There are two main versions of Constantine’s baptism: an eastern one described by Eusebius in his Vita Constantini 4.61-64, and a western one, known as the Conversio Constantini and included in the Actus Sylvestri. A.‘s aim is to present an analysis of the sources that refer to Constantine’s baptism and to put both versions and their variants in their historical context. The book consists of three parts: 1. Constantine´s baptism as described in Eusebius’ VC; 2. Constantine´s baptism as an element in late-antique doctrinal discussions; 3. the repudiation of the Eusebian version and its replacement by that in the Actus Sylvestri. In part 1 A. sketches the background to Constantine and his conversion, and the reception of the VC in the fourth century before discussing the account of Constantine’s baptism in the VC.
According to Eusebius, after he first fell ill, shortly after Easter of 377, Constantine left Constantinople to make use of the hot baths at the outskirts of his city; from there he went to Helenopolis where he offered supplicatory prayers and petitions to God at the shrine of the martyrs, and thinking he was about to die, announced his intention to seek baptism. He then went to Nicomedia and in the suburbs of that city – he probably stayed the suburban imperial villa Achyron3 – the emperor received baptism and shortly after died.
A. discusses the Eusebian account in detail, comparing it to other primary sources which refer to the Constantine’s last days (mainly the fifth-century church historians) and to secondary scholarly literature on the subject. A. examines matters such as the character of Constantine’s baptism (which she calls a “battesimo clinico,” p. 44) and its liturgical aspects,4 the emperor’s wish to be baptised in the Jordan (which A. considers an authentic wish rather than a rhetorical device by Eusebius) and the practice of baptism shortly before death.
Eusebius does not mention the bishop who baptised him. Jerome (Chron. a. 337), at the end of the fourth century, is the first to mention that Constantine had been baptized by Eusebius, the Arian bishop of Nicomedia, information that is generally considered reliable by modern scholars.
It is often argued that Eusebius omitted mention of his namesake to avoid the scandal that Constantine was baptised at the hands of an Arian. Of more importance, however, is that Eusebius – and A. emphasizes this point (pp. 38 ff.) – focused only on the person of Constantine and generally suppressed the names of others, especially when describing Constantine’s baptism because this was the conclusion of a personal process of conversion.
It does matter who baptized him – one who chooses a Baptist minister becomes a Baptist. One who chooses an Arian becomes an Arian.