« ElőzőTovább »
for the moment. We have seen from his dress, and we see also from his language, that he was not without the wretched affectation which disfigured the demeanour of the later Emperors. Against one great old Roman vice, that of voracious gluttony, he struggled, but struggled in vain. It was only as despotic power and Eastern manners made inroads into the original self-control of his character that he was betrayed into that disregard of human life, in his nearest and dearest relationships, which, from the same causes, darkened the declining years of the Grecian Alexander, and the English Henry.
Every student of ecclesiastical history must pause for a moment before the conversion of Constantine. No conversion of such magnitude had occurred since the apostolic age. None such occurred again till the baptism of the several founders of the Teutonic and Sclavonic kingdoms.
Like all such events, it had its peculiar preparations, and took its peculiar colouring from the circumstances of the time
1. The standard of Constantine as delineated on his coins.
2 and 3. Copied from the monuments of the earliest age of the Christian Church, in the catacombs of Rome. The name Labarum was given to this device. The monogram consists of the first two letters of the name of Christ—X, ch and P, r. In rig. 2 the letters Alpha and Omega are added. Instead of such symbols the figure of Christ, woven in gold, upon purple cloth encrusted with precious stones, was sometimes introduced, instead of the portrait of the Emperor. It does not follow that the eagle atop of the standard was displaced by this innovation. It would rather seem to have remained, with the altered emblazonment below it.
and the character of the man. He had the remembrance of his father Constantius—just such a "devout" believer in Divine Providence as we find so common in the Eoman army several generations earlier, in the many good centurions of the New Testament. He had a lively recollection of the Christian arguments used before Diocletian. His rival Maxentius was a fierce fanatical Pagan, armed with magical arts, as was supposed, against which any counter supernatural influences were much to be cherished. He was approaching Rome for the first time, and was filled with the awe which that greatest of earthly cities inspired in all who named its name, or came within its influence. It is needless to repeat at length the story which Eusebius gives on the testimony of the Emperor himself. That he was in prayer on his march ;—that " about noon, as the day was declining," a flaming cross appeared in the sky with the words, "In this conquer ; "—that in the night which followed he saw in a dream the figure of Christ bearing a standard, such as in Christian pictures is represented in the Descent to the departed spirits ;—that on consultation with Christian clergy in the camp he adopted this sacred banner instead of the Roman eagles, and professed himself a disciple of the Christian faith. There are various versions of the story given, materially different from this, but it is clear that some such change, effected by some such means, took place at this crisis; and this idea is confirmed by the fact, not only of Constantine's adoption of the Christian faith immediately afterwards, but by the specific introduction of the standard of the cross into the army.
And it is indisputable, that from that hour he went steadily forward in the main purpose of his life, that of protecting and advancing the cause of the Christian religion. Julian's face was not set more steadily backwards, than was Constantine's steadily forwards. The one devoted himself to the revival of that which had waxed old, and was ready to vanish away; the other to the advancement of that which year by year was gaining in strength and life.
It is not necessary to do more than enumerate the acts of Constantine's ecclesiastical legislation, in order to see the vastness of the revolution of which he was the leader.
In the year 313 was issued the Edict of Toleration. Then followed, in rapid succession, the decree for the observance of Sunday in the towns of the Empire, the use of prayers for the army, the abolition of the punishment of crucifixion, the encouragement of the emancipation of slaves, the discouragement of infanticide, the prohibition of private divinations, the prohibition of licentious and cruel rites, the prohibition of gladiatorial games. Every one of these steps was a gain to the Roman Empire and to mankind, such as not even the Antonines had ventured to attempt, and of those benefits none has been altogether lost. Undoubtedly, if Constantine is to be judged by the place which he occupies amongst the benefactors of humanity, he would rank, not amongst the secondary characters of history, but amongst the very first. And here we may quote the striking remarks of Niebuhr :—" Many judge of Constantine by too severe a standard, because they regard him as a Christian; but I cannot look upon him in that light. The religion which he had in his head must have been a strange jumble indeed. . . . .... He was a superstitious man, and mixed up his Christian religion with all kinds of superstitions and opinions. When certain Oriental writers call him 'equal to the Apostles,' they do not know what they are saying; and to speak of him as a saint is a profanation of the word."
What his personal convictions may have been, in regard to the peculiar doctrines which he successively attacked and defended, it is impossible to determine. But we cannot doubt his sincere interest in some at least of the questions which were raised. Like his nephew Julian, although with a far ruder education and less fantastic mind, he threw himself into the disputations of the time as a serious business of Imperial state. Not only did he at the festival of Easter spend the night in prayer with every appearance of devotion, and even preside at the most sacred ceremonies, but he alternately, as student or teacher, took part in Christian preaching. If he did listen to the sermons of others, it was regarded as an act of the highest condescension. Eusebius has left us an account of one which he himself delivered to " the marvellous man," as he calls him, on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was in the Palace. There was a crowded audience. The Emperor stood erect the whole time; would not be induced to sit down on the throne close by; paid the utmost attention; would not hear of the sermon being too long; insisted on its continuance; and, on being again entreated to sit down, replied, with a frown, that he could not bear to hear the truths of religion in any easier posture. More often he was himself the preacher. One such sermon has been preserved to us by Eusebius. These sermons were always in Latin; but they were translated into Greek by interpreters appointed for the purpose. On these occasions a general invitation was issued, and thousands of people flocked to the Palace to hear the Emperor turn preacher. He stood erect; and then, with a set countenance and grave voice, poured forth his address; to which, at the striking passages, the audience responded with loud cheers of approbation, the Emperor vainly endeavouring to deter them by pointing upwards, as if to transfer the glory from himself to Heaven.
There is no act of the life of Constantino so deeply instructive as his death. It was Easter, in the year 387. In the Church of the Apostles at Constantinople he had passed the night, with more than his usual devotion, in preparation for his Persian expedition. An illness supervened; he went to Helenopolis to try the mineral waters in the neighbourhood. The illness increased; a sinister suspicion of poison stole through the palace. He felt that it was mortal, and now at last he determined on taking the step, long delayed, but not yet impossible, of admission to the Christian Church.
The whole event is related in the utmost detail. In the Church at Helenopolis, in the unusual posture of devotion, that of kneeling, he was admitted to be a catechumen by the imposition of hands. He then moved to a palace in the suburb of Nicomedia, and then calling the bishops around him, announced that once he had hoped to receive the purification
of baptism, after our Saviour's example, in the streams of the Jordan; but God's will seemed to be that it should be here, . and he therefore requested to receive the rite without delay. "And so," says his biographer, "alone of Ro
Sketch map of Constantinople.* man emrierors
from the beginning of time, was Constantine consecrated to be .a witness of Christ in the second birth of baptism." The imperial purple was at last removed; he was clothed instead in robes of dazzling whiteness; his couch was covered with white also; in the white robes of baptism, on a white death-bed he lay, in expectation of his end. His own delight at the accomplishment of the ceremony was excessive; and when the officers of his army entered the chamber of death, with bitter lamentations, to make their last farewell, he bade them rejoice in his speedy departure heavenwards. At noon, on Whit
* Stamhoul is the old city, and gives its name to the whole, in Turkish. Galata is the .foreign part, and Pcra is the part inhabited by the ambassadors and richer classes. The European shops are in Ptra. It is reached by streets cut into steps, as at Malta. The bridge rests on long, broad boats, and is densely thronged all day. Scutari is where the English had their hospital for soldiers during the Crimean war.