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Sixth Edition, 1915
By Dr. John Thomas (first edition written 1861)



Chapter 12

Section 18

The Manner of His Birth


The Man-Child of Sin, or "the King," was born, or made manifest, after this wise. We have seen how Constantine escaped the designs of the Dragon-Emperor Galerius. Having arrived at Boulogne, he accompanied his father to Britain, who died soon after in the imperial palace at York, A.D. 306. According to the constitution of the empire, the appointment of a successor to the vacant office of Augustus, was the prerogative of Galerius. The flower of the western armies had followed the deceased monarch into Britain. The opinion of their own importance, and the assurance that Britain, Gaul, and Spain would acquiesce in their nomination, were diligently inculcated on these legions by the Woman's partisans, and other revolutionary adherents of Constantine. The throne was the object of his desires: and the attainment of it was his only means of safety. He was well acquainted with the character and sentiments of Galerius, who in vowing the destruction of the christian name, was implacable towards those who favored it. He was therefore sufficiently apprised, that if he wished to live he must determine to reign. After a show of decent and even obstinate resistance, affected to justify his usurpation, he yielded to the acclamations of the army, which saluted him as Augustus, and emperor. Upon this, he immediately dispatched a letter to Galerius, informing him of his father's death, modestly asserting his natural claim to the succession, and respectfully lamenting, that the affectionate violence of his troops had not permitted him to solicit the imperial purple in the regular and constitutional manner. The first emotions of Galerius were those of surprise, disappointment, and rage; and as he could seldom restrain his passions, he loudly threatened that he would commit to the flames both the letter and the messenger. But his resentment insensibly subsided. Without either condemning or ratifying the choice of the British army, Galerius accepted Constantine as the sovereign of the provinces west of the Alps, but gave him only the title of Caesar, and the fourth rank among the Roman princes, whilst he conferred the vacant place of Augustus on his favorite Severus. The apparent harmony of the empire was still preserved, and Constantine, who already possessed the substance, expected, without impatience, an opportunity of obtaining the honors of supreme power.

For the first, and indeed the last time, the Roman World was administered by six emperors, A. D. 308. The opposition of interest, and the memory of a recent war, divided the empire into two great hostile powers. In the west, Constantine and Maxentius acknowledged the superior influence of Maximian; while in the east, Licinius and Maximin honored with more real consideration their benefactor Galerius: but upon the death of the elder princes, Maximian and Galerius, a new direction was given to the views and passions of their surviving associates.

During six years Maxentius reigned in Rome. He was repeatedly heard to declare that he alone was emperor, and that the other three princes were no more than his lieutenants, on whom he had devolved the defence of the frontier provinces, that he might enjoy without interruption the elegant luxury of the capital. In the crisis thus formed, A. D. 312, Constantine was convinced that the hostile and ambitious designs of the Italian emperor made it necessary for him to arm in his own defense. Maxentius was constitutionally the head of the Dragon-Power, being enthroned in Rome, and identified with the Roman Senate. He openly avowed his pretensions to the whole monarchy of the west, and had already prepared a very considerable force to invade Constantine's jurisdiction on the side of Rhoetia.

That Constantine at this crisis was in the womb of the Catholic Woman, appears from the fact, that while he exercised his limited sovereignty over the provinces of Gaul, his christian subjects were protected by his authority, while, says Gibbon, "he wisely left to the gods the care of vindicating their own honor. If we may credit the assertion of Constantine himself, he had been an indignant spectator of the savage cruelties which were inflicted by the hands of Roman soldiers on those citizens whose religion was their only crime." The example of Galerius, his implacable enemy, had made this severity odious to him. By the authority and advice of his dying father, he determined to pursue an opposite course. He immediately suspended or repealed the edicts of persecution, and granted the free exercise of their religious ceremonies to all those who had already professed themselves members of the church. They were soon encouraged to depend on the favor as well as on the justice of their sovereign, who had imbibed a secret and sincere reverence for the name of Christ, and for the God of the christians.

"The warm and active loyalty of the Catholics exhausted in Constantine's favor every resource of human industry; and they confidently expected that their strenuous efforts would be seconded by some divine and miraculous aid. The enemies of Constantine," continues Gibbon, "have imputed to interested motives the alliance which he insensibly contracted with the Catholic Church," or the Woman, and which apparently contributed to the success of his ambition. In the beginning of the fourth century the Catholics still bore a very inadequate proportion to the inhabitants of the empire; but among a degenerate people like the Romans and Greeks, who viewed the change of masters with the indifference of slaves, the spirit and union of the Catholic minority would assist the popular leader, to whose service, from a principle of conscience, they had devoted their lives and fortunes. The ranks of his legions were filled with the proselytes of the new faith; so that when they marched against Maxentius, a great number of the soldiers had already consecrated their swords to the service of Christ and of Constantine. In the Catholic councils assembled under Constantine's protection, the authority of the bishops was employed to ratify the obligation of the military oath, and to inflict the penalty of excommunication on those soldiers who threw away their arms during the enjoyment of peace by the church. But the Woman was not confined to the dominions of Constantine. She overspread the Dragon empire; so that while he increased his adherents from her communion in Britain, Spain and Gaul, he could depend on the support of the Catholics in the provinces, which were still possessed or usurped by his rivals. Thus a secret disaffection was diffused among the Catholic subjects of Maxentius and Licinius - the Dragon Power against which he was about to contend. The regular correspondence which connected the bishops of the most distant provinces, enabled them freely to communicate their wishes and their designs, and to transmit without danger any useful intelligence, or any pious contributions, which might promote the service of Constantine, who publicly declared that he had taken up arms for the deliverance of the Catholic Church.

By this declaration he constituted himself the Woman's champion against the Dragon, in all the Roman World; nevertheless, he had not yet announced himself as one of her sons. The real and precise date of Constantine's conversion to Laodicean Catholicism has been variously stated. Eusebius has ascribed the faith of Constantine to a sign alleged to have been displayed in the heavens whilst he was waging war against Maxentius. A contemporary writer affirms with the most perfect confidence, that in the night that preceded the last battle with Maxentius, Constantine was admonished in a dream to inscribe the shields of his soldiers with the celestial sign of God, the sacred monogram of the name of Christ - thus (Sign was a Capitol P with an X superimposed at the bottom); that he executed this command, and that his valor and obedience were rewarded by the decisive victory of the Milvian Bridge. But it is not easy to determine if this were a real miracle, or merely a "lying wonder." Probably it was the last. Be this as it may, the victory of the Milvian Bridge developed Constantine as the FIRST IMPERIAL SON OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, commonly, but absurdly, styled, "the first Christian Emperor." Previous to that victory he was an usurper of imperial rank, unrecognized by the Roman Senate, and the Coming Man of the Catholic party; favoring its policy, but temporizing between them and their opponents. He was in the womb of his mother, but not yet born of her, as the chief ruler of the Roman nations.

His birth could not be accomplished without the pains of parturition. His mother was "in pangs, straining to bring forth." These pangs and strainings were the pains of persecution, and the efforts of war for deliverance. The threatened invasion of his territory by Maxentius caused Constantine to hesitate no longer. He gave private audience to ambassadors, who in the name of the Senate and people, conjured him to deliver Rome from a detested tyrant; and without regarding the timid remonstrance’s of his council, he resolved to prevent the enemy, and to carry the war into the heart of Italy.

The enterprise was as full of danger as of "glory." Maxentius was prepared to resist him with 120,000 foot, and 18,000 horse. But Constantine was not to be deterred by this array. At the head of about 40,000 soldiers, he descended into the plain of Piedmont by the road across the Cottian Alps, now styled Mount Cenis, with such activity, that his army arrived there before the court of Maxentius had received any certain intelligence of his departure from the banks of the Rhine. He stormed, and entered Susa sword in hand, and cut in pieces the greater part of the garrison. About forty miles from thence, in the plains of Turin, he encountered the lieutenants of Maxentius, commanding a force largely consisting of heavy cavalry, horses and men clothed in complete armor. Their weight was almost irresistible, and they flattered themselves that they would easily break and trample down the army of Constantine. But his skillful evolution’s divided and baffled them. They fled towards Turin, which shut its gates against them, so that very few escaped the sword of their pursuers. The result of this victory was the submission of Milan, and almost all the cities of Italy between the Alps and the Po, which also embraced with zeal the party of Constantine.

From Milan to Rome the AEmilian and Flaminian highways offered an easy march of four hundred miles. But he preferred for strategic reasons the route by Verona. He was met by a large body of cavalry which he defeated near Brescia, and pursued to the gates of Verona. He crossed the Adige, a rapid river encompassing three sides of the city, and laid siege to it. Pompeianus, finding that he could not successfully defend it, escaped from Verona, and with indefatigable diligence collected an army sufficient either to meet Constantine in the field, or to attack him if he obstinately remained within his lines. But leaving part of his legions to continue the siege, he led those troops on whose valor and fidelity he more particularly depended, in person against the enemy. The engagement began at the close of the day, and was contested with great obstinacy the whole night. The return of light displayed the victory of Constantine, and a field of carnage covered with many thousands of vanquished Italians. Pompeianus was found among the slain; Verona immediately surrendered at discretion, and the garrison was made prisoners of war.

The resources of Maxentius, both in men and money, were still considerable. A third army was soon collected, more numerous than those which had been lost in the battles of Turin and Verona. The contempt of the Roman people, who tumultuously reproached his pusillanimity and insolence, while they celebrated the heroic spirit of Constantine, compelled him to assume the command of the army in person. But before he left Rome he consulted the Sibylline books. These were the ancient oracles of the old Roman superstition, whose guardians were as well versed in the arts of this world, as they were ignorant of the secrets of fate; they returned him the very prudent answer that, Illo die hostem Romanorum esse periturum, "on that day the enemy of the Romans would perish;" which might adapt itself to the event, the vanquished prince, of course, becoming the enemy of Rome.

On arriving at Saxa Rubra, about nine miles from Rome, Constantine discovered the army of Maxentius prepared to give him battle. Their long front filled a very spacious plain, and their deep array reached to the banks of the Tiber, which covered their rear, and forbade their retreat. Constantine charged in person at the head of the Gallic horse, whose impetuosity determined the fortune of the day. The defeat of the two wings left the flanks of the infantry unprotected, and the undisciplined Italians precipitately fled. The praetorians, conscious that their offenses were beyond the reach of mercy, were animated by revenge and despair. But they were unable to recover the victory. The confusion then became general, and the dismayed troops of Maxentius, pursued by an implacable enemy, rushed by thousands into the deep and rapid Tiber. Maxentius endeavored to reach the city by the Milvian Bridge, but he was forced into the river by the crowd, where he was immediately drowned by the weight of his armor. On the recovery of his body from the mud next day, his head was exposed to view, which convinced the people of their deliverance, and admonished them to receive with loyal and grateful demonstrations the victorious Constantine, "who thus achieved," says Gibbon, "by his valor and ability the most splendid enterprise of his life."

This "most splendid enterprise" was his birth as the Woman's Son. Before, he was an usurper and adventurer, but by these splendid defeats of the forces of the Dragon, and the acquisition of his throne and capital, he was assigned by the decree of the Roman Senate, the first rank among the three Augusti who governed the Roman World. He was now exalted to a position of great influence, which he speedily exerted in favor of the Catholic Church. He had not yet attained to Supreme God-ship in the Roman heaven, by which he could "rule all the nations" of the empire "with an iron sceptre." By the overthrow of Maxentius he annexed Italy and Africa to his dominion; but there still remained the territories held by Licinius and Maximin, the two other Augusti. The former ruled the nations of Illyricum; the latter, those of Egypt and Syria. But the destiny marked out by Deity for the Woman's Imperial Son, was that he should rule all these nations with an iron sceptre; so that we may expect to find that his career will be onward until he acquires the sole dominion over the whole Roman Habitable.

About five months after the conquest of Italy, in March, A.D. 313, Constantine made a solemn and authentic declaration of his sentiments, by the celebrated Edict of Milan, which restored peace to the Catholic Church. After the death of Maximin, it was received as a general and fundamental law of the Roman world. Constantine, with the ready, but  not hearty, concurrence of Licinius, provided for the restitution of all the civil and religious rights of which the catholics had been deprived. It was enacted that the places of worship, and public lands, which had been confiscated, should be restored to the Catholic Church, without dispute, without delay, and without expense; and this severe injunction was accompanied with a gracious promise, that if any of the purchasers had paid a fair and adequate price, they should be indemnified from the imperial treasury. The two emperors proclaimed to the world, that they had granted a free and absolute power to the catholics, and to all others, of following the religion which each individual thinks proper to prefer, to which he has addicted his mind, and which he may deem the best adapted to his own use. Thus, as expressed by Eusebius, while the East was involved in the shades of infernal darkness, the auspicious rays of celestial light warmed and illuminated the provinces of the West. The piety of Constantine was cited as an unexceptionable proof of the justice of his arms; and his use of victory in their favor confirmed the opinion of the catholics, that their hero was inspired, and conducted, by the Lord of hosts.






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