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The sublime theory of the gospel had made a much fainter impression on the heart, than on the understanding, of Constantine himself. He pursued the great object of his ambition through the dark and bloody paths of war and policy; and, after the victory, he abandoned himself, without moderation, to the abuse of his fortune. Instead of asserting his just superiority above the imperfect heroism and profane philosophy of Trajan and the Antonines, the mature age of Constantine forfeited the reputation which he had acquired in his youth. As he gradually advanced in the knowledge of truth, he proportionally declined in the practice of virtue; and the same year of his reign in which he convened the council of Nice, was polluted by the execution, or rather murder, of his eldest son. This date is alone sufficient to refute the ignorant and malicious suggestions of Zosimus, who affirms, that, after the death of Crispus, the remorse of his father accepted from the ministers of Christianity the expiation which he had vainly solicited from the Pagan pontiffs. At the time of the death of Crispus, the emperor could no longer hesitate in the choice of religion; he could no longer be ignorant that the church was possessed of an infalliable remedy, though he chose to defer the application of it, till the approach of death had removed the temptation and danger of a relapse. The bishops, whom he summoned in his last illness to the palace of Nicomedia, were edified by the fervour with which he requested and received the sacrament of baptism, by the solemn protestation that the remainder of his life should be worthy of a disciple of Christ, and by his humble refusal to wear the imperial purple after he had been clothed in the white garment of a neophyte.
condemned by any general or provincial council, or by any public act or declaration of the church. The zeal of the bishops was easily kindled on much slighter occasions.
z Zosimus, lib. 2. p, 104. For this disingenuous falsehood he has deserved and experienced the harshest treatment from all the ecclesiastical writers, except Car. dinal Baronius, (A. D. 324. no. 15—28.) who had occasion to employ the infidel on a particular service against the Arian Eusebius.
tion of Chris
The example and reputation of Constantine seemed to countenance the delay of baptism." Future tyrants were encouraged to believe, that the innocent blood which they might shed in a long reign would instantly be washed away in the waters of regeneration; and the abuse of religion dangerously undermined the foundations of moral virtue. Propaga
The gratitude of the church has exalted the virtues and excused the failings of a generous
patron, who seated Christianity on the throne of the Roman world; and the Greeks, who celebrate the festival of the imperial saint, seldom mention the name of Constantine without adding the title of equal to the apostles. Such a comparison, if it allude to the character of those divine missionaries, must be imputed to the extravagance of impious flattery. But if the parallel be confined to the extent and number of their evangelic victories, the success of Constantine might perhaps equal that of the apostles themselves. By the edicts of toleration, he removed the temporal disadvantages which had hitherto retarded the progress of Christianity; and its active and numerous ministers received a free permission, a liberal encouragement, to recommend the salutary truths of revelation by every argument which could affect the reason or piety of mankind. The exact balance of the two religions continued but a moment; and the piercing eye of ambition and avarice soon discovered, that the profession of Christianity might contribute to the interest of the present, as well as of a future life. The hopes of wealth and honours, the example of an emperor, his exhortations, his irresistible smiles, diffused conviction among the venal and obsequious crowds
a Eusebius, lib. 4. c. 61–63. The bishop of Cæsarea supposes the salvation of Constantine with the most perfect confidence.
b See Tillemont, Hist. des Empereurs, tom. 4. p. 429. The Greeks, the Russians, and, in the darker ages, the Latins themselves, have been desirous of placing Constantine in the catalogue of saints.
c See the third and fourth books of his life. He was accustomed to say, that whether Christ was preached in pretence, or in truth, he should still rejoice. (lib. 3, c. 58.)
which usually fill the apartments of a palace. The cities, which signalized a forward zeal by the voluntary destruction of their temples, were distinguished by municipal privileges, and rewarded with popular donatives ; and the new capital of the east gloried in the singular advantage, that Constantinople was never profaned by the worship of idols. As the lower ranks of society are governed by imitation, the conversion of those who possessed any eminence of birth, of power, or of riches, was soon followed by dependant multitudes. The salvation of the common people was purchased at an easy rate, if it be true, that, in one year, twelve thousand men were baptized at Rome, besides a proportionable number of women and children; and that a white garment, with twenty pieces of gold, had been promised by the emperor to every convert.' The powerful influence of Constantine was not circumscribed by the narrow limits of his life, or of his dominions. The education which he bestowed on his sons and nephews, secured to the empire a race of princes, whose faith was still more lively and sincere, as they imbibed, in their earliest infancy, the spirit, or at least the doctrine, of Christianity. War and commerce had spread the knowledge of the gospel beyond the confines of the Roman provinces; and the barbarians, who had disdained an humble and proscribed sect, soon learned to esteem a religion which had been so lately embraced by the greatest monarch and the
a M. de Tillemont (Hist. des Empereurs, tom. 4. p. 374. 616.) has defended, with strength and spirit, the virgin purity of Constantinople against some malerolent insinuations of the Pagan Zosimus.
e The author of the Histoire Politique et Philosophique des deux Indes (tom. 1. p. 9.) condemns a law of Constantine, which gave freedom to all the slaves who should embrace Christianity. The emperor did indeed publish a law, which restrained the Jews from circumcising, perhaps from keeping, any Christian slaves: (See Euseb. in Vit. Constant. lib. 4. c. 27. and Cod. Theod. lib. 16. tit. 9. with Godefroy's Commentary, tom. 6. p. 247.) But this imperfect exception related only to the Jews; and the great body of slaves, who were the property of Christian or Pagan masters, could not improve their temporal condition by changing their religion. I am ignorant by what (guides the abbé Raynal was deceived; as the total absence of quotations is the unpardonable blemish of
his entertaining history. See Acta Sti. Silvestri, and Hist. Eccles. Nicephor. Callist. lib. 7. c. 54. ap Baronium Annal. Eccles. A. D. 324. no. 67, 74. Such evidence is contemptible enough; but these circumstances are in themselves so probable, that the learned Dr. Howell(History of the World, vol. 3. p. 14.) has not scrupled to adopt them.
most civilized nation of the globe. The Goths and Germans, who enlisted under the standard of Rome, revered the cross which glittered at the head of the legions, and their fierce countrymen received at the same time the lessons of faith and of humanity. The kings of Iberia and Armenia worshipped the god of their protector; and their subjects, who have invariably preserved the name of Christians, soon formed a sacred and perpetual con nexion with their Roman brethren. The Christians of Persia were suspected, in time of war, of preferring their religion to their country; but as long as peace subsisted between the two empires, the persecuting spirit of the magi was effectually restrained by the interposition of Constantine. The rays of the gospel illuminated the coast of India. The colonies of Jews, who had penetrated into Arabia and Ethiopia,' opposed the progress of Christianity; but the labour of the missionaries was in some measure facilitated by a previous knowledge of the Mosaic revelation; and Abyssinia still reveres the memory of Frumentius, who, in the time of Constantine, devoted his life to the conversion of those sequestered regions. Under the reign of his son Constantius, Theophilus," who was himself of Indian extraction was invested with the double character of ambassador and bi
& The couversion of the barbarians under the reign of Constantine is celebrated by the ecclesiastical historians. (See Sozomen, lib. 2. c. 6. and Theodoret, lib. 1. c. 23, 24.) But finus, the Latin translator of Eusebius, deserves to be considered as an original authority. His information was curiously collected from one of the companions of the apostle of Æthiopia, and from Bacurius, an Iberian prince, who was count of the domestics. Father Mamachi has given an ample compilation on the progress of Christianity, in the first and second volumes of his great but imperfect work.
6 See in Eusebius (in Vit.Constant. lib. 4. c.9.) the pressing and pathetic epistle of Constantine in favour of his Christian brethren of Persia.
See Basnage, Hist. des Juifs, tom. 7. p. 182. tom. 8. p. 333. tom. 9. p. 810. The curious diligence of this writer pursues the Jewish exiles to the extremities of the globe.
k Theophilus bad heen given in his infancy as a hostage by his countrymen of the sle of Diva, and was educated by the Romans in learning and piety. The Maldives, of which Male, or Diva, may be the capital, are a cluster of one thousand nine hundred, or two thousand, minute islands in the Indian ocean. The ancients were imperfectly acquainted with the Maldives; but they are described in the two Mahometan travellers of the ninth century, published by Renaudot. Geograph. Nubiensis, p. 30, 31. D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque Orientale, p. 704. Hist. Ceuerale des Voyages, tom. 8.
shop. He embarked on the Red Sea with two hundred horses of the purest breed of Cappadocia, which were sent by the emperor to the prince of the Sabæans, or Homerites. Theophilus was intrusted with many useful or curious presents, which might raise the admiration, and conciliate the friendship, of the barbarians; and he successfully employed several years in a pastoral visit to the churches of the torrid zone. Change The irresistible power of the Roman emnational perors was displayed in the important and danreligion.
gerous change of the national religion. The terrors of a military force silenced the faint and unsupported murmurs of the Pagans, and there was reason to expect, that the cheerful submission of the Christian clergy, as well as people, would be the result of conscience and gratitude. It was long since established, as a fundamental maxim of the Roman constitution, that every rank of citizens were alike subject to the laws, and that the care of religion was the right as well as duty of the civil magistrate. Constantine and his successors could not easily persuade themselves that they had forfeited, by their conversion, any branch of the imperial prerogatives, or that they were incapable of giving laws to a religion which they had protected and embraced.
The emperors still continued to exercise a su
preme jurisdiction over the ecclesiastical order; and the sixteenth book of the Theodosian Code represents, under a variety of titles, the authority which they assumed in the government of the Catholic church.
But the distinction of the spiritual and temtion of the poral powers," which had never been imposed on and tem- the free spirit of Greece and Rome, was intro
A.D. 312. -438.
Philostorgius, lib. 3. c. 4–6. with Godefroy's learned observations. The historical narrative is soon lost in an inquiry concerning the seat of paradise, strange monsters, &c.
m See the epistle of Osius, ap Athanasium, vol. 1. p. 840. The public remonstrance which Ösius was forced to address to the son, contained the same principles of ecclesiastical and civil government which he had secretly instilled into the mind of the father.