What’s So Important about the Milvian Bridge?

September 28, 2011 — Leave a comment

Constantinian Triumph CoinWhile pondering what to write about today, I visited one of those “This Day in Christian History” websites. It cited 27 September as the day of Constantine the Great’s “conversion” (in the year A.D. 312). Ironically, the website was in error, with the actual date being the evening of 27 October.

Many people might say “what difference does it make?” but writers will be reminded once again of the necessity of accuracy in their writings! What sort of credibility do you think that website now holds for me?

At any rate, returning to the subject of Constantine’s October 312 conversion . . . it was one of the pivotal events in the history of the world. Not only did Constantine end the persecution of the Church, he raised Christianity to the status of favored religion. Contrary to most quasi-historians, it would be left to a later emperor to establish Christianity as the empire’s official faith.

The early fourth century was a turbulent and fascinating time. Constantine had to battle a number of other so-called Imperators. (“Caesar” remained one of their many titles, but it was no longer the synonym for the ultimate ruler.) One of Constantine’s challengers—who allied himself completely with the pagan faction which still vastly outnumbered the Christians—was Maxentius.

On the evening before the battle, in response to a divine vision, Constantine had his soldiers mark their shields with a symbol for Christ (most likely, a chi-rho). He would ultimately march under that sign to victory over all of his enemies. Licinius, his final foe, would also throw his lot with the pantheon of Rome and other pagan deities. Like Maxentius, he too would fall.

This coin was minted by Constantine to commemorate his victory over these agents of the “Serpent.” The Labarum (Constantine’s standard, topped by the chi-rho) pierces the creature. The legend on the coin reads “Spes Publica,” which means “hope of the people.”

On the matter of just how transformative Constantine’s spiritual conversion actually was . . . well, that’s a subject for another day. Suffice it to say now that he regarded his allegiance to Christ as sincere, and he never recanted. Oh, and the importance of the Milvian Bridge . . . if Maxentius had not fallen there, history would read quite differently today.

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