« PrécédentContinuer »
christian religion. His palace was full of distinguished christian noblemen, and many even of the Pretorian guards were of this profession, both in the capacity of officers and privates. But as the emperor was himself a bigotted pagan, and superstitious to a degree, means were devised to alarm his bigotry and inflame his heathen zeal to madness.
A dreadful persecution was the consequence.
Maximius and Galerius were the implacable enemies of christianity in the East, while their rival Constantius protected it in the West. His son Constantine was equally favorable ; but Licinius, Constantine's competitor and his most treacherous foe, persecuted the christians in the most outrageous manner throughout the Eastern districts of the empire. Constantine marched against his frantic antagonist, fully determined to wrest from him that power, which he so wantonly abused. Licinius had caused a crowd of augurs, magicians, and Egyptian priests, to attend him at his camp: these vainly called upon their imaginary deities, offered to them innumerable sacrifices, and promised him an easy victory. Constantine, on the other hand, environed with the christian priesthood, and with the banner of the cross triumphantly displayed before him, implored the succour of the Supreme God, and reposed his hopes of victory in Him alone. Heaven recompensed his pious expectations with the total overthrow of the impious Licinius, who had vowed, in the event of success, to immolate all the Romans-meaning principally the christiansto his heathen gods.
The morality of the christian religion was pure and sublime: Constantine had no subjects more faithful, nor the empire citizens more virtuous, more scrupulously just, or of principles more benevolent and humane; nor were any of them ever known to have taken part in insurrection against the most inhuman of their
persecutors. Had Constantine been influenced merely by motives of policy, this circumstance alone must have determined him to prefer the christian religion before all others, to form of it the established religion of the state. In aid of motives purely human, were added---miracles of the Divine power in this emperor's favour, which rendered him victorious over all his rivals. In an edict, recorded by Eusebius in his life of Constantine, this prince addresses himself to the Almighty, and protests before Him his zeal to extend the Divine worship. At the same time, he declares it his intention, that even the impious shall enjoy unmolested a state of tranquillity and peace--under his protection ; convinced, that this is the surest method to bring them back eventually to the right way. He forbids them to be disturbed ; exhorts his subjects mutually to support and aid each other, however opposite may be their religious sentiments ;. and to communicate their lights to their fellow-creatures without violence or compulsion; because, says
he, “ in the cause of religion it is noble rather to suffer death of
than to inflict it, notwithstanding the contrary pretensions of some christians, influenced with an indiscreet and cruel zeal."
(Vit. Const. 1. 2, c. 60.) try Nevertheless he prohibited the offering of sacrifices, shut up
the temples of the heathen gods, and caused them afterwards to the 'be demolished. The power and renown of this emperor ; the ral transiation by him of the seat of empire to Constantinople; his
triumphs over his enemies, together with the wonderful establish
ment of christianity, and the evidence of miracles wrought in his fache
vor, attracted the attention of the most distant nations. The Goths he
and other barbarous people, who had long been accustomed to ste make inroads upon the Roman territories, and on those occa
sions had carried off vast multitudes of christian captives, were by them converted to the faith, and now professed the christian religion. The Ethiopians too, applied to Constantine for christian bishops; while the Jews, on the contrary, possessed with the silly idea of subjugating the rest of mankind, continued
to avail themselves of every opportunity which seemed to favor al
their extravagant pretensions. Against them, Constantine od
enacted severe laws; and after his demise his sons dispatched' a military force to reduce them to submission. Valentinian and
Theodosius granted them certain privileges ; and the latter of to those princes forbade christians to molest them or to pull down
synagogues. They had judges—both civil and ecclesiasticof their
whose decisions were enforced in all matters appertaining to religion or to religious discipline; in other instances they were subject to the laws of the empire.
In the midst of the tumult of war and faction which conT vulsed the universe till the period when Constantine became ab
solute throughout the whole extent of the Roman dynasty, the I
arts and sciences were cultivated almost exclusively, by heathen philosophers and the christians. The latter, in order to combat
with success the arguments of sophism, the impostures of the f
pagan priesthood, and the infidelity of historians, applied themselves with diligence to the study of history and chronology, and discussed profoundly the various systems of the ancient philosophic sects. They undertook to demonstrate the truth of the christian religion-by the most conclusive arguments which the authority of history or reason can afford; and to show-that the principles admitted by the most celebrated philosophers, either were not at variance with it, or in the points on which they disagreed, they stood self-refuted, or contradicted one another, and were inconsistent with the dictates of right reason. Sometimes indeed, in the writings of these philosophers, and those of the epoch of which we speak, amidst a thousand absurdities we discover surprising strength of genius and much natural sagacity, and not unfrequently a rich vein of the sublimest
morality. However, in the reign of Valens the Platonic philosophy received a severe check. Some of its professors, by the aid of the black art, had ventured to predict, that this emperor's successor would bear a
name which began with the initials Theod. The jealous emperor in revenge caused all of that sect who had the misfortune to fall into his hands, indiscriminately, to be put to death, and their writings to be committed to the flames. Such was the rigor with which this inhuman and not less stupid ordinance was executed, that an infinite number of the best productions of antiquity in every kind, were sacrificed on the occasion, and utterly lost to posterity.
Among the christians of this age many were distinguished for their genius and erudition, whose writings would do honor to any era,
Such were- Pamphilus, Eusebius, Arnobius, Lactantius; the Gregories, the Basils, &c. These celebrated characters employed much of their time and labors in the instruction of their people: and, in the midst of the most troublesome occurrences, the bishops and the clergy, influenced by motives the most powerful that can act upon the human heart, exerted their utmost efforts in order to enlighten the minds of their fellow creatures-relative to their original destination, the grand truths of religion, the true happiness of man, and the eternal recompence which awaits the just in the life to come. traordinary merit of the bishops ensured to them the highest veneration throughout the church, and an authority next to absolute over the faithful.
The honors which they every where received, excited the am. bition of the envious, and caused them to aspire with ardour to ecclesiastical preferment; this proved, eventually, the source of much mischief, and of schisms in the church. · Donatus, Colluthus and Arius, were characters of this description. The church had condemned the errors of Sabellius, Praxeas and Noetus, who in the preceding age had pretended, that the three Divine Persons of the blessed Trinity were nothing more than simple denominations, given to the same divine substance-in order to denote the various operations of the divinity: but it had not thought proper to explain--in what manner the three Divine Persons actually existed in the self-same substance. Arius would needs undertake to elucidate the mystery. He imagined that the three Divine Persons of the blessed Trinity were three distinct substances, and that the Father alone was increated. Consequently, the Son, according to his new system, was a mere creature; an inference which Macedonius afterwards extended to the Holy Ghost.
In combating the system of Arius, Apollinaris adduced an infinite number of clear texts out of Holy Scripture, to prove the Divinity of Jesus Christ; from which, however, he erroneously inferred, that our blessed Saviour had not a human but
only a sensitive soul, the divinity in him supplying its place. This false doctrine the church equally condemned with that of other innovators of the age ;--Audeus, Bonosus, Helvidius and Jovinian ;-the Collyridians, the barefooted brethren, the Messalians, the Priscillianists, &c. These jarring sects were the cause of great disorders in the empire, and often were engaged in intestine broils. Africa and the East were torn in pieces with the schism of the Donatists, and the heresy of Arius. Every religious dispute under the successors of Constantine was considered an affair of state ; and those whom the court, whether itself orthodox or otherwise, was pleased to deem 'unorthodox, were exiled, dismissed from office, or forfeited their estates. An infinite number of subjects on these occasions emigrated into Arabia and Persia, and among other barbarous nations which surrounded the Roman empire: those that remained, seemed for the most part, to center their contentment in the destruction of the adverse party. New heresies and new schisms succeeded one another in this turbulent state of things; and the church long deplored the mischiefs occasioned by those of Antioch, in which prejudice, the passions, and an ungoverned zeal, as. sumed a thousand different disguises, counterfeiting piety and the love of truth.
The great Theodosius had in vain attempted to stem the tide of the reigning disorders in the preceding age. Unfortunately, his children were formed under the tuition of favourites-ambi tious, ill-principled and totally devoid of all exalted views. They were left by him masters of the empire very young: Arcadius had the East, and Honorius the West. At the head of the administration were Rufinus and Stilico. Rufinus-of an artful, insinuating, adulatory disposition, whose avarice was insatiable and ambition boundless, was all-powerful in the East. He unfeelingly oppressed the people, sold the dignities of the state to men of the basest character, and rendered government odious and intolerable to the subject. His conduct could not fail of raising him many enemies, who accused him of aspiring to the empire ; and he was put to death by the order of the emperor
He was succeeded by another favorite court-minion vicious as himself,-Eutropius the eunuch. This man fell a sacrifice to the resentment of Eudocia,—not for his unheard of cruelties and other crimes, by which he had brought ruin on the empire ; but for his disrespectfal behaviour towards a haughty female. Eudocia in her turn became absolute. She was a woman whose ruling passion was avarice: her counsellors were the ladies of the court, with the eunuchs that surrounded her. Un
der her influence were renewed all the disorders which characterised the administration of Rufinus and Eutropius.
Mean while Arcadius, insensible to the evils of the state, was busily employed in the detection of unorthodoxy; and while Rufinus and Eutropius abused at pleasure in the most wanton manner, the authority entrusted to them, this imbecile prince turned his whole attention exclusively to the aggrandisement of the church ; which he imagined he did effectually by banishing those officers of his court, who were found to err in faith, however inconsiderable might be their error, and however great in other respects, their merit. His son Theodosius, trained in the same school, and formed like his father under the discipline of eunuchs and intriguing courtiers, passed his days in inglorious ease and voluptuary indolence, while the hands of barbarians, and the rapacity of his own officers, despoiled and drained the provinces of all their remaining wealth. Patriotism, in every breast was now extinct; and thousands continued to migrate into foreign countries.
Marcian, who succeeded Theodosius in the empire, resolved to correct these internal disorders; but lived not long enough to accomplish his design. Leo I. Zeno, Basiliscus, Anastasius, the creatures of faction, occupied successively the imperial throne. They were weak and voluptuous princes, who sacrificed every thing to their avarice, their cruelty and vicious disposition.
At the period when Rufinus reigned under the auspices of Arcadius in the East, Stilico was equally despotic in the West under Honorius, and like the former, came to an untimely end. The empire was full of disaffected subjects ;--of heretics whom Honorius and his predecessors had despoiled of their effects and the dignities which they enjoyed ;--and of unfortunate families, which the rapacity of the governors, and excessive extortion, had reduced to the most ruinous condition, After the death of Stilico, these poor people rose in mutiny; and the ministers who succeeded him, were incapable of quelling the sedition: others were substituted in their place, as unqualified as their predecessors. Honorius had not the discernment necessary to choose an able minister ; and those amongst his courtiers who were qualified, did not wish to recommend one of that description. On the sudden stept forth three pretenders to the empire. England no longer formed a Roman province; the towns in Gaul, erecting themselves into so many small independent states, joined in a league for their mutual defence against the Alani, the Vandals and the Suevi. The latter, intimidated by this formidable combination, opened themselves a passage over the Pyrenean mountains, and entered Spain ; where they finally established themselves in certain provinces of that country.