The Life of Constantine

The Life of Constantine
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    Life of Constantine Ionescu Andreea Eusebius of Caesarea, otherwise known as “Eusebius Pamphili”, was the bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, an exegete, polemicist, and historian of the earlyChristian Church. He is best known as the Father of Church History due to hisaccount of the first centuries of Christianity in his  Ecclesiastical History which isconsidered a landmark in Christian historiography.He was born a little after 260 A.D., became bishop of Caesarea in about 313and lived there until his death in 339. Eusebius was baptized and appointed as priestat Caesarea, where he became the student of the learned presbyter Pamphilus, whomhe respected and cherished and from whom he got the name “Eusebius Pamphili”, theson or servant of Pamphilus. Pamphilus was persecuted for his beliefs by the Romansand died in martyrdom in 310. Eusebius himself is said to have been imprisoned bythe Roman authorities at Caesarea, and he was criticized many years later of havingescaped by having made some act of submission.The work of the scholars of the Christian school at Caesarea extended into allfields of Christian writing. Eusebius himself wrote throughout his life apologeticworks, commentaries on the Bible, and works explaining the parallels anddiscrepancies in the Gospels. His fame rests, though, in his Ecclesiastical History,which he probably began to write during the Roman persecutions and revised severaltimes between 312 and 324. In the Ecclesiastical History Eusebius constantly quotesor paraphrases his sources, and he thus preserved parts of earlier texts which werelater lost, Eusebius’ recount of them being everything that had remained of them.After he became bishop of Caesarea, in about 318 the theological views of Arius, a priest of Alexandria, became the subject of controversy. This was one of the1  most widespread and divisive heresies in the history of Christianity. As a priest inAlexandria, Arius taught that God created, before all things, a Son who was the firstcreature, but who was neither equal to nor coeternal with the Father. According toArius, Jesus was a sort of a supernatural creature not quite human and not quitedivine.Expelled from Alexandria for heresy,Ariussought and found sympathy atCaesarea, and, in fact, he proclaimed Eusebius as a leading supporter. Eusebius didnot fully support any of the heresies of the time, but nonetheless he was provisionallyexcommunicated for Arian views at the Council of Antioch in 325. When theCouncilof Nicaea, called by the Roman emperor Constantine I, met later in the year, Eusebius had to explain himself and was exonerated with the explicit approval of the emperor.In the years following the Council of Nicaea, the emperor was determined toachieve unity within the church, and so the supporters of the Nicene Creed in itsextreme form soon became nonconformists. Eusebius remained in the emperor’sfavour though, and, after Constantine’s death in 337, he wrote his Life of Constantine,a panegyric that possesses some historical value, mainly because of its use of primarysources.Being a panegyric, though, makes it a questionable source for many scholars, because the panegyric is primarily a public speech act or written verse meant as praisefor a certain person. So as far as its reliability, there are not few those who mightconsider this work of Eusebius doubtful due to its purpose. Nonetheless, The Life of Constantine is regarded as one of the important works describing that certain periodof time, about which there are not many accounts left.As it is, the work as it has been handed down is 75 chapters long and stillremained unfinished at Eusebius’ death. Nevertheless, it is considered to have beencontinued by Socrates Scholasticus.The fragment under discussion refers to the legendary episode of the vision of the Cross that Emperor Constantine had before the battle with what is referred to inthe text as “the tyrant” 1 . The fragment begins with the chapter 26 in which the reader  1 Early Church Fathers Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers - Series II, Vol. I, Ed. Philip Schaff, Oxford: J.Parker and Comp., 1891, chapter 26 2  gets an insight of Constantine’s thoughts and inner struggles as he was thinking aboutwhat was to be done to free “the imperial city” 2 from “the tyrannous oppression” 3 . While at first he thought that this task was meant for one of the other leaders of theempire, when none was successful, he made a goal of saving the Empire.Of course, for a modern reader the facts are quite clearly described, that is thechapter refers to Constantine’s decision to conquer Rome and become the Emperor of the Roman Empire. The other two “leaders” mentioned in the text are Severus andGalerius, who were both defeated. The “oppression” mentioned in the text primarilyrefers to the severe measures that were taken against Christians during those times.While, retrospectively regarding the actions of Constantine, at that time he was probably more concerned with gaining the throne by conquering Rome and becomingemperor, rather than thinking of the Christian oppression, the author cunningly makesreference to this also. In this respect, Constantine is shaped as a caring, devoted ruler,in opposition with the ruthless “tyrant” that was oppressing Rome and its inhabitants.The next chapter continues the stream of Constantine’s thoughts creating animpression that the reader is actually ease-dropping on the emperor’s speaking outloud his inner thoughts. The reader becomes a sort of a spectator to a monologue thatConstantine has in order to decide what he should do in order to win the battle he wasgoing to have. The so-called monologue highly resembles an exercise of logic as theemperor tries to think as objectively as possible of the problem.Thus he begins by considering the differences between those, who had already been defeated in battle, and himself were. In this manner he reaches the idea thatconsidering the fact that both he and the other rulers who had tried conquering Rome but failed, had armies the only help he could ask for was divine help. As such, heconsiders that all the others were in a nutshell polytheists and that they all lost. So, hethought, he should ask for help from the unique God of the other faith. 2 Early Church Fathers Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers - Series II, Vol. I, Ed. Philip Schaff, Oxford: J.Parker and Comp., 1891, chapter 26  3 Early Church Fathers Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers - Series II, Vol. I, Ed. Philip Schaff, Oxford: J.Parker and Comp., 1891, chapter 26 3  In the next chapter it is described how the emperor prayed to that God, whomat that time he was unfamiliar with, and had a vision of the cross in the sky under which it was written “Conquer by this” 4 . Not only did the emperor see it, butaccording to Eusebius, so did all the other soldiers. This particular sight has beenunder discussion probably ever since it has been mentioned. That is, there is no palpable proof of it, no one else mentions witnessing this group apparition in the sky,furthermore, the miracle is differently related by another author telling of this miracle,Lactantius. He states that the emperor had a dream of the symbol of the cross, and nota real-live sight of it in the sky, not to mention the other soldiers which presumablysaw it too according to Eusebius.In the following chapter though, Eusebius also mentions a dream of theemperor in which Christ appeared to him and told him to use the symbol of the crossto defeat all his enemies and not get wounded in the battle. As the truth of this cannot possibly be known for sure, it is argued that if the emperor did see the cross in thesky, or sunlight, it had probably been because he had concentrated on getting ananswer for his problems so hard that he had the impression that he saw the sign of thecross in the sky, and did not actually see it.As the next chapter reveals, nonetheless, the day after, Constantine orderedthat a sign of what he had dreamt or had a vision of be made. He called workers anddescribed to them the sign and ordered it be made in gold and precious stones. Theway in which it turned out is thoroughly described by Eusebius in the followingchapter. A very interesting thing, though, might be the emperor’s choice of preciousmaterials used in making the symbol, together with the author’s addition that it “beingalso richly interlaced with gold, presented an indescribable degree of beauty to the beholder” 5 .What is interesting in this is the dual or even triple character that the cross isdescribed to have been given even from that time. One might ask himself/herself thequestion why the emperor had not chosen to have the cross made in wood, or some 4 Early Church Fathers Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers - Series II, Vol. I, Ed. Philip Schaff, Oxford: J.Parker and Comp., 1891, chapter 28 5 Early Church Fathers Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers - Series II, Vol. I, Ed. Philip Schaff, Oxford: J.Parker and Comp., 1891, chapter 31 4  invaluable metal. The explanation is quite simple; that is, the cross was used not onlyas a sign of symbolic value for what it stands for in Christianity, but also as a beautified object made to impress, or even awe the onlooker to the extent that, evenwithout knowing too much about the symbol, the person seeing it be astonished by it.This technique started in early church history due to the multi-surfaced contentof the holy books and the rather difficult character of the teachings meant to begrasped from them, was quite familiar in later times, also. It is meant to either simplify the content of the sermons, or to mesmerize the onlooker to the point of  becoming obedient. An example of this are the later Gothic cathedrals, or even theentire Baroque era during which the most impressive Christian cathedral was built,namely St Paul’s cathedral of Vatican, as a part of the Counter-Reformationmovement which depended mostly on the power of impressive religious pieces of art,and their effect on the onlooker.The last chapter of the fragment refers to Constantine’s victory over the“oppressor” of Rome, due to the use of the cross in front of his armies and how hemade of the Christian religion the legal, sole religion of the empire. It is mentionedthat only after his conquest he called upon the Christian priests and was taught of themeanings that his vision actually had, and of the Holy Scripture. Moreover, theChristian priests became his counsellors and with their help he continued the spreadof Christianity and the fight against other religions.Although the text can be regarded by a postmodern reader with certainsuspicion because of its refined religious propaganda cleverly intertwined by theauthor along with actual historical facts, the text it is largely accepted as an importanthistorical account of the times. But for its importance in the development of Christianity and the historical importance that it bears, the text can be read by bothreligious persons and sceptics in order to get a closer view of that particular momentin time which had an immense impact in the course of history.5
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