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The Greatness of Constantine Provokes Attack

IN the year 312, the sixth year after Constantine had become emperor, the Roman Empire had increased on every hand, for Constantine was a mighty leader in war, a gracious and friendly lord in peace; he was a true king and ruler, a protector of all men. So mightily did he prosper that his enemies assembled great armies against him, and a confederation to overthrow him was made by the terrible Huns, the famous Goths, the brave Franks, and the warlike Huns. This powerful confederation sent against Constantine an overwhelming army of Huns, whose numbers seemed to be countless, and yet the Hunnish leaders feared, when they knew that the emperor himself led the small Roman host.

The Eve of the Battle

The night before the battle Constantine lay sadly in the midst of his army, watching the stars, and dreading the result of the next day's conflict; for his warriors were few compared with the Hunnish multitude, and even Roman discipline and devotion might not win the day against the mad fury of the barbarous Huns. At last, wearied out, the emperor slept, and a vision came to him in his sleep. He seemed to see, standing by him, a beautiful shining form, a man more glorious than the sons of men, who, as Constantine sprang up ready helmed for war, addressed him by name. The darkness of night fled before the heavenly light that shone from the angel, and the messenger said:

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"O Constantinus, the Ruler of Angels,
The Lord of all glory, the Master of heaven's hosts,
Claims from thee homage. Be not thou affrighted,
Though armies of aliens array them for battle,
Though terrible warriors threaten fierce conflict.
Look thou to the sky, to the throne of His glory;
There seest thou surely the symbol of conquest."

Vision of the Cross

Constantine looked up as the angel bade him, and saw, hovering in the air, a cross, splendid, glorious, adorned with gems and shining with heavenly light. On its wood letters were engraved, gleaming with unearthly radiance:

"With this shalt thou conquer the foe in the conflict,
And with it shalt hurl back the host of the heathen."

Constantine is Cheered

Constantine read these words with awe and gladness, for indeed he knew not what deity had thus favoured him, but he would not reject the help of the Unknown God; so he bowed his head in reverence, and when he looked again the cross and the angel had disappeared, and around him as he woke was the greyness of the rising dawn. The emperor summoned to his tent two soldiers from the troops, and bade them make a cross of wood to bear before the army. This they did, greatly marvelling, and Constantine called a standard-bearer, to whom he gave charge to bear forward the Standard of the Cross where the danger was greatest and the battle most fierce.

The Morning of Battle

When the day broke, and the two armies could see each other, both hosts arrayed themselves for battle,

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in serried ranks of armed warriors, shouting their war-cries.

"Loud sang the trumpets to stern-minded foemen:
The dewy-winged eagle watched them march onward,
The horny-billed raven rejoiced in the battle-play,
The sly wolf, the forest-thief, soon saw his heart's desire
As the fierce warriors rushed at each other.
Great was the shield-breaking, loud was the clamour,
Hard were the hand-blows, and dire was the downfall,
When first the heroes felt the keen arrow-shower.
Soon did the Roman host fall on the death-doomed Huns,
Thrust forth their deadly spears over the yellow shields,
Broke with their battle-glaives breasts of the foemen."

The Cross is Raised

Then, when the battle was at its height, and the Romans knew not whether they would conquer or die fighting to the last, the standard-bearer raised the Cross, the token of promised victory, before all the host, and sang the chant of triumph. Onward he marched, and the Roman host followed him, pressing on resistless as the surging waves. The Huns, bewildered by the strange rally, and dreading the mysterious sign of some mighty god, rolled back, at first slowly, and then more and more quickly, till sullen retreat became panic rout, and they broke and fled. Multitudes were cut down as they fled, other multitudes were swept away by the devouring Danube as they tried to cross its current; some, half dead, reached the other side, and saved their lives in fortresses, guarding the steep cliffs beyond the Danube. Few, very few they were who ever saw their native land again.

There was great rejoicing in the Roman army and in the Roman camp when Constantine returned in triumph with the wondrous Cross borne before him.

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[paragraph continues] He passed on to the city, and the people of Rome gazed with awe on the token of the Unknown God who had saved their city, but none would say who that God might be.

A Council Summoned

The emperor summoned a great council of all the wisest men in Rome, and when all were met he raised the Standard of the Cross in the midst and said:

"Can any man tell me, by spells or by ancient lore,
Who is the gracious God, giver of victory,
Who came in His glory, with the Cross for His token,
Who rescued my people and gave me the victory,
Scattered my foemen and put the fierce Huns to flight,
Showed me in heaven His sign of deliverance,
The loveliest Cross of light, gleaming in glory?"

At first no man could give him any answer--perhaps none dared--till after a long silence the wisest of all arose and said he had heard that the Cross was the sign of Christ the King of Heaven, and that the knowledge of His way was only revealed to men in baptism. When strict search was made some Christians were found, who preached the way of life to Constantine, and rejoiced that they might tell before men of the life and death, the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ, who redeemed mankind from the bonds of evil; and then Constantine, being fully instructed and convinced, was baptized and became the first Christian emperor.

Constantine Desires to Find our Saviour's Cross

Constantine's heart, however, was too full of love for his new Lord to let him rest satisfied without some visible token of Christ's sojourn on earth. He longed

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to have, to keep for his own, one thing at least which Jesus had touched during His life, and his thoughts turned chiefly to that Cross which had been to himself both the sign of triumph and the guide to the way of life. Thus he again called together his Christian teachers, and inquired more closely where Christ had suffered.

"In Judæa, outside the walls of Jerusalem, He died on the Cross," they told him.

"Then there, near that city, so blest and so curst, we must seek His precious Cross," cried Constantine.

Summons his Mother Elene

Forthwith he summoned from Britain his mother, the British Princess Elene, and when she had been taught the truth, had been converted and baptized, he told her of his heart's desire, and begged her to journey to Jerusalem and seek the sacred Cross.

Elene herself, when she heard Constantine's words, was filled with wonder, and said: "Dear son, thy words have greatly rejoiced my heart, for know that I, too, have seen a vision, and would gladly seek the Holy Cross, where it lies hidden from the eyes of men."

Elene's Vision

"Now will I tell thee the brightest of visions,
Dreamt at the midnight when men lay in slumber.
Hovering in heaven saw I a radiant Cross,
Gloriously gold-adorned, shining in splendour;
Starry gems shone on it at the four corners,
Flashed from the shoulder-span five gleaming jewels.
Angels surrounded it, guarding it gladly.
Yet in its loveliness sad was that Cross to see,
For 'heath the gold and gems fast blood flowed from it,
Till it was all defiled with the dark drops."
                                       Dream of the Rood.

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In this dream of Elene's the Cross spoke to her, and told her of the sad fate which had made of that hapless tree the Cross on which the Redeemer of mankind had released the souls of men from evil, on which He had spread out His arms to embrace mankind, had bowed His head, weary with the strife, and had given up His soul. All creation wept that hour, for Christ was on the Cross.

"Yet His friends came to him, left not His corpse alone,
Took down the Mighty King from His sharp sufferings--
Humbly I bowed myself down to the hands of men.
Sadly they laid Him down in His dark rock-hewn grave,
Sadly they sang for Him dirges for death-doomed ones,
Sadly they left Him there as His fair corpse grew cold.
We, the three Crosses, stood mournful in loneliness,
Till evil-thinking men felled us all three to ground,
Sank us deep into earth, sealed us from sight of man."
                                                Dream of the Rood.

She Undertakes the Quest

As Constantine had been guided by the heavenly vision of the True Cross, so now Elene would journey to the land of the Jews and find the reality of that Holy Cross. Her will and that of her son were one in this matter, so that before long the whole city resounded with the bustle and clamour of preparation, for Elene was to travel with the pomp and retinue befitting the mother of the Emperor of Rome.

"There by the Wendel Sea stood the wave-horses.
Proudly the plunging ships sought out the ocean path.
Line followed after line of the tall brine-ploughs.
Forth went the water-steeds o'er the sea-serpent's road
Bright shields on the bulwarks oft broke the foaming surge,
Ne’er saw I lady lead such a fair following!"

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She Comes to Judæa

Queen Elene had a prosperous voyage, and, after touching at the land of the Greeks, reached in due time the country of Judæa, and so, with good hope, came to Jerusalem. There, in the emperor's name, she summoned to an assembly all the oldest and wisest Jews, a congregation of a thousand venerable rabbis, learned in all the books of the Law and the Prophets, and proud that they were the Chosen People in a world of heathens, aliens from the True God. These she addressed at first with a blending of flattery and reproach--flattery for the Chosen People, reproach for their perversity of wickedness--and, finally, peremptorily demanded an answer to any question she might ask of them. The Jews withdrew and deliberated sadly whether they durst refuse the request of so mighty a person as the emperor's mother, and, deciding that they durst not, returned to the hall where Elene sat in splendour on her throne and announced their readiness to reply to all her questions. Elene, however, bade them first lessen their numbers. They chose five hundred to reply for them, and on these she poured such bitter reproaches that they at last exclaimed:

"Lady, we learnt of yore laws of the Hebrew folk
Which all our fathers learnt from the true ark of God.
Lady, we know not now why thou thus blamest us;
How has the Jewish race done grievous wrong to thee?"

She Cross-questions the Rabbis

Elene only replied: "Go ye away, and choose out from among these five hundred those whose wisdom is great enough to show them without delay the answer to all things I require"; and again they left he presence. When they were alone, one of them, named Judas,

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said: "I know what this queen requires: she will demand to know from us where the Cross is concealed on which the Lord of the Christians was crucified; but if we tell this secret I know well that the Jews will cease to bear rule on the earth, and our holy scriptures will he forgotten. For my grandfather Zacchæus, as he lay dying, bade me confess the truth if ever man should inquire concerning the Holy Tree; and when I asked how our nation had failed to recognise the Holy and Just One, he told me that he had always withdrawn himself from the evil deeds of his generation, and their leaders had been blinded by their own unrighteousness, and had slain the Lord of Glory. And he ended:

"'Thus I and my father secretly held the Faith.
Now warn I thee, my son, speak not thou mockingly
Of the true Son of God reigning in glory:
For whom my Stephen died, and the Apostle Paul.'

[paragraph continues] Now," said Judas, "since things are so, decide ye what we shall reveal, or what conceal, if this queen asks us."

One Appointed to Answer her

The other elders replied: "Do what seems to thee best, since thou alone knowest this. Never have we heard of these strange secrets. Do thou according to thy great wisdom."

While they still deliberated came the heralds with silver trumpets, which they blew, proclaiming aloud:

"The mighty Queen calls you, O men, to the Council,
That she may hear from you of your decision.
Great is the need ye have of all your wisdom."

Slowly and reluctantly the Jewish rabbis returned to the council-chamber, and listened to Elene as she

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plied them with questions about the ancient prophecies and the death of Christ; but to all her inquiries they professed entire ignorance, until, in her wrath, the queen threatened them with death by fire. Then they led forward Judas, saying: "He can reveal the mysteries of Fate, for he is of noble race, the son of a prophet. He will tell thee truth, O Queen, as thy soul loveth." Thus Elene let the other Jews go in peace, and took Judas for a hostage.

She Threatens him

Now Elene greeted Judas and said:

"Lo, thou perverse one, two things lie before thee,
Or death or life for thee: choose which thou wilt."

Judas replied to her, since he could not escape:

"If the starved wanderer lost on the barren moors
Sees both a stone and bread, easily in his reach,
Which, O Queen, thinkest thou he will reject?"

Thereupon Elene said: "If thou wouldst dwell in heaven with the angels, reveal to me where the True Cross lies hidden." Now Judas was very sad, for his choice lay between death and the revealing of the fateful secret, but he still tried to evade giving an answer, protesting that too long a time had passed for the secret to be known. Elene retorted that the Trojan War was a still more ancient story, and yet was still well known; but Judas replied that men are bound to remember the valiant deeds of nations; he himself had never even heard the story of which she spoke. This obstinacy angered the queen greatly, and she demanded to be taken at once to the hill of Calvary, that she might

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purify it, for the sake of Him who died there; but Judas only repeated:

"I know not the place, nor aught of that field."

Queen Elene was yet more enraged by his stubborn denials, and determined to obtain by force an answer to her questions. Calling her servants, she bade them thrust Judas into a deep dry cistern, where he lay, starving, bound hand and foot, for seven nights and days. On the seventh day his stubborn spirit yielded, and Judas lifted up his voice and called aloud, saying:

"Now I beseech you all by the great God of heaven
That you will lift me up out of this misery.
I will tell all I know of that True Holy Cross,
Now I no longer can hide it for heavy pain.
Hunger has daunted me through all these dreary days.
Foolish was I of yore; late I confess it."

He Guides her to Calvary

The message was brought to Elene where she waited to hear tidings, and she bade her servants lift the weakened Judas from the dark pit; then they led him, half dead with hunger, out of the city to the hill of Calvary. There Judas prayed to the God whom he now feared and worshipped for a sign, some token to guide them in their search for the Holy Cross. As he prayed a sweet-smelling vapour, curling upwards like the incense-wreaths around the altar, rose to the skies from the summit of the hill. The sign was manifest to all, and Judas gave thanks to God for His great mercy; then, bidding the wondering soldiers help him, he began to dig. By this time all men knew what they sought, and each wished to uncover the holy relic, so that all dug with great zeal, until, under twenty feet of earth,

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they uncovered three crosses, so well preserved that they lay in the earth just as the Jews had hidden them.

Three Crosses Found

Judas and all rejoiced greatly at this marvel, and, reverently raising the three crosses, they bore them into the city, and laid them at the feet of Queen Elene, whose first rapture of joy was speedily turned to perplexity as she realised that she knew not which was that sacred Cross on which the King of Angels had suffered. "For," she said, "two thieves were crucified with him." But even Judas could not clear her doubts.

"Lo we have heard of this from all the holy books,
That there were with him two in His deep anguish.
They hung in death by Him; He was Himself the third.
Heaven was all darkened o’er at that dread moment.
Say, if thou rightly canst, which of these crosses
Is that blest Tree of Fate which bore the Heaven's King."

A Miracle to Reveal our Saviour's Cross

Judas, however, suggested that the crosses should be carried to the midst of the city, and that they should pray for another miracle to reveal the truth. This was done at dawn, and the triumphant band of Christians raised hymns of prayer and praise until the ninth hour; then came a mighty crowd bearing a young man lifeless on his bier. At Judas's command they laid down the bier, and he, praying to God, solemnly raised in turn each of the crosses and held it above the dead man's head. Lifeless still he lay as Judas raised the first two, but when he held above the corpse the third, the True Cross, the dead man arose instantly, body and soul reunited, one in praising God, and the whole multitude broke out into shouts of thanksgiving to the


The Queen's dilemma
Click to enlarge

The Queen's dilemma

''What raptures of rejoicing there were!''
Click to enlarge

''What raptures of rejoicing there were!''


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[paragraph continues] Lord of Hosts, and the sacred relic was restored to the loving care of the queen.

The Nails Sought for

Nevertheless Elene's longing was still unsatisfied. She called Judas (whose new name in baptism was Cyriacus) and begged him to fulfil her desires, and to pray to God that she might find the nails which had pierced the Lord of Life, where they lay hidden from men in the ground of Calvary. Leading her out of the town, Cyriacus again prayed on Mount Calvary that God would send forth a token and reveal the secret. As he prayed there came from heaven a leaping flame, brighter than the sun, which touched the surface of the ground here and there, and kindled in each place a tiny star. When they dug at the spots where the stars shone they found each nail shining visibly and casting a radiance of its own in the dark earth. So Elene had obtained her heart's desire, and had now the True Cross and the Holy Nails.

Good News Brought to Constantine

Word of his mother's success was sent to the Emperor Constantine, and he was asked what should be done with these glorious relics. He bade Elene build in Jerusalem a glorious church, and make therein a beautiful shrine of silver, where the Holy Cross should be guarded for all generations by priests who should watch it day and night. This was done, but the nails were still Elene's possession, and she was at a loss how to preserve these holy relics, when the devout Cyriacus, now ordained Bishop of Jerusalem, went to her and said: "O lady and queen, take these precious nails for thy son the emperor. Make with them rings for his horse's bridle. Victory shall ever go with them; they

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shall be called Holy to God, and he shall be called blessed whom that horse bears." The advice pleased the queen, and she had wrought a glorious bridle, adorned with the Holy Nails, and sent it to her son. Constantine received it with all reverence, and ordained that April 24, the day of the miracle of revelation, should henceforth be kept in honour as "Holy Cross Day." Thus were the emperor's zeal and the royal mother's devotion rewarded, and Christendom was enriched by some of its most precious treasures, the True Cross and the Holy Nails.

Next: Chapter IV: The Compassion of Constantine