gion, bestows on the piety of the emperor a more awful and sublime character. He affirms, with the most perfect confidence, that in the night which preceded the last battle against Maxentius, Constantine was admonished in a dream to inscribe the shields of his soldiers with the celestial sign of God, the sacred monogram of the name of Christ; that he executed the commands of heaven, and that his valour and obedience were rewarded by the decisive victory of the Milvian bridge. Some considerations might perhaps incline a sceptical mind to suspect the judgment or the veracity of the rhetorician, whose pen, either from zeal or interest, was devoted to the cause of the prevailing faction/ He appears to have published his deaths of the persecutors at Nicomedia about three years after the Roman victory; but the interval of a thousand miles, and a thousand days, will allow an ample latitude for the invention of declaimers, the credulity of party, and the tacit approbation of the emperor himself, who might listen without indignation to a marvellous tale, which exalted his fame, and promoted his designs. In favour of Licinius, who still dissembled his animosity to the Christians, the same author has provided a similar vision, of a form of prayer, which was communicated by an angel, and repeated by the whole army before they engaged the legions of the tyrant Maximin. The frequent repetition of miracles serves to provoke, where it does not subdue, the reason of mankind," but if the dream of Constantine is separately considered, it may be naturally explained either by the policy or the enthusiasm of the emperor. Whilst his anxiety for the approaching day, which must decide the fate of the empire, was suspended by a short and interrupted slumber, the venerable form of Christ, and the well-known symbol of his religion, might forcibly offer themselves to the active fancy of a prince who reverenced the name, and had perhaps secretly implored the power, of the God of the Christians. As readily might a consummate statesman indulge himself in the use of one of those military stratagems, one of those pious frauds, which Philip and Sertorius had employed with such art and effect.' The preternatural origin of dreams was universally admitted by the nations of antiquity, and a considerable part of the Gallic army was already prepared to place their confidence in the salutary sign of the Christian religion. The secret vision of Constantine could be disproved only by the event; and the intrepid hero who had passed the Alps and the Appennine, might view with careless despair the consequences of a defeat under the walls of Rome. The senate and people, exulting in their own deliverance from an 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,

'Caecilius, de M. P. c. 44. It is certain, that this historical declamation was composed and published, while Licinius, sovereign of the east, still preserved the friendship of Constantine, and of the Christians. Every reader of taste must perceive, that the style is of a very different and inferior character to that of Lactantius ; and such indeed is the judgment of Le Clerc and Lardner. (Bibliotheqoc Ancienne et Modeme, tom. 3. p. 438. Credibility of the Gospel, &c, part 2. vol. 7. p. 94.) Three arguments from the title of the book, and from the namei of Donatus and Caecilius, are produced by the advocates for Laciantius. (See the P. Lestocq, tom. 2. p. -16—60.) Each of these proofs is ringly weak and defective, but their concurrence has great weight. I have often fluctuated, and shall tamely follow the Colbert MS. in calling the author (whoever he was) Odlini.

• Caecilius, de M. P. c. 46. There seems to be some reason in the observation of M. de Voltaire ((Em res, tom. 14. p. 307.) who ascribes to the eucceu of CoosUmt Luc the superior fame of his labarum above the angel of Licinius. Yet even this angel is favourably entertained by Pagi, Tillemont, Fleury, &c. who are fond of increasing their stock of miracles.

1 Besides these well-known examples, Tollius (Preface to Boileau's translation of Longinus) has discovered a vision of Antigonus, who assured his troops that he had seen a pentagon (the symbol of safety) with these words, " In this conquer." But Tollins has most inexcusably omitted to produce his authority; and his own character, literary as well as moral, is not free from reproach. (See Chaufiepii Dictionnaire Critique, tom. 4. p. 460.) Without insisting on the silence of Dioilorus, Plutarch, Justin, &c. it may be observed that Polyaenue, who in a separate chapter (lib. 4. c. 6.) has collected nineteen military stratagems of Antigonus, is totally ignorant of this remarkable vision.

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.1 Appear- m. The philosopher, who with calm suspii^ain* cion examines the dreams and omens, the miracles the sky. an(j 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 ai)r.J Nazarius 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, Nazariusz 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 speaking; and seems to hope that the ancient apparitions' would now obtain credit from this recent and public event. . ., The Christian fable of Eusebius, which in the

"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.

* Habeas profecto, aliquid cum ilia mente DivinA secretum; qu« delegatik nostri Diis Minoribus cura uni se tibi dignatur ostendere. Panegyr. Vet. 9. t

1 M. Freret )Memoires de l' Academic des Inscriptions, tom. 4. p. 411—437.) explains, by physical causes, many of the prodigies of antiquity ; and Fabricins, who is abused by both parties, vainly tries to introduce the celestial cross of Constantine among the solar halos. Bibliothec. Grace, tom. 6. p. 8—29.

1 Nazarius inter Panegyr. Vet. 10.14,15. It is unnecessary to name the modems whose undistinguishiiig and ravenous appetite has swallowed even the Pagan bail of Nazarius. •*

A• JJ. ,->, *o» _ . • i • /* t

space of twenty-six years, might arise from the original dream, is cast in a much more correct and elegant mould. In one of the marches of Constantine, he is reported to have seen with his own eyes the luminous trophy of the cross, placed above the meridian sun, and inscribed with the following words: By this, conquer. This amazing object in the sky astonished the whole army, as well as the emperor himself, who was yet undetermined in the choice of a religion: but his astonishment was converted into faith by the vision of the ensuing night. Christ appeared before his eyes; and displaying the same celestial sign of the cross, he directed Constantine to frame a similar standard, and to march, with an assurance of victory, against Maxentius and all his enemies.11 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 ;c instead of collecting and recording the evidence of so many living witnesses, who must have been spectators of this

* The apparitions of Castor and Pollux, particularly to announce the Macedonian victory, are attested by historians and public monuments. See Cicero de Natura Deorum, 2. 2, 3. 5, 6. Florus, 1. 12. Valerius Maximus, lib. 1. c. 8. no. 1. Yet the most recent of these miracles is omitted, and indirectly denied by I.ivy. (45.1.)

b Eusebius, lib. 1. c. 28—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

r 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, Besancon, &c. See TUIemont, des Empereurs, tom, 4. p. 573.

stupendous miracle ;d 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 afterward deride," was disregarded by the Christians of the age which immediately followed the conversion of Constantine. 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.8 The con- The Protestant and philosophic readers of the of Con1- present age, will incline to believe, that, in the account of his own conversion, Constantine attested a wilful falsehood by a solemn and deli

d The pious Tillemont (Men. Eccles. torn. 7. p. 1317.) rejects with a sigh the useful acts of Artemius, a veteran and a martyr, who attests as as eye-witness the vision of Constantine.

'' Gelasius Cyzic. in Act. Concil. Nicen. lib. 1. 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 celebrated the triumph of the church and of Constantine. As these venerable men had not any dislike to a miracle, we may suspect (and the suspicion is confirmed by the ignorance of Jerome) that they were all unacquainted 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 share represented in various colours the vision of the cross.

''• Godefroy was the first who, in the year 1 643 (Not. ad Philostorgiom, lib. 1. c. 6. p. 16.) expressed any doubt of a miracle, which had been supported with equal zeal by cardinal Baronius, and the Centuriators of Magdeburg. Since that time, many of the Protestant critics have inclined towards doubt and disbelief. The objections are urged with great force, by M. Chaufiepife (Dictionnairc Critique, tom. 4. p. 6 — 11.) and, in the year 1774, a doctor of Sorbonne, the abb£ duVoisin, published an Apology, which deserves the praise of learning and moderation.

« ForrigeFortsett »