I have been attracted to the figure of Constantine the Great for a long time. In many ways, he was a key transitional figure in the development of modern Europe. Everyone knows Constantine eventually made Christianity the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.
Yet, in many ways Constantine seems to elude understanding, seventeen hundred years after his birth. Historians have questioned whether such things as whether he was in fact a Christian and whether his mother did find the True Cross. Historians also endlessly debate the sign Constantine saw prior to the battle of the Milvian Bridge and the reason why he had his son and wife executed. Nevertheless, historians can’t debate the immense impact he had on European history.
I was honored to teach an online course on Constantine the Great for St. Cyril and Methodius’ Byzantine Catholic Seminary (“the Seminary”) Certificate program in Eastern Christian Studies. The course content belongs to the Byzantine Catholic Seminary and hence can not be displayed here. I also taught an eight-hour continuing education course for the deacons of the Eparchy (diocese) of Passaic in 2016. This content, totally different than the course I prepared for the Seminary, is contained here, as well as the announcement for the course.
What do I believe Constantine saw prior to the cataclysmic Battle of the Milvian Bridge? I favor the belief that as he crossed the Alps, Constantine saw the sun projecting the image of a cross through ice crystals in the air. Constantine interpreted this as a sign–whether from the Christian God or from another deity such as Sol Invictus-and ordered his men to place the sign on their shields. After he won the battle, he sought connections between the three events. Human minds are particularly adept at this. This seems to be borne out by the fact several different stories arose about the incident. Human minds are also good about changing facts about a story. Witness the multiple version of the conversion of St. Paul in the Christian scriptures. As he sought explanations for what had happened, Constantine began to change the course of world history.
I hope you enjoy the course, as much as I did offering it.