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CHAP.
XX.

A.D. 313.
March.
Edict of
Milan.

son of Constantius immediately suspended or repealed
the edicts of persecution, and granted the free exer-
cise of their religious ceremonies to all those who had
already professed themselves members of the church.
They were soon encouraged to depend on the favour
as well as on the justice of their sovereign, who had
imbibed a secret and sincere reverence for the name
of Christ, and for the God of the Christians."
About five months after the conquest of Italy, the
emperor made a solemn and authentic declaration of
his sentiments, by the celebrated edict of Milan,
which restored peace to the Catholic church. In
the personal interview of the two western princes,
Constantine, by the ascendant of genius and power,
obtained the ready concurrence of his colleague Li-
cinius; the union of their names and authority dis-
armed the fury of Maximin; and, after the death
of the tyrant of the East, the edict of Milan was re-
ceived as a general and fundamental law of the Ro-
man world.”
The wisdom of the emperors provided for the

restitution of all the civil and religious rights of

which the Christians had been so unjustly deprived.
It was enacted, that the places of worship, and public
lands, which had been confiscated, should be restored
to the church, without dispute, without delay, and
without expense: and this severe injunction was ac-
companied with a gracious promise, that if any of
the purchasers had paid a fair and adequate price,
they should be indemnified from the imperial treasury.
The salutary regulations which guard the future tran-
quillity of the faithful are framed on the principles
of enlarged and equal toleration; and such an equality
* See Euseb. Hist. Eccles. 1. viii. 13. l. ix. 9, and in Vit. Const. l. i. c. 16, 17.
Lactant. Divin. Institut. i. 1. Caecilius de Mort. Persecut. c. 25.
• Cacilius (de Mort. Persecut. c. 48) has preserved the Latin original; and

Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. 1. x, c. 5) has given a Greek translation of this perpetual edict, which refers to some provisional regulations.

must have been interpreted by a recent sect as an ad- co.

vantageous and honourable distinction. The two em-
perors proclaim to the world, that they have granted
a free and absolute power to the Christians, and to
all others, of following the religion which each indi-
vidual thinks proper to prefer, to which he has ad-
dicted his mind, and which he may deem the best
adapted to his own use. They carefully explain
every ambiguous word, remove every exception, and
exact from the governors of the provinces a strict
obedience to the true and simple meaning of an edict,
which was designed to establish and secure, without
any limitation, the claims of religious liberty. They
condescend to assign two weighty reasons which have
induced them to allow this universal toleration: the
humane intention of consulting the peace and happi-
ness of their people; and the pious hope, that, by
such a conduct, they shall appease and propitiate the
Deity, whose seat is in heaven. They gratefully ac-
knowledge the many signal proofs which they have
received of the divine favour; and they trust that
the same Providence will for ever continue to pro-
tect the prosperity of the prince and people. From
these vague and indefinite expressions of piety, three
suppositions may be deduced, of a different, but not
of an incompatible, nature. The mind of Constantine
might fluctuate between the Pagan and the Christian
religions. According to the loose and complying
notions of Polytheism, he might acknowledge the
God of the Christians as one of the many deities who
composed the hierarchy of heaven. Or perhaps he
might embrace the philosophic and pleasing idea,
that, notwithstanding the variety of names, of rites,
and of opinions, all the sects and all the nations of
mankind are united in the worship of the common
Father and Creator of the universe.”

P A panegyric of Constantine, pronounced seven or eight months after the

But the counsels of princes are more frequently influenced by views of temporal advantage, than by considerations of abstract and speculative truth. The partial and increasing favour of Constantine may naturally be referred to the esteem which he entertained for the moral character of the Christians; and to a persuasion, that the propagation of the Gospel would inculcate the practice of private and public virtue. Whatever latitude an absolute monarch may assume in his own conduct, whatever indulgence he may claim for his own passions, it is undoubtedly his interest that all his subjects should respect the natural and civil obligations of society. But the operation of the wisest laws is imperfect and precarious. They seldom inspire virtue, they cannot always restrain vice. Their power is insufficient to prohibit all that they condemn, nor can they always punish the actions which they prohibit. The legislators of antiquity had summoned to their aid the powers of education and of opinion. But every principle which had once maintained the vigour and purity of Rome and Sparta was long since extinguished in a declining and despotic empire. Philosophy still exercised her temperate sway over the human mind, but the cause of virtue derived very feeble support from the influence of the Pagan superstition. Under these discouraging circumstances, a prudent magistrate might observe with pleasure the progress of a religion, which diffused among the people a pure, benevolent, and universal system of ethics, adapted to every duty and every condition of life; recommended as the will and reason of the supreme Deity, and enforced by the sanction of eternal rewards or punishments. The experience of Greek and Roman history could not inform the world how far the system of national manners might be reformed and improved by the precepts of a divine revelation; and Constantine might listen with some confidence to the flattering, and indeed reasonable, assurances of Lactantius. The eloquent apologist seemed firmly to expect, and almost ventured to promise, that the establishment of Christianity would restore the innocence and felicity of the primitive age; that the worship of the true God would extinguish war and dissension among those who mutually considered themselves as the children of a common parent; that every impure desire, every angry or selfish passion, would be restrained by the knowledge of the Gospel; and that the magistrates might sheath the sword of justice among a people who would be universally actuated by the sentiments of truth and piety, of equity and moderation, of harmony and universal love." The passive and unresisting obedience, which bows under the yoke of authority, or even of oppression, must have appeared in the eyes of an absolute monarch the most conspicuous and useful of the evangelic virtues. The primitive Christians derived the institution of civil government, not from the consent of the people, but from the decrees of Heaven, The reigning emperor, though he had usurped the sceptre by treason and murder, immediately assumed the sacred character of vicegerent of the Deity. To the Deity alone he was accountable for the abuse of his power; and his subjects were indissolubly bound, by their oath of fidelity, to a tyrant, who had violated CHAP. every law of nature and society. The humble Chris

CHAP.
XX.

Use and
beauty of
the Chris-
tian mo-
rality.

edict of Milan (see Gothofred. Chronolog. Legum, p. 7, and Tillemont, Hist. des Empereurs, tom. iv. p. 246), uses the following remarkable expression : “Summe rerum sator, cujus tot nomina sunt, quot linguas gentium esse voluisti, quem enim te ipse dici velis, scire non possumus.” Panegyr. Wet. ix. 26. In explaining Constantine's progress in the faith, Mosheim (p. 971, &c.) is ingenious, subtle, prolix.

* See the elegant description of Lactantius (Divin. Institut. v. 8), who is much more perspicuous and positive than it becomes a discreet prophet.

* The political system of the Christians is explained by Grotius, de Jure Belli et Pacis, l. i. c. 3, 4. Grotius was a republican and an exile; but the mildness of his temper inclined him to support the established powers.

CHAP,

Theory
and prac-
tice of pas-
sive obedi-
ence.

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tians were sent into the world as sheep among wolves; and since they were not permitted to employ force, even in the defence of their religion, they should be still more criminal if they were tempted to shed the blood of their fellow-creatures, in disputing the vain privileges or the sordid possessions of this transitory life. Faithful to the doctrine of the apostle, who in the reign of Nero had preached the duty of unconditional submission, the Christians of the three first centuries preserved their conscience pure and innocent of the guilt of secret conspiracy, or open rebellion. While they experienced the rigour of persecution, they were never provoked either to meet their tyrants in the field, or indignantly to withdraw themselves into some remote and sequestered corner of the globe." The protestants of France, of Germany, and of Britain, who asserted with such intrepid courage their civil and religious freedom, have been insulted by the invidious comparison between the conduct of the primitive and of the reformed Christians." Perhaps, instead of censure, some applause may be due to the superior sense and spirit of our ancestors, who had convinced themselves that religion cannot abolish the unalienable rights of human nature." Perhaps the patience of the primitive church may be ascribed to its weakness, as well as to its virtue. A sect of unwarlike plebeians, without leaders, without

... • Tertullian. Apolog. c. 32. 34, 35, 36. Tamen nunquam Albiniani, nec
Nigriani vel Cassiani inveniri potuerunt Christiani. Ad Scapulam, c. 2. If this
assertion be strictly true, it excludes the Christians of that age from all civil and
military employments, which would have compelled them to take an active part
in the service of their respective governors. See Moyle's Works, vol. ii. p. 349.
* See the artful Bossuet (Hist, des Variations des Eglises Protestantes, tom.
iii. p. 210–258), and the malicious Bayle (tom. ii. p. 620). I name Bayle,
for he was certainly the author of the Avis aux Refugiés; consult the Diction-
naire Critique de Chauffepié, tom. i. part ii. p. 145.
* Buchanan is the earliest, or at least the most celebrated, of the reformers,
who has justified the theory of resistance. See his Dialogue de Jure Regni
apud Scotos, tom. ii. p. 28, 30, edit, fol. Ruddiman.

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