In the Sky: A Full Circle of 1700 years

In the Sky: A Full Circle of 1700 years
In hoc signo . .

IN THE SKY there appeared a great sign one afternoon 1700 hundred years ago. On October 27, 312 was preparing for a major battle with Maxentius at Milvian Bridge outside of Rome. He won the battle the following day, October 28, 312. On that afternoon of October 27 he saw a sign in the sky pointing the way to victory. described it as follows: “WHEN Constantine was on his march to Rome to attack Maxentius, at a time when he was as yet undecided about the truth of Christianity, a luminous Cross is said to have appeared in the sky at mid-day, in sight of himself and his army, with the inscription, ‘In this conquer.’  His victory and his conversion followed.” Blessed John Henry Newman considered this event a miracle (see his account here), and a great turning point for Christianity. In another book Newman said that Constantine “was the first to profess himself the Protector of the Church, and to relieve it from the abject and suffering condition in which it had lain for three centuries. Constantine is our benefactor; inasmuch as we, who now live, may be considered to have received the gift of Christianity by means of the increased influence which he gave to the Church.” (see text here

Christopher Dawson also weighed in on the importance of this day. The Second Age of the Church, he said, “begins with the most spectacular of all the external victories which Christendom has known — the conversion of Constantine and the foundation of the new Christian capital of the Christian Empire. This marks the beginning of Christendom in the sense of a political society or group of societies which find their principle of unity in the public profession of the Christian faith, and also of the Byzantine culture as the translation into Christian terms of the Hellenistic culture of the late Roman empire. Both of them were to endure, for good or ill, for more than a thousand years.” (The Historic Reality of Christian Culture, pp. 49-50) The great age of the Fathers flourished under the new arrangement. Councils were convened and creeds formulated and deepened. The true faith spread far and wide. Dawson said it was “the classical age of Christian thought and the fountainhead of theological wisdom.” But this great event and this great man did more than allow the theologians to probe more deeply the truth of the faith. The Constantinian “arrangement” allowed the faith to become available to the people across the empire: Jean Daniélou, “Prayer as a Political Problem,”
(1965) said that  “This extension of Christianity to an immense populace,
which belongs to its very essence, was hindered during the earliest
centuries by the fact that it developed within a society […] that was
hostile. Belonging to Christianity thus required a strength of character
of which the majority of men are incapable. The conversion of
Constantine, by eliminating these obstacles, made the Gospel accessible
to the poor; that is, to those not part of the élite, to the average
man. Far from falsifying Christianity, this permitted it to perfect
itself in its nature as being of the people.” (I acknowledge the blog of Sandro Magister for this quote)

We should commemorate this day and the victory at Milvian Bridge with gratitude for the providential plan of God. Throughout the years, and especially in recent years, there have been those who lament the influence of Constantine. Jacques Maritain chides such critics as shameful for failing to understand the blessings and the limits of each age. He wrote


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