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berate perjury. They may not hesitate to pronounce, that, in the choice of religion, his mind was determined only by a sense of interest; and that (according to the expression of a profane poetb)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 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
"' Lois Constantin dit ces propres paroles:
J'ai renvers£ le culte des idoles:
Sur Irs debris de leurs temples fumans
Au Dieu da Ciel J'ai prodign£ 1'cncens.
Mais tous mes soins pour sa grandeur supreme
N'eurent jamais d'autre objet que moi-mcme;
Les saints autels n'etoient a mes regards
Qu'un marchepi£ du tronn des (,'fears.
I .'ambition, la fureui, les delices
Etoient mea Dieux, avoient mes sacrifices.
L'or de Chretiens, leurs intrigues, leur sang
Ont cimente ma fortune et mon rang.
The poem which contains these lines may be read with pleasure, but cannot be named with decency.
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,1 acquired over his mind, was imputed by the Pagans to the effect of magic.1 Lactantius, who has adorned the precepts of the gospel with the eloquence of Cicero; and Eusebius, who has consecrated the learning, and philosophy of the Greeks to the service of religion,TM were both received into the friendship and familiarity of their sovereign: and those able masters of controversy could patiently watch the soft and yielding moments of persuasion, and dexterously apply the arguments which were the best adapted to his character and understanding. Whatever advantages might be derived from the acquisition of an imperial proselyte, he was distinguished by the splendour of his purple, rather than by the superiority of wisdom or virtue, from the many thousands of his subjects who had embraced the doctrines of Christianity. Nor can it be deemed incredible, that the mind of an unlettered soldier should have yielded to the weight of evidence, which, in a more enlightened age, has satisfied or subdued the reason of a Grotius, a Pascal, or a Locke. In the midst of the incessant labours of his great office, this soldier employed, or affected to employ, the hours of the night in the diligent study of the Scriptures, and the composition of theological discourses; which he afterward pronounced in the presence of a numerous and applauding audience. In a very long discourse which is still extant, the royal preacher expatiates on the various
1 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 diocess. His character is magnificently, though concisely, expressed by Athanasius. (tom. 1. p. 705.) See Tillemont, Mem. Eccles. tom. 7. p. 524—561. Osiris was accused, perhaps unjustly, of retiring from court with a very ample fortune.
k See Eusebius (in Vit. Constant, passim)and Zoeimus, lib. S.p. 104.
'The Christianity of Lactantius was of a moral, rather than of a mysterious cast. "Erat prone rudis (says the orthodox bull) disciplina e Christianae, et in rhetorics melius quam in theologi& versatns." Defensio Fidei Nicenae, sect. 2. c. 14.
1" Fabricius, with his usual diligence, has collected a list of between three and four hundred authors quoted in the Evangelical Preparations of Eusebius. See Bibliothec. Graoc. lib. 5. c. 4. tom. 6. p. 37—56.
The proofs of religion; but he dwells with peculiar edogue complacency on the Sybilline verses," and the of Virgil, fourth eclogue of Virgil." Forty years before the birth of Christ, the Mantuan bard, as if inspired by the celestial muse of Isaiah, had celebrated, with all the pomp of oriental metaphor, the return of the virgin, the fall of the serpent, the approaching birth of a godlike child, the offspring of the great Jupiter, who should expiate the guilt of human kind, and govern the peaceful universe with the virtues of his father; the rise and appearance of a heavenly race, a primitive nation throughout the world; and the gradual restoration of the innocence and felicity of the golden age. The poet was perhaps unconscious of the secret sense and object of these sublime predictions, which have been so unworthily applied to the infant son of a consul, or a triumvir :p but if a more splendid, and indeed specious, interpretation of the fourth eclogue contributed to the conversion of the first Christian emperor, Virgil may deserve to be ranked among the most successful missionaries of the gospel. q Devotion ^e awful mysteries of the Christian faith and andpri- worship were concealed from the eyes of straw. of Con- gers, and even of catechumens, with an affected
secrecVi which served to excite their wonder and curiosity/ But the severe rules of discipline which the prudence of the bishops had instituted, were relaxed by the same prudence in favour of an imperial proselyte, whom it was so important to allure, by every gentle condescension, into the pale of the church; and Constantine was permitted, at least by a tacit dispensation, to enjoy most of the privileges, before he had contracted any of the obligations, of a Christian. Instead of retiring from the congregation, when the voice of the deacon dismissed the profane multitude, he prayed with the faithful, disputed with the bishops, preached on the most sublime and intricate subjects of theology, celebrated with sacred rites the vigil of Easter, and publicly declared himself not only a partaker, but, in some measure, a priest and hierophant of the Christian mysteries." The pride of Constantine might assume, and his services had deserved, some extraordinary distinction; an ill-timed rigour might have blasted the unripened fruits of his conversion; and if the doors of the church had been strictly closed against a prince who had deserted the altars of the gods, the master of the empire would have been left destitute of any form of religious worship. In his last visit to Rome, he piously disclaimed and insulted the superstition of his ancestors, by refusing to lead the military procession of the equestrian order, and to offer the public vows to the Jupiter of the Capitoline hill.' Many years before his baptism and death, Constantine had proclaimed to the world, that neither his person nor his image should ever more be seen within the walls of an idolatrous temple; while he distributed through the provinces a variety of medals and pictures, which represented the emperor in an humble and suppliant posture of Christian devotion."
"See Constantin. Orat. ad Sanctoa, c. 1 9, 20. He chieBy depends on a mysterious acrostic, composed in the sixth age after the deluge by the Erythraan Sybil, and translated by Cicero into Latin. The initial letters of the thirty-four Greek verses form this prophetic sentence — Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour oftheworld.
0 In his paraphrase of Virgil, the emperor has frequently assisted and improved the literal sense of the Latin text. See Blondel des Sybilles, lib. 1. c. 14 — 16.
P The different claims of an elder and younger son of Pollio, of Julia, of Drusus, of Marcel I us, are found to be incompatible with chronology, history, and the good sense of Virgil.
* See Lowth de Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum Project. 21. p. 289 — 293. In the examination of the fourth eclogue, the respectable bishop of London has displayed learning, taste, ingenuity, and a temperate enthusiasm, which exalts his fancy without degrading his judgment.
r The distinction between the public and the secret parts of divine service, the missa catechutnenorum, and the mistafidelium, and the myterious veil which piety or policy had cast over the latter, are very judiciously explained by Thiers, Exposition du Saint Sacrement, lib. 1. c. 8 — 1 2. p. 59 — 91. but as, on this subject, the Papists may reasonably be suspected, a Protestant reader will depend with more confidence on the leamed Bingham. Antiquities, lib. 10. c. 5.
The pride of Constantine, who refused the privileges of a catechumen, cannot easily be explained or excused; but the delay of his baptism may be justified by the maxDeiayof ims and the practice of ecclesiastical antiquity. The sacrament of baptism' was regularly admif nistered by the bishop himself, with his assistant death, clergy, in the cathedral church of the diocess, during the fifty days between the solemn festivals of Easter and Pentecost; and this holy term admitted a numerous band of infants and adult persons into the bosom of the church. The discretion of parents often suspended the baptism of their children till they could understand the obligations which they contracted; the severity of ancient bishops exacted from the new converts a novitiate of two or three years; and the catechumens themselves, from different motives of a temporal or a spiritual nature, were seldom impatient to assume the character of perfect and initiated Christians. The sacrament of baptism was supposed to contain a full and absolute expiation of sin; and the soul was instantly restored to its original purity, and entitled to the promise of eternal salvation. Among the proselytes of Christianity, there were many who judged it imprudent to precipitate a salutary rite, which could not be repeated; to throw away an inestimable privilege, which could never be recovered. By the delay of their baptism, they could venture freely to indulge their passions in the enjoyments of this world, while they still retained in their own hands the means of a sure and easy absolution/
1 Sec Eusebius in Vit. Const. lib. 4. c. 15—32. and the whole tenor of Constantine's sermon. The faith and devotion of the emperor has furnished Baronius with a specious argument in favour of his early baptism.
1Zosimus, lib. 2. p. 105. « Eusebius in Vit. Constant lib. 4. c. 15, 16.
* The theory and practice of antiquity with regard to the sacrament of baptism, have been copiously explained by Dorn. Chardon, Hist, des Sacremens, tom. 1. p. 3—405. Dorn. Maritime, de Ritibus Ecclesiae Antiquis, torn. 1. and by Bingham, in the tenth and eleventh books of his Christian Antiquities. One circumstance may be observed, in which the modern churches have materially departed from the ancient custom. The sacrament of baptism (even when it was administered to infants) was immediately followed by confirmation and the holy communion.
7 The fathers, who censured this criminal delay, could not deny the certain and victorious efficacy even of a death-bed baptism. The ingenious rhetoric of Chrysostom could find only three arguments against these prudent Christians. 1. That we should love and pursue virtue for her own sake, and not merely for the reward. 2. That we may be surprised by death without an opportunity of baptism. 3. That although we shall be placed in heaven, we shall only twinkle like little stars, when compared to the suns of righteousness who have run their appointed course with labour, with success, and with glory. Chrysostom in Epist. ad Hebraos, Homil. ts. apud Chardon. Hist, des Sacremens, torn. 1. p. 49. I believe that this delay of baptism, though attended with the most pernicious consequences, was never