arms, without fortifications, must have encountered coop.

inevitable destruction in a rash and fruitless resistance
to the master of the Roman legions. But the Chris-
tians, when they deprecated the wrath of Diocletian,
or solicited the favour of Constantine, could allege,
with truth and confidence, that they held the prin-
ciple of passive obedience, and that, in the space of
three centuries, their conduct had always been con-
formable to their principles. They might add, that
the throne of the emperors would be established on
a fixed and permanent basis, if all their subjects, em-
bracing the Christian doctrine, should learn to suffer
and to obey.
In the general order of Providence, princes and

[ocr errors]

tyrants are considered as the ministers of Heaven, too.

appointed to rule or to chastise the nations of the earth. But sacred history affords many illustrious examples of the more immediate interposition of the Deity in the government of his chosen people. The sceptre and the sword were committed to the hands of Moses, of Joshua, of Gideon, of David, of the Maccabees; the virtues of those heroes were the motive or the effect of the Divine favour, the success of their arms was destined to achieve the deliverance or the triumph of the church. If the judges of Israel were occasional and temporary magistrates, the kings of Judah derived from the royal unction of their great ancestor an hereditary and indefeasible right, which could not be forfeited by their own vices, nor recalled by the caprice of their subjects. The same extraordinary providence, which was no longer confined to the Jewish people, might elect Constantine and his family as the protectors of the Christian world; and the devout Lactantius announces, in a prophetic tone, the future glories of his long and universal reign." Galerius and Maxi

* Lactant. Divin. Institut. i. 1. Eusebius, in the course of his history, his

cop. min, Maxentius and Licinius, were the rivals who

shared with the favourite of Heaven the provinces of
the empire. The tragic deaths of Galerius and Maxi-
min soon gratified the resentment, and fulfilled the
sanguine expectations, of the Christians. The suc-
cess of Constantine against Maxentius and Licinius
removed the two formidable competitors who still
opposed the triumph of the second David, and his
cause might seem to claim the peculiar interposition
of Providence. The character of the Roman tyrant
disgraced the purple and human nature; and though
the Christians might enjoy his precarious favour, they
were exposed, with the rest of his subjects, to the
effects of his wanton and capricious cruelty. The
conduct of Licinius soon betrayed the reluctance
with which he had consented to the wise and humane
regulations of the edict of Milan. The convocation
of provincial synods was prohibited in his dominions;
his Christian 'officers were ignominiously dismissed;
and if he avoided the guilt, or rather danger, of a
general persecution, his partial oppressions were ren-
dered still more odious, by the violation of a solemn
and voluntary engagement." While the East, ac-
cording to the lively expression of Eusebius, was in-
volved in the shades of infernal darkness, the auspi-
cious rays of celestial light warmed and illuminated
the provinces of the West. The piety of Constantine
was admitted as an unexceptionable proof of the jus-
tice of his arms; and his use of victory confirmed
the opinion of the Christians, that their hero was
inspired, and conducted, by the Lord of Hosts. The
conquest of Italy produced a general edict of tolera-
tion : and as soon as the defeat of Licinius had in-
life, and his oration, repeatedly inculcates the divine right of Constantine to the
w Our imperfect knowledge of the persecution of Licinius is derived from

Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. 1. x. c. 8. Wit. Constantin. l. i. c. 49–56. l. ii. c. 1, 2). Aurelius Victor mentions his cruelty in general terms.

vested Constantine with the sole dominion of the CHAP. Roman world, he immediately, by circular letters, * exhorted all his subjects to imitate, without delay, A.D. 324. the example of their sovereign, and to embrace the divine truth of Christianity. * The assurance that the elevation of Constantine Loyalty was intimately connected with the designs of Pro- of vidence instilled into the minds of the Christians two “P”y. opinions, which, by very different means, assisted the accomplishment of the prophecy. Their warm and active loyalty exhausted in his favour every resource of human industry; and they confidently expected that their strenuous efforts would be seconded by some divine and miraculous aid. The enemies of Constantine have imputed to interested motives the alliance which he insensibly contracted with the Catholic church, and which apparently contributed to the success of his ambition. In the beginning of the fourth century, the Christians still bore a very inadequate proportion to the inhabitants of the empire; but among a degenerate people, who viewed the change of masters with the indifference of slaves, the spirit and union of a religious party might assist the popular leader, to whose service, from a principle of conscience, they had devoted their lives and fortunes". The example of his father had instructed Constantine to esteem and to reward the merit of the Christians; and in the distribution of public offices, he had the advantage of strengthening his government, by the choice of ministers or generals, in whose fidelity he could repose a just and unreserved confidence. By

* Euseb. in Vit. Constant. l. ii. c. 24–42. 48–60.

y In the beginning of the last century, the Papists of England were only a thirtieth, and the Protestants of France only a fifteenth, part of the respective nations, to whom their spirit and power were a constant object of apprehension. See the relations which Bentivoglio (who was then nuncio at Brussels, and afterwards cardinal) transmitted to the court of Rome (Relazione, tom. ii. p. 211. 241). Bentivoglio was curious, well-informed, but somewhat partial.


the influence of these dignified missionaries, the proselytes of the new faith must have multiplied in the court and army; the barbarians of Germany, who filled the ranks of the legions, were of a careless temper, which acquiesced without resistance in the religion of their commander; and when they passed the Alps, it may fairly be presumed, that a great number of the soldiers had already consecrated their swords to the service of Christ and of Constantine”. The habits of mankind, and the interest of religion, gradually abated the horror of war and bloodshed, which had so long prevailed among the Christians; and in the councils which were assembled under the gracious protection of Constantine, the authority of the bishops was seasonably employed to ratify the obligation of the military oath, and to inflict the penalty of excommunication on those soldiers who threw away their arms during the peace of the church ". While Constantine, in his own dominions, increased the number and zeal of his faithful adherents, he could depend on the support of a powerful faction in those provinces, which were still possessed or usurped by his rivals. A secret disaffection was diffused among the Christian subjects of Maxentius and Licinius; and the resentment which the latter did not attempt to conceal served only to engage them still more deeply in the interest of his competitor. The regular correspondence which con

nected the bishops of the most distant provinces enabled them freely to communicate their wishes and their designs, and to transmit without danger any 'useful intelligence, or any pious contributions, which CHAP might promote the service of Constantine, who publicly declared that he had taken up arms for the deliverance of the church." The enthusiasm which inspired the troops, and Expectaperhaps the emperor himself, had sharpened their o swords while it satisfied their conscience. They “"“” marched to battle with the full assurance, that the same God, who had formerly opened a passage to the Israelites through the waters of Jordan, and had thrown down the walls of Jericho at the sound of the trumpets of Joshua, would display his visible majesty and power in the victory of Constantine. The evidence of ecclesiastical history is prepared to affirm, that their expectations were justified by the conspicuous miracle to which the conversion of the first Christian emperor has been almost unanimously ascribed. The real or imaginary cause of so important an event deserves and demands the attention of posterity; and I shall endeavour to form a just estimate of the famous vision of Constantine, by a distinct consideration of the standard, the dream, and the celestial sign ; by separating the historical, the natural, and the marvellous parts of this extraordinary story, which, in the composition of a specious argument, have been artfully confounded in one splendid and brittle mass. I. An instrument of the tortures which were in- The Laflicted only on slaves and strangers became an object to". of horror in the eyes of a Roman citizen; and the * * ideas of guilt, of pain, and of ignominy, were closely

* This careless temper of the Germans appears almost uniformly in the history of the conversion of each of the tribes. The legions of Constantine were recruited with Germans (Zosimus, l. ii. p. 86); and the court even of his father had been filled with Christians. See the first book of the Life of Constantine, by Eusebius.

* De his qui arma projiciunt in pace, placuit eos abstinere a communione. Concil. Arelat. Canon iii. The best critics apply these words to the peace of the church.

b Eusebius always considers the second civil war against Licinius as a sort of religious crusade. At the invitation of the tyrant, some Christian officers had resumed their zones; or, in other words, had returned to the military service. Their conduct was afterwards censured by the twelfth canon of the Council of Nice; if this particular application may be received, instead of the loose and general sense of the Greek interpreters, Balsamon, Zonaras, and Alexis Aristenus. See Beveridge, Pandect. Eccles. Graec. tom. i. p. 72, tom. ii. p. 78. Annotation.

VOL. II. G. G.

« ForrigeFortsett »