Constantine The Great



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.



Sorry for bumping up an old thread, but I figured it was better than starting a new one. This was the closest to my question in the search. It states here that the sign that Constantine saw in the sky was the chi rho, but I was recently reading some Eusebius and the account seems to strongly indicate a cross.

…he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun…

…now it [the “figure of the sign he had seen”] was made in the following manner. A long spear overlaid with gold, formed the figure of the cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it. On top of the whole was fixed a wreath of gold and precious stones and within this * the symbol of the Saviour’s name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters the letter P being intersected by the X in its center*; and these letters the emperor was in the habit of wearing on his helmet at a later period.

This seems to say to me that the figure he saw was indeed a cross, atop which was placed a wreath of gold, and that the chi-rho was placed inside this wreath. Does anyone have any clarification for me?



it was actually quite unclear what form of the Cross did Constantine see. Lactantius, the other writer had described the Cross as a Latin Cross with a rounded top like the letter P.

On that quote you cited, what was actually described there is the labarum, or banner that Constantine made when he saw the vision.

If you’ll inspect some of the coins made in his lifetime, you’ll notice an image of the Labarum; it is the Chi-rho that was depicted on the banner. It was also depicted on his and some of his successor’s army’s shield.

AND, within the bowels of St. Peter’s Basilica stands Peter’s Tomb. The Early Christians had built a church complex there before Constantine’s Basilica. There was this wall where early pilgrims left graffiti. There was this one graffiti where the words ‘IN HOC VINCE’ appears above a Chi-Rho.



Here’s a website that contains a picture of how the labarum may have looked like…

(Sorry i had to link to the site instead of the picture; I’m typing this thru Cellphone)



Thanks for the clarification, and the picture. It seems, as you said, unclear what the exact sign Constantine saw was, but judging from the description of the artifact he had made and the fact that he seemed to have adopted the chi-rho on his helmet and much of his coinage, that it was involved somehow.



I know this posting is a bit old now, but I had a question about Constantine’s Labarum, the chi-rho symbol.

I was reading a site and they said 40,000 men saw Constantine’s vision of a cross in the sky. But a historian said the greatest mystery about it was that they all kept silent about it. I guess he’s taking about history.

Does anyone have any information about this? Thanks.


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