Christian literature of the 4th and 5th century reveals that bishops played a prominent role in interpreting dreams and omens of Roman emperors. Ecclesiastical historians portray episcopal functions in divination and interpretation of divine messages.
Already in 312, before the battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine allegedly consulted priests to inquire about the meaning of his double vision of the cross; in 351, Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem informed Constantius II about a staurophany that announced his victory over Magnentius. Constantius’ successor Julian, however, remained faithful to traditional practices of haruspicy and mystery cults. The sources assign negative characteristics to his advisors such as Maximus of Ephesus, who tutored Julian in an initiation ceremony – Julian was considered misguided even when the sign of the cross was revealed to him in the entrails of a victim. At the same time, bishops themselves claimed to be recipients of divine signs. In conjunction with their theological knowledge, these personal experiences with the Divine established a new episcopal authority, which brought them closer to the Roman emperors.
In sum, this paper looks at the use of divine expressions in (re)defining the relationship between bishops and emperors. Examining the dialectic of Christian authors, it analyses their rhetorical strategies to prove that only bishops and priests were able to act as intermediaries between emperor and divinity. Not at last, this paper shows how the sacerdotal tradition of interpreting divine signs and omens remained a constant factor in Late antiquity – only the divinity and the interpreters changed.