Chapter XXVIII.—How, while he was praying, God sent him a Vision of a Cross of Light in the Heavens at Mid-day, with an Inscription admonishing him to conquer by that.
Accordingly he called on him with earnest prayer and supplications that he would reveal to him who he was, and stretch forth his right hand to help him in his present difficulties. And while he was thus praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvelous sign appeared to him from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person. But since the victorious emperor himself long afterwards declared it to the writer of this history, 3108 when he was honored with his acquaintance and society, and confirmed his statement by an oath, who could hesitate to accredit the relation, especially since the testimony of after-time has established its truth? He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, Conquer by this. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle. 3109
Note here the care Eusebius takes to throw off the responsibility for the marvelous. It at the same time goes to show the general credibility of Eusebius, and some doubt in his mind of the exact nature and reality of what he records.490:3109
This very circumstantial account has met with doubters from the very beginning, commencing with Eusebius himself. There are all sorts of explanations, from that of an actual miracle to that of pure later invention. The fact of some, at least supposed, special divine manifestation at this time can hardly be denied. It is mentioned vaguely by Paneg. 313, and on the triumphal arch shortly after. It is reported as a dream by Lactantius about the same time with the erection of the arch, and alluded to in general, but hardly to be doubted, terms by Nazarius in 321. Moreover, it is witnessed to by the fact of the standard of the cross which was made. As to the real nature of the manifestation, it has been thought to be as recorded by Constantine, and if so, as perhaps some natural phenomenon of the sun, or to have been a simple dream, or an hallucination. It is hardly profitable to discuss the possibilities. The lack of contemporary evidence to details and the description of Lactantius as a dream is fatal to any idea of a miraculous image with inscriptions clearly seen by all. Some cross-like arrangement of the clouds, or a “parahelion,” or some sort of a suggestion of a cross, may have been seen by all, but evidently there was no definite, vivid, clear perception, or it would have been in the mouths of all and certainly recorded, or at least it would not have been recorded as something else by Lactantius. It seems probable that the emperor, thinking intensely, with all the weight of his great problem resting on his energetic mind, wondering if the Christian God was perhaps the God who could help, saw in some suggestive shape of the clouds or of sunlight the form of a cross, and there flashed out in his mind in intensest reality the vision of the words, so that for the moment he was living in the intensest reality of such a vision. His mind had just that intense activity to which such a thing is possible or actual. It is like Goethes famous meeting of his own self. It is that genius power for the realistic representation of ideal things. This is not the same exactly as “hallucination,” or even “imagination.” The hallucination probably came later when Constantine gradually represented to himself and finally to Eusebius the vivid idea with its slight ground, as an objective reality,—a common phenomenon. When the emperor went to sleep, his brain molecules vibrating to the forms of his late intense thought, he inevitably dreamed, and dreaming naturally confirmed his thought. This does not say that the suggestive form seen, or the idea itself, and the direction of the dream itself, were not providential and the work of the Holy Spirit, for they were, and were special in character, and so miraculous (or why do ideas come?); but it is to be feared that Constantines own spirit or something else furnished some of the later details. There is a slight difference of authority as to when and where the vision took place. The panegyrist seems to make it before leaving Gaul, and Malalas is inaccurate as usual in having it happen in a war against the barbarians. For farther discussion of the subject see monographs under Literature in the Prolegomena, especially under the names: Baring, Du Voisin, Fabricius, Girault, Heumann, Jacutius Mamachi, Molinet, St. Victor, Suhr, Toderini, Weidener, Wernsdorf, Woltereck. The most concise, clear, and admirable supporter of the account of Eusebius, or rather Constantine, as it stands, is Newman, Miracles (Lond. 1875), 271–286.