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example of the sovereign of Gaul; who, in the first moments of his reign, acknowledged and adored the majesty of the true and only God.2 The learned Eusebius has ascribed the faith of Constantine to the miraculous sign which was displayed in the heavens whilst he meditated and prepared the Italian expedition.3 The historian Zosimus maliciously asserts that the emperor had imbrued his hands in the blood of his eldest son before he publicly renounced the gods of Rome and of his ancestors.4 The perplexity produced by these discordant authorities is derived from the behaviour of Constantine himself. According to the strictness of ecclesiastical language, the first of the Christian emperors was unworthy of that name till the moment of his death; since it was only during his last illness that he received, as a catechumen, the imposition of hands,5 and was afterwards admitted, by the initiatory rites of baptism, into the number of the faithful.6 The Christianity of Constantine must be allowed in a much more vague and qualified sense; and the nicest accuracy is required in tracing the slow and almost imperceptible gradations by which the monarch declared himself the protector, and at length the proselyte, of the church. It was an arduous task to eradicate the habits and prejudices of his education, to acknowledge the divine power of Christ, and to understand that the truth of his revelation was incompatible with the worship of the gods. The obstacles which he had probably experienced in his own mind instructed him to proceed with caution in the momentous change of a national religion; and he insensibly discovered his new opinions, as far as he could
• Lactant. Divin. Institut. i. 1, vii. 26. The first and most important of these passages is indeed wanting in twenty-eight manuscripts, but it is found in nineteen. If we weigh the comparative value of those manuscripts, one of 900 years old, in the king of France's library, may be alleged in its favour; but the passage is omitted in the correct manuscript of Bologna, which the P. de Montfaucon ascribes to the sixth or seventh century (Diarium Italic, p. 409). The taste of most of the editors (except Istcus, see Lactant. edit. Dufresnoy, torn. i. p. 596) has felt the genuine style of Lactantius.
'Euseb. in Vit. Constant. 1. i. c. 27-32. 4 Zosimus, 1. ii. [c. 29] p. 104.
• That rite was nhcays used in making a catechumen (see Bingham's Antiquities, I. x. c. i. p. 419; Dom Chardon, Hist, des Sacremens, torn. i. p. 62), and Constantino received it for tie first time (EuBeb. in Vit. Constant. 1. iv. c. 61) immediately before his baptism and death. From the connection of these two facts, Valesius (ad loc. Euseb.) has drawn the conclusion which is reluctantly admitted by Tillemout (Hist, des Empereurs, torn. iv. p. 028), and opposed with feeble arguments by Moshehu (p. 968).
• Euseb. in Vit. Constant. 1. iv. c. 61, 62, 63. The legend of Constantine's baptism at Borne, thirteen years before his death, was invented in the eighth century, as a proper motive for his duimtiim. Such has been the gradual progress of knowledge, that a story, of which Cardinal Baronius (Annal. Ecclesiast. A.d. 324, No. 43-49) declared himself the unblushing advocate, is now feebly Bupjwrted, even within the verge of the Vatican. See the Antiquitates Christiana;, torn. ii. p. 232-—a work published with six approbations at Home, in the year 1751, by Father Mamachi, a learned Dominican.
A.d. 337. HIS PAGAN SUPERSTITION. 3
enforce them with safety and with effect. During the whole course of his reign, the stream of Christianity flowed with a gentle, though accelerated, motion: but its general direction was sometimes checked, and sometimes diverted, by the accidental circumstances of the times, and by the prudence, or possibly by the caprice, of the monarch. His ministers were permitted to signify the intentions of their master in the various language which was best adapted to their respective principles ;7 and he artfully balanced the hopes and fears of his subjects, by publishing in the same year two edicts; the first of which enjoined the solemn observance of Sunday,8 and the second directed the regular consultation of the Aruspices.9 While this important revolution yet remained in suspense, the Christians and the Pagans watched the conduct of their sovereign with the same anxiety, but with very opposite sentiments. The former were prompted by every motive of zeal, as well as vanity, to exaggerate the marks of his favour and the evidences of his faith. The latter, till their just apprehensions were changed into despair and resentment, attempted to conceal from the world, and from themselves, that the gods of Rome could no longer reckon the emperor in the number of their votaries. The same passions and prejudices have engaged the partial writers of the times to connect the public profession of Christianity with the most glorious or the most ignominious sera of the reign of Constantine.
Whatever symptoms of Christian piety might transpire in the discourses or actions of Constantine, he persevered till he was near forty years of age in the practice of the established JipereStton. religion ;10 and the same conduct which in the court of Nicomedia might be imputed to his fear, could be ascribed only to the inclination or policy of the sovereign of Gaul. His liberality restored and enriched the temples of the gods; the medals which issued from his Imperial mint are impressed with the figures and attributes of Jupiter and Apollo, of Mars and Hercules; and his filial piety increased the council of Olympus by the solemn apotheosis of his father Constantius." But the devotion of Constantine was more peculiarly directed to the genius of the Sun, the Apollo of Greek and Roman mythology; and he was pleased to be represented with the symbols of the God of Light and Poetry. The unerring shafts of that deity, the brightness of his eyes, his laurel wreath, immortal beauty, and elegant accomplishments, seem to point him out as the patron of a young hero. The altars of Apollo were crowned with the votive offerings of Constantine; and the credulous multitude were taught to believe that the emperor was permitted to behold with mortal eyes the visible majesty of their tutelar deity; and that, either waking or in a vision, he was blessed with the auspicious omens of a long and victorious reign. The Sun was universally celebrated as the invincible guide and protector of Constantine; and the Pagans might reasonably expect that the insulted god would pursue with unrelenting vengeance the impiety of his ungrateful favourite.'2
7 The qusstor, or secretary, who composed the law of the Theodosian Code, makes his master say with indifference, "hominibus supra dicta: religionis" (1. xvi. tit. ii. leg. 1). The minister of ecclesiastical affairs was allowed a more devout and respectful style, riff Wtrptu %*) myiurarns *afft\ixiis 'Jotexiiui; the legal, most holy, and catholic worship. See Euseb. Hist. Eccles. 1. x. c. 6.
8 Cod. Theodos. 1. ii. tit. viii. leg. 1. Cod. Justinian. 1. iii. tit. xii. leg. 3. Constantine styles the Lord's day dies solis, a name which could not offend the ears of his Pagan subjects.
* Cod. Theodos. 1. xvi. tit. x. leg. 1. Godefroy, in the character of a commentator, endeavours (torn. vi. p. '.'57) to excuse Constantine; but the more zealous Baronius (Aunal. Eccles. A.D. 321, No. 18) censures his profane conduct with truth and asperity.
'• Theodoret (1. i. c. 18) Beems to insinuate that Helena gave her son a Christian education; but we may be assured, from the superior authority of Eusebius (in Vit. Constant. 1. iii. c. 47), that she herself was indebted to Constantine for the knowledge of Christianity.
As long as Constantine exercised a limited sovereignty over the
provinces of Gaul, his Christian subjects were protected by SJchriSSu tne authority, and perhaps by the laws, of a prince who Aj?306-3i2. wisely 'eft to the gods the care of vindicating their own
honour. If we may credit the assertion of Constantine himself, he had been an indignant spectator of the savage cruelties which were inflicted, by the hands of Roman soldiers, on those citizens whose religion was their only crime.13 In the East and in the West he had seen the different effects of severity and indulgence; and as the former was rendered still more odious by the example of Galerius, his implacable enemy, the latter was recommended to his imitation by the authority and advice of a dying father. The son of Constantius immediately suspended or repealed the edicts of persecution, and granted the free exercise 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 jus
11 See the medals of Constantine in Duconge and Banduri. As few cities had retained the privilege of coining, almost all the medalB of that ago issued from the mint under the sanction of the Imperial authority."
la The panegyric of Eumenius (vii. [vi.] inter Panegyr. Vet.), which was pronounced a few months before the Italian war, abounds with the most unexceptionable evidence of the Pagan superstition of Constantine, and of his particular veneration for Apollo, or the Sun; to which Julian alludes (Orat. vii. p. 228, aTiliinn «). See Commentaire de Spanheim sur les Cesara, p. 317.
"Constantin. Orat. ad Sanctos, c. 25. But it might easily be shown that the Greek translator has improved the sense of the Latin original ; and the aged emperor might recollect the persecution of Diocletian with a more lively abhorrence than he had actually felt in the days of his youth and Paganism.
Eckhel, Doctriu. Num. vol. viii.—M.
A.D. 313. EDICT OF MILAN. 6
tice of their sovereign, who had imbibed a secret and sincere reverence for the name of Christ, and for the God of the Christians.14
About five months after the conquest of Italy, the emperor made a solemn and authentic declaration of his sentiments by the A D. 313. celebrated edict of Milan, which restored peace to the yJH^t catholic church. In the personal interview of the two MiUn western princes, Constantine, by the ascendant of genius and power, obtained the ready concurrence of his colleague, Licinius; the union of their names and authority disarmed the fury of Maximin; and, after the death of the tyrant of the East, the edict of Milan was received as a general and fundamental law of the Roman world.15
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 accompanied 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 tranquillity of the faithful are framed on the principles of enlarged and equal toleration; and such an equality must have been interpreted by a recent sect as an advantageous and honourable distinction. The two emperors 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 individual thinks proper to prefer, to which he has addicted 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 happiness of their people; and the pious hope that by such a conduct they shall appease and propitiate the Deity, whose scat is in heaven. They gratefully acknowledge the many signal proofs which they have received of the divine favour; and they trust that the same Providence will for ever continue to protect 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 compose 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.16
14 See Euseb. Hist. Eccles. 1. viii. 13, 1. ix. 9; and in Vit. Const. 1. i. c. 16, 17. Lactant. Divin. Institut. i. 1. Cseeilius de Mort. Persecut. c. '25.
15 Csecilius (de Mort. Persecut. c. 48) hits preserved the Latin original; and Euscbius (Hist. Eccles. 1. x. c. 5) has given a Greek translation of this perpetual edict, which refers to some provisional regulations.
But the counsels of princes are more frequently influenced by
views of temporal advantage than by considerations of lioiuiiyof abstract and speculative truth. The partial and increasing morality."*" 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 im
10 A panegyric of Constantine, pronounced Beven or eight months after the edict of Milan (see Oothofred. Chronolog. Legum, p. 7; and Tillcmont, Hist, des Empereura, torn. iv. p. 240), uses the following remarkable expression :—" Summe rerum sator, "cuius tot nomina sunt, quot linguas gentium esse voluisti, quern enim te ipse dici "velis, scire non possumus." (Panegyr. Vet. ix. [viii.] 20.) In explaining Constantino's progress in the faith, Mosheim (p. 971, &c.) is ingenious, subtle, prolix.