What is it about Jesus’ name anyway? Well, it is not about what follows. If you want to know about that, come and hear my sermon Sunday, January 1.
The emblem or monogram which appears in the center of our altar at St. Matthew’s, representing the Holy Name of Jesus, consists of the three letters: IHS. In the Middle Ages the name of Jesus (in Latin) was written: IHESUS; the monogram contains the first and last letter of the Holy Name. It is first found on a gold coin of the eight century: DN IHS CHS REX REGNANTIUM (The Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings). Some erroneously say that the three letters are the initials of: Jesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus Savior of Men).
The Jesuits made this monogram the emblem of their Society, adding a cross over the H and three nails under it. Consequently a new explanation of the emblem was invented, pretending that the nails originally were a “V,” and that the monogram stands for In Hoc Signo Vinces, the words which, according to the Christian historian Eusebius in his Life of Constantine,
saw in the heavens under the Sign of the Cross before the battle at the Milvian bridge. Such is the stuff of legends and worth reading about. Constantine
On the evening of October 27, 312, with opposing Roman armies preparing for battle,
reportedly had a vision as he looked toward the setting sun. The Greek letters XP (Chi-Rho, the first two Greek letters of “Christ”) intertwined along with a cross appeared emblazoned on the sun, along with the inscription “In Hoc Signo Vinces.” Constantine, who was a pagan at the time, put the symbol on his solders' shields. Constantine
The details of that vision, however, differ between the sources reporting it.
Lactantius states that, in the night before the battle,
was commanded in a dream to “delineate the heavenly sign on the shields of his soldiers” (On the Deaths of the Persecutors 44.5). He followed the commands of his dream and marked the shields with a sign “denoting Christ.” Lactantius describes that sign as a “staurogram,” or a Latin cross with its upper end rounded in a P-like fashion. There is no certain evidence that Constantine ever used that sign, opposed to the better known Chi-Rho sign described by Eusebius. Constantine
From Eusebius, two accounts of the battle survive. The first, shorter one, in the Ecclesiastical History promotes the belief that God helped
but does not mention any vision. In his later Life of Constantine, Eusebius gives a detailed account of a vision and stresses that he had heard the story from the Emperor himself. According to this version, Constantine with his army was marching (Eusebius does not specify the actual location of the event), when he looked up to the sun and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the Greek words Εν Τούτῳ Νίκα. En toutō níka is usually translated into Latin as in hoc signo vinces, both phrases have the literal meaning “In this sign,[you shall] conquer;” a more free translation would be “Through (or by) this sign [you shall] conquer.” At first Constantine was unsure of the meaning of the apparition, but in the following night he had a dream in which Christ explained to him that he should use the sign against his enemies. Eusebius then continues to describe the labarum, the military standard used by Constantine in his later wars against Licinius, showing the Chi-Rho sign. Constantine
The accounts of the two contemporary authors, though not entirely consistent, have been merged into a popular notion of
seeing the Chi-Rho sign on the evening before the battle. Both authors agree that the sign was not readily understandable to denote Christ, which corresponds to the fact that there is no certain evidence of the use of the letters chi and rho as a Christian sign before Constantine . Its first appearance is on a Constantinian silver coin from c. 317, which proves that Constantine did use the sign at that time, though not very prominently. He made extensive use of the Chi-Rho and the Labarum (which today look the same) only later in the conflict with Licinius. (Licinius was the last of the Diocletian tetrarchy defeated by Constantine Constantine at the Battle of Adrianople in 324 as consolidated power by eliminating his surviving rival for the entire Empire. For more on Diocletian see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diocletian ) Constantine
Some scholars have interpreted the vision in a solar context (e.g., as a solar halo phenomenon), which may have been reshaped to fit with the Christian beliefs later expressed by
. It is interesting to note that coins of Constantine depicting him quite overtly as the companion of a solar deity were minted as late as 313, the year following the battle. Constantine
The solar deity, Sol Invictus, is often pictured with a nimbus, or halo. Various emperors portrayed Sol Invictus on their official coinage, with a wide range of legends, only a few of which incorporated the epithet invictus, such as the legend SOLI INVICTO COMITI, claiming the Unconquered Sun as a companion to the Emperor, used with particular frequency by Constantine.
’s official coinage continues to bear images of Sol until 325/6. A solidus of Constantine as well as a gold medallion from his reign depict the Emperor's bust in profile twinned with Sol Invictus, with the legend INVICTUS CONSTANTINUS. The official cults of Sol Invictus and Sol Invictus Mithras were popular amongst the soldiers of the Roman army. Statuettes of Sol Invictus, carried by the standard-bearers, appear in three places in reliefs on the Arch of Constantine. Constantine ’s triumphal arch was carefully positioned to align with the colossal statue of Sol by the Colosseum, so that Sol formed the dominant backdrop when seen from the direction of the main approach towards the arch. All of which makes sense because, since the late 1st century CE with Vespasian and certainly through the 4th century CE, the Roman Army was the power that made the Emperor and anyone who needed the army’s support would be foolish to insult their gods. Constantine
Don’t worry. The test is “open book.”