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    CONSTANTINE,

    who is supposed by many actually to merit the title of “first Christian emperor.” As to his Christianity, and the motives that led him to favor the church in a special manner, even elevating it to the throne of the world, we shall learn presently. Eusebius tells us in his “Life of Constantine,” book 1, chapter 27, that it was when Constantine was in Gaul, meditating an attack upon Maxentius, that he first decided to recognize the God of the Christians. His motive was purely a selfish one. Attributing magical power to his opponent, he concluded that it would not do for him to depend on his military forces alone; he also must have supernatural assistance in his battles. “He considered, therefore, on what god he might rely for protection and assistance. While engaged in this inquiry, the thought occurred to him that of the many emperors who had preceded him, those who had rested their hopes in a multitude of gods, and served them with sacrifices and offerings, had in the first place been deceived by flattering predictions, and ora-oracles which promised them all prosperity, and at last had met with an unhappy end, while not one of their gods had stood by to warn them of the impending wrath of heaven. On the other hand, he recollected that his father, who had pursued an entirely opposite course, who had condemned their error, and honored the one supreme God during his whole life, had found him to be the Saviour and Protector of his empire, and the giver of every good thing.”SOOCC 89.1

    But it must not be supposed that Constantine thought that there was but one God. He acknowledged the gods of the heathen as gods, but regarded the Christians’ God as the most powerful of all, and consequently the one that could help him most in his conquests. Of believing in God for the salvation of the soul from sin, he had no idea. He was still, and, in fact, always remained, a heathen in reality, and the heathen idea of a god was one whose wrath was to be appeased, or whose favor in any enterprise was to be won, by bribes.SOOCC 90.1

    The story of the cross with the inscription in hoc signo vinces, “by this sign conquer,” shows that his conversion was solely for military purposes. It is not within our province to enter upon the history of that myth; we only refer to it for the purpose of pointing out the fact that Constantine’s so-called conversion was for the purpose of benefiting the State, and he was the State.SOOCC 90.2

    John Clark Ridpath, LL.D., professor of history in De Pauw University (Methodist) gives this picture of Constantine and his relation to the church:—SOOCC 90.3

    “Of religious convictions Constantine had none. But he possessed an intellect capable of penetrating the condition of the world. He perceived the conclusion of the great syllogism in the logic of events. He saw that Destiny was about to write Finis at the bottom of the last page of paganism. He had the ambition to avail himself of the forces of the new and old, which, playing on the minds and consciences of men, were about to transform the world. As yet the Christians were in the minority, but they had zeal and enthusiasm. The enthusiasm of paganism, on the contrary, had yielded to a cold and formal assent quite unlike the pristine fervor which had fired the human action in the time.SOOCC 91.1

    ’When the world was new and the gods were young.’SOOCC 91.2

    So, for policy, the emperor began to favor the Christians. There was now an ecclesia, a church, compact, well organized, having definite purposes, ready for universal persuasion, and almost ready for universal battle. Against this were opposed the warring philosophic sects of paganism. While biding his time, watching the turns of the imperial wheel, and awaiting the opportunity which should make him supreme, he was careful to lay hold of the sentiments and sympathies of budding christendom, by favoring the sect in Gaul.SOOCC 91.3

    “In the same year of his triumph, the emperor issued from Milan his famous decree in favor of the Christian religion. The proclamation was in the nature of a license to those professing the new faith to worship as they would, under the imperial sanction and favor. Soon afterwards he announced to the world that the reason for his recognition of Christianity was a vision which he had seen while marching from Gaul against Galerius. Gazing into heaven, he had seen a tremendous and shining cross with this inscription: ‘In hoc signo vinces,’ ‘Under this sign conquer.’ The fiction served the purpose for which it was invented. As a matter of fact, the double-dealing moral nature of Constantine was incapable of any high devotion to a faith either old or new.SOOCC 91.4

    “His insincerity was at once developed in his course respecting the Roman Senate. That body was the stronghold of paganism. Any strong purpose to extinguish heathenism would have led Constantine into irreconcilable antagonism with whatever of senatorial power still remained. Instead of hostility, however, he began to restore the ancient body to as much influence in the State as was consistent with the unrestricted exercise of his own authority. In order further to placate the perturbed spirits of paganism, he himself assumed the office of Pontifex Maximus; and when the triumphal arch was reared commemorative of his victory, he was careful to place thereon the statues of the old gods, as well as the emblems of the new faith.”—History of the World, volume 1, chapter 63, pages 881-883.SOOCC 91.5

    Bower simply mentions the fact that a deputation of bishops visited Constantine and were consulted by him in A. D. 311, which was before he left Gaul, and that one of them was Hosius, of Cordova. This was doubtless for the purpose of determining what strength the Christians could bring to the cause of the empire. All historians agree in ascribing to Constantine the character of an astute politician, and that this dominated everything. Politicians do not differ much, in whatever age they live. Votes and influence are the only things that the modern politician considers in making an alliance with any party; and we may be sure that Constantine did not espouse the cause of the church until he felt confident that it could help him in his schemes. His acts subsequent to the Council of Nice, a consideration of which does not come within the scope of our argument, show that he regarded the welfare of the church only as it contributed to the peace of the State. He labored for unity in the church simply because he desired harmony in the empire. Mosheim says:—SOOCC 92.1

    “Constantine the Great left the old form of the Christian community untouched; yet, in some respects, he improved and extended it. While, therefore, he suffered the church to continue, as heretofore, a sort of distinct republic within the political body, he nevertheless assumed a supreme power over this sacred community, with such liberty of modeling and controlling it as public good should need. Nor did any bishop call in question this power of the emperor.”—Ecclesiastical History, century 4, part 2, chapter 2, section 1.SOOCC 93.1

    Here we see the same servile deference to the will of the emperor as was manifested in the appeal to Aurelian. When Constantine presumed to mould the church “as the public good should need,” by which is meant the political welfare of his family, and the church basely yielded to his manipulation, the union of the church with paganism was complete. If the real distinctions between paganism and Christianity had not already been broken down, the bishops would not thus tamely have submitted to imperial interference. And we must not suppose that there were not protests, but the protestants were too few in number to make their voices heard.SOOCC 93.2

    Schaff adds this testimony as to Constantine’s policy:—SOOCC 93.3

    “Unquestionably every age produces and shapes its own organs, as its own purposes require. So in the case of Constantine. He was distinguished by that genuine political wisdom which putting itself at the head of the age, clearly saw that idolatry had outlived itself in the Roman Empire, and that Christianity alone could breathe new vigor into it, and furnish it moral support. Especially on the point of the external Catholic unity his monarchical politics accorded with the hierarchical episcopacy of the church. Hence from the year 313 he placed himself in close connection with the bishops, made peace and harmony his first object in the Donatist and Arian controversies, and applied the predicate ‘catholic’ to the church in all official documents. And as his predecessors were supreme pontiffs of the heathen religion of the empire, so he desired to be looked upon as a sort of bishop, as universal bishop of the external affairs of the church. All this by no means from mere self-interest, but for the good of the empire, which, now shaken to its foundations, and threatened by barbarians on every side, could only by some new bond of unity be consolidated and upheld until at least the seeds of Christianity and civilization should be planted among the barbarians themselves, the representatives of the future. His personal policy thus coinciding with the interests of the State, Christianity appeared to him, as it proved in fact, the only efficient power for a political reformation of the empire.”—Church History, volume 2, section 2.SOOCC 93.4

    The bishops, as Mosheim says, readily yielded themselves to Constantine’s political schemes, because with Constantine as virtual head of the church, the success of his schemes meant their advancement.SOOCC 94.1

    When we say that the yielding of the church to Constantine’s control indicated that the church and paganism were virtually one already, we speak advisedly, for Constantine himself was as much a heathen as ever any of the philosophers had been. Like Diocletian, he had no scruples against recognizing any god that he thought would benefit the State, and so he recognized Christ, yet not in any sense as a Saviour from sin. He was not wiser than the professed Christians themselves, who, as we have already seen, confused the Son of God—the Sun of Righteousness—with the sun that had so long, and under such various forms, been an object of worship by the pagans. Bishop Coxe is as zealous for the traditions of the Fathers as any churchman could be, yet in his “elucidations” at the close of the fourth book of Tertullian against Marcion, he has this to say of Constantine:—SOOCC 94.2

    “The Christian church never became responsible for his life and character, but strove to reform him and to prepare him for a true confession of Christ at some ‘convenient’ season.’ In this, there seems to have been a great fault somewhere, chargeable perhaps to Eusebius or to some other Christian counselor, but, when could anyone say—’The emperor is sincere and humble and penitent, and ought now to be received into the church.’ It was a political conversion, and as such was accepted, and Constantine was a heathen till near his death. As to his final penitence and acceptance—’Forbear to judge.’”SOOCC 95.1

    Without being considered harsh in our judgment, we may be permitted to say that just before his death Constantine did become sincerely converted to—that form of Christianity that resulted from union with paganism.SOOCC 95.2

    No courtier could be more obsequiously devoted to an imperial patron than was Eusebius to Constantine. His “Life of Constantine” is one continued eulogy. Everything that the emperor did was heavenly in his eyes. While Eusebius doubtless went beyond other bishops in his servile complaisance, because he received more personal favors than the others, his statements may be taken as fairly presenting the attitude of the church, and its blindness in spiritual matters; and it most certainly presents Constantine in the most favorable light as a Christian, that it was possible to do. Read now one of the “Christian” acts for which Eusebius so highly lauds him.SOOCC 96.1

    In chapters 58 and 59 of his fourth book Eusebius describes the magnificent church which Constantine built at Constantinople in honor of the apostles—and himself. In chapter 60 he proceeds as follows:—SOOCC 96.2

    “All these edifices the emperor consecrated with the desire of perpetuating the memory of the apostles of our Saviour. He had, however, another object in erecting this building; an object at first unknown, but which afterwards became evident to all. He had, in fact, made choice of this spot in the prospect of his own death, anticipating with extraordinary fervor of faith that his body would share their title with the apostles themselves, and that he should thus even after death become the subject, with them, of the devotions which should be performed to their honor in this place. He accordingly caused twelve coffins to be set up in this church, like sacred pillars in honor and memory of the apostolic number, in the center of which his own was placed, having six of theirs on either side of it. Thus, as I said, he had provided with prudent foresight an honorable resting-place for his body after death, and, having long before secretly formed this resolution, he now consecrated this church to the apostles, believing that this tribute to their memory would be of no small advantage to his own soul. Nor did God disappoint him of that which he so ardently expected and desired. For after he had completed the first services of the feast of Easter, and had passed this sacred day of our Lord in a manner which made it an occasion of joy and gladness to himself and to all, the God through whose aid he performed all these acts, and whose zealous servant he continued to be even to the end of life, was pleased at a happy time to translate him to a higher and better sphere of being.”SOOCC 96.3

    Such as the extraordinary faith of Constantine, and such was the idea of faith and of service to God that was held by one of the most learned bishops of the day. We leave the readers to decide whether this was Christian faith or heathen superstition.SOOCC 97.1

    The paganism of the church is shown by the fact that, in accordance with Constantine’s “extraordinary fervor of faith,” he was worshiped after his death. Paintings were dedicated to his memory, which “embodied a representation of heaven itself, and depicted the emperor reposing in an ethereal mansion above the celestial vault.” His body was placed in the church which he had prepared for it. “The earthly tabernacle of his thrice blessed soul, according to his own earnest wish, was permitted to share the monument of the apostles; was associated with the honor of their name, and with that of the people of God; was honored by the performance of the sacred ordinances and mystic service; and enjoyed a participation in the prayers of the saints. Thus, too, he continued to possess imperial power even after death, controlling, as though with renovated life, a universal dominion, and retaining in his own name, as Victor, Maximus, Augustus, the sovereignty of the Roman world.”—Life of Constantine, book 4, chapter 71.SOOCC 97.2

    In the next chapter he is compared with Christ, with whom he divided honors. Much more might be added in this line, but this is sufficient to show that Constantine was never anything but a pagan, regarding Christ as one of the gods and himself as another, and that the church was in the same condition. It accepted him as its patron because it, like himself, was pagan in sentiment. It is pertinent, therefore, to note the particular form of paganism to which Constantine was devoted. Gibbon says:—SOOCC 98.1

    “Whatever symptoms of Christian piety might transpire in the discourses or actions of Constantine, he persevered till he was near forty years of age in the practice of the established religion; and the same conduct which in the court of Nicomedia might be imputed to his fear, could be ascribed only to the inclination or policy of the sovereign of Gaul, His liberality restored and enriched the temples of the gods; the medals which issued from his imperial mint are impressed with the figures and attributes of Jupiter and Apollo, of Mars and Hercules, and his filial piety increased the council of Olympus by the solemn apotheosis of his father. Constantius. But the devotion of Constantine was more peculiarly directed to the genius of the sun, the Apollo of Greek and Roman mythology; and he was pleased to be represented with the symbols of the god of light and poetry The unerring shafts of that deity, the brightness of his eyes, his laurel wreath, immortal beauty, and elegant accomplishments, seemed to point him out as the patron of a young hero. The altars of Apollo were crowned with the votive offerings of Constantine, and the credulous multitude were taught to believe that the emperor was permitted to behold with mortal eyes the visible majesty of their tutelar deity, and that, either waking or in a vision, he was blessed with the auspicious omens of a long and victorious reign. The sun was universally celebrated as the invincible guide and protector of Constantine.”—Decline and Fall, chapter 20, paragraph 3.SOOCC 98.2

    Milman gives an account of the dedication of the new city, Constantinople, stating that “the emperor himself held a golden statue of the Fortune of the city in his hands. An imperial edict enacted the annual celebration of this rite. On the birthday of the city, the gilded statue of himself, thus bearing the same golden image of Fortune, was annually to be led through the hippodrome to the foot of the imperial throne, and to receive the adoration of the reigning emperor.” He then adds:—SOOCC 99.1

    “The lingering attachment of Constantine to the favorite superstition of his earlier days may be traced on still better authority. The Grecian worship of Apollo had been exalted into the oriental veneration of the sun, as the visible representative of the Deity, and of all the statues which were introduced from different quarters, none were received with greater honor than those of Apollo. In one part of the city stood the Pythian, in the other the Sminthian deity. The Delphic tripod, which, according to Zosimus, contained an image of the god, stood upon the column of the three-twisted serpents, supposed to represent the mythic python. But on a still loftier, the famous pillar of porphyry, stood an image in which (if we are to credit modern authority; and the more modern our authority, the less likely it is to have invented so singular a statement) Constantine dared to mingle together the attributes of the sun, of Christ, and of himself. According to one tradition, this pillar was based, as it were, on another superstition. The venerable Palladium itself, surreptitiously conveyed from Rome, was buried beneath it, and thus transferred the eternal destiny of the old to the new capital. The pillar, formed of marble and of porphyry, rose to the height of a hundred and twenty feet. The colossal image on the top was that of Apollo, either from Phrygia or from Athens. But the head of Constantine had been substituted for that of the god. The scepter proclaimed the dominion of the world; and it held in its hand the globe, emblematic of universal empire. Around the head, instead of rays, were fixed the nails of the true cross.”—History of Christianity, book 3, chapter 3.SOOCC 99.2

    Is it any wonder that Milman closes the paragraph above quoted with this question: “Is this paganism approximating to Christianity, or Christianity degenerating into paganism?” It certainly is a union of the two; and as the mingling of a clear stream with muddy water makes the whole impure, so the union of Christianity with paganism could produce only paganism in fact, although it was Christianity in name.SOOCC 100.1

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