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The Labarum (☧) was a military standard which displayed the first two Greek letters of the word Christ (Greek: ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ or Χριστός)—Chi (χ) and Rho, (ρ). It was first used by the Roman emperor Constantine I (Greek: Μέγας Κωνσταντίνος ).
The etymology of the word before Constantine's usage of it is unclear.
Additional recommended knowledge
The Christian origin account
Mythology characteristically differs in the details, but in every case, the details are meaningful, and never random. According to Lactantius, a historian of North African origin saved from poverty and under the patronage of Constantine Ι as tutor to his son Crispus, who was writing in Latin, Constantine had dreamt of this emblem and a voice saying "In hoc signo vinces" ("In this sign you shall conquer"). On waking he ordered his soldiers to put the emblem on their shields; that very day they fought the forces of Maxentius and won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (312), outside Rome.
Writing in Greek, Eusebius of Caesarea (Greek: Ευσέβιος της Καισαρείας ), the bishop who wrote the first surviving general history of the early Christian churches (died in 339), gave the two definitive versions of Constantine's famous vision, accepted by the Orthodox Churches, by which Constantine I was later canonized for his contributions to Christianity as a saint, together with his mother St. Helena ( Greek: Αγία Ελένη ) who introduced him to the Christian religion and was a strong influence throughout his life:
Constantine's modern biographer, the Western-European historian Ramsey MacMullen, doubtfully comments: "If the sky writing was witnessed by 40,000 men, the true miracle lies in their unbroken silence about it", disputing Eusebius' account, although there numerous theories on the astrological phenomena of that day that would surely have drawn the attention of the astrologers and diviners attached to all Roman armies and could have led them seeing crosses and loops on the sky with the most impressive being that of F. Heiland, of the Zeiss planetarium at Jena, who in late 40’s and 50’s, published in that institution’s journal entitled “Die astronomische Deutung der Vision Kaiser Konstantins” (The Astronomical Interpretation of the Vision of The Emperor Constantine), his observation that the fall of the year 312 AD was attended by an unusual spectacle: the syzygy or close alignment of three bright planets in the evening sky above the southwest horizon and in particular Mars, Saturn and Jupiter which were positioned along a line within about 20 degrees of each other on the border of Capricornus and Sagittarius. Heiland suggests that Constantine overcame the psychological impact on his army, of the ill pagan content of the astrological omen that associated syzygies with bad outcomes, by appropriating it to fashion a Christian token of victory in the form of the labarum.
The Swedish geologist Jens Ormo et al also suggests that the latter account may have had its origins in Constantine witnessing the day-light effects of a meteorite's descent through earth's atmosphere, of which the impact he believes resulted in the Sirente crater situated in Sirente-Velino Regional Park, Abruzzo, Italy
Eusebius may have felt that the dream mytheme on its own needed reinforcement supporting his emperor's account and trying to influence the hearts and minds of the people towards the change of the religion of the empire to Christian, presenting it as a true miracle. Of this, he wrote in the Vita that Constantine himself had told him this story "and confirmed it with oaths," late in life "when I was deemed worthy of his acquaintance and company." "Indeed," says Eusebius, "had anyone else told this story, it would not have been easy to accept it."
The celestial Chi
Though modern representations of the chi-rho sign represent the two lines crossing at ninety degree angles, the early signs of the labarum cross at an angle that is more vividly respresentativbe of the chi formed by the solar ecliptic path and the celestial equator. This image is most familiar in Plato's Timaeus, where it is explained that the two bands which form the world soul (anima mundi) cross each other like the letter chi. Not only did the two legs of the chi remind early Christians of the Cross, "it reminded them of the mystery of the pre-existent Christ, the Logos Theou, the Word of God, who extended himself through all thing in order to establish peace and harmony in the universe," in Robert Grigg's words. Hugo Rahner summarized the significance:
Among the many soldiers depicted on the Arch of Constantine, which was erected just three years after the battle, the labarum does not appear. A grand opportunity for just the kind of political-religious propaganda that the Arch otherwise was expressly built to present, would have been unaccountably missed, if Eusebius' oath-confirmed account can be trusted, although it can be argued that still, in the early years after the battle, the will for an obvious religious support of Christianity by the emperor, hadn't been there yet, due to Constantine's personal faith or in fear of religious driven friction with the strongly idololatric regime. Its inscription does say that the emperor had saved the res publica INSTINCTU DIVINITATIS MENTIS MAGNITUDINE ("by greatness of mind and by instinct [or impulse] of divinity") and as in the majority of his predecessors Sol Invictus—the Invincible Sun (also identifiable in Apollo or Mithras)—is inscribed on the period's coinage although in 325 and thereafter the coinage ceases to be pagan, and Sol Invictus disappears at that date. In his Historia Ecclesiae Eusebius further reports that, after his victorious entry into Rome, Constantine had a statue of himself erected, "holding the sign of the Savior [the cross] in his right hand." There are no other reports to confirm such a monument.
Whether Constantine I was the first Christian emperor supporting during his rule a peaceful transition to Christianity or an undecided pagan believer up until middle age, strongly influenced in his political-religious decisions by his Christian mother St. Helena (not to be confused with the Welsh Saint Helen of Caernarfon who lived 60 years later), is still in dispute among historians. Even though he doesn't appear in the Catholic calendar, he is celebrated together with his mother St. Helena as Equal-to-apostles (isapostoloi) on 21 May by both the different Orthodox churches as a saint of Christianity. The Latin Catholic church, on the contrary, although it celebrates St. Helena of Constantinople as a saint, has never placed him among the saints, but has been content with naming him "the Great," in "just and grateful remembrance of his services to the cause of Christianity and civilization".
He is definitely the first of the Roman Emperors who bestowed imperial favor on Christianity by returning and legally protecting thereafter property taken from the early Church, the first Roman emperor that offered legal protection of the freedom of confession to all religions within the Empire, with the famous Milan's Edict in 313 AD and not only "toleration of other religions as indulgence" as Galerius did in 311 AD. Constantine I was the first to declare (March 7, 321) dies Solis—day of the sun, Sunday as the day of rest throughout the Empire, declared Rome a Christian city and allegedly placed his mother in charge of locating Christian relics, resulting in the discovery of the True Cross in the Holy Land. A small portion of the relics which she had located (together with the Nails), two of which she later gave to her son Constantine for protection, together with soil from the True Cross excavation site and big parts of the Cross itself were then stored in a room inside her palace in Rome around which the basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme -housing the Passion relics- was built (also named St. Helena's chapel), which was later (15th century) converted into the Abbey of Santa Croce. The famous relics, whose authenticity is disputed, are now housed in a Chapel (the Cappella delle Reliquie), built in 1930 by architect Florestano di Fausto. They also include: a part of the Elogium or Ogium or Titulus Crucis, i.e. the panel which was hanged to the Christ's Cross; two thorns of his crown; the third and incomplete nail; and three small wooden pieces of the True Cross itself. A much larger piece of the holy cross was brought from Santa Croce in Gerusalemme to St. Peter's Basilica on instruction of Pope Urban VIII in the year 1629. It is kept nearby the statue of St. Helena, completed by Andrea Bolgi in 1639. As for the labarum, its first dateable appearances are numismatic: the usurper Magnentius appears to have been the first to use the chi-rho monogram flanked by Alpha and Omega, on the reverse of some coins minted in 353 (illustration.
In medieval art, during and after the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western churches, the labarum theme is absent, reappearing suddenly in the Renaissance and classical periods, after Constantinople's fall and the end of the Byzantine Empire, where the phrase is frequently shown written out in the sky.
The labarum has since been interpreted by Christians all over the world as a symbol of Christianity. Because it is composed of the combined chi and rho it is sometimes referred to as the "monogram of Christ". Some Protestant Christians, especially Restorationists, reject its use due to what they believe to be pagan origins, although it was already in widespread use by Christians in the 3rd century, mostly on sarcophagi. The interpretation of its use as a specifically Christian symbol is reinforced by the fact that Julian the Apostate removed it from his insignia, and that it was restored to use by his Christian successors.
"Labarum" is also used for any ecclesiastical banner, such as those carried around in processions as well as under the name "the holy lavaro" ( Greek: Το Άγιο Λάβαρο ) for the set of early national Greek flags, blessed by the Greek Orthodox Church, under which the Greeks united, before the commense and during the Greek Revolution (1821) against the Ottoman Empire which was occupying Greece at the time.
It also gives the name (Labaro) to a suburb of Rome adjacent to Prima Porta, one of the sites where the appearance of this symbol is placed.
Decline of use
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Labarum". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|