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and fears in the present, or in a future, life were balanced in the same proportion. On either side, the error might be innocent, the faith sincere, the practice meritorious or corrupt. Their passions were excited by similar objects; and they might alternately abuse the favour of the court, or of the people. The metaphysical opinions of the Athanasians and the Arians could not influence their moral character; and they were alike actuated by the intolerant spirit which has been extracted from the pure and simple maxims of the gospel.
A modern writer, who, with a just confidence, has prefixed to roleration of paganism
his own history the honourable epithets of political and philosophical,” accuses the timid prudence of Montesquieu for neglecting to enumerate, among the causes of the decline of the empire, a law of Constantine, by which the exercise of the pagan worship was absolutely suppressed, and a considerable part of his subjects was left destitute of priests, of temples, and of any public religion. The zeal of the philosophic historian for the rights of mankind has induced him to acquiesce in the ambiguous testimony of those ecclesiastics, who have too lightly ascribed to their favourite hero the merit of a general persecution.” Instead of alleging this imaginary law, which would have blazed in the front of the Imperial codes, we may safely appeal to the original epistle which Constantine addressed to the followers of the ancient religion; at a time when he no longer disguised his conversion nor dreaded the rivals of his throne. He invites and exhorts, in the most pressing terms, the subjects of the Roman empire to imitate the example of their master; but he declares that those who still refuse to open their eyes to
the celestial light may freely enjoy their temples and their housan
fancied gods. A report that the ceremonies of paganism were suppressed is formally contradicted by the emperor himself, who wisely assigns, as the principle of his moderation, the invincible force of habit, of prejudice, and of superstition.*
166 Histoire Politique et Philosophique des Etablissemens des Européens dans les deux Indes, tom. i. p. 9.
167 According to Eusebius (in Vit. Constantin. l. ii. c. 45) the emperor prohibited, both in cities and in the country, rå avorapā . . . ris Eiðwaoxarpeias; the abominable acts or parts of idolatry. Socrates (l. i. c. 17) and Sozomen (l. ii. c. 4, 5) have represented the conduct of Constantine with a just regard to truth and history; which has been neglected by Theodoret (l. v. c. 21) and Orosius (vii. 28). Tum deinde (says the latter) primus Constantinus justo ordine et pio vicem vertit edicto; siquidem statuit citra ullam hominum caedem paganorum templa claudi.
168See Eusebius, in Vit. Constantin. l. ii. c. 56, 60. In the sermon to the assembly of saints, which the emperor pronounced when he was mature in years and piety, he declares to the idolaters (c. xi.) that they are permitted to offer sacrifices and to exercise every part of their religious worship.
Without violating the sanctity of his promise, without alarming the fears of the pagans, the artful monarch advanced, by slow and cautious steps, to undermine the irregular and decayed fabric of polytheism. The partial acts of severity which he occasionally exercised, though they were secretly prompted by a Christian zeal, were coloured by the fairest pretences of justice and the public good; and, while Constantine designed to ruin the foundations, he seemed to reform the abuses, of the ancient religion. After the example of the wisest of his predecessors, he condemned, under the most rigorous penalties, the occult and impious arts of divination; which excited the vain hopes, and sometimes the criminal attempts, of those who were discontented with their present condition. An ignominious silence was imposed on the oracles, which had been publicly convicted of fraud and falsehood; the effeminate priests of the Nile were abolished; and Constantine discharged the duties of a Roman censor, when he gave orders for the demolition of several temples of Phoenicia, in which every mode of prostitution was devoutly practised in the face of day, and to the honour of Venus.” The Imperial city of Constantinople was, in some measure, raised at the expense, and was adorned with the spoils, of the opulent temples of Greece and Asia; the sacred property was confiscated; the statues of gods and heroes were transported, with rude familiarity, among a people who considered them as objects, not of adoration, but of curiosity: the gold and silver were restored to circulation; and the magistrates, the bishops, and the eunuchs, improved the fortunate occasion of gratifying at once their zeal, their avarice, and their resentment. But these depredations were confined to a small part of the Roman world; and the provinces had been long since accustomed to endure the same sacrilegious rapine, from the tyranny of princes and proconsuls, who could not be suspected of any design to subvert the established religion.” The sons of Constantine trod in the footsteps of their father, with more zeal and with less discretion. The pretences of rapine and oppression were insensibly multiplied; in every indulgence was shewn to the illegal behaviour of the Christians; every doubt was explained to the disadvantage of paganism; and the demolition of the temples was celebrated as one of the auspicious events of the reign of Constans and Constantius.” The name of Constantius is prefixed to a concise law, which might have superseded the necessity of any future prohibitions. “It is our pleasure that in all places, and in all cities, the temples be immediately shut, and carefully guarded, that none may have the power of offending. It is likewise our pleasure that all our subjects should abstain from sacrifices. If any one should be guilty of such an act, let him feel the sword of vengeance, and, after his execution, let his property be confiscated to the public use. We denounce the same penalties against the governors of the provinces, if they neglect to punish the criminals.” 17* But there is the strongest reason to believe that this formidable edict was either composed without being published, or was published without being executed. The evidence of facts, and the monuments which are still extant of brass and marble, continue to prove the public exercise of the pagan worship during the whole reign of the sons of Constantine. In the east, as well as in the west, in cities, as well as in the country, a great number of temples were respected, or at least were spared; and the devout multitude still enjoyed the luxury of sacrifices, of festivals, and of processions, by the permission, or by the connivance, of the civil government. About four years after the supposed date of his bloody edict, Constantius visited the temples of Rome; and the decency of his behaviour is recommended by a pagan orator as an example worthy of the imitation of succeeding princes. “That emperor,” says
and his gons
169 See Eusebius, in Vit. Constantin. l. iii. c. 54-58, and l. iv. c. 23, 25. These acts of authority may be compared with the suppression of the Bacchanals, and the demolition of the temple o by the magistrates of pagan Rome.
170 Eusebius (in Vit. Constant. l. iii. c. 54) and Libanius (Orat. pro Templis, p. 9, Io, edit. Gothofred.) both mention the pious sacrilege of Constantine, which they viewed in very different lights. The latter expressly declares that “he made use of the sacred money, but made no alteration in the legal worship; the temples indeed were impoverished, but the sacred rites were performed there”. Lardner's Jewish and Heathen Testimonies, vol. iv. p. 140.
in Ammianus (xxii. 4) speaks of some court eunuchs who were spoliis templorum pasti. Libanius says (Orat. pro Templ. p. 23), that the emperor often gave away a temple, like a dog, or a horse, or a slave, or a gold cup : but the devout philosopher takes care to observe that these sacrilegious favourites very seldom prospered.
*See Gothofred. Cod. Theodos. tom. vi. p. 262; Liban. Orat. Parental. c. x. in Fabric. Bibl. Graec. tom. vii. p. 235.
17° Placuit omnibus locis atque urbibus universis claudi protinus templa, et accessu vetitis omnibus licentiam delinquendi perditis abnegari. Volumus etiam cunctos a sacrificiis abstinere. Quod siquis aliquid forte hujusmodi petraverit, gladio sternatur: facultates etiam perempti fisco decernimus vindicari: et similiter adfligi rectores provinciarum si facinora vindicare neglexerint. Cod. Theodos, l. xvi. tit.x. leg. 4. Chronology has discovered some contradiction in the date of this extravagant law; the only one, perhaps, by which the negligence of magistrates is punished by death and confiscation. M. de la Bastie (Mém. de l'Académie, tom. xv. p. 98) conjectures, with a show of reason, that this was no more than the minutes of a law, the heads of an intended bill, which were found in Scriniis Memoriae, among the papers of Constantius, and afterwards inserted, as a worthy model, in the Theodosian code.
Symmachus, “suffered the privileges of the vestal virgins to remain inviolate; he bestowed the sacerdotal dignities on the nobles of Rome, granted the customary allowance to defray the expenses of the public rites and sacrifices: and, though he had embraced a different religion, he never attempted to deprive
the empire of the sacred worship of antiquity.” 17* The senate
still presumed to consecrate, by solemn decrees, the divine memory of their sovereigns; and Constantine himself was associated, after his death, to those gods whom he had renounced and insulted during his life. The title, the ensigns, the pre
rogatives of sovereign Pontiff, which had been instituted by
Numa, and assumed by Augustus, were accepted, without hesitation, by seven Christian emperors; who were invested with a more absolute authority over the religion which they had deserted than over that which they professed.” The divisions of Christianity suspended the ruin of paganism;” and the holy war against the infidels was less vigorously prosecuted by princes and bishops who were more immediately alarmed by the guilt and danger of domestic rebellion. The extirpation of idolatry 17 might have been justified by the established principles of intolerance: but the hostile sects, which alternately reigned in the imperial court, were mutually apprehensive of alienating, and perhaps exasperating, the minds of a powerful, though declining, faction. Every motive of authority and fashion, of interest and reason, now militated on the side of Christianity; but two or three generations elapsed before their victorious influence was universally felt. The religion which had so long and so lately been established in the Roman empire was still revered by a numerous people, less attached indeed to speculative opinion than to ancient custom. The honours of the state and army were indifferently bestowed on all the subjects of Constantine and Constantius; and a considerable portion of knowledge and wealth and valour was still engaged in the service of polytheism. The superstition of the senator and of the peasant, of the poet and the philosopher, was derived from very different causes, but they met with equal devotion in the temples of the gods. Their zeal was insensibly provoked by the insulting triumph of a proscribed sect; and their hopes were revived by the well-grounded confidence that the presumptive heir of the empire, a young and valiant hero, who had delivered Gaul from the arms of the Barbarians, had secretly embraced the religion of his ancestors.
174 Symmach. Epistol. x. 54.
175 The fourth Dissertation of M. de la Bastie, sur le Souverain Pontificat des Empereurs Romains (in Mém. de l'Acad. tom. xv. p. 75-144), is a very learned and judicious performance, which explains the state, and proves the toleration, of paganism from Constantine to Gratian. The assertion of Zosimus that Gratian was the first who refused the pontifical robe is confirmed beyond a doubt; and the murmurs of bigotry, on that subject, are almost silenced.
17*As I have freelyanticipated the use of pagans and paganism, I shall now trace the singular revolutions of those celebrated words. 1. IIayi †: , in the Doric dialect, so familiar to the Italians, signifies a fountain; and the rural neighbourhood which frequented the same fountain derived the common appellation of pagus and pagans (Festus sub voce, and Servius ad Virgil. Georgic. ii. 382). 2. By an easy extension of the word, pagan and rural became almost synonymous (Plin. Hist. Natur. xxviii 5); and the meaner rustics acquired that name, which has been corrupted into peasants in the modern languages of Europe. 3. The amazing increase of the military order introduced the necessity of a correlative term (Hume's Essays, vol. i. p. 555); and all the people who were not enlisted in the service of the prince were branded with the contemptuousepithet of pagans (Tacit. Hist. iii. 24,43,77. Juvenal Satir. xvi. . Tertullian. de Pallio, c. 4). 4. The Christians were the soldiers of Christ; their adversaries, who refused his sacrament, or military oath of baptism, might deserve the metaphorical name of pagans: and this popular reproach was introduced as early as the reign of Valentinian (A.D. 365) into Imperial laws (Cod. Theodos. 1. xvi. tit. ii. leg. 18) and theological writings. 5. Christianity gradually filled the cities of the empire; the old religion, in the time of Prudentius (advers. Symmachum, l. i. ad fin.) and Orosius (in Praefat. Hist.), retired and languished in obscure villages; and the word pagans, with its new signification, reverted to its primitive origin. 6. Since the worship of Jupiter and his family has expired, the vacant title of pagans has been successively applied to all the idolaters and polythe. ists of the old and new world. 7. The Latin Christians bestowed it, without scruple, on their mortal enemies the Mahometans; and the purest unitarians were branded with the unjust reproach of idolatry and paganism. See Gerard Vossius, Etymologicon Linguae Latinae, in his works, tom. i. p. 420. Godefroy's Commentary on the Theodosian Code, tom. vi. p. 250, and Ducange, mediae et infimae Latinitat. Glossar. [Latin pagus, canton or village, has nothing to do with myū.]
177 In the pure language of Ionia and Athens, Essaxov and Aarpeia were ancient and familiar words. The former expressed a likeness, an apparition (Homer, Odyss. xi. 601), a representation, an image, created either by fancy or art. The latter denoted any sort of service or slavery. The Jews of Egypt, who translated the Hebrew scriptures, restrained the use of these words (Exodus xx. 4, 5) to the religious worship of an image. The peculiar idiom of the Hellenists, or Grecian Jews, has been adopted by the sacred and ecclesiastical writers; and the reproach of idolatry (Eið. AoAarpsia) has stigmatized that visible and abject mode of superstition which some sects of Christianity should not hastily impute to the polytheists of Greece and Rome.