Friday, July 25, 2014

CONSTANTINE ~ Declared Emperor of the West ~ York, England ~July 25, 306 C.E.










Caesar Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus (27 February c. 272 – 22 May 337), commonly known in English as Constantine I, Constantine the Great, or (among Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Christians) Saint Constantine, was Roman emperor from 306, and the undisputed holder of that office from 324 until his death in 337. Best known for being the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine reversed the persecutions of his predecessor, Diocletian, and issued (with his co-emperor Licinius) the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious toleration throughout the empire.

The Byzantine liturgical calendar, observed by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine rite, lists both Constantine and his mother Helena as saints. Although he is not included in the Latin Church's list of saints, which does recognize several other Constantines as saints, he is revered under the title "The Great" for his contributions to Christianity.

Constantine also transformed the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium into a new Imperial residence, Constantinople, which would remain the capital of the Byzantine Empire for over one thousand years.


Image & text:wikipedia.com


Below is repost from October 28, 2008


[Thirteen years ago [this October 28th] 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 the Bohemian Club as a submission for a Grove 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 Jinks 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
e’re foretold~~

The world is weary,
and bodies ... cold;
But Roman might
Endures.

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 Istanbul 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.)

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 Italy. 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.)

One-thousand-seven-hundred-one years ago [this October 28th] 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 Constantine was the sheer scope of the geography. Even today it would be staggering for a single individual to affect events in places diverse as 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. CONSTANTINE, 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 York, England. But at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, he demonstrates his valor, his stubbornness, his ingenuity, and his ability to exploit the situation.

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 Milvian Bridge was the significant event in his life. It led to 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.

Constantine becomes a Christian, yes, but primarily as the means to win the battle in order to gain absolute power. Later he insists on unity at the Council of Nicaea, again not so much from a religious standpoint as from a concern for conformity. His principal goal is to maintain order and hierarchy with himself at the top. He also wants family unity. This is the major source of conflict in the play. The single idea unifying the plot is the oftentimes difficult relationship between fathers and sons. The central irony is that Ossius saves Constantine’s life only – mistakenly – to recommend the execution of Crispus, Constantine’s son.

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 Constantine 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.

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 Constantine 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. Rome 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 Constantine was baptized just before his death.


Color photo of Rob Bell in front of colossal head of Constantine 1997

(Refer to post on November 1, 2008 for my comments on the Council of Nicea.)



Titian in the Frari (Venezia)