Marples: The wisdom of Constantine


A bronze statue depicting the Roman Emperor Constantine I stands outside York Minster in England.

Very seldom do one man’s actions, faith, and determination shape people’s lives beyond his own locality and circle of friends. However, the Roman Emperor Constantine was an exceptional man whose legacy is still shaping our lives today.

Just before the Battle of the Milvilian Bridge, he saw a red cross in the sky above the sun with the words in Greek, later translated into Latin: “IN HOC SIGNO VINCES,” which means: “In this sign, thou shall conquer.” Constantine was victorious. He regarded it as a sign and decreed Christianity legal in the Roman Empire.

Constantine’s victory is a primary reason Christianity continued to exist. And no matter what your denomination might be, its fundamental existence is due largely to his victory in battle, but also his vision in being a defender of the faith.

Constantine called the First Council of Nicea, whereupon we got “the Nicene Creed” in A.D. 325 that produced the statement of Christian belief. Most mainstream denominations ranging from Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and most modern Protestant Churches, adhere to Nicene Christianity.

Constantine’s legacy is cemented fully in the existence of all these churches — and more.

Sometimes, we take names for granted without knowing their significance. But we all need to pay attention to the name Constantine.

Recently, I visited Bonham, in Fannin County. I have passed by the town lots of times en route from Longview to visit my birth city of Wichita, Kansas, on U.S. 271 and U.S. 82. For some time, I have resolved to stop and visit a stated meeting of Constantine Masonic Lodge #13 in Bonham. I finally fulfilled this wish a few days ago.

What makes this Lodge so unique is that it was chartered to operate in the year 1840 by the then Masonic Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas. Thus, it is among the oldest chartered Masonic Lodges in the state and well worth the two and a half hour drive to get there.

I saw a few amusing things as I drove to the lodge hall in Bonham, including a man on a street walking five dogs with five separate leashes in one hand. Just as I was parking my car at the curb, I saw a young girl riding a large horse on the sidewalk right in front of the lodge building’s front door. I don’t see that sight everyday!

I was thoroughly welcomed to the Masonic Hall and the actual meeting room was beautiful, as was the adjacent remodeled kitchen/banquet-room. I loved the various historic memorabilia.

On the outside wall of the building (readily seen by the public on the sidewalk) is a story of an 1800s man named Tom Bean, a pioneer surveyor who accepted portions of acreages he surveyed and recorded as his pay. More importantly, he was one of Bonham’s leading citizens. He was born in Washington, D.C., was an active member of the Masonic Lodge, and helped make Bonham a center for industry and commerce. Most importantly, Bean was a friend to white people and African-Americans alike during a time it was seldom seen. I was impressed by his gentlemanly reputation, which lives on over a century after his death.

I thank all the members of Constantine Masonic Lodge #13 in Bonham for a most enjoyable evening. I might add that I also belong to another group: The Order of the Red Cross of Constantine in Salina, Kansas. Its namesake is the same aforementioned Constantine who saved Christianity.

I salute what I call a friendship society among the Masons in Bonham. Not a secret-society, but a fraternal order that elevates a man’s moral character. And, in the town of Bonham, a white man named Tom Bean acted like a Christian should. Respect has to be practiced before a person can earn it from others. That is why the name “Constantine” is so important, not just in Longview or Bonham, but worldwide.

— James A. Marples, a Longview resident, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum.

Today's Bible verse

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

— Psalm 42:11

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