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versally celebrated as the invincible guide and protector of Confiantine; and the Pagans might reasonably expect, that the insulted god would pursue, with unrelenting vengeance, the impiety of his ungrateful favourite.
• As long as Çonlantine 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 honour. If we may credit the asieriion of Constantine himself, he had been an indignant spectator of the savage cruelties which were inflicted, by the hands of Roman foldiers, on those citizens whose religion was their only crime. In the East and in the West, he had seen the different effects of severity and indulgence; and as the former was rendered ftill 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 The fon of Conftantius immediately suspended or repealed the edicts of persecution, and granted the free exercise of their religious ceremonies to all those, who had already profeffed themselves members of the church. They were soon encouraged to depend on the favour 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.
• About five months after the conquest of Italy, the Emperor made a folemn and au:hentic declaration of his sentiments, by the celebrated edict of Milan, which restored peace to the Catholic church. In the personal interview of the two weitern princes, Conftantine, by the ascendant of genius and power, obtained the ready concurrence of his colleague Licinius ; the union of their names and authority disarmed che fury of M+ximin ; after the death of the tyrant of the Eait, the edict of Milan was received as a general and fundamental law of the Roman world. 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 worhip, and public lands, which had been confiscated, should be restored to the church, without dispute, without delay, and without expence: 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 honourable 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 carefuily 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 condefçend to amgn two weighty reasons which have induced them to
allow this universal toleration : the humane intention of confulting the peace and happiness of their people; and the pious hope, that, by such a conduci, chey shall appease and propitiate the Deity, whose feat is in heaven. They gratefully acknowledge the many fignal proofs which they have received of the civine favour; and they trust, that the same Providence will for ever continue to pro:eft the prosperity of the prince and people. From these vague and indefinice expresions of piety, three suppositions may be deduced, of a diffe ent, 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 composed the hierarchy of heaven. Or, perhaps, he might embrace the philosophic and pleasing idea, that, notwithstanding the varie.y of names, of rites, and of opinions, all the fecis and all the nations of mankind, are united in the worship of the common Father and Creator of the universe.'
In the further prosecution of his subject, Mr. Gibbon observes, that the Christian religion contains a pure, benevolent, and universal system of ethics, adapted to every duty and eviry condition of life. Such an acknowledgment, and froin such a writer too, will, we hope, have due weight with a certain class of readers, and of Authors likewise, and lead them seriously to confider, how far it is consistent with the character of good citizens, to endeavour, by fly infinuations, oblique hints, indecent sneer and ridicule, to weaken the influence of so pure and benevolent a system of as that of Christianity, acknowledged to be admirably calculated for promoting the happiness of individuals, and the welfare of society. But to return.
In this chapter, Mr. Gibbon enables his readers to form a just estimate of the famous vision of Constantine, by a distinct confideration of the stanilard, 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, he says, in one fplendid and brittle mass.
The whole of this chapter is curious and interesting, but we must content ourselves with laying before our Readers the following extract :
• The pride of Conftantine, says Mr. Gibbon, who refused the privileges of a catechumen, cannot easily be explained or excused; but the delay of his baptiíin may be juftified by the maxims and the practice of ecclefiaftical antiquity. The facrament of baptism was regularly adminiliered by the Bishop himself, with his affiftant clergy, in the cathedral church of the diocese, during the fifty days between the solemn festivals of Eaiter and Pentecoft; and this holy term admitted a numerous band of intants nd adulo persons into the bosom of the church. The discretion of parents often fuspended the bapxism of their children till they could understand the obligations which
they contracted': the severity of ancient Bilhops exacted from the new converts a noviciare of two or three years; and the carechumens themselves, from different motives of a temporal or a spiritual' nature, were seldom impatient to assume the characer of perfect and initiated Chriftians. The sacrament of baptism was supposed to contain a full and absolute expiation of fin; and the soul was instantly reltored to its original purity, and entitled to the promise of eternal salvation. Among the profelytes of Christianity, there were many who judged it imprudent to precipitate a salutary rite, which could not be repeated ; to throw away an inefimable privilege, which could never be recovered. By the delay of their baptism, they could venture freely to indulge their paffions in the enjoyment of this world, while they still retained in their own hands the means of a sure and easy abfolution. The sublime theory of the gospel had made a much fainter impreslion 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, Inttead of asserting his just fuperiority above the imperfect heroism and profane pbilosophy of Trajan and the Antonines, the mature age of Conftantine forfeited the reputation which he had acquired in his youth. As he gradually advanced in the knowledge of truth, he proporcionably declined in the practice of virtue ; and the same
of his reign in which he convened the council of Nice, was polluted by the execution, or raiher murder, of his eldest son. This date is alone suficient to refute the ignorant and malicious fuggefions of Zósimus, 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 poffefed of an infallib!c remedy, though he chose to defer the application of it, till the approach of death had removed the temptation and danger of a relaple. The Bishops, whom he summoned, in his lait illaess, to the palace of Nicomedia, were edified by the fervour with which he requelted and received the facrament of baptism, by the solemn proteftation that the remainder of his life should be worthy of a disciple of Chriit, 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 Conftantine seemed to countenance the delay of baptism. Future cyrants were encouraged to believe, that the io nocent blood which they might med in a long reign, would instantly be walhed away in the waters of regeneration and the abuse of seligion dangerously undermined the foundations of moral virtue.
The gratitude of the church has exalted the virtues and excused che failings of a generous patron, who feared Christianity on the throne of the Roman world; and the Greeks, who celebrate the fel. tival of the Imperial saint, seldom mention the name of Constantine without adding equal to the Apostles. Such a comparison, if it alludes to the character of those divine missionaries, must be imputed to the extravagance of impious flattery. But if the parallel is.confined to
the extent and number of their evangelic vi&ories, the success of Constantine might perhaps equal that of the Apoftles themselves. By the edicts of toleration, he removed the temporal disadvantages wbich bad hitherto retarded the progress of Christianity; and its active and numerous minillers received a free permission, a liberal encourage. ment, to recommend the faluta'y truths of revelation by every argument which could affect the reason or piety of ma:kind. The exact balance of the two religions continued but a moment; and the piercing eye of ambition and avarice foon discovered, that the proferfion of Christianity might contribute to the interest of the present, as well as of a future, life. The hopes of wealth and honours, the example of an Emperor, his exhortations, his irresistible (miles, 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 diftinguited by municipal privileges, and rewarded with popular donatives; and the new capital of the East gloried in the fingular advantage, that Constantinople was never profaned by the worthip of idols. As she 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. 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 á pro. portionable number of women and children; and that a white garment, with twenty pieces of gold, had been promised by the En.peror to every convert.
The powerful influence of Constantine was not circumscribed by the narrow limits of his life, or of his dominions. The education which he bestowed on his sons and nephews, fecured to the empire a race of princes, whose faith was fill more lively and sincere, as they imbibed, in their earlieft infancy, the spirit, or at least the doctrine, of Christianity. War and commerce had spread the knowledge of the gospel beyond the confines of the Roman provinces; and the Barbarians, who had disdained an humble and profcribed fedt, soon learned to esteem a religion which had been fo Jately embraced by the greatest monarch and the most civilized nation of the globe. The Goths and Germans, who enlised under the ftandard of Rome, revered the cross which glittered at the head of the legions, and their fierce countrymen received at the same time, the leffons of faith and of humaniry. The Kings of Iberia and Asmenia' worshipped the God of their protector; and their subjects, who þave invariably preserved the name of Christians, foon formed a facred 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 fubfilled between the two empires, the perfecuting spirit of the Magi was effectually sėftrained by the interposition of Conftantine. The rays of the gospel illuminated the coast of India. The colonies of Jews, who had penetrated into Arabia and Æthiopia, opposed the progress of Christiànity ; but the labour of the missionaries was in some measure facilitated by a previous knowledge of the Musaic revelation; and Abyisinia still reveres the memory of Frumentius, who, in the time of Con. Brine, devoted his life to the conversion of those fequeftered regions.
Under the reign of his son Conftantius, Theophilus, who was himself of Indian extraction, was invested with the double character of Am. ballador and Bishop. He embarked on the Red Sea with two hundred horses of the purelt breed of Cappadocia, which were sent by the Emperor to the Prince of the Sabæans, or Homerites. Theophic Jus was entruited with many ocher 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.
• The irresistible power of the Roman Emperors was displayed in the important and dangerous change of the national religion. The tersors of a military force filenced the faint and unsupported murmurs of the Pagans, and there was reason to expect, that the cheerful submission of the Chriftian clergy, as well as people, would be the se.sult of conscience and gratitude. It was long since eltablished, as a fundamental maxim of the Roman constitution, that every rank of citizens were alike subject to the laws, and that the care of religion was the right, as well as duty of the civil magiftrate. Conftantine 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 ecclefiaftical order; and the foxteenth bcok of the Theodosian code, represents, under a variety of titles, the authority which they assumed in the government of the Catholic church.
• But the diftinction of the spiritual and temporal powers, 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 Auguftus, 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 facerdotal functions ; 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 entrusts the service of the altar to a perpetual succesfion of consecrated ministers, the monarch, whose spiritual rank is Jess honourable than that of the meanett deacon, was seated below the rails of the sanctuary, and confounded with the rett of the faithful multitude. The Emperor might be ialuted 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 coniesfors, were foon exacted by the pride of the episcopal order. A secret conflict between the civil and ecclefiaftical jurisdictions embarrassed the operations of the Roman government; and a pious Emperor was alarmed by the guilt and danger of touch. ing 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 Allyria, of Judea, of Æiniopia, of Egypt, and of Gaul,