The Sign of Christ v. the Name of Christ & the Vision of Constantine?
The Sign of Christ v. the Name of Christ & the Vision of Constantine?
For several years Isaac Ben Jacob has been talking about a 'talisman of salvation' - an artifact which he thinks ended up in the hands of Bérenger Saunière. Jacob maintains that Bérenger Saunière used this 'talisman' in bizarre rituals - rituals that involved the use of dead bodies and body parts in a 'Cult of the Dead' rite that he says had infiltrated the Catholic church [see here]. Jacob developed most of this theory initially from the writing of Philippe de Chérisey. Chérisey does indeed spend an inordinate amount of time in his publications talking about death, mummified corpses and monetary gain obtained by Saunière - perhaps implying that whatever Abbé Saunière was doing this is how he obtained that wealth! Chérisey even indirectly says the activity led to his death when he said: "Abbé Saunière learned to his cost how expensive it was to exceed the fees of the wicked apostle, having died on 22nd January 1917, a few days after going once too often to the well" [where presumably the wicked apostle is Judas, who took money to betray Jesus to the Romans].
Jacob asks: 'Was Abbé Saunière taking some sort of payment to carry out a ritual using this talismanic artifact?'.
Chérisey of course refers to much else besides the activity of Abbé Saunière, mentioning on several occasions a gold cross of Solomon - or to be more exact excerpts from historical texts which talk about a 'gold cross' made for Solomon. He refers to other historical oddities - such as the famous Labarum of the Emperor Constantine and another 'talismanic' cross which was held by the Merovingians, in particular Childebert. Chérisey then - patchwork quilt style - puts all these various strands together to try and tell a particular story. This story was published via several ways, for example, his Lobineau Documents, his novel Circuit, his manuscript Stone & Paper and other published material. The backdrop to it all is Rennes-le-Chateau and Abbé Saunière.
From Chérisey then, Jacob developed the theory of his 'talismannic' artifact - a theory also based on the work of Lombard-Jordan, who herself has much to say about an artifact she calls the 'Crista'. And in fact, Jacob does talk about the Crista, as if this is one and the same artifact being referred to when he also talks about his 'talisman of salvation'. Chérisey though did not make a reference to a 'crista' at all. Why not?
The information that Chérisey is intent on imparting to his readers (the Labarum, the vision of Constantine etc) is reflected in the work of Lombard-Jordan and both of them [Lombard-Jordan and Chérisey] focus on the importance of the Merovingians in the matter. So why did Chérisey not talk about the Crista? Lombard-Jordan herself never makes the connection between the so called 'gold cross' of Childebert with these other items, although she absolutely talks in terms of the 'Crista' as being a 'real' artifact. She was very well read and i cannot understand why she did not make a connection with this gold cross that Childebert owned if it was related to the Crista!
A further point that may or may not be of interest is that Lombard-Jordan published her works on the Crista in 2002 & 1989. Chérisey wrote all of his paraphernalia to do with Rennes-le-Chateau long before these two dates. The most we can say then is that some of the iconic events in history associated with France interested Chérisey and Lombard-Jordan for some obscure reason. Was Chérisey not as well read as Lombard-Jordan in the historical texts found among academics and therefore did not make the connection with the crista? We do know that Chérisey made a connection with St Denis and the Fairs that were held there in Medieval times and surely he must have known that Abbe Sugar makes reference to the Crista, who called the 'Crista' an incomparable 'ornament', kept at the famous St Denis cathedral during the tenure of Abbe Sugar (1127-1151)?
Jacob has at least admitted recently that he cannot categorically link the artifact [whether Gold Cross of Solomon, the Toledo Cross or the Crista] to Saunière. He is not even sure now if the artifact Chérisey refers to is one and the same thing as his 'talisman of salvation'. On these grounds, then, should we continue to discuss the theories of Jacob? If he cant link all these disparate ideas to Abbé Saunière - then all of his suggestions about a 'Cult of the Dead' ritual, the suggestion that the Hautpoul family were key to it, and that the hidden documents confided to Bigou by Marie de Blanchefort on her deathbed have no relevance either (see HERE).
I think we should continue to discuss these ideas because Chérisey does highlight these 'artifacts' in such a way as to suggest that there is a link between them and Saunière. For him these links are important. And he has chosen to fit them within the framework of Saunière's life. The question, of course, is why?
Has Jacob interpreted the 'evidence' correctly?
Chérisey referred to many disparate historical ideas - while placing them in the context of the story of Rennes-le-Chateau. For example in one text he focus's on an early Merovingian king, Childebert, who had made war on the Spanish town of Saragossa and he referred to the residents of that ancient city that had 'when under siege by Childebert in 542 resorted to a singular act for their defence. They were covered in sack cloth and circled the city several times carrying holy relics singing canticles and while carrying in front of them the tunic of Saint Vincent. Childebert, enthralled by this display, entered into talks with Aimoin & obtained the invaluable tunic. The new temple Childebert later built was intended to shelter the sacred relic and was dedicated to Vincent: it also had the name of Holy Cross in remembering a cross of gold that Childebert obtained and which he thought had belonged to King Solomon’.
He also wrote [in Stone and Paper - under the paragraph entitled PAX DCLXXI] the following for his explanation on the Pax symbolism in the 'Bergere' cipher:
‘PAX is itself a "mortepee", a "death-sword" that has been used to make the best of things since the death of Abel. PAX has a visual form, signifying the famous vision of Constantine in
312, a radiant hexagram that the Greeks read as χριστοσ and the Latins as PaX. As the Chrisme PX it became firmly entrenched as the sign designating the Roman Emperor Constantine's war cry in 312, "In hoc signo vinces", translated by abbé Saunière in his church as "Par ce signe tu le vaincras". The "le" is superfluous but enables him to have 22-letter phrase, and indicates the devil (Asmodeus) below the motto. In its original Latin it appears in the church at Rennes-les-Bains. The emblem of PAX is known from its religious composition, when it was used by the Papacy incorporating AΩ, Alpha and Omega, and the papacy has long made use of this sign. When interposed between A and Ω as in APXΩ, it becomes "I command". It appears on the dalle at the bottom of the left hand column, thus becoming P + X at the base which is headed A and in the right column headed Ω, taking on its Greek aspect in the Shepherds of Arcadia motto ET IN APXADIA EGO’.
We can see here that Chérisey refers to the Labarum, the vision of Constantine and rather strangely to the notion that the Greeks read the vision of Constantine in a very different way to the Latins. He also links the 'word' APXΩ, which he says, one can obtain from the word PAX (which has as its visual form the chrismon) to the famous painting by Poussin and the phrase found on one of the tombstone's of Marie de Blanchefort (which of course is needed to unravel a cipher text related to Saunière!). Is the sum total importance of these ideas by Chérisey nothing less than to draw attention to the cipher message in the so called Saunière Parchments (see HERE)? All the strange misinformation from Chérisey is to lead us straight back to the cipher 'Bergère pas de tentation'?
Although Chérisey has not made a direct parallel with the Gold Cross of Solomon [which did exist and was seen] and Constantine's Labarum [which no-one seems to have seen except as representations on coins etc] - both ideas essentially revolve around the idea of a cross and that this cross was linked to Christianity. In another work [by Jean Pierre Deloux] these themes are taken up again by Chérisey and contain information that Deloux would have received directly from Plantard and Chérisey. In relation to the important word PAX [again] i quote the following:
"[the] P [of the word PAX] located the successor of Peter on the axis of the solstices of the Capricorn and Cancer, and the branches of the X indicated the four horizons which are Aquarius, Taurus the Bull, Leo the Lion and Scorpio the Scorpion putting the sky back on the shoulders of the emperor..... At the time of the first contentions between the divine and the Caesarean vision the successors of Peter made the point that the possession of the solstices involving the control of the entire sky and that it was necessary to decipher in X the crossing of the apostolic keys entrusted by Jesus to the first Apostle. The imperialists recalled to the pope that the domination of the solstices and the emblem of the two keys did not come to him only from Jesus but from the pagan Janus by permission of the emperor.....That if Jesus had given to Peter a capacity on the door of the hell Peter himself had confirmed it while asking to be crucified head down. From where one was to deduce that a silver key reaching the hell was property of Peter in the axis of Leo-Aquarius.
These academic discussions covered an extremely clear morality where the emperor governing the world of the living offered the kingdom of the dead to his pontifical associate. Although this division can be very flattering for the papacy in a harmonious universe, one well also sees as it risked submitting completely the authority of the pope to the emperor, the mystical to the political. It is one thing to propose eternal life to those who pass the doors of hell. It is another to reign on the grants in perpetuity granted by the benevolent Caesar. Here was born undoubtedly the reluctance from the Church concerning beatification of the emperor Constantine, his increasing mistrust with respect to the astrologer and the needs where it was to acquire a political power to escape the political.
A decision of 692 at the council of Byzantium was to supplant the chrism by the emblem of the Greek cross. The sign of Constantine entered for some time into no man's land where it was not asserted any more. Then an agreement between the two parties reintroduced the chrism of the Roman Pax in the pontifical arms provided that it becomes Greek A ☧ Ω whose directions is APXΩ 'I command'. In this manner, the emperor of the East reserved the right at every moment to assert the emblem of the pope of the West. Secretly the victory returned to Janus under the auspices of Saint John who, by his proposition: 'I am the alpha and the Omega', had dictated the new emblem." [You can read more about these assertions HERE].
Chérisey is surely intimating something. But what? Why should the cross of gold that Childebert found & related by Jacob be associated with the Labarum? What exactly is the Labarum and this vision of Constantine? Why does the 'vision' differ between the Greeks and the Latins? What is this 'battle' between the material and the spiritual? The Emperor and the Pope? And what has it all to do with Saunière, who was just a priest in the Catholic church some 1500 years or so after the events Chérisey is describing.
There is no clear understanding of what Emperor Constantine saw. Just that before the battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine is said to have witnessed, about midday, a 'cross' in the heaven's. This image of a cross was later, via a dream, said to have been associated with the cross of Christ and that in fact it was Christ himself who had told Constantine that using the 'cross' as a 'talisman' would help him triumph against his enemies. Those in the retinue of Constantine who were already Christian took the opportunity to tell Constantine that it was 'their' God who would make him victorious!
Constantine had had several visions associated with seeing a 'God' prior to the 'Milvian Bridge' spectacle. Some scholars even think that Constantine may have 'contrived' the Milvian Bridge vision for political gain! But which 'vision' is the more correct and more importantly which vision meant the most to Constantine?
There is a vision dated much earlier in his career - dated to around 310AD and which took place in Gaul [which we will discuss below] and an even later one in his career. It led one scholar to say when talking of the 'hyped up' Milvian Bridge vision that:
"what we might have here is a later Christian interpolation of an originally pagan account. Perhaps this interpolation was made easier by the fact that, as Chadwick suggests, "Constantine was not aware of any mutual exclusiveness between Christianity and his faith in the Unconquered Sun". [http://www.salomoni.it/davide/theology/blog/2005/03/constantines-dreams-and-visions.html].
Oxford scholar Bardill surveyed all the evidence and came to the conclusion that:
"It is therefore conceivable that the earlier account of the vision [i.e. the one in Gaul] inspired the stories of the dream and the vision of a symbol bestowed by the sun.....A substitute for the Gallic vision would, it may be argued, have been created to suit Constantine's own political and religious agenda's [i.e. the later vision at Milvian Bridge] ....Constantine and his advisors may have found it desirable to replace the original firmly pagan vision of Apollo and Victory with an imperial experience more ambiguous as to its religious import. ...the symbol's precise form might deliberately have been left vague, making it susceptible to both pagan and christian sentiments" [Constantine, Divine Emperor of the Christian Golden Age].
Perhaps the symbol of this Cross and its 'precise form' might have been left deliberately vague by Constantine and his entourage for some other reason? The vagueness of this vision and the exact nature of the 'Cross' is echoed here when one observer wrote:
"This, no doubt, will appear all very strange and very incredible to those who have read Church history, as most have done to a large extent, even amongst Protestants, through Romish spectacles; and especially to those who call to mind the famous story told of the miraculous appearance of the cross to Constantine on the day before the decisive victory at the Milvian bridge, that decided the fortunes of avowed Paganism and nominal Christianity. That story, as commonly told, if true, would certainly give a Divine sanction to the reverence for the cross. But that story, when sifted to the bottom, according to the common version of it, will be found to be based on a delusion--a delusion, however, into which so good a man as Milner has allowed himself to fall. Milner's account is as follows: "Constantine, marching from France into Italy against Maxentius, in an expedition which was likely either to exalt or to ruin him, was oppressed with anxiety. Some god he thought needful to protect him; the God of the Christians he was most inclined to respect, but he wanted some satisfactory proof of His real existence and power, and he neither understood the means of acquiring this, nor could he be content with the atheistic indifference in which so many generals and heroes since his time have acquiesced. He prayed, he implored with such vehemence and importunity, and God left him not unanswered. While he was marching with his forces in the afternoon, the trophy of the cross appeared very luminous in the heavens, brighter than the sun, with this inscription, 'Conquer by this.' He and his soldiers were astonished at the sight; but he continued pondering on the event till night. And Christ appeared to him when asleep with the same sign of the cross, and directed him to make use of the symbol as his military ensign." Such is the statement of Milner. Now, in regard to the "trophy of the cross," a few words will suffice to show that it is utterly unfounded. I do not think it necessary to dispute the fact of some miraculous sign having been given. There may, or there may not, have been on this occasion a "dignus vindice nodus," a crisis worthy of a Divine interposition. Whether, however, there was anything out of the ordinary course, I do not inquire. But this I say, on the supposition that Constantine in this matter acted in good faith, and that there actually was a miraculous appearance in the heavens, that it as not the sign of the cross that was seen, but quite a different thing, the name of Christ. That this was the case, we have at once the testimony of Lactantius, who was the tutor of Constantine's son Crispus--the earliest author who gives any account of the matter, and the indisputable evidence of the standards of Constantine themselves, as handed down to us on medals struck at the time. The testimony of Lactantius is most decisive: "Constantine was warned in a dream to make the celestial sign of God upon his solders' shields, and so to join battle. He did as he was bid, and with the transverse letter X circumflecting the head of it, he marks Christ on their shields.
Equipped with this sign, his army takes the sword." Now, the letter X was just the initial of the name of Christ, being equivalent in Greek to CH. If, therefore, Constantine did as he was bid, when he made "the celestial sign of God" in the form of "the letter X," it was that "letter X," as the symbol of "Christ" and not the sign of the cross, which he saw in the heavens. When the Labarum, or far-famed standard of Constantine itself, properly so called, was made, we have the evidence of Ambrose, the well-known Bishop of Milan, that that standard was formed on the very principle contained in the statement of Lactantius--viz., simply to display the Redeemer's name. He calls it "Labarum, hoc est Christi sacratum nomine signum."--"The Labarum, that is, the ensign consecrated by the NAME of Christ.
There is not the slightest allusion to any cross--to anything but the simple name of Christ. While we have these testimonies of Lactantius and Ambrose, when we come to examine the standard of Constantine, we find the accounts of both authors fully borne out; we find that that standard, bearing on it these very words, "Hoc signo victor eris," "In this sign thou shalt be a conqueror," said to have been addressed from heaven to the emperor, has nothing at all in the shape of a cross, but "the letter X." In the Roman Catacombs, on a Christian monument to "Sinphonia and her sons," there is a distinct allusion to the story of the vision; but that allusion also shows that the X, and not the cross, was regarded as the "heavenly sign." The words at the head of the inscription are these: "In Hoc Vinces [In this thou shalt overcome] X." Nothing whatever but the X is here given as the "Victorious Sign." There are some examples, no doubt, of Constantine's standard, in which there is a cross-bar, from which the flag is suspended, that contains that "letter X"; and Eusebius, who wrote when superstition and apostacy were working, tries hard to make it appear that that cross-bar was the essential element in the ensign of Constantine. But this is obviously a mistake; that cross-bar was nothing new, nothing peculiar to Constantine's standard. Tertullian shows that that cross-bar was found long before on the vexillum, the Roman Pagan standard, that carried a flag; and it was used simply for the purpose of displaying that flag. If, therefore, that cross-bar was the "celestial sign," it needed no voice from heaven to direct Constantine to make it; nor would the making or displaying of it have excited any particular attention on the part of those who saw it. We find no evidence at all that the famous legend, "In this overcome," has any reference to this cross-bar; but we find evidence the most decisive that that legend does refer to the X. Now, that that X was not intended as the sign of the cross, but as the initial of Christ's name, is manifest from this, that the Greek P, equivalent to our R, is inserted in the middle of it, making by their union CHR. The standard of Constantine, then, was just the name of Christ. Whether the device came from earth or from heaven--whether it was suggested by human wisdom or Divine, supposing that Constantine was sincere in his Christian profession, nothing more was implied in it than a literal embodiment of the sentiment of the Psalmist, "In the name of the Lord will we display our banners." To display that name on the standards of Imperial Rome was a thing absolutely new; and the sight of that name, there can be little doubt, nerved the Christian soldiers in Constantine's army with more than usual fire to fight and conquer at the Milvian bridge." (http://mikeblume.com/defaul.htm).
This was written in 1853, over 150 years ago but it still shows the confusion over what really happened during Constantine's vision and what was shown on the Labarum. It is this confusion that Chérisey is preoccupied with also. Why does he want to link it in strange ways to Bérenger Saunière and a code in some mysterious parchments?
Lactantius, writing only 3 or 4 years after the 'vision' of Constantine doesn't describe a cross. He calls what is seen a 'symbol' - which was to be understood as 'a sign of Christ' - not 'a sign of the Cross'. Some observers feel therefore that it is not a 'Cross' or staurogram or other image of a Cross that became the sign of Constantine's 'vision' but something else. This something else was the Chi-Rho! No satisfactory explanation of this change from a 'cross' to a 'chi-rho' has ever been offered [i.e. the change from a kind of staurogram to the chi-rho or ☧]. Perhaps Lactantius had not seen what he was suppose to be describing but was much more sure of its significance? Especially as in the past Lactantius had described a solar disk, an emblem of Sun-worship from Constantine's Danubian homeland using the same language he now used for this 'sign of Christ'! And as we shall also see, it is pretty much obvious that the other 'historian' who referred to the 'Labarum' could not have seen the Labarum himself either!
Many historians have noticed these very different points in the two nearly contemporary accounts of this vision of Constantine - the two contemporary accounts being the one by Lactantius and the one by Eusebius. So what did they see? Lactantius wrote:
"Imminebat dies quo Maxentius imperium ceperat, qui est a.d. sextum Kalendas Novembres, et quinquennalia terminabantur. Commonitus est in quiete Constantinus, ut caeleste signum dei notaret in scutis atque ita proelium committeret. Facit ut iussus est et transversa X littera, summo capite circumflexo, Christum in scutis notat. Quo signo armatus exercitus capit ferrum".
However, Lactantius was describing something more than a simple Latin cross; in fact he was describing a “staurogram”.
"Some believe the early church avoided images of Jesus on the cross until the fourth or fifth century. In “The Staurogram: Earliest Depiction of Jesus’ Crucifixion” the March/April 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Larry Hurtado highlights an early Christian crucifixion symbol that sets the date back by 150–200 years. Larry Hurtado describes how a symbol known as a staurogram is created out of the Greek letters tau-rho: “In Greek, the language of the early church, the capital tau, or T, looks pretty much like our T. The capital rho, or R, however, is written like our P. If you superimpose the two letters, it looks something like this:.
The staurogram combines the Greek letters tau-rho to stand in for parts of the Greek words for “cross” (stauros) and “crucify” (stauroō) in Bodmer papyrus P75. Staurograms serve as the earliest images of Jesus on the cross, predating other Christian crucifixion imagery by 200 years.
The staurogram (P, crossed P) is derived from the Christogram and like the Christogram is a monogram comprising the first two letters of Christ in Greek, Chi (X) and Rho (P). The staurogram symbol is also called a Rho-cross. It is used as a control symbol on numerous late Roman issues.
The earliest Christian uses of this tau-rho combination make up what is known as a staurogram. In Greek the verb to 'crucify’ is stauroō; a ‘cross’ is a stauros … [these letters produce] a pictographic representation of a crucified figure hanging on a cross—used in the Greek words for ‘crucify’ and ‘cross.’
The tau-rho staurogram is one of several christograms, or monogram-like devices used by ancient Christians, to refer to Jesus. However, Larry Hurtado points out that the staurogram only refers to the crucifixion, unlike others, which mention Jesus’ other characteristics. Also, the staurogram is visual—the tau-rho combinations create images of Jesus on the cross, making the staurogram the earliest Christian images of Jesus on the cross.'
In 'Constantine, Divine Emperor of the Christian Golden Age', Bardill has this to say:
"According to Lactantius - 'Constantine was advised in a dream to mark the heavenly sign of God on the shields of his soldiers - he did as he was commanded and .....'transversa X littera, summo capite circumflexo ....' he marked Christ on their shields'.
Scholars understand 'transversa X littera, summo capite circumflexo' to mean 'by means of a letter X crossed through, with the top of its head bent round'. However, Marrou says that the adjective 'transversa' cannot be rendered as 'crossed through'.... but can only mean 'lying cross' or 'turned sideways'..... the most likely rendering, as Marrou observes, is 'a letter X turned sideways with the top of its head turned sideways'. Therefore the sign described by Lactantius that Constantine 'saw' was in fact a cross with a loop at the top. This can either be a Greek letter rho (P) with a cross bar or a rho in ligature with a Tau [as illustrated above].
In fact, it is interesting to note here that as Chérisey refers to the difference between the Greek's idea of the Chi-Rho [Labarum] and the Latins version of it [i.e. the West] we can see this difference illustrated on Greek Byzantine coins as below: Above, left, and below. These are various Greek coins, very commonly found, where a figure is holding an 'artifact', It looks to be tall (as it is shown as tall as the figures holding it) with 'a perpendicular line ..... and turned round thus at the top, being the cipher of CHRIST' [i.e. a staurogram perhaps?] and with a transverse bar [perhaps a Greek letter P with a cross bar or a rho in ligature with a Tau?]. Is this the Greek representation of the artifact we know in the West as the Labarum?
What's interesting here is that these Greek coins do seem to have a semblance of an idea of what the 'labarum' may have looked like. They seem to have utilised sections of the accounts of Lactantius and Eusebius. Thus we have 'a long spear overlaid [with gold] and a cross bar' [Eusebius' account] and ''by means of a letter X crossed through, with the top of its head bent round' [i.e. a cross with a loop at the top - Lactantius' account]. The only problem with my speculations are that these Greek coins are not, supposedly, illustrating the 'Labarum'!
Did the East ever have the Labarum?
This sign - a cross with a loop at the top - the staurogram, has been seen in pre-Christian and early Christian contexts (coins of King Herod1, Bodmer II papyrus etc). The fact that the ligature was linked to words referring to Jesus' cross or his Crucifixion suggests that it had significance - the sign may have been created as a sort of pictogram representing Christ on the Cross. This would explain why Lactantius, if he meant to describe a staurogram, could claim Constantine's men 'marked Christ on their shields'. The staurogram appears on solidi with the legend 'Victoria Constantine AVG' - which was minted in Antioch 336-337AD. It is a completely different Cross that Eusebius describes!
There is also a late Antique residence discovered in the 1970's [south of the Lateran batistery in Rome] where we find the 'owners' of the residence had had a mural painted on their walls which showed a staurogram which is linked to the words 'In Signo Hoc Est Patris Victoria'. This phrase is clearly linked to the vision of Constantine. The 'alpha and omega' are suspended from the cross-bar. The inscription has been dated to Licinius fourth century consulship of 315AD. This staurogram looks something like this:
This is a symbol found in the catacombs of Rome
Before we leave Lactantius - there are two other observations to make. Some of the coinage of Constantine shows that the original symbol Constantine saw was a star. It could be argued that Constantine originally adopted the star sign as a solar symbol. Some coins minted at Trier show an eight-pointed star on the bowl of Constantines high crested helmet. Another suggestion is that Constantine 's standard was at first decorated with a six pointed star (read Chérisey's assertion that a 'hexagram' was seen!). And that on his conversion Constantine altered the standard sign of a star to a chi-rho monogram sign! There is also a pangyric of 321AD (by Nazarius) that talked of a spectacular vision of 'divinely sent armies, carrying flashing shields' led by Emperor Constantines father, the divine Constantius. Did his son adopt another 'divinely sent portent'? We do not know if Nazarius had invented this tale regarding Constantine's father or whether it really does relate to Constantius!
There is then a lack of clarity regarding this 'sign of Christ'. What seems to have been important for Constantine was the basic idea that the supreme solar diety had bestowed a powerful saving sign upon the ruler. So if Lactantius reported that Constantine's heavenly sign was a staurogram, what was Eusebius referring to?
Eusebius and his account of the Vision of Constantine
These are the words of Eusebius reporting this 'vision':
"How, while he was praying, God sent him a Vision of a Cross of Light in the Heavens at Mid-day, with an Inscription admonishing him to conquer by that.
Accordingly he called on him with earnest prayer and supplications that he would reveal to him who he was, and stretch forth his right hand to help him in his present difficulties. And while he was thus praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvelous sign appeared to him from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person. But since the victorious emperor himself long afterwards declared it to the writer of this history, when he was honored with his acquaintance and society, and confirmed his statement by an oath, who could hesitate to accredit the relation, especially since the testimony of after-time has established its truth? He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, Conquer by this. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle.
How the Christ of God appeared to him in his Sleep, and commanded him to use in his Wars a Standard made in the Form of the Cross.
He said, moreover, that he doubted within himself what the import of this apparition could be. And while he continued to ponder and reason on its meaning, night suddenly came on; then in his sleep the Christ of God appeared to him with the same sign which he had seen in the heavens, and commanded him to make a likeness of that sign which he had seen in the heavens, and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies.
The Making of the Standard of the Cross.
At dawn of day he arose, and communicated the marvel to his friends: and then, calling together the workers in gold and precious stones, he sat in the midst of them, and described to them the figure of the sign he had seen, bidding them represent it in gold and precious stones. And this representation I myself have had an opportunity of seeing.
Description of the Standard of the Cross, which the Romans now call the Labarum.
Now it was made in the following manner. A long spear, overlaid with gold, formed the figure of the cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it. On the top of the whole was fixed a wreath of gold and precious stones; and within this, the symbol of the Saviour’s name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P being intersected by X in its centre and these letters the emperor was in the habit of wearing on his helmet at a later period. From the cross-bar of the spear was suspended a cloth, a royal piece, covered with a profuse embroidery of most brilliant precious stones; and which, being also richly interlaced with gold, presented an indescribable degree of beauty to the beholder. This banner was of a square form, and the upright staff, whose lower section was of great length, of the pious emperor and his children on its upper part, beneath the trophy of the cross, and immediately above the embroidered banner. The emperor constantly made use of this sign of salvation as a safeguard against every adverse and hostile power, and commanded that others similar to it should be carried at the head of all his armies" [my emphasis].
And here is the account by Lactantius:
"At length Constantine, with steady courage and a mind prepared for every event, led his whole forces to the neighbourhood of Rome, and encamped them opposite to the Milvian bridge. The anniversary of the reign of Maxentius approached, that is, the sixth of the kalends of November, and the fifth year of his reign was drawing to an end. Constantine was directed in a dream to cause the heavenly sign to be delineated on the shields of his soldiers, and so to proceed to battle. He did as he had been commanded, and he marked on their shields the letter Χ [cross], with a perpendicular line drawn through it and turned round thus at the top, being the cipher of CHRIST. Having this sign, his troops stood to arms. The enemies advanced, but without their emperor, and they crossed the bridge. The armies met, and fought with the utmost exertions of valour, and firmly maintained their ground".
It hardly seems they are referring to the same thing. Lactantius talks of a staurogram (as we have seen above) and a sign painted on the shields of the soldiers in the army. Eusebius is most certainly talking about an artifact fixed to some sort of banner! Eusebius says that Constantine called together those craftsman who crafted in gold and precious stones and then proceeded to tell them to create the Labarum, a new military standard 'in the sign that he had seen'! Did he have crafted in gold and precious stones a type of staurogram, or the letters XP? What did the artifact look like? Do we think Eusebius was describing something he had seen? Had he seen the Labarum? How could he have? In his description Eusebius said that the 'Labarum had portraits of Constantine's sons, as Caesars hanging from the cross bar'. How can that be? These sons were not even born in 312! Eusebius was describing a run of the mill vexillum - and it was the so called 'chi rho' which was the novelty. It was this that turned it into the Labarum.
It would appear that Constantine's chi-rho logo was understood more as a dynastic symbol, a sign for himself and his 'house'! Did it really have anything to do with Christ and Christianity, only except as in a political unifying tool? This singular Labarum was iconic and individual and unique. However, Eusebius also stated that in addition to the singular labarum of Constantine, other similar standards (labara) were issued to the Roman army. In other words, copies!
And what happened to the singular 'real' Labarum of Constantine? A late Byzantine manuscript indicates that a jewelled Labarum standard believed to have been that of Constantine was preserved for centuries, as an object of great veneration, in the imperial treasury at Constantinople. The 'Guidi-Vita'=BHG 364 manuscript of Byzantine origin, with its apparent use of the Chronicle of Theophanes (completed c. 820) suggesting a mid-to late ninth-century date, described the Labarum thus:
"Constantine the Great used this saving sign, that had been revealed from heaven and created in the works of the most skilful gold beaters, which has continued to exist to the present day and is guarded as a great gift in the imperial store rooms"
The Byzantine monk also wrote:
"Constantine, being carried away by divine zeal after his mother's return from Jerusalem, made three great crosses, one for each occasion on which it had appeared to him in time of war, the first in Rome, when he had caused Maxentius to be drowned, the second in Byzantium, the third when he built the bridge over the river Danube in Scythia. Accordingly he made three crosses out of pure bronze, after the pattern of the three visions, and gave them the following altogether sacred names: Jesus, Christus, Conquer! The precious cross called Jesus he adorned by having it dipped in gold and erected it facing east over the vault, in the place where the forum is now, displaying to all the warmth both of his faith and the reverence he felt because through its power he had overthrown the arrogance of the Greeks. The cross called Christus, holy and to be revered by all, he fixed on top of a pillar of Roman marble in the Philadelphium, and it still stands today in the same place. The other life-giving cross, teeming with miracles and named by the emperor Constantine the Great 'Victory', was renamed 'Invincible' by the most faithful and Christloving emperor Heraclius, and from that day to this has been called the 'Life-Giving, Precious Cross of Our Lord, Holy Invincible' by all the faithful who bear the name of Christ, since the power of Christ is also invincible; this cross Constantine the Great suspended upon the top of a very high column of composite marble which he set up in the bread market, an altogether delightful location. And to this day Christ our God, who was nailed to the precious Cross of lifegiving wood, displays to us in his precious and holy cross, Sacred Invincible, many miracles by getting rid of all kinds of illness, relief for those suffering from shivering and ague and both health and recovery of sight for those with ophthalmia and cataracts".
(The bizarre mixing of all these different crosses and the copies made and displayed in Byzantium will be discussed in Part Two of this article). If we cannot really comprehend what is happening here, perhaps we should go back to the earliest report of Constantine seeing a vision of a God? Most scholars believe that the most important vision was the one seen in 'the most beautiful Temple in the world' so perhaps it is here we should look for a proverbial sign ourselves?
It is doubtful that Constantine did have the famous vision before the battle of the Milvian Bridge (312 CE). The sources for the vision, as we have seen above, come from two Christian panegyrists - Lactantius and Eusebius. Eusebius is most likely to have written his account in "The Life of Constantine" circa 340 whereas Lactantius's account was probably written 318-320. And they contradict each other. In Lactantius's account, as we have seen, Constantine has a dream the night before the battle, instructing him to inscribe the 'mark of Christ' symbol on the shields of his soldiers. Eusebius has Constantine see a vision in the sky with the words (roughly) "In hoc signo vinces". However, both ignore a previous (pagan) vision of Constantine which we know about from a panegyric of 310. This is the vision that took place in Gaul.
In that account, on the way to besiege Massilia (Marseille), Constantine and his army stopped at Grand in Gallia (Gaul) where he enters a temple of the Celtic Apollo. In that temple he has a vision, seeing the great God Apollo next to Victory. In the anonymous pangyric of 310AD of the emperor, it reports that, "having turned off from the road to visit ‘the most beautiful temple in the world’, Constantine was greeted by a remarkable sight: ‘For you saw, I believe, Constantine, your Apollo, accompanied by Victory, offering you laurel crowns, which each brought an omen of thirty years [of life or rule]’. The orator continues: 'And why do i say 'I believe'? You saw and recognised yourself in the likeness of him whom the divine songs of the bards had prophesied that rule over the world was due!'
What can such a claim mean? Apollo was a solar deity, easily identified with the war god Sol Invictus ...there are coins which show the God with his distinctive solar flares ... placing a laurel crown on Constantine's head. We know that after his victory at Milvian Bridge, another orator (in 313AD) had spoke of 'a divine mind' that had revealed itself to Constantine, with a 'divine power' and a 'divine prompting'. Was this related to the vision in Gaul also, at the most 'beautiful Temple in the world'? These accounts of the orators do not talk of a 'vision of a cross in the sky' and neither for that matter does Lactantius in his later account.
This 'vision' in Gaul occurs after a particularly testy episode in Constantine's rule. It was regarding his relationship with emperor Maximian. Maximian was Roman Emperor from 286 to 305. He shared the latter title with his co-emperor and superior, Diocletian, whose political brain complemented Maximian's military brawn. Maximian established his residence at Trier but spent most of his time on campaign. In the late summer of 285, he suppressed rebels in Gaul known as the Bagaudae. From 285 to 288, he fought against Germanic tribes along the Rhine frontier and together with Diocletian, he launched a scorched earth campaign deep into Alamannic territory in 288, temporarily relieving the Rhine provinces from the threat of Germanic invasion.
The man Maximian appointed to police the Channel shores, Carausius, rebelled in 286, causing the secession of Britain and northwestern Gaul. Maximian failed to oust Carausius, and his invasion fleet was destroyed by storms in 289 or 290. Maximian's subordinate, Constantius, the father of the later Emperor Constantine, campaigned against Carausius' successor .... The rebel leader was ousted in 296, and Maximian moved south to combat piracy near Hispania. When these campaigns concluded in 298, he departed for Italy, where he lived in comfort until 305. At Diocletian's behest, Maximian abdicated on May 1, 305, gave the Augustan office to
Constantius, and retired to southern Italy.
In late 306 Maximian took the title of Augustus again and aided his son Maxentius' rebellion in Italy. In April 307, he attempted to depose his son, but failed and fled to the court of Constantius' successor, Constantine (who was both Maximian's step-grandson and also his son-in-law) in Trier. At the Council of Carnuntum in November 308, Diocletian and his
successor, Galerius, forced Maximian to renounce his imperial claim again. In early 310, Maximian attempted to seize Constantine's title while the emperor was on campaign on the Rhine. Few supported him, and he was captured by Constantine in Marseille. Maximian committed suicide in the summer of 310 on Constantine's orders. During Constantine's war with Maxentius, Maximian's image was purged from all public places. However, after Constantine ousted and killed Maxentius, Maximian's image was rehabilitated, and he was deified.
"It was in 310AD that a dispossessed and power-hungry Maximian rebelled against Constantine while Constantine was away campaigning against the Franks. Maximian had been sent south to Arles with a contingent of Constantine's army, in preparation for any attacks by Maxentius in southern Gaul. He announced that Constantine was dead, and took up the imperial purple. In spite of a large donative pledge to any who would support him as emperor, most of Constantine's army remained loyal to their emperor, and Maximian was soon compelled to leave. Constantine soon heard of the rebellion, abandoned his campaign against the Franks, and marched his army up the Rhine. At Cabillunum he moved his troops onto waiting boats to row down the slow waters of the Saône to the quicker waters of the Rhone. He disembarked at Lyon. Maximian fled to Massilia, a town better able to withstand a long siege than Arles. It made little difference, however, as loyal citizens opened the rear gates to Constantine. Maximian was captured and reproved for his crimes. Constantine granted some clemency, but strongly encouraged his suicide. In July 310, Maximian hanged himself.
In spite of the earlier rupture in their relations, Maxentius was eager to present himself as his father's devoted son after his death. He began minting coins with his father's deified image, proclaiming his desire to avenge Maximian's death. Constantine initially presented the suicide as an unfortunate family tragedy. By 311, however, he was spreading another version. According to this, after Constantine had pardoned him, Maximian planned to murder Constantine in his sleep. Fausta learned of the plot and warned Constantine, who put a eunuch in his own place in bed. Maximian was apprehended when he killed the eunuch and was offered suicide, which he accepted. Along with using propaganda, Constantine instituted a damnatio memoriae on Maximian, destroying all inscriptions referring to him and eliminating any public work bearing his image.
The death of Maximian required a shift in Constantine's public image. He could no longer rely on his connection to the elder emperor Maximian, and needed a new source of legitimacy. In a
speech delivered in Gaul on 25 July 310, the anonymous orator reveals a previously unknown dynastic connection to Claudius II, a third-century emperor famed for defeating the Goths and restoring order to the empire. Breaking away from tetrarchic models, the speech emphasizes Constantine's ancestral prerogative to rule, rather than principles of imperial equality. The new ideology expressed in the speech made Galerius and Maximian irrelevant to Constantine's right to rule. Indeed, the orator emphasizes ancestry to the exclusion of all other factors: "No chance agreement of men, nor some unexpected consequence of favor, made you emperor," the orator declares to Constantine." [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_the_Great]
"The oration also moves away from the religious ideology of the Tetrarchy, with its focus on twin dynasties of Jupiter and Hercules. Instead, the orator proclaims that Constantine experienced a divine vision of Apollo and Victory granting him laurel wreaths of health and a long reign. In the likeness of Apollo Constantine recognized himself as the saving figure to whom would be granted "rule of the whole world", as the poet Virgil had once foretold. The oration's religious shift is paralleled by a similar shift in Constantine's coinage. In his early reign, the coinage of Constantine advertised Mars as his patron. From 310 on, Mars was replaced by Sol Invictus, a god conventionally identified with Apollo. There is little reason to believe that either the dynastic connection or the divine vision are anything other than fiction, but their proclamation strengthened Constantine's claims to legitimacy and increased his popularity among the citizens of Gaul." [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_the_Great]
So, Constantine was actively looking for a new way to legitimise himself. And he did it through this vision in Gaul. Lombard-Jordan shows alot of interest in Constantine's 'breaking off' of his itinerary to visit this Temple, going as far as to suggest that this was a deliberate act of Constantine for a very specific reason [this will be looked at in depth in future articles]. Lombard-Jordan even suggests that Constantine 'knew' that the God Apollo was going to put in an appearance at the allotted time when he arrived at the Temple. It is reported that Constantine showed up on the summer solstice (which may have some obscure bearing on what Chérisey had said and which i quoted above).
Eusebius may be of interest to us here. For he wrote:
"....the thought occurred to him [Constantine], that of the many emperors who had preceded him, those who had rested their hopes in a multitude of gods, and served them sacrifices and offerings .....had in the first place been deceived by flattering predictions and oracles which promised them prosperity and had met with an unhappy end, while not one of their gods stood by them or warned them .....his father [Constantine's father, Constantius] had pursued an entirely opposite course, who had condemned their error and honoured the one Supreme God during his whole life .....Constantine decided that his father's God would be the only one for him'.
Did Constantine's political spark and idea come from his father? The unity of the Roman Empire under one Supreme God, loosely referred to so as to be totally inclusive to all the citizens in the Empire, was the same Supreme God his father honoured? Constantine's father was Constantius Chlorus, who himself was Roman Emperor from 293 to 306. He was the founder of the Constantinian dynasty. His sudden death sparked the collapse of the tetrarchic system of government inaugurated by the Emperor Diocletian. Chlorus was born in Dardania, and the Historia Augusta claimed Constantius was the son of Eutropius, a noble from northern Dardania, in the province of Moesia Superior, and Claudia, a niece of the emperors Claudius II and Quintillus. Modern historians suspect this maternal connection to be a genealogical fabrication created by his son Constantine I, and that his family were of humble origins. His father, however, might have been the brother of Eutropia, wife of Maximian. It was, essentially, the retirement in 305 of Diocletian which set in effect the train of events that led to the famous vision of Constantine!
This may all be nearer the truth but we could ask why the vision in Gaul and the visit to the temple of Apollo would give him the legitimacy he was seeking? It seems it was the divine vision itself which legitimised him - in fact, the author of the 310 pangyric seems to suggest that Constantine had become a Messiah like figure, ratified by the poet Virgil as foretold in the Fourth Eclogue poem!
Virgil was a famous "classical Roman poet who lived in the midst of the civil strife that eventually ended the Roman Republic. Julius Caesar was killed in 44 B.C. and two years later, his assassins were defeated by Mark Antony and Octavian (Augustus). It was within this turbulent Roman world that the Fourth Eclogue was composed. The poem is dated at 40 B.C., for it is addressed to Gaius Asinius Pollio who was a soldier, statesman, poet and distinguished member of the Caesarian party. The Eclogue anticipates the birth of a child during Pollio’s consulship. In the poem Virgil makes several statements about a child destined to bring a Golden Age and free the world from fear. Early Christian scholars (such as Saint Augustine) read this poem and concluded that this child that Virgil spoke of had to be the Messiah: Jesus Christ. Here is the relevant passage:
"Now the last age by Cumaes Sibyl sung
Has come and gone, and the majestic roll
Of circling centuries begins anew:
Justice returns, returns old Saturns reign,
With a new breed of men sent down from heaven.
Only do thou, at the boys birth in whom
The iron shall cease, the golden age arise?
Under thy guidance, whatso tracks remain
Of our old wickedness, once done away
Shall free the earth from never-ceasing fear.
He shall receive the life of gods, and see
Heroes with gods commingling, and himself
Be seen of them, and with his fathers worth
Reign over a world at peace?"
This passage talks about the birth of a boy who will bring a Golden Age to the world. One in which wickedness will be taken away and the earth will be freed from fear. This unnamed child will also receive the life of gods and reign over a world at peace? These ideas are also to be found in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. The Book of Isaiah was written circa 700 BC by the Jewish prophet of the same name. Virgil’s other writings parallel the Jewish expectation of a messiah, “a national hero and ruler, divinely inspired, and sent to deliver not his own nation only, but mankind, raising them to a new and ethically higher existence”. Many have asked if Virgil was influenced by Jewish ideas. Garrod entertains the possibility that Pollio himself had Jewish relatives and was therefore familiar with Jewish thought. If this is so, Garrod surmises, it makes sense that Virgil, writing a poem in honor of Pollio, might embody in his poetry the thought and sentiment of Hebrew poetry. Messianic expectation, however, may not have been merely a Jewish phenomenon. The ancient Greeks were highly influenced by Hesiod and several traditions that had been built upon his foundation. One of these traditions was that of a past Golden Age which existed long before the present Age of Iron. The world had gradually digressed from Gold to a race of Silver and then of Bronze. Next was the race of Heroes and after that came the Iron Age of crime, misery and oppression."
This 'messianic hope' of a redeemer figure suggested 'a new breed of men sent down from heaven' who would 'Under thy guidance' of the Gods would 'free the earth from never-ceasing fear.' This new leader would 'receive the life of gods, and see ..... with gods commingling, and himself be seen of them, and with his fathers worth, Reign over a world at peace?". Emperor Constantine may have seen himself in this manner and with his advisors he built up a new legitimacy to rule. Another piece of evidence which suggests the existence of messianic hope in the Graeco-Roman world are the messianic inscriptions at Priene, a city in Asia Minor. Paul Carus cites these inscriptions in his book, Virgil’s Prophecy on the Savior’s Birth. These proclaim the introduction of the Julian calendar reform which ordained that the birthday of Augustus (Sept. 23) should be celebrated as a New Year Festival. The inscription depicts Augustus as one sent by Providence (πρόνοια) as a Savior (Σωτήρ), “who should stop all war and ordain all things.” Further, the inscription claims this Caesar as the fulfillment of the prophecies and states that “the birthday of this God” has brought about the beginning of the gospel (εὐαγέλλιον). These inscriptions are not the only writings which bear witness to messianic ideas. Carus gives several examples of similar inscriptions found in other cities of Asia Minor.
It was Emperor Constantine the Great who first attempted to interpret the poem of Virgil christocentrically. Eusebius, Constantine’s biographer, writes that the Emperor delivered an exposition of Virgil’s Eclogue around 312 or 313 A.D. in a speech entitled, Speech to the Assembly of the Saints (Conway 22-23, Bourne 390). [What is interesting is that Constantine delivered this speech in 312 or 313AD, perhaps months before the Battle of Milvian Bridge, where Constantine was supposed to have seen the 'saving sign of Christ'. This would mean that the visit to the Temple of Apollo by Constantine in 310, the idea of seeing a God [which must have been linked to Christ in some way] and becoming a 'Saviour' himself, as foretold and legitimised by Virgil, was manipulated by Constantine and his advisors to suggest that he indeed was a Saviour of the Roman Empire! He also became a kind of Christ and Constantine combined previous ideas of a Saviour with 'rulership' and the Christians' God of "Jesus" in his own mind with a view to uniting his Empire. These ideas must have begun to take shape long before the famous vision at the Milvian Bridge!] Several lines were omitted from the Eclogue, [by Constantine] mainly because of the reference to Pollio. Constantine began by quoting from a “Sibylline” oracle upon which he supposed Virgil’s work to be based (in fact, parts of this oracle were of Christian date). Constantine declared that Virgil knew he was writing of Christ, yet hid the prophecy in allegory in order to escape persecution (Conway 23, Royds 2, 79). He identified Virgo as the Virgin Mary, the lions as the persecutors of the church, and the serpent as the same one that first tempted Eve. Royds also thinks this is a sloppy way of handling prophecy, for Constantine failed to take into account the historical circumstances surrounding Virgil’s writing and jumped immediately to a christocentric interpretation. This method, Royds opines, is “after the manner of those who turn Sennacherib into the German Emperor”.
We can go into this in a little more depth. Constantine was the first person to be impressed with the prophetic character of the poem of Virgil! The very first! He made a conscious decision, as Eusebius wrote, to follow his father in worshiping one Supreme God. By this decision he saw a way to unify the Empire, pagan and Christian, when he became undisputed Emperor in 312 after the decisive battle at Milvian Bridge. This was a shrewd political move. Somewhere between 310 and 312AD Constantine had a 'vision' of a 'cross' which he was able to utilise into a powerful talisman that united his army and later the populace. He used this talisman as some kind of dynastic symbol, the chi-rho being the item that turned the run of the mill vexillum into the Labarum. But how can two letters carry such import? And why?
We could suppose that Eusebius might be wrong? That when Constantine 'call[ed] together the workers in gold and precious stones, he sat in the midst of them, and described to them the figure of the sign he had seen, bidding them represent it in gold and precious stones. And this representation I myself have had an opportunity of seeing' - Eusebius might have been lying? We already suspect that Eusebius did not see the 'real' Labarum. Why? Because he describes images of Constantine's son's hanging from the cross bar of the Labarum - when those son's hadn't even been born! If Eusebius has not seen this 'gold object with precious stones' then perhaps it was something entirely different than that cooked up in the mind of Eusebius?
Whatever is going on Constantine bolstered all this by referring to Virgil. As the orator had said in 310AD, at the Temple in Gaul, 'You saw and recognised yourself in the likeness of him whom the divine songs of the bards had prophesied that rule over the world was due!' The most famous bard at the time was indeed Virgil. Constantine made use of the prophetic character in Virgil's Fourth Eclogue in an address which he delivered to the "Assembly of Saints" as we mentioned above - an address which is appended to Eusebius' Life of Constantine.
"It is given in Greek, although it was really delivered in Latin and translated into Greek by interpreters (Euseb. Vita Const. iv. 32). The exact date cannot be determined; but it was probably not far from 312 or 313, the time of the official recognition of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire. [But as we have seen, the view was already being hinted at in the 310 pangyric! This means that the 'vision in Gaul' was the important vision! On to this vision, as the scholars have suggested - Constantine and his advisors adapted the 'sign of Christ' into a Labarum at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge!] A few lines of the eclogue were omitted-namely, 2, 3, ii1, and I2-because of their reference to Pollio; the last part of 1. io, because Apollo is mentioned; and 11. 46 and 47, because of their reference to the Fates. In chap. xviii of his address Constantine quotes an oracle of the Erythraean Sibyl which contains the acrostic, "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour, Cross," [a kind of chrisme!] Its mentioned in a poem which Cicero translated into Latin. In chap. xix he [Constantine] adds that Virgil seems to refer to this same oracle when he says, "A multitude of new men has appeared," and "Sicilian Muses, let us sing a great oracle" (1. i of the eclogue), and again, "The words of the Cumaean prophecy have come to fulfilment" (1. 4 of the eclogue). Constantine then proceeds to quote and interpret practically the entire eclogue. His quotations are for the most part accurate. L. 6, "I am redit et virgo redeunt Saturnia regna," is given in the Greek ("The Virgin returns bringing the beloved king"). This change of the text Conway thinks was not a deliberate falsification (Virgil's Messianic Eclogue, p. 23, note). He points to Aen. viii. 319-2I, where the coming of Saturn to reign on earth is closely connected with the establishment of justice; so that one might say that Justice brought Saturn (or the king) with her. Whether the change was deliberate or not, it served the purpose of the imperial commentator. Constantine's interpretation is easy to follow. The virgo is, of course, the Virgin Mary; she brings the king, who is Christ. The great lions of 1. 22 are the persecutors of Christ, the serpent in 1. 24 is the serpent of evil, and the Assyrian flower which is to spring up on all sides is Assyrian, because this race was a leader in the faith of Christ. L. 30, Constantine thinks, meant probably that those who had borne hardships for the sake of God would perceive that the fruit of their endurance was sweet. In 11. 34-36, "There shall be another Argo and another Achilles shall go against Troy," etc., he thought that Virgil used poetic license, and that by Troy he meant the world; Christ was to wage war against the forces of evil. In regard to the lines describing the Golden Age (37-59), he says that someone who was less wise might have thought that these things were said about the birth of a human child. But what reason was there that at such a time the earth should not be plowed or that seed should not be sown or that the vine should not need the knife ? Moreover, joy on the part of all things marks the coming of God, not the birth of any mortal. The wish for a longer life in 1. 53 he interprets as a prayer, and asks why one should seek for life and safety from a man, and not from God. His rendering of 1. 62 is equivalent to "Mortal parents have not smiled upon you," which could be easily obtained out of the Latin, if the sentence is ended with the line. The child had no parents
in the usual sense; God being without body could not be thought of as smiling.
In spite of a few changes of the text and a few interpretations which seem too fanciful, even
granting the general assumption of the prophetic character of the poem, it is rather remarkable how well Virgil's words fit Constantine's thought. Constantine believes that Virgil expressed himself by means of an allegory so that his meaning would be obscure and no one could accuse him of infidelity to the belief of the Romans. Lactantius, of the same age as Constantine, also believed that the eclogue referred to Christ; but he applied the prophecy to the coming of Christ at the millennium. In his Divinae institutiones vii, chap. 24, he quotes first 11. 38-41, and then continuously 11. 28-30, 42-45, and 21-22, as if they came in this order. These words he says the poet spoke in accordance with the prophecies of the Cumaean Sibyl. The exact date of the composition of Lactantius' Divinae institutiones is a matter of dispute; it may even be that he expressed a belief in the prophetic character of the eclogue before Constantine did!" [ Ella Bourne, “The Messianic Prophecy in Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue,’ The Classical Journal, vol. 11, p. 390 [April 1916]].
The 310 orator of the panegyric to Constantine continues - 'In the likeness of Apollo Constantine recognised himself ...'. And why Apollo? As we can see below the attributes given to Apollo could easily be grafted on to Jesus - where Jesus was described in the Gospel of John as 'The Light of the World':
"Apollo was one of the most important Gods in ancient Greek and Roman religion, as well as their mythologies. Apollo has been variously recognized as a god of light and the sun, truth and prophecy, healing, plague, music, poetry, and more. As the patron of Delphi (Pythian Apollo), Apollo was an oracular god—the prophetic deity of the Delphic Oracle. As sun-god and god of light, Apollo was also known by the epithets Aegletes ("light of the sun"), Helius (literally "sun"), Phanaeus (literally "giving or bringing light"), and Lyceus ( "light"). Apollo's role as a healer, his appellations included Acesius ( "healing"), Acestor ( literally "healer"), Paean ( "to touch"), and Iatrus (literally "physician"). Apollo was worshipped throughout the Roman Empire. In the traditionally Celtic lands he was most often seen as a healing and sun god. He was often equated with Celtic gods of similar character - for example: Apollo Belenus ('bright' or 'brilliant'). This epithet was given to Apollo in parts of Gaul, Northern Italy and Noricum (part of modern Austria). Apollo Belenus was a healing and sun god. Apollo Grannus. Grannus was a healing spring god, later equated with Apollo. Apollo Vindonnus ('clear light'). Apollo Vindonnus had a temple at Essarois, near Châtillon-sur-Seine in Burgundy. He was a god of healing, especially of the eyes."
As it was a Celtic temple of Apollo that Constantine visited what do we know about Apollo in Gaul?
"The Celtic Apollo is referred to by classical writers. Diodorus speaks of his circular temple in an island of the Hyperboreans, adorned with votive offerings. The kings of the city where the temple stood, and its overseers, were called "Boreads," and every nineteenth year the god appeared dancing in the sky at the spring equinox.1 The identifications of the temple with Stonehenge and of the Boreads with the Bards are quite hypothetical. Apollonius says that the Celts regarded the waters of Eridanus as due to the tears of Apollo--probably a native myth attributing the creation of springs and rivers to the tears of a god, equated by the Greeks with Apollo.
The Celtic sun-god, as has been seen, was a god of healing springs. Cæsar says that the Celtic Jupiter governed heaven. A god who carries a wheel, probably a sun-god, and another, a god of thunder, called Taranis, seems to have been equated with Jupiter. The sun-god with the wheel was not equated with Apollo, who seems to have represented Celtic sun-gods only in so far as they were also gods of healing. In some cases the god with the wheel carries also a thunderbolt, and on some altars, dedicated to Jupiter, both a wheel and a thunderbolt are figured. Many races have symbolised the sun as a circle or wheel, and an old Roman god, Summanus, probably a sun-god, later assimilated to Jupiter, had as his emblem a wheel. The Celts had the same symbolism, and used the wheel symbol as an amulet, while at the midsummer festivals blazing wheels, symbolising the sun, were rolled down a slope. Possibly the god carries a thunderbolt because the Celts, like other races, believed that lightning was a spark from the sun.
Three divinities have claims to be the god whom Cæsar calls Dispater--a god with a hammer, a crouching god called Cernunnos, and a god called Esus or Silvanus. Primitive men, whose only weapon and tool was a stone axe or hammer, must have regarded it as a symbol of force, then of supernatural force, hence of divinity. It is represented on remains of the Stone Age, and the axe was a divine symbol to the Mycenæans, a hieroglyph of Neter to the Egyptians, and a worshipful object to Polynesians and Chaldeans. The cult of axe or hammer may have been widespread, and to the Celts, as to many other peoples, it was a divine symbol. Thus it does not necessarily denote a thunderbolt, but rather power and might, and possibly, as the tool which shaped things, creative might. The Celts made ex voto hammers of lead, or used axe-heads as amulets, or figured them on altars and coins, and they also placed the hammer in the hand of a god.
The god with the hammer is a gracious bearded figure, clad in Gaulish dress, and he carries also a cup. His plastic type is derived from that of the Alexandrian Serapis, ruler of the underworld, and that of Hades-Pluto. 1 His emblems, especially that of the hammer, are also those of the Pluto of the Etruscans, with whom the Celts had been in contact. He is thus a Celtic Dispater, an underworld god, possibly at one time an Earth-god and certainly a god of fertility, and ancestor of the Celtic folk. In some cases, like Serapis, he carries a modius on his head, and this, like the cup, is an emblem of chthonian gods, and a symbol of the fertility of the soil. The god being benevolent, his hammer, like the tool with which man forms so many things, could only be a symbol of creative force. As an ancestor of the Celts, the god is naturally represented in Celtic dress. In one bas-relief he is called Sucellos, and has a consort, Nantosvelta. Various meanings have been assigned to "Sucellos," but it probably denotes the god's power of striking with the hammer. M. D'Arbois hence regards him as a god of blight and death, like Balor. But though this Celtic Dispater was a god of the dead who lived on in the under-world, he was not necessarily a destructive god. The underworld god was the god from whom or from whose kingdom men came forth, and he was also a god of fertility". [http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/rac/rac06.htm].
1 [ "The kings of the city where the temple stood, and its overseers, were called "Boreads," and every nineteenth year the god appeared dancing in the sky at the spring equinox". This has echoes of the visit of Constantine to a Temple of Apollo at a specific time (?the summer solstice?) where the God puts in an appearance!]
In Apollo then - Constantine sees himself on a mission to unite the Empire and with the presence of Victory who gives him three laurel crowns, each with a holy symbol. He sees himself now as a saving figure, a Messiah to inauguarate a new Golden Age and uses the poem of Virgil to legitimise himself. And the way he uses the Virgil poem is to use Christian iconography to legitimise himself. He then uses a vision in Gaul to unite his Roman legions and Christian followers by referring to and then creating the iconic and unique Labarum! This Labarum is described certainly as having magical powers and talismanic effects. While there's little description of the 'holy symbols' that accompanied the three laurel crowns from Victory it seems likely that they consisted of the Gallic Cross (now known as St. Andrew's Cross) and variations of a vertical bar running through them. The laurel crowns promised a reign of thirty years and the symbols may have been similar to an "i", a T", and an "l" with a sharp bend at the top. These can all be seen on coins issued during Constantine's reign. The last has been described by some researchers as the "hasta capite circiumflexo" or "spear bent at the top", a possible military symbol. This sounds very similar to the stauragram and it is then a short step from this to the "P" in the Chi Rho, and such a symbol would have been meaningful to the Gallic legions Constantine led and Christians alike. These similarities may have indicated to Constantine that it was no co-incidence but 'divinely ordained'.
The most sensible conclusion of all this might indeed be that Constantine went to the Temple in Gaul for a specific reason where he saw God, a God that he interpreted as the one Supreme God, the same God of his father. Orators promulgated the prophetic import of this visit to the Temple, where the God perhaps gave him something. That something was later interpreted in many ways [different shaped crosses, a staurogram, a tau etc which was later associated with Christ in a vision] but whatever it was it was unique to Constantine as the Emperor. It is quite clear in historical texts that this Labarum was a source of wonder, that it was talismanic and that it filled those who saw it with awe. So, do we opt for Constantine being given an artifact, or that he later made it, as Eusebius claims?
In The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine the following is written:
‘JULY 310 - While Constantine was returning to Trier after having defeated Maximian, he had turned off the main road to visit a Temple of Apollo, probably at Grand, Vosges. There he claimed to have seen, to his amazement, not just gods’ Temple, but the god himself. “For you saw, I believe, O Constantine, your Apollo, accompanied by Victory, offering you laurel wreaths, each one of which carries a portent of thirty years. For this is the number of human ages which are owed to you without fail - beyond the old age of a Nestor. And, now why do I say ‘I believe?’ - you saw and recognised yourself in the likness of him to whom the divine songs of the bards had prophesied that rule over the whole world was due’.
The panegyrists description has long been taken to relate to an image commonly portrayed on an imperial ‘vota’ coin that displays a series of X’s inside a circular laurel wreath, with each X representing a decade (X years) of imperial rule. Constantine must have seen something that looked like this: XXX, or perhaps ☼ in the heavens. The fact that the vision occurred near the Temple of Apollo, and had been in braod daylight was interpreted to mean that it had been sent by the god of the Sun. Not surprisingly, from 310 onwards, Constantine began trumpeting the idea that he had a special connection to Apollo, or an even popular sun god, Sol Invictus ..... What precisely Constantine saw that day in 310 remains a matter of dispute ... Suffice to say that Constantine believed he had seen a divine vision, that, at this time, he believed, had come from the god of the Sun’.
coins of Constantine showing the three XXX in a laurel wreath
This so called Gallic Cross is interesting because this 'Cross' is also associated with the Apostle Andrew, brother of St Peter and heavenly visions. In the year 832, Pictish King Óengus II, before leading his armies into battle against the larger force of the Angles, prayed that victory may be his and vowed that should he prevail, St. Andrew would become the patron saint of Scotland. In the midst of the battle, Óengus looked up to see the clouds forming the saltire upon which St. Andrew was crucified against the blue sky. Victorious, he remembered his promise and adopted St. Andrew as patron saint of Scotland. Another heavenly portent in the vein of Constantine's vision?
The St. Andrew's cross, Crux decussata, is the same as the Greek cross, but turned to stand on two legs. The cross is a distinctive shape because the Apostle Andrew asked that he not be crucified on a cross of the same shape as that on which Jesus Christ was executed. The Gallic Cross essentially has Celtic roots, roots that reflected the faith in Saint Andrew for nearly one thousand years in a Celtic Church that was independent and fully Orthodox. Celtic Christians had far less in common with Protestant or Roman Catholic circles than it did with the spiritual life of Greek monasteries in Byzantium. This shouldn't surprise us: the Greeks and the Celts had the same faith and liturgical life. Around 400 A.D., the Celtic Church was enough to attract the attention of Saint Jerome, who noted that the Celts were in communion with Rome, Gaul, and Africa - it may suggest that the Temple of Apollo, although pagan, easily assimilated a Cross that could be used by other Gauls and Christians at the time of Constantine [in Gaul] who were themselves essentially Celtic.
In all this discussion, we are still no nearer to knowing what the Labarum is or was. We still have no clear sign of what Constantine saw! Doesnt this appear strange for something so momentous in our history? Did anyone ever really see anything, whether vision or Labarum? All we have is the coins of Constantine which depict him with the ☧.
In Part Two we will look at exactly what might have happened at the Temple of Apollo and why Constantine felt attending here would legitimise him. This will take us into the realms of divine favour and types of Saviours to bring peace and proseprity to the world. We will also delve more deeply into the Lombard-Jordan thesis - that of the Crista and the Labarum and how this links to the Temple at Apollo and the Merovingians.
Finally we will try to understand if there is a connection being forged by Chérisey and why, in relation to Bérenger Saunière.
1) Some have seen this Tau Cross as a pre-christian symbol of a Messianic claimant. Some even ask if King Herod was a Messianic claimant. Simcha Jacobovici is in agreement when he writes on his website [http://www.simchajtv.com/] about the work of David Wray viz:
"Everyone agrees that at some point the staurogram became an early symbol of Christianity. It combines the Greek letter “Tau”, which is shaped like a “T” and the Greek letter “Rho”, which is shaped like a “P”. Put them together and you've got an image that came to mean Jesus on the cross. But, recently, Professor Larry Hurtado wrote an article for Biblical Archaeology Review which pointed out pre-Christian uses of the staurogram e.g., on a coin that King Herod used in the year 37 BCE i.e., some 60 years before Jesus’ crucifixion. So the question is; was the staurogram a non-messianic symbol that Christians turned into a messianic symbol? Or was the staurogram a messianic symbol before Jesus, and Christians merely adapted it for their messiah?
Put simply, it seems that King Herod claimed to be the messiah or “Christ” before Jesus was born and, according to the 1st century historian Josephus, King Herod’s grandson, Herod Agrippa, was hailed as a “messiah” after Jesus was crucified. It’s logical, therefore, to assume that King Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, also thought of himself as a messiah or “Christ”. This would go a long way to explain why Antipas turned Jesus over to the Romans, who sent him to the cross. It seems that the clash between Jesus and Antipas was not one between a revolutionary and the regime. Rather, what the Gospels are describing is a clash between two individuals – both claiming to be messiah.
[David Wray writes] Why was a staurogram (¬ ), a symbol that combines a tau (T) and a rho (P) representing the crucifixion of Jesus, displayed prominently on a coin minted in Samaria under King Herod the Great of Judaea? New Testament scholar, Professor Larry Hurtado, recently wrote an article about staurograms using this coin to exemplify pre-Christian, non-messianic use of the symbol. He said that King Herod used the symbol in 37 B.C.E. to represent the Greek word “trias,” meaning three, indicating the third year of King Herod’s reign. However, numismatists (experts on coins) don’t all agree with Professor Hurtado’s interpretation. You see, he ignored all the other symbols on the coin. On the “heads” side (left) a star rises above a military helmet as though at the end of a scepter. This recalls Balaam’s curse (Numbers 24:17), the original prophecy from the time of Moses about the coming of a messiah, “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.” Palm branches next to the star recall that palm branches, symbols of rejoicing and triumph, were strewn on the path before Jesus on Palm Sunday. No Jew in the first century B.C.E could look at these symbols without thinking of their foretold militaristic messiah. The number three appears on the “tails” side of the coin, but that’s only part of the story. Greek letters circle the edge of the coin saying “of King Herod.” An incense altar in the centre recalls incense burning in the Second Temple. To the left of the burner, the Greek letters L and Γ are a date, literally “year three” of King Herod’s reign. Instead of indicating “three,” the staurogram to the right of the burner actually combines a chi (X) and a rho (P), representing “christos,” the Greek word for “anointed.” In Hebrew, that’s moshiach (messiah)! How could this be possible? In 40 B.C.E., the Parthians and Romans each anointed a “King of the Jews” and fought a war to determine which puppet would rule Judaea. The Parthians anointed Mattathias Antigonos and the Romans anointed Herod. After three years, the Romans won and installed King Herod on his throne. As the first Jewish king to use only Greek on his coins, he combined a chi and rho on his coins to symbolize himself as the rightfully anointed (christos) King of Judaea. King Herod used similar symbols even more explicitly on a coin minted in Jerusalem.
On the “heads” side, Greek letters circle a royal crown and a chi (X) in the center, again saying “of King Herod.” Resembling a Christian cross, the chi stands for “christos.” On the “tails” side, palm branches again flank an incense altar. To Jews, King Herod made symbolic claims that he was their foretold messiah. Is there any historical evidence for interpreting these coins as claims by King Herod that he was the messiah? Yes! A text from the third century C.E. describes a Jewish cult that honored King Herod as their messiah. The cult was founded by Boethus, High Priest of the Second Temple under King Herod. By using a Jewish coin to exemplify the non-messianic use of a staurogram, Professor Hurtado opens a window to pre-Christian Jewish messianism. However, the theory that Christians invented the messianic symbolism of staurograms in approximately 150 C.E. simply doesn’t hold water.
This could all be interesting in relation to Constantine as a unifying emperor being aware of the staurogram significance as a Messianic device and as he claimed to be the claimant 'christ' foretold in the poem by Virgil to legitimise his rule it could all signify something much deeper.
Update 27th September 2013 - an interesting film about the above issues as discussed by Simcha Jacobovici. He says "I think he [Constantine] took Jesus and refashioned him in his own image". To that end there is a fabulous depiction of Jesus as a Roman Emperor [see picture below]. Simcha does refer to Contantine's worship of Apollo but he doesn't talk about the real 'vision' he had at a Druid sanctuary. Some interesting speculations about why the Arch of Constantine is placed where it is - to coincide with a collosal statute of Apollo [see below].
A mosaic in Ravenna Italy showing Jesus as a Roman Emperor
Reconstruction of the statue of Apollo originally behind the Arch of Constantine. Did Constantine build his Arch where he did to suggest he was Apollo ...