Eusebius On Constantine: Truth And Hagiography At The Milvian Bridge -- By: Bryan M. Litfin

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 55:4 (Dec 2012)
Article: Eusebius On Constantine: Truth And Hagiography At The Milvian Bridge
Author: Bryan M. Litfin

Eusebius On Constantine: Truth And Hagiography At The Milvian Bridge

Bryan M. Litfin

Bryan Litfin is professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute, 820 N. LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60610-3284.

Few figures from the Late Antique period have received as much scholarly scrutiny as Constantine the Great. Who might rival him? In the field of early Christian studies, St. Augustine certainly has received ample treatment, and the bibliography on him is enormous. Yet those who study the bishop of Hippo do so primarily from one angle: the power of his ideas, whether philosophical or theological. To be sure, he is “set against his background,” yet it is not mainly Roman historians but patristic scholars who find Augustine interesting. Constantine, on the other hand, did not just live within history; he made it. More than any of the Church fathers (as influential as they often were), the “first Christian emperor” was in a position to change the course of human affairs. As such, he has been the object of intense scholarly investigation, not only by theologians, but also classicists, numismatists, and historians of antiquity, art, and warfare—people who usually care very little about the difference between a Homoousian and a Homoiousian.

Perhaps no moment in Constantine’s life is more deeply etched in modern consciousness than the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in ad 312.1 There are many reasons for this, most of which stem from the impact it had on the Christian church. Yet those who lived in the fourth century saw the battle as just one in a list of imperial victories—and not necessarily the most significant of them. After all, Constantine’s defeat of Maxentius won him the West, but it was his defeat of Licinius in 324 that won him sole rule of the Roman Empire, a situation that had not pertained since Diocletian promoted Maximian to Augustus nearly four decades earlier. Even in the context of Constantine’s Italian campaign, the Milvian Bridge comes across as somewhat anticlimactic. The battles of Turin, Verona, and little

Segusio receive just as much if not more treatment in the panegyric delivered to commemorate the war’s success.2 The anonymous orator suggests the affair at the Milvian Bridge was over rather quickly, with Maxentius being routed “at the first sight of (Constantine’s) majesty and at the first attack of (his) army.”3

Yet we cannot deny this military victory—which happened not on some distant barbarian front...

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