And so the persecution of the Christians continued throughout the Roman Empire for 249 years until 312 AD. Beginning with the madman emperor Nero the Christians had been imprisoned and put to death for their faith. It was a time of the great martyrs: Saint Barbara, Saint Tarcisius, Saint Denis, Saint Fabian, Saint Regina, Saints Perpetua and Felicity. In the autumn of 312 AD Rome was controlled by a man named Maxentius—until the Emperor Constantine came knocking on his door. It was at the Milvan Bridge that the most decisive battle in Christian history would take place. As they went to battle, the Emperor Constantine marked the shields of his soldiers with the charcoal mark of the Holy Cross. While not a Christian himself, Constantine’s mother the Empress Helena was a Christian, and he himself had witnessed the courage of the Christian martyrs when he served as an officer under the Emperor Diocletian. He was moved by their faith and courage.
Constantine was victorious at the Battle of the Milvan Bridge. He was now the Emperor of East and West, and the history of the world was about to change on that bridge. Constantine guaranteed religious freedom within his empire with the “Edict of Milan.” But the Edict of Milan guaranteed freedom of religion specifically and uniquely for Christians with the restoration of all property and rights to the Church. The Edict was exclusively given for the Christian faith. The official religion of the Empire was now Christianity and it would explode in every direction within the vast empire. Eventually the Emperor Constantine was baptized by the bishop Euseubius on his deathbed.
All of history changed upon the Milvan Bridge on that fall morning in 312 AD. We are here because of Constantine’s victory. The mark that Constantine saw in the heavens and placed upon his victorious warriors is on the front of countless altars throughout the Catholic world: “IHS.” “In Hoc Signum.” “In this sign you will conquer.” It is a reminder to us that God always wins. He is always victorious!Fr. Gerard Gordon