Rome was rapidly reaching its climax. The year was
A.D. 312. Four emperors now ruled in various parts of the Roman
Empire, each bent on ultimately destroying the others. Taking the
initiative, one of the four, Constantine, made a sudden march from
Gaul, France, across the Alps and into northern Italy. Surprising an
army at Turin, he defeated it—and then moved rapidly southward
toward the city of Rome.
On October 27, 312, he met the forces of Maxentius
at Saxa Rubra (Red Rocks), near a sleepy town just nine miles
north of Rome. By superior military strategy, he compelled Maxentius
to fight with his back to the River Tiber, with no retreat possible
except over the Mulvian Bridge. On the afternoon before the battle, he
decided to place an "X" on the shields of his men, symbolic
of "Christ." He had already given his soldiers sun symbols
of Mithra, the sun god, to carry before them.
The Battle of Mulvian Bridge was one of the crucial
battles of Western history, and it was won by Constantine. Maxentius
perished in the Tiber along with thousands of his troops. Constantine
entered the gates of Rome as the undisputed master of the western half
of the Roman Empire.
The next year, he conquered the emperor of the
eastern half of the empire, Licinius, and took from him all his
territory except Thrace. For practical purposes, Constantine already
had the Roman Empire in his hands; although nine years later, in 323,
he again met Licinius in battle—and wiped out his forces.
By the time Constantine ascended the throne, the
Roman Empire was seriously decaying. Politically, financially, morally—there
was deep trouble ahead. Overextension of credit, abortion, loose
morals, riots—it all sounds like something from our own time. And
the parallels are striking. Our nation today is decaying just as
ancient Rome did.
But Constantine recognized something that the other
politicians of his day had not yet grasped. It was clear to him that
the only hope of the empire, in resisting its enemies from within and
the Gothic hordes from without, was to unite the empire into a single
At first, he tried an edict of toleration, which,
when issued in 312 (the Edict of Milan), helped bring more peace into
the nation. But it was not the solution needed in such a time of
What was needed was a way to unify the religious
worship pattern of the empire. Once that was achieved, a uniting of
the churches into a single monolithic State church could be achieved.
And it worked exactly as Constantine planned.
Constantine the Great (272-337) was one of the most
influential of the Roman emperors. Indeed, he was one of the most
influential men of the first thousand years after Christ. But it was
what he did to Christianity that gave him that influence. For the
effects of his actions reach down to our own time.
Yet historians are generally agreed that he was
more of a politician than a Christian. His goal was not so much the
helping of Christianity as it was the salvage of the Roman Empire.
With so many problems to be reckoned with, Constantine wisely
concluded that what was needed was a unifying of the nation through a
combining of religion; but, for over two centuries, few paid any
attention to it. Meanwhile, other religions from the East had arisen
and were claiming the devotion of the people. Among them all, two
especially stood out—Mithraism, the worship of Mithra (Mithras), the
sun god, and Christianity, the worship of the true God, the Creator
God, as revealed in the Old and the New Testament Scriptures.
Sun worship was one of the most ancient of
religions. Fausset tells us that "Sun worship was the earliest
idolatry (Fausset Bible Dictionary, 666). The Arabians appear
to have worshiped it directly without the aid of statues (Job
31:26-27). Abraham was called out of all this when he went to the
promised land. Ra was the sun god in Egypt, and On (Heliopolis, the
City of the Sun) was the center of sun worship there (see the Hebrew
of Jeremiah 43:13). Entering Canaan under Joshua, the Hebrews again
encountered sun worship. Baal, of the Phoenicians; Molech or Milcom,
of the Ammonites, Shemesh, in the Middle East, and Aton, the Egyptian
god of the sun disc. The temple at Baalbek, in Syria, was dedicated to
sun worship. You can find sun worship symbols in the worship monuments
and relics of ancient England, Europe, Asia, Africa, and America.
But a few centuries before the time of Christ, all
Eastern and Roman sun worship centered in the worship of the Persian
sun god, Mithra. Mithraism was an astonishing counterfeit of
Christianity. It provided a highly personalized worship, and included
baptism (in bull blood), a special weekly holy day of worship, and a
saviour god who, each year, died and rose from the dead. It also had a
mass in which the worshipers would partake of their god in a sacred
What Constantine attempted to do was to unite the
two most powerful religions of the Roman Empire into one! And he
sought to do this by combining the worship of Christ on the sacred
worship day of Mithra. And Constantine succeeded exactly as planned.
The results were disastrous for faithful Christians all over the East
We are laying the groundwork for a repeat
performance. The next chapter tells what Constantine did in order to
lay this ground work.