Constantine conversion caused by meteor strike?

Discussion in 'Graeco-Roman' started by brian, Jun 20, 2003.

  1. brian

    brian Administrator

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    The following story is interesting in that it refers to Constantine and meteors (Rome+astrophysics - how can we go wrong? ;D ) - but then descends into the usual bad pattern of trying to force a physical event into a historical framework - notably because the actual dating would have placed the event in the fifth century.

    Still, from an anthropological point of view, it'll be interesting to try and track this down in the ancient literature. I guess that's why the famous Milvan Bridge incident is invoked - precisely because it is so famous.

    However, I'm also under the impression that Constantine was very affected by the influence of Christianity already - especially because of those present in the family household.

    It's also a point of note that the early symbol for Christianity was the Chi-Rho symbol - effectively, a "X" cross and not a "+" cross. (And that's before we even touch on the argument of a "T" crucifiction post.)

    So, effectively, if Constantine say the event, the impact cloud would not likely look like a Chi-Rho symbol.

    The final objection is that, if I remember rightly, Eusebius reported that the vision actually occurred in a dream anyway. :)

    Oh - sorry - forget the link: ;D

    Asteroid impact could have prompted Constantine's conversion
     
  2. WHKeith

    WHKeith New Member

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    I've got to go find the source--forget where it is--but recently I read an interesting article that tied the Dark Ages in with a comet or meteor strike in Europe. The evidence--a string of long, bitterly cold winiters through the 400s/500s, crop failures that led to barbarian migrations, and numerous popular reports of "dragons" and signs in the heavens. I could definitely see the Serent event linked to this. Some have even blamed the fall of the ROman Empire on widespread meteor strikes.

    The Roman Empire was clearly on its way out through social and economic reasons, and didn't require an astronomical explanation. And, as you point out, Brian, Constantine's conversion occured long before the 5th century. When was Milvian Bridge? About 312? With the Edict of Milan about 316? That period, anyway. "Fourth or fifth century" suggests to my mind a much later date--late 300s to early 400s.

    So far as sources go, Brian--I believe that the Christian apologist Lactantius was the one who reported that Constantine got the idea of having his troops paint a chi-rho on their shields in a dream. Eusebius reports that he was on campaign, and saw a sign in the sky, purportedly a cross, with the words, "In this sign conquer." That version was passed on to Eusebius personally, but many years later, and contains some problematical anachronisms, not least of which--as you point out--the notion of a cross as a symbol for Christ. Polycarp? When did the cross first become a sign of Christianity, divorced from its more shameful identity of earlier centuries?
     
  3. brian

    brian Administrator

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    Thanks for the Lactantius name-drop - should be useful for further research. :)

    Eusebius - (sigh) - unfortunately carries so many accusations against his use of sources that it's hard to take him very seriously except as a compiler of adulterated commentaries. A reading of the first few pages of his Ecclesiastical History immediately suggests the sort of fawning sycophant that I'm sure Constantine could easily distract with well chosen comments here and there. I can't help but imagine Constantine telling Eusebius the story of the Heavenly Vision before Milvan Bridge with a smile on his face, knowing how gullibly the bishop would believe a Caesar. That's assuming that Eusebius even reported the incident properly. My memory of reading Eusebius is of a writer desperate to associate himself personally with the Emperor of Rome.

    Actually, I don't wonder if Constantine wouldn't have wondered if he was actually the Second Coming, introducing the reign of God on earth as a true king. I've tried searching for that line of enquiry in the histories but if it was there it was never expressed in a way I can properly trace.
     
  4. WHKeith

    WHKeith New Member

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    Cool idea, and one I'd not heard before. My reading has convinced me that Constantine was highly opportunistic, as any good politician must be! :) Back in my super-Christian days, I frequently pointed out that Constantine was the worst thing that could have happened to the Christian church . . . that he saw his army needed a unifying ideal against those nasty Arians, so he marched his army through a river and then told them all that they'd just been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! In short, with Constantine, Christianity became state policy and a symbol of patriotism, not a matter of personal and intensely individual belief and conversion. Soon, you were "Christian" simply by being born inside a Christian empire, and if you questioned that fact, you could be prosecuted as a heretic. Sheesh!

    And I see Eusebius as a willing but mostly unknown accomplice!
     
  5. WHKeith

    WHKeith New Member

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    Sorry. "unknowing," not "unknown!" My singers flipped.
     
  6. brian

    brian Administrator

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    I actually give Constantine a lot of sympathy. In terms of faith, although his decisions regarding Christianity undoubtedly had political motivation, I see him as a figure profoundly touched by the Christian sense of faith, but who never cared to delve into the complexities in terms of his personal belief. I'm sure I read somewhere that there were Christian slaves in his family household - can't remember if his dad's, mum's, or his own specifically.

    Anyway, I see a real sympathy for Christianity in his attitude. I mean, declaring open interest for an otherwise unpopular faith - not to mention the lesson of Emperor Elagabalus in the third century, when he lost his life brining a Syrian mystery cult to Rome - suggests that Constantine was taking a very real risk on the issue.

    Whether there ever was a Milvan Bridge moment - I'm not sure. Somehow there's too much of a sense of legend about the entire incident - Angel of Mons style. I see a story constructed long after the event, perhaps as shrewd political explanation for his interest in the unpopuler Christians (after all, if Divinely ordained, through a sign granting victory, no superstition of the old classical gods could surmount that with an objection).

    Certainly Constantine politicised Christianity, and personally I see that extending well into the councils that decided upon the required orthodoxy and canon. For example, the view of Athanasius (eventual orthodoxy) seems to have been taken on board simply because Athanasius was a well-dressed, well spoken gentlemen - someone well to respect in the Roman world - whereas Arius appears to have been a vociferous scruff, which hardly entertains ones noble presence!

    After then it all seems to have been "politics politics politics". Which may or may not have harmed Christianity, but certainly could be said to have shaped it.
     
  7. Arch

    Arch New Member

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    As a politician Constantine must have had a clear idea about what he was doing.
    Btw what's with all the " marks?
     
  8. Dave the Web

    Dave the Web New Member

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    I see Constantine as walking a path between personal faith and political expediency. It takes some courage to start a revolution and that is exactly what he started. Did he see a political opportunity? He possibly did. I cannot be reconciled with the suggestion that Constantine was only motivated by politics. He may not have been interested in the intellectual arguments of Christianity, but I do see a man with a quiet and not always apparent faith.
     
  9. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste all,

    whilst not being terribly relevant to the ongoing discussion.. i thought that i would relate a bit of personal trivia..

    i am related to Emperor Constatine, by marriage :) my grandfather had/has all sorts of landed Eurpoean titles and so forth.... i spent some time working with the folks in England that keep track of such things (i've forgotten who they are) to see how the titles transfer in death and so forth.

    sorry for the interruption... continue :)
     
  10. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Sounds fascinating - you really can trace a branch of the family tree all the way back to the 4th century? That must be absolutely fascinating! Seriously! :)

    Ancestral roots is something I've never got around to exploring properly - and perhaps never will. I am from a long line of undistinguished Yorkshire peasants. :)
     
  11. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Sorry - and the

    marks in some posts are from the forum conversion to vBulletin - for some reason, the converter rendered ""s into their HTML code, which is what is displaying. I'm currently editing this errors out from older posts when I see them - though it may take some time.
     
  12. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    to be sure, i did not do the work, so i'm simply relying upon what was presented to me... which can certainly be incorrect :)

    though in my own efforts to track the family in the states, has led me as far back as the early 1600's somewhere in southern Georgia and South Carolina. i am having some difficulty in getting the maternal line back across the pond, so to speak, as i can't seem to find the correct Broome.
     
  13. WHKeith

    WHKeith New Member

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    Yeah, tracing family lineages back can be fun.

    Sorry to admit it Brian, Seige, and the rest of you Brits out there . . . but the earliest ancestor I can find led the Bruce's cavalry at Bannockburn in 1314. Which makes MY ancestors those disgusting creatures who kept crossing Hadrian's Wall to steal honest men's sheep!

    Although there IS a story that I'm also related to William the Bastard.

    Ooohhh! Sheep! . . .

    Baaaaa. . . . .
     
  14. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Bumping this thread. :)
     

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