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magistrates against the Catholic Church, and endeavoured to deprive it of its places of worship. Constantine in consequence took possession of their churches, banished their seditious bishops, and put some of them to death. A love of truth is not irreconcilable either with an unlimited toleration, or an exclusive patronage. of a selected religion; but to endure or discountenance error, according as it is, or is not, represented in an independent system and existing authority, to spare the pagans and to tyrannize over the schismatics, is the conduct of one who subjected religious principle to expediency, and aimed at peace, as a supreme good, by forcible measures where it was possible, otherwise by conciliation.
It must be observed, moreover, that subsequently to the celebrated vision of the Labarum (A.D. 312), he publicly invoked the Deity as one and the same in all forms of worship; and at a later period (A.D. 321), he promulgated simultaneous edicts for the observance of Sunday, and the due consultation of the aruspices?. On the other hand, as in the Edict of Milan, so in his Letters and Edicts connected with the Arian controversy, the same reference is made to external peace and good order, as the chief object towards which his thoughts were directed. The same desire of tranquillity led him to summon to the Nicene Council the Novatian Bishop Acesius, as well as the orthodox prelates. At a later period still when he extended a more open countenance to the Church as an institution, the same principle dis
i Gibbon, Hist. ibid.
covers itself in his conduct as actuated him in his measures against the Donatists. In proportion as he recognizes the Catholic body, he drops his toleration of the sectaries. He prohibited the conventicles of the Valentinians, Montanists, and other heretics; who, at his bidding, joined the Church in such numbers (many of them, says Eusebius, “ through fear of the Imperial threat, with hypocritical minds 8»), that at length both heresy and schism might be said to disappear from the face of society. Now let us observe his conduct in the Arian controversy.
Doubtless it was a grievous disappointment to a generous and large-minded prince, to discover that the Church itself, from which he had looked for the consolidation of his empire, was convulsed by dissensions such as were unknown amid the heartless wranglings of Pagan philosophy. The disturbances caused by the Donatists, which his acquisition of Italy (A.D. 312) had opened upon his view, extended from the borders of the Alexandrian patriarchate to the ocean. The conquest of the East (A.D. 323) did but enlarge his prospect of the distractions of Christendom. The patriarchate just mentioned had lately been visited by a deplorable heresy, which having run its course through the chief parts of Egypt, Lybia, and Cyrenaica, had attacked Palestine and Syria, and spread thence into the dioceses of Asia Minor and the Lydian Proconsulate. · Constantine was informed of the growing schism at . III. Nicomedia, and at once addressed a letter to Alexander and Arius jointly o; a reference to which will enable the reader to verify for himself the account above given of the nature of the Emperor's Christianity. He professes therein two motives as impelling him in his public conduct; first, the desire of effecting the reception, throughout his dominions, of some one definite and complete form of religious worship; next, that of settling and invigorating the civil institutions of the empire. Desirous of securing an unity of sentiment among all the believers in the Deity, he first directed his attention to the religious dissensions of Africa, which he had hoped, with the aid of the Oriental Christians, to terminate. “But," he continues, “ glorious and Divine Providence! how fatally were my ears, or rather my heart, wounded, by the report of a rising schism among you, far more acrimonious than the African dissensions. . . . On investi. gation, I find that the reason for this quarrel is insignifi. cant and worthless. . ... As I understand it, you, Alexander, were asking the separate opinions of your clergy on some passage of your law, or rather were inquiring about some idle question, when you, Arius, inconsiderately committed yourself to statements which should either never have come into your mind, or have been at once repressed. On this a difference ensued, Christian intercourse was suspended, the sacred flock was divided into two, breaking the harmonious unity of the common body. . . . Listen to the advice of me, your fellow-servant:-neither ask nor answer questions which are not upon any injunction of your law, but from the altercation of barren leisure; at best keep them to yourselves, and do not publish them. ... Your contention is not about any capital commandment of your law; neither of you is introducing any novel scheme of divine worship; you are of one and the same way of thinking, so that it is in your power to unite in one communion. Even the philosophers can agree together, one and all, in one dogma, though differing in particulars. ... Is it right for brothers to oppose brothers, for the sake of trifles ? ... Such conduct might be expected from the multitude, or from the recklessness of boyhood; but is little in keeping with your sacred profession, and with your personal wisdom.” Such is the substance of his letter, which, written on an imperfect knowledge of the facts of the case, and with somewhat of the prejudices of Eclectic liberalism, was inapplicable, even where abstractedly true ; his fault lying in his supposing, that an individual like himself, who had not even received the grace of baptism, could discriminate between great and little questions in theology. He concludes with the following words, which show the amiableness and sincerity of a mind in a measure awakened from the darkness of heathenism, though they betray the affectation of the rhetorician: “Give me back my days of calm, my nights of security; that I may experience henceforth the comfort of the clear light, and the cheerfulness of tranquillity. Otherwise, I shall sigh and be dissolved in tears. ... So great is my grief, that I put off my journey to the East on the news of your dissension. ... Open for me that path towards you, which your contentions have closed
8 Euseb. Vit. Const. iii. 66. [VÜV mend howTai j ĉkkinola Kerpuupéywv aipetik@v. Cyril. Catech. xv. 4.]
up. Let me see you and all other cities in happiness; that I may offer due thanksgivings to God above, for the unanimity and free intercourse which is seen among you."
This letter was conveyed to the Alexandrian Church by Hosius, who was appointed by the Emperor to mediate between the contending parties. A Council was called, in which some minor irregularities were arranged, but nothing settled on the main question in •dispute. Hosius returned to his master to report an unsuccessful mission, and to advise, as the sole measure which remained to be adopted, the calling of a General Council, in which the Catholic doctrine might be formally declared, and a judgment promulgated as to the basis upon which communion with the Church was henceforth to be determined. Constantine assented; and, discovering that the ecclesiastical authorities were earnest in condemning the tenets of Arius, as being an audacious innovation on the received creed, he suddenly adopted a new line of conduct towards the heresy; and in a Letter which he addressed to Arius, professes himself a zealous advocate of Christian truth, ventures to expound it, and attacks Arius with a vehemence which can only be imputed to his impatience in finding that any individual had presumed to disturb the peace of the community. It is remarkable, as showing his utter ignorance of doctrines, which were never intended for discussion among the unbaptized heathen, or the secularized Christian, that, in spite of this bold avowal of the orthodox faith in detail, yet shortly after he explained to Eusebius one of the Nicene declarations in a sense