Constantine. Many people know the name. Wasn’t Constantine the emperor who legalized Christianity and made it the official religion of the Roman Empire? Well actually no, that isn’t exactly true. The emperor who legalized Christianity was a pagan implacably opposed to Christianity: the emperor Galerius. His edict making Christianity a legal religion was issued in the year 311, two years before Constantine reissued a similar edict from Milan. Nor did Constantine make Christianity the official religion. What be Edict of Milan proclaimed was the freedom of all Romans to honor the deities any way they wished. But Constantine himself favored the Christians, rewarded them, and gave them privileges, all of which made it more attractive for ambitious Romans to switch from a pagan god to a Christian one. You may have heard the famous story. In the year 312, Constantine marched on Rome. On the eve of the decisive battle at the Milvian bridge, he had a vision. A cross appeared in the sky with the exultation “By this sign, conquer.” Ordering that the cross be inscribed on the shields of his soldiers, Constantine drove his rival’s forces into the water, took Rome, converted to Christianity, united the empire, and the happy story of a Christian world began. Unfortunately, none of this is exactly true either. For one thing, Constantine’s vision was in fact a supposed dream he had had, and reported to his secretary, several years later. Even then, there was no mention of a sign of the cross, which wasn’t to become a Christian symbol for several centuries. The symbolism that Constantine did adopt was the Chi-Rho, the first two letters of the word “Christos.” Imperial standards were very important to the Roman army. The guardian spirit of each legion, cohort and century resided in its standard, and it was kept in a chapel Treasury in the center of every camp, and was an object of ritual and veneration. Now Constantine gave his elite units a new standard—the Lebarum so-called— incorporating portraits of himself, and the Chi-Rho. By so doing, Constantine, like every other Roman general, hoped to invoke the support of the greatest god. But he was far from sure which god that was. Now his mother, a barmaid called Helena, was a Christian, and may have influenced his choice. But earlier in his career, his patron deity was the Sun God, for whom he took the name Invictus, or unconquerable. His coinage continued to show Sol Invictus for years, and the Victory Arch of Constantine, still standing in Rome, in fact shows the Sun god Apollo, and refers to all the gods. The point here is that we are not talking of religious conversion or conviction, but rather of simply invoking the most powerful lucky charm. And as it happens, Constantine was a lucky general, fighting and murdering his way to absolute power. He remained a deeply superstitious pagan all his life, and accepted Christian baptism only on his deathbed. By then, the Christian bishops had been elevated from obscurity to a privileged place in the imperial court, rewarded with salaries from the state, and housed in palaces. The bishops showed their gratitude to Constantine by hailing him as a 13th apostle, chosen by God, his heirs and descendants destined to rule the empire. The bishops became the mouthpieces for the ruling dynasty, regimenting their flocks into compliant and passive recipients of an officially determined truth. But it wasn’t truth. It wasn’t history. It was astounding rubbish from the New Testament!