« AnteriorContinuar »
priests, they should be supported in the same manner that they were; and it is probable that the first proposal of gathering tithes belongs to this period.
The great increase of festivals at this time is to be accounted for by the general desire to accommodate the Church to the prejudices of the Pagans. The holy days, as they were called, were spent in indolence, animal pleasures, and criminal indulgences : and it is well known that the vigils were particular seasons of sinfulness. The fasts, however, were also increased, or rather the abstinence from flesh and wine on certain days; as this was considered one of the most effectual means of overcoming evil spirits and obtaining the favour of God.
Constantine greatly contributed to the spread of monkery, by treating it as a divine philosophy, and by showing the greatest respect to those who willingly retreated from the world and devoted themselves to a life of solitude or hardship. It was in Egypt, as we have before remarked, that this practice began. Anthony, one of the admirers of Paul, the hermit, was the first who formed a regular commmunity of monks,* and from that time they had been increasing in number. Females as well as men had gone into retirement, and lived unmarried; generally in wild places without the common necessaries of life. At the close of this century it is said that twenty-seven thousand monks and nuns were to be found in Egypt. The solitaries and monks of the East were likely to be the most numerous, as the climate and habits of those countries favoured such a mode of life; and it appears that though monkery gradually spread through all the provinces, the Western monks and nuns little resembled those of Syria and Egypt in their manners and habits.
We now turn to the consideration of Constantine's appointed successors. In the tenth, twentieth, and thirtieth years of his reign, he successively appointed his three sons, Constantine, Constans, and Constantius, Cæsars ; and afterwards gave the same dignity to his nephews, Dalmatius and Hannibalianus, and even favoured the latter with the additional title of king. These young men had been brought up in the luxury of the imperial court; but Constantine was very anxious about their
* Monk. This term was originally derived to us through the Latin, monachus, from the Greek, monos, solitary; as that of Nun, from the Latin, non nupta, not married.
LAST DAYS OF CONSTANTINE.
education. Grecian philosophers, Roman lawyers, and Christian bishops were all employed in their instruction, and the emperor himself undertook to teach them the art of reigning. When they were placed in their respective governments, ministers were appointed by him to assist and even to control the youthful sovereigns in the exercise of the power entrusted to them; and each of them had a splendid court, and a sufficient proportion of guards, legions, and auxiliaries. Towards the close of his life Constantine gave up the military defence of the empire to the Cæsars, though he always reserved to himself the supreme guidance, with the title of Augustus. It appears that the young princes did not govern wisely; for they had little knowledge of mankind, and no right principles of action. Their mismanagement, and the immense expenses of the emperor in his new city, magnificent court, festivals, and grants to the Church, increased the miseries of the people ; and it appears that they were weighed down by excessive taxation. Till his latter years, however, Constantine preserved his popularity : but his character appeared to be changed by the increase of power and prosperity; or else he had no motive for concealing his natural disposition after he obtained the end he had in view. Towards the close of his reign he lost all his activity of mind and body. We have seen what he was in war ; and in peace he had been constantly occupied in reading, writing, thinking, giving audience to ambassadors, or examining into Church affairs or the complaints of his subjects. But at last he adopted indolent and luxurious habits, and exchanged his military dress for loose Asiatic robes of silk curiously wrought with flowers of gold. He wore false hair of various colours, on the arrangement of which great labour was bestowed ; and a costly diadem, collars, bracelets, and other ornaments, completed his attire.
In the thirtieth year of his reign, a period which no emperor, except Augustus, had ever reached, Constantine held a grand festival at Rome: and from thence proceeded to Nicomedia for the benefit of the air, as his health was in a declining state. There he desired the attendance of several bishops, and prepared for baptism, hoping thereby to secure the forgiveness of his sins before his death. He was baptized by Eusebius, and never left off the white garments till he died, which was very shortly afterwards, A. D. 337.
His illness was so short that none of the princes could reach him before his death ; but Constantius, whose government happened to be nearest, arrived first, and took upon himself the charge of the funeral honours. The people of Rome in vain laid claim to the corpse ; it was immediately carried to the new capital, to be interred according to Constantine's desire in the great Church of the Twelve Apostles. The body was laid in robes of state, on a golden bed: and every day, before the burial, the chief officers of his army and household came to bow the knee before it, at their appointed hours of attendance.
Thus it was observed that Constantine, as the first Christian monarch, was granted from heaven the peculiar favour of reigning after his death! The foregoing history gives us a sufficient idea of the nature of Constantine's religion. We are told that he was exact in the performance of the religious duties of a Catechumen. He stood up to hear sermons in the Church, observed the fasts and festivals, and watched during the vigils. He even wrote sermons himself; one of which still remains. He had a short form of prayer drawn up for the army; and, when he was with them, he had a tent put up in the form of a chapel, and daily services performed in it. We also hear that chaplains were appointed in the palace, and to each legion of the army. But the best influence of Christianity appears in some of the laws of Constantine. He forbade the exposure of new-born infants, and tried to make provision for such as were too poor to maintain their children. He abolished many of the evils, and much of the duration of sla. very : softened the severity of punishments; prohibited the ferocious and bloody spectacles ; and tried to prevent the licentiousness of divorces, and the excess of usury.
Helena died before her son, at the age of eighty. By their joint efforts, the city of Ælia was rendered so splendid, that it was boldly declared to be the glorious Jerusalem spoken of by the prophets! As all access to it was still forbidden to the Jews, they, in revenge, shut out the Christians from their chief cities, Sepphoris, Nazareth, Capernaum, and Tiberias.
It is said that Constantine, in honour of Christ, forbade the cross to be used any longer as the punishment of malefactors. He also commanded the observance of the Lord's day, and also of Friday, as the day of the crucifixion. He recompensed, as far as possible, those who had suffered in the last per
ESTABLISHMENT OF CHRISTIANITY.
secution : recommended the provincial governors to promote Christianity, and forbade the customary sacrifices ; so that the Christians were everywhere the leading people, and the Pagans, in their turn, the complaining party. We are also informed that, in a letter to Sapor II., king of Persia, Constantine begged him to favour the Christians in his dominions : and his request was attended to so far, that the severe persecution there did not begin till three years after his death.
TWO-FOLD EFFECT OF THE ESTABLISHMENT OF CHRISTIANITY.
THE WISDOM OF CONSTANTINE AS A SOVEREIGN. — ZEAL WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE.-NATURE OF THE PRESENT DISPENSATION.--EXTENT OF A BELIEVER'S POWER IN ADVANCING THE SPIRITUAL GOOD OF OTHERS.-MEANS OF CONVERSION.IGNORANCE OF THE PAGANS.-MYSTICS AND MONKS.-GUILT OF THE CHURCH.-GOD OVER ALL, BLESSED FOR EVER.
The establishment of the profession of Christianity is one of the most important eras in the history of the world; and it is under a sense of this, that I close this part of my “ Universal History,” with the reign of Constantine. But I cannot again take leave of you, my dear young friends, without calling your attention to an event so important in its consequences, and the effects of which have extended even to ourselves.
We have to consider the establishment of Christianity in two points of view, as it regards the people of God, and as it affects the world at large. In speaking of the apostasy, or falling away of the Church from its original standing, it must be understood that, as in the case of Israel, we are speaking of the apostasy of the body corporate. This body, in both cases, includes true-hearted individuals who are faithful to God, according to their measure of light: and, in its worst estate, we have reason to believe He reserves unto himself a blessed remnant. But the office of the historian is to speak of the appearance and doings of the body corporate, and it is that to which I refer.
Constantine, as a wise sovereign, was quite right in es
ZEAL WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE.
tablishing such a system of religion as he thought likely to be for the good of his people. Christianity, in its lowest form, as a mere outward profession, and that was all he knew of it, was incomparably preferable to Paganism; and, in every point of view, it was for the benefit of the world. The very shadow of it, as it were, thrown over the face of the earth, had a miraculous effect: humanizing those who before were as brutes, civilizing the savage, chasing away the gross darkness, and veiling some of the most conspicuous abominations. Yet it must be allowed that the zeal of Constantine was without knowledge. As we have before observed, “ God did visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people.” He never promised by the gospel to subdue the world unto himself. That is the work of Christ alone, at his second coming; and cannot be accomplished, till the devil, who deceives the nations, is bound. As long as Christ waits at the right hand of the Father, exercising grace and patience, and forbearing to take to himself his great power and reign, his faithful followers should be contented to wait also, knowing that this is not the time for them to have great power and reign. Indeed, the idea of an enthroned, or reigning Christian, seems to be an unscriptural anticipation of the Millennium (see 1 Cor. iv. 8; Rev. xx. 4).
If Constantine had been commissioned by Christ to benefit his Church, he would have acted according to the mind of Christ. He would himself first have taken the place of a little child, counting all the glories of the empire but as loss and dung, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ: he would have bid his people search the Scriptures, and not blindly obey the priests; he would have told the clergy what a wrong position they were in, instead of increasing their pride and selfexaltation ; he would have been as busy in unloading the Church of its worldly pomp, as he was in weighing it down; he would have been stripping it of its false trappings and vain ceremonies, instead of adding to them; he would have encouraged the preaching of the simple Gospel to his Pagan subjects, and not have enticed them by weaving a net of golden threads; he would have known that the love of Christ, and not the lusts of the eye, could win souls; and, finally, he might have told the men of the world, from such experience as Solomon's, the vanity of the greatest pleasures the world could