The person Constantine was supposed to meet was Hosius, a bishop of Cordoba, a Christian prelate of Spain. He was a longtime associate of Constantine.
Constantine first met Hosius about 14 years ago, in the late 311 AD, when he was still a junior emperor, or a Caesar. He was preparing a battle against emperor Maxentius, his main rival in the Western Roman Empire at that time, who happened also to be his brother in law. Maxentius was the brother of Fausta, the second wife of Constantine. Both Maxentius and Fausta were children of Maximian. Maximian, as we mentioned earlier, was also the step father of Theodora, the second wife of Chlorus Constantius, the father of Constantine.
Anyway, late into the evening in the Fall of the year 311 AD, while discussing the best strategy with his generals on how to fight against Maxentius, whose army was greater in number than his army, Constantine’s assistant came knocking, telling him that someone had been waiting to see him since the morning.
“Do I know him?” Constantine asked his assistant.
“I doubt, my Lord,” answered his assistant.
“Then tell him I am too busy to receive a visitor.” Ordered Constantine.
“I did, my Lord, but this is no ordinary visitor. He said he has something that could help bring us victory against Maxentius.”
Constantine was not naïve to the ways of the world. There were far more flatterers bringing empty promises than there were worthy people. This one he believed belongs to the former, not the latter.
“He has been waiting to see my Lord since the morning, and he said he won’t leave until he has your majesty audience, no matter how long it takes,” continued his servant, when he saw his emperor didn’t seem to be taken by the bait. Constantine relented and the visitor was brought in.
The visitor was unkempt. His hair was long, untidy. His beard too was long and messy. His face wore a rustic look and appeared fatigue, a sign that he had come from a far distance. He also looked tired because he had been waiting to see Constantine since the morning. Constantine’s assistant did not alert his master earlier because he had been given strict instruction that the junior emperor did not want to receive any visitor that day. The assistant braved himself to alert his master that evening partly because he was sympathetic with the visitor who had been sitting outside of Constantine’s tent for the whole of the day and about half of the night already, and partly because he thought the man had something really important to suggest to his master.
When the man entered his tent, Constantine saw that there was nothing to suggest that this man would be someone who can help him win his war, but the junior emperor noticed a determined look in the stranger’s eyes. When he approached closer, Constantine smelled as if this visitor had not been taking a bath for at least a week, if not a month.
“Who are you?” Constantine asked.
“The name is Hosius, from Cordoba. A man of God, and a servant of the Lord Constantine,” answered the stranger.
“What do you want from me?”
“To be at your service, my Lord.”
Constantine smiled coyly. What kind of service this unkempt stranger could possibly render. I need a general, not a man of god, he said in his heart. Be that as it may, Constantine decided not to dismiss the stranger much too soon. After all, he had been waiting since the morning just to have a few minutes with the junior emperor.
“And what would that be?” Constantine asked.
“A group of fearless soldiers, and a help from God.”
Constantine almost burst into laughter, as were his assistant and generals. This poor man is a dreamer, thought Constantine. He couldn’t even take care of himself, and he want to help me. Constantine had seen and heard enough of the nonsense, even in that few seconds, so he spoke dismissively.
“As for soldiers, I have the most disciplined army; and as for God, I already have Sol Invictus,” said Constantine, referring to his brave and disciplined soldiers, and to his undefeated sun god. Sol Invictus was the leading Roman deity at that time. Expressed more fully, this deity is called Deus Sol Invictus, meaning, the undefeated Sun God. The origin of this deity is generally traced to the ancient Mesopotamian god and was introduced into the Roman religion around 222 AD by Emperor Elagabalus.
“My Lord speaks the truth. Hosius too speaks the truth.” The stranger added.
“You must be a Christian,” said Constantine.
“A bishop, from Cordoba; a prelate of Spain.”
“Your title, whatever it means to you, doesn’t impress me. You are dismissed.” But before Constantine’s assistant managed to usher the stranger out, he flashed an emblem to the junior emperor’s face.
“In this sign, you shall conquer.” The Bishop from Cordoba said.
The emblem was a monogram. It showed a combination of first two Greek letters, Chi-Rho. It represented the first two letters for Christos, or Christ, the God of the Christians who believed in his divinity. The monogram reminded him of his dream a few weeks ago. In the dream he saw a battle where one of the groups was using the embroidered letters Chi and Rho as their banner. The battle was won by that group. The dream did not suggest that Constantine fought against this group and lost; neither did it suggest that Constantine was leading an army with this labarum. He himself was not in the battle. The battle was just shown to him for a brief moment.
Waking up from the dream, Constantine thought about it for a while, but later dismissed it as a mere handiwork of the daemon. He considered himself the son of Sol Invictus, or the son of the undefeated sun god. Why would the son of Sol Invictus want to use the Chi Rho as his banner?
Constantine forgot about the dream already, until Hosius flashed him that monogram. The monogram looked the same as the labarum he saw in the dream. Who is this man, he thought. Does he know about my dream? As far as the junior emperor knew, he never told anyone about his dream. Could it be a mere coincidence?
Whatever Constantine’s state of the mind at that time, the whole episode caught his interest. He called Hosius to come back before the bishop was out of his tent.
“Who are you?” Constantine asked.
“As I said my Lord, the name is Hosius, a bishop of Cordoba, a prelate of Spain.”
“Why did you flash this monogram to my face? Don’t you know that I am no Christian, and that what you did just now can offend me, and you may lose your head for that?”
“Death doesn’t scare me, my Lord. I have narrowly escaped it twice already. In any case, when my time comes, I will die, but not a moment before that. In the meantime, I want to be of service to you, because I see in you, my Lord, a greatness that I have not seen in others.” The bishop spoke longer this time.
“You see in me greatness?”
“Yes my Lord.”
“What do you mean ‘you see’? We have not even met each other, until now.” Constantine asked. The junior emperor of course was trying to gauge whether this bishop had some extraordinary experience, or whether it was a mere coincidence.
“If your majesty permits, I shall relate my story.” Hosius said.
“As I told your majesty already, I have escaped death twice in my life. The first was during Diocletian’s persecution, and the second during Maximian’s. How I managed to escape is a long story, and is not important in this regard. Suffice to say that Lord Jesus saved me. What is important is that soon after my second escape, I had a dream.”
“You saw me in your dream?” The junior emperor interjected.
“No, my Lord. Not you, but three lions and a flock of sheep.” Hosius paused for a while, trying to read the expression on the junior emperor’s face. The junior emperor looked attentive. Hosius continued.
“In my dream, I saw three lions. One of them was old, while the other two were young. Of the two young lions, one was male, the other female. I saw the young male lion was chasing after the sheep, but the lioness, instead of helping her brother, fought against him and protected those sheep. The lioness won the battle and killed her brother, the male lion. Henceforth, she kept an eye on the flock of those sheep, clearly protecting them.”
“What an odd dream,” said Constantine, “but what it has to do with me?”
“It was indeed an odd dream, my Lord; so strange that I couldn’t keep my mind off it. It should be the lioness going after the sheep, for it is generally female lion doing the hunting, not the male. Or at least they should hunt the sheep together. What happened instead was that the female lion was protecting the sheep from her male counterpart. Now, my Lord, I was disturbed about this dream for so long because I couldn’t quite make what it was all about. In fact, I have forgotten about it until about three months ago when I was in Syria.” Hosius paused again.
“What happened three months ago?” Constantine was more curious, as were his generals and aids in the tent.
“Three months ago I happened to see a lioness. On that same day, I saw a flock of sheep. A month later, the news came to me that my Lord is up against the emperor Maxentius.”
“For a few days after that I couldn’t sleep. The memory of the dream came back to me. I thought and thought and thought, trying to find whether or not there were any meaning in all these. A week later, it all dawned on me and everything was as clear as the clear morning sky.” Hosius paused again, looking at his audiences. They were all listening attentively.
“What was as clear as the morning sky?” The junior emperor asked.
“That the old lion was the late Maximian, the male lion was Maxentius, the lioness was you, my Lord, and a flock of sheep were the Christians. As soon as the meaning of the dream dawned upon me, I quickly prepared myself for this journey. It has been a long journey from Syria, as you can see the state I am now.” Hosius paused for a while and continued, “I see in you as the protector of the people of my faith.”
The emperor, his generals and aids were bursting into laughter.
“What an interesting story you have,” said the emperor when he managed to compose himself. “I am no Christians’ protector, and Maxentius is no Christians’ persecutor. Are you not dreaming, or at least struck by a fit of fancy, old man? By the way, if you are the bishop of Cordoba, what are you doing in Syria? Besides, do I look like a woman?” There was no anger in the young emperor’s words, especially the last one. His generals and aids laughed at the appellation.
“Dream never comes in a clean shape, my Lord. That’s why it is called a dream, not a reality. It has to be interpreted. Now, my Lord of course is not a woman. And far from being a lioness, my Lord is a great general and a junior emperor. The lioness was symbolic. The lion and lioness represent the two children of Maximian. They are Maxentius and Fausta. Fausta is not the one against her brother, but it is her husband, namely your majesty. As for the flock of sheep, it clearly represents my fellow brethren in faith, the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. As for Syria, I was visiting my friend in Damascus.”
Constantine did not know how to respond. He might have dismissed the dream and its interpretation as a mere Hosius’ fancy, but the coincidence of his dream with the labarum as flashed by the middle-age bishop was too important to be dismissed too easily.
“You may want to interpret your dream anyway you like, old man. What I want to know is that why did you flash that monogram in my face, and why did you say ‘in this sign, conquer.’”
“As your Lord knows it well, the Christians are fearless, but not many of us would want to be soldiers. In fact, many of us refuse to fight. We would rather die as martyrs rather than serving what we call pagan emperor. But, if we fight along the side of the savior against the side of the persecutor, my Lord would find that we are the bravest of soldiers. I can help make that happen. In your Lord’s army, there are already many who believe in the Lord Jesus. I can help rekindle their spirit to be braver than they already are. I will also enlist the new ones, but since I am no soldiers, my Lord has to train them to become skilled warriors.” The bishop said.
“Still you didn’t answer the flashing of that monogram on my face.”
“The monogram will boost their spirit and make them braver warriors and better soldiers. I am suggesting, of course, along with my Lord’s existing banner. I don’t mean for my Lord to replace the existing one.”
Constantine looked at his generals and aids. From their face, they showed no objection. They had no reason to object, because any help, regardless from whom, would be a great help. Constantine’s generals needed to muster any help they could get. If they could get it from a Christian bishop, so be it.
“Suppose I agree with you, what would you want in return?” Asked Constantine.
“Nothing, my Lord, except some freedom to exercise our religion.”
Now, Constantine did not fancy this group of people who worship a man named Jesus Christ who was said to be the God incarnate, for Constantine already had his own God, but he also knew that these believers calling themselves Christians would rather choose death rather than forsaking their faith. Those who did not fear death would make good soldiers. That much Constantine knew for sure. If this bishop can turn these zealots into soldiers, Constantine knew that no forces can defeat him.
Constantine also knew that he had nothing to lose. Any help that may come in whatever form and however means would definitely be of a great help to his cause. Besides, Hosius did not make any unwarranted demand in return, other than asking Constantine to treat the Christians with fairness. That was not too difficult a request to grant, for unlike his rival Maxentius, his late father-in-law Maximilian, and especially the late emperor Diocletian, Constantine did not hate the Christians. In fact, Constantine felt that he could count on these Christians to support him wholeheartedly, for they too would want him to win. Maxentius had been quite brutal with the Christians, though not as brutal as his father Maximian or Diocletian. Under Constantine, they could hope for some respite.
So it was. With his well-disciplined army, including the fearless Christians, Constantine fought against Maxentius’ army in the great Battle of Milvian Bridge. Constantine won the battle, resulting in him becoming the Western Augustus, or the emperor of the whole Western Roman Empire. The year was 312 AD.
With that victory, Constantine now had only one rival, namely Licinius, the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. He was willing to share the empire with Licinius; himself to rule the West, and Licinius to rule the East. To cement the relationship stronger, and as a gesture of his willingness to share power with Licinius, he offered his half-sister, Constantia, to Licinius as a wife. Thus in 313 AD, Licinius became the brother in law of Constantine, and together they declared the Edict of Milan.
It is called the Edict of Milan because the edict was declared in Milan. With this edict, the Christians will not be persecuted on the basis of their religious belief; neither will their property be confiscated on the same basis. They were free to worship the God they desired. The declaration made Christianity lawful. The idea for the edict, of course, did not come from Licinius, who at best felt that the Christians are mere pests, if not a threat to his government. The idea was from Constantine, in gratitude to those Christians serving in his army, and especially to Hosius, who in Milan in 313 AD became his guest of honor, and afterward his useful associate and trustworthy envoy.
As is often the case in politics, there is no permanent friend, or permanent foe, only permanent interest. Such was the case between Constantine and Licinius. While Constantine was quite willing to share the empire, Licinius did not quite feel the same. Thus in 316, they fought against one another in the war of Cibalae, with Constantine being victorious. A year later, they clashed again in the battle of Campus Ardiensis, where agreement was reached to make both of their sons’ the Caesars. The enmity climaxed by the year 324, where the great civil war ensued. Licinius lost the war and was about to be executed, but Constantia, the sister of Constantine and the wife of Licinius, pleaded for her husband’s life. Constantine agreed and granted an imperial pardon under a house arrest in Thessalonica.
Any emperor worth his salt, however, would rather die than having his throne striped. Such was the case with Licinius. While Constantine may find a room in his heart to forgive the aggression of Licinius, the loser obviously cannot always forgive the victor. Losing the open battle, Licinius secretly conspired to topple Constantine, as we had earlier seen. The conspiracy being failed, and finding no more reconciliation between himself and his brother in law, Constantine ordered Licinius be put to death. Constantine thus definitively, in early 325 AD, became the sole ruler of the whole Roman Empire.
It was a few weeks after Licinius was put to death that Hosius came to pay him a visit. Hosius was about to give him a full report on the mission sent two years earlier by Constantine.