IF the mutual flattery of Constantine and the bishops had concerned only themselves, it would have been a matter of very slight importance indeed; but this was not so. Each side represented an important interest. Constantine merely represented the State, and the bishops the church; and their mutual flattery was only the covering of a deep laid and far reaching scheme which each party was determined to work to the utmost, for its own interests. "It was the aim of Constantine to make theology a branch of politics; it was the hope of every bishop in the empire to make politics a branch of theology."-- Draper.1 Consequently, in their mutual toadyism were involved the interests of both the Church and the State, and the welfare of human society for ages to come.
Therefore, "To the reign of Constantine the Great must be referred the commencement of those dark and dismal times which oppressed Europe for a thousand years. It is the true close of the Roman empire, the beginning of the Greek. The transition from one to the other is emphatically and abruptly marked by a new metropolis, a new religion, a new code, and, above all, a new policy. An ambitious man had attained to imperial power by personating the interests of a rapidly growing party. The unavoidable consequences were a union between the Church and the State, a diverting of the dangerous classes from civil to ecclesiastical paths, and the decay and materialization of religion." -- Draper.2
To set forth the true account of the seed that was sown in the workings of this mutual intrigue, and to indicate certain inevitable fruits thereof, must now employ our thoughts. As we are to consider acts which were very far-reaching, and trace their consequences, we shall follow to its logical results each special act as it occurs, before noticing the next one.
When the alliance was formed between Constantine and what was represented to him as Christianity, it was with the idea on his part that this religion formed a united body throughout the empire. As has been shown, this was true in a certain sense, because the persecution as carried on by Galerius under the edicts of Diocletian, was against Christianity as a profession, without any distinction whatever as to its phases, and this caused all the different sects to stand together as one in defense of the principles that were common to all. Therefore the essential unity of all the professions of Christianity he supposed to be a fact; and from all his actions and writings afterward it is certain that representations had been made to him by the bishops in a stronger measure than was true, and in an infinitely stronger measure than he found it in practice to be.
As has also been shown, the alliance with Christianity on his part was wholly political, and merely a part of the political machinery by which he designed to bring together again the divided elements of the empire into one harmonious whole, as contemplated by Diocletian. It being represented to him by the bishops who met him in Gaul in A. D. 311, that Christianity was a united body which, if he would support it, would in turn be a powerful support to him, he accepted their representations as the truth, and formed the alliance solely as a part of his political designs, and to help him to forward his declared "mission to unite the world under one head."
But an apparent unity upon the grand principles common to all sects of Christianity, created by a defense of the rights of Christians to believe and to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience, and a real unity which would stand together in Christian brotherhood under the blandishments of imperial favor, were two very different things. It was easy enough for all the sects in which Christianity claimed at that time to be represented, to stand together against an effort of the imperial power to crush out of existence the very name, as well as the right to profess it. It was not so easy for these same denominations to stand together as one, representing the charity and unifying influence of Christianity, when imperial support, imperial Influence, and imperial power, were the prizes to be gained.
Therefore, although the alliance was formed with what was supposed to be Christianity as a whole, without any respect to internal divisions, it was very soon discovered that each particular faction of the Christian profession was ambitious to be recognized as the one in which, above all others, Christianity was most certainly represented. The bishops were ready and willing to represent to Constantine that Christianity was one. They did so represent it to him. And although he entered the alliance with that understanding, the alliance had no sooner been well formed than it devolved upon him to decide among the conflicting factions and divisions just where that one was to be found.
The Edict of Milan ordered that the church property which had been confiscated by the edicts of Diocletian, should be restored to "the whole body of Christians," without any distinction as to particular sects or names. Thus runs that part of the edict: --
"And this we further decree, with respect to the Christians, that the places in which they were formerly accustomed to assemble, concerning which also we formerly wrote to your fidelity, in a different form, that if any persons have purchased these, either from our treasury, or from any other one, these shall restore them to the Christians, without money and without demanding any price, without any superadded value or augmentation, without delay or hesitancy. And if any have happened to receive these places as presents, that they shall restore them as soon as possible to the Christians, so that if either those that purchased or those that received them as presents, have anything to request of our munificence, they may go to the provincial governor, as the judge; that provision may also be made for them by our clemency. All which it will be necessary to be delivered up to the body of Christians, by your care, without any delay.
"And since the Christians themselves are known to have had not only those places where they were accustomed to meet, but other places also, belonging not to individuals among them, but to the right of the whole body of Christians, you will also command all these, by virtue of the law before mentioned, without any hesitancy, to be restored to these same Christians, that is, to their body, and to each conventicle respectively. The aforesaid consideration, to wit, being observed; namely, that they who as we have said restore them without valuation and price, may expect their indemnity from our munificence and liberality. In all which it will be incumbent on you, to exhibit your exertions as much as possible to the aforesaid body of Christians, that our orders may be most speedily accomplished, that likewise in this provision may be made by our clemency, for the preservation of the common and public tranquillity. For by these means, as before said, the divine favor with regard to us, which we have already experienced in many affairs, will continue firm and permanent at all times.
"But that the purpose of this our ordinance and liberality may be extended to the knowledge of all, it is expected that these things written by us, should be proposed and published to the knowledge of all. That this act of our liberality and kindness may remain unknown to none." 3
This was proper enough in itself. But Constantine and the bishops had formed an alliance for political purposes. The bishops had lent to Constantine their support, the fruit of which he was enjoying; and now they demanded that the expected return should be rendered. Accordingly, the restoration of the property of the Christians, under the Edict of Milan, had no sooner begun, than the contentions which had been raised before the late persecution, between the church of Rome and the churches of Africa, were not only made to assume new and political significance, but were made an issue upon which to secure the imperial recognition and the legal establishment of the Catholic Church. As the rule had already been established that all who did not agree with the bishops of the Catholic Church were necessarily heretics, and not Christians, it was now claimed by the Catholic Church that therefore none such could be partakers of the benefits of the edict restoring property to the Christians. The Catholic Church disputed the right of heretics to receive property or money under the Edict of Milan, by disputing their right to the title of Christians. This forced an imperial decision upon the question as to who were Christians. The dispute was raised in Africa. Anulinus was proconsul in that province. To settle this question, Constantine issued the following edict: --
"Hail, our most esteemed Anulinus: This is the course of our benevolence; that we wish those things that belong justly to others, should not only remain unmolested, but should also, when necessary, be restored, most esteemed Anulinus. Whence it is our will, that when thou shalt this epistle, if any of those things belonging to the Catholic Church of the Christians in the several cities or other places, are now possessed either by the decurions, or any others, these thou shalt cause immediately to be restored to their churches. Since we have previously determined, that whatsoever these same churches before possessed, shall be restored to their right when therefore, your fidelity has understood this decree of our orders to be most evident and plain, make all haste to restore, as soon as possible, all that belongs to the churches, whether gardens or houses, or anything else, that we may learn thou hast attended to, and most carefully observed, this our decree. Farewell most esteemed and beloved Anulinus."4
By this it was made evident that the imperial favors were only for the Catholic Church. Nor was it enough that Constantine should decide that all his favors were for the Catholic Church; he must next decidewhich was the Catholic Church. This was brought about by a division which was created in the church at Carthage, having its origin in the late persecution.
The edict issued by Diocletian had commanded the magistrates everywhere to compel the Christians to deliver up the Scriptures. Some Christians did so; others refused and suffered all kinds of punishments rather than to do so. When Constantine formed his alliance with the bishops, Mensurius was bishop of Carthage, and some of his enemies had falsely accused him of being one of those who had delivered up the Scriptures rather than to suffer. They were supported by a certain Donatus, bishop of a city in Numidia, and they separated themselves from communion with Mensurius. When Mensurius died, as the "primacy of the African church was the object of ambition to these two parties" (Milman5), and as this primacy carried with it imperial patronage, there were several candidates. A certain Caecilianus was elected, however, "in spite of the cabals and intrigues of Botrus and Caelesius, two chief presbyters who aspired to that dignity."-- Bower.6.
Botrus and Caelesius were now joined by Donatus and his party, and these all were further joined and supported by a certain Lucilla, a woman of great qualities, wealth, and interest, and an avowed enemy to Caecilianus. This faction gathered together about seventy of the bishops of Numidia for the purpose of deposing Caecilianus as one having been illegally chosen. When they came together at Carthage, they found that the great majority of the people were in favor of Caecilianus; but they went ahead, nevertheless. They summoned him to the council. He refused to go, and it was well that he did so, because one of them had already said of him, "If he comes among us, instead of laying our hands on him by way of ordination, we ought to knock out his brains by way of penance." -- Bower.7 A council composed of men of this character, it is easy to believe, were readily susceptible to whatever influence might be brought to bear upon them to bring them to a decision. Lucilla, by the free use of money, succeeded in persuading them to declare the election of Caecilianus void, and the bishopric of Carthage vacant. They pronounced him and all who held with him separated from their communion, and proceeded to elect and ordain a certain Majorinus, who had formerly been one of Lucilla's servants, but was now a reader in the church.
Thue stood matters in the church in Africa when in March, A.D. 313, Constantine sent to the proconsul Anulinus the following edict: --
"Health to thee, most esteemed Anulinus. As it appears from many circumstances that when the religion was despised, in which the highest reverence of the heavenly Majesty is observed, that our public affairs were beset with great dangers, and dangers, and that this religion, when legally adopted and observed, afforded the greatest prosperity to the Roman name and distinguished felicity to all men, as it has been granted by the divine beneficence, we have resolved that those men who gave their services with becoming sanctity and the observance of this law to the performance of divine worship, should receive the recompense for their labors, O most esteemed Anulinus: wherefore it is my will that these men, within the province intrusted to thee in the Catholic Church, over which Caecilianus presides, who give their services to this holy religion. and whom they commonly call clergy, shall be held totally free and exempt from all public offices, to the end that they may not, by any error or sari legious deviation, be drawn away from the service due to the Divinity, but rather may devote themselves to their proper law, without any molestation. So that, whilst they exhibit the greatest possible reverence to the Deity, it appears the greatest good will be conferred on the State. Farewell, most esteemed and beloved Anulinus."8
As will be seen later, this exemption was a most material benefit. And when the party of Majorinus saw themselves excluded from it, they claimed that they were the Catholic Church, and therefore really the ones who were entitled to it. Accordingly, they drew up a petition to the emperor, entitled, "The petition of the Catholic Church, containing the crimes of Caecilianus, by party of Majorinus." -- Bower.9 This petition requested the emperor to refer to the bishops of Gaul the controversy between them and Caecilianus. The petition, with a bundle of papers containing their charges against Caecilianus, they gave to the proconsul Anulinus, who immediately sent it by a messenger to Constantine, and sent also by the same messenger a letter giving him an account of the dispute. When Constantine received the petition and the accompanying papers, he appointed three of the principal bishops of Gaul to meet with the bishop of Rome to examine the matter, and sent to Melchiades, the then bishop of Rome, the following letter: --
"Constantine Augustus, to Militates [the same as Melchiades], bishop of Rome, and to Marcus: As many communications of this kind have been sent to me from Anulinus, the most illustrious proconsul of Africa, in which it is contained that Caecilianus, the bishop of Carthage, was accused, in many respects, by his colleagues in Africa; and as this appears to be grievous, that in those provinces which divine Providence has freely intrusted to my fidelity, and in which there is a vast population, the multitude are found inclining to deteriorate, and in a manner divided into two parties, and among others, that the bishops were at variance; I have resolved that the same Caecilianus, together with ten bishops, who appear to accuse him,and ten others, whom he himself may consider necessary for his cause, shall sail to Rome. That you, being present there, as also Reticius, Maternus, and Marinus, your colleagues, whom I have commanded to hasten to Rome for this purpose, may be heard, as you may understand most consistent with the most sacred law. And, indeed, that you may have the most perfect knowledge of these matters. I have subjoined to my own epistle copies of the writings sent to me by Anulinus, and sent them to your aforesaid colleagues. In which your gravity will read and consider in what way the aforesaid cause may be most accurately investigated and justly decided. Since it neither escapes your diligence, that I show such regard for the holy Catholic Church, that I wish you, upon the whole, to leave no room for schism or division. May the power of the great God preserve you many years, most esteemed."10
Several other bishops besides those named in this letter were appointed by the emperor to attend the council, so that when the council met, there were nineteen members of it.
According to Constantine's letter, as well as by virtue of his own position, Melchiades presided in the council, and thus began to reap in imperial recognition and joint authority, the fruit of the offers which he made when in A.D. 311 he sent that letter and delegation of bishops to Constantine in Gaul, inviting him to the conquest of Rome and the deliverance of the church.
The council met in the apartments of the empress, in the Lateran Palace in Rome, October 2, 313. Caecilianus appeared in person, and Donatus came as his accuser. The council decided that none of the charges were proved, pronounced Caecilianus innocent, and Donatus a slanderer and the chief author of all the contention. Their decision, with a full account of the proceedings, was immediately sent to Constantine. The Donatists appealed from the council to the emperor, demanding a larger council, on the plea that the bishops who composed this one were partial, prejudiced, and had acted hastily, and, besides this, were too few in number properly to decide a matter of so great importance. Constantine ordered another council to be held at Arles, to be composed of "many bishops." The following is the letter he sent to one of the bishops who was summoned to Arles, and will show his wishes in the matter: --
"Constantine Augustus, to Chrestus, bishop of Syracuse: As there were some already before who perversely and wickedly began to waver in the holy religion and celestial virtue, and to abandon the doctrine of the Catholic Church, desirous, therefore, of preventing such disputes among them, I had thus written, that this subject, which appeared to be agitated among them, might be rectified, by delegating certain bishops from Gaul, and summoning others of the opposite parties from Africa, who are pertinaciously and incessantly contending with one another, that by a careful examination of the matter in their presence, it might thus be decided. But since, as it happens some, forgetful of their own salvation, and the reverence due to our most holy religion, even now do not cease to protract their own enmity, being unwilling to conform to the decision already promulgated, and asserting that they were very few that advanced their sentiments and opinions, or else that all points which ought to have been first fully discussed not being first examined, they proceeded with too much haste and precipitancy to give publicity to the decision. Hence it has happened that those very persons who ought to exhibit a brotherly and peaceful unanimity, rather disgracefully and detestably are at variance with one another, and thus give this occasion of derision to those that are without, and whose minds are averse to our most holy religion. Hence it has appeared necessary to me to provide that this matter which ought to have ceased after the decision was issued by their own voluntary agreement now, at length, should be fully terminated by the intervention of many.
"Since, therefore, we have commanded many bishops to meet together from different and remote places, in the city of Arles, towards the calends of August, I have also thought proper to write to thee, that taking a public vehicle from the most illustrious Latronianus, corrector of Sicily, and taking with thee two others of the second rank, which thou mayest select, also three servants to afford you services on the way ; I would have you meet them within the same day at the aforesaid place. That by the weight of your authority, and the prudence and unanimity of the rest that assemble, this dispute, which has disgracefully continued until the present time, in consequence of certain disgraceful contentions, may be discussed, by hearing all that shall be alleged by those who are now at variance, whom we have also commanded to be present, and thus the controversy be reduced, though slowly, to that faith and observance of religion, and fraternal concord, which ought to prevail. May Almighty God preserve thee in safety many years." 11
This council met according to appointment, August, A.D. 314, and was composed of the bishops from almost all the provinces of the Western division of the empire. Sylvester, who was now bishop of Rome, was summoned to the council, but declined on account of age, sending two presbyters and two deacons as his representatives. This council also declared Caecilianus innocent of the crimes laid against him by the Donatists. The council also decided that whoever should falsely accuse his brethren should be cut off from the communion of the church without hope of ever being received again, except at the point of death. It further decided that such bishops as had been ordained by the Donatists should officiate alternately with the Catholic bishops till one or the other should die.
But the council did not stop with the consideration of the question which it was summoned to consider. The bishops in council now took it upon themselves to legislate in matters of discipline for the world, and to bestow special preference and dignity upon the bishop of Rome. They "ordained that Easter should be kept on the same day, and on a Sunday, by all the churches in the world" (Bower[fn12), and that the bishop of Rome should announce to the churches the particular Sunday upon which it should be celebrated. Before adjourning, the council sent to the bishop of Rome an account of their proceedings, with a copy of the decrees which they had adopted concerning the discipline of the churches, that he might publish them to all the churches.
The Donatists appealed again, not for council, but to the emperor himself. Constantine held a consistory and heard their appeal, and in harmony with the council already held, pronounced in favor of Caecilianus and against the Donatists. Upon this the Donatists claimed that the emperor had been influenced by Hosius, one of his favorite bishops, and denied that he had any jurisdiction in the matter at all, because it was not right for civil magistrates to have anything to do with religion! This claim was true enough, if they had made it at the beginning, and had refused from the first to allow their controversy to be touched upon in any way by the imperial authority. Then they would have stood upon proper ground; but when they themselves were the first to appeal to the civil authority; when they had asked the emperor to consider the matter again and again and again, with the hope of getting the imperial power on their side; and when they had carried to the last extreme, their efforts in this direction, -- when they had done all this in vain, and then turned about to protest, their protest was robbed of every shadow of force or merit.
The question as to which was the Catholic Church having now been decided, Constantine, in his next epistle, could add yet another distinguishing title. As we have seen, the Edict of Milan -- March , A. D. 313 -- ordered that the churches should be restored to the Christians -- "the whole body of Christians" -- without distinction. When the Catholic Church asserted its sole right to the designation "Christian," and backed its assertion with political reasons which were then peculiarly cogent, the imperial epistle ran -- March, A. D. 313 -- "to the Catholic Church of the Christians." When the emperor wrote to Melchiades appointing the first council under the imperial authority, his epistle ran -- autumn, A. D. 313 -- the holy Catholic Church." When he wrote to Chrestus -- summer, A. D. 314 -- summoning him to the second council under imperial authority, he referred to the doctrine of the Catholic Church as embodying the "most holy religion." When it had been decided which was "the most holy Catholic religion," he addressed an epistle to Caecilianus -- A. D. 316 -- announcing imperial favors to "the legitimate and most holy Catholic religion," and empowered Caecilianus to assist the imperial officers in preventing any diversion from the most holy Catholic Church.
The following is that letter: --
"Constantine Augustus, to Caecilianus, bishop of Carthage: As we have determined that in all the provinces of Africa, Numidia, and Mauritania, something should be granted to certain ministers of the legitimate and most holy Catholic religion to defray their expenses, I have given letters to Ursus, the most illustrious lieutenant-governor of Africa. and have communicated to him, that he shall provide, to pay to your authority, three thousand folles [about one hundred thousand dollars].
"After you shall have obtained this sum, you are to order these monies to be distributed among the aforesaid ministers, according to the abstract addressed to thee from Hosius. But if thou shalt learn, perhaps, that anything shall be wanting to complete this my purpose with regard to all, thou art authorized, without delay, to make demands for whatever thou mayest ascertain to be necessary, from Herbicides, the procurator of our possessions. And I have also commanded him when present, that if thy authority should demand any monies of him, he should see that it should be paid without delay. And as I ascertained that some men, who are of no settled mind, wished to divert the people from the most holy Catholic Church, by a certain pernicious adulteration, I wish thee to understand that I have given, both to the proconsul Anulinus and to Patricius, vicar-general of the perfects, when present, the following injunctions: that, among all the rest, they should particularly pay the necessary attention to this, nor should by any means tolerate that this should be overlooked. Wherefore, if thou seest any of these men persevering in this madness, thou shalt, without any hesitancy, proceed to the aforesaid judges, and report it to them, that they may animadvert upon them as I commanded them when present. May the power of the great God preserve thee many years."13
When the Donatists rejected the decision of the emperor himself, and denied his right to say anything in the controversy in which they had invited him over and over again to participate, as announced in the above letter to Caecilianus he carried against them -- A. D. 316 -- the interference which they had solicited, to the full extent to which it would undoubtedly have been carried against the Catholics if the Donatists had secured the decision in their favor. The Donatists bishops were driven out, and Constantine ordered all their churches to be delivered to the Catholic party. As this was done in the interests, and by the direct counsel, of the Catholic party through Hosius, the emperor's chief counselor, the imperial authority thus became wholly partisan, and to both parties was given a dignity which was far, far beyond any merit that was in the question at issue. To the Catholic party it gave the dignity of an imperial alliance and the assurance of imperial favor. The Donatist party it elevated to a dignity and clothed with an importance which placed it before the world as worthy of imperial antagonism. Into the Catholic party, it infused more than ever the pride of place, power, and imperial favor. To the Donatist party it gave the dignity and fame of a persecuted people, and increased the evil which it attempted to destroy.
More than this, when the governmental authority, which should be for the protection of all alike from violence, became itself a party to the controversy, it forsook the place of impartial protector, and assumed the place of a partisan.
This only deepened the sense of injury felt by the defeated, and the sense of triumph felt by the victorious, party; and the antagonism was only the more embittered. "The implacable faction darkened into a sanguinary feud. For the first time, human blood was shed in conflicts between followers of the Prince of peace." -- Milman.14 And the government, by becoming a partisan, had lost the power to keep peace. By becoming a party to religious controversy, it had lost the power to prevent civil violence between religious factions. "Each party recriminated on the other, but neither denies the barbarous scenes of massacre and license which devastated the African cities. The Donatists boasted of their martyrs, and the cruelties of the Catholic party rest on their own admission: they deny not, they proudly vindicate, their barbarities: `Is the vengeance of God to be defrauded of its victims?' and they appeal to the Old Testament to justify, by the examples of Moses, of Phineas, and of Elijah, the Christian duty of slaying by thousands the renegades and unbelievers," -- Milman.15 This, though a shameful perversion of Scripture, was but the practical working out of the theocratical theory of government, which was the basis of the whole system of the union of Church and State which had been created by Constantine and the bishops.
Constantine issued an edict commanding peace, but it was all in vain. The tumult went on, constantly increasing in violence, until the only alternative was for the imperial authority either to enter upon the horrors of a protracted war with its own subjects or openly refuse to go any farther. The latter step was taken. In A. D. 321, upon the advice of the civil officers of Africa, Constantine "repealed the laws against the Donatists, and gave the African people full liberty to follow either of the contending parties, as they liked best." -- Mosheim.16
The Donatist controversy touched no point of doctrine, but of discipline only, and was confined to the provinces of Africa. The result in this case, however, ought to have convinced Constantine that the best thing for the imperial authority to do was to return, and strictly adhere, to the principles of the Edict of Milan, to let religious questions and controversies entirely alone, and allow each individual "the privilege of choosing and professing his own religion." Yet, even if this thought had occurred to him, it would have been impossible for him to do so and attain the object of his ambition. The principles of the Edict of Milan had no place in the compact entered into between Constantine and the bishops. As yet he possessed only half the empire; for Licinius still held the East, and Constantine's position was not yet so secure that he dare risk any break with the bishops. He had bargained to them his influence in religious things for theirs in politics. The contract had been entered into, he had sold himself to the church influence, and he could not go back even if he would. The empire was before him, but without the support of the church party it could not be his.
It is necessary now to notice the material point in that edict issued in A. D. 313, exempting from all public offices the clergy of the Catholic Church. As a benefit to society and that "the greatest good might be conferred on the State," the clergy of the Catholic Church were to "be held totally free and exempt from all public offices."
At this time the burdens and expenses of the principal offices of the State were so great that this exemption was of the greatest material benefit. The immediate effect of the edict, therefore, was to erect the clerical order into a distinct and privileged class. For instance, in the days of the systematic governing of the empire, the decurionate was the chief office of the State. "The decurions formed the Senates of the towns; they supplied the magistrates from their body, and had the right of electing them. Under the new financial system introduced by Diocletian, the decurions were made responsible for the full amount of taxation imposed by the cataster, or assessment on the town and district." -- Milman.17
As the splendor and magnificence of the court display was increased, and as the imperial power became more absolute, the taxation became more and more burdensome. To such an extent indeed was this carried that tenants, and indeed proprietors of moderate means, were well-nigh bankrupted. Yet the imperial power demanded of the decurions the full amount of the taxes that were levied in their town or district. "The office itself grew into disrepute, and the law was obliged to force that upon the reluctant citizen of wealth or character which had before been an object of eager emulation and competition." -- Milman.18
The exemption of the clecrical order from all public offices opened the way for all who would escape these burdens, to become, by whatever means possible, members of that order. The effect was, therefore, to bring into the ministry of the church a crowd of men who had no other purpose in view than to be relieved from the burdensome duties that were laid upon the public by the imperial extravagance of Constantine. So promptly did this consequence follow from this edict, and "such numbers of persons, in order to secure this exemption, rushed into the clecrical order," that "this manifest abuse demanded an immediate modification of the law." It was therefore ordered that "none were to be admitted into the sacred order except on the vacancy of a religious charge, and then those only whose poverty exempted them from the municipal functions." -- Milman.18
Nor was this all. The order of the clergy itself found that it was required to pay for this exemption a tribute which it had not at all contemplated in the original bargain. Those already belonging to the clerical order who were sufficiently wealthy to exercise the office of decurion, were commanded to "abandon their religious profession" (Milman,20) in order that they might fill the office which had been deserted by the exemption which had been granted to their particular order. This of course was counted by the clergy as a great hardship. But as they had willingly consented at the first to the interference of the authority of the State when it was exercised seemingly to their profit, they had thereby forfeited their right to protest against that same interference when it was exercised actually to the denial of their natural rights. Yet the resources of dishonest intrigue were still left to them, -- especially the plea that their possessions belonged not to themselves but to the church, -- and it was exercised to such an extent as virtually to defeat the purpose of this later law. Thus the evil consequences of the original law still flowed on, and "numbers, without any inward call to the spiritual office, and without any fitness for it whatever, now got themselves ordained as ecclesiastics, for the sake of enjoying this exemption, whereby many of the worst class came to the administration of the most sacred calling." -- Neander.21
Another scheme adopted by Constantine, was fraught with more evil in the same direction. As he had favored the new religion only on account of its value to him as a political factor, he counted it to his advantage to have as many as possible to profess that religion. He therefore used all the means that could be employed by the State to effect this purpose. He made the principal positions about his palace and court, a gift and reward to the professors of the new imperial religion, and with "the hopes of wealth and honors, the example of an emperor, his exhortations, his irresistible smiles, diffused conviction among the venal and obsequious crowds which usually fill the apartments of a palace. . . . As the lower ranks of society are governed by imitation, the conversion of those who possesed 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 a proportionable number of women and children, and that a white garment, with twenty pieces of gold, had been promised by the emperor to every convert." -- Gibbon.22
It will be observed that in this statement Gibbon inserts the cautious clause, "if it be true," but such a precaution was scarcely necessary; because the whole history of the times bears witness that such was the system followed, whether this particular instance was a fact or not. This is proved by the next instance which we shall mention of Constantine's efforts in gaining converts to the new religion. He wrote letters offering rewards both political and financial to those cities which, as such, would forsake the heathen religion, and destroy or allow to be destroyed their heathen temples. "The cities which signalized a forward zeal, by the voluntary destruction of their temples, were distinguished by municipal privileges, and rewarded with popular donatives." -- Gibbon.23
In cities that would accept this offer, he would build churches at the public expense, and send there "a complete body of the clergy and a bishop" when "there were as yet no Christians in the place." Also upon such churches he bestowed " large sums for the support of the poor; so that the conversion of the heathen might be promoted by doing good to their bodies." -- Neander.24 And that this was simply the manifestation of his constant policy, is shown by the fact that at the Council of Nice, in giving instruction to the bishops as to how they should conduct themselves, he said: --
"In all ways unbelievers must be saved. It is not every one who will be converted by learning and reasoning. Some join us from desire of maintenance; some for preferment; some for presents: nothing is so rare as a real lover of truth. We must be like physicians, and accommodate our medicines to the diseases, our teaching to the different minds of all."25
He further enacted "that money should be given in every city to orphans and widows, and to those who were consecrated to the divine service; and he fixed the amount of their annual allowance [of provisions] more according to the impulse of his own generosity, than to the exigencies of their condition." -- Theodoret.26 In view of these things it is evident that there is nothing at all extravagant in the statement that in a single year twelve thousand men, besides women and children, were baptized in Rome.
In addition to all this, he exempted all church property from taxation, which exemption, in the course of time, the church asserted as of divine right; and the example there set is followed to this day, even among people who profess a separation of Church and State.
The only result which could possibly come from such proceedings as these, was, First the great mass of the people, of the pagans, in the empire, with no change either of character or convictions, were drawn into the Catholic Church. Thus the State and the Church became one and the same thing; and that one thing was simply the embodiment of the second result; namely, a solid mass of hypocrisy. "The vast numbers who, from external considerations, without any inward call, joined themselves to the Christian communities, served to introduce into the church all the corruptions of the heathen world. Pagan vices, pagan delusions, pagan superstition, took the garb and name of Christianity, and were thus enabled to exert a more corrupting influence on the Christian life. Such were those who, without any real interest whatever in the concerns of religion, living half in paganism and half in an outward show of Christianity, composed the crowds that thronged the churches on the festivals of the Christians, and the theaters on the festivals of the pagans. Such were those who accounted themselves Christians, if they but attended church once or twice in a year; while, without a thought of any higher life, they abandoned themselves to every species of worldly pursuit and pleasure." -- Neander.27
It could not be otherwise. The course pursued by Constantine in conformity with the political intrigues of the bishops, drew into the Catholic Church every hypocrite in the Roman empire. And this for the simple reason that it could draw no other kind; because no man of principle, even though he were an outright pagan, would allow himself to be won by any such means. It was only to spread throughout all the empire the ambiguous mixture of paganism and apostate Christianity which we have seen so thoroughly exemplified in the life of Constantine himself, who was further inspired and flattered by the ambitious bishops.
There were some honest pagans who refused all the imperial bribes and kept aloof from the wicked system thereby established. There were some genuine Christians who not only kept aloof from the foul mass, but protested against every step that was taken in creating it. But speaking generally, the whole population of the empire was included in the system thus established. "By taking in the whole population of the Roman empire, the church became, indeed, a church of the masses, a church of the people, but at the same time more or less a church of the world. Christianity became a matter of fashion. The number of hypocrites and formal professors rapidly increased; strict discipline, zeal self- sacrifice, and brotherly love proportionally ebbed away; and many heathen customs and usages, under altered names, crept into the worship of God and the life of the Christian people. The Roman State had grown up under the influence of idolatry, and was not to be magically transformed at a stroke. With the secularizing process, therefore, a paganizing tendency went had in hand." -- Schaff.28
The effect of all this was further detrimental to true Christianity in that it argued that Christianity consists in the mere profession of the name, pertaining not to the essential character, nor implying any material change in the general conduct. Consequently, those who had been by this means brought into the church acted worse, and really were worse, than those who remained aloof. When the bishops or clergy of the church undertook to exhort the heathen to become Christians, the pagans pointed to the hypocritical professors who were already members of the church. and replied to the invitation with such arguments as these: "`We lead good lives already: what need have we of Christ? We commit no murder, theft, nor robbery; we covet no man's possessions; we are guilty of no breach of the matrimonial bond. Let something worthy of censure be found in our lives, and whoever can point it out may make us Christians.' Comparing himself with nominal Christians: `Why would you persuade me to become a Christian? I have been defrauded by a Christian, I never defrauded any man; a Christian has broken his oath to me, and I never broke my word to any man.'" -- Neander.29
Not only was the church thus rendered powerless to influency those who were without, but she was likewise power-less to influence for any good those who were within. When the vast majority in the church were unconverted and had joined the church from worldly and selfish motives, living only lives of conscious hypocrisy, it was impossible that church discipline should be enforced by church authority.
The next step taken by the bishopric, therefore, was to secure edicts under which they could enforce church discipline. This, too, not only upon the members of the church. but likewise upon those who were not. The church having, out of lust for worldly power and influence, forsaken the power of God, the civil power was the only resource that remined to her. Conscious of her loss of moral power, she seized upon the civil. The account of this further wickedness will be given in the next chapter.
1 [Page 279] "Intellectual Development of Europe," chap. x, par. 6.
2 [Page 280] Id., chap. ix par. 24.
3 [Page 282] Eusebius's "Ecclesiastical History," book x, chap. v.
4 [Page 283] Id.
5 [Page 284] "History of Christianity ," book iii, chap. i, par 10 from the end.
6 [Page 284] "History of the Popes," Melchiades, par. 2.
7 [Page 284] Id., par. 3.
8 [Page 285] Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History," book x. chap. vii.
9 [Page 285] "History of the Popes," Melchiades, par . 5.
10 [Page 286] Eusebius's "Ecclesiastical History," book x, chap. v.
11 [Page 287] Id.,
12 [Page 288] "History of the Popes," Sylvester, par. i, note A.
13 [Page 291] Eusebius's "Ecclesiastical History," book x, chap. vi.
14 [Page 292] "History of Christianity," book iii, chap. par. 5 from the end.
15 [Page 292] Id.,
16 [Page 292] "Ecclesiastical History" Century iv, book ii, part ii, chap. v, par. 5, Murdock's translation.
17 [Page 294] "History of Christianity," book iii, chap. ii par. 2, 3.
18 [Page 294] Id., par. 3.
19 [Page 294] Id.,
20 [Page 295] Id.
21 [Page 295] "History of the Christian Religion and Church," Vol. ii, Section Second, part i, div. i, par. 11.
22 [Page 296] "Decline and Fall," chap. xx, par. 18.
23 [Page 296] Id.
24 [Page 296] "History of the Christian Religion and Church," Vol. ii, Section First, part i, A. par. 38.
25 [Page 297] Stanley, "History of the Eastern Church," Lecture v, par. 13 from the end.
26 [Page 297] "Ecclesiastical History," book i, chap. xi.
27 [Page 298] "History of the Christian Religion and Church,' Vol. ii, Section Third, part i, div i, par. par. 1.
28 [Page 299] "History of the Christian Church, " Vol. iii, chap. 22, par. 2.
29 [Page 299] "History of the Christian Religion and Church," Vol. ii, Section First, part i, div. C, par. 1.