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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

CONSTANTINE THE GREAT: RELIGION AND THE STATE AT THE DAWN OF EUROPE


Vatican City, 17 April 2012 (VIS) - "Constantine the Great. The Roots of Europe" is the title of an international academic congress to be held in the Vatican from 18 to 21 April. The event has been organised by the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences to mark the 1700th anniversary of the battle of the Milvian Bridge and the conversion of the Emperor Constantine.

The congress was presented this morning at a press conference held in the Holy See Press Office, by Fr. Bernard Ardura O. Praem., president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; Claire Sotinel, professor of Roman history at the University of Paris-Creteil and a member of the Ecole Francaise in Rome, and Giovanni Maria Vian, director of the "Osservatore Romano" newspaper.

"The conference", Fr. Ardura explained, "is the outcome of effective academic cooperation with important cultural institutions such as the Vatican Secret Archives, the Vatican Apostolic Library, the Italian National Research Council, the Ambrosian Library and the Sacred Heart Catholic University in Milan". It is also taking place "with the cooperation and contribution of the European Union delegation to the Holy See, the Lazio Regional Council and the Pontifical Lateran University".

This congress is the first of two, the second of which will be held in Milan in 2013 for the 1700th anniversary of the promulgation of the Edict of Milan, which established freedom of religion in the Roman empire and put an end to the persecution of certain religious groups, particularly Christians. While the 2013 congress will concern itself with what is known as the "Constantinian revolution", tomorrow's event will focus on the environment in which Constantine lived and on relations between Christians and the Roman empire prior to the year 313. Participants will "examine the relationship between religion and the State, the idea of religious freedom in the empire, and religion from the point of view of the emperor and the senate", Fr. Ardura said.

One key area will be the conversion and baptism of Constantine himself, and his attitude towards Christians following the battle of the Milvian Bridge, which took place on 28 October 312 and led to the death of his rival Maxentius. Contemporary and later Christian historians, influenced by the narrative of Eusebius of Cesarea, saw Constantine's victory as the result of divine intervention.

Fr. Ardura pointed out that "from a purely strategic-military viewpoint the battle was not very important, but it soon became the founding symbol of the new world which came into being when Constantine found Christianity. Indeed, ... the era of imperial persecution against Christians was about to come to an end, giving way to the evangelisation of the entire empire and moulding the profile of western Europe and the Balkans; a Europe which gave rise to the values of human dignity, distinction and cooperation between religion and the State, and freedom of conscience, religion and worship. Of course these things would need many centuries to come to maturity, but they all existed 'in nuce' in the 'Constantinian revolution' and therefore in the battle of the Milvian Bridge".

For her part, Claire Sotinel explained that attentive and critical historical analysis "facilitates our understanding of what happened following the victory at the Milvian Bridge, helping us in the twenty-first century to reflect on important issues such as the interaction between religions and political power, the creation of religious pluralism, and the possibility of coexistence among different religions".

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