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solicitations addressed to Alexander, with the view of effecting his re-admission into the Church.
This was the history of the controversy for the first four or five years of its existence; that is, till the era of the battle of Hadrianople (A.D. 323), by the issue of which Constantine, becoming master of the Roman world, was at liberty to turn his thoughts to the state of Christianity in the Eastern Provinces of the Empire. From this date it is connected with civil history; a result natural, and indeed necessary under the existing circumstances, though it was the occasion of subjecting Christianity to fresh persecutions, in place of those which its nominal triumph had terminated. When a heresy, condemned and excommunicated by one Church, was taken up by another, and independent Christian bodies thus stood in open opposition, nothing was left to those who desired peace, to say nothing of orthodoxy, but to bring the question under the notice of a General Council. But as a previous step, the leave of the civil power was plainly necessary for so public a display of that wide-spreading Association, of which the faith of the Gospel was the uniting and animating principle. Thus the Church could not meet together in one, without entering into a sort of negotiation with the powers that be; whose jealousy it is the duty of Christians, both as individuals and as a body, if possible, to dispel. On the other hand, the Roman Emperor, as a professed disciple of the truth, was of course bound to protect its interests, and to afford every facility for its establishment in purity and efficacy. It was under these circumstances that the Nicene Council was convoked.
Now we must direct our view for a while to the character and history of Constantine. It is an ungrateful task to discuss the private opinions and motives of an Emperor who was the first to profess himself the Protector of the Church, and to relieve it from the abject and suffering condition in which it had lain for three centuries. Constantine is our benefactor; inasmuch as we, who now live, may be considered to have received the gift of Christianity by means of the increased influence which he gave to the Church. And, were it not that in conferring his benefaction he burdened it with the bequest of an heresy, which outlived his age by many centuries, and still exists in its effects in the divisions of the East, nothing would here be said, from mere grateful recollection of him, by way of analyzing the state of mind in which he viewed the benefit which he has conveyed to us. But his conduct, as it discovers itself in the subsequent history, natural as it was in his case, still has somewhat of a warning in it, which must not be neglected in after times.
It is of course impossible accurately to describe the various feelings with which one in Constantine's peculiar situation was likely to regard Christianity; yet the joint effect of them all may be gathered from his actual conduct, and the state of the civilized world at the time. He found his empire distracted with civil and religious dissensions, which tended to the dissolution of society; at a time too, when the barbarians without were pressing upon it with a vigour, formidable in itself, but far more menacing in consequence of the decay of the ancient spirit of Rome. He perceived the powers of its old polytheism, from whatever cause, exhausted; and a newly risen philosophy vainly endeavouring to resuscitate a mythology which had done its work, and now, like all things of earth, was fast returning to the dust from which it was taken. He heard the same philosophy inculcating the principles of that more exalted and refined religion, which a civilized age will always require; and he witnessed the same substantial teaching, as he would consider it, embodied in the precepts, and enforced by the energetic discipline, the union, and the example of the Christian Church. Here his thoughts would rest, as in a natural solution of the investigation to which the state of his empire gave rise; and, without knowing enough of the internal characters of Christianity to care to instruct himself in them, he would discern, on the face of it, a doctrine more real than that of philosophy, and a rule of life more severe and energetic even than that of the old Republic. The Gospel seemed to be the fit instrument of a civil reformation", being but a new form of the old wisdom, which had existed in the world at large from the beginning. Revering, nay, in one sense, honestly submitting to its faith, still he acknowledged it rather as a school than joined it as a polity; and by refraining from the sacrament of baptism till his last illness, he acted in the spirit of men of the world in every age, who dislike to pledge themselves to engagements which they still intend to
fulfil, and to descend from the position of judges, to that of disciples of the truth.
Concord is so eminently the perfection of the Christian temper, conduct, and discipline, and it had been so wonderfully exemplified in the previous history of the Church, that it was almost unavoidable in a heathen soldier and statesman to regard it as the sole precept of the Gospel. It required a far more refined moral perception, to detect and to approve the principle on which this internal peace is grounded in Scripture; to submit to the dictation of truth, as such, as a primary authority in matters of political and private conduct ; to understand how belief in a certain creed was a condition of Divine favour, how the social union was intended to result from an unity of opinions, the love of man to spring from the love of God, and zeal to be prior in the succession of Christian graces to benevolence. It had been predicted by Him, who came to offer peace to the world, that, in matter of fact, that gift would be changed into the sword of discord; mankind being offended by the doctrine, more than they were won over by the amiableness, of Christianity. But He alone was able thus to discern through what a succession of difficulties Divine truth advances to its final victory; shallow minds anticipate the end apart from the course which leads to it. Especially they who receive scarcely more of His teaching than the instinct of civilization recognizes (and Constantine must, on the whole, be classed among such), view the religious dissensions of the Church
6 Vide his speech, Euseb. Vit. Const. iv. 62.
as simply evil, and (as they would fain prove) contrary to His own precepts; whereas in fact they are but the history of truth in its first stage of trial, when it aims at being "pure," before it is. “ peaceable;" and are reprehensible only so far as baser passions mix themselves with that true loyalty towards God, which desires His glory in the first place, and only in the second place, the tranquillity and good order of society.
The Edict of Milan (A.D. 313) was among the first effects of Constantine's anxiety to restore fellowship of feeling to the members of his distracted empire. In it' an absolute toleration was given by him and his colleague Licinius, to the Christians and all other persuasions, to follow the form of worship which each had adopted for himself; and it was granted with the professed view of consulting for the peace of their people.
A year did not elapse from the date of this Edict, when Constantine found it necessary to support it by severe repressive measures against the Donatists of Africa, though their offences were scarcely of a civil nature. Their schism had originated in the disappointed ambition of two presbyters; who fomented an opposition to Cæcilian, illegally elevated, as they pretended, to the episcopate of Carthage. Growing into a sect, they appealed to Constantine, who referred their cause to the arbitration of successive Councils. These pronounced in favour of Cæcilian; and, on Constantine's reviewing and confirming their sentence, the defeated party assailed him with intemperate complaints, accused Hosius, his adviser, of partiality in the decision, stirred up the