Imagens da página

the request. He also addressed a letter to Sapor, king of Persia, on behalf of the Christians in his dominions; and as long as peace subsisted between the two empires, the persecutions of the Magi were restrained by this interposition. The powerful influence of such a sovereign as Constantine was not circumscribed by the narrow limits of his life, or dominions. From this era Christianity became virtually the religion of the whole empire; and Paganism, though not actually abolished, ceased to have any of those attractions which birth or power had so long bestowed upon its favourite superstitions. It was hastening rapidly to that overthrow which was still more complete in the reign of Theodosius.

16. Yet Constantine, though acting like a Christian prince in all these matters, still hesitated to join himself to the church, by receiving the rite of baptism, and thus remained without taking upon himself this visible sign of the religion of Christ, till towards the last moments of his life. His reason for this neglect may have been a persuasion, then very common, that the guilt contracted during a whole life would thus be more effectually washed away, by the water of regeneration, and perhaps the remembrance of some of those unrighteous actions, which he had committed during a long reign, might have induced him, from a sense of humility, to deem himself unworthy of so sacred a privilege. Constantine had carried on wars in which was shed much blood : and that perchance lay heavy on his conscience. The death also of his son Crispus (A.D. 326), and perhaps of his wife Fausta (though the first suffered, probably, as a traitor, and the latter as a suspected adulteress), were circumstances, the remembrance of which might have implanted in his breast a feeling of remorse, sufficient to make him account himself unfit for admission into the bosom of the church, till after a long period of penitence. Towards the close of his days he summoned the bishops to the palace of Acquyrion, near Nicomedia; whither he had retired for the benefit of the air, and with the hope of recruiting his strength by the use of the warm baths. As soon as he grew worse, those who attended him were gratified by the manner in which he requested, and received the sacrament of baptism. He then solemnly promised that the remainder of his life should be worthy of a disciple of Christ; and after he had been clothed in the white robe, which the Neophytes (as they were called) wore on such occasions, he humbly declared with much humility that he would never more put on the imperial purple. After a short illness he expired at the mature age of sixty-four, in the thirtieth year of his reign, a period which none of his predecessors had reached since the time of Augustus (A.D. 337).

17. The demonstrations of grief, or at least of mourning for the death of Constantine, surpassed anything which had ever been practised on the occurrence of similar events. The Senate of Rome shut up the baths and the forum, and prohibited public spectacles of every kind; statues were dedicated to him; and all the while he lay in state, the great officers of the court, the army, and the household, and senators and magistrates came daily and offered their respectful homage before the dead sovereign, in the same manner that they were wont to do when he was alive. His body, according to his last request, had been transported to Constantinople. There, laid upon his golden bed, in one of the apartments of the palace, where all the symbols of greatness were still around him ; arrayed in the purple and the diadem, his remains received these last marks of affection and devotion; and when flattery could please no longer, it was made evident that Constantine was a sovereign, who reigned over the hearts of his people not only while living, but after his death.

18. The triumphant career and peaceful death of this Emperor furnish a striking contrast with that of each of his rivals, who all at length fell beneath his sword, and left no relics of their race behind them. This circumstance can scarcely be ascribed to any of those natural causes, which influence the fortunes of men and of nations. The true cause of his success will most easily be found in that providential arrangement, which chose him as a fit instrument for carrying on its own designs, and which led him first to avoid the guilt of persecution, and afterwards to embrace the persecuted faith. 19. It is worthy of attention, that all those emperors

who lent their aid at this period to the work of persecution, died in a miserable manner. And though their end was not exactly like that of Maximin, their fate may be considered as


significant of the judgments of a retributive Providence. Diocletian, as it has been noticed in this history, survived his edict only a few years, dying wretchedly in his retirement, a spectator of the miseries that had fallen upon his family, and, as it is believed by some, by an act of suicide. Maximian Herculeus, his first colleague in the empire, having taken up arms in defence of his son Maxentius, perished at an early period of the cival war between the rival emperors; and his end is equally remarkable. He had seized a considerable treasure at Arles, and scattered it among the soldiers with profusion, to renew their old attachment to his service. Being, however, pursued by Constantine with a superior force he took refuge in Marseilles, where he might long have defied the power of the besiegers, if the garrison had not delivered him up a prisoner to purchase their own pardon. Notwithstanding that Constantine had married his daughter Fausta, he was sentenced to die, but anticipated his fate by strangling himself with his own hands (A.D. 310). Galerius, as we have already seen, died a death similar to that of Herod, being eaten up of worms the year following (A.D. 311). His adopted favourite, Severus, on whom he had bestowed the title of Augustus, in preference to Constantine, had been treacherously lured by Maximian from his safe retreat at Ravenna, and, being carried a captive to Rome, was there put to death by having his veins opened (A.D. 307). Licinius, the latest of the persccutors, had at first joined with Constantine in proclaiming toleration to Christianity; but soon after he had established himself in power, he threw off the mask, and raised a severe persecution in some parts of the East. But the same fate which had attended the rest of the persecuting emperors of this age soon overtook him also. His alliance had been cemented with Constantine, after a short rupture, by marrying Constantia, his sister ; and for about eight years this alliance was not dis. turbed. But at the end of this period, this compact was broken by the ambition of Licinius. The rival candidates for power appeared again in the field ; and the latter was defeated at Chrysopolis. He was sent a prisoner to Thessalonica, and his death took place soon after, either in a tumult of the soldiers, or by a decree of the Senate (A.D. 324).

20. Whatever may be thought of the general character and conduct of Constantine, or of some of the actions of his reign, it cannot be denied that he far surpassed all those who preceded him, in the display of those virtues which most adorn the successful warrior and the good sovereign; he must be acknowledged also, to have been one of the fittest agents to whom the great work could have been entrusted, of advancing the progress of Christianity, and its welfare in all external circumstances. Some acts of cruelty and severity, he may perhaps be justly charged with, of which, however, at this distance of time, we can form no very clear judgment. His expenses also in building his new city, made him too ready to add more to the burden of taxes, than was quite compatible with the welfare of the empire. But he is admitted, upon the whole, to have been truly a great prince, of a courteous and obliging temper, free from the notorious vices which had distinguished so many of his predecessors; and with a large share of what may be called peculiarly, Christian virtues. He was kind to all

, and especially charitable to the poor ; large, and even profuse in his gifts. He manifested an extraordinary solicitude for the peace and welfare of the church, and expressed for its ministers throughout his reign, the most sincere and honourable regard. Though some of the heathen historians have aspersed his memory, and impugned the motives of his conversion, for reasons which are too obvious, yet another of them, Aurelius Victor, who flourished at this period, has extolled not only his learning, eloquence, and affability, but sums up his character by observing, “ that had Constantine only prescribed due limits to his bounty, and ambition, and to those enticements by which great minds are hurried away in a too eager pursuit of glory, he would have come nearer to a god than to a man."


1. The family of Constantine; his early history.-2. His personal qualities; his situation described at the death of Constantius.—3. He is raised to the rank of Cæsar in the empire, with a fourth part of the sovereignty.-4. Engages in a war with Maxentius.-5. His critical situation at this period; an extraordinary sign appears to him and his army; his vision; makes a new standard, the Labarum, which is carried at the head of his forces; the defeat and death of Maxentius.-6. Undertakes a war with the Gothic tribes, and conquers.—7. Contests the empire with Licinius, and reigns alone after his defeat.-8. He lays the foundation of a new capital of the East at Byzantium.-9. Builds the city with great splendour, and dedicates it.-10. Constantine favours Christianity.-11. His treatment of the Cbristian bishops.-12. Gives proofs of the sincerity of his conversion.—13. His conduct towards Paganism; shuts up some of the temples, &c.—14. Constantine summons a great council at Nice.-15. He takes measures to extend and protect Christianity in several quarters.-16. He defers his baptism; probable reasons for this delay; is baptized in his last illness, and dies near Nicomedia.—17. Extraordinary honours are paid to him after his death.-18. The good fortune of Constantine, in contrast with his predecessors, and to what circumstance it is to be ascribed.–19. The remarkable end of all the persecutors of Christianity during his reign.—20. The services which he rendered to Christianity; his defects and virtues; testimony of Aurelius Victor to his great merits.

« AnteriorContinuar »