« PreviousContinue »
Spain also, from the violence with which they were wasted in all the other provinces, through nearly three years and a half, from the commencement of the persecution to the death of Constantius Chlorus, sufficiently demonstrated to the whole empire the tolerant disposition of his family, and naturally gave birth to a general wish that his sceptre might descend to his son ; and the continuance of that tolerant policy by Constantine through the six years that followed, gave the most ample assurance of favor under his sway, and raised a universal and intense desire that he might be advanced to supreme power, and extend his protection to the whole church. This confidence in him is indicated in the letter addressed to him in the year 313 by several of the Donatist bishops of Africa, desiring him to appoint bishops of the Gallic church to settle their difficulties.
“Good emperor, as you are of a just family, of all the emperors your father alone having never persecuted, and as Gaul is now exempted from that outrage, we ask you in your piety to appoint bishops from that province who may judge between us and the other bishops of Africa, with whom we are at variance."
V. This desire of his elevation is indicated by the prayers offered by the church. “The Lord has heard the prayers
which were offered continually by you and the other brethren, who by a glorious confession sought an eternal crown. secutor himself has joined in them ;; and tranquillity being restored through the empire, the church lately prostrate has again risen, and the temples of God which the emperor had overturned, are by his mercy re-erected in greater beauty than before. For he has raised up princes who have put an end to the cruel sway
· Eusebius relates that the inhabitants of the other parts of the empire on learning the character of his reign, at the west, pronounced those happy that lived under his rule, and prayed that they also might at length enjoy the same blessings.—De Vita Const. lib. ii. c. 22. Lactantius also represents the people and army universally as desiring his elevation.-De Mort. Persecut. c. xix.
Rogamus te Constantine optime imperator, quoniam de genere justo es cujus pater inter cæteros imperatores persecutionem non exercuit et ab hoc facinore immunis est Gallia ; nam in Africa inter nos et cæteros episcopos contentiones sunt, petimus ut de Gallia nobis judices dari præcipiat pietas tua. Datæ à Luciano, Digno, et cæteris episcopis partis Donati.—Optati de Schis. Donat. lib. i. p. 22. Labbei Concil. tom. ii. p. 436.
In the acts of the council represented by Isidore to have been held at Rome soon after that of Nicæa, Constantine is denominated a son of the church. Mater ecclesia genuerat filium Constantinum carissimum.-Labbei Concil. tom. ii. p. 619.
Alluding to the edict of Galerius in 311, in which he prohibited the further persecution of the Christians, and solicited their prayers for his safety.-Lactant. do Mort. Persecut. c. xxxiv.
• Constantine and Licinius, who in 313 united in an edict giving toleration to the church.
Behold the per
of the tyrants, and given protection to the people, so that already, as though the late clouds were dispersed, all are gladdened with peace and serenity. Those tempests have passed away, the air has become calm, and the light shines, without obstruction. God in his pity has relieved his afflicted servants, and wiped away the tears of the mourners.”
Sozomen represents the church as praying, at the period of the conflict with Licinius, that Constantine might become sole monarch of the empire, and exerting its influence in his favor. “ Licinius on account of his dissension with Constantine became extremely hostile to the Christians, expecting to grieve him by the misfortunes of his religion, and regarding the church as offering prayer, and strenuously endeavoring that he might exercise the imperial sway alone."2 And Eusebius, in his celebration of the victory, represents the martyrs who fell during the persecution, as having anticipated the triumph of their champion, and desired to live to witness and share the happiness with which the church was filled on the restoration of peace.”
VI. The emperors were alarmed by these desires and designs of the Christians towards Constantine, and doubtless by favorable dispositions exhibited by him towards the church, and resolved and attempted to destroy him, but he was extricated from their plots, and exalted to imperial power.
“Galerius, after the abdication of Diocletian and Maximian Herculius, conducted himself as though he were sole emperor, for he disregarded Constantius both on account of his mild disposition and his ill health, and designed, if he did not soon die, which he hoped, to depose him.”
Constantius, on becoming dangerously ill, sent letters, as he had repeatedly before, desiring Galerius to release his son Constantine, who had been held by Diocletian and Maximian as a hostage, and allow him to return to him. But Galerius wished nothing less, for he had often attempted to destroy him by treachery, not venturing on any thing against him openly, for fear of provoking a civil war, or exciting the hatred of the soldiers. Under pretence of exercise and sport, he exposed him to wild beasts, but without gaining his end, as he was protected by that divine hand that afterwards freed him from the emperor's toils in the crisis of his danger. For having often, when he could no longer evade it, given him a seal towards the close of the day, and ordered that on receiving directions he should early on the
· Lactantii de Mort. Persecut. c. i. · Sozomeni Eccl. Hist. lib. i. c. 7. · Eusebii Hist. Eccl. lib. x. c. 1.
following morning set out, he either himself retained him on some pretence, or sent forward letters directing Severus to retain him. Constantine foreseeing that that would be repeated, immediately on the emperor's falling asleep after supper, hastened to depart, and using all the public horses through several days' journey, fled with the utmost haste. The next day the emperor, after designedly delaying to rise till noon, commanded that he should be called, and on being told that he had gone the previous evening, began to rage, and ordered post horses that he might cause him to be brought back, and hearing that he had taken them all, could scarcely refrain from tears. But Constantine, advancing with the utmost celerity, went to his father, who was near death, and who having recommended him to the army, transferred the government to his hands. And Galerius, though reluctant, was induced, from the fear of a civil war, to ratify his election, and send him the purple."!
Eusebius also : “ The emperors of the time were excited 10 envy and fear by the dignity of his person, his talents, and high spirit
, and watched him with the desire to turn something to his discredit, which the young man perceiving, for their plots were several times detected, he saved himself by flight. Having thus escaped from their toils, he proceeded with haste to his father. Constantius, who was dangerously ill, on seeing his son, leaped from his couch, and embracing him, gave thanks to God that the only sorrow he felt as he was about to depart, was thus removed by the restoration of his son; and said he now regarded death as better for him than perpetual life; and having setiled his affairs, constituted his eldest son the heir of his empire, and bid adicu to his children, he expired. But the government did not remain without an imperial head. Constantine assuming the purple proceeded from the palace, and exhibited his father as it were io the multitude living and reigning again in himself; and having celebrated his obsequies with great splendor, was saluted by all with shouts and acclamations as emperor and Augus
A similar account is given by Philostorgius : “ The death of Constantius took place in Britain, where Constantine, having in an extraordinary manner escaped the plots of Diocletian, found him ill; and after the celebration of his funeral, was constituted his successor to the empire." He was repeatedly plotted
Lactantii de Mort. Persecut. c. xxiv. xxy. Zosimi Hist. lib. ii. c. 8. · Eusebii de Vita Constant. lib. i. c. 20, 21, 22. • Philostorgii Hist. Eccl. lib. i. c. 5.
against also at a later period by Maximianus Herculius and Licinius.
VII. He became in that station a usurper of the rights of God, by assuming an absolute authority over the religion of his Christian subjects. In prescribing their faith and worship, he treated their religious obligations as under his jurisdiction, and thence the rights and legislation of the Most High as subordinate to his, and dependent on his for their efficiency. And he asserted that dominion over God and his people, in all the forms which such an arrogation of the divine rights could assume, acting as the king of the church, its lawgiver, and its judge.
He assembled synods, and dictated what topics they should discuss and adjudge. He ordered the synod of Rome in 313, to hear the accusers of Cæcilianus. He summoned the council of Arles in 314, to rejudge the cause of the Donatists. The following is a part of a letter addressed by him on that occasion to the bishop of Syracuse. “We have ordered a great body of bishops from different and almost numberless places, to assemble at the city of Arles, by the first of August, and write to direct you to take a public vehicle, with two of the second order whom you may choose, and three youths, who may serve you on the way,
and present yourself at the forementioned place on that day, that by your gravity, and the judgment of the others who are to assemble, this disgraceful contest which has so long continued, may be terminated in harmony."3 He summoned the councils of Nicæa also and Tyre.
VIII. He treated their decrees as dependent for their authority on his ratification, and by his edicts made them laws of the empire. “The decrees which the bishops had enacted in the councils he ratified, so that it was not lawful for the prefects of the provinces to rescind their canons."5
IX. He endeavored to compel his subjects to acquiesce in his faith. Thus in the letter which he addressed to the churches after the synod of Nicæa. “As I have a proof in the prosperous condition of the empire of the greatness of God's goodness towards us, I have thought it becomes me to endeavor especially that one faith, sincere love, and a uniform worship of the omnipotent God, should be maintained by all the happy multitudes of ihe Catholic church. But as it could not be firmly and unalter· Eusebii Hist. Eccl. lib. vüi. c. 13. Lib. x. c. 8. De Vita Const. lib. i. c. 50.
Labbei Concil. tom. ii. p. 463. · Eusebii Hist. Eccl. lib. x. c. 5, p. 320. Labbei Concil. tom. ii. p. 466. • Eusebii de Vita Const. lib. iii. c. 6. Lib. iv. c. 41. · Eusebii de Vita Const. lib. iv. c. 27.
ably settled, except all or at least a great number of the bishops met, and made a decision in respect to each particular that concerns religion, as many as could have assembled, and I myself as one of you, being present,—for I would not deny that in which I chiefly rejoice, that I have become your fellow servant,-all things were discussed until a decision acceptable to the all-seeing God was unanimously adopted, so that no room is left for diversity or contention."1
He accordingly proceeded to enforce the creed of the synod on all his subjects, to prohibit all assemblies of dissentients from the Catholic church, confiscate their property, and suppress their books. “Having removed those dissensions and setiled the church of God in harmony, turning then, he thought a different class of the impious ought to be broken up as enemies to the community; for certain persons were pests, laying waste the cities under a pretext of piety. The Saviour called them false prophets and ravening wolves, when he said prophetically, Beware of the false prophets who will come to you in the dress of sheep, but beneath they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Sending therefore an edict to the prefects of the provinces, he dispersed every such tribe ; and, in addition to that law, enjoined the vivifying doctrine on them personally, exhorting men to an earnest reformation, inasmuch as ihe church of God would be to them a harbor of salvation. Hear, therefore, how he discoursed in the letters he addressed to them. Know by this law, ye Novatians, Valentinians, Marcionites, Paulists, Cataphrygians, and all who form sects by private assemblies, your folly is involved in so many falsehoods, and your doctrine imbued with such poisonous drugs, that the healthy are led by you to disease, and the living to eternal death. 0 enemies of verity, adversaries of life, contrivers of destruction, every thing with
you is the opposite of truth and consonant with a base depravity ; suited to the absurdities and fictions with which you set off falsehood, but afflict the unoffending, and deny the light 10 those who believe. Under a pretext accordingly of piety, perpetually transgressing, you pollute every thing, wound pure consciences with deadly strokes, and almost intercept day itself from the eyes of men. But what necessity is there to relate particulars, so outrageous, so immeasurable, so detestable are your absurdities, that the whole day would not suffice to detail them. It is becoming rather to avoid hearing and to avert the eye from such things, lest by the narrative the pure faith should be defiled.
Eusebii de Vita Const. lib. iii. c. 17.