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defeat under the walls of Rome. The senate and CHAP. people, exulting in their own deliverance from an XX. odious tyrant, acknowledged that the victory of Constantine surpassed the powers of man, without daring to insinuate that it had been obtained by the protection of the Gods. The triumphal arch, which was erected about three years after the event, proclaims, in ambiguous language, that, by the greatness of his own mind, and by an instinct or impulse of the Divinity, he had saved and avenged the Roman republic." The Pagan orator, who had seized an earlier opportunity of celebrating the virtues of the conqueror, supposes that he alone enjoyed a secret and intimate commerce with the Supreme Being, who delegated the care of mortals to his subordinate deities; and thus assigns a very plausible reason why the subjects of Constantine should not presume to embrace the new religion of their sovereign." III. The philosopher, who with calm suspicion Appearance examines the dreams and omens, the miracles and *::: III prodigies, of profane or even of ecclesiastical history, will probably conclude, that if the eyes of the spectators have sometimes been deceived by fraud, the understanding of the readers has much more frequently been insulted by fiction. Every event, or appearance, or accident, which seems to deviate from the ordinary course of nature, has been rashly ascribed to the immediate action of the Deity; and the astonished fancy of the multitude has sometimes given shape and colour, language and motion, to the fleeting but uncommon meteors of the air." Nazarius
* Instinctu Divinitatis, mentis magnitudine. The inscription on the triumphal arch of Constantine, which has been copied by Baronius, Gruter, &c. may still be perused by every curious traveller.
* Habes profecto, aliquid cum illa mente Divină secretum; qua delegata nostra Diis Minoribus cură uni se tibi dignatur ostendere. Panegyr. Vet. ix. 2.
* M. Freret (Memoires de l'Academie des Inscriptions, tom. iv. p. 411–437)
A. D. 321.
and Eusebius are the two most celebrated orators, who in studied panegyrics have laboured to exalt the glory of Constantine. Nine years after the Roman victory, Nazarius' describes an army of divine warriors, who seemed to fall from the sky: he marks. their beauty, their spirit, their gigantic forms, the stream of light which beamed from their celestial armour, their patience in suffering themselves to be heard, as well as seen, by mortals; and their declaration that they were sent, that they flew, to the assistance of the great Constantine. For the truth of
this prodigy, the Pagan orator appeals to the whole
Gallic nation, in whose presence he was then speak-
A. D. 338.
1. Yet the most recent of these miracles is omitted, and indirectly denied by Livy (xlv. 1).
to frame a similar standard, and to march, with an assurance of victory, against Maxentius and all his enemies." The learned bishop of Caesarea appears to be sensible, that the recent discovery of this marvellous anecdote would excite some surprise and distrust among the most pious of his readers. Yet, instead of ascertaining the precise circumstances of time and place, which always serve to detect falsehood, or establish truth; " instead of collecting and recording the evidence of so many living witnesses, who must have been spectators of this stupendous miracle; * Eusebius contents himself with alleging a very singular testimony; that of the deceased Constantine, who, many years after the event, in the freedom of conversation, had related to him this extraordinary incident of his own life, and had attested the truth of it by a solemn oath. The prudence and gratitude of the learned prelate forbade him to suspect the veracity of his victorious master; but he plainly intimates, that, in a fact of such a nature, he should have refused his assent to any meaner authority. This motive of credibility could not survive the power of the Flavian family; and the celestial sign, which the Infidels might afterwards deride,” was disregarded by the Christians of the age which immediately followed the conversion of Constantine.” v Eusebius, l. i. c. 28, 29, 30. The silence of the same Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, is deeply felt by those advocates for the miracle who are not absolutely callous. w The narrative of Constantine seems to indicate, that he saw the cross in the sky before he passed the Alps against Maxentius. The scene has been fixed by provincial vanity at Treves, Besançon, &c. See Tillemont, Hist, des Empereurs, tom. iv. p. 573. * The pious Tillemont (Mem. Eccles, tom. vii. p. 1317) rejects with a sigh the useful Acts of Artemius, a veteran and a martyr, who attests as an eye-witness the vision of Constantine. y Gelasius Cyzic. in Act. Concil. Nicen. l. i. c. 4. * The advocates for the vision are unable to produce a single testimony from the fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries, who, in their voluminous writings, repeatedly celebrate the triumph of the church and of Constantine. As these CHAP. But the Catholic church, both of the East and of the West, has adopted a prodigy, which favours, or seems to favour, the popular worship of the cross. The vision of Constantine maintained an honourable place in the legend of superstition, till the bold and sagacious spirit of criticism presumed to depreciate the triumph, and to arraign the truth, of the first Christian emperor." *::::::: The Protestant and philosophic readers of the stantine present age will incline to believe, that in the account .." of his own conversion, Constantine attested a wilful falsehood by a solemn and deliberate perjury. They may not hesitate to pronounce, that, in the choice of a religion, his mind was determined only by a sense of interest; and that (according to the expression of a profane poet") he used the altars of the church as a convenient footstool to the throne of the empire. A conclusion so harsh and so absolute is not, however, warranted by our knowledge of human nature, of Constantine, or of Christianity. In an age of CHAP.
venerable men had not any dislike to a miracle, we may suspect (and the sus-
with the life of Constantine by Eusebius. This tract was recovered by the diligence of those who translated or continued his Ecclesiastical History, and who have represented in various colours the vision of the cross. * Godefroy was the first who, in the year 1643 (Not ad Philostorgium, l. i. c.6. p. 16), expressed any doubt of a miracle which had been supported with equal zeal by Cardinal Baronius, and the Centuriators of Magdeburgh. Since that time, many of the Protestant critics have inclined towards doubt and disbelief. The objections are urged, with great force, by M. Chauffepié (Dictionnaire Critique, tom. iv. p. 6–11); and in the year 1774, a doctor of Sorbonne, the Abbé du Voisin, published an apology, which deserves the praise of learning and moderation. b Lors Constantin dit ces propres paroles: J’ai renversé le culte des idoles: Sur les debris de leurs temples fumans Au Dieu du Ciel j'ai prodigué l'encens. Mais tous messoins pour sa grandeur supreme N'eurent jamais d'autre objét que moi-même; Les saints autels n'etoient à mes regards Qu'un marchepié du tróne des Césars. L'ambition, la fureur, les delices Etoient mes Dieux, avoient mes sacrifices. L'or des Chrétiens, leurs intrigues, leur sang Ont cimenté ma fortune et mon rang. The poem which contains these lines may be read with pleasure, but cannot be named with decency.
religious fervour, the most artful statesmen are observed to feel some part of the enthusiasm which they inspire; and the most orthodox saints assume the dangerous privilege of defending the cause of truth by the arms of deceit and falsehood. Personal interest is often the standard of our belief, as well as of our practice; and the same motives of temporal advantage which might influence the public conduct and professions of Constantine would insensibly dispose his mind to embrace a religion so propitious to his fame and fortunes. His vanity was gratified by the flattering assurance, that he had been chosen by Heaven to reign over the earth; success had justified his divine title to the throne, and that title was founded on the truth of the Christian, revelation. As real virtue is sometimes excited by undeserved applause, the specious piety of Constantine, if at first it was only specious, might gradually, by the influence of praise, of habit, and of example, be matured into serious faith and fervent devotion. The bishops and teachers of the new sect, whose dress and manners had not qualified them for the residence of a court, were admitted to the imperial table; they accompanied the monarch in his expeditions; and the ascendant which one of them, an Egyptian or a Spaniard," acquired over his mind was imputed by the Pagans to the effect of magic." Lactantius, who has adorned the precepts of the Gospel with the eloquence of Cicero; “ and Eusebius, who has consecrated the
* This favourite was probably the great Osius, bishop of Cordova, who preferred the pastoral care of the whole church to the government of a particular diocese. His character is magnificently, though concisely, expressed by Athanasius (tom. i. p. 703). See Tillemont, Mem. Eccles. tom. vii. p. 524–561. Osius was accused, perhaps unjustly, of retiring from court with a very ample fortune.
* See Eusebius (in Vit. Constant, passim), and Zosimus, l. ii. p. 104.
* The Christianity of Lactantius was of a moral, rather than of a mysterious cast. “Erat pane rudis (says the orthodox Bull) disciplinae Christianae, et in rhetorica melius quam in theologià versatus.” Defensio Fidei Nicenae, sect. ii. c. 14.