The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. II
Edward Gibbon

Part 7 out of 16

Mosheim, (p. 968.)]

[Footnote 6: Euseb. in Vit. Constant. l. iv. c. 61, 62, 63. The
legend of Constantine's baptism at Rome, thirteen years before
his death, was invented in the eighth century, as a proper motive
for his donation. Such has been the gradual progress of
knowledge, that a story, of which Cardinal Baronius (Annual
Ecclesiast. A. D. 324, No. 43-49) declared himself the unblushing
advocate, is now feebly supported, even within the verge of the
Vatican. See the Antiquitates Christianae, tom. ii. p. 232; a
work published with six approbations at Rome, in the year 1751 by
Father Mamachi, a learned Dominican.]

[Footnote 7: The quaestor, or secretary, who composed the law of
the Theodosian Code, makes his master say with indifference,
"hominibus supradictae religionis," (l. xvi. tit. ii. leg. 1.)
The minister of ecclesiastical affairs was allowed a more devout
and respectful style, the legal, most holy, and Catholic

[Footnote 8: Cod. Theodos. l. ii. viii. tit. leg. 1. Cod.
Justinian. l. 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.]

[Footnote 9: Cod. Theodos. l. xvi. tit. x. leg. l. Godefroy, in
the character of a commentator, endeavors (tom. vi. p. 257) to
excuse Constantine; but the more zealous Baronius (Annal. Eccles.
A. D. 321, No. 17) censures his profane conduct with truth and

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
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. ^11 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
walking 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 favorite. ^12
[Footnote 10: Theodoret. (l. i. c. 18) seems to insinuate that
Helena gave her son a Christian education; but we may be assured,
from the superior authority of Eusebius, (in Vit. Constant. l.
iii. c. 47,) that she herself was indebted to Constantine for the
knowledge of Christianity.]

[Footnote 11: See the medals of Constantine in Ducange and
Banduri. As few cities had retained the privilege of coining,
almost all the medals of that age issued from the mint under the
sanction of the Imperial authority.]
[Footnote 12: The panegyric of Eumenius, (vii. 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.]
As long as Constantine exercised a limited sovereignty over
the provinces of Gaul, his Christian subjects were protected by
the authority, and perhaps by the laws, of a prince, who wisely
left to the gods the care of vindicating their own honor. 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 favor as well as on the justice of their sovereign, who had
imbibed a secret and sincere reverence for the name of Christ,
and for the God of the Christians. ^14

[Footnote 13: 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 to the days of his youth and Paganism.]

[Footnote 14: See Euseb. Hist. Eccles. l. viii. 13, l. ix. 9, and
in Vit. Const. l. i. c. 16, 17 Lactant. Divin. Institut. i. l.
Caecilius de Mort. Persecut. c. 25.]

About five months after the conquest of Italy, the emperor
made a solemn and authentic declaration of his sentiments by the
celebrated edict of Milan, which restored peace to the Catholic
church. In the personal interview of the two 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

[Footnote 15: Caecilius (de Mort. Persecut. c. 48) has preserved
the Latin original; and Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. l. x. c. 5) has
given a Greek translation of this perpetual edict, which refers
to some provisional regulations.]

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
honorable 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 seat
is in heaven. They gratefully acknowledge the many signal proofs
which they have received of the divine favor; and they trust that
the same Providence will forever 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
[Footnote 16: A panegyric of Constantine, pronounced seven or
eight months after the edict of Milan, (see Gothofred. Chronolog.
Legum, p. 7, and Tillemont, Hist. des Empereurs, tom. iv. p.
246,) uses the following remarkable expression: "Summe rerum
sator, cujus tot nomina sant, quot linguas gentium esse voluisti,
quem enim te ipse dici velin, scire non possumus." (Panegyr. Vet.
ix. 26.) In explaining Constantine's progress in the faith,
Mosheim (p. 971, &c.) is ingenious, subtle, prolix.]

But the counsels of princes are more frequently influenced
by views of temporal advantage, than by considerations of
abstract and speculative truth. The partial and increasing favor
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 vigor 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 improved by the precepts of a divine revelation; and
Constantine might listen with some confidence to the flattering,
and indeed reasonable, assurances of Lactantius. The eloquent
apologist seemed firmly to expect, and almost ventured to
promise, that the establishment of Christianity would restore the
innocence and felicity of the primitive age; that the worship of
the true God would extinguish war and dissension among those who
mutually considered themselves as the children of a common
parent; that every impure desire, every angry or selfish passion,
would be restrained by the knowledge of the gospel; and that the
magistrates might sheath the sword of justice among a people who
would be universally actuated by the sentiments of truth and
piety, of equity and moderation, of harmony and universal love.

[Footnote 17: See the elegant description of Lactantius, (Divin
Institut. v. 8,) who is much more perspicuous and positive than
becomes a discreet prophet.]

The passive and unresisting obedience, which bows under the
yoke of authority, or even of oppression, must have appeared, in
the eyes of an absolute monarch, the most conspicuous and useful
of the evangelic virtues. ^18 The primitive Christians derived
the institution of civil government, not from the consent of the
people, but from the decrees of Heaven. The reigning emperor,
though he had usurped the sceptre by treason and murder,
immediately assumed the sacred character of vicegerent of the
Deity. To the Deity alone he was accountable for the abuse of
his power; and his subjects 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
doctrine of the apostle, who in the reign of Nero had preached
the duty of unconditional submission, 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 rigor of persecution, they were never provoked
either to meet their tyrants in the field, or indignantly to
withdraw themselves into some remote and sequestered corner of
the globe. ^19 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 primitive and of the reformed
Christians. ^20 Perhaps, instead of censure, some applause may be
due to the superior sense and spirit of our ancestors, who had
convinced themselves that religion cannot abolish the unalienable
rights of human nature. ^21 Perhaps the patience of the primitive
church may be ascribed to its weakness, as well as to its virtue.

A sect of unwarlike plebeians, 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 favor of Constantine, could
allege, with truth and confidence, that they held the principle
of passive obedience, and that, in the space of three centuries,
their conduct 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 doctrine, should learn to
suffer and to obey.

[Footnote 18: The political system of the Christians is explained
by Grotius, de Jure Belli et Pacis, l. i. c. 3, 4. Grotius was a
republican and an exile, but the mildness of his temper inclined
him to support the established powers.]

[Footnote 19: Tertullian. Apolog. c. 32, 34, 35, 36. Tamen
nunquam Albiniani, nec Nigriani vel Cassiani inveniri potuerunt
Christiani. Ad Scapulam, c. 2. If this assertion be strictly
true, it excludes the Christians of that age from all civil and
military employments, which would have compelled them to take an
active part in the service of their respective governors. See
Moyle's Works, vol. ii. p. 349.]

[Footnote 20: See the artful Bossuet, (Hist. des Variations des
Eglises Protestantes, tom. iii. p. 210-258.) and the malicious
Bayle, (tom ii. p. 820.) I name Bayle, for he was certainly the
author of the Avis aux Refugies; consult the Dictionnaire
Critique de Chauffepie, tom. i. part ii. p. 145.]
[Footnote 21: Buchanan is the earliest, or at least the most
celebrated, of the reformers, who has justified the theory of
resistance. See his Dialogue de Jure Regni apud Scotos, tom. ii.
p. 28, 30, edit. fol. Rudiman.]
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 examples of the more immediate interposition of
the Deity in the government of his chosen people. The sceptre and
the sword were committed to the 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 favor, the success of
their arms was destined to achieve 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
unction 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 subjects. The same
extraordinary providence, which was no longer confined to the
Jewish people, might elect Constantine and his family as the
protectors of the Christian world; and the devout Lactantius
announces, in a prophetic tone, the future glories of his long
and universal reign. ^22 Galerius and Maximin, Maxentius and
Licinius, were the rivals who shared with the favorite 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 character of the Roman tyrant disgraced the
purple and human nature; and though the Christians might enjoy
his precarious favor, they were exposed, with the rest of his
subjects, to the effects of his wanton and capricious cruelty.
The conduct of Licinius soon betrayed the reluctance with which
he had consented to the wise and humane regulations of the edict
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. ^23 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 victory confirmed the opinion of the
Christians, that their hero was inspired, and conducted, by the
Lord of Hosts. The conquest of Italy produced a general edict 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 subjects to
imitate, without delay, the example of their sovereign, and to
embrace the divine truth of Christianity. ^24

[Footnote 22: Lactant Divin. Institut. i. l. Eusebius in the
course of his history, his life, and his oration, repeatedly
inculcates the divine right of Constantine to the empire.]

[Footnote 23: Our imperfect knowledge of the persecution of
Licinius is derived from Eusebius, (Hist. l. x. c. 8. Vit.
Constantin. l. i. c. 49-56, l. ii. c. 1, 2.) Aurelius Victor
mentions his cruelty in general terms.]
[Footnote 24: Euseb. in Vit. Constant. l. ii. c. 24-42 48-60.]

Chapter XX: Conversion Of Constantine.

Part II.

The assurance that the elevation of Constantine was
intimately connected with the designs of Providence, instilled
into the minds of the Christians two opinions, which, by very
different means, assisted the accomplishment of the prophecy.
Their warm and active loyalty exhausted in his favor 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 contracted
with the Catholic church, and which apparently contributed 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 assist the popular
leader, to whose service, from a principle of conscience, they
had devoted their lives and fortunes. ^25 The example of his
father had instructed Constantine to esteem and to reward the
merit of the Christians; and in the distribution of public
offices, he had the advantage of strengthening his government, by
the choice of ministers or generals, in whose fidelity he could
repose a just and unreserved confidence. By the influence of
these dignified missionaries, the proselytes of the new faith
must have multiplied in the court and army; the Barbarians of
Germany, who filled the ranks of the legions, were of a careless
temper, which acquiesced without resistance in the religion of
their commander; and when they passed the Alps, it may fairly be
presumed, that a great number of the soldiers had already
consecrated their swords to the service of Christ and of
Constantine. ^26 The habits of mankind and the interests of
religion gradually abated the horror of war and bloodshed, which
had so long prevailed among the Christians; and in the councils
which were assembled under the gracious protection of
Constantine, the authority of the bishops was seasonably employed
to ratify the obligation of the military oath, and to inflict the
penalty of excommunication on those soldiers who threw away their
arms during the peace of the church. ^27 While Constantine, in
his own dominions, increased the number and zeal of his faithful
adherents, he could depend on the support of a powerful faction
in those provinces which were still possessed or usurped by his
rivals. A secret disaffection was diffused among the Christian
subjects of Maxentius and Licinius; and the resentment, which the
latter did not attempt to conceal, served only to engage them
still more deeply in the interest of his competitor. The regular
correspondence which connected the bishops of the most distant
provinces, enabled them freely to communicate their wishes and
their designs, and to transmit without danger any useful
intelligence, or any pious contributions, which might promote the
service of Constantine, who publicly declared that he had taken
up arms for the deliverance of the church. ^28

[Footnote 25: 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 Bentivoglio (who was then nuncio at Brussels, and
afterwards cardinal) transmitted to the court of Rome,
(Relazione, tom. ii. p. 211, 241.) Bentivoglio was curious, well
informed, but somewhat partial.]

[Footnote 26: This careless temper of the Germans appears almost
uniformly on the history of the conversion of each of the tribes.

The legions of Constantine were recruited with Germans, (Zosimus,
l. ii. p. 86;) and the court even of his father had been filled
with Christians. See the first book of the Life of Constantine,
by Eusebius.]

[Footnote 27: De his qui arma projiciunt in pace, placuit eos
abstinere a communione. Council. Arelat. Canon. iii. The best
critics apply these words to the peace of the church.]

[Footnote 28: Eusebius always considers the second civil war
against Licinius as a sort of religious crusade. At the
invitation of the tyrant, some Christian officers had resumed
their zones; or, in other words, had returned to the military
service. Their conduct was afterwards censured by the twelfth
canon of the Council of Nice; if this particular application may
be received, instead of the lo se and general sense of the Greek
interpreters, Balsamor Zonaras, and Alexis Aristenus. See
Beveridge, Pandect. Eccles. Graec. tom. i. p. 72, tom. ii. p. 73

The enthusiasm which inspired the troops, and perhaps the
emperor himself, had sharpened their swords while it satisfied
their conscience. They marched to battle with the full assurance,
that the same God, who had formerly opened a passage to the
Israelites through the waters of Jordan, and had thrown down the
walls of Jericho at the sound of the trumpets of Joshua, would
display his visible majesty and power in the victory of
Constantine. The evidence of ecclesiastical history is prepared
to affirm, that their expectations were justified by the
conspicuous miracle to which the conversion of the first
Christian emperor has been almost unanimously ascribed. The real
or imaginary cause of so important an event, deserves and demands
the attention of posterity; and I shall endeavor to form a just
estimate of the famous vision of Constantine, by a distinct
consideration of the standard, the dream, and the celestial sign;
by separating the historical, the natural, and the marvellous
parts of this extraordinary story, which, in the composition of a
specious argument, have been artfully confounded in one splendid
and brittle mass.

I. An instrument of the tortures which were inflicted only
on slaves and strangers, became on object of horror in the eyes
of a Roman citizen; and the ideas of guilt, of pain, and of
ignominy, were closely united with the idea of the cross. ^29 The
piety, rather than the humanity, of Constantine soon abolished in
his dominions the punishment which the Savior of mankind had
condescended to suffer; ^30 but the emperor had already learned
to despise the prejudices of his education, and of his people,
before he could erect in the midst of Rome his own statue,
bearing a cross in its right hand; with an inscription which
referred the victory of his arms, and the deliverance of Rome, to
the virtue of that salutary sign, the true symbol of force and
courage. ^31 The same symbol sanctified the arms of the soldiers
of Constantine; the cross glittered on their helmet, was engraved
on their shields, was interwoven into their banners; and the
consecrated emblems which adorned the person of the emperor
himself, were distinguished only by richer materials and more
exquisite workmanship. ^32 But the principal standard which
displayed the triumph of the cross was styled the Labarum, ^33 an
obscure, though celebrated name, which has been vainly derived
from almost all the languages of the world. It is described ^34
as a long pike intersected by a transversal beam. The silken
veil, which hung down from the beam, was curiously inwrought with
the images of the reigning monarch and his children. The summit
of the pike supported a crown of gold which enclosed the
mysterious monogram, at once expressive of the figure of the
cross, and the initial letters, of the name of Christ. ^35 The
safety of the labarum was intrusted to fifty guards, of approved
valor and fidelity; their station was marked by honors and
emoluments; and some fortunate accidents soon introduced an
opinion, that as long as the guards of the labarum were engaged
in the execution of their office, they were secure and
invulnerable amidst the darts of the enemy. In the second civil
war, Licinius felt and dreaded the power of this consecrated
banner, the sight of which, in the distress of battle, animated
the soldiers of Constantine with an invincible enthusiasm, and
scattered terror and dismay through the ranks of the adverse
legions. ^36 The Christian emperors, who respected the example of
Constantine, displayed in all their military expeditions the
standard of the cross; but when the degenerate successors of
Theodosius had ceased to appear in person at the head of their
armies, the labarum was deposited as a venerable but useless
relic in the palace of Constantinople. ^37 Its honors are still
preserved on the medals of the Flavian family. Their grateful
devotion has placed the monogram of Christ in the midst of the
ensigns of Rome. The solemn epithets of, safety of the republic,
glory of the army, restoration of public happiness, are equally
applied to the religious and military trophies; and there is
still extant a medal of the emperor Constantius, where the
standard of the labarum is accompanied with these memorable
words, By This Sign Thou Shalt Conquer. ^38
[Footnote 29: Nomen ipsum crucis absit non modo a corpore civium
Romano rum, sed etiam a cogitatione, oculis, auribus. Cicero pro
Raberio, c. 5. The Christian writers, Justin, Minucius Felix,
Tertullian, Jerom, and Maximus of Turin, have investigated with
tolerable success the figure or likeness of a cross in almost
every object of nature or art; in the intersection of the
meridian and equator, the human face, a bird flying, a man
swimming, a mast and yard, a plough, a standard, &c., &c., &c.
See Lipsius de Cruce, l. i. c. 9.]

[Footnote 30: See Aurelius Victor, who considers this law as one
of the examples of Constantine's piety. An edict so honorable to
Christianity deserved a place in the Theodosian Code, instead of
the indirect mention of it, which seems to result from the
comparison of the fifth and eighteenth titles of the ninth book.]

[Footnote 31: Eusebius, in Vit. Constantin. l. i. c. 40. This
statue, or at least the cross and inscription, may be ascribed
with more probability to the second, or even third, visit of
Constantine to Rome. Immediately after the defeat of Maxentius,
the minds of the senate and people were scarcely ripe for this
public monument.]

[Footnote 32: Agnoscas, regina, libens mea signa necesse est;
In quibus effigies crucis aut gemmata refulget
Aut longis solido ex auro praefertur in hastis.
Hoc signo invictus, transmissis Alpibus Ultor
Servitium solvit miserabile Constantinus.

Christus purpureum gemmanti textus in auro
Signabat Labarum, clypeorum insignia Christus
Scripserat; ardebat summis crux addita cristis.

Prudent. in Symmachum, l. ii. 464, 486.]

[Footnote 33: The derivation and meaning of the word Labarum or
Laborum, which is employed by Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose,
Prudentius, &c., still remain totally unknown, in spite of the
efforts of the critics, who have ineffectually tortured the
Latin, Greek, Spanish, Celtic, Teutonic, Illyric, Armenian, &c.,
in search of an etymology. See Ducange, in Gloss. Med. et infim.
Latinitat. sub voce Labarum, and Godefroy, ad Cod. Theodos. tom.
ii. p. 143.]

[Footnote 34: Euseb. in Vit. Constantin. l. i. c. 30, 31.
Baronius (Annal. Eccles. A. D. 312, No. 26) has engraved a
representation of the Labarum.]
[Footnote 35: Transversa X litera, summo capite circumflexo,
Christum in scutis notat. Caecilius de M. P. c. 44, Cuper, (ad
M. P. in edit. Lactant. tom. ii. p. 500,) and Baronius (A. D.
312, No. 25) have engraved from ancient monuments several
specimens (as thus of these monograms) which became extremely
fashionable in the Christian world.]

[Footnote 36: Euseb. in Vit. Constantin. l. ii. c. 7, 8, 9. He
introduces the Labarum before the Italian expedition; but his
narrative seems to indicate that it was never shown at the head
of an army till Constantine above ten years afterwards, declared
himself the enemy of Licinius, and the deliverer of the church.]

[Footnote 37: See Cod. Theod. l. vi. tit. xxv. Sozomen, l. i. c.
2. Theophan. Chronograph. p. 11. Theophanes lived towards the
end of the eighth century, almost five hundred years after
Constantine. The modern Greeks were not inclined to display in
the field the standard of the empire and of Christianity; and
though they depended on every superstitious hope of defence, the
promise of victory would have appeared too bold a fiction.]
[Footnote 38: The Abbe du Voisin, p. 103, &c., alleges several of
these medals, and quotes a particular dissertation of a Jesuit
the Pere de Grainville, on this subject.]

II. In all occasions of danger and distress, it was the
practice of the primitive Christians to fortify their minds and
bodies by the sign of the cross, which they used, in all their
ecclesiastical rites, in all the daily occurrences of life, as an
infallible preservative against every species of spiritual or
temporal evil. ^39 The authority of the church might alone have
had sufficient weight to justify the devotion of Constantine, who
in the same prudent and gradual progress acknowledged the truth,
and assumed the symbol, of Christianity. But the testimony of a
contemporary writer, who in a formal treatise has avenged the
cause of religion, 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 valor 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. ^40 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 favor 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; ^41 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. ^42 The praeternatural
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 Apennine, 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, he had saved and avenged
the Roman republic. ^43 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. ^44

[Footnote 39: Tertullian de Corona, c. 3. Athanasius, tom. i. p.
101. The learned Jesuit Petavius (Dogmata Theolog. l. xv. c. 9,
10) has collected many similar passages on the virtues of the
cross, which in the last age embarrassed our Protestant

[Footnote *: Manso has observed, that Gibbon ought not to have
separated the vision of Constantine from the wonderful apparition
in the sky, as the two wonders are closely connected in Eusebius.

Manso, Leben Constantine, p. 82 - M.]

[Footnote 40: 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, (Bibliotheque Ancienne et Moderne, tom.
iii. p. 438. Credibility of the Gospel, &c., part ii. vol. vii.
p. 94.) Three arguments from the title of the book, and from the
names of Donatus and Caecilius, are produced by the advocates for
Lactantius. (See the P. Lestocq, tom. ii. p. 46-60.) Each of
these proofs is singly 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)
[Footnote 41: Caecilius de M. P. c. 46. There seems to be some
reason in the observation of M. de Voltaire, (Euvres, tom. xiv.
p. 307.) who ascribes to the success of Constantine the superior
fame of his Labarum above the angel of Licinius. Yet even this
angel is favorably entertained by Pagi, Tillemont, Fleury, &c.,
who are fond of increasing their stock of miracles.]
[Footnote 42: 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
Tollius has most inexcusably omitted to produce his authority,
and his own character, literary as well as moral, is not free
from reproach. (See Chauffepie, Dictionnaire Critique, tom. iv.
p. 460.) Without insisting on the silence of Diodorus Plutarch,
Justin, &c., it may be observed that Polyaenus, who in a separate
chapter (l. iv. c. 6) has collected nineteen military stratagems
of Antigonus, is totally ignorant of this remarkable vision.]

[Footnote 43: 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.]

[Footnote 44: Habes profecto aliquid cum illa mente Divina
secretum; qua delegata nostra Diis Minoribus cura uni se tibi
dignatur ostendere Panegyr. Vet. ix. 2.]

III. The philosopher, who with calm suspicion examines the
dreams and omens, the miracles and 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 color, language and motion, to the fleeting but uncommon
meteors of the air. ^45 Nazarius and Eusebius are the two most
celebrated orators, who, in studied panegyrics, have labored to
exalt the glory of Constantine. Nine years after the Roman
victory, Nazarius ^46 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 armor, 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 ^47
would now obtain credit from this recent and public event. The
Christian fable of Eusebius, which, in the 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. ^48
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;
^49 instead of collecting and recording the evidence of so many
living witnesses who must have been spectators of this stupendous
miracle; ^50 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 afterwards deride, ^51 was disregarded
by the Christians of the age which immediately followed the
conversion of Constantine. ^52 But the Catholic church, both of
the East and of the West, has adopted a prodigy which favors, or
seems to favor, the popular worship of the cross. The vision of
Constantine maintained an honorable 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. ^53

[Footnote 45: M. Freret (Memoires de l'Academie des Inscriptions,
tom. iv. p. 411-437) explains, by physical causes, many of the
prodigies of antiquity; and Fabricius, who is abused by both
parties, vainly tries to introduce the celestial cross of
Constantine among the solar halos. Bibliothec. Graec. tom. iv. p.

Note: The great difficulty in resolving it into a natural
phenomenon, arises from the inscription; even the most heated or
awe-struck imagination would hardly discover distinct and legible
letters in a solar halo. But the inscription may have been a
later embellishment, or an interpretation of the meaning which
the sign was construed to convey. Compare Heirichen, Excur in
locum Eusebii, and the authors quoted.]

[Footnote 46: Nazarius inter Panegyr. Vet. x. 14, 15. It is
unnecessary to name the moderns, whose undistinguishing and
ravenous appetite has swallowed even the Pagan bait of Nazarius.]

[Footnote 47: The apparitions of Castor and Pollux, particularly
to announce the Macedonian victory, are attested by historians
and public monuments. See Cicero de Natura Deorum, ii. 2, iii.
5, 6. Florus, ii. 12. Valerius Maximus, l. i. c. 8, No. 1. Yet
the most recent of these miracles is omitted, and indirectly
denied, by Livy, (xlv. i.)]

[Footnote 48: Eusebius, l. i. c. 28, 29, 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.]

[Footnote 49: 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 Tillemont, Hist. des Empereurs,
tom. iv. p. 573.]

[Footnote 50: The pious Tillemont (Mem. Eccles. tom. vii. p.
1317) rejects with a sigh the useful Acts of Artemius, a veteran
and a martyr, who attests as an eye-witness to the vision of

[Footnote 51: Gelasius Cyzic. in Act. Concil. Nicen. l. i. c. 4.]

[Footnote 52: 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
celebrate 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 Jerom,) 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 have
represented in various colors the vision of the cross.]

[Footnote 53: Godefroy was the first, who, in the year 1643, (Not
ad Philostorgium, l. i. c. 6, p. 16,) expressed any doubt of a
miracle which had been supported with equal zeal by Cardinal
Baronius, and the Centuriators of Magdeburgh. Since that time,
many of the Protestant critics have inclined towards doubt and
disbelief. The objections are urged, with great force, by M.
Chauffepie, (Dictionnaire Critique, tom. iv. p. 6 - 11;) and, in
the year 1774, a doctor of Sorbonne, the Abbe du Veisin published
an apology, which deserves the praise of learning and moderation.

Note: The first Excursus of Heinichen (in Vitam Constantini,
p. 507) contains a full summary of the opinions and arguments of
the later writers who have discussed this interminable subject.
As to his conversion, where interest and inclination, state
policy, and, if not a sincere conviction of its truth, at least a
respect, an esteem, an awe of Christianity, thus coincided,
Constantine himself would probably have been unable to trace the
actual history of the workings of his own mind, or to assign its
real influence to each concurrent motive. - M]

The Protestant and philosophic readers of the present age
will incline to believe, that in the account of his own
conversion, Constantine attested a wilful falsehood by a solemn
and deliberate perjury. They may not hesitate to pronounce, that
in the choice of a religion, his mind was determined only by a
sense of interest; and that (according to the expression of a
profane poet ^54) 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 fervor, 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
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, ^55 acquired over his mind, was
imputed by the Pagans to the effect of magic. ^56 Lactantius, who
has adorned the precepts of the gospel with the eloquence of
Cicero, ^57 and Eusebius, who has consecrated the learning and
philosophy of the Greeks to the service of religion, ^58 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 splendor 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
labors 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 afterwards 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 proofs still
extant, the royal preacher expatiates on the various proofs of
religion; but he dwells with peculiar complacency on the
Sibylline verses, ^59 and the fourth eclogue of Virgil. ^60 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,
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; ^61 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. ^62

[Footnote 54: Lors Constantin dit ces propres paroles:
J'ai renverse le culte des idoles:
Sur les debris de leurs temples fumans
Au Dieu du Ciel j'ai prodigue l'encens.
Mais tous mes soins pour sa grandeur supreme

N'eurent jamais d'autre objet que moi-meme;

Les saints autels n'etoient a mes regards
Qu'un marchepie du trone des Cesars.
L'ambition, la fureur, les delices
Etoient mes Dieux, avoient mes sacrifices.
L'or des Chretiens, leur 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.]

[Footnote 55: This favorite was probably the great Osius, bishop
of Cordova, who preferred the pastoral care of the whole church
to the government of a particular diocese. His character is
magnificently, though concisely, expressed by Athanasius, (tom.
i. p. 703.) See Tillemont, Mem. Eccles. tom. vii. p. 524-561.
Osius was accused, perhaps unjustly, of retiring from court with
a very ample fortune.]

[Footnote 56: See Eusebius (in Vit. Constant. passim) and
Zosimus, l. ii. p. 104.]

[Footnote 57: The Christianity of Lactantius was of a moral
rather than of a mysterious cast. "Erat paene rudis (says the
orthodox Bull) disciplinae Christianae, et in rhetorica melius
quam in theologia versatus." Defensio Fidei Nicenae, sect. ii. c.

[Footnote 58: Fabricius, with his usual diligence, has collected
a list of between three and four hundred authors quoted in the
Evangelical Preparation of Eusebius. See Bibl. Graec. l. v. c.
4, tom. vi. p. 37-56.]
[Footnote 59: See Constantin. Orat. ad Sanctos, c. 19 20. He
chiefly depends on a mysterious acrostic, composed in the sixth
age after the Deluge, by the Erythraean Sibyl, and translated by
Cicero into Latin. The initial letters of the thirty-four Greek
verses form this prophetic sentence: Jesus Christ, Son of God,
Savior of the World.]

[Footnote 60: In his paraphrase of Virgil, the emperor has
frequently assisted and improved the literal sense of the Latin
ext. See Blondel des Sibylles, l. i. c. 14, 15, 16.]

[Footnote 61: The different claims of an elder and younger son of
Pollio, of Julia, of Drusus, of Marcellus, are found to be
incompatible with chronology, history, and the good sense of

[Footnote 62: See Lowth de Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum Praelect. xxi.
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.]

Chapter XX: Conversion Of Constantine.

Part III.

The awful mysteries of the Christian faith and worship were
concealed from the eyes of strangers, and even of catechu mens,
with an affected secrecy, which served to excite their wonder and
curiosity. ^63 But the severe rules of discipline which the
prudence of the bishops had instituted, were relaxed by the same
prudence in favor 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. ^64 The pride of Constantine might assume,
and his services had deserved, some extraordinary distinction:
and ill-timed rigor 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. ^65 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. ^66

[Footnote 63: The distinction between the public and the secret
parts of divine service, the missa catechumenorum and the missa
fidelium, and the mysterious veil which piety or policy had cast
over the latter, are very judiciously explained by Thiers,
Exposition du Saint Sacrament, l. i. c. 8- 12, p. 59-91: but as,
on this subject, the Papists may reasonably be suspected, a
Protestant reader will depend with more confidence on the learned
Bingham, Antiquities, l. x. c. 5.]

[Footnote 64: See Eusebius in Vit. Const. l. iv. c. 15-32, and
the whole tenor of Constantine's Sermon. The faith and devotion
of the emperor has furnished Batonics with a specious argument in
favor of his early baptism.
Note: Compare Heinichen, Excursus iv. et v., where these
questions are examined with candor and acuteness, and with
constant reference to the opinions of more modern writers. - M.]

[Footnote 65: Zosimus, l. ii. p. 105.]

[Footnote 66: Eusebius in Vit. Constant. l. iv. c. 15, 16.]
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 maxims and the practice of
ecclesiastical antiquity. The sacrament of baptism ^67 was
regularly administered by the bishop himself, with his assistant
clergy, in the cathedral church of the diocese, 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
are 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. ^68 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, ^69
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 a religion; he could no longer be
ignorant that the church was possessed of an infallible 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 fervor 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.
The example and reputation of Constantine seemed to countenance
the delay of baptism. ^70 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.
[Footnote 67: The theory and practice of antiquity, with regard
to the sacrament of baptism, have been copiously explained by Dom
Chardon, Hist. des Sacremens, tom. i. p. 3-405; Dom Martenne de
Ritibus Ecclesiae Antiquis, tom. i.; 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.]

[Footnote 68: 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 labor, with success, and with glory.
Chrysos tom in Epist. ad Hebraeos, Homil. xiii. apud Chardon,
Hist. des Sacremens, tom. i. p. 49. I believe that this delay of
baptism, though attended with the most pernicious consequences,
was never 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 occasion.

Note: This passage of Chrysostom, though not in his more
forcible manner, is not quite fairly represented. He is stronger
in other places, in Act. Hom. xxiii. - and Hom. i. Compare,
likewise, the sermon of Gregory of Nysea on this subject, and
Gregory Nazianzen. After all, to those who believed in the
efficacy of baptism, what argument could be more conclusive, than
the danger of dying without it? Orat. xl. - M.]

[Footnote 69: Zosimus, l. ii. p. 104. For this disingenuous
falsehood he has deserved and experienced the harshest treatment
from all the ecclesiastical writers, except Cardinal Baronius,
(A. D. 324, No. 15-28,) who had occasion to employ the infidel on
a particular service against the Arian Eusebius.
Note: Heyne, in a valuable note on this passage of Zosimus,
has shown decisively that this malicious way of accounting for
the conversion of Constantine was not an invention of Zosimus.
It appears to have been the current calumny eagerly adopted and
propagated by the exasperated Pagan party. Reitemeter, a later
editor of Zosimus, whose notes are retained in the recent
edition, in the collection of the Byzantine historians, has a
disquisition on the passage, as candid, but not more conclusive
than some which have preceded him - M.]

[Footnote 70: Eusebius, l. iv. c. 61, 62, 63. The bishop of
Caesarea supposes the salvation of Constantine with the most
perfect confidence.]
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. ^71 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. ^72 The hopes of wealth and honors, the
example of an emperor, his exhortations, his irresistible smiles,
diffused conviction among the venal and obsequious crowds 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. ^73 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
dependent multitudes. ^74 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. ^75 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 as humble and proscribed sect, soon
learned to esteem a religion which had been so lately embraced by
the greatest monarch, and the most civilized nation, of the
globe. ^76 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 connection 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. ^77 The rays of the gospel
illuminated the coast of India. The colonies of Jews, who had
penetrated into Arabia and Ethiopia, ^78 opposed the progress of
Christianity; but the labor 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, ^79 who was himself of Indian
extraction, was invested with the double character of ambassador
and bishop. 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 Sabaeans, or Homerites. Theophilus was
intrusted with many other 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. ^80
[Footnote 71: See Tillemont, Hist. des Empereurs, tom. iv. 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.]
[Footnote 72: 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, (l. iii. c. 58.)]

[Footnote 73: M. de Tillemont (Hist. des Empereurs, tom. iv. p.
374, 616) has defended, with strength and spirit, the virgin
purity of Constantinople against some malevolent insinuations of
the Pagan Zosimus.]
[Footnote 74: The author of the Histoire Politique et
Philosophique des deux Indes (tom. i. 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 slave. (See Euseb. in Vit. Constant. l.
iv. c. 27, and Cod. Theod. l. xvi. tit. ix., with Godefroy's
Commentary, tom. vi. 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 Abbe Raynal was deceived; as the
total absence of quotations is the unpardonable blemish of his
entertaining history.]

[Footnote 75: See Acta S Silvestri, and Hist. Eccles. Nicephor.
Callist. l. vii. c. 34, 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. iii. p. 14) has not scrupled
to adopt them.]

[Footnote 76: The conversion of the Barbarians under the reign of
Constantine is celebrated by the ecclesiastical historians. (See
Sozomen, l. ii. c. 6, and Theodoret, l. i. c. 23, 24.) But
Rufinus, 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
Aethiopia, 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.]

[Footnote *: According to the Georgian chronicles, Iberia
(Georgia) was converted by the virgin Nino, who effected an
extraordinary cure on the wife of the king Mihran. The temple of
the god Aramazt, or Armaz, not far from the capital Mtskitha, was
destroyed, and the cross erected in its place. Le Beau, i. 202,
with St. Martin's Notes.

St. Martin has likewise clearly shown (St. Martin, Add. to
Le Beau, i. 291) Armenia was the first nation w hich embraced
Christianity, (Addition to Le Beau, i. 76. and Memoire sur
l'Armenie, i. 305.) Gibbon himself suspected this truth. -
"Instead of maintaining that the conversion of Armenia was not
attempted with any degree of success, till the sceptre was in the
hands of an orthodox emperor," I ought to have said, that the
seeds of the faith were deeply sown during the season of the last
and greatest persecution, that many Roman exiles might assist the
labors of Gregory, and that the renowned Tiridates, the hero of
the East, may dispute with Constantine the honor of being the
first sovereign who embraced the Christian religion Vindication]
[Footnote 77: See, in Eusebius, (in Vit. l. iv. c. 9,) the
pressing and pathetic epistle of Constantine in favor of his
Christian brethren of Persia.]
[Footnote 78: See Basnage, Hist. des Juifs, tom. vii. p. 182,
tom. viii. p. 333, tom. ix. p. 810. The curious diligence of
this writer pursues the Jewish exiles to the extremities of the

[Footnote *: Abba Salama, or Fremonatus, is mentioned in the
Tareek Negushti, chronicle of the kings of Abyssinia. Salt's
Travels, vol. ii. p. 464. - M.]
[Footnote 79: Theophilus had been given in his infancy as a
hostage by his countrymen of the Isle 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 1900 or 2000
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. Generale des Voy ages, tom.

[Footnote !: See the dissertation of M. Letronne on this
question. He conceives that Theophilus was born in the island of
Dahlak, in the Arabian Gulf. His embassy was to Abyssinia rather
than to India. Letronne, Materiaux pour l'Hist. du Christianisme
en Egypte Indie, et Abyssinie. Paris, 1832 3d Dissert. - M.]

[Footnote 80: Philostorgius, l. iii. c. 4, 5, 6, with Godefroy's
learned observations. The historical narrative is soon lost in
an inquiry concerning the seat of Paradise, strange monsters,

The irresistible power of the Roman emperors was displayed
in the important and dangerous 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 was 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 supreme 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 temporal powers,
^81 which had never been imposed on the free spirit of Greece and
Rome, was introduced and confirmed by the legal establishment of
Christianity. The office of supreme pontiff, which, from the
time of Numa to that of Augustus, had always been exercised by
one of the most eminent of the senators, was at length united to
the Imperial dignity. The first magistrate of the state, as
often as he was prompted by superstition or policy, performed
with his own hands the sacerdotal functions; ^82 nor was there
any order of priests, either at Rome or in the provinces, who
claimed a more sacred character among men, or a more intimate
communication with the gods. But in the Christian church, which
instrusts the service of the altar to a perpetual succession of
consecrated ministers, the monarch, whose spiritual rank is less
honorable than that of the meanest deacon, was seated below the
rails of the sanctuary, and confounded with the rest of the
faithful multitude. ^83 The emperor might be saluted as the
father of his people, but he owed a filial duty and reverence to
the fathers of the church; and the same marks of respect, which
Constantine had paid to the persons of saints and confessors,
were soon exacted by the pride of the episcopal order. ^84 A
secret conflict between the civil and ecclesiastical
jurisdictions embarrassed the operation of the Roman government;
and a pious emperor was alarmed by the guilt and danger of
touching with a profane hand the ark of the covenant. The
separation of men into the two orders of the clergy and of the
laity was, indeed, familiar to many nations of antiquity; and the
priests of India, of Persia, of Assyria, of Judea, of Aethiopia,
of Egypt, and of Gaul, derived from a celestial origin the
temporal power and possessions which they had acquired. These
venerable institutions had gradually assimilated themselves to
the manners and government of their respective countries; ^85 but
the opposition or contempt of the civil power served to cement
the discipline of the primitive church. The Christians had been
obliged to elect their own magistrates, to raise and distribute a
peculiar revenue, and to regulate the internal policy of their
republic by a code of laws, which were ratified by the consent of
the people and the practice of three hundred years. When
Constantine embraced the faith of the Christians, he seemed to
contract a perpetual alliance with a distinct and independent
society; and the privileges granted or confirmed by that emperor,
or by his successors, were accepted, not as the precarious favors
of the court, but as the just and inalienable rights of the
ecclesiastical order.
[Footnote 81: See the epistle of Osius, ap. Athanasium, vol. i.
p. 840. The public remonstrance which Osius 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.]

[Footnote 82: M. de la Bastiel has evidently proved, that
Augustus and his successors exercised in person all the sacred
functions of pontifex maximus, of high priest, of the Roman

[Footnote 83: Something of a contrary practice had insensibly
prevailed in the church of Constantinople; but the rigid Ambrose
commanded Theodosius to retire below the rails, and taught him to
know the difference between a king and a priest. See Theodoret,
l. v. c. 18.]

[Footnote 84: At the table of the emperor Maximus, Martin, bishop
of Tours, received the cup from an attendant, and gave it to the
presbyter, his companion, before he allowed the emperor to drink;
the empress waited on Martin at table. Sulpicius Severus, in
Vit. S Martin, c. 23, and Dialogue ii. 7. Yet it may be doubted,
whether these extraordinary compliments were paid to the bishop
or the saint. The honors usually granted to the former character
may be seen in Bingham's Antiquities, l. ii. c. 9, and Vales ad
Theodoret, l. iv. c. 6. See the haughty ceremonial which
Leontius, bishop of Tripoli, imposed on the empress. Tillemont,
Hist. des Empereurs, tom. iv. p. 754. (Patres Apostol. tom. ii.
p. 179.)]

[Footnote 85: Plutarch, in his treatise of Isis and Osiris,
informs us that the kings of Egypt, who were not already priests,
were initiated, after their election, into the sacerdotal order.]

The Catholic church was administered by the spiritual and
legal jurisdiction of eighteen hundred bishops; ^86 of whom one
thousand were seated in the Greek, and eight hundred in the
Latin, provinces of the empire. The extent and boundaries of
their respective dioceses had been variously and accidentally
decided by the zeal and success of the first missionaries, by the
wishes of the people, and by the propagation of the gospel.
Episcopal churches were closely planted along the banks of the
Nile, on the sea-coast of Africa, in the proconsular Asia, and
through the southern provinces of Italy. The bishops of Gaul and
Spain, of Thrace and Pontus, reigned over an ample territory, and
delegated their rural suffragans to execute the subordinate
duties of the pastoral office. ^87 A Christian diocese might be
spread over a province, or reduced to a village; but all the
bishops possessed an equal and indelible character: they all
derived the same powers and privileges from the apostles, from
the people, and from the laws. While the civil and military
professions were separated by the policy of Constantine, a new
and perpetual order of ecclesiastical ministers, always
respectable, sometimes dangerous, was established in the church
and state. The important review of their station and attributes
may be distributed under the following heads: I. Popular
Election. II. Ordination of the Clergy. III. Property. IV.
Civil Jurisdiction. V. Spiritual censures. VI. Exercise of
public oratory. VII. Privilege of legislative assemblies.

[Footnote 86: The numbers are not ascertained by any ancient
writer or original catalogue; for the partial lists of the
eastern churches are comparatively modern. The patient diligence
of Charles a Sto Paolo, of Luke Holstentius, and of Bingham, has
laboriously investigated all the episcopal sees of the Catholic
church, which was almost commensurate with the Roman empire. The
ninth book of the Christian antiquities is a very accurate map of
ecclesiastical geography.]

[Footnote 87: On the subject of rural bishops, or Chorepiscopi,
who voted in tynods, and conferred the minor orders, See
Thomassin, Discipline de l'Eglise, tom. i. p. 447, &c., and
Chardon, Hist. des Sacremens, tom. v. p. 395, &c. They do not
appear till the fourth century; and this equivocal character,
which had excited the jealousy of the prelates, was abolished
before the end of the tenth, both in the East and the West.]

I. The freedom of election subsisted long after the legal
establishment of Christianity; ^88 and the subjects of Rome
enjoyed in the church the privilege which they had lost in the
republic, of choosing the magistrates whom they were bound to
obey. As soon as a bishop had closed his eyes, the metropolitan
issued a commission to one of his suffragans to administer the
vacant see, and prepare, within a limited time, the future
election. The right of voting was vested in the inferior clergy,
who were best qualified to judge of the merit of the candidates;
in the senators or nobles of the city, all those who were
distinguished by their rank or property; and finally in the whole
body of the people, who, on the appointed day, flocked in
multitudes from the most remote parts of the diocese, ^89 and
sometimes silenced by their tumultuous acclamations, the voice of
reason and the laws of discipline. These acclamations might
accidentally fix on the head of the most deserving competitor; of
some ancient presbyter, some holy monk, or some layman,
conspicuous for his zeal and piety. But the episcopal chair was
solicited, especially in the great and opulent cities of the
empire, as a temporal rather than as a spiritual dignity. The
interested views, the selfish and angry passions, the arts of
perfidy and dissimulation, the secret corruption, the open and
even bloody violence which had formerly disgraced the freedom of
election in the commonwealths of Greece and Rome, too often
influenced the choice of the successors of the apostles. While
one of the candidates boasted the honors of his family, a second
allured his judges by the delicacies of a plentiful table, and a
third, more guilty than his rivals, offered to share the plunder
of the church among the accomplices of his sacrilegious hopes ^90
The civil as well as ecclesiastical laws attempted to exclude the
populace from this solemn and important transaction. The canons
of ancient discipline, by requiring several episcopal
qualifications, of age, station, &c., restrained, in some
measure, the indiscriminate caprice of the electors. The
authority of the provincial bishops, who were assembled in the
vacant church to consecrate the choice of the people, was
interposed to moderate their passions and to correct their
mistakes. The bishops could refuse to ordain an unworthy
candidate, and the rage of contending factions sometimes accepted
their impartial mediation. The submission, or the resistance, of
the clergy and people, on various occasions, afforded different
precedents, which were insensibly converted into positive laws
and provincial customs; ^91 but it was every where admitted, as a
fundamental maxim of religious policy, that no bishop could be
imposed on an orthodox church, without the consent of its
members. The emperors, as the guardians of the public peace, and
as the first citizens of Rome and Constantinople, might
effectually declare their wishes in the choice of a primate; but
those absolute monarchs respected the freedom of ecclesiastical
elections; and while they distributed and resumed the honors of
the state and army, they allowed eighteen hundred perpetual
magistrates to receive their important offices from the free
suffrages of the people. ^92 It was agreeable to the dictates of
justice, that these magistrates should not desert an honorable
station from which they could not be removed; but the wisdom of
councils endeavored, without much success, to enforce the
residence, and to prevent the translation, of bishops. The
discipline of the West was indeed less relaxed than that of the
East; but the same passions which made those regulations
necessary, rendered them ineffectual. The reproaches which angry
prelates have so vehemently urged against each other, serve only
to expose their common guilt, and their mutual indiscretion.

[Footnote 88: Thomassin (Discipline de l'Eglise, tom, ii. l. ii.
c. 1-8, p. 673-721) has copiously treated of the election of
bishops during the five first centuries, both in the East and in
the West; but he shows a very partial bias in favor of the
episcopal aristocracy. Bingham, (l. iv. c. 2) is moderate; and
Chardon (Hist. des Sacremens tom. v. p. 108-128) is very clear
and concise.

Note: This freedom was extremely limited, and soon
annihilated; already, from the third century, the deacons were no
longer nominated by the members of the community, but by the
bishops. Although it appears by the letters of Cyprian, that
even in his time, no priest could be elected without the consent
of the community. (Ep. 68,) that election was far from being
altogether free. The bishop proposed to his parishioners the
candidate whom he had chosen, and they were permitted to make
such objections as might be suggested by his conduct and morals.
(St. Cyprian, Ep. 33.) They lost this last right towards the
middle of the fourth century. - G]

[Footnote 89: Incredibilis multitudo, non solum ex eo oppido,
(Tours,) sed etiam ex vicinis urbibus ad suffragia ferenda
convenerat, &c. Sulpicius Severus, in Vit. Martin. c. 7. The
council of Laodicea, (canon xiii.) prohibits mobs and tumults;
and Justinian confines confined the right of election to the
nobility. Novel. cxxiii. l.]

[Footnote 90: The epistles of Sidonius Apollinaris (iv. 25, vii.
5, 9) exhibit some of the scandals of the Gallican church; and
Gaul was less polished and less corrupt than the East.]

[Footnote 91: A compromise was sometimes introduced by law or by
consent; either the bishops or the people chose one of the three
candidates who had been named by the other party.]

[Footnote 92: All the examples quoted by Thomassin (Discipline de
l'Eglise, tom. ii. l. iii. c. vi. p. 704-714) appear to be
extraordinary acts of power, and even of oppression. The
confirmation of the bishop of Alexandria is mentioned by
Philostorgius as a more regular proceeding. (Hist Eccles. l. ii.

Note: The statement of Planck is more consistent with
history: "From the middle of the fourth century, the bishops of
some of the larger churches, particularly those of the Imperial
residence, were almost always chosen under the influence of the
court, and often directly and immediately nominated by the
emperor." Planck, Geschichte der Christlich-kirchlichen
Gesellschafteverfassung, verfassung, vol. i p 263. - M.]

II. The bishops alone possessed the faculty of spiritual
generation: and this extraordinary privilege might compensate, in
some degree, for the painful celibacy ^93 which was imposed as a
virtue, as a duty, and at length as a positive obligation. The
religions of antiquity, which established a separate order of
priests, dedicated a holy race, a tribe or family, to the
perpetual service of the gods. ^94 Such institutions were founded
for possession, rather than conquest. The children of the
priests enjoyed, with proud and indolent security, their sacred
inheritance; and the fiery spirit of enthusiasm was abated by the
cares, the pleasures, and the endearments of domestic life. But
the Christian sanctuary was open to every ambitious candidate,
who aspired to its heavenly promises or temporal possessions.
This office of priests, like that of soldiers or magistrates, was
strenuously exercised by those men, whose temper and abilities
had prompted them to embrace the ecclesiastical profession, or
who had been selected by a discerning bishop, as the best
qualified to promote the glory and interest of the church. The
bishops ^95 (till the abuse was restrained by the prudence of the
laws) might constrain the reluctant, and protect the distressed;
and the imposition of hands forever bestowed some of the most
valuable privileges of civil society. The whole body of the
Catholic clergy, more numerous perhaps than the legions, was
exempted ^* by the emperors from all service, private or public,
all municipal offices, and all personal taxes and contributions,
which pressed on their fellow- citizens with intolerable weight;
and the duties of their holy profession were accepted as a full
discharge of their obligations to the republic. ^96 Each bishop
acquired an absolute and indefeasible right to the perpetual
obedience of the clerk whom he ordained: the clergy of each
episcopal church, with its dependent parishes, formed a regular
and permanent society; and the cathedrals of Constantinople ^97
and Carthage ^98 maintained their peculiar establishment of five
hundred ecclesiastical ministers. Their ranks ^99 and numbers
were insensibly multiplied by the superstition of the times,
which introduced into the church the splendid ceremonies of a
Jewish or Pagan temple; and a long train of priests, deacons,
sub-deacons, acolythes, exorcists, readers, singers, and
doorkeepers, contributed, in their respective stations, to swell
the pomp and harmony of religious worship. The clerical name and
privileges were extended to many pious fraternities, who devoutly
supported the ecclesiastical throne. ^100 Six hundred parabolani,
or adventurers, visited the sick at Alexandria; eleven hundred
copiatoe, or grave-diggers, buried the dead at Constantinople;
and the swarms of monks, who arose from the Nile, overspread and
darkened the face of the Christian world.
[Footnote 93: The celibacy of the clergy during the first five or
six centuries, is a subject of discipline, and indeed of
controversy, which has been very diligently examined. See in
particular, Thomassin, Discipline de l'Eglise, tom. i. l. ii. c.
lx. lxi. p. 886-902, and Bingham's Antiquities, l. iv. c. 5. By
each of these learned but partial critics, one half of the truth
is produced, and the other is concealed.

Note: Compare Planck, (vol. i. p. 348.) This century, the
third, first brought forth the monks, or the spirit of monkery,
the celibacy of the clergy. Planck likewise observes, that from
the history of Eusebius alone, names of married bishops and
presbyters may be adduced by dozens. - M.]
[Footnote 94: Diodorus Siculus attests and approves the
hereditary succession of the priesthood among the Egyptians, the
Chaldeans, and the Indians, (l. i. p. 84, l. ii. p. 142, 153,
edit. Wesseling.) The magi are described by Ammianus as a very
numerous family: "Per saecula multa ad praesens una eademque
prosapia multitudo creata, Deorum cultibus dedicata." (xxiii. 6.)
Ausonius celebrates the Stirps Druidarum, (De Professorib.
Burdigal. iv.;) but we may infer from the remark of Caesar, (vi.
13,) that in the Celtic hierarchy, some room was left for choice
and emulation.]

[Footnote 95: The subject of the vocation, ordination, obedience,
&c., of the clergy, is laboriously discussed by Thomassin
(Discipline de l'Eglise, tom. ii. p. 1-83) and Bingham, (in the
4th book of his Antiquities, more especially the 4th, 6th, and
7th chapters.) When the brother of St. Jerom was ordained in
Cyprus, the deacons forcibly stopped his mouth, lest he should
make a solemn protestation, which might invalidate the holy

[Footnote *: This exemption was very much limited. The municipal
offices were of two kinds; the one attached to the individual in
his character of inhabitant, the other in that of proprietor.
Constantine had exempted ecclesiastics from offices of the first
description. (Cod. Theod. xvi. t. ii. leg. 1, 2 Eusebius, Hist.
Eccles. l. x. c. vii.) They sought, also, to be exempted from
those of the second, (munera patrimoniorum.) The rich, to obtain
this privilege, obtained subordinate situations among the clergy.
Constantine published in 320 an edict, by which he prohibited the
more opulent citizens (decuriones and curiales) from embracing
the ecclesiastical profession, and the bishops from admitting new
ecclesiastics, before a place should be vacant by the death of
the occupant, (Godefroy ad Cod. Theod.t. xii. t. i. de Decur.)
Valentinian the First, by a rescript still more general enacted
that no rich citizen should obtain a situation in the church, (De
Episc 1. lxvii.) He also enacted that ecclesiastics, who wished
to be exempt from offices which they were bound to discharge as
proprietors, should be obliged to give up their property to their
relations. Cod Theodos l. xii t. i. leb. 49 - G.]
[Footnote 96: The charter of immunities, which the clergy
obtained from the Christian emperors, is contained in the 16th
book of the Theodosian code; and is illustrated with tolerable
candor by the learned Godefroy, whose mind was balanced by the
opposite prejudices of a civilian and a Protestant.]
[Footnote 97: Justinian. Novell. ciii. Sixty presbyters, or
priests, one hundred deacons, forty deaconesses, ninety
sub-deacons, one hundred and ten readers, twenty-five chanters,
and one hundred door-keepers; in all, five hundred and
twenty-five. This moderate number was fixed by the emperor to
relieve the distress of the church, which had been involved in
debt and usury by the expense of a much higher establishment.]

[Footnote 98: Universus clerus ecclesiae Carthaginiensis . . . .
fere quingenti vei amplius; inter quos quamplurima erant lectores
infantuli. Victor Vitensis, de Persecut. Vandal. v. 9, p. 78,
edit. Ruinart. This remnant of a more prosperous state still
subsisted under the oppression of the Vandals.]
[Footnote 99: The number of seven orders has been fixed in the
Latin church, exclusive of the episcopal character. But the four
inferior ranks, the minor orders, are now reduced to empty and
useless titles.]

[Footnote 100: See Cod. Theodos. l. xvi. tit. ii. leg. 42, 43.
Godefroy's Commentary, and the Ecclesiastical History of
Alexandria, show the danger of these pious institutions, which
often disturbed the peace of that turbulent capital.]

Chapter XX: Conversion Of Constantine.

Part IV.

III. The edict of Milan secured the revenue as well as the
peace of the church. ^101 The Christians not only recovered the
lands and houses of which they had been stripped by the
persecuting laws of Diocletian, but they acquired a perfect title
to all the possessions which they had hitherto enjoyed by the
connivance of the magistrate. As soon as Christianity became the
religion of the emperor and the empire, the national clergy might
claim a decent and honorable maintenance; and the payment of an
annual tax might have delivered the people from the more
oppressive tribute, which superstition imposes on her votaries.
But as the wants and expenses of the church increased with her
prosperity, the ecclesiastical order was still supported and
enriched by the voluntary oblations of the faithful. Eight years
after the edict of Milan, Constantine granted to all his subjects
the free and universal permission of bequeathing their fortunes
to the holy Catholic church; ^102 and their devout liberality,
which during their lives was checked by luxury or avarice, flowed
with a profuse stream at the hour of their death. The wealthy
Christians were encouraged by the example of their sovereign. An
absolute monarch, who is rich without patrimony, may be
charitable without merit; and Constantine too easily believed
that he should purchase the favor of Heaven, if he maintained the
idle at the expense of the industrious; and distributed among the
saints the wealth of the republic. The same messenger who carried
over to Africa the head of Maxentius, might be intrusted with an
epistle to Caecilian, bishop of Carthage. The emperor acquaints
him, that the treasurers of the province are directed to pay into
his hands the sum of three thousand folles, or eighteen thousand
pounds sterling, and to obey his further requisitions for the
relief of the churches of Africa, Numidia, and Mauritania. ^103
The liberality of Constantine increased in a just proportion to
his faith, and to his vices. He assigned in each city a regular
allowance of corn, to supply the fund of ecclesiastical charity;
and the persons of both sexes who embraced the monastic life
became the peculiar favorites of their sovereign. The Christian
temples of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Constantinople &c.,
displayed the ostentatious piety of a prince, ambitious in a
declining age to equal the perfect labors of antiquity. ^104 The
form of these religious edifices was simple and oblong; though
they might sometimes swell into the shape of a dome, and
sometimes branch into the figure of a cross. The timbers were
framed for the most part of cedars of Libanus; the roof was
covered with tiles, perhaps of gilt brass; and the walls, the
columns, the pavement, were encrusted with variegated marbles.
The most precious ornaments of gold and silver, of silk and gems,
were profusely dedicated to the service of the altar; and this
specious magnificence was supported on the solid and perpetual
basis of landed property. In the space of two centuries, from
the reign of Constantine to that of Justinian, the eighteen
hundred churches of the empire were enriched by the frequent and
unalienable gifts of the prince and people. An annual income of
six hundred pounds sterling may be reasonably assigned to the
bishops, who were placed at an equal distance between riches and
poverty, ^105 but the standard of their wealth insensibly rose
with the dignity and opulence of the cities which they governed.
An authentic but imperfect ^106 rent-roll specifies some houses,
shops, gardens, and farms, which belonged to the three Basilicoe
of Rome, St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. John Lateran, in the
provinces of Italy, Africa, and the East. They produce, besides
a reserved rent of oil, linen, paper, aromatics, &c., a clear
annual revenue of twenty-two thousand pieces of gold, or twelve
thousand pounds sterling. In the age of Constantine and
Justinian, the bishops no longer possessed, perhaps they no
longer deserved, the unsuspecting confidence of their clergy and
people. The ecclesiastical revenues of each diocese were divided
into four parts for the respective uses of the bishop himself, of
his inferior clergy, of the poor, and of the public worship; and
the abuse of this sacred trust was strictly and repeatedly
checked. ^107 The patrimony of the church was still subject to
all the public compositions of the state. ^108 The clergy of
Rome, Alexandria, Chessaionica, &c., might solicit and obtain
some partial exemptions; but the premature attempt of the great
council of Rimini, which aspired to universal freedom, was
successfully resisted by the son of Constantine. ^109

[Footnote 101: The edict of Milan (de M. P. c. 48) acknowledges,
by reciting, that there existed a species of landed property, ad
jus corporis eorum, id est, ecclesiarum non hominum singulorum
pertinentia. Such a solemn declaration of the supreme magistrate
must have been received in all the tribunals as a maxim of civil

[Footnote 102: Habeat unusquisque licentiam sanctissimo
Catholicae (ecclesioe) venerabilique concilio, decedens bonorum
quod optavit relinquere. Cod. Theodos. l. xvi. tit. ii. leg. 4.
This law was published at Rome, A. D. 321, at a time when
Constantine might foresee the probability of a rupture with the
emperor of the East.]

[Footnote 103: Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. l. x. 6; in Vit.
Constantin. l. iv. c. 28. He repeatedly expatiates on the
liberality of the Christian hero, which the bishop himself had an
opportunity of knowing, and even of lasting.]
[Footnote 104: Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. l. x. c. 2, 3, 4. The
bishop of Caesarea who studied and gratified the taste of his
master, pronounced in public an elaborate description of the
church of Jerusalem, (in Vit Cons. l. vi. c. 46.) It no longer
exists, but he has inserted in the life of Constantine (l. iii.
c. 36) a short account of the architecture and ornaments. He
likewise mentions the church of the Holy Apostles at
Constantinople, (l. iv. c. 59.)]

[Footnote 105: See Justinian. Novell. cxxiii. 3. The revenue of
the patriarchs, and the most wealthy bishops, is not expressed:
the highest annual valuation of a bishopric is stated at thirty,
and the lowest at two, pounds of gold; the medium might be taken
at sixteen, but these valuations are much below the real value.]

[Footnote 106: See Baronius, (Annal. Eccles. A. D. 324, No. 58,
65, 70, 71.) Every record which comes from the Vatican is justly
suspected; yet these rent-rolls have an ancient and authentic
color; and it is at least evident, that, if forged, they were
forged in a period when farms not kingdoms, were the objects of
papal avarice.]

[Footnote 107: See Thomassin, Discipline de l'Eglise, tom. iii.
l. ii. c. 13, 14, 15, p. 689-706. The legal division of the
ecclesiastical revenue does not appear to have been established
in the time of Ambrose and Chrysostom. Simplicius and Gelasius,
who were bishops of Rome in the latter part of the fifth century,
mention it in their pastoral letters as a general law, which was
already confirmed by the custom of Italy.]

[Footnote 108: Ambrose, the most strenuous assertor of
ecclesiastical privileges, submits without a murmur to the
payment of the land tax. "Si tri butum petit Imperator, non
negamus; agri ecclesiae solvunt tributum solvimus quae sunt
Caesaris Caesari, et quae sunt Dei Deo; tributum Caesaris est;
non negatur." Baronius labors to interpret this tribute as an act
of charity rather than of duty, (Annal. Eccles. A. D. 387;) but
the words, if not the intentions of Ambrose are more candidly
explained by Thomassin, Discipline de l'Eglise, tom. iii. l. i.
c. 34. p. 668.]

[Footnote 109: In Ariminense synodo super ecclesiarum et
clericorum privilegiis tractatu habito, usque eo dispositio
progressa est, ut juqa quae viderentur ad ecclesiam pertinere, a
publica functione cessarent inquietudine desistente; quod nostra
videtur dudum sanctio repulsisse. Cod. Theod. l. xvi. tit. ii.
leg. 15. Had the synod of Rimini carried this point, such
practical merit might have atoned for some speculative heresies.]

IV. The Latin clergy, who erected their tribunal on the
ruins of the civil and common law, have modestly accepted, as the
gift of Constantine, ^110 the independent jurisdiction, which was
the fruit of time, of accident, and of their own industry. But
the liberality of the Christian emperors had actually endowed
them with some legal prerogatives, which secured and dignified
the sacerdotal character. ^111 1. Under a despotic government,
the bishops alone enjoyed and asserted the inestimable privilege
of being tried only by their peers; and even in a capital
accusation, a synod of their brethren were the sole judges of
their guilt or innocence. Such a tribunal, unless it was
inflamed by personal resentment or religious discord, might be
favorable, or even partial, to the sacerdotal order: but
Constantine was satisfied, ^112 that secret impunity would be
less pernicious than public scandal: and the Nicene council was
edited by his public declaration, that if he surprised a bishop
in the act of adultery, he should cast his Imperial mantle over
the episcopal sinner. 2. The domestic jurisdiction of the
bishops was at once a privilege and a restraint of the
ecclesiastical order, whose civil causes were decently withdrawn
from the cognizance of a secular judge. Their venial offences
were not exposed to the shame of a public trial or punishment;
and the gentle correction which the tenderness of youth may
endure from its parents or instructors, was inflicted by the
temperate severity of the bishops. But if the clergy were guilty
of any crime which could not be sufficiently expiated by their
degradation from an honorable and beneficial profession, the
Roman magistrate drew the sword of justice, without any regard to
ecclesiastical immunities. 3. The arbitration of the bishops was
ratified by a positive law; and the judges were instructed to
execute, without appeal or delay, the episcopal decrees, whose
validity had hitherto depended on the consent of the parties.
The conversion of the magistrates themselves, and of the whole
empire, might gradually remove the fears and scruples of the
Christians. But they still resorted to the tribunal of the
bishops, whose abilities and integrity they esteemed; and the
venerable Austin enjoyed the satisfaction of complaining that his
spiritual functions were perpetually interrupted by the invidious
labor of deciding the claim or the possession of silver and gold,
of lands and cattle. 4. The ancient privilege of sanctuary was
transferred to the Christian temples, and extended, by the
liberal piety of the younger Theodosius, to the precincts of
consecrated ground. ^113 The fugitive, and even guilty
suppliants,were permitted to implore either the justice, or the
mercy, of the Deity and his ministers. The rash violence of
despotism was suspended by the mild interposition of the church;
and the lives or fortunes of the most eminent subjects might be
protected by the mediation of the bishop.

[Footnote 110: From Eusebius (in Vit. Constant. l. iv. c. 27) and
Sozomen (l. i. c. 9) we are assured that the episcopal
jurisdiction was extended and confirmed by Constantine; but the
forgery of a famous edict, which was never fairly inserted in the
Theodosian Code (see at the end, tom. vi. p. 303,) is
demonstrated by Godefroy in the most satisfactory manner. It is
strange that M. de Montesquieu, who was a lawyer as well as a
philosopher, should allege this edict of Constantine (Esprit des
Loix, l. xxix. c. 16) without intimating any suspicion.]

[Footnote 111: The subject of ecclesiastical jurisdiction has
been involved in a mist of passion, of prejudice, and of
interest. Two of the fairest books which have fallen into my
hands, are the Institutes of Canon Law, by the Abbe de Fleury,
and the Civil History of Naples, by Giannone. Their moderation
was the effect of situation as well as of temper. Fleury was a
French ecclesiastic, who respected the authority of the
parliaments; Giannone was an Italian lawyer, who dreaded the
power of the church. And here let me observe, that as the
general propositions which I advance are the result of many
particular and imperfect facts, I must either refer the reader to
those modern authors who have expressly treated the subject, or
swell these notes disproportioned size.]

[Footnote 112: Tillemont has collected from Rufinus, Theodoret,
&c., the sentiments and language of Constantine. Mem Eccles tom.
iii p. 749, 759.]
[Footnote 113: See Cod. Theod. l. ix. tit. xlv. leg. 4. In the
works of Fra Paolo. (tom. iv. p. 192, &c.,) there is an
excellent discourse on the origin, claims, abuses, and limits of
sanctuaries. He justly observes, that ancient Greece might
perhaps contain fifteen or twenty axyla or sanctuaries; a number
which at present may be found in Italy within the walls of a
single city.]
V. The bishop was the perpetual censor of the morals of his
people The discipline of penance was digested into a system of
canonical jurisprudence, ^114 which accurately defined the duty
of private or public confession, the rules of evidence, the
degrees of guilt, and the measure of punishment. It was
impossible to execute this spiritual censure, if the Christian
pontiff, who punished the obscure sins of the multitude,
respected the conspicuous vices and destructive crimes of the
magistrate: but it was impossible to arraign the conduct of the
magistrate, without, controlling the administration of civil
government. Some considerations of religion, or loyalty, or
fear, protected the sacred persons of the emperors from the zeal
or resentment of the bishops; but they boldly censured and
excommunicated the subordinate tyrants, who were not invested
with the majesty of the purple. St. Athanasius excommunicated
one of the ministers of Egypt; and the interdict which he
pronounced, of fire and water, was solemnly transmitted to the
churches of Cappadocia. ^115 Under the reign of the younger
Theodosius, the polite and eloquent Synesius, one of the
descendants of Hercules, ^116 filled the episcopal seat of
Ptolemais, near the ruins of ancient Cyrene, ^117 and the
philosophic bishop supported with dignity the character which he
had assumed with reluctance. ^118 He vanquished the monster of
Libya, the president Andronicus, who abused the authority of a
venal office, invented new modes of rapine and torture, and
aggravated the guilt of oppression by that of sacrilege. ^119
After a fruitless attempt to reclaim the haughty magistrate by
mild and religious admonition, Synesius proceeds to inflict the
last sentence of ecclesiastical justice, ^120 which devotes
Andronicus, with his associates and their families, to the
abhorrence of earth and heaven. The impenitent sinners, more
cruel than Phalaris or Sennacherib, more destructive than war,
pestilence, or a cloud of locusts, are deprived of the name and
privileges of Christians, of the participation of the sacraments,
and of the hope of Paradise. The bishop exhorts the clergy, the
magistrates, and the people, to renounce all society with the
enemies of Christ; to exclude them from their houses and tables;
and to refuse them the common offices of life, and the decent
rites of burial. The church of Ptolemais, obscure and
contemptible as she may appear, addresses this declaration to all
her sister churches of the world; and the profane who reject her
decrees, will be involved in the guilt and punishment of
Andronicus and his impious followers. These spiritual terrors
were enforced by a dexterous application to the Byzantine court;
the trembling president implored the mercy of the church; and the
descendants of Hercules enjoyed the satisfaction of raising a
prostrate tyrant from the ground. ^121 Such principles and such
examples insensibly prepared the triumph of the Roman pontiffs,
who have trampled on the necks of kings.
[Footnote 114: The penitential jurisprudence was continually
improved by the canons of the councils. But as many cases were
still left to the discretion of the bishops, they occasionally
published, after the example of the Roman Praetor, the rules of
discipline which they proposed to observe. Among the canonical
epistles of the fourth century, those of Basil the Great were the
most celebrated. They are inserted in the Pandects of Beveridge,
(tom. ii. p. 47-151,) and are translated by Chardon, Hist. des
Sacremens, tom. iv. p. 219-277.]

[Footnote 115: Basil, Epistol. xlvii. in Baronius, (Annal.
Eccles. A. D. 370. N. 91,) who declares that he purposely relates
it, to convince govern that they were not exempt from a sentence
of excommunication his opinion, even a royal head is not safe
from the thunders of the Vatican; and the cardinal shows himself
much more consistent than the lawyers and theologians of the
Gallican church.]

[Footnote 116: The long series of his ancestors, as high as
Eurysthenes, the first Doric king of Sparta, and the fifth in
lineal descent from Hercules, was inscribed in the public
registers of Cyrene, a Lacedaemonian colony. (Synes. Epist.
lvii. p. 197, edit. Petav.) Such a pure and illustrious pedigree
of seventeen hundred years, without adding the royal ancestors of
Hercules, cannot be equalled in the history of mankind.]

[Footnote 117: Synesius (de Regno, p. 2) pathetically deplores
the fallen and ruined state of Cyrene. Ptolemais, a new city, 82
miles to the westward of Cyrene, assumed the metropolitan honors
of the Pentapolis, or Upper Libya, which were afterwards
transferred to Sozusa.]


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