Above: Arch of Constantine, Rome.
The original magic and mystery, that characterized the ministry attributed to Jesus, was lost as Christianity developed theologically in the first few centuries and the chains of command within the Church became very institutionalized. By the second century the Christian Churches had developed strong networks in the Mediterranean and had started imitating Roman political and social structures in their house churches and the positions of Bishops who presided over towns and cities.
The Church structure moved away from the original concept of ekklēsia, which is the Greek word for a 'town assembly,' and moved towards that of the oikos which was the word for 'household.' In both cases the actual church was a group of people that met together in the house of one of the members—presumably the leader—but whereas the connotation behind the term for assembly was democratic, the Roman household was male dominated and included slaves, clients, patrons as well as the extended family itself in a strict hierarchy.
We can see this beginning, most graphically, In the so-called 'pastoral epistles' of the New Testament that have traditionally been attributed to the apostle Paul. These letters (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) are now generally seen as not being authentic from the hand of Paul because some of their theology is at odds with what are accepted as earlier and, therefore, genuine Pauline writings. The most important aspect of these disagreements for us here is in the dimension of marriage which is seen by 'early' Paul as a compensation rather than the ideal as in, for example, 1 Corinthians chapter 7. However, in the pastoral epistles, the function of marriage and childbearing (the latter early Paul discouraged) is elevated in importance to underwrite the structure of the growing churches in their later development.
The stations of authority—bishop, presbyter (priest) and deacon (elder)—became modelled after the extended family form and are clearly stated as such in the pastoral epistles. We see this familial structure today with titles such as 'father/mother' and 'sister/brother' which began in this context. However, our present culture does not have quite the same understanding of the 'family' as so widely extended and with such an institutionalized, rigid hierarchy as that of the Roman household system. The Bishoprics were even considered 'monarchical' and resembled a kingdom with the various cities having more or less prestige. In other words, the Bishops of large and important centres such as Rome, Alexandria or Jerusalem would have been considered of higher rank than those who presided over smaller, less known cities and towns.
In comparative contrast to the organizational stability of the Church, the Roman Empire went through a great crisis from 235–284 CE. This was a period in which it nearly collapsed under the combined pressures of invasion, civil war, plague and economic depression. Diocletian, who reigned from 284-305, began a period of reform and moves towards reunification. Initially he created a 'diarchy' which, in simple terms, gave two seats of power under two leaders whose station was named 'Augustus.' Diocletian held office in the east and his colleague, Maximian was Augustus for the West. This lasted from 285-293 and then a 'tetrarchy' was formed which was a system of four leaders—two Augusti and, under them, two Caesars. The Empire was divided into smaller territories of control called Dioceses which is the term used today by the Church for the area of authority of a Bishop.
We do not need to get into great detail regarding all the complex political divisions, competition and usurping that went on except to say that it culminated in a civil war with the two main protagonists being Constantine the Great (ca. 280 - 337), who was then the Caesar for the West, fighting his rival, Maxentius. Constantine's claim was recognized by Galerius, then ruler of the Eastern provinces and the senior emperor in the Empire. Maxentius was treated as a usurper. Initially Galerius ordered his co-Augustus, Severus, to put Maxentius down in early 307. Once Severus arrived in Italy, however, his army defected to Maxentius and the former was captured, imprisoned, and executed. Galerius himself marched on Rome in the autumn, but failed to take the city. Constantine avoided conflict with both Maxentius and the eastern emperors for most of this period. Part of the context for Christianity at this time is that the religion experienced its most determined onslaught when Diocletian started the Great Persecution (303–311). Christian buildings and the homes of Christians were torn down and their sacred books collected and burned. Christians were arrested, tortured, mutilated, burned, starved, and condemned to the death at the circus.
However, in April 311, Galerius issued an Edict of Toleration, which granted Christians the right to practice their religion, though it did not restore any property to them. In 313 Constantine with his, then, colleague the augustus for the west, Licinius, issued the Edict of Milan and decriminalized Christianity, thereby creating a safe environment for its continued expansion. These two edicts introduce for us what was the most important development in the entire history of Christianity—the controversial conversion of Constantine.
The Roman rhetorician Lactantius (240 - 320) was personally acquainted with the emperor and was tutor to Constantine's eldest son Crispus. Lactantius wrote Deaths of the Persecutors which, primarily, was a short treatise extolling what he believed to be the nature of the Christian God who acted in human affairs by bringing justice to the world with the brutal extermination of people who had persecuted those of the faith.
The rather terse work includes some important historical details including where Lactantius writes that Constantine was advised in a dream to mark the heavenly sign of God on the shields of his soldiers by means of a slanted X with the top of its head bent round (44.1-6). There is no mention in this account that the dream was associated specifically with the Christian God and we have no record that this particular cross symbol, the Chi Rho, had been previously used by the Christians. In the subsequent adoption of the Chi Rho as a Christian symbol it was taken as representing Xp—the first two letters of the Greek name Χριστός, Christos, which means: the Anointed One, Messiah, Christ. However, the initials intially referred to the word χρηστός, chréstos which means: serviceable, good. The symbol was written like this: ☧ and was used in the margin of ancient texts to denote an important point in the narrative. In other words, the Chi Rho, that appeared in Constantine's dream according to Lactantius' account, was the literary symbol chréstos. By this account the dream occurred in 312 on the night before the famous and decisive battle at Milvian Bridge, the entrance to Rome, after Constantine was at a numerical disadvantage to Maxentius' troops.
The Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 260 – 339/40) writes about the battle at Milvian bridge in his well known work Historia Ecclesiastica (ca. 323). He mentions that Contantine won with God's help but is silent on the issue of the dream. It is possible that Eusebius learnt more of the event when he first met Constantine in 325 at the famous council of Nicea. In Life of Constantine, written ca. 339 after the death of the emperor, Eusebius describes what has become the best known account of Constantine's conversion. According to to this story, (1.28-29), the conversion occurred at the start of the campaign. While Constantine was “praying with fervent entreaty”, he and his whole army saw a vision of “the trophy of a cross of light resting over the sun and bearing the inscription 'by this conquer'” (touto nika. Schaff trans.). Later in his sleep Christ appeared to him with the same sign telling him to use it as protection in all of his engagements. According to Eusebius, after winning the campaign, which culminated in the battle of Milvian bridge, Constantine was convinced that he had the backing of the most powerful God. He continued to use the special standard that he had made from a pole with the Chi Rho affixed to the top and wreathed with precious stones. This was known as the Labarum which, apparently, never failed.
Right: Relief of a Chi Rho at
Museo Pio Cristiano, Vatican, undated
There is no reason to doubt that a vision is possible as mentioned in Eusebius' report and even the aspect of his troops sharing it can be explained, in this context, with the occurance of one of many types of sun halos that occasionally occur. These types of phenomena are exactly the sort of signs or wonders that were considered as divine omens in ancient times and if such an augury did occur then it would have lent a great deal of courage and conviction to Constantine's company. The acceptance of this account does, however, raise the question why the event was so unknown and only learnt at such a later date by Eusebius because if it had been shared with all the army then it would have been immediately famous.
It is even more unlikely that Constantine converted as a result of his victory against Maxentius when we consider the triumphal Arch of Constantine, which was erected in 315 to commemorate the victory at Milvian bridge. The monument includes a collage of various reliefs from earlier works dedicated to former emperors. The difference between the better quality of the older work compared with the contemporary features is noticable. This testifies to the decline in Roman artistic skill and symbolizes the general decline in the previous century of instablility. Of the recycled components there is a stone panel engraved with the depiction of Marcus Aurelius sacrificing a hog (sus), a ram (ovis) and a bull (taurus) to the Roman god of war, Mars. This is a famous pagan ritual known as suovetaurilia which combines the three species' names into one word. The fourth-century carvings on the Arch include images of the pagan goddesses, the Victories, and the Genii of the Seasons. (L’Orange: 1939). There is no Christian detail—not even a Chi Rho nor a Labarum.
Right: Detail of the Arch of Constantine. This relief was taken
from an earlier Arch dedicated to Marcus Aurelius.
It includes the depiction of a Taurobolium; A pagan
ritual sacrifice of a ram and a bull.
In the broader context, it is just as likely that Eusebius' account has been embellished somewhat to include another record of the emperor's search for God. The first description that we have of Constantine having a vision is from 310, after a successful battle against Maxentius' father, Maximian, in Gaul, modern France. We know of this by a speech by an anonymous orator (Panegyrici Latini 7 (6) 21.4-5), who, when interpreting the vision, was praising Constantine and the city of Trier. The speech refers to the emperor’s visit to “the most beautiful temple in the world”. In this vision, Constantine had seen the Gods Apollo and Victory who had offered him wreaths, promising him a rule of thirty years.
There is much debate as to what extent Constantine's conversion was a genuine religious experience and how much of his adoption of Christianity was political expedience. There is also debate whether Constantine held to his former pagan beliefs throughout his post-conversion reign. We can be reasonably confident that Constantine did have genuine conversion experiences that led him, eventually, to adopt Christianity. It is also clear that his search for God was primarily driven, and steered, by his political ambition. An important aspect to understand here is that religion and state were not the separate spheres of life as they have been expressed today in the modern ideal. Religion and state, in Constantine's day as for the vast majority of human history, were inseparable. It is possible, with the available evidence, to come to some approximation of Constantine's journey to Christianity.
Despite exploding on the subject as a spontanteous event arriving 'out of the blue,' the in-breaking of a conversion experience is generally an episode that has been incubating for some time in the subconscious of the subject before coming to conscious recognition.
There is no doubt, as related openly in all three accounts, that the conscious motivation for Constantine was part of a larger strategy to find the right God who would support his military and political ambitions. In this context it is likely that, by 310, the emperor understood that to be assured of continued victory against his rival he needed to abandon the formal gods of the tetrarchy to avoid any 'conflict of interest.'
According to one anonymous author, the recognition for the foundation of Diocletian's tetrachy was given to the Olympian high god Zeus who overcomes the power of Hades. In the English translation of the Egyptian Oxyrhynchus Papyrus, where the accolade is recorded, the translator John Rea surmises that the speech was composed for recital at the fourth celebration of the Capitoline games at Oxyrhynchus in middle Egypt ca. 285 CE:
Capitoline Zeus took pity at last on the human race and gave lordship of all the earth and the sea to godlike king Diocletian. He extinguished the memory of former griefs for any still suffering in grim bonds in a lightless place. Now a father sees his child, a wife her husband, a brother his brother released, as if coming into the light of the sun a second time from Hades. (P. Oxy. LXIII. 4352)
It is important to note that, in his 310 vision, Constantine had sought out a temple—he had consciously chosen to pay tribute to Apollo as the deity to support his military campaign. In their elevated roles, the emperors generally considered themselves to be 'sons of fortune' and felt obliged to pay homage to the gods for this reason. With his ambition to achieve power, Constantine would naturally have desired to find the most powerful god to fulfill his mission and he must have doubted the gods of the tetrarchy: Like Sol, Apollo played only a minor role in tetrarchic ideology (Manders: 2012. 122).
Apollo's absence in the tetrarchic ideology could probably be explained by the transition which took place in 284: the traditional principate form of Roman governance, inaugurated by the Apollo-promoting Augustus Caesar (63 BCE – 14 CE), yielded to Diocletian's new form of rule. Furthermore, the religious pantheon context would have better suited the new structure of power in the empire which involved a more complex arrangement of territories under the command of each leader. The pantheon represented 'departmental deities' and this would lend itself well to the tetrarchy. Although Apollo was one of Zeus's Olympian subordinate's, the particular form of the deity adopted by Constantine was the more elevated Sol Invictus. The term Invictus ("unconquered, invincible") was an epithet that had been in use from the 3rd century BCE for several Roman deities, including Jupiter, Mars, Hercules, Apollo and Silvanus. (Hijmans: 2009. 124). This epithet fits with the words of the dream/vision 'by this sign conquer.' By choosing Apollo, Constantine was, in this instance, returning to the normal pre-tetrarch station of the god. “The majority of third century emperors who paid attention to (a) sun god(s) paid attention to either Sol or to Apollo.” (Manders: 2012. 125). This might be explained by the possibility that the two sun gods Sol and Apollo were sometimes considered interchangable. The fifth century Latin writer, Macrobius, wrote the book Saturnalia which is a compendium of ancient Roman religious and antiquarian law. In this work he makes the comment that Apollo is identical to the sun (1.23.13). Sol was the counterpart of the Greek Helios and his cult is one of the oldest attested for Rome. Apollo was referred to as 'the sun' by the second century Greek historian Pausianas. The god assisted the emperor Octavian in the battle of Actium (31 BCE) and had been traditionally linked to the principate.
The story of Constantine's search for cosmic support does not, of course, stop at Apollo/Sol. The nature of Constantine's subsequent experience two years after the temple event shows that he was unsettled and probably was fervently seeking support. His lack of confidence may have been with the full package of the god himself or, at the least, that he felt that something was lacking. It is likely that he was concerned in case his own men followed the defection of his predecessor and he was probably worried by his lack of numbers. Apart from these immediate concerns, Constantine would have been aware of the recent history of the empire and known that the emperors who supported and were supported by Apollo/Sol were not so fortunate as to have had the 30 years of power that he looked forward to—ten years was a long reign for most Roman emperors over the previous century or more. It is probable that the failing fortunes of the empire with its lack of internal co-ordination may have also shown him the need to seek a god outside the normal imperial parameters. In fact, these latter aspects are related as a polemic against the pagan gods by Eusebius in the apologetic preamble to his gloss of Constantine's conversion. Whatever the reasons, the second vision implies that Constantine's faith needed a shot in the arm. Moreover, Lactantius, who had close contact with Constantine during this crucial period was keenly interested in affairs of the state and it is quite possible that he used his position to influence the emperor.
According to Eusebius, Constantine did not have much idea of Christianity upon his dream/visionary experience in the campaign for Rome and called advisors to him to explain the religion. Eusebius relates that Christian experts had accompanied Constantine in his military entourage and the emperor was briefed over the religion on the battlefield immediately prior to making the first Labarum and exclusively adopting Christianity.
The more likely scenario, however, is that, while the new cross may have been adopted 'overnight' as described, the moral obligations and other important implications of the Christian faith, such as the requirement to abandon other gods, would have been embraced by Constantine over a long, slow period. Rather than uncritically following the literary record of this period, which might be coloured with a little bit of propaganda, it renders a clearer impression by augmenting the history with the hard data of archaeology. There have been many coins unearthed that were stamped in this period with Constantine's face as the 'head' and depicting the sun god Sol Invictus on the 'tail' side. Coins with other pagan gods have also been found connected to Constantine. The gradual disappearance of the pagan gods from Constantine's coins is probably the best reflection of his long road to fully adopting the Christian God. By 316 the pagan gods Mars and Genius Populi had been removed from his imperial mint and by 318—319 Sol had been removed from copper alloy coinage. In late 324 or early 325, coinciding with Nicea, the god made his last appearance on Gold. (Bardill: 2012. 331).
We have to understand here that it was not a simple matter of Constantine accepting Christianity as his personal faith—the issue is much more complicated than that.
One important point to note is that his army would have been expected to follow whatever god the emperor adopted. Sol Invictus was traditionally the patron to soldiers and Constantine, whose entire power-base was totally dependent on the loyalty of his troops, would have been loathe to exchange a winning formula for an uncertain deity who was favoured by women and social outcasts. Furthermore, there was another aspect of Christianity that would have made it unfavourable as an alternative—most significantly the religion was decidedly pacifist which is an attitude that does not sit well for an army. As history has shown us, however, Constantine must have weighed up the 'pros and cons' and did end up embracing Christianity as his religion. With the benefits that he embued on the Church such as a tax-free status and imperial support for their communications (ie: a free mail service), Constantine became probably the most important patron the religion has ever known. It is unlikely that such a 'hard-nosed' pragmatist as Constantine would have supported Christianity if it did not offer something in return.
Among the political benefits of adopting Christianity there would have been a few quite appealing aspects of the religion which might have attracted Constantine's attention. Whether the emperor engaged directly with these points on a conscious level, or whether these were part of a subconscious attraction is a question that we cannot answer. However, it is expedient for us to to examine these aspects of Christianity to understand the specific way that the religion evolved in the fourth century because this will graphically illustrate the main dynamic that caused the first loss of 'magic' for the followers.
One of the main advantages of Christianity would have been the successful hierarchical structure that could be easily adapted for organizing the empire with various stations in a chain of command. This structure, as outlined above, lent a great deal of success to the Church's moves towards being a unified 'body' of believers that was brought together over a large geographical region but the Roman Empire itself was not always so successful at that task. Apart from the efficient hierarchy that the Church had developed there would have been at least four other main points that impressed Constantine and the later emperors.
First, the growth and resilience of the religion in the face of the persecution, that had been mounting in ferocity, would have shown how zealous the members were for their belief. There was nothing new for the Romans in religious fervour but the extent that was being shown by the Christians, who would happily die rather than recant their faith, attracted a great deal of attention and praise—even from their opponents. Their bravery in the face of death would have suggested to Constantine that the hold of the state and the imperial cult was waning in its influence over people and that a higher, more 'otherworldly,' authority was needed. The imperial cult did not offer the hoi polloi, or common people, an assurance of an after-life whereas Christianity, like the other 'mysteries,' did.
Second, as mentioned, Christianity was open to all classes and genders and so it was one of the few, if not the only, available system which potentially could have been universalized. Even 'sinners' were encouraged into the religion which was, as Celsus pointed out in the context of the narrative cited above, at stark variance to all the other 'mysteries.' This is an important ingredient because it is evident by his later actions that Constantine wanted a religion that could be absorbed fully into the culture and universalized across the great social and cultural divides that were present in the empire. In other words, although Christianity did not become the 'official' Roman religion under Constantine, he worked in this direction.
Third, as has been widely examined in scholarship, the main beliefs of Christianity were very similar to those of the established Roman imperial cult with ideas of the divinity of the emperor, the resurrection (in the case of the Caesars from their funeral pyres) and the bringing of salvation. There were earlier precedents to this starting with the mythic tales of the founder of Rome, Romulus, who according to Ovid ascended to heaven after his death and was glorified (Metamorphoses: 14.805-51; Fasti: 2.481-509).
There is no need to go through the whole history of this divine salvation/resurrection motif here but the official, imperial cult really began as an institutionalized part of the culture in the time of Augustus Caesar. He was the first emperor to be considered as God incarnate by his followers, while he was still alive, and referred to himself as the 'son of God.' The Empire's version of salvation was a 'this-worldy' event with military victory and the material security this brought. For the followers of Christ, it became more and more focused on an 'other-worldly' event. This was seen either as the end of the present age and the ushering in of the new kingdom, or as a reward in the after-life. Despite the obvious differences between the two, if one were to use a broad brush, it is possible to imagine that what became the formal theology of Christianity found its template in the imperial cult.
As we have seen, political and social unification was a key issue at that time for Rome and it is clear that Constantine shared this concern. Up until this period the Roman Empire as well as the previous imperial forces that held dominion throughout the Mediterranean had to control disparate territories each with their own local cults. This would have been an administrative nightmare. Although the imperial cult had been historically enforced, the outworking of this merely added more layers to an already over-complex diversity. It would seem reasonable and expedient to accept that a single belief structure would work well in the creation of an institution which could be used to unify the sprawling Roman Empire. One can see the benefit of organizing an empire that stretched over such a large geography if the subjects were unified under the banner of a single religion rather than having various local cults to which they paid allegiance.
Furthermore, as the Bible scholar Bart Ehrman points out, the empire would get a lot of mileage towards their goal of unification from the monotheism of Christianity. The doctrine of 'one baptism, one faith, one God' could be readily and effectively applied to the over-riding goal of 'one empire' (Ehrman: 2018).
This lesson of the power inherent in religious monotheism as a cultural structure was one that Mohammed learned in the middle of the seventh century. The widespread adoption of Islam by the formally discordant Arabic tribes, and their subsequent explosive ascension to a world power, demonstrated once again its efficacy. So it can be argued that a fourth level of attraction in Christianity for Constantine was that he saw the monotheism of the religion as, potentially, the best system to serve as a unifying force for his empire. He would have noted the historical situation with the heads of state that had shown the rapidly changing fortunes, individually and collectively, and he may very well have attributed this to reliance on the traditional polytheist religious structure. We do not have to see this from a cynical, purely pragmatic perspective—this does not need to discount him having a genuine faith. In fact, the imperial potential of Christianity would have merely helped him to embrace the dogma. The only task that remained was to formalize the faith into a universally accepted set of tenets. A step towards the standardization of the theology came in 321 when Sunday, already sacred to Christians and to the followers of Sol Invictus, was declared by Constantine an official day of rest. (Codex Justinianius 3.12:2). It must be noted here that this 'rest day' was focused on urban pursuits such as markets and public offices but it did not include rural farming work which was undertaken by the majority of the population.
In January 325 there was a synod at Antioch which was convened specifically to counter the threat of the 'heresy' of Arius (ca. 250 – 336) who emphasised the superiority of the Father over the Son in the Godhead. This stand, known as the 'Arian heresy, challenged the status of Christ being equally divine as was seen by the 'proto-Orthodox.' Proto-Orthodox is a term for the theolgians whose views ended up becoming the view of the Roman Catholic Church. Later in 325 the famous first Council of Nicea was called by Constantine with him in attendance. It was here that Christ's eternal divinity, as second person of the Trinity and equal to the Father, was established and set out formally in the Nicean creed. A series of councils continued the refinement of the universal Catholic theology and by 380 CE, the emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica which made Christianity, specifically Nicene Christianity, the official religion of the Roman Empire.
One can be reasonably confident that it was about the time that Constantine ordered the council of Nicea that he was ready to fully embrace Christianity as his formal religion and one that would be taken up by his own followers. The event of the council itself is part of the evidence as is the previously mentioned cessation, in the same period, of the Sol Invictus motif for his coins. The third and most important piece of evidence, in the fuller context of Constantine's main religious motivations, is that it was also in this period that the inevitable mounting tension between himself and his counterpart Licinius had come to a head. Again, it is not necessary to go into the details of the rivalry that spanned a 10 year period. In 323 the feud had escalated to another civil war between Constantine, who was ruler of the western provinces, and Licinius of the east. What is important is that—at least as far as the propaganda was concerned—the campaign was modelled as the new monotheistic faith of Christianity combating the old regime of the pagan gods.
Eusebius had become Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine in 313 and had a position of considerable influence in the church. In 318 Arius asked for and received support from Eusebius although the latter did agreed with neither Arius nor his opponent Alexander of Alexandra. At Nicea, Eusebius had to explain himself and was exonerated with the explicit approval of the emperor, remaining in his favour until the death of Constantine in 337. Eusebius was positive in his appraisals of both Origen and Philo but generally worked for the conservative, proto-orthodox wing of the Church, participating in the expulsion of heretics.
Eusebius' understanding of the mysteries is evident in his works and can be clearly seen in The Oration in Praise of the Emperor Constantine: Pronounced on the Thritieth Anniversary of is Reign. In the speech there are many concepts that derive straight from the ancient mystery traditions and these have prompted debates about the extent to which both Constantine and Eusebius were expounding the theology of Christianity as opposed to revering the sun gods. Much has been made of Eusebius' use of the imagery of the sun and reference to the beams and rays of light which is evident the following extract explaining how divine energy holds the creation together:
The all-radiant sun, who holds his constant career through the lapse of ages, owns him Lord alone, and obedient to his will, dares not depart from his appointed path. The inferior splendor of the moon, alternately diminished and increased at stated periods, is subject to his Divine command. The beauteous mechanism of the heavens, glittering with the hosts of stars, moving in harmonious order, and preserving the measure of each several orbit, proclaims him the giver of all light: yea, all the heavenly luminaries maintaining at his will and word a grand and perfect unity of motion, pursue the track of their ethereal career, and complete in the lapse of revolving ages their distant course. The alternate recurrence of day and night, the changing seasons, the order and proportion of the universe, all declare the manifold wisdom of [his boundless power]. (1.5)
The extract above is relating the concept of the divine emanations of God that course through the universe. I have explained in detail elsewhere (Seven: 2018) the Hermetic teaching associated with the concept as it relates to the system of alchemy. This same esoteric, or hidden, teaching is central to the medieval Jewish mystic tradition of Kabbalism. This imagery of 'light' is integral to this and it is used throughout the HB and the NT. We will examine this at a later point in the present volume where we will explore the precedent for this symbolism contained in the Hebrew scriptures such as the passage from the book of Job (38:1-39) previously mentioned.
As an introduction to this mystery we need only to understand that the divine spark emanates through creation initially as an ethereal energy which becomes differentiated on its path, creating the material realm as it becomes more dense and solid. The standard symbols used to describe this differentiation and solidification are the journey of the divine essence through the ether and then creating the elements of Fire, Air, Water and, finally, coming to 'ground' in Earth. This concept of emanations is laid out in angelic imagery in the second verse of the Eusebius' prologue. It is interesting to note the use of the words 'sovereign' and 'august' here:
His ministers are the heavenly hosts; his armies the supernal powers, who own allegiance to him as their Master, Lord, and King. The countless multitudes of angels, the companies of archangels, the chorus of holy spirits, draw from and reflect his radiance as from the fountains of everlasting light. Yea every light, and specially those divine and incorporeal intelligences whose place is beyond the heavenly sphere, celebrate this august Sovereign with lofty and sacred strains of praise. The vast expanse of heaven, like an azure veil, is interposed between those without, and those who inhabit his royal mansions: while round this expanse the sun and moon, with the rest of the heavenly luminaries (like torch-bearers around the entrance of the imperial palace), perform, in honor of their sovereign, their appointed courses; holding forth, at the word of his command, an ever-burning light to those whose lot is cast in the darker regions without the pale of heaven.
The loss of magic came initially to various prevailing forms of Christianity when the person of Jesus was understood as the necessary intermediatory for the divine spark arriving to 'ground' in the individual. This was encapsulated by the dogma of the obligatory faith in Jesus' literal 'atoning sacrfice' on the cross and subsequent 'resurrection' which became necessary for 'salvation.' We can clearly see in Eusebius' Oration that a further station was introduced into Christianity in the figure of Constantine and this position would have been filled by subsequent emperors.
It was this heirarchical, intermediatory station that would have been the most attractive aspect of Christianity for its use as a religion for the empire because it was the perfect structure for an institution to underwrite imperial control. This is expressed throughout the Oration in the clear terms embodied in the language of the mysteries. In the second verse of the prologue Eusebius states:
Those, however who are initiated into the universal science, and have attained to Divine as well as human knowledge, and account the choice of the latter as real excellence, will prefer those virtues of the emperor which Heaven itself approves.
The course of the emanations, according to Eusebius, does not include just the emperor in its outpouring but flows through the hierarchy of believers who join the emperor in the sacred precincts. This means that the divine spark arrives on earth at the emperor and then it is channeled through the offices of the bishops, priests and deacons before finally reaching the hoi polloi. The prologue includes the exhortation, in the first paragraph, for people to “keep themselves from contact with the vulgar crowd.” In the second paragraph Eusebius states: “I am resolved to shun the common track of men, and to pursue that untrodden path which it is unlawful to enter on with unwashed feet.” This theme continues at verses four and five:
Let those, however, who are within the sanctuary, and have access to its inmost and untrodden recesses, close the doors against every profane ear, and unfold, as it were, the secret mysteries of our emperor's character to the intiated alone.
Meanwhile let the sacred oracles, given, not by the spirit of divination (or rather let me say of madness and folly), but by the inspiration of Divine truth, be our instructors in these mysteries; speaking to us of sovereignty, generally: of him who is the Supreme Sovereign of all, and the heavenly array which surrounds the Lord of all; of that exemplar of imperial power which is before us, and that counterfiet coin: and lastly, of the consequences which result from both. With these oracles, then, to initiate us in the knowledge of the sacred rites, let us essay, as follows, the commencement of our divine mysteries.
So much for any argument which tries to assert that Rome's adoption of Christianity did not include important elements of earlier pagan mysteries. This aspect was crucial to integrate into the formal symbolism of Christianity as an imperial religion because the concept of 'greater' and 'lesser' mysteries as a structured hierachy was always part of the form of these earlier systems and was used to endorse the rule of the state in various ancient contexts from their beginnings.
Above (from left to right): Coin of Constantine depicting Sol Invictus with the legend SOLI INVICTO COMITI, ca. 315
Coin of Emperor probus, c. 280, with Sol Invictus riding a quadriga, with legend SOLI INVICTO, "to the Unconquered Sun": the Emperor (at left) wears a radiated solar crown, worn also by the god on the obverse.
Aurelian in his radiate crown, on a silvered bronze coin struck at Rome, 274–275