NATIONAL SUNDAY LAW CRISIS
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.
"To the worshiper of Mithras [Mithra] in Constantine’s forces, the cross could give no offense, for they had long fought under a standard bearing a Mithraic cross of light."—Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, 54.
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 religion.
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 national crisis.
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 meal.
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 and Europe.
We are laying the groundwork for a repeat performance. The next chapter tells what Constantine did in order to lay this ground work.
"The doctrine which, from the very first origin of religious dissensions, has been held by all bigots of all sects, when condensed into a few words and stripped of rhetorical disguise, is simply this:
" ‘I am in the right, and you are in the wrong. When you are the stronger, you ought to tolerate me; for it is your duty to tolerate the truth. But when I am the stronger, I shall persecute you; for it is my duty to persecute error.’ "—Lord Macaulay, Essay on "Sir James Mackintosh," in Critical and Historical Essays (1865 ed.), Vol. 1, 333-334.
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