Thursday, May 30, 2013

Chapter 2: The Emperor and His Mother



With Licinius put to eternal sleep, Constantine remained the only emperor for the whole of the Roman Empire.  All citizens, slaves and slave masters of the huge empire were his subjects.  He was the Lord of all lords.  He was the greatest of the greats.  None is as great as Constantine the Great! Such were generous praises lavished upon Constantine by his flatterers, who flocked to his palace after he returned from Thessalonica.
One evening, fatigued by many visitors, Constantine retired to his chamber.  Alone in his room, Constantine reminisced his journey in life.  It was a rather long journey, and he had come a long way.  He was the son of Chlorus Constantius, who was one of the four rulers in the Roman Empire.  The four ruler system was instituted by Emperor Diocletian, who felt that the Roman Empire was too big for him to rule all by himself.  He therefore developed a tetrarchy, or a system of four rulers: two senior emperors, or augusti, and two junior emperors, or caesars. It was Diocletian who installed the father of Constantine as one of the four rulers: first as a caesar, later an augustus.    
When his father was appointed as one of the two caesars in 293 AD, the young Constantine served at the court of Diocletian in Nicomedia, then a prosperous city in Bithynia, Asia Minor, now a thriving town of Izmit in Turkey.  As Diocletian and his co-augustus Maximian abdicated their position in 305, Constantius succeeded Maximian as the western augustus.  Constantine left Nicomedia afterwards to join his father in the Roman Gaul, the modern day France and Belgium.  In the expedition against the Picts of Caledonia (Picts being the people who would later on became the Scotts and Caledonia became known as Scotland) Constantine’s father fell sick and subsequently died on July 25, 306 in Eboracum (modern day York, England).  The troops loyal to his father installed Constantine as the new emperor.  Constantine therefore ruled over his father’s territories, comprising of Britain, Gaul, the Germanic provinces and Spain. 
That was the year 306 AD.  By the year 324 AD, after defeating his last nemesis, Licinius, he became the sole ruler of the whole Roman Empire.  The rest, as they say, was history.  When he was appointed a caesar, he was only slightly more than 30 years of age.  As he became the sole emperor of the whole empire, he was a man of about 51 years old. 
It was indeed a long journey.
That evening, fatigue but restless, Constantine couldn’t sleep.  It was already past midnight. For the first time in his life, Constantine felt overwhelming.  The thought of having to rule such a massive empire sent shiver to his veins.  Tired of turning to the left and then to the right in his bed, Constantine got up and walked to the closet.  He picked a box, opened it, and took out the content inside.  It was a xiphos, a double-edged sword about two feet long.  The xiphos belonged to his father, who used it when he started his military career.  There was nothing particularly remarkable about the sword, but his late father cherished it, because not only that it had saved his father’s life many times, but more importantly had taken hundreds of others’ lives in return.  The xiphos reminded Constantine of his father.
He wiped the xiphos gently, showing much care.  Constantine didn’t particularly fancy that sword.  He himself didn’t use xiphos, for he preferred the longer spatha, about 3 feet long.  He kept and took care of that sword only because it was handed over to him by his father in the latter’s death bed.  It was his important link with his deceased father, probably because both of them had started their careers in the military.  When he needed to be alone, such as at that moment, that xiphos became his companion.
“Constantine!”
Suddenly there was a soft voice coming from the door.  Startled, Constantine’s eyes turned to the door.  There was a woman wearing a white robe at the door.  She was an old woman slightly above 70 years old.  Her face looked slightly pale, probably because of old age.  Her head was crowned with a thin white scarf.  Despite her age, she still exuded a majestic appearance.  The old lady was Helena, Constantine’s mother.
“Mother!” Constantine startled a bit, “what bring you here, mother?”
“Must I have reasons to visit my own son?”  Replied the mother, in kind.
“Of course not, mother, but it is already way past midnight.  You should be sleeping.” 
“And why haven’t you?”
“I am not sleepy yet.”
“Neither am I,” replied the mother. 
The conversation, if at all they were conversing, did not sound right.  Constantine may have been a great emperor, but he was still a son to Helena.  So he took the step to put it right.  He kissed the forehead of his mother and spoke softly.
“I am sorry mother for being too busy to even ask how you have been, but you know that your son will always find time if his mother wants to talk to him.”
The mother didn’t respond but instead caressed her son’s hair lovingly.  Constantine was all she got.  She lost her husband to other woman when Constantine was still a teenager.  Constantius, the father of Constantine, divorced Helena to marry Theodora, the step daughter of Maximian, the then co-augustus of Diocletian, to further his political career.  Being his first love, Constantius continued to see Helena from time to time.  This had irked her nemesis, Theodora, a great deal.
Helena was a Christian.  Even before she converted to Christianity, Helena was sympathetic to the Christians, while the son was largely indifferent.  It was partly through her influence that Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, giving general religious amnesty to the Christians and others of different faiths.  During the Edict of Milan, Helena formalized her leaning towards the Christians by undergoing the rite of baptism, formally converting to Christianity.  The son, however, refused to undergo the rite of baptism, although he did profess to be among the faithful.  Since her conversion eleven years ago, Helena became a devoted Christian, while the son continued to regard religion, be it Christianity or any other faith, mainly from practical perspective.  He was more interested in consolidating his power than becoming a religious man.  Being a practical man, Constantine had no qualm of invoking any god so long as it helped him win the war. 
“Is there anything you want to tell me mother?”  Constantine asked, after a few moments of silence.  He sensed that his mother had something to tell, or to ask.
“Isn’t it time for you to be baptized?”  His mother asked.
“We have been through this already mother, and the answer is going to be the same.  I will not be baptized, except in the Jordan River.”  Replied the son.
“Good, I’m going to visit Jerusalem.  You can accompany me there, so that you can be baptized in the Jordan River.”
“You are going to Jerusalem, mother?”  Constantine asked, quite surprised.
“Yes.”
“What for?”
“Pilgrimage of course, what else?”
“You never tell me about this before.”
“I’m telling you now.”
Constantine kept quiet for a few moments, trying to gauge his mother seriousness.  She looked serious.  He also kept quiet because he did not know the best way to respond to his mother.  His mother caught him this time.  Jordan River could not serve as his convenient excuse anymore.
“I will see to it that you have large entourage and everything you need to make the journey comfortable.”  Constantine at last spoke, avoiding the whole issue altogether.
“I don’t need large entourage or elaborate facilities.  I want my son to accompany me.”
“I don’t think I can come along mother.”  This time Constantine’s response was less elusive, though he did not give the reason why he could not accompany his mother to Jerusalem.
“You don’t think or you don’t want?”  Helena pressed.
“I can’t.”
“Because you have to settle some state affairs?”  There was a touch of sarcasm in Helena’s voice.  If all else failed, managing the empire’s affairs would make a valid excuse for an emperor.
“You know that the situation is still somewhat precarious.”
“I can wait for a few months until you to settle your state affairs, then we can go.”  Helena was still hoping that her son could accompany her, not so much because she needed him to come along, but because she wanted to make sure that her son would be baptized at the place of his choice.
“I don’t think you should delay your journey mother.”
“Why? Is it because you don’t want to come with me?”
“You know that it is not the case, mother.”
“Then it must be because you are not yet ready to be baptized.”
“I just can’t mother.”
Helena kept quiet for a moment.  She did not want to press Constantine further, but there was a tinge of sadness in her look.
“What a pity,” she at last spoke, and stood up, “you have saved countless others, but you yourself refuse to be saved.”
“Just what do you mean by that mother?”  Constantine asked, catching the hand of his mother who was about to leave.  Helena looked at her son with tenderness and love, but her facial countenance looked sad and disappointed. 
“No one has perhaps done more service to the faith than you, but you yourself have no faith.”
“That is not a very nice thing to say, mother.  You know that it is not true.”
“It hurts because it is true, is it not my son?”
“You know that it is not the case, mother.”
“Don’t you think that I know the dilemma you are facing?  I know that the faith has entered your heart, but you are afraid to make the decisive move, fearing the wrath of your pagan subjects and governors who are more numerous than your Christian subjects.  That’s why I said it is a pity.”  Said Helena.
“It is very late already mother.  Sleep in my room.  You take the bed, I will sleep on the floor.”  Said the dutiful son.
“I am not too old to walk to my room, Constantine.  It is only nearby.” Said Helena, smiling gently to his son.  The sadness in her face was still there.
“As you wish mother.  I will send you to your room.”
“You don’t have to burden yourself with this old woman, my son.”
Constantine walked his mother to her room, nevertheless.  He could have asked the guard to do that, but the great emperor would rather do it himself.  He was not sleepy anyway.  And after what his mother had said, it would be a miracle if he could go to sleep right away.  The thought had been troubling him for a long time already.  His mother gentle reminder about the matter only disturbed him more.
“It is alright if you cannot come along my son.  Don’t let my request to accompany me to Jerusalem disturb you.  I know you have a great future, and I know your name will be remembered for eternity.  Don’t ask me how I know, because I don’t know how to put it, but it is a mother intuition thing.  I feel that you were meant for greatness since I carried you in my womb.  But in the end, you will have to make that move, because it would be a great tragedy if you help saved others, but you fail to save yourself.”  Said Helena as she arrived at her room.  She was perhaps trying to reduce her son’s troubling mind, or perhaps it was her troubled feeling that she tried to appease.   Whatever the case may be, Constantine could not help thinking about what his mother had said.  In fact, his preoccupation with the empire affairs since the early evening was off his mind at that moment.

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