For like Augustus, Constantine had managed well everything but his family. His relations with his mother were generally happy. Apparently by his commission she went to Jerusalem, and leveled to the ground the scandalous Temple of Aphrodite that had been built, it was said, over the Saviour’s tomb. According to Eusebius the Holy Sepulcher thereupon came to light, with the very cross on which Christ had died. Constantine ordered a Church of the Holy Sepulcher to be built over the tomb, and the revered relics were preserved in a special shrine. As in classical days the pagan world had cherished and adored the relics of the Trojan War, and even Rome had boasted the Palladium of Troy’s Athene, so now the Christian world, changing its surface and renewing its essence in the immemorial manner of human life, began to collect and worship relics of Christ and the saints. Helena raised a chapel over the traditional site of Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem, modestly served the nuns who ministered there, and then returned to Constantinople to die in the arms of her son.
Constantine had been twice married: first to Minervina, who had borne him a son Crispus; then to Maximian’s daughter Fausta, by whom he had three daughters and three sons. Crispus became an excellent soldier, and rendered vital aid to his father in the campaigns against Licinius. In 326 Crispus was put to death by Constantine’s order; about the same time the Emperor decreed the execution of Licinianus, son of Licinius by Constantine’s sister Constantia; and shortly thereafter Fausta was slain by her husband’s command. We do not know the reasons for this triple execution. Zosimus assures us that Crispus had made love to Fausta, who accused him to the Emperor; and that Helena, who loved Crispus dearly, had avenged him by persuading Constantine that his wife had yielded to his son. Possibly Fausta had schemed to remove Crispus from the path of her sons’ rise to imperial power, and Licinianus may have been killed for plotting to claim his father’s share of the realm. Fausta achieved her aim after her death, for in 335 Constantine bequeathed the Empire to his surviving sons and nephews. Two years later, at Easter, he celebrated with festival ceremonies the thirtieth year of his reign. Then, feeling the nearness of death, he went to take the warm baths at near-by Aquyrion. As his illness increased, he called for a priest to administer to him that sacrament of baptism which he had purposely deferred to this moment, hoping to be cleansed by it from all the sins of his crowded life. Then the tired ruler, aged sixty-four, laid aside the purple robes of royalty, put on the white garb of a Christian neophyte, and passed away. He was a masterly general, a remarkable administrator, a superlative statesman. He inherited and completed the restorative work of Diocletian; through them the Empire lived 1150 years more. He continued the monarchical forms of Aurelian and Diocletian, partly out of ambition and vanity, partly, no doubt, because he believed that absolute rule was demanded by the chaos of the times. His greatest error lay in dividing the Empire among his sons; presumably he foresaw that they would fight for sole supremacy as he had done, but surmised that they would fight even more certainly if he chose another heir; this, too, is a price of monarchy. His executions we cannot judge, not knowing their provocation; burdened with the problems of rule, he may have allowed fear and jealousy to dethrone his reason for a while; and there are signs that remorse weighed heavily upon his declining years. His Christianity, beginning as policy, appears to have graduated into sincere conviction. He became the most persistent preacher in his realm, persecuted heretics faithfully, and took God into partnership at every step. Wiser than Diocletian, he gave new life to an aging Empire by associating it with a young religion, a vigorous organization, a fresh morality. By his aid Christianity became a state as well as a church, and the mold, for fourteen centuries, of European life and thought. Perhaps, if we except Augustus, the grateful Church was right in naming him the greatest of the emperors.