IN HOC SIGNO VINCES
On the Grand Standard of a Commandery of Knights Templar these words are inscribed over “a blood-red Passion Cross,” and they constitute in part the motto of the American branch of the Order. Their meaning, “By this sign thou shalt conquer,” is a substantial, but not literal, translation of the original Greek. For the origin of the motto, we must go back to a well known legend of the Church, which has, however, found more doubters than believers among the learned. Eusebius, who wrote a life of Constantine says that while the emperor was in Gaul, in the year 312, preparing for war with his rival, Maxentius, about the middle hours of the day, as the sun began to verge toward its setting, he saw in the heavens with his own eyes, the sun surmounted with the trophy of the cross, which was composed of light, and a legend annexed, which said “by this conquer.” This account Eusebius affirms to be in the words of Constantine. Lactantius, who places the occurrence at a later date and on the eve of a battle with Maxentius, in which the latter was defeated, relates it not as an actual occurrence, but as a dream or vision; and this is now the generally received opinion of those who do not deem the whole legend a fabrication. On the next day Constantine had an image of this cross made into a banner, called the labarum, which he ever afterward used as the imperial standard. Eusebius describes it very fully. It was not a Passion Cross, such as is now used on the modern Templar standard, but the monogram of Christ. The shaft was a very long spear.
On the toll was a crown composed of Gold and precious stones, and containing the sacred symbol, namely, the Greek letter “rho” or P. intersected by the “chi” or X, which two letters are the first and second of the name “XPISTOS”, or Christ. If, then, the Templars retain the motto on their banner, they should, for the sake of historical accuracy, discard the Passion Cross, and replace it with the Constantinian Chronogram, or Cross of the Labarum. But the truth is that the ancient Templars used neither the Passion Cross, nor that of Constantine, nor was the motto “In Hoc Signo Winces” on their standard. Their only banner was the black and white Beauseant, and at the bottom of it was inscribed their motto, also in Latin, “Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini to da gloriam,” meaning “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thee give the glory.” This was the song or shout of victory sung by the Templars when triumphant in battle.
- Source: Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry