Battle of Milvian Bridge Changes Christendom

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.

Logophile of Kings and Monarchs

It’s been a while since I discussed words with you and so I thought I’d bring up another regal topic. This time I want to discuss the idea of being Imperial in an Empire.

Imperial & Empire

While these words appear quite different in English they actually come from the same Latin root. They both come from the Latin concept of ‘command’, in the word ‘imperare’. By Middle Latin the word had morphed into ‘imperium’. In Middle English the word had become ‘emperial’. Both of our English words imperial and empire spring from that original Latin root.

Hence it is true that imperial things belong to the empire. What is done by the monarch’s command is that which is deemed imperial and impacts his empire.

Of Kings and Monarchs

Consider these various meanings for the term ‘imperial’.

1. Pertaining to an empire

2. Pertaining to an emperor or empress

3. Characterizing the rule or authority of a sovereign state over its dependencies

4. Of the nature or rank of an emperor or supreme ruler

Both our words Imperial and Empire are intrinsically linked to Kings and Monarchs. Since much of the world has been under some form of monarchical rule – including all former British colonies, much of Europe, Russia, many Asian nations, African countries and South American cultures – the idea of Imperial things and Empires is relevant to most people on the planet.

Things Imperial

We have an interesting collection of things designated as ‘imperial’ due to their monarchical origins.

There is a coin called an ‘imperial’. It is a Russian Coin used from 1897 – 1917. It is so called because of the same Latin root as our word imperial, which became ‘imperialis’, meaning a coin, as something authorised by the monarch. A Roman coin bearing the monarch’s image, then, was in imperialis. The coin which was shown to Jesus Christ, with Caesar’s image on it, was an imperialis – an imperial coin.

Imperial Measures are those measures that were used in Britain and British colonies. In most nations the imperial measures have been replaced by metric measures. Imperial measures were ‘imperial’ because they were the ones approved by the monarch. Standardisation enabled the authorities to regulate against false measurements and fraudulent dealings. As the monarchs determined the set weights and measures their officers could then enforce accuracy and punish those who used unjust methods.

Imperial Law is that body of law which comes down to us as law enacted through the centuries by various monarchs. In their imperial capacity monarchs are able to impose law and regulations which all in their empire must follow. What is particularly significant about Imperial Law is that much of the freedom which western societies take for granted have come to us by rulings of various monarchs down through the past 1,000 years.

Imperial Law

Not all laws enacted by monarchs were so enacted with the enthusiastic support of the monarch. The Magna Carta, for example, is a law that was forced on King John. Yet, by his action of ratifying that law it comes to us as ‘imperial law’.

In Australia the original national constitution is built upon the pre-existing Imperial Law. Subsequently the various states of the Commonwealth have enacted legislation ratifying that pre-existing Imperial Law as continuing its validity for the benefit of Australian citizens.

So Imperial Law is not as out of date or irrelevant as the idea might suggest to our modern minds. We are indebted to imperial laws for many of the freedoms we have taken for granted all our lives.