We call tonight "Sylwester" because this is the feast day of Pope Sylvester I, Saint Sylvester, one of the few early saints who was not a martyr. Sylvester was buried 31 December 335 in a church on the Via Salaria in Rome.
Legend has it that Roman Emperor Constantine had leprosy and legend has it he was about to take the leprosy cure of bathing himself in the blood of children, or legend has it that pagan priests were trying to talk him into doing so.
And for the cruelty of Constantine God sent him such a sickness that he became lazar and measel, and by the counsel of his physicians he got three thousand young children for to have cut their throats, for to have their blood in a bath all hot, and thereby he might be healed of his measelry.But then, legend has it, Pope Sylvester or perhaps, legend has it, a vision of Peter and Paul, talked the emperor into converting to Christianity instead. And then, legend has it, Constantine's baptism cured his leprosy.
It is not legend that Sylvester and Constantine, pope and emperor, together convinced 318 bishops to gather in Nicaea, Anatolia (now Iznik, Turkey), in 325 to find a way out of the Arian trouble: a theologian in Alexandria, Egypt, called Arius was teaching then that Jesus was not a god, that Jesus was not made of the same stuff as God the father, but that the father-God, the only god, made Jesus and then made everything else through Jesus. Numbers of people were beginning to follow him.
Hoo boy. At the gathering in Nicaea, the bishops agreed on what is now called the Nicene Creed:
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. Born of the Father before all ages. God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. Begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father...The bishops all went home with this (well, all but a couple who disagreed and therefore were anathematized and exiled), and of course the Roman emperor was backing it, so you'd think things were fixed. However, the next emperor, Julius Constantius, sided with the Arians, and the emperor after that, Flavius Claudius Julianus, said what the hell and went back to the Greek gods. Flavius Claudius Julianus was not nice to Christians, who of course had not been nice to Hellenists ("pagans") like himself. When he died on the battlefield, legend has it that his last words were "Thou hast conquered, O Galilean." A likely story; his successors and historians were Christians.
Where was I?
In this time it happed that there was at Rome a dragon in a pit, which every day slew with his breath more than three hundred men. Then came the bishops of the idols unto the emperor and said unto him: O thou most holy emperor, sith the time that thou hast received christian faith the dragon which is in yonder fosse or pit slayeth every day with his breath more than three hundred men. Then sent the emperor for Saint Silvester and asked counsel of him of this matter...This dragon has three heads.