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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 resusçitate 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 en getic 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
6 Gibbon, Hist. ch. xx.
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
ở 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
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 discovers 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.
7 Gibbon, Hist. ibid.
Doubtless it was a grievous disappointment to a génerous 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
8 Euseb. Vit. Const. iii. 66. [νύν πεπλήρωται η εκκλησία κεκρυμμένων aipetik@v. Cyril. Catech. xv. 4.]