Classical Numismatics Discussion
  Welcome Guest. Please login or register. Please look at the RECENT ADDITIONS and PRICE REDUCTIONS at the top and bottom of the page. All items are guaranteed authentic for eternity! Thanks for supporting Forum with your PURCHASES! Welcome Guest. Please login or register. Point your mouse to a coin in RECENT ADDITIONS or PRICE REDUCTIONS on this page to see the the price. All items are guaranteed authentic for eternity! Thanks for supporting Forum with your PURCHASES!


FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numism  |  Reading For the Advanced Collector  |  Topic: Constantine's Conversion and Ambiguity 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
Pages: [1] 2  All Go Down Print
Author Topic: Constantine's Conversion and Ambiguity  (Read 117776 times)
wolfgang336
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 899


Aut Caesar Aut Nullus


« on: April 11, 2006, 04:33:22 pm »

Policy, policy, policy...

In the long run, was the authenticity of Constantine's conversion important? He was responsible for the induction of the Church into Imperial affairs, not necessarily because he firmly believed in Christ, but because he had limited political options:

 For years, the Emperors had had to find new sources of legitamacy; after the catastrophic first half of the third century, they had tried casting about amongst the army, resulting in those that we refer to as the Military Emperors. They quickly discovered that the army was an incredibly unstable power base, able to be bought at a price. It is with this knowledge, that Aurelian began to associate himself with a "companion God" (comes)- drawing legitimacy from the divine. Diocletian took this one step further and introduced the concept of divine anscestry (Diocletian's Iovi connection, and Maximian's Hercules connection). Already, the practise of pagan monotheism was spreading, making the apologist's (and Constantine's, as we shall see) job far easier.
 
 With Diocletian's tetrarchy, came the abandonment of successionist Emperors based on familial links. This obviously didn't sit well, and both Maxentius and Constantine usurp. Again, both figures needed to find a support base and a way of making themselves legitamite in the eyes of the power players of the Empire. Constantine did this through the Church, as well as recognizing Claudius Gothicus as an anscestor, giving himself an imperial lineage; which flies squarely in the face of Diocletian's succession through merit idea.
 
 The Senate was essentially defunct as it did not represent the people of the Empire anymore. Constantine, or anybody in his position needed a new base from which to draw their power. We can see that Maxentius saw this too, as the number of Churches and clergy in the city of Rome grew, and Christian's opinions of him as a contemporary were relatively positive. It was only after Maxentius' defeat that the Christians of Rome rejected him, probably as a result of the embarassment involved, and the fact that he had secretly been allied with Daza; something that only came to light when documents to that effect were discovered after his defeat.

Daza was continuing a pogrom initiated by Diocletian, something that failed to such an extent that Galerius issued his Edict of Toleration in 311. The Great Persecution had the effect of creating some sense of pity in some pagans, but also drove Christians and the majority of conservative pagans apart. Now, there was a very powerful and organized force seperate from the established Roman political entity. The Persecution had not dealt with the Christian Question, but had forced it into the forefront of Roman politics.

It is under these circumstances that Constantine's vision at Milvian Bridge occurs, as we see Constantine realize what the key to the political jigsaw must be.

As is anything in politics, ambiguity is everywhere in the symbolism of the era in which Constantine conquered. Seeing as that this is a numismatics board, it is important for us to be able to see what the seemingly contradictory messages that appear on Constantine's coinage are telling us. Constantine's comes, Sol Invicto, is present on the vast majority of the coinage even after Milvian Bridge. While we are accumstomed to thinking of conversion as an instantaneous moment of enlightenment, the actual event comes about as the result of a gradual change of the way we think, and it is only with time that we can look back and see the point of change (imagined or otherwise) and how profound it was on our lives. The continued use of Sol Invicto on coinage supports this model of conversion.

 The ambiguity doesn't end there... very nearly everything that Constantine does and says for next few years after Milvian Bridge is intentionally vague: The Edict of Milan refers only to the "Supreme Deity" and "The Divinity". Contemporary panagyrists usually follow the same line. His coinage also reflects this: When Sol Invicto and other pagan symbols disappear, they are not replaced with anything overtly Christian within Constantine's lifetime.

I have summarised above the first 200 pages of Drake's "Constantine and the Bishops"- a very good book well worth reading.

Was Constantine even aware of his own conversion? Eusebius writes that Constanting called forth those who were learned in gospel following his vision, but was still perplexed by what it all meant. Comments? Let's get some sort of discussion going here!

Evan

Logged

Robert_Brenchley
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 7322

Honi soit qui mal y pense.


WWW
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2006, 03:50:14 am »

It would be worth looking at the use of divine imagery by Constantine and his successors; the imperial cult carried straight on, and it didn't take long for God-language to be applied to the emperor. No time to look it up now, but there's plenty of stuff out there.

What's the first use of a 'COMITI' reverse, by the way? My earliest is a Postumus SERAPI COMITI AVG. but there could easily be earlier ones.
Logged

Robert Brenchley

My gallery: http://www.forumancientcoins.com/gallery/index.php?cat=10405
Fiat justitia ruat caelum
curtislclay
Tribunus Plebis Perpetuus
Procurator Monetae
Caesar
*****
Offline Offline

Posts: 10889



« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2006, 10:33:17 am »

Does Drake take any account of Peter Weiss, The Vision of Constantine, Journal of Rom. Arch. 16, 2003, originally published in German in 1993?
As explained before in Forum, Weiss gives a totally new explanation of Constantine's conversion, which convinces me for one.  In brief:
Constantine's vision was a solar halo and he saw it not in 312 before the battle against Maxentius, but in 310 while marching with his army in Gaul.  He interpreted it as a sign from the sun-god, explaining that god's sudden predominance on his coinage from 310 on.
In 312 before the battle against Maxentius, Constantine dreamed that Christ told him that the sign of 310 was Christ's sign not Sol's, and that Constantine should put it on the shields of his army before the battle.  Constantine did so, won the battle, and was converted to Christianity.
That Constantine's conversion was sincere is evident from his own words in his Letter to the Provincials of the East written in 324 after his victory over Licinius:
"And now I call upon Thee, Greatest God. Be merciful and gracious to those who dwell in the East, for they are Thy people, granting them healing through me, Thy servant, for they are worn out from their long sufferings. Not without cause do I pray to Thee, Lord of all, Holy God.  For under Thy guidance did I begin and bring to completion my salvation-bringing tasks. Carrying Thy Holy Sign before me everywhere, I have led the army to glorious victories....Truly because of this have I consecrated to Thee my own soul, in which love and awe are blended in a pure union.  For Thy Name I love with all my heart, I worship Thy Power, which Thou hast made manifest with abundant positive proofs and with which Thou hast confirmed and increased my faith."
How, in the face of this evidence, can one doubt the authenticity of Constantine's conversion?
Logged

Curtis Clay
Robert_Brenchley
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 7322

Honi soit qui mal y pense.


WWW
« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2006, 12:59:20 pm »

I agree about Weiss' paper, which I find entirely convincing. I'm not sure that the Letter to the East is as unequivocal as you say though; the 'Sign' referred to is surely the Labarum, which wasn't familiar as a Christian sign until Constantine and his successors popularised it. It had occasionally been used by pagans, and by carefully avoiding anything to specify which god he refers to, I'd have thought Constantine was producing something sufficiently ambiguous to acceptable to both Christian and Pagan.

The very ambiguity of the text does argue in favour of authenticity though; if it have been produced or altered by the church, and they were undoubtedly capable of such deceptions, they would surely have served up something unambiguously Christian!
Logged

Robert Brenchley

My gallery: http://www.forumancientcoins.com/gallery/index.php?cat=10405
Fiat justitia ruat caelum
curtislclay
Tribunus Plebis Perpetuus
Procurator Monetae
Caesar
*****
Offline Offline

Posts: 10889



« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2006, 01:52:42 pm »

   In my opinion you cannot put your army under the protection of a certain sign, placing it on their standards and shields, and profess that your victories are due to the god whose sign that is, while simultaneously refusing to state who that god might be, so that army and empire can just pick whichever god they were comfortable with!
   No, Constantine must have declared openly who that god was, and everyone in the army and throughout the empire must have known that it was Christ and that the labarum was Christ's sign.
   Naturally, when your conversion was recent and much of the empire remained pagan, it was prudent not to actually name Christ in a public document like the Letter to the East.  It was less offensive to non-Christians to suppress the actual name; but no one can have had the slightest doubt which god was meant.
Logged

Curtis Clay
Congius
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 1606



« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2006, 02:53:15 pm »

Constantine certainly had much to gain by embracing the rapidly growing Christian movement (exponentially growing, even in the face of the persecutions which has failed as a solution), just as he had much to lose by alientating the majority of the population that were still pagan. I think one has to be equally questioning of any steps he took to support either religion; if we accept at face value evidence that speaks to his sincere Christian beliefs, then I think we should also accept evidence that his beliefs still embraced parts of paganism (and at the time it would be more odd if this wasn't true to some extent - you can't reject an entire culture).

More than a century after Constantine, many "Christians" entering St. Peter's basilica still turned east on the steps to pray to the Sun before entering... If one is willing to accept people with these types of transitional beliefs as "Christian", then I think it's fair to describe Constantine as the same, but the word "conversion", unless qualified, seems to suggest more of a dramatic and complete break with one belief set and adoption of another.

There doesn't seem to be any reason to reject the fact that Constantine had some type of belief-changing dream/vision in 312, but that has to be reconciled with the fact that his coinage, if anything, showed a renewed dedication to Sol rather than any break or even inflection.  Rather than starting to phase out his pagan types after 312, we instead see Constantine continuing it at his newly aquired mints, including special types such as busts of Mars/Sol from Ticinum and Aquileia (obviously issued after conquering at least northern Italy), Sol with captive celebrating the victory, Genio and Iovi from Aquileia in addition to his usual repertoire of Sol & Marti issued at all mints. Hercvli with victriola from Rome & Ostia (albeit maybe "tetrarchic" rather than religious). Fast forward to his win over Licinius in 316 and we again see it celebrated with Sol & captive, then the introduction of Sol at Siscia and even Iovi at Thessalonica (Jupiter rather than Christ replacing Sol!).

By 324, after his final victory over Licinius, Constantine was no doubt sincerely committed to his own brand of Christianity, but again one has to reconcile this with his choice to then issue a solidus featuring his Comes, Sol, from his newly aquired Antioch mint! I don't see the solution to this apparent contradiction as being that one of these "statements" must have been insincere, but rather that Constantine's Christianity was obviously different from that of today - an organic mix of the old and the new, that must have been quite typical of the time.

Ben
Logged
wolfgang336
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 899


Aut Caesar Aut Nullus


« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2006, 05:14:16 pm »

   In my opinion you cannot put your army under the protection of a certain sign, placing it on their standards and shields, and profess that your victories are due to the god whose sign that is, while simultaneously refusing to state who that god might be, so that army and empire can just pick whichever god they were comfortable with!

No, Constantine must have declared openly who that god was, and everyone in the army and throughout the empire must have known that it was Christ and that the labarum was Christ's sign.
   Naturally, when your conversion was recent and much of the empire remained pagan, it was prudent not to actually name Christ in a public document like the Letter to the East.  It was less offensive to non-Christians to suppress the actual name; but no one can have had the slightest doubt which god was meant.

If Constantine had openly declared his Christian God (and not the "Supreme Deity" etc.) he would have alienated the Pagans of the Empire (and a rather sizable army, on which his legitimacy for a large part still relied on), and his consolidation would never have occurred. You're correct that it would have been imprudent to openly declare the Christian God immediately following, but I think this was more a result of Constantine's own gradual progression towards Christianity (and therefore, his incomplete understanding of this new faith). As Robert pointed out, we have to take Constantine's words in 324 with a pinch of salt, as an aging Constantine would have likely reflected back upon a "snap decision" sort of conversion than what we know really occurs- the gradual process.

And again, Constantine would have been a remarkably uninspired statesmen to not use an ambiguous symbol in battle- this is part of the miracle! A symbol that could potentially bring Pagans and Christians together! The Chi-Rho, on top of being the first two letters of Christ superimposed, is also notable as being only a tiny variation on a solar symbol associated with Sun worship in Constantine's home of the Danube.

As for Weiss' explanation- I would tend to agree, and it is noted in Drake.

Evan
Logged

curtislclay
Tribunus Plebis Perpetuus
Procurator Monetae
Caesar
*****
Offline Offline

Posts: 10889



« Reply #7 on: April 12, 2006, 09:22:44 pm »

     In my opinion, Constantine's conversion to Christianity was not motivated at all by conscious political calculation.
     He passionately sought a divine protector, who would assure him victories and so, of course, extend his power.
     In 310 he was amazed to see a solar halo while marching to expel foreign invaders, and a day later at the same spot, after a detour to a temple of Apollo, messengers arrived to announce the flight of the invaders.  So he adopted Sol as the god who could bring him victory.
     In 312 before the battle with Maxentius, alerted by a dream as he said, he decided that the sign he had seen was actually that of Christ and he ordered his soldiers to paint it on their shields.  His victory naturally convinced him to espouse Christ as his protector.  Any study of Christian theology was beside the point; he had found the divine sponsor who could assure him victory in battle!
    This motivation and course of events are what the ancient historians tell us, and what Constantine himself confirms in his Letter to the East.
     I am not particularly bothered by the continuation of pagan types on the coins. (to be contined)
Logged

Curtis Clay
wolfgang336
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 899


Aut Caesar Aut Nullus


« Reply #8 on: April 12, 2006, 11:38:30 pm »

The ancient historians to whom you refer were, for the most part, Christian. Eusebius only related what Constantine recalled in his Vita Constantini, written a quarter century after the events of 312. Constantine would have been looking back upon his past with a rose lens. This is also the case with the Letter to the East. Again, we must assume that the conversion experience was gradual in reality, but more abrupt in the mind of Constantine later on, when he came to realize the impact of what had happened. Lactantius' On the Death of the Persecutors was written closer to Milvian Bridge (315), but omits the reference to seeing the Chi-Rho in the sun, and instead mentions only the dream. This supports Weiss' hypothesis, as Lactantius was generally more precise with his timings. Dreams are of course a way for our minds to filter information, and I believe this filtering produced the Chi-Rho as a simple solution to a complicated problem. If Constantine had ignored politics and decided to be Christian at that exact moment in October of 312, he would not have continued issuing Pagan coins- issuing coinage with Mars all over it would quite simply not have even met the apologist ideas about being Christian! Instead, we see the "organic faith" to which Ben refers that incorporated aspects of Paganism at the very least.

Was Constantine looking for a god to place his faith in? It seems Constantine already had one! Sol Invicto starts making appearances in 308, and becomes even more predominant after the vision in 310 (as Curtis has already mentioned). Even on a gold medallion almost immediately following his victory over Maxentius, on the occasion of his meeting with Licinius, the bust of Constantine is superimposed over the bust of Sol. Drake- "Similarly, on the arch that was built adjacent to the Colosseum in Rome to commemorate this victory and dedicated about the same time that Lactantius wrote his pamphlet, there are solar and lunar images, but Christians signs are noticeable only by their absence, particularly in the panel that shows Constantine's soldiers in battle, where some indication of the signs he ordered soldiers to wear might be expected." On this same arch, we find the vague language that seems to be occurring more and more often, along with the usage of the phrase "instinctu divinitatis"- Divine Prompting.

Constantine didn't need a new god, Apollo/Sol had already proved his power in 310, and the coinage seems to point towards a continued faith in him, with the new Christian connotation attached... but not enough connotation to suffocate the original Pagan deity.

Evan
Logged

curtislclay
Tribunus Plebis Perpetuus
Procurator Monetae
Caesar
*****
Offline Offline

Posts: 10889



« Reply #9 on: April 13, 2006, 01:32:16 am »

Evan,
     Are you accusing Eusebius of inventing Constantine's words in his citation of the emperor's Letter to the East, which was a public document that any contemporary could have consulted in innumerable archives and probably also in stone inscriptions, though none of these have come down to us?
     Constantine didn't "need" a new divine sponsor, but one was forced upon him by his inspiration before the battle against Maxentius, and the subsequent victory!
     Wasn't the Arch of Constantine erected by the Senate and People of Rome, a predominantly pagan city?  No surprise, then, to find specific Christian references omitted from both its inscription and its reliefs!
      What grounds do we have for doubting Constantine's own account of his conversion as related to Eusebius, when the details of that account are independently corroborated by two contemporary authors, the pagan panegyricist for the vision in Gaul and the Christian Lactantius for the dream before the battle and the application of the Christian sign to the soldiers' shields?
      Coin types were fashioned by other factors beside the emperor's personal convictions, for example the consideration of how the types would be received by the public.  The continuance of pagan types after 312 must at least show that Constantine's acceptance of Christ as his personal protector did not immediately make him a rigid opponent and denier of all pagan divinities.  Those responsible for the types must have known that Constantine would not object to the continued depiction of Sol as his personal protector after 312, perhaps because Sol was regarded as the nearest pagan equivalent to the new Christian god, that everyone knew Constantine in fact now believed in.  The coin types, in my opinion, cannot make us reject or substantially alter the facts that are explicitly and reliably transmitted by the literary sources.
Logged

Curtis Clay
Cleisthenes
Comitia Curiata II
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 431


"not unlike a clamberer on a steep cliff," Newman


WWW
« Reply #10 on: April 13, 2006, 01:57:27 am »

The coin types, in my opinion, cannot make us reject or substantially alter the facts that are explicitly and reliably transmitted by the literary sources.
How, in the face of this evidence, can one doubt the authenticity of Constantine's conversion?

I agree with Robert's assessment of the text's (Letter to the Provincials of the East) ambiguous nature, and I must admit that I think that the recipient of the most blatant praise throughout this excerpt is, that's right, Constantine himself.  There is no debating how often the emperor refers to himself.  The absence of any proper noun (name) that would agree with the pronouns Constantine uses such as "Thee" and "Thy" is conspicuous by its absence.  In the spirit of collegial scholarship, the "facts" and "evidence" you wish to claim, in forensics terms, are defined as gratuitous, and therefore they may, indeed they must, be gratuitously denied.

The authenticity of Constantine's conversion, within the confines of this text (Letter to the Provincials of the East), can neither be assured (assumed as literary proof) or rejected.  The standards used to determine the "authenticity" of anyone's conversion is dodgy business.  I'll defer to the words ascribed to Christianity's founder, "Ye shall know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?  Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit" (Matthew 7: 16-17).  The question is: what are "some" of Constantine's fruit?  A quick answer must include: duplicity and murder.  Think of the "Seven Deadly Sins" and omit sloth and gluttony.  Now, what Constantine sorted-out between himself and his Maker, by necessity, must remain a mystery.

Was Constantine looking for a god to place his faith in? It seems Constantine already had one! Sol Invicto starts making appearances in 308, and becomes even more predominant after the vision in 310 (as Curtis has already mentioned).
Constantine didn't need a new god, Apollo/Sol had already proved his power in 310, and the coinage seems to point towards a continued faith in him, with the new Christian connotation attached... but not enough connotation to suffocate the original Pagan deity.
Evan

For what it's worth, I would draw your attention to the following excerpt from John Julius Norwich's The Short History of Byzantium, in which he describes the emperor prior to Milvian Bridge:

               There can be little doubt . . . that at a certain moment before the battle the
          Emperor underwent some profound spiritual experience.  There are indications
          that he was already in a state of grave religious uncertainty, and was increasingly
          tending toward monotheism: after 310 his coins depict one god only--Sol Invictus,
          the Unconquered Sun--of whom Constantine also claimed to have had a vision some
          years before.  Yet his faith too seems to have left him unsatisfied. No man, in short, 
          was readier for conversion during that late summer of 312
; and it is hardly surprising
          that, up to a point at least, his prayers were answered" (Norwich, John J. A Short
          History of Byzantium
, 1st. ed. London: Viking, 1997. 7).

The emboldened text is my doing.  It makes no difference who would like to appropriate Constantine I, Pagans or devout Christians; this very complex man remains merely (and I use this word in the manner that C.S. Lewis would: meaning "very") complex.  I view Constantine I as a man who struggled.  He struggled throughout his life with who he was and what his relationship was (or was becoming) with whom he perceived as a possible Divinity, and he struggled with the demands that the relationship he had with his God might make upon all of his relationships within this world.  Constantine I defies reductionism.
Logged

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Nullum Gratuitum Prandium!
"Flamma fumo est proxima!"--Plautus
 Chi-Rho
Congius
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 1606



« Reply #11 on: April 13, 2006, 07:19:55 am »

     Are you accusing Eusebius of inventing Constantine's words in his citation of the emperor's Letter to the East, which was a public document that any contemporary could have consulted in innumerable archives and probably also in stone inscriptions, though none of these have come down to us?

I think we can trust Eusebius where he provides source documents like these, not least because copies of some are also available elsewhere. However, Eusebius in general as a source, most specificially Vita Constantini, needs to be considered quite carefully. If we only knew of Constantine from Vita Constantini we'd get a totally distorted view of Constantine and the events recorded.. The major problems with Vita Constantini as an historical source are:

1) It was never intended as such - it's closer to being a typical obsequious panegyric than an unbiased source, and Eusebius even states that it's meant to ignore wordly events (unpleasantries such as Constantine murdering his wife, son, nephew, etc) and give a religous view of Constantine. Even with that stated limited aim, it's been analyzed by Cameron & Hall (Life of Eusebius) as adhering quite strictly to a specific panegyrical structure.

2) Even accepting it as panegyrical rather than strictly factual, Vita Constantini seems to more than straddle the line between flowery embellishment and outright fabrication. Eusebius's claims of Constantine's gentle and non-violent temperment is a good example - totally at odds with some recorded history such as his punishment for infidelity (pour molten lead into the mouth of the girl), the apparently rather noteworthy number of his enemy he had thrown to the beasts in the arena after an early victory (recorded in a panegyric), his hot-tempered killing of some family members, and cold-blooded execution of others.

3) We know for a fact that Eusebius resorted to rewriting of history to make Constantine look better and his enemies look worse, because he can be caught at it by comparing some events of his own earlier "Church History" with "Vita "Constantini" (see Cameron & Hall), and also by comparing him to other sources. Constantine's vision of a cross and supposed conversion in 312 is a good example... if we only had Eusebius (whether he's faithfully recording an embellishment provided by Constantine, or providing the embellishment himself), then we'd only have the spurious account of a fantastic vision, whereas luckily we have Lactantius recording the more sober version where this was only a dream!

I think the various byzantine "lives of Constantine" very aptly continue the Eusebian tradition by further and further embellishing the truth until, like a game of Chinese whispers, they become almost unrecognisable!

Quote
      Coin types were fashioned by other factors beside the emperor's personal convictions, for example the consideration of how the types would be received by the public.  The continuance of pagan types after 312 must at least show that Constantine's acceptance of Christ as his personal protector did not immediately make him a rigid opponent and denier of all pagan divinities.  Those responsible for the types must have known that Constantine would not object to the continued depiction of Sol as his personal protector after 312, perhaps because Sol was regarded as the nearest pagan equivalent to the new Christian god, that everyone knew Constantine in fact now believed in.

No doubt there was some of this type of consideration, as well as some coinage decisions made outside of Constantine's direct control, but he seems to have been a very "hands-on" emperor, and many coin types seem to directly show his personal influence. Certainly the start of the Sol series in 310, as a reaction to his vision of Apollo, was presumably his own choice, and this was the main type he issued until 318-319, making it his longest running type ever - quite a statement! I don't see how we can both accept the introduction of the type as reflecting Constantine's shifted religious devotions in 310, then suddenly discount any such significance after 312. Constantine's continued use of Sol (and later even Jupiter) wasn't limited to just this series, but also included a number of extraordinarily explicit statements of his continued devotion to Sol such as the special gold types of Ticinum c.316, depictions of him being crowned by Sol in 320, etc.

Quote
The coin types, in my opinion, cannot make us reject or substantially alter the facts that are explicitly and reliably transmitted by the literary sources.

No, but neither can they be singled out to be ignored as an historical source. They are afterall a primary source - a direct reflection of Constantine's views/policy/propaganda as it was happening, rather than a less direct account written in most cases many years after the event. I think that if one wants to let the facts speak for themselves rather than interpret them according to some foregone conclusion, then one is necessarily lead to the conclusion that Constantine's religious beliefs were just as "confused" as it appears were those of many others at this time.

Ben


Logged
curtislclay
Tribunus Plebis Perpetuus
Procurator Monetae
Caesar
*****
Offline Offline

Posts: 10889



« Reply #12 on: April 13, 2006, 08:29:03 am »

     As Weiss shows, there was nothing spurious or fantastic at all about Constantine's account of his conversion as related by Eusebius.  Constantine, or Eusebius, has merely telescoped the chronology, making it seem that the vision of 310 was immediately followed by the dream of 312.
     The coin types are indeed primary sources, but NOT necessarily direct reflections "of Constantine's views/policy/propaganda as it was happening."  Eusebius, Lactantius, and Constantine himself explicitly state that he adopted the Christian god as his protector in 312.  The appearance of pagan coin types after this date does NOT explicitly contradict that assertion; other explanations are available.
Logged

Curtis Clay
Congius
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 1606



« Reply #13 on: April 13, 2006, 09:05:03 am »

     As Weiss shows, there was nothing spurious or fantastic at all about Constantine's account of his conversion as related by Eusebius.  Constantine, or Eusebius, has merely telescoped the chronology, making it seem that the vision of 310 was immediately followed by the dream of 312.

I think that "telescoping" is being rather polite ...  A vision of Apollo in 310 + A dream in 312 is not the same as literally seeing a cross in the sky with the words "in this sign, victory" as Eusebius accounts! It may not make any difference to what Constantine's religous views were later in his life when he may have chosen to give this revisionist account to Eusebius (who otherwise either wasn't aware of the truth - only having met Constantine on a couple of occasions - or chose to enhance it into a more classical conversion experience himself), but it does make a difference if one is trying to reconstruct a timeline of Constantine's changing religious views (or merely the raw truth rather than a revisionist "telescoping").

Quote
     The coin types are indeed primary sources, but NOT necessarily direct reflections "of Constantine's views/policy/propaganda as it was happening."  Eusebius, Lactantius, and Constantine himself explicitly state that he adopted the Christian god as his protector in 312.  The appearance of pagan coin types after this date does NOT explicitly contradict that assertion; other explanations are available.

I agree there's every reason to believe that Constantine did adopt the Christian god as his protector, but that doesn't mean (as it seems you are implying) that he necessarily gave up any belief in Sol as an alternate face of the "Summus Deus"... His coinage says he didn't, and we know for a fact that many Christians still prayed to Sol, so why should we assume that Constantine was any different? He denounced sacrifice and worship of idols, but apparently saw Sol in a different light.

Ben
Logged
curtislclay
Tribunus Plebis Perpetuus
Procurator Monetae
Caesar
*****
Offline Offline

Posts: 10889



« Reply #14 on: April 13, 2006, 09:19:26 am »

   The solar halo of 310 was indeed a cross in the sky, and Weiss argues convincingly that Eusebius' Greek can mean WITH THE SIGNIFICANCE "In this sign, Victory", not WITH THOSE ACTUAL WORDS.
    That Constantine immediately after 312 may have maintained a belief in Sol as an "alternate face of the Summus Deus", I find entirely plausible!
Logged

Curtis Clay
Numerianus
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 1189

I love this forum!


« Reply #15 on: April 13, 2006, 10:17:31 am »

I emjoyed a lot reading  this analysis.
May I ask a simple and  question which bothers me? The discussion suppose that
Constantine was acting as being in vacuum.
How the conversion can be done by the emperor, who was still ex officio
the supreme priest  of all Roman gods? Does this mean that
he was surrounded by some religious representatives, made services etc.?
 We may think that the emperor  had an absolute power  and acted as a god, but
in reality, he was just a top officer  accustomed to the team work (though he was an 
ultimate decision maker).  As we know form the history, proclaiming a new state religion was a quite dangerous
step. So, the visible evolution of Constantine towards the Christianity was just a reflection of a complex fight  and manoeuvres
of unknown personalities behind. Note also that in the army the cult of Soli Invicto  could be more important than cult of
Christ (there are  remnants of  temples in military camps of the epoch devoted to Soli).
Logged
Robert_Brenchley
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 7322

Honi soit qui mal y pense.


WWW
« Reply #16 on: April 13, 2006, 04:24:19 pm »

I would never take anyone's account of their conversion to any religion as 'true' in an objective sense. one thing I discovered years ago is that in most religious traditions, conversions follow a pattern, which can be very broad in some cases, and totally prescribed in others. If you're expected to have a 'born-again experience', you probably will; if you're expected to be baptised in the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues, you'll be indulging in glossolalia before long; if you're expected to undergo an experience of guilt before discovering freedom in Christ, you'll soon realise how depressed you were. And so on. Conversion is usually an emotional time, if nothing else you're seeking acceptance by a new community, and it doesn't take long to convince yourself that you've had the expected experience, if there is one. It would be interesting to compare Constantine's conversion to others of the same period!

Any successful religion will always adopt a form which is largely determined by the culture in which it finds itself; if it doesn't, it will never be more than marginal  and probably won't last long. Pagan religion was changing, becoming more monotheist, but what I'd call inclusively so. Being an adherent of Sol Invictus didn't mean you denied the existence of Jupiter or Hercules, and there was probably nothing to stop you being an adherent of more than one. The cults of syncretistic deities like Serapis flourished, leaving me wondering whether the situation was really much different from what we find in Hinduism today. It's well known that they have many gods, and most Hindus will be mainly adherents of one. but most (there are a few exceptions) will agree that at bottom there is only the one God. We know that some people worshipped both Christ and the sun, and I seriously wonder whether Constantine was really any more than a sun worshipper who identified Christ with Sol. If he was, he probably wasn't unique; the church took a long time to impose Semitic exclusivism on a religiously inclusive Roman tradition.
Logged

Robert Brenchley

My gallery: http://www.forumancientcoins.com/gallery/index.php?cat=10405
Fiat justitia ruat caelum
wolfgang336
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 899


Aut Caesar Aut Nullus


« Reply #17 on: April 13, 2006, 04:38:56 pm »

Quote
Any successful religion will always adopt a form which is largely determined by the culture in which it finds itself; if it doesn't, it will never be more than marginal  and probably won't last long. Pagan religion was changing, becoming more monotheist, but what I'd call inclusively so.

You are quite correct, and this is one of the reasons for the Great Persecution in the first place. Many Pagans were becoming quite uncomfortable with the way that their Paganism and Christianity was converging. One was within the bounds of the Imperial cult, while the other seemed to be opposed to it (not saying that it actually was). Diocletian cracked down, and the gulf was widened, pushing the Church out of Imperial going ons. This was of course a mistake, and Constantine is seen trying to rectify it, not by swinging wildly to the other side, but by pulling them back into Imperial affairs, and giving them a place within the beuracracy.

Quote
The solar halo of 310 was indeed a cross in the sky

Lactantius refers to a "tilted X with a curled top"- a Staurogram, while Eusebius refers to the Chi-Rho. Neither makes mention of the traditional cross.

Evan
Logged

wolfgang336
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 899


Aut Caesar Aut Nullus


« Reply #18 on: April 13, 2006, 05:34:06 pm »

Another thought on the cause of the Great Persecution:

Diocletian was a military man... he ordered his city officials to wear a uniform. He ascribed to the concept of "divine group punishment": the transgressions of an individual or minority lead to the punishment of the entire group. He would have viewed the Christian movement as a threat not just to his own divine anscestry, but to his Empire as a whole. This is in contrast with the Christian concept of individual divine determination. I wonder if Constantine's embrace of the Church was an attempt to relieve himself of the pagan responsibility of enforcing a certain religion to guard against disaster from supernatural agents.

Not sure if I just ran in a circle, just a thought.

Evan
Logged

basemetal
Guest
« Reply #19 on: April 13, 2006, 06:11:56 pm »

I am in awe of the learned level of debate here.  Sincerely.
So, of course, I will inject my own plebian ideas and opinions.
Consider what Constantine had to draw on.  There was no "central" idea of what Christianity was at the time.  Yes, many religious men had strong and definite ideas, but the term "many" is the key.
Consider the debate on the Judas Gospel in this forum
I see much unconsious modern projecting (how's that for incorporating a distasteful modern term) of the state of religion in Constantine's world.  That is, we analyze Constantine's conversion in terms of him coming close to or missing the mark in the modern "accurate" idea of Christianity.
Constantine must have in some way seen Christianity as a potentially powerful tool, either by it's growng following and importance in the empire or just as added insurance in his military and civil endeavours. 
From his point of view, by golly, it worked, too!  The old conundrum of:
"Why do you stamp your foot and whirl around three times every day?
 "To keep the elephants away."
"That's ridiculous!"
"See any elephants?"
Cause and effect.  He won his battles. Surely not in spite of his new beliefs.  They were vindicated by his success.
Sol Ivictus belief was perhaps the closest to Christianity that he was comfortable with.
Surely not the idea that "some guy" had himself willingly crucified (one of the worst fates in terms of honor for the tradtional roman belief system).
The old semi-aphocryphical story about Constantine fashioning a bit for his favorite horse out of the nails, from the true cross that Helena brought back from the Holy Land (not that either he or Helena would have called it that) may actually best illustrate his level of belief and served as the seminal spark of the "relic" mania that gripped the late empire and mideval times that followed.
Curtis, please do not turn me into a newt for this post.   Roll Eyes
Logged
Robert_Brenchley
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 7322

Honi soit qui mal y pense.


WWW
« Reply #20 on: April 14, 2006, 04:52:45 pm »

I think Diocletian was pressurised and perhaps manipulated into the Great Persecution. His son-in-law, Galerius, was strongly anti-Christian, and purged Christians from hios army. He seems to have pressurised dio to begin persecution. Dio actually persecuted the Manichees first, suggesting a wider dislike of 'foreign' cults. They, of course, weren't so influential as the Christians. then Dio consulted the omens regarding Galerius' Persian expedition, and recieved no reply. The priests claimed that this was because Christians present had made the sign of the Cross. Several years later, when Dio was sick, Galerius finally persuaded him. I have seen more detail than this, but don't have it to hand. From what I remember, Dio wanted to exclude Christians from the army, and was pushed into going further.

The odd thing is, that after opposing the Christians for many years, Galerius rescinded all his anti-Christian decrees when he was on his deathbed. Nobody knows why.
Logged

Robert Brenchley

My gallery: http://www.forumancientcoins.com/gallery/index.php?cat=10405
Fiat justitia ruat caelum
Congius
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 1606



« Reply #21 on: April 15, 2006, 03:06:04 pm »

May I ask a simple and  question which bothers me? The discussion suppose that
Constantine was acting as being in vacuum.
How the conversion can be done by the emperor, who was still ex officio
the supreme priest  of all Roman gods? Does this mean that
he was surrounded by some religious representatives, made services etc.?

I don't know of any record of whether Constantine ever redefined or shirked the responsibilites of Pontifex Maximus, but he certainly did retain the title and used it sparingly on his coinage until at least as late as 320. Note that Constantine didn't actually change the state religion (that happened under Theodosius I when outlawing most pagan practices left Roman Catholicism the defacto religion), nor did he actually get baptized (i.e. formally become a Christian) until his deathbed. His religious policy (at least regarding Paganism & Christianity) was more one of inclusivity, in sync with the times, than one of rejection of most practices of paganism. Quite late in his reign he even explicity gave permision for a new temple to the imperial cult to be constructed.

Ben
Logged
wolfgang336
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 899


Aut Caesar Aut Nullus


« Reply #22 on: April 15, 2006, 04:40:02 pm »

The odd thing is, that after opposing the Christians for many years, Galerius rescinded all his anti-Christian decrees when he was on his deathbed. Nobody knows why.

I wonder if Galerius had a soft spot for his old boss's son, Maxentius? Upon noticing the political mess he'd created, he put an end to it for Maxentius' sake? Or it could have been that Galerius was desperate and rescinded the Persecution laws on the condition that Christians pray for the health of the Emperor / Empire (and more importantly, him).

Evan
Logged

Congius
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 1606



« Reply #23 on: April 16, 2006, 06:24:15 am »

Evan,
It seems most likely that Galerius was just hoping to save himself.
He certainly didn't have any fond feelings for Maxentius - not only had Maxentius usurped then had killed Galerius's western appointee Severus II, but Galerius himself had an abortive attempt to go after Maxentius in 307, and again passed him over at Cartuntum by assigning his territory to Licinius as western augustus (who curiously never made any attempt to claim his prize).

Ben
Logged
Robert_Brenchley
Procurator Caesaris
Caesar
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 7322

Honi soit qui mal y pense.


WWW
« Reply #24 on: April 16, 2006, 03:59:13 pm »

Deathbed baptisms were common at that period; there was an old belief (passing away at the time but still powerful) that there was no forgiveness for sin committed after baptism. So people delayed it as long as they dared.
Logged

Robert Brenchley

My gallery: http://www.forumancientcoins.com/gallery/index.php?cat=10405
Fiat justitia ruat caelum
Pages: [1] 2  All Go Up Print 
FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numism  |  Reading For the Advanced Collector  |  Topic: Constantine's Conversion and Ambiguity « previous next »
Jump to:  

Recent Price Reductions in Forum's Shop


Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.21 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!
Page created in 6.183 seconds with 70 queries.