Chi-Rho ☧ originally a Symbol of the Centurion

May 2011
2,940
Rural Australia
#41
I have to agree this is a case of lack of evidence in either direction. But logic says no. Constantine and his forces came from Gaul and Britain, an area where Greek was very uncommon. Education in Greek in the upper and middle classes wasn't as prevalent as it used to be either in these regions.
But among his august counsels was Eusebius Pamphilus and his team of professional Greek scribes. I guess the question might become whether Eusebius was aware that the Chi-Rho symbol had this prior usage on inscriptions - in the east where the Greek language predominated.



But even then you would expect that many of Eusebius' Greek-speaking contemporaries would have noticed that his story about Christ sounded doubtful, if Constantine had just copied or expanded on an existing practice.
Sozomen wrote that no one had dared to reject Constantine's doctrines while he was alive. So it may be likely that, even though they may have noticed Eusebius' story was doubtful, they kept their mouths shut.


You would also expect that this would have left some traces in the sources.
The ecclesiastical histories may have expunged this, along with a host of other controversies. that erupted from the rule of Constantine after his military supremacy in the Eastern empire. Julian's invectives against Constantine (and the "wretched Eusebius") for example, were burnt and refuted. There is somewhat of a (black?) hole in the pagan literary sources between 324 CE (Constantine's supremacy) and 353 CE (when Ammianus resumes).

Eusebius must have been among the top echelon of Greek scholars at that time. Is it reasonable to think that Eusebius did have, or did not have, knowledge of this prior use for the Chi-Rho symbol?
 
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AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,872
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#42
But among his august counsels was Eusebius Pamphilus and his team of professional Greek scribes. I guess the question might become whether Eusebius was aware that the Chi-Rho symbol had this prior usage on inscriptions - in the east where the Greek language predominated.





Sozomen wrote that no one had dared to reject Constantine's doctrines while he was alive. So it may be likely that, even though they may have noticed Eusebius' story was doubtful, they kept their mouths shut.




The ecclesiastical histories may have expunged this, along with a host of other controversies. that erupted from the rule of Constantine after his military supremacy in the Eastern empire. Julian's invectives against Constantine (and the "wretched Eusebius") for example, were burnt and refuted. There is somewhat of a (black?) hole in the pagan literary sources between 324 CE (Constantine's supremacy) and 353 CE (when Ammianus resumes).

Eusebius must have been among the top echelon of Greek scholars at that time. Is it reasonable to think that Eusebius did have, or did not have, knowledge of this prior use for the Chi-Rho symbol?
@KJ

wait a minute ... there is a fundamental difference between a Greek abbreviation used in Greek literary context and a symbol carried on the battlefields ...

This is pivotal for any further theories or elaborations.

Without archaeological evidences of vexilla presenting a chi-rho before of Constantine ... we have to keep this within the borders of the literary world.
 
May 2011
2,940
Rural Australia
#43
@KJ

wait a minute ... there is a fundamental difference between a Greek abbreviation used in Greek literary context and a symbol carried on the battlefields ...

This is pivotal for any further theories or elaborations.
OK, but we are dealing with a Greek abbreviation used in Greek epigraphic context rather than a literary context.

Without archaeological evidences of vexilla presenting a chi-rho before of Constantine ... we have to keep this within the borders of the literary world.

The OP admits of no primary evidence for Chi-Rho on vexilla. But the borders of this extend into the epigraphic world, as symbols often set in stone.

The symbol of the Chi-Rho as centurion must have been known to the Greek east in the rule of Constantine.




Constantine: Silver Medalion 316 CE:
The first instance of a chi-rho on a coin of Constantine is on a rare silver medallion issued from Ticinum in 315. Eusebius even stated that Constantine “was in the habit of wearing on his helmet [the chi-rho] at a later period." (Vita Constantini)

To an educated Greek who had not yet heard anything about "Christ", the symbol on Constantine's helm could mean various other things such as: "Good" or even "Centurion". Constantine apparently fought at the head of his army? Did he therefore lead a century of men, and was thus also a centurion?
 
Jan 2018
283
Netherlands
#44
I know that in medieval times the same abbreviatons would be used for different words that were phonetically close, but no exact matches. Something similar could have been the case with the chi-rho as a shorthand for both "chresto-"="good" and "Christo-"="Christ", maybe with the second one being a deliberate pun on the meaning of the first one.
 
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AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,872
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#45
OK, but we are dealing with a Greek abbreviation used in Greek epigraphic context rather than a literary context.




The OP admits of no primary evidence for Chi-Rho on vexilla. But the borders of this extend into the epigraphic world, as symbols often set in stone.

The symbol of the Chi-Rho as centurion must have been known to the Greek east in the rule of Constantine.




Constantine: Silver Medalion 316 CE:
The first instance of a chi-rho on a coin of Constantine is on a rare silver medallion issued from Ticinum in 315. Eusebius even stated that Constantine “was in the habit of wearing on his helmet [the chi-rho] at a later period." (Vita Constantini)

To an educated Greek who had not yet heard anything about "Christ", the symbol on Constantine's helm could mean various other things such as: "Good" or even "Centurion". Constantine apparently fought at the head of his army? Did he therefore lead a century of men, and was thus also a centurion?
The hypothesis can be valid as well ... I repeat that Christians borrowed a lot from other sources. For example, also the wide usage of the cross as symbol seems to be a Constantine heritage [before of his age examples are rare]. What did Roman Pagan citizens think seeing Christians carrying a little cross?
 
May 2011
2,940
Rural Australia
#46
The hypothesis can be valid as well ... I repeat that Christians borrowed a lot from other sources. For example, also the wide usage of the cross as symbol seems to be a Constantine heritage [before of his age examples are rare]. What did Roman Pagan citizens think seeing Christians carrying a little cross?
The crucifix (human figure on cross) does not seem attested in the archaeological remains until very late (6th century?) I think that the symbol of a lamb on the cross is attested before this time.

What appears inescapable to me is that the CHI RHO symbol in the Eastern Empire during the rise and life of Constantine (312-337 CE) had a number of possible significations:

1. Centurion
2. Good/excellent/useful
3. Christ (as in Jesus Christ).
4. Something else

The Christian Revolution of the 4th century seems to have been essentially kick-started by Constantine's centurions. The symbology of the Chi Rho as representing Christ may have been introduced to Roman Pagan citizens as part of the propaganda of the successful political and religious revolution.
 
Jul 2017
292
Srpska
#47
Christians might have adopted the chi-rho symbol because it was already used as an abbreviation for "chreston", but I fail to see a connection between the early church and Roman centurions - unless perhaps you want to speculate about the existence of some sort of secret tradition of Roman Christians associating themselves with Cornelius from the New Testament, but that seems far fetched.
For what it's worth, St. Justin the Martyr in his First Apology, chapter 4, letter to Roman Emperor, makes an intentional play on words with Chrestian and Christian in the context of good and evil, just and unjust, reasoned and not reasoned, and somewhat equates the goals of the Chrestion (the Empire) to that of the Christians, thus as early as 160 AD.
 
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AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,872
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#48
The crucifix (human figure on cross) does not seem attested in the archaeological remains until very late (6th century?) I think that the symbol of a lamb on the cross is attested before this time.

What appears inescapable to me is that the CHI RHO symbol in the Eastern Empire during the rise and life of Constantine (312-337 CE) had a number of possible significations:

1. Centurion
2. Good/excellent/useful
3. Christ (as in Jesus Christ).
4. Something else

The Christian Revolution of the 4th century seems to have been essentially kick-started by Constantine's centurions. The symbology of the Chi Rho as representing Christ may have been introduced to Roman Pagan citizens as part of the propaganda of the successful political and religious revolution.
Well, Jehowa's Witnesses even contest that Jesus died on a cross. They sustain he died on a pole ... the reality of the life of Jesus [later called "The Christ"] is simply well difficult to grasp. There aren't direct historical evidences that the Jesus of the Gospel lived in that land as told in the Gospel. I'm not to not Christian sources, but also the Christian sources are not direct. And not Christian sources are object of discussion [as we have seen several times]. We haven't got the original versions [or version] of the Gospel.

On the other hand, this is the difference between OT and NT, we've got indirect sources and some more direct sources which are temporally near to the events [while the Greek version of the Tanakh had written centuries and centuries after the events reported in the Torah ...]. This usually reduces the room for interpolations [you cannot invent if who saw something is still alive], but it's clear that to enter details means to risk a lot ...

Regarding possible later interpolations, a nice example of "source at risk" is Josephus Flavius with his "Testimonium Flavianum ". Personally if the content of that passage was the one we see today I would have expected that the fathers of the Church mentioned it ... nope. It was Eusebius to mention it first.
 
May 2011
2,940
Rural Australia
#49
For what it's worth, St. Justin the Martyr in his First Apology, chapter 4, letter to Roman Emperor, makes an intentional play on words with Chrestian and Christian in the context of good and evil, just and unjust, reasoned and not reasoned, and somewhat equates the goals of the Chrestion (the Empire) to that of the Christians, thus as early as 160 AD.
The earliest manuscript from Saint Justin is from the 14th century.

Most researchers when looking outside the literary evidence appear to be aware that the CHI RHO symbol was used to represent the Greek rendition of the Latin "Chrestos" from antiquity and to represent the Greek rendition of the Latin "Christos" from the age of Constantine. What these researchers appear to be unaware of is the precendented use of the CHI RHO symbol to represent "Centurion" in the Greek language.

See an extract from the source cited in the OP at post #6. This evidence implies that the symbol of the Chi-Rho as centurion must have been reasonably well known to the educated in the Greek east in the rise and rule of Constantine.

Can anyone find any academic discussion of this issue ?
 
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#50
For what it's worth to the discussion you guys are having, Constantine ought to have been very familiar with Greek. He wrote the Oration to the Saints, which is in Greek. Indeed, not only must he have received the education of an imperial prince (and thus paideia), but he spent a good part of his early life in the east at the courts of Diocletian and Galerius and sometimes took part in their campaigns.

As for this idea that Constantine was being advised by Eusebius at the time of the campaign against Maxentius, I'm not certain this is correct. It has been argued that Constantine was influenced by the Latin rhetor and convert Lactantius (in part based on the similarities between Lactantius' Divine Institutes and the Edict of Milan, and in part on the fact that at some point Lactantius tutored Constantine's eldest son Crispus). It's also Lactantius (in his On the Deaths of the Persecutors) who provides the earliest surviving version of the dream (and unlike Eusebius' Life of Constantine, does not include a celestial vision). As for Eusebius, I'm willing to be proven wrong, but I don't think we have any evidence that he was close to Constantine c. 312. He may well have fled to the west during the persecution , and he does later appear to have become a favourite of Constantine by 325, but this doesn't suggest to me that he was a figure who influenced Constantine in 312.
 
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