This is the day that the “Battle of Milvian Bridge” took place – in AD 312.
It was this historic battle, won by Constantine and his armies, which led to the Christianisation of the Roman Empire. Bear in mind that one uses the word ‘Christianisation’ in its broadest term.
The Milvian Bridge crossed the Tiber River, which was part of the western defences of Rome. The bridge was first built by Gaius Claudius Nero in 206 BC. In 63 BC the bridge was the site of an ambush by agents of Cicero.
Serbian born Constantine was at this time one of six contenders for leadership of the Roman Empire, following his father’s death in York, in Britain. Constantine marched on Rome and his forces met those of Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge.
Constantine’s victory was not the only significant event of that day. He claimed to have seen a vision at midday on that same day, seeing a Christian Cross superimposed on the sun, and the words “In This Sign, Conquer”, “In hoc signo vinces”.
Following his decisive victory, Constantine went on to become Emperor of the Roman Empire. He then made Christianity legal. Constantine claimed to be a Christian, and the changes that followed were momentous.
Persecution ceased. By March, AD 313, the Edict of Milan was published granting religious liberty to all, restoring previously confiscated church property and protecting Christian people from persecution. The Lord’s Day was set aside as a day of rest and worship. Favours were granted to the clergy. Churches were built.
Miller, in his Church History, records that in one year, in Rome, 12,000 men and women were baptised … “and a white garment, with 20 pieces of gold, was promised by the Emperor to every new convert of the poorer classes…” (page 194).
Three years after his victory at the bridge a triumphal arch was built with words telling how Constantine saved the republic ‘”by greatness of mind and impulse of divinity.” Roman troops then carried a pennant bearing the monogram of Jesus – the Greek letters “chi” and “rho” standing for the word “Christ”.
Within several years Constantine sponsored the Council of Nicaea to negotiate a statement of orthodox Christian belief that could be recognized across the Empire. The Nicaean Creed continues to be used today.
Some ‘state churches’ regard these events as a triumph in the history of the Christian faith; others, of ‘free church’ persuasion, are more likely to regard it as “almost as calamitous as the fall of Adam and Eve.”
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.