act of showing mercy to his opponents rather than killing them. He called together the other powerful men of the empire and met with them in Milan, in an attempt to solve the empire’s problems. The most groundbreaking result of their deliberations was the Edict of Milan, issued in 313: “We therefore ordain that anybody-including the Christians-may observe the faith of their sect and cult.”
For the first time, Christians would be able to worship freely and openly, without fear of persecution, torture, and death.
Constantine also modified Roman law to reflect the moral law. He outlawed the torture and killing of slaves, gladiatorial fights were forbidden and crucifixion was abolished. This is why he has been called the founder of Christendom.
So what made Constantine different from the generations of immoral, bloodthirsty tyrants who had run the Roman Empire before him? Constantine was different because he had been blessed with having a good Christian mother, Helena. Helena had prayed for years for the conversion of her beloved son and had prayed for a time when Christians could worship freely. Never underestimate the power of prayer — especially the power of prayer of a loving mother. God cannot help but be moved by these prayers.
You, too, can conquer with the sign of the cross. You, too, can march under the banner of Christ. It is true that most of us are not called to single-handedly conquer evil empires, but all of us are called to conquer the evil within us. And in conquering the evil within us, we can, little by little, help Jesus vanquish evil and save the world. You see, we all have our role to play in bringing about the kingdom of Heaven. Some of us are emperors who acquire power and thrones. Some of us are mothers who acquire dirty dishes and soiled diapers. So be it. We are all valuable in God’s kingdom, and we are all called to do our little bit for Jesus. So let us begin.
Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference.
Robin Barrett is a parishioner at Sacred Heart Cathedral.