The thirteenth installment of this mega-part series on the History of the Mass and Holy Mother Church deals with the end of persecution by the Roman Emperors with the coming of Constantine the Great, who, urged by his holy mother Saint Helena and given a vision from on high, not only liberated the Christians, but turned 180 degrees, making Christianity the state religion in an empire where paganism had ruled for four hundred plus years.
It was left to his successor and Diocletian's successor to right the ship. The first step was the election of African-born Pope Saint Miltiades on July 2, 311. Again, the papacy had been vacant, this time for two years. Six years earlier Diocletian had abdicated his throne in the East while in the West Maximian had also given up his rule. Diocletian was succeeded by Emperor Galerius while in the west Constantius Chlorus replaced Maximian. A year later Chlorus was succeeded by his 32 year-old son Constantine who was a Serb. Constantine set his sights on overthrowing Maxentius, son of Maximian in Italy and Africa. Constantine was victorious in Africa and as he moved up the boot of Italy Maxentius retreated to Rome. The night before the showdown outside the city, Constantine beheld in the sky a lighted cross surrounded by the Latin words, "In Hoc Signo Vincis" which means "In This Sign You shall Conquer." Then, through private revelation, a voice spoke to Constantine advising him to adopt the cross as a standard bearer instead of the Roman eagle which had been the standard. He took it to heart because his own mother Saint Helena was a Christian and it was she who had unearthed the true cross in Jerusalem. Meanwhile Maxentius had also consulted his gods and confidently was assured of victory over Constantine, announcing to all and even letting it reach the ears of Constantine. Unabashedly Maxentius led his troops out from Rome to attack by way of the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber where, despite greatly outnumbered, Constantine's men soundly defeated them in a great battle that numbered thousands of fatalities including Maxentius. Constantine knew then and there that the sign he had been given was not another superstition but one of substance. He marched triumphantly into Rome carrying the cross as his standard and the people received him with great pomp, erecting an arch and statue of him in memory of his great triumph. Shortly after this Constantine sought out the new emperor of the East Licinius whose soldiers had called upon Jesus' protection before their victory over Galerius' son Maximian Daia. Both Constantine and Licinius had seen first hand the Hand of God in their victories and were moved to accept the Christians and their faith. Thus, in 312 the two signed a pact of toleration toward the Christians called the Edict of Milan giving all people the freedom to worship as they wished.
On January 2nd, 314 Miltiades, having just completed construction of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, died peacefully. A few weeks later on January 31, the 33rd successor to Peter was elected. He was Pope Saint Sylvester I who would enjoy a reign of 21 years as Pope. He became the first to wear the tiara and instituted Sunday as a holyday in memory of the Resurrection. Sylvester also created the "Iron Crown" with a nail from the Holy Cross which had been presented to him by Helena. Through her influence and his own experience, her son Constantine, who would eventually convert just before his death, erected many churches throughout the Roman Empire including a basilica over the tomb of St. Peter which was the beginning of St. Peter's as well as a church over the tomb of St. Paul and oversaw the completion of St. John Lateran plus building an imperial palace for the Pope nearby. He also built churches in Nicomedia, Antioch and Tyre plus a church dedicated to the Holy Spirit known as St. Sophia in Constantinople and in Jerusalem -the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Calvary , the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Ascension on Mt. Olivet. He decided Rome was not the center but rather farther east in the ancient Grecian port of Byzantium which he renamed Constantinople, moving the cultural and civilized center of the Empire east to this city. As we shall see in future installments this had pro and con effects, the pro being that civilization was saved from the barbarian hordes who would attack Rome in the next century and that, with the government farther away from the seat of Catholicism the Church was free to spread spirituality more readily without interference from the State as was the case in the East and which led to the ultimate split of the Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic Church. The latter split was a definite con because of the tragic results and because the State in the East eventually interfered too closely with the Church and continues to do so today in places such as Russia where the Orthodox Church is the State religion.
The first problem occurred with Constantine's sister. Enamored with Arius, she falsely produced a statement by Arius that claimed he had denounced all Arian teaching and wished to be reinstated. Constantine thus ordered the Bishop of Alexandria to restore Arius to his former position in Egypt. But the wise bishop, Saint Athanasius declined. His refusal solidified him as an eternal enemy of Arianism and Arius' followers did all in their power to discredit Athanasius including accusing him of murder, treason, and magic as well as abuse of the Holy Eucharist. He was brought to trial and there in a "kangaroo court" realized he could not receive a fair hearing. Thus Athanasius fled to Constantinople where he threw himself on the mercy of Constantine imploring a fair trial. At first Constantine refused because he believed the Bishop was guilty and had him to Treves. Constantine was totally baffled by the Arians who were clever and insidious in their ways, guided by the prince of darkness. We shall see in the next installment when we cover the second half of the Fourth Century how Arianism infiltrated the highest courts and how St. Athanasius was finally absolved.
On December 31, 335 Pope Sylvester I passed on to his Heavenly reward and was succeeded a few weeks later by Pope Saint Marcus who ruled only until October 7, 336. During these nine months Marcus decreed that the Pope should be consecrated by the Bishop of Ostia and he instituted the "Pallium" which bishops still wear around their shoulders, a narrow circular band of white wool from a previously blessed lamb with two 12 inch pendants hanging down in front and back. It is decorated with black crosses. Marcus also established a Church calendar for approved feastdays. Upon his death there was a five month vacancy until Pope Saint Julius I was elected as the 35th in the line of Peter on February 6, 337. He is known for ordering the Church in the Orient to celebrate Christmas on December 25th with the rest of the Universal Church instead of combining it with the Epiphany on January 6th. He is also the founder of the Archives of the Holy See, ordering that all official Acts be preserved.
The same year as Julius' election signaled the end of a great emperor for the ideals and fairness of Constantine died with him in 337 when, on his deathbed he requested to be baptized. It was the ultimate reward of the countless prayers by his mother St. Helena and his influence in granting freedom to Christians and establishing Christianity as the national religion would have far-reaching effects for centuries to come. With Constantine's passing, the great Byzantine and Roman empire was left to his three sons to split up. They, however, could not agree on anything and finally, after bitter battles, Constantius became the sole ruler. While his father had been fair to all, his son was so pro-Christian that he went the other way, persecuting the pagans in an effort to eradicate it. He became a self-made inquisition in an attempt to stamp out paganism everywhere yet, strangely, forgot about the philosophy teachers in the schools, many of whom were spreading pagan philosophy and waging their own clandestine ideological warfare against the Christians. We shall see in the next installment how the intellectual influence affected the second half of the Fourth Century in both a bad way with Julian the Apostate and, in a good way, the teachings of the great doctors Saint Ambrose and later Saint Augustine.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: The Fourth Century: 350-400 The Arian Threat in the East
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Now, I wish to speak on My Eighth Commandment which is one that is confused in these spiritually dark times. By this Commandment you are told by Me: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against Thy neighbor." First, who is "Thy Neighbor?"
Everyone, for all are My children, even though many do not know Me. I Am God, Creator of All. I seek the Eternal Salvation of all, for My children are made in My Image and Likeness. Behold, My children, this eighth command is not merely an admonition against lying. I do solemnly tell you that obedience to this Command bears the fruit of Divine Charity toward all men. Certainly, you must not speak a willful lie against anyone, for to do so is to scourge Me, to crown Me with thorns, to pierce My Heart through.
This command obliges you to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that you speak the Truth, but with Charity. Therefore, consider how you conduct yourself in all manner of speech.
Do you keep guard over your tongue, which quickly translates your thoughts into speech? Or, do you "speak your mind," boasting that your "opinions" are good because you live My Command?
Oh! Be very careful! How many souls are in Purgatory because they did not abide by this Command but spoke out only to sin against charity?
How often you slander, calumniate and literally "kill" one of My children by your unchecked speech which demeans, degrades and drives the person far away from Me! You justify speaking your opinion based upon false pride and self-righteousness, coupled with judgmentalness. It would be better for you not to speak than to offend even one of My children by use of your tongue.
Kindness and Truth become Mercy when poured out of your mouth by the Holy Spirit. Charity obliges you to see Me in all of My poor little ones and calls you to be for them a True Light in spiritual darkness.
By this Commandment, you are to carefully guard your neighbor's reputation at all times. Thus, by charity, if your neighbor sins you are to pray and make sacrifice for that person. Only when the Holy Spirit prompts are you to speak-and then directly to the person. Never must you exercise your tongue in long discussions with others about a person's behavior, problems or what you judge as lack of holiness.
I Who Am Judge, and I alone know each heart. You do not.
Therefore, if you would mount the heights of perfection, you will heed this Command at all times, and recognize how often you fail to keep this Command. You fail when you listen to idle human talk that divides My flock, and spews forth venom no matter how righteous such idle speech sounds. How dare any of you make fun of one of My children in order to feel a self-satisfaction that you are on the right path but the other person or people are not. O! Lack of Charity! Lack of Mercy!
Do you believe by caustic remarks covered over and disguised as a 'joke' that you are doing My Will, living as I taught you so that you are My instrument to bring My wayward sheep back to Me? Oh! Lack of true humility of heart which knows how to admonish firmly but with love-honey to bring My lost children back to My Mercy and Forgiveness.
Cease your judgments of people. Commend them to me. Pray for all, and do as I Command you in the Spirit of Truth, which is both gentle yet firm.
Learn from Me! Read Sacred Scripture and this Commandment, fully obeyed, shall bring to you My Peace and place you in the refuge of My Most Sacred and Merciful Heart.
Be love to all and do not count the cost. Speak to and about others as you wish to be spoken to and about.
Again, I solemnly tell you, satan blinds you. He masquerades slander, calumny and all manner of uncharitable speech as holy and righteous in My Name, by puffing up your pride while killing all trace of humility in you.
He who is humble acknowledges the wickedness of his tongue, and keeps guard over it. He who is proud does not recognize his opinionated speech as a sin against My Command, and the intellect and pride lock out My Voice of Compassion, Love and Forgiveness.
Heed My Words. Amend your lives by keeping custody of your tongue. In this way you shall have My Peace and you shall help to bring the Reign of My Sacred Heart to the world.
I love and bless you. Prepare, for I Come!
Almighty and most merciful God, Who didst endow Blessed Jane Frances, consumed by love for Thee, with wondrous spiritual strength to follow the way of perfection along every path of life, and by her didst make Thy Church illustrious with new spiritual children, grant, through her merits and prayers, that we who realize our own weakness and trust only in Thy might, may be assisted by heavenly grace and may overcome those things which fight against us.