Constantine and the Cross (1962)

 

 

 

 

Director:   Lionello de Felice.

Starring:   Cornel Wilde (Constantin), Christine Kaufmann (Livia), Belinda Lee (Fausta), Elisa Cegani (Elena), Tino Carraro (Emperor Maximianus), Massimo Serato (Maxentius).

Country:   Italian film

The movie deals with Constantine (Cornel Wilde) falling in love with a beautiful Christian woman (Christine Kaufmann) during a time when Christianity was regarded as heresy.  His beloved is in danger of being put to death with the other Christians in her group.

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"Three centuries after the birth of Christ the Roman Empire sprawled across Europe from Britain to the Middle East.  So vast was the Empire that its rulership was divided  --  the East was ruled by Emperor Diocletian and the West by Emperor Maximianus.  Next in command to the emperors were those who held the title of Caesar.  The Caesar of the West was Constantius Chlorus.  His seat of government was Treviri, located in what is now Southern Germany.  From this outpost he waged relentless warfare against the barbarian hordes which threatened the northern frontier of the Empire.  Chief of his generals was his son, Constantine."

 

Constantine (son of Caesaer Constantinus of the West) massacres a town that dare oppose Rome.  His father is not happy about this because he did not order the sacking of any town.  Maximianus sends his son to Rome, as the son has been named by Emperor Diocletian of the east to be tribune of the first order.  The son, who is filled with rage against his father for not letting him see much of his mother because of her humble origins, says that dad is threatened now by the achievements of his own son.  Dad says the if Constantine has made a name for himself militarily, he owes that to his father for giving him the opportunity.  Caesar says that Diocletian will be dying soon and general are made in Rome.  His son must learn about corruption and politics in Rome, in addition to being less rash and more discreet. 

Before leaving for Rome, Constantine says to his father that he is looking forward to seeing Fausta and hopes she feels the same.  They shake hands and Constantine departs with an escort. 

Rome.  Fausta (daughter of Maximianus) speaks with her brother Maxentius and Licinius. 

On his way to Rome Constantine is ambushed near a cave where the Christians are used as slave labor.  They are trying to assassinate Constantine, but Constantine and his men defeat them.  Hadrian is badly wounded and the Christians come to his aide.  Constantine helps carry the wounded man a house.  Livia helps tend to Hadrian.  Her father helps heal the wounded man.  Constantine wants to pay them for their services, but these Christians won't take any money.  The Christians also will not say who they are.  Constantine leaves for Rome. 

Diocletian and Maximianus welcome Constantine to Rome.  They are sorry that Constantine and his escort were ambushed by a bunch of bandits.  Maximianus tells Constantine that he is assigning his son Maxentius to round up the bandits. 

In Rome Constantine sees the physician that healed Hadrian and he asks Maxentius who is he.  He is the best physician in Rome and the doctor to the royals.  Just then Fausta arrives and Constantine goes over to talk to her.  It becomes clear that Maxentius was behind the assassination attempt by the "bandits". 

At night Constantine and Fausta talk about their relationship.  She says they will always be together.  Maximianus tells his son Maxentius that it was a mistake to try and kill Constantine because once the two lovebirds are married, with the help of Fausta, they will be able to control Constantine.  Maxentius says one can never trust a woman in love. 

Livia takes Hadrian down to the river so he can bathe.  He says he is leaving now for Rome.  Livia is disappointed that he is going.  She tells him that she is a Christian.  Hadrian tells her to be careful or one day she might be denounced.  A boy comes down to tell Livia that they have arrested Matteus and the others.  Hadrian runs to stop them.  He tells the Romans that they have made a mistake.  He knows the faces of those who attacked him and he knows the faces of these prisoners and the prisoners are innocent.  But Maxentius's men have Hadrian arrested.  Hadrian gets into contact with Constantine and he gets the freedom of the peasants.  But Maxentius has learned that these peasants are Christians.  So the Christians now get condemned to death for not renouncing their faith in their one God.    This impresses Constantine greatly. 

Emperor Maximianus says that  the Christians are a great threat to the Romans.  There are more and more converts each day.  He wants t make sure that he and Diocletian will be succeeded by people who will be firm and tough against the Christians.  Diocletian says that Maximianus just wants his son to succeed him and he will not permit this.   While watching the Christians being fed to the lions, Maxentius learns that there will be a meeting of the Christians at the cave where Constantine was attacked.  Maxentius wants them rounded up.  Constantine gets upset and begs Maxentius to stop this.  Maxentius refuses, so Constantine jumps into the ring and kills the lion there.  He then asks Fausta to request the Christians in the ring be let go. 

The meeting of Christians takes place in the cave.  Someone screams that the Praetorians are coming.  The Christians pack close together.  Hadrian goes in search of Livia.  The Christians are marched out of the cave.  Hadrian finds her in the line and says that Livia is not a Christian.  Livia just looks at him and keeps walking in the line. 

Hadrian runs to seek help from Constantine.  Maentius is happy about this turn of events for when Constantine shows up to protect the Christians, the Praetorians will arrest him and then, when he tries to escape, they will kill him.  Licinius will carry out the plan. 

Constantine tells Hadrian that he just doesn't see how he can make an exception for just one girl.  But his conscience is bothering him about the matter. 

Constantine goes to the prison where the Christians are being held.  He is taken to the cell holding Livia and tells Livia to come with him.  She doesn't want to leave her father, but dad tells her to go with Constantine.  Father says:  "The Lord be with you, Constantine."  When Livia see Hadrian she knows she will be safe.  They take her to a meeting place where she is taken away by other Christians.  Meanwhile, Maxentius's men kill the prison sentry to put the blame on Constantine.  Maximianus tells Diocletian what Constantine has done.  Diocletian demands that Constantine be permitted to say something in his own defense. 

Fausta goes out in the rain to warn Constantine.  She says he must not try to go back to Rome for Maxentius's men will surely kill him before he gets to speak with Emperor Diocletian.  Just then a group of Maxentius's men approach them at a gallop.  Constantine and Hadrian have to go.

Diolcletian and Maximianus announce to the senate they they will be retiring.  In their place, they put two men, who are neither Maxentius or Constantine.  For the west is Flabius Severus and for the east is Licinius.  Licinius is shocked that he was chosen.  Maxentius is crushed and can't believe it. 

Whuile riding in the woods, Constantine and Hadrian find a Roman soldier of the Third Legion.  Hadrian tells Constantine that his father must be in trouble.  Then they find a great number of soldiers riding away as fast as they can.  They stop the leader and he says the Barbarians forced them to retreat.  When the officer panics and starts to run, Constantine stabs him with his sword and the man falls off his horse.  All of a sudden the cavalry realizes that they are in the presence of Constantine.  They willingly follow the man back to the battle.  Constantine rallies the Romans and drive the Barbarians from the field.  He finds his father who has been wounded.  Dad tells him that his mother is a Christian.  She had to go into hiding.  Now Constantine realizes why he could not see his mother.  Her name is Ellen.  Dad dies. 

Constantine oversee the funeral pyre where his father's remains are burnt up.  He then makes a speech to his army.  The soldiers call him "Emperor Constantine". 

Maxentius speaks before the senate in Rome and says he backs Constantine as being the Emperor of the West.  He knows Rome cannot oppose the huge army of Constantine.  Fausta knows that her brother is up to no good.   Hadrian arrives with gifts from Constantine. He also brings a letter from the new emperor.  Constantine wants to marry in Germany.   

Hadrian goes out to see Livia.  They hug each other.  Livia tells Hadrian that a 50 year old woman named Elena was God-sent to the Christians.  She aide the Christians greatly.  Hadrian tells Livia that they must find Elna because he thinks this could be something very close to Constantie. 

Treviri.  The wedding of Fausta and Constantine is being held.  The couple is very happy. 

Now power is held in the hands of Constantine and Galerius.  Constantine looks forward to the two Roman Empires combining under a set of common beliefs.  Maximianus has become an adviser to Constantine.  A conversation between Constantine and Maximianus is interrupted by a man falling to his death from the ramparts.  Rotten scaffolding gave way and send the man to his grave.  Maximianus tells Constantine says that an accident like this could get rid of Galerius and then the Roman empires could be combined.  Constantine rejects the very idea of this.  Galerius arrives for a visit along with Licinius. Maximianus plots with Licinius against Constantine, who he says is becoming more Christian everyday. 

In his room Constantine finds a note to him.  He reads it.  At night Maximianus sneaks into Constantine and stabs the man in his bed.  But it turns out it wasn't Constantine at all.  He stabbed the cadaver of the accident victim.  Constantine enters the room and has Maximianus arrested.  Fausta hears all the fuss and comes out to investigate.  Her father has committed suicide by grabbing one of the soldier's swords and throwing himself upon it. 

Maxentius speaks before the senate, praising his father and saying that there is not proof his father tried to kill the emperor.  He accuses Constantine of killing his father.  Hadrian shouts out against Maxentius and is arrested for disturbing the decorum of the senate.  He says what Maxentius was saying is rebellion.  Maxentius has himself put in place of Constantine by the agreement of the senate. 

Constantine complains to Fausta about Maxentius causing massacres and that her brother has had many of his laws revoked.  Fausta blames Constantine for not stopping the assassination attempt before it was even attempted.  That, at least, would have saved her father.  She now tells her husband that there can only be misunderstanding and sorrow between them.  "And blood," says Constantine.  Fausta prays about what she should do. 

Constantine and his army are on the march.  Fausta wants to go with him, but Constantine says no.  Fausta goes anyway.  The forces of Constantine battle with the forces behind Maxentius and win.  A messenger brings the bad news to Maxentius, who doesn't like it.  He is, however, cheered up when he learns that Constantine's mother is here in Rome and she is a Christian.  Maxentius gives the order to find her at once.  So Livia is interrogated about where Elena is.  She won't talk, but perhaps other Christians will.  The Romans rape many of the Christian women.  They start torturing Christians to get them to tell where is Elena.  They force Hadrian to watch the torture.

The women come up from downstairs where they were raped.  Hadrian tries to comfort Livia.  He is mad at the Christian God for leaving his followers so helpless.  Livia says she forgives those who have hurt the Christians, as her God would want.  She dies.  A man helps Hadrian out of the prison.  He is guided to where Constantine's mother waits to speak with him.  She tells him that Constantine and his troops are just on the other side of the River Tiber.  She asks Hadrian to tell her son that the Christians are with him.  Soldiers come after them.  Hadrian gets on a horse, but the horse dumps into the river.  From there he gets away. 

Constantine learns that Galerius has been murdered.  Licinius has taken command.  Now they have an enemy at their back.  Fausta goes out in an officer's cloak.  She talks with her brother about preventing a war.   Instead Maxentius tells her that he has Constantine's mother as his hostage.   He keeps Fausta too. 

Constantine and Maxentius talk while on horseback on a bridge.  Maxentius wants him to surrender.  If he doesn't, he will kill his mother and his wife. 

Back in his tent, Hadrian tells Constantine has talked with his mother.  He is the one who questioned her about the strange behavior of Christians.  Hadrian also tells him that the massacre of the Christians has begun.  While trying to figure out what he should do, he hears in his head the voices of many people.  A huge storms opens up over the tent.  Constantine looks up in the sky and sees a cross there. God tells him:  "Give this sign .  Ye shall come."

Constantine talks to his troops about fighting a civil war.  He tells them indirectly that he is a Christian now, but they don't have to be. 

The army goes to battle.  A group of cavalry men cross the Tiber River to try and rescue Fausta and Elena from the clutches of Maxentius.  Meanwhile Maxentius goes to the fort used by Constantine, but he finds no one home.  He tells his men to burn the place.  They leave the fort to regroup at the river bank. 

At the riverbank Maxentius sees the cavalry cross the river.  He sends his cavalry alone to destroy them.  But Constantine has set up an ambush.  As they start catching up with the cavalry, Constantine's archers open up on the enemy cavalry.  Those not killed by the archers are attacked by Constantine's cavalry.  Most of the enemy cavalry are killed. 

Hadrian and his men reach their destination.  They get into the prison where the Christians are held. Hadrian kills the jail keeper and torturer of the Christians.  He finds Elena and Fausta, but is shot with an arrow in his back.  He dies in the arms of Elena. 

Maxentius is told that their cavalry has been destroyed.  He tells his men they will meet Constantine with their infantry alone.  Christian symbols are raised over Constantine's forces. Maxentius launches his attack.  His forces are making progress, when the cavalry is unleashed behind Maxentius's forces.  Soon Maxentius 's forces run right past him in full flight from the battlefield.  Constantine now meets Maxentius in battle and kills him.  Maxentius falls into the river.

Constantine is reunited with Fausta.  They hug each other.  She tells her husband that his mother is also safe.  Father and mother meet and embrace. 

"With the victory of Constantine, the persecutions of the Christians were ended  --  religious freedom for the first time came to the Empire  --  the Divine message of Love and Hope and Redemption went out joyously to all mankind." 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 


Historical Background:

 

Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to freely allow Christianity. 

 

272  --  birth of Gaius Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus in today's Serbia.  His father was in the Roman army and worked his way up to be the Governor of Dalmatia. 

285 --  Partition of the Roman empire into Eastern and Western Roman Empires by Emperor Diocletian.

293  --  Constantine's father promoted to the office of Caesar.  Constantine himself was kept as a kind of hostage to insure that his father acted the way Diocletian demanded.

296  --  Constantine fought the barbarians along the Danube for Diocletian. 

297 --  Romans take Armenia from the Persians.

298-299 Constantine fought against the Persians under Galerius in Mesopotamia.

303 (spring)  --  Constantine returns from the front to Nicomedia (İIzmit, Turkey) from where Diocletian ruled in the East.  He witnesses Diocletian's "Great Persecution", the most severe persecution of Christians in Roman history. 

305 --  Constantine becomes a tribune of the first order.  Diocletian abdicates in the East, Maximian in the West. Diocletian chooses Severus to rule in the East and Maximin to rule in the West. Constantine and Maxentius ( the son of Maximian) were passed over.  Behind the scenes Galerius was the great manipulator.  Several times he tried to have Constantine assassinated.  He held Constantine as a virtual hostage, until Constantine's father was able to take Constantine with him to serve in Britain. 

306  --  Constantine's father dies in York (England).  Gaul and Britain back the promotion of Constantine to the title of Augustus.  Constantine informs Galerius of his promotion.  For fear of war, Galerius compromises and accepts Constantine as Caesar, but not Augustus.  Constantine ruled over Gaul, Britain and Spain. 

306  --  jealous of Constantine's success, Maxentius seized the title of Emperor.  Galerius tried to unseat him, but failed. 

307  --  Maximian. brought out of retirement, offers to Constantine his daughter Fausta in marriage and the title of Augustus.  Constantine does not give any military aide to Maxentius, but rather campaigns against Germanic tribes.. 

308  --  Constantine marries Fausta.  Later Maximian is forced to abdicate and Constantine is demoted to title of Caesar.  Licinius, one of Galerius' old military companions, is appointed Augustus of the west.

310  --  Constantine campaigns against the Franks.  Maximian rebels against Constantine, but the army remains loyal to Constantine and Maximian is forced to leave. Constantine captures Maximian and encourages him to commit suicide.  Maximian hangs himself.  (Constantine took the position that he had the lawful right to rule, thereby making Galerius and Maximian irrelevant.) 

311 the last act of Galerius officially is to proclaim an end to the persecutions and the resumption of religious tolerance.  Galerius soon dies. 

312  --  Constantine moves against Maximian in northern Italy.   He is victorious against his enemy.  Constantine had a dream to support Christ and had Christ marked on the army's shields.  Maximian is pushed off a bridge by his fleeing army and drowns.  Constantine enters Rome. 

313  --  Constantine and Lucinius agree to the Edict of Milan.  It helped fully legalize Christianity. 

314 or 316 Constantine and Licinius fight against each other in the War of Cibalae and Constantine is victorious.

317 Constantine and Licinius fight again, this time in the Battle of Campus Ardiensis. The two men agree that Constantine's sons Crispus and Constantine II,and Licinius' son Licinianus will be caesars.

320  --  in the East Licinius renews the persecution of Christians.  Conflicts begin again. 

324  --  Constantine is victorious over Licinius in the Great Civil War of this year.  He won the battles of Hadrianople, Hellespont and Chrysopolis.  He hangs Licinius and his son.  Constantine is now the sole ruler of the Roman Empire.    These events mark the passing of old Rome and the rise of role of the Eastern Roman Empire.  Constantine rebuilds the city of Byzantium, which was renamed Constantinopolis.  The sole ruler, Constantine becomes the first Christian Roman emperor.

Between 324 and 330  --  Emperor Constantine I (r. 306337) transfers the main capital from Rome to Byzantium, on the European side of the Bosphorus. The city became Constantinople ("City of Constantine"), or Nova Roma ("New Rome"). 

325  --  the Council Of Nicaea also helped fully legalize Christianity.  Together, the Edict of Milan and the Council of Nicaea, are considered major factors in the spreading of the Christian religion.

337 --  Constantine the Great dead; succeeded by his three sons.

Under Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379395), Christianity became the empire's official state religion. 

 

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