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THE ARIAN CONTROVERSY.
the advice of the governors of Africa, he repealed all the laws. against the Donatists, and peace was restored for a time.
In A. D. 324, when Constantine became sole emperor, he sent circular letters to all his subjects, exhorting them to follow his example in immediately embracing Christianity : but it was not till many years afterwards that he issued edicts for the destruction of the heathen temples and the prohibition of sacrifices.
In A.D. 314, another controversy had arisen in Egypt of a far more important nature than the Donatist contention. Arius, one of the presbyters at Alexandria, opposed his bishop, Alexander, in his scriptural declaration, that the Son was essentially one with the Father; a truth that had been hitherto held without becoming a matter of question in the Church, though, as we have observed, there were several heresies concerning the person of the Son.
Arius had been twice put out of the Church on account of his unruly spirit, and Alexander again solemnly excommunicated him as an impious person. But Arius was a man of talent ; and by his subtle reasoning, attractive manners, and apparent seriousness, many were led to embrace his opinions, and especially after his excommunication when he was regarded as a persecuted man.
Eusebius, bishop at Nicomedia, a man of great influence, took up his cause ; and when Constantine came to that city, in A.D. 325, intending to go farther into the East, he laid the whole matter before him. The emperor had already pretended to the title of bishop or head of the Church; and as such he was most anxious to unite his Christian subjects together, as he saw that their internal differences must prevent the spreading of his new religion. They were already divided into two parties : for in the course of seven years the notions of Arius had spread rapidly among the clergy and people : practical religion was at a low ebb, and the Pagans watched the contending Christians with triumphant delight, and even held them up to ridicule in their theatres.
Constantine determined to call a general assembly of bishops, and invited them to meet at Nice in Bithynia ; offering to convey them thither, and maintain them there till the council was over at the public expense. It is said that about six hundred persons assembled, of whom three hundred and eighteen were bishops : but only twenty-two of them supported Arius. Constantine himself was present at all the
THE NICENE COUNCIL.
meetings, and took the office of president; not from any understanding of the subject but with the view of preserving peace and order. Before the conference began, a multitude of written complaints of the bishops against each other were presented to him : but he wisely threw them all into the fire, and begged them to attend to the matter in hand, saying, it was better for them to forgive one another, and that it was not for him to decide the differences of Christian bishops. Eusebius, bishop of Cæsarea, the writer of the life of Constantine, gives a flattering description of the emperor's appearance and behaviour on this occasion. He says that he entered the large room in the palace, where all the clergy were assembled, attended by several of his friends, but exceeding them all in size, gracefulness, and strength, and dazzling all eyes with the splendour of his dress : yet, showing the greatest humility. in his manners, he did not take his seat on the low chair covered with gold that was provided for him till “ the Fathers " desired it. Eusebius compares him to “an angel of God," and he himself was the first to address him in a flattering speech. Constantine then made a speech in Latin, which was interpreted into Greek for the benefit of those who only understood that language. By the Nicene council Arius was condemned, and a confession of faith, the groundwork of that now called the Nicene creed, being drawn up by the order of Constantine, he declared that every one who would not subscribe to it should be banished. It is said that Constantia, the emperor's sister, favoured the Arian party, and induced the greater part of them to yield : but it is supposed that in repeating the Creed they put in one letter which altered the signification of the Greek expression “of one substance,” and made it only mean “of a like substance.” Two alone of the Arian bishops refused altogether to conform, and were banished with Arius into Illyricum. There can be no doubt that many of the bishops of the Nicene council were men of God who had studied the Scriptures; and it is observed that many of them bore visible marks of their faithfulness through the last persecution, in the loss of a limb or an eye. Yet it appears that they would not have taken the written word for their guide, by forbidding the clergy to marry, if such a law had not been opposed by Paphnutius, an African bishop.
The controversy respecting the observance of Easter and some other points were also settled by the Nicene council. It appears 256
GROWTH OF SUPERSTITION.
that Constantine declared that it was not for the dignity of the Church to follow “ that most hateful of all people," the Jews, in their time of celebrating the Passover. It was usual for the Christians to fast during the great week (as that was called during which Christ died) and afterwards to celebrate a feast by partaking together of a lamb, in remembrance of the Passover supper.
Constantine allowed to the Jews the rights of Roman citizens; and even favoured the rabbins, as well as the clergy, by freeing them from the obligation of any civil or military service : but his laws in general favoured the Christians far more than the Jews. In one of his edicts he enacted that all Jews should be burned who endangered the life of a Christian convert; and that no Christians should become Jewish proselytes under pain of such punishment as the judge might think right.
Helena, the mother of Constantine, was most vigorous in her exertions to increase the greatness of the Christians. To this end she travelled into different parts of the empire, and caused a great number of magnificent churches to be built. At length she visited Ælia, and induced the emperor to lay out large sums in adorning the city with buildings; and especially in the erection of a church over the supposed sepulchre of Christ. As a reward for her labours, it was asserted that she had discovered the wood of the cross, which had the power of working miracles, and was itself of such a miraculous nature, that though it yielded pieces of its precious wood almost daily to a great number of persons, it never appeared to diminish! This was but the commencement of similar wonders. Vast quantities of earth were carried away from Jerusalem and Palestine, now commonly known as the Holy Land, and this holy earth was sold at great prices throughout the empire!
The bones of the martyrs now became of immense value, and were greedily purchased in Italy and other countries that had not suffered during the last persecution, and had no martyrs of their own. Some pretended thev had extraordinary revelations from heaven as to the places where the apostles and martyrs, or celebrated saints were buried : and it is said, that some acted upon the monstrous notion that it was lawful to deceive, so far as even to inter bones in secret places and then to point them out, saying, that some “ friend of God” lay there. But whilst superstition and error rapidly increased in the hot-bed of imperial favour, the little measure of truth that was spread with
PROGRESS OF CHRISTIANITY.
them was doubtless a blessing to many who were enabled by the Spirit of God to discern good from evil. Yet we have no history of individual conversion to God, whilst we are told of the conversion of nations. By this we understand the change of outward profession. For instance Tiridates, king of Armenia, and all his court, professed Christianity, and established the Armenian church in imitation of Constantine. The Ethiopians, the Georgians, and a considerable number of Goths and Sarmatians were nominally converted by the preachers sent among them : the latter were persuaded to become Christians after their subjection to Constantine, which remains to be related. But the progress of Christianity cannot be entirely attributed to the dread of Constantine, or the desire to please him : for there were doubtless many true Christians who were indefatigable in preaching the Gospel; and the consistent lives of some, with the more general knowledge of the Scriptures by means of various translations, all helped forward the work.
Upon the establishment of Christianity in the Roman empire, it was confidently expected that the Jews would yield to the new system as well as the Pagans. But the dominion of rabbinism was by this time thoroughly established. This system of religion was as different from that of the Old Testament, as that of the Christians was from the religion of the New Testament. In the course of the thirty years of peace, the Gemara and Mishna were woven together and greatly enlarged by the Babylonian rabbins : and at the end of the second century this extraordinary mixture of human wisdom and folly, piety and daring blasphemy, was completed, and universally received among the Jews under the name of the Talmud. The rabbins, as the interpreters of the Talmud, and the holders of spiritual power, retained their influence over the minds of the Jews after the dominion of the Patriarch of Tiberias and the Prince of the Captivity came to an end.
SEAT OF GOVERNMENT REMOVED TO BYZANTIUM.-CHURCHES.
THE NEW CITY CALLED CONSTANTINOPLE. -CRUELTY OF CON. STANTINE. - GOTHS AND SARMATIANS. - DEATH OF ARIUS.POLITICAL AND ECCLESIASTICAL ARRANGEMENTS. CONSTANTINE'S APPOINTMENT OF HIS SUCCESSORS. — CHARACTER OF HIS RELIGION AND LAWS.
CONSTANTINE perceived the wisdom of the course of policy adopted by Diocletian : but he felt that the old forms of government could never be entirely abolished while Rome was considered the metropolis of the empire. He therefore determined to make Byzantium the capital; and as he had millions of people at his command he resolved to spare neither labour nor expense in his new city. But he soon found that genius and skill were not to be purchased; and the decline of architecture induced him to rob the cities of Greece and Asia of their chief ornaments for the decoration of his capital.
The greatest pains were bestowed upon the erection of twelve churches in different parts of the city : for Constantine, being displeased with the stiffness of the people of Rome in clinging to their religion, declared, when he deserted the ancient capital, that his city should never be stained by idolatry. The largest and most splendid of the churches was that dedicated to the Twelve Apostles; and a pretended discovery being made of the bodies of Andrew and Luke, the bones were brought out of their sepulchres and carried thither. The churches were richly adorned with pictures and images, and in their form and appearance resembled the Pagan temples, though some attempts were made to imitate the style of the Jewish temple. It was the notion of the heathens, in multiplying their temples and adorning them with such magnificence, that the gods were tempted by these marks of honour to come and reside in them; and the Christians unhappily began to think that the favour and protection of Christ would be in proportion to the number of churches.
Constantine's city was at first called Second, or New Rome, but soon obtained its present name of Constantinople in honour of him. The fortified walls then only enclosed five of the seven hills upon which that city now stands, or a space of about two