Etching by Piranesi
Thirteen years ago today I stood in the middle of the Milvian Bridge in Rome and listened to a tape of my song of the same name, from a music drama about Constantine, I had written originally for a private club as a submission for an outdoor play. The lyrics had been written a few years before, but I didn’t write the music or record it until after the play had been rejected by the final committee, following previous acceptance by the reading committee. When I retire in a few years, I intend to complete this and another play now on the back burner. But these won’t be resubmitted to the club. Instead, I’ll see where else there might be a place for them. More importantly, I plan to complete multi-media presentations on DVD.
Song: THE MILVIAN BRIDGE
By the Cross of Christ I conquer.
~~ I am Caesar ~~ Imperator ~~
No longer ~~ merely One of Four,
But Ruler of the Western World.
With flags unfurled & standards raised,
My legions march to victory:
~~ (O’er the grave?
~~ Who knows?)
With power supreme~~
which grows far greater
than any peasant
The world is weary,
and bodies ... cold;
But Roman might
By the Cross of Christ I conquer.
~~I am Caesar ~~ Imperator ~~
No longer merely One of Four ~~
Soon ruler ~~
Augustus of the World.
Dennis and I had been in
Venice and were in Rome before starting a ten day Mediterranean cruise ending up in on Election Day 2000. (That was the only time I have voted by absentee ballot. I’ve never missed an election; but I like to vote in person.) Istanbul
This was my second time on the Ponte Milvio. The first was in 1997 after dinner on a Sunday night with the choir from St. Dominic’s in
San Francisco on a concert tour in . We had just spent a frustrating day in Rome with little opportunity to go sight seeing on our own; so after dinner near the Vatican, I walked to the Victor Emmanuel monument at the Piazza Venezia and from there strode a power-walk about five kilometers up the Via del Corso in a straight line through Via le Tiziano, Via Flaminia to the Milvian Bridge and arrived just before midnight. (I returned to our hotel in the outer hills by taxi.) Italy
(Ninety years ago today Benito Mussolini entered
with his Black Shirts to seize power for the Fascist regime.) Rome
One-thousand-seven-hundred-one years ago today in the year 312 C.E., Constantine defeated the Emperor Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (then at the northern most boundary of the city) and became sole ruler in the western half of the Roman Empire.
What initially interested me in the story of
was the sheer scope of the geography. Even today it would be staggering for a single individual to affect events in places diverse as Constantine York, Rome, and Istanbul, let alone found one of them (now the largest city in Europe). Constantine —the Great— born in Dalmatia, accomplished all that. , the play, is based on actual history, legend, and a good bit of fiction. The major character is the hero Constantine. He is the real figure who changed the course of history. In the beginning we hear about his exploits second hand from other people when he became one of four tetrarchs after his father’s death in CONSTANTINE . But at the York, England Battle of the , he demonstrates his valor, his stubbornness, his ingenuity, and his ability to exploit the situation. Milvian Bridge
After seeing angled rays of the sun through clouds the day before the battle, followed by a vision of the cross in a dream later that night, and then adopting the symbol of the Chi-Rho (the first two Greek letters of the word for Christ) to be painted on his soldiers’ shields, Constantine was able to win a victory against great odds. This victory at the
Battle of the was the significant event in his life. It led to Milvian Bridge Constantine’s later conversion and the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire – an event which has had continuous impact on Western culture ever since.
So the secondary major character is Lucius Marcellus Ossius, essentially my invention. He evolves from being a naive idealist to become a politically astute prelate. Ossius uses
to gain acceptance of the Christian faith. He succeeds, but at the very moment of victory, he compromises the essence of that faith. Ossius becomes my metaphor of the Church as an institution and how it was changed by official recognition after the conversion of Constantine . This was a crucial intersection in history. Before that time it took great courage to declare oneself a Christian. Ever since, it has often been the reverse. In becoming an established institution, the Church lost sight of its original mission. This is not to imply that there is no truth in the Church, only to suggest that the great truths are hidden beneath the fabric of ritual and organization, and need to be rediscovered by seekers in each generation. Constantine
Ossius is basically a composite. There was a Bishop Ossius from
Spain who advised Constantine on Church matters, may have interpreted the dream at the Milvian Bridge, probably presided at the Council of Nicaea and presumably counseled about the fate of Crispus. One fact I changed is having Ossius baptize Constantine . This act rounds out their relationship. (It’s unclear who really did baptize Constantine . Constantine insists that it was Pope Sylvester, but he had already been in his tomb for at least two years.) It is fully documented, however, that Rome was baptized just before his death. (More about CONSTANTINE later.) Constantine
Color photo of Rob Bell in front of colossal head of Constantine 1997