Sidebilder
PDF
[ocr errors]

character of vicegerent of the Deity. To the Deity alone he was accountable for the abuse of his power; and his subječts were indissolubly bound, by their oath of fidelity, to a tyrant, who had violated every law of nature and society. The humble Christians 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 doćtrine of the apostle, who in the reign of Nero had preached the duty of unconditional submisfion, 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 fequestered 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

19 Tertullian. Apolog. c. 32, 34, 35, 36. Tamen nunqiam Aftiniani, nec Nigriani vel Cassiani inveniri potuerunt Christiani. Ad scapulam, c. 2. If this assortion be striëly true, it excludes the Christians of that age from all civil and inilitary employinents, which would have compelled them to take an olive part in the fervice of their respective governors. See Moxie's Works, vol. ii.

p. 349. e - e. primitive

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

c H. A. P. primitive and of the reformed Christians”. Per

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

cestors, who had convinced themselves that religion cannot abolish the unalienable rights of human nature”. Perhaps the patience of the

[ocr errors]

as well as to its virtue. A se&t of unwārlike ple-
beians, without leaders, without arms, without
fortifications, must have encountered inevitable
destruction in a rash and fruitless resistance to the
master of the Roman legions. But the Christians,
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 condućt had always been
conformable 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, embracing the Christian doćtrine,
should learn to suffer and to obey.
In the general order of Providence, princes and
tyrants are considered as the ministers of Heaven,
appointed to rule or to chastise the nations of the
earth. But sacred history affords many illustrious

[ocr errors][merged small]

examples of the more immediate interposition of c H. A. P. the Deity in the government of his chosen people. xx. The sceptre and the sword were committed to the STT' 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 atchieve 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 unétion 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 subjećts. The same extraordinary providence, which was no longer confined to the Jewish people, might elect Constantine and his family as the protećtors of the Christian world; and the devout Laëtantius announces, in a prophetic tone, the future glories of his long and universal reign “. Galerius and Maximin, Maxentius and Licinius, were the rivals who shared with the favourite of Heaven the provinces of the empire, The tragic deaths of Galerius and Maximin soon gratified the resentment, and fulfilled the sanguine expectations, of the Christians. The success 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 chazz Laštant. Divin. Institut. i. 1. Eusebius in the course of his

history, his life, and his oration, repeatedly inculcates the divine

sight of Constantine to the empire. raćter

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

and human nature; and though the Christians might enjoy his precarious favour, they were exposed, with the rest of his subjećts, to the effe&ts of his wanton and capricious cruelty. The condućt of Licinius soon betrayed the reluctance with which he had consented to the wife and humane regulations of the edićt 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 rendered still more odious, by the violation of a solemn and voluntary engagement *. While the East, according to the lively expression of Eusebius, was involved in the shades of infernal darkness, the auspicious rays of celestial light warmed and illuminated the provinces of the West. The piety of Constantine was admitted as an unexceptionable proof of the justice of his arms; and his use of vićtory confirmed the opinion of the Christians, that their hero was inspired, and condućted, by the Lord of Hosts. The conquest of Italy produced a general edićt of toleration: and as soon as the defeat of Licinius had invested Constantine with the sole dominion of the Roman world, he immediately, by circular letters, exhorted all his subječas to imitate, without delay, the example of their sovereign, and to embrace the divine truth of Christi- c H. A. P. anity”. XX. The assurance that the elevation of Constan- Hotine was intimately connected with the designs of and zeal of Providence, instilled into the minds of the Christ. . ;o: ians two 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 contraćted with the Catholic church, and which apparently contributes 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 asfist the popular leader, to whose service, from a principle of conscience, they had devoted their lives and fortunes”. The example of his father had instrućted Constantine to esteem and to reward the merit of the Christians; and in the dis

A.D. 324.

** Our in perfečt knowledge of the persecution of Licinius is derivsd from Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. 1. x. c. 8. Wit. Constantin. i. i. c. 49–56. l. ii. c. 1, 2.). Aurelius Viètor mentions his cruelty

in general terms, reign, as 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 Benti. voglio (who was then nuccio at Brussols, and afterwards cardinal) transmitted to the court of Rome (Relazione, tom. ii. p. 21 1. 24.1.). Bentivoglio was curious, well-informed, but semewhat partial

[ocr errors]

tribution

« ForrigeFortsett »