Constantine & the Cross
By: André M Bland
I wanted to make a study dealing with Constantine and the Cross. I want to go over claims about Constantine, from his creed, his vision, and his conversion. I also wanted to cover the topic of the claims that the cross is pagan and therefore we cannot have any association. I’m sure for many this may be eye opening. For others, they may simply disregard the evidence and continue in their preconceived ideas to which I will respect their stances.
The Council of Nicea, Constantine Creed of 325 AD:
“I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads and sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all the other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspirations, purifications, sanctifications, and propitiations, and fasts and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants, and observances and synagogues, absolutely everything Jewish, every Law, rite and custom and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Cain and the leprosy of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable. And may I be an anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down with Satan and the devils.”
For starters, I’d like to state that this creed can be found in various Encyclopedias, books, and even within a handful of commentaries online. Although this is the case, does it hold water? It is historically accurate to say that a meeting DID take place in 325 AD. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, this is when the Original First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea met on the occasion of the heresy of Arius (Arianism). As early as 320 or 321 AD, St. Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, convoked a council at Alexandria at which more than one hundred bishops from Egypt and Libya anathematized Arius. The latter continued to officiate in his church and to recruit followers. Being finally driven out, he went to Palestine and from there to Nicomedia. During this time, St. Alexander published his “Epistola encyclica”, to which Arius replied. To clarify WHAT Arianism is, I will post the definition of this theological belief below.
an influential heresy denying the divinity of Christ, originating with the Alexandrian priest Arius ( c. 250– c. 336). Arianism maintained that the Son of God was created by the Father and was therefore neither coeternal with the Father, nor consubstantial.
Due to this, many men met and composed a Creed in 325 AD. The original creed reads as follows:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];
Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
And in the Holy Ghost.
[But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]
At the end of the original creed was added the text above – obviously aimed at Arius.
There was great debate about the use of the term homoousias. The creed did not have 100% approval even when it was drafted. Within a short amount of time the creed came under attack, and eventually was rewritten at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. So this begs the question, if this is the original Council of Nicea Creed written in 325 AD, where did this Constantine Creed come from? Surely it couldn’t have come out of thin air, or did it?
When looking into the origins of this “Creed” in which Constantine supposedly renounces ALL of these Jewish customs, rites, legalisms, etc. I find that the original source of this doesn’t even have any ties with Nicea. In fact it comes from Stefano Assemani, Cod. Lit., 1, p. 105 and James Parkes: The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Antisemitism, (New York: JPS, 1934), 394-400 and Stefano Assemani, Acta Sanctorium Martyrum Orientalium at Occidentalium, Vol. 1, Rome 1748, page 105.
So when looking into the Cod. Lit. reference, we find that Assemani published, inter alia: “Codex liturgicus ecclesiae universae in XV libros distributus” (Rome, 1749-66). This text is extremely rare, up to the point that a Paris bookseller recently listed a photographic impression of it. So this Constantine Creed quote has three main references, two of which are directly tied to Assemani, all three are in complete Latin, and all three are nearly impossible to get ahold of.
I have a copy of the translated text here. Basically, the “Creed” being quoted by the masses is extremely misleading. It reads as follows:
In one word, I renounce everything Jewish, legalism, custom and rite; and above all he who is expected by all the Jews in the shape and dress of Christ, I renounce Anti-Christ, and join myself to the true Christ and God. And I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; the holy and consubstantial and individual Trinity; I profess the dispensation where one of the holy trinity, the Word of God took flesh and became man; …
…if I pretend to be a Christian and then I wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition….
This is much different than the claims about the creed. This is in fact not even Nicene. It’s Medieval Greek Catechism via a Latin text, for someone converting TO Catholicism from Judaism. Furthermore, Stefano Assemani was an oriental scholar and Roman Catholic Priest, publishing texts from Syriac at Rome in the 18th century, most of them medieval.
Being that this Creed is supposedly tied to Constantine, we know that it is a fraud. He wouldn’t even renounce sacrifices as sacrifices came to a halt in 70 AD at the destruction of the Temple LONG before Constantine’s birth. The claim that he will not return to “Jewish superstition” makes no sense either as we know that either a, Constantine was a converted pagan, or b, he never even converted to begin with and just pretended to be a Christian living out a lie.
There is a letter translated into English that was written by Constantine called, Letter on the Keeping of Easter (Found in Eusebius, Vita Const., Lib. iii., 18-20.). It is essentially a letter which was sent to those who could not attend the Council of Nicaea asking them to consider coming up with a method of determining when the year began. This was important because Passover, which he calls the “holiest of all feasts” in this letter, is 14 days into the New Year. The Greek word Pascha, which is a transliteration of the Hebrew Pesach, what we call Passover, is the word which appears in his letter but is translated into English as Easter. Simply put, it is a Letter on the Keeping of Passover. And we know unleavened bread is used frequently during Passover, which would clearly contradict this creed all the more.
Furthermore, why would people in the 5th Century be gathering on Sabbath if such acts were renounced in 325 AD? It surely conflicts with other historical evidences. “The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria” (Sozomen; 5th Century; Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen). Also, what about how the Sabbath is said to have been annulled in 364 AD? Wouldn’t that conflict with a 325 AD date? “Christians must not Judaize by resting on the Shabbat, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day… But if any shall be found to be Judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ” (Council of Laodicea, Canon 29, (364 C.E.)).
I admit that at one time I held to the belief that this Creed was legit. Now that I’ve gone through and defended Constantine, I want to discuss his vision and conversion. Constantine became the emperor of Rome in 306 AD, and was the most powerful person in his part of the world. It is said, that his conversion happened during a war against his brother-in-law and co-emperor, Maxentius. According to the historian Eusebius (see Eusebius Pamphilus), bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, before the crucial battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine was convinced that he needed divine assistance. While he was praying for such assistance, God sent him a vision of a cross of light at midday, bearing the inscription “in hoc signo vinces “ (“in this sign you will be victorious”). That night he had a dream that reaffirmed his earlier vision. God told him to use the sign he had been given as a safeguard in all of his battles. Thus, Constantine converted to Christianity and ordered the symbol of his Savior’s name (the intersection of the Greek letter chi and rho) to represent his army. Constantine was victorious in the battle of the Milvian Bridge, and he continued to wear the symbol for Christ against every hostile power he faced.
Much like the Constantine Creed, we must test whether or not this conversion story holds water. To do so, we should check out archaeology. In Rome, we find the Triumphal Arch of Constantine. This arch is located near a Colosseum in which many bloody games took place. It is stated that Constantine and his successors tried to end the cruel competitions held within the Colosseum, but the people resisted until the 5th Century when a monk literally stood between the fighting gladiators. Anyway, back to this Arch Monument. This arch is said to depict Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. It is said that with Constantine’s conversion, Christian persecution ended.
The problem with this claim is the fact that on the arch, we see nothing of his vision, no images of a cross, not even a remote hint of his conversion. In fact, we find many images of pagan goddesses and sun worship. Based on other finds around the location, it is said that a huge statue of Apollo was once behind the arch with a monument of Constantine riding a chariot of horses at the top of the arch. So at a distance, Apollo’s head would be lingering over Constantine as if he were watching over him. But as one drew closer to the arch itself coming into the Roman city, Apollo, the Sun god, would’ve dropped below Constantine standing within the center of the arch way. On the surface, Constantine would’ve been appearing below Apollo, but as one grew closer, he (Constantine) in fact would be above him (Apollo). A group of historians actually went into depth about the arch in specific in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upLyP5co68s. But let’s look into other historical finds.
Sol Invictus (upper left) and Mithras slaying a bull, 3rd century, Vatican Museum
This looks extremely familiar to the Statue of Liberty wearing the diadem of Sol Invictus which is tied to Mithraism.
Roman medallion depicting Sol Invictus (left) and the Emperor Constantine
Until 317 the Sol Invictus appears on the imperial coins of Constantine, even though we see on them also the image of the Sovereign bearing the labarum with the Cross. The Sol Invictus and Victoria are represented on the labari carved on the Arch of Constantine itself in Rome. So let’s say that Constantine DID see a vision of a cross, does it mean that he actually converted to Christianity? Would Eusebius’s testimony hold up (For a complete PDF copy of Eusebius Church History text, click the link provided http://www.aren.org/prison/documents/religion/Church%20Fathers/The%20Ecclesiastical%20History.pdf)? The evidence is not looking too strong. I’m not saying he didn’t go through the motions as we do have plenty of historical information to state that he did. But it would appear as if Constantine did in fact hold strongly to his former pagan beliefs if not even viewing himself as being a god.
But the talk about Constantine gets even more interesting. Many claim that he never saw a cross but instead saw the Hebrew letter Tav/Taw. Many others also claim that the cross is a pagan symbol, and they try to use this to say that Constantine was pagan and was possessed by demons when he saw the image of a cross. Although as I’ve already established, I firmly believe he never truly converted, I wouldn’t go as far as to state that the cross in and of itself is a pagan symbol.
Since we’re speaking of the Hebrew letter tav, most know this to be the last letter (22nd) of the Hebrew Alphabet signifying completion. Its general meaning is mark, sign, and/or monument. Its earliest depictions were as two sticks crossed.
The “Tav” is the last letter in the Hebrew Alphabet. This is the same word used for “mark” in Ezekiel 9:4 “…set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.”
In the Strong’s Hebrew Concordance, the word here for “mark” is as follows:
# 8420 tav taw from 8427; by implication ,a signature:–desire, mark.
While it could be stated that Constantine did in fact see a cross in the sky, still some argue that the Cross is a pagan symbol of Baal/Tammuz.
Ironically, the Cross of Baal is within a circle. This isn’t exactly like the cross of Messiah. Furthermore, if we speak of the Hebrew Tav, it predates the cross of Baal. BUT, the general depiction of the EXACT cross that Constantine is said to have seen in the sky, in which he heard the words, “in this sign conquer” is the Egyptian Ankh:
The “upside down egg” is a symbol of the fertility goddess, and Tammuz is the supposedly the reincarnation of Nimrod, one of the many sun gods, wherein his symbol later became a capital “T.” On top of the capitol “T”, the loop is symbolic for his Mother/Wife Semiramis who gave herself the title, the goddess of the moon. That IS a pagan symbol.
Revelation 6:2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
So let’s say this is what he saw, it would clarify his paganism even more, and it would show that he was still involved in sun worship. Yet the cross in and of itself is first rooted in the Hebrew letters. And the Christians adopted the cross as a symbol of Christ due to the crucifixion, yet many hold its ties with Constantine, although it first turns up in the beginning. Speaking of this, many say that Christ too was not crucified on a cross, being a “pagan symbol”…. The Jehovah Witnesses are the forerunners of this belief. Below is a quote from the JW Watchtower.
“There are also inanimate objects that if venerated may lead to breaking God’s commandments. Among the most prominent is the cross. For centuries it has been used by people in Christendom as part of their worship. Soon God will execute his judgments against all false religions. Those who cling to them will suffer their fate.” Watchtower 1989 May 1 p.23
The Watchtower claims Yeshua (Jesus) died on a stake, on the basis that the Greek word generally translated as cross, staurous, did not mean Cross until “later” than Yeshua’s time, specifically referring to the time of Constantine. There are many reasons why this is faulty.
The accounts at Matthew 27:26, 31-37, Mark 15:14-26, Luke 23:26-38, and John 19:1-22 all show that Yeshua was forced to follow the practice of carrying the stauron to Golgotha. Also it was a Roman practice for the victim to carry the crossbeam (patibulum) to site of execution. There the patibulum was affixed to an upright stake. This will be discussed later.
Also, compare this to what Thomas stated at John 20:25;
“unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and stick my finger into the print of the nails and stick my hand into his side, I will certainly not believe”.
Yeshua (Jesus) was crucified with two nails, one in each hand, not a single nail through the wrist. That separate nails were in each hand is made clear by the use of the word ‘nails’ not ‘nail’. This suggests that Yeshua had his arms separated on a cross, not together on a stake as represented in Watchtower publications.
Matthew 27:37 also supports the idea of a cross rather than a stake when it says;
“Above his head they had put the charge against him in writing: ‘THIS IS YESHUA (Jesus), KING OF THE YEHUDIM (Jews)’”.
In the picture of the crucifixion the plaque is above Yeshua’s head, whereas in the Watchtower representation (Knowledge Book) it is more so above his hands. If Yeshua were impaled on a stake it would be stated that the titilus was placed above his hands, not his head.
Furthermore, here are some historical records about Yeshua’s crucifixion on a cross that predates Constantine.
From the Epistle of Barnabas (100 C.E.):
“the cross was to express the grace [of our redemption] by the letter.”
Justin Martyr (114-167 C.E.):
“For the one beam is placed upright, from which the highest extremity is raised up into a horn, when the other beam is fitted on to it, and the ends appear on both sides as horns joined on to the one horn.”
In Second Apology, chapter VI Justin Martyr talks of “Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate.” In Chapter XL he goes on to liken Jesus to the sacrificial lamb of the Passover.
“God does not permit the lamb of the Passover to be sacrificed in any other place than where His name was named; knowing that the days will come, after the suffering of Christ, when even the place in Jerusalem shall be given over to your enemies, and all the offerings, in short, shall cease; and that lamb which was commanded to be wholly roasted was a symbol of the suffering of the cross which Christ would undergo. For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of the cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb.”
Tertullian clearly identifies the usage of a cross in his writings dating from A.D. 190-220
“You hang Christians on crosses (crucibus) and stakes (stipitibus); what idol is there but is first moulded in clay, hung on a cross and stake (cruci et stipiti)? It is on a patibulum that the body of your god is first dedicated” (Apologeticus, 12.3).
“For this same letter TAU of the Greeks, which is our T, has the appearance of the cross (crucis)” (Apologeticus, 3.23.6).
Ireneaus wrote that the implement of Yeshua’s death had five ends: two longitudinal, two latitudinal and a fifth to support the weight of the victim (Adversus Haereses, II, 24, 4). The longitudinal and latitudinal would give more credence to a cross.
Also, cross beams were commonly used on boats LONG before any pagans used them.
A house in Herculaneum, buried in the 79 AD, Mt. Vesuvius eruption, contains an imprint of a traditional Roman cross (Maier, 1976, p.141).
The Romans choice of using a cross over a stake was apparently due to the cross being able to extend the time it takes a person to die. By staying alive for hours or days, the crucified person served as a warning example to others. Quoting research contained at F.T. Zugibe, 1984 Death by Crucifixion, Canadian Society of Forensic Science 17 (1):1-13.6 it shows that on a cross, rather than a rapid death from asphyxiation death it can take hours or days to die from hypovolemic shock. On the other hand, death on a stake is rapid. Summarizing research by P. Barbet 1953 Les Cinq Plaies du Christ 2nd ed. Paris: Procure du Carmel de l’ Action de Graces.
In Yeshua’s day there were many forms of impaling, with the cross being the most common form used by the Romans. The reason Romans used the cross was they perfected it as one of the most extreme forms of torture. In regards to the history of the crucifixion The JAMA – Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1986, Volume 255; Copyright 1986, American Medical Association states:
“…Crucifixion probably first began among the Persians. Alexander the Great introduced the practice to Egypt and Carthage, and the Romans appear to have learned of it from the Carthaginans. Although the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering. It was one of the most disgraceful and cruel methods of execution and usually was reserved only for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and the vilest of criminals.
… Only later was a true cross used; it was characterized by an upright post (stipes) and a horizontal crossbar (patibulum), and it had several variations. Although archaeological and historical evidence strongly indicates that the low Tau cross was preferred by the Romans in Palestine at the time of Christ, crucifixion practices often varied in a given geographic region and in accordance with the imagination of the executioners, and the Latin cross and other forms also may have been used.
It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 136 kg, only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 34 to 57 kg, was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar. The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by a complete Roman military guard, headed by a centurion. One of the soldiers carried a sign (titulus) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed. Later, the titulus would be attached to the top of the cross. The Roman guard would not leave the victim until they were sure of his death.”
According to Strong’s Concordance (referred to regularly by the Watchtower) the word stauros can mean:
“(4716) stauros stow-ros’ from the base of 2476; a stake or post (as set upright), i.e. (specially), a pole or cross (as an instrument of capital punishment); figuratively, exposure to death, i.e. self-denial; by implication, the atonement of Christ:–cross.
(4717) stauroo stow-ro’-o from 4716; to impale on the cross; figuratively, to extinguish (subdue) passion or selfishness:–crucify.”
“In classical Greek, this word [stauros] meant merely an upright stake, or pale. Later it also came to be used for an execution stake having a crosspiece.”
“The 16th-century Roman Catholic scholar Justus Lipsius illustrated impalement on an upright stake in his book “De Cruce Liber Primus.” This fits the meaning of the Greek word used in the Bible to describe the impalement of Christ.” Watchtower 1980 Feb 15 p.30
What is not mentioned is that Lipsius taught that Yeshua died on a cross. His book included a total of 16 such woodcuts, 9 depicting various forms of crucifixion. Under one of the crucifixion woodcuts is inscribed (translated from Latin) “In the Lord’s cross there were four pieces of wood, the upright beam, the crossbar, a tree trunk placed below, and the title placed above.”
The assertion that the cross is of pagan origin and is not what Christ was crucified on is hogwash. What makes the argument of the cross being pagan all the more illogical is that a stake or pole has a greater sexual and hence pagan connotation than the cross. In Christian times, the phallus was represented by the pole shaped Obelisk of the Egyptians and Romans and the Hindu Lingam. Sacred poles are often mentioned in the Bible, such as at Exodus 34:13;
“But their altars YOU people are to pull down, and their sacred pillars YOU are to shatter, and their sacred poles YOU are to cut down.”
All in all, how I see it, Yeshua Ha’Mashiach (commonly referred to as Jesus Christ) was crucified on a cross which first finds origins in the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the tav, signifying completion which lines up perfectly with his last words in John 19:30;
“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
In conclusion, I hope to have shed light on this Constantine nonsense and the issues revolving around the Creed, his conversion, his vision of the cross, and the talk of the cross itself. There is more than enough evidence to support the idea that Constantine never in fact converted to Christianity. And there is even more evidence to support that the Christian cross is in fact not pagan and it is what Christ was crucified on even if it’s not the same cross Constantine saw. And who knows, ‘maybe’ just maybe he did see the tav. He isn’t here to defend himself and we weren’t there to know. The only thing we have is the historical accounts and archaeology. And finally, even if we do conclude that our Messiah died on a cross, I don’t believe we should be camping around the cross treating it as some sacred object, practically worshipping it. There is so much more to simply the death of Yeshua. There is life! On that note, may we all be blessed and continue to dwell together in harmony!