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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. II: The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus.: By what Means the Emperor Constantine became a Christian.

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Chapter II.—By what Means the Emperor Constantine became a Christian.

When Diocletian and Maximian, 111 surnamed Herculius, had by mutual consent laid aside the imperial dignity, and retired into private life, Maximian, surnamed Galerius, who had been a sharer with them in the government, came into Italy and appointed two Cæsars, Maximin in the eastern division of the empire, and Severus in the Italian. In Britain, however, Constantine was proclaimed emperor, instead of his father Constantius, who died in the first year of the two hundred and seventy-first 112 Olympiad, on the 25th of July. And at Rome Maxentius, the son of Maximian Herculius, was raised by the prætorian soldiers to be a tyrant rather than an emperor. In this state of things Herculius, impelled by a desire to regain the sovereignty, attempted to destroy his son Maxentius; but this he was prevented by the soldiery from effecting, and he soon afterwards died at Tarsus in Cilicia. At the same time Severus Cæsar being sent to Rome by Galerius Maximian, in order to seize Maxentius, was slain, his own soldiers having betrayed him. At length Galerius Maximian, who had exercised the chief authority, 113 also died, having previously appointed as his successor, his old friend and companion in arms, Licinius, a Dacian by birth. Meanwhile, Maxentius sorely oppressed the Roman people, treating them as a tyrant rather than as a king, shamelessly violating the wives of the nobles, putting many innocent persons to death, and perpetrating other similar atrocities. The emperor Constantine being informed of this, exerted himself to free the Romans from the slavery under him (i.e. Maxentius), and began immediately to consider by what means he might overthrow the tyrant. Now while his mind was occupied with p. 2 this great subject, he debated as to what divinity’s aid he should invoke in the conduct of the war. He began to realize that Diocletian’s party had not profited at all by the pagan deities, whom they had sought to propitiate; but that his own father Constantius, who had renounced the various religions of the Greeks, had passed through life far more prosperously. In this state of uncertainty, as he was marching at the head of his troops, a preternatural vision, which transcends all description, appeared to him. In fact, about that part of the day when the sun after posing the meridian begins to decline towards the west, he saw a pillar of light in the heavens, in the form of a cross, on which were inscribed these words, By This Conquer114 The appearance of this sign struck the emperor with amazement and scarcely believing his own eyes, he asked those around him if they beheld the same spectacle; and as they unanimously declared that they did, the emperor’s mind was strengthened by this divine and marvelous apparition. On the following night in his slumbers he saw Christ who directed him to prepare a standard according to the pattern of that which had been seen; and to use it against his enemies as an assured trophy of victory. In obedience to this divine oracle, he caused a standard in the form of a cross to be prepared, which is preserved in the palace even to the present time: and proceeding in his measures with greater earnestness, he attacked the enemy and vanquished him before the gates of Rome, near the Mulvian bridge, Maxentius himself being drowned in the river. This victory was achieved in the seventh year of the conqueror’s reign. 115 After this, while Licinius, who shared the government with him, and was his brother-in-law, having married his sister Constantia, was residing in the East, the emperor Constantine, in view of the great blessing he had received, offered grateful thanksgivings to God as his benefactor; these consisted in his relieving the Christians from persecution, recalling those who were in exile, liberating such as were imprisoned, and causing the confiscated property of the prescribed to be restored to them; he moreover rebuilt the churches, and performed all these things with the greatest ardor. About this time Diocletian, who had abdicated the imperial authority, died at Salona in Dalmatia. 116



‘Socrates is here in error; for Maximianus Herculius, who was otherwise called Maximian the Elder, was, by Constantine’s command, slain in Gallia in 310 a.d. But Maximius Cæsar, two years after, being conquered by Licinius, died at Tarsus.’ (Valesius.) On the confusion of Maximian and Maximin, see Introd. III.


305 or 306 a.d.


πάντα περιέπων, not to be taken literally, inasmuch as there were two other Augusti—Constantine and Maxentius; and hence though senior Augustus, he was not sole ruler. On the appointment of the Augusti under Diocletian, and meaning of the title, see Gibbon, Decline and Fall, chap. xiii.


Εν τούτῳ νίκᾳ. For an extensive and satisfactory treatment of this famous passage in the life of Constantine, see Richardson, Prolegomena to the Life of Const., Vol. I., Second Series, Post-Nicene Fathers.


312 a.d.


Cf. an account of these events in Sozomen, I. 3. See also on the persecution instituted by Diocletian Neander, Hist. of the Christ. Ch. Vol. I. pp. 143–156; Schaff, Hist. of the Christ. Ch. Vol. I. pp. 174–177; Euseb. H. E., Books VIII.–X. Lactantius, de Mortibus persec. c. 7 seq. Diocletian abdicated in 305 a.d.

Next: While Constantine favors the Christians, Licinius, his Colleague, persecutes them.

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