Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Constantinus I.
Constantinus I.—I. A. Ancient Authorities (Heathen).—Eutropius, Breviarium, Hist. Rom., end of 9th and beginning of 10th book. This historian was secretary to the emperor, and his short account is therefore valuable. The Caesares and the Epitome, current under the name of Aurelius Victor, were doubtless the work of different authors. The first, who wrote under Constantius, was a friend of Ammianus, and praefectus urbi towards the close of the cent.; the second, who excerpted from the first, lived a generation later, and continued his compilation down to the death of Theodosius the Great. They seem to have used the same sources as Zosimus, whom they supplement. The Panegyrists, as contemporary writers, deserve more attention than has been given them, allowance being made for the defects incident to their style of writing. Those relating to our subject—Anon. Panegyr. Maximiano et Constantino (A.D. 307), Eumenii Constantino in natalibus urb. Trevir. (310), and Gratiarum actio Flaviensium nomine (311), Anon. de Victoria adv. Maxentium (313), and Nazarii Paneg. Constantino (321)—are all the product of Gallic rhetoricians. The Scriptores Hist. Augustae contain several contemporary references to Constantine; those in Julian's Caesars are, as might be expected, unfriendly and satirical. The first vol. of the Bonn ed. of the Byzantine historians contains the fragments of Eunapius, Priscus, Dexippus, etc., but these are of little moment, as are the extracts from Praxagoras in Photius, Cod. 62. Indirectly it is supposed that we have more of the matter of these earlier writers in Zosimus's ἱστορία νέα, bk. ii. This historian lived probably c. 450. He was a bitter enemy of Constantine, whom he accuses of various crimes and cruelties, and blames for the novelties of his policy, shewing a particular dislike of his conversion. He falls into several historical blunders. The part of Ammianus's Histories relating to this reign is unfortunately lost. Some remarks on it occur in the part preserved, from which we gather his general agreement with his friend and contemporary Victor. The text of Ammianus, pub. by Gardthausen (Teubner, 1874), may be recommended. He has also given a revised text from the MSS. of the anonymous excerpts generally cited as Anonymus Valesii, Excerpta Valesiana. They received this name from being first printed by H. Valois, at the end of his ed. of Ammianus. Some of these extracts may be traced word for word in Eutropius and Orosius; hence their author did not live earlier than the 5th cent. Others are valuable as coming from sources elsewhere unrepresented.
(Christian.) The earliest contemporary authority is Lactantius, de Mortibus Persecutorum, a tract pub. after the defeat of Maxentius and before Constantine had declared himself the enemy of Licinius—i.e. probably 313 or 314. His bitterness is unpleasant, and his language exaggerated and somewhat obscure, but his facts are generally confirmed by other authors, where we can test them. The most important is Eusebius. Three of his works especially treat of Constantine, Hist. Eccl. ix. and x., down to 324, and probably pub. before the death of Crispus in 326; de Vita Constantini, in four books, with a translation of Constantine's Oratio ad Sanctorum Coetum as an appendix, pub. after his death; and, thirdly, τριακονταετηρικὅς, or Laudes Constantini, a panegyric at his tricennalia, containing little but rhetoric. To harmonize Eusebius and Zosimus is difficult. Fleury's dictum, "on ne se trompera sur Constantin en croyant tout le mil qu’en dit Eusebe, et tout le bien qu’en dit Zosime," may be perfectly true, but Zosimus says very little good of him and Eusebius very little harm. Eusebius has great weight as a contemporary and as giving documents, which have not for the most part been seriously challenged; but he is discredited by fulsomeness and bad taste in his later works, and by inconsistencies of tone between them and his history. He announces, however, that he will only recount those actions of the emperor which belong to his religious life (V. C. i. 11: μόνα τὰ πρὸς τὸν θεοφιλῆ συντείνοντα βίον), and is open to the criticism of Socrates (H. E. i. 1) as τῶν ἐπαίνων τοῦ βασίλευς καὶ τῆς πανηγυρικῆς ὑψηγορίας τῶν λόγων μᾶλλον ὡς ἐν ἐγκωμίῳ φροντίσας ἢ περὶ τοῦ ἀκριβῶς περιλαβεῖν τὰ γενόμενα. We must allow for the natural exultation of Christians over the emperor who had done so much for them and openly professed himself an instrument of Providence for the advancement of Christianity. Neither in the case of Eusebius nor of Zosimus must we push our distrust too far. The best ed. of the historical works of Eusebius is by F. A. Heinichen, repub. and enlarged (Leipz. 1868‒1870, 3 vols.). The laws issued by Constantine (after 312) in the Theodosian and Justinian Codes are very important contemporary documents. The first are in a purer state, and may be consulted in the excellent ed. of Hänel (Bonn. 1842‒1844), or in the older standard folios of Godefroi, with their valuable historical notes. Both codes are arranged chronologically in Migne's Patrologia, Opera Constantini, which also contains the Panegyrists and documents relating to the early history of the Donatists.
Socrates, H. E. i., and Sozomen, H. E. i. and ii. (about a cent. later), give an account of the last period of his reign; Socrates being generally the safer guide. On his relations with Arianism much is found in the treatises and epp. of St. Athanasius, and occasional facts may be gleaned from other Fathers. As a hero of Byzantine history and ἱσαπόστολος, Constantine has become clothed in a mist of fiction. Something may be gathered from Joannes Lydus, de Magistrat. P. R., and among the fables of Cedrenus and Zonaras may be found some facts from more trustworthy sources.
B. Modern Authorities.—It will be unnecessary to enumerate the well-known writers of church history and the multitude of minor essays on separate points of Constantine's life. As early as 1720 Vogt (Hist. Lit. Const. Mag. Hamburg) gave a list of more than 150 authors, ancient and modern, and the number has since infinitely increased. The first critical life of importance is by J. C. F. Manso (Leben Constantins des Grossen, Wien, 1819, etc.), but it is hard and one-sided, unchristian, if not antichristian. Jacob Burckhardt largely follows Manso, but is much more interesting and popular (Die Zeit Constantins des Gr. Basel, 1853), though not always fair. Some misstatements in it are noticed below. He views the emperor merely as a great politician, and shews much bitterness against Eusebius. Theodore Keim's Der Uebertritt Const. des Gr. (Zürich, 1862) is in many points a good refutation of Burckhardt, as well as being a fair statement from one not disposed to be credulous. The first two volumes of L’Eglise et l’Empire au IVe Siècle, by A. de Broglie (Paris, 1855, etc.), give the views of a learned Roman Catholic, generally based on original authorities, and this is perhaps the most useful book upon the subject. The section (134) in Dr. P. Schaff's Gesch. der Alten Kirche (Leipz. 1867, also trans.) is as good a short account of Constantine as can be named. In English we have a short life by a Nonconformist, Mr. Joseph Fletcher (Lond. 1852, 16mo), but no standard work of importance. The brilliant sketch by Dean Stanley in his Eastern Church is probably the fairest picture of Constantine in our language. For his relations with Arianism we may refer to Newman's Arians of the Fourth Cent. (1st ed. 1833; 3rd ed. 1871); Neale's Eastern Church, Patriarchate of Alexandria; Bright's History of the Church, A.D. 313‒451, 2nd ed. 1869; and Gwatkin's Arian Controversy. A simple monograph on Constantine by E. L. Cutts is pub. by S.P.C.K.
II. Life.—Period i. To 312.—Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus, surnamed Magnus or the Great, was born Feb. 27, probably in 274, at Naissus (Nissa), in Dardania or Upper Moesia, where his family had for some time been settled. His father, Constantius Chlorus, was still young at the time of his son's birth. He was of a good family, being nephew by the mother's side of the emperor Claudius. A few years later we find him high in favour with Carus, who intended, it was said, to make him Caesar. Constantine's mother Helena, on the other hand, was of mean position, and apparently was married after her son's birth. Constantine was brought up at Drepanum in Cicilia, his mother's birthplace (Procop. de Aedif. Justin. v. 2). His father, on becoming Caesar and taking another wife, sent him, when about 16 years old, as a sort of hostage to Diocletian at Nicomedia, who treated him with kindness. His first military service was to accompany that emperor against Achillaeus in 296, and Eusebius saw him as a young and handsome man passing through Palestine into Egypt (V. C. i, 19). In 297 he took part in the successful war of Galerius against the Persians; and about this time married Minervina. Constantine continued in the East while his father was fighting in Gaul and Britain. In 303 he was present when the edict of persecution against the Christians was promulgated at Nicomedia and the palace soon after struck by lightning. The concurrence of these two events made a strong impression upon him (Orat. ad Sanct. Coet. 25). He also witnessed in 305 the abdication of the two Augusti, Diocletian and Maximian.A higher destiny awaited him in another part of the empire. His father insisted upon his return, and Galerius at length was persuaded to give permission and the seal necessary for the public posts, ordering him not to start before receiving his last instructions on the morrow. Constantine took flight in the night. He had probably good reasons for his mistrust, and to stop pursuit maimed the public horses at many stations on his road (Zos. ii. 8; Anon. Val. 4; Victor, Caes. 21), which lay partly through countries where the persecution was raging. He arrived at Gesoriacum (Boulogne) just in time to accompany his father to Britain on his last expedition against the Picts (Eumen. in Nat. Urb. Trev. vii.). Constantius died at York, July 306, in the presence of his sons, after declaring Constantine his successor (de M. P. xxiv.). He was almost immediately proclaimed Augustus by the soldiers (Σεβαστὸς πρὸς τῶν στρατοπέδων ἀναγορευθείς, Eus. H. E. viii. 13). Almost at the same time another claimant of imperial power appeared at Rome in Maxentius, son of the retired Maximian, who now came forward again to assist his son. Constantine's first act was to shew favour to the Christians (de M. P. xxiv.), who had been exposed to little of the violence of persecution under the mild rule of Constantius. (V. C. i. 13‒17. Eusebius seems here to exaggerate. Cf. Episcopor. partis Majorini preces ad Constantinum, in Op. Const. Migne, col. 747.) Constantine had at once to defend Gaul against the Franks and German tribes, who had risen during the absence of Constantius in Britain (Eumen. ib., x.). In 307 Maximian, who had quarrelled with his son, crossed the Alps and allied himself with the Caesar of the West. Constantine received as wife his daughter Fausta, and with her the title of Augustus (Pan. Max. et Const. v.). For three years after marriage he found sufficient employment in consolidating his government in the West, and in wars upon the frontier of the Rhine, over which he began to build a bridge at Cologne. The seat of his court was Trèves, which he embellished with many buildings, including several temples and basilicas, and the forum. Meanwhile Galerius was seized with a painful illness, and on April 30, 311, shortly before his death, issued his haughty edict of toleration, the first of the series, to which the names of Constantine and Licinius were also affixed. Constantine remained in the West engaged in wars with the Alemanni and Cherusci, and in restoring the cities of Gaul (cf. Eumen. Gratiarum actio Flaviensium Nomine, on the restoration of the schools of Autun). He is said to have interfered by letter on behalf of the Eastern Christians whom Maximinus Daza now began to molest, and this is in itself probable (de M. P. xxxvii.). We must remember that there were now four Augusti, Licinius and Maximinus in the East; Maxentius and Constantine in the West. The two latter had for some time acknowledged one another (see below, § VI. Coins), and probably by tacit consent the four restricted themselves pretty nearly to the limits which afterwards bounded the four great prefectures. But there was little united action between them, and sole empire was perhaps the secret aim of each. Maxentius now felt himself strong enough to break with Constantine, and declared war against him. The latter determined to take the initative, and crossed the Cottian Alps, by the pass of Mont Genévre, with a force much smaller than that of his opponent. Later historians affirm that the Romans besought him by an embassy to free them from the tyrant (Zon. Ann. xiii.; Cedrenus, § 270), and this is probable, for Maxentius, by folly, insolence, and brutality had greatly alienated his subjects. Constantine had allied himself with one of the Eastern Augusti, Licinius, whom he engaged in marriage with his sister Constantia, but had to proceed against the counsels and wishes of his generals and the advice of the augurs (Pan. de Vict. adv. Maxent. ii.). After taking Turin, he rested some days at Milan, where he was received in triumph, and gave audience to all who desired it (ib. vii.). We may assume that at the same place and time, the spring or summer of 312, occurred also the betrothal of Constantia with Licinius, and the issue of a second edict of toleration to the Christians, that somewhat hard edict to which the emperors refer in the more celebrated announcement of 313 (see below § III. B. Religious Policy, and cf. Keim, Uebertritt, note 11). After taking Verona, Constantine apparently met with little resistance till within a few miles of Rome, though this is not quite consistent with the statement of Lactantius (de M. P. xliv.). He had turned the advanced guard of the enemy at Saxa Rubra, close to the Cremera, and then pressed forward along the Flaminian road to the walls of the city itself. With great rashness Maxentius had determined to give battle exactly in front of the Tiber, with the Milvian bridge behind him, about a mile from the gates of Rome. It was Oct. 26, and during the night, according to our earliest authority, Constantine was warned in a dream to draw the monogram of Christ, the
Period ii. 312‒324. Commencement of the cycle of Indictions, Sept. 1, 312. Constantine sole emperor of the West.—Constantine at the age of about 38 was now sole Augustus of the West. Having settled the affairs of Rome, he proceeded early in 313 to meet Licinius at Milan. There the marriage of the latter with Constantia was consummated, and the full edict of toleration, the Edict of Milan, was promulgated. The emperors then separated, Licinius to defend himself against Maximinus Daza, Constantine to guard the Rhine. Both were victorious. Licinius soon after became sole master of the East by the death of Maximus at Tarsus (Zos. ii. 17; de M. P. xlix.). The latter had followed the edict of Milan, at the behest of the other emperors, by an act of toleration of his own, but of a less full and generous nature. This did not prevent him from taking advantage of the absence of Licinius to invade his territory, who had in consequence to fight Maximinus at Adrianople with a force half as large as that opposed to him. The battle was in many details like that against Maxentius—Licinius was favoured with a mysterious dream, and solemnly put his army under the protection of the God of the Christians, and on the morning of the battle repeated aloud three times with his officers a prayer to the holy and supreme God (de M. P. xlvi.). After his victory he entered Nicomedia in triumph, proclaimed the edict of Milan, June 13, and then pursued Maximinus into Cilicia, where he found that last of the persecutors dying a horrible and painful death (de M. P. xlix.; Eus. H. E. ix, 10, 14). The brothers-in-law were thus raised to an equality of power, and were not likely to remain long at peace. The occasion of their quarrel is obscure. Constantine accused Licinius of fomenting a conspiracy against him. Licinius was defeated and made peace by the cession of Illyricum—i.e. of the whole peninsula of which Greece is the extremity. Constantine was not too busy during this campaign to attend to the arrangement of the council of Arles, and to interest himself vehemently in the Donatist disputes. Peace followed for nine years, during which the emperor employed himself with barbarian wars, and with legislation civil and religious, as detailed below. His Decennalia were celebrated at Rome 315, 316, and the triumphal arch dedicated. Two years later his son Crispus, now a young man, and his infant son and nephew Constantine and Licinianus, were raised to the rank of Caesar at Arles (Zos. ii. 20, etc.). His other sons by Fausta were born also in this period, Constantius in 317 and Constans in 323. Licinius meanwhile began to oppress his subjects, especially the Christians. He forbade the synods of bishops, interfered with their worship, and in many cases destroyed their churches (even Julian, Caes. p. 315, is unfavourable to Licinius). Constantine was engaged in defending his Danubian frontier from Goths and Sarmatians, and took the Sarmatian king Rausimodes prisoner (Zos. ii. 21). In some of these expeditions he had trespassed across the boundaries of Licinius, and this was the pretext for a quarrel, which was increased by the expostulations of Constantine against the treatment of the Christians, and after some changes of temper on the part of Licinius, an open rupture took place.
The character of the former war was ambiguous. This one was in great measure a religious war or crusade (Eus. H. E. x. 9). Before any conflict was fought (it was said) the subjects of Licinius thought they saw the victorious legions of Constantine marching through their streets at midday (V. C. ii. 6). The monogram of Christ was now stamped on almost all his coinage (infra, § VI.). The labarum became a talisman of victory (οἱονεί τι νικητικὸν ἀλεξιφάρμακον, V. C. ii, 7), The emperor surrounded himself with Christian priests, and believed himself favoured with visions as he prayed in the tent containing the standard of the cross, and leapt up as if inspired to victory (ib. 12). The sentiment of a divine vocation was probably a real one to him, and was fostered by the approbation of the Christians. Licinius, on the very scene of his conflict as a Christian champion with Maximinus, prepared for battle by sacrifice and worship of the gods, against whom he had then fought, and Constantine prepared by prayer and by giving the watchword Θεὸς σωτήρ (V. C. ii. 5 and 6; cf. Soz. H. E. i. 7 on the perversion of Licinius). The battle of Adrianople, July 3, 323, was a second victory for the Christian arms. Constantine pursued his opponent to Byzantium. Meanwhile Crispus, who had already won his youthful laurels against the Franks, shewed himself most active in command of the fleet, and defeated the admiral Amandus in the Hellespont. This caused Licinius to quit Byzantium for Chalcedon, where he appointed one of his chief officers, Martinianus, as Caesar. Constantine pursued him, and on Sept. 10, after some negotiations, achieved a final victory at Chrysopolis. Licinius, on the entreaty of Constantia, was permitted to retire to Thessalonica; but was not allowed to live above a year longer. Socrates relates that after remaining quiet a short time, "he collected some barbarians, and attempted to repair his defeat" (H. E. i. 4; so Zonaras and Niceph. Call.), and Eusebius justifies his execution by the law of war (V. C. ii. 19). Zosimus and the heathen historians make it an instance of the emperor's faithlessness (Zos. ii. 28; Victor, Epit. l.c.; Eutrop. Brev. x. 6), as does also the chronicle of Jerome (ann. 2339. "Licinius Thessalonicae contra jus sacramenti privatus occiditur"). Yet apparently Constantia did not resent the execution of her husband, nor Fausta the death of her father. Constantine was thus master of the whole empire, and his first act was to issue edicts of toleration and favour to the Christians of the East (V. C. ii. 24 seq., cited as Provincialibus Palestinae and 48 seq. Prov. Orientis). He now specially assumed the title of Victor (νικήτης) (V. C. ii. 19). He had won it by his constant successes against barbarians on the Rhine and Danube and rival emperors from the Tiber to the Bosphorus: his twenty years of empire had brought him from London in the far West to Byzantium, the centre of the Eastern world, and had been years of uninterrupted conquest. He was not unthankful to the Providence which had guided him, nor indisposed to acknowledge that something was due from him in return (Prov. Pal. V. C. ii. 28, 29). But his progress had not led him to a victory over himself, or rather his success made him forget his own liability to crime.
Period iii. 324‒337. Constantine sole emperor.—The history of the last twelve years of Constantine's reign is of a very different character from that of preceding periods. As sole emperor he loses rather than gains in our estimation. He had no longer a religious cause to fight for nor a dangerous rival to overthrow. The hardness of his character fitted him for a life of strong excitement, but not for the intrigues of an Eastern court and the subtle questions of Eastern theology. His immoderate profusion in building and other expensive operations gained him the name of "spendthrift," and his liberality towards the church was by no means free from the evils that attend prodigal benevolence. But he had no less a providential part to play in the internal history of that church than he had had up to this time in the destruction of her persecutors. As emperor of the West he had been led to interfere in her councils by the African schism, on which his decision was desired by both parties. As monarch also of the East he was brought directly into contact with speculations on points of Christian doctrine which had their origin and home there. He again attempted to realize his idea of unity. Taking as precedent the great council of Western bishops he had summoned at Arles (Aug. 314) in the case of Caecilian, he determined to call together representatives of the whole empire to decide on the doctrines of Arius and the Paschal controversy (see below, § III. 2). To Constantine is due in great measure the holding of the council of Nicaea (June and July, 325). But the success of that great meeting unfortunately filled him with overweening pride. The conclusion of their session fell at the beginning of the 20th year of his reign, and he celebrated the condemnation of Arius as a second triumph (V. C. iii. 14). He entertained all the bishops at his table. "The guards," says Eusebius, "kept watch with drawn swords round the vestibule of the palace; the men of God passed through their midst without fear, and entered the inmost parts of the royal dwelling. Some of them reclined by his side, and others were placed on couches on either hand. One might have seemed to picture to oneself an image of Christ's kingdom; the whole thing was more like a dream than a reality" (ib. 15). The same writer suggests that the church of the Anastasis, built by Constantine, fulfilled the prophecies about the New Jerusalem (V. C. iii. 33). Constantine's interest in the success of the council did not end with its dispersion. He wrote to those concerned in its decrees, strongly enforcing conformity with them. The same feelings led him to compose and deliver theological declamations, and to attempt the conversion of his courtiers. Large crowds attended to listen to the philosophizing prince, who did not spare their faults. But the matter was not one merely of philosophy. It may be, as Burckhardt suggests (p. 454), that he took such opportunities of seriously warning or even denouncing those of his "companions" and "palatines" whose presumption on his his favour had become intolerable. The passionate and almost eloquent law of this year, promulgated at Nicomedia, calls upon any one who feels wronged by such officials to declare their grievances freely, and promises personal vengeance on those "who up to this time have deceived us by simulated integrity"; and when Constantine felt himself wronged he did not hesitate to strike (Cod. Th. ix. 1, 4 in 325).
After a prolonged sojourn in the East his presence was now required in Rome. He advanced thither by slow stages, arriving about July 8, in time to celebrate the completion of his 20th year of empire, July 25, 326. He left it certainly before the end of Sept.; but in that short space of time all that was tragical in his life seems to have reached its climax. There was much in the city itself to irritate and disturb him. The ancient aristocracy, in the absence of a resident emperor, preserved many of its old heathen traditions. Though he came determined to be tolerant (Cod. Th. xv. 1, 3) and desirous of gaining the favour of the senate (id. xv. 14; 3, 4), it soon became evident that he was out of harmony with Rome. He would not join in the solemn review of the knights held on July 15, and in their procession and sacrifice to Jupiter Capitolinus; but viewed it contemptuously from the Palatine and ridiculed it to those around him (Zos. ii. 29). Such an action, joined with his Oriental dress and general bearing, seems to have aroused popular indignation against him. Though tempted to revenge himself by force, he was wise enough to refrain. (See esp. de Broglie, l.c. ii. c. 5, for the events of this year. He puts together Liban. Or. 12, p. 393; Or. 15, p. 412, and Chrys. Or. ad Pop. Antioch. 21.) But this outburst was followed by far heavier tragedies within his own household. In relating them we have to rely on the vague and inconsistent tales of later writers, those nearest the emperor, Eutropius and Eusebius, being markedly silent. They seem to have originated with divisions, such as easily arose in a family composed of so many different elements. The half-brothers of Constantine, the sons of Constantius and Theodora, naturally took part with their mother's half-sister, Fausta, and her sons. On the other hand, Helena had reason to sympathize with her grandson Crispus, the son of Minervina. Probably it was in connexion with these divisions that Crispus was suddenly arrested and conveyed to an unknown death at Pola in Istria (Amm. Marc. xiv. 11). Niebuhr thought it probable that the accusation of treason against his father, reported by Gregory of Tours (Hist. Franc. i. 36), had some foundation of truth. Another, but not an early account, represents Fausta as playing to Crispus the part of Phaedra towards Hippolytus (Zos. ii. 29), and other authors name her as his accuser without specifying the nature of the charge (Vict. Epit. 41, Philostorgius, ii. 4. Sozomen, H. E. i. 5, implies that the death of Crispus was required of Constantine by others). The young and promising Caesar Licinianus was at the same time unjustifiably put to death (Eutrop. x. 6 ; Hieron. Chron. Ann. 2342). The following satirical distich, attributed to the city prefect Ablavius, was found on the palace doors after the death of Crispus (Sidon. Apollin. Ep. v. 8):—
"Saturni autea saecla quis requirat?
Sunt haec gemmea, sed Neroniana."
But he was avenged much more tragically, and at no distant date. (Jerome puts it three years later, the others connect the two events.) Fausta herself was executed in as sudden and as dark a way as Crispus. The complaints of Helena seemed to have aroused her son to this dire act of retribution (Zos. ii. 29; Vict. Epit. 41). Later writers represent the empress as guilty of adultery (Philost. ii. 4.; Sidon. Apoll. l.c.; Greg. Turon. H. F. i. 34), and her punishment is said to have been suffocation in the steam of a hot bath.
There cannot, we think, despite the doubts raised by Gibbon, be any real doubt that Crispus and Fausta perished, both probably in 328, by the orders of Constantine, acting as the instrument of family jealousies. The death of Fausta was followed by the execution of many of her friends, presumably those who had taken part against Crispus (Eutrop. x. 4). Popular traditions represent Constantine as tormented by remorse after his delirium of cruelty had passed, and as seeking everywhere the means of expiation; and nothing can be more in harmony with the character of Constantine and of the age than to suppose this. Christian bishops could only urge him to repentance to be followed by baptism. But for reasons which we do not thoroughly know, Constantine put off this important step, and also the baptism of his sons. That he bestowed some possessions on the church at this time, and built or handed over basilicas to it, is very probable. Among the many which claim foundation at his hand we may name the Vatican, which was destroyed to make room for the modern St. Peter's; St. Agnes, which has an inscription referring to his daughter Constantina; and the Lateran, once the palace of Fausta and the seat of the first council about the Donatists, and still the real cathedral of the pope. Probably the pilgrimage of Helena to Palestine in pursuance of a vow, and the "Invention of the Cross," is to be assigned to the time that immediately follows. Constantine gave her every assistance, and authorized her to spend money freely both in alms and buildings (Paulinus of Nola, Ep.11, ad Sulpic. Sever.; cf. V. C. iii. 47, 3). Possibly he delayed his own Baptism in the hope that he might soon follow her example and be washed in the holy waters of Jordan (V. C. iv. 62). He now left Rome never to return, but with the project of founding a new Rome in the East, which should equal if not surpass the old.
The beauty and convenience of the site of Byzantium had long been noticed (cf. Herod. iv. 144); it was the birthplace of Fausta, and its immediate neighbourhood had seen the final defeat of Licinius. The emperor had perhaps already formed the idea of embellishing it and calling it by his own name. He had probably moved a mint thither as early as 325, and used the name (Constantinopolis) upon his coins. But now his intention may have been strengthened by his distaste for Rome, and by a superstition that Rome's fall from power was at hand (Chron. Pasch. ed. Bonn, p. 517). Other cities had attracted his attention; his final choice was Byzantium. Many stories are told of the ceremonies with which he laid out the plan of the new Rome, enclosing like its prototype the tops of seven hills. De Broglie places the foundation in 328 or 329 (l.c. ii. 441). The Christian historians assert that the absence of heathenism from the city was the express desire of the emperor (e.g. V. C. iii. 48).
The removal of Sopater perhaps gave room for the power of Helena to reassert itself. She communicated to her son the success of her pilgrimage, and forwarded him certain relics, which he received with great joy. [ Helena.] The death about the same time of his sister Constantia had important consequences. She was much under the influence of Eusebius of Nicomedia, and had in her household an Arian priest, who persuaded her that Arius had been most unjustly treated. She had not courage to speak on the subject herself to her brother, but on her deathbed strongly recommended this priest to him, and he was taken into the imperial family, soon gaining influence over the emperor. The result, it is said, was Constantine's gradual alienation from the Catholics (Socr. i. 25; see de Broglie, c. v., at the end). Meanwhile the building of the new capital went on with great vigour, temples and cities, especially in Greece and Asia Minor, being despoiled to beautify it and to fit it for the residence of a new nobility, some created, and others transferred from Rome. Of the population that gathered into it almost all the pagans and many of the Jews became Christians. The city was solemnly consecrated on May 11, 330, followed by a feast of forty days (Idatius, fasti, Chron. Pasch. A.D. 330), and the anniversary was long kept as the nativity of Constantinople. It is indeed a very important era, marking the greatest political transformation that the Roman empire underwent. With it were connected the great constitutional changes detailed below, § III. 1, under which grew up the Byzantine spirit with its peculiar character, turbulent, slavish, and unimaginative, but yet capable of endurance tempered with a certain kind of morality.
The years that followed brought Constantine more than ever into the debates of the church. The emperor recalled Arius, but Athanasius, now bp. of Alexandria, refused to receive him. In the middle of his 30th year, 335, Constantine distributed the territories under his dominion between his three sons and two nephews. The eldest, Constantine, received the provinces of his grandfather, Britain, Spain, and Gaul; Constantius, Asia, Syria, and Egypt; Constans, Italy and Africa. Dalmatius, with the title of Caesar, had the large province of Illyricum; and Hanniballian, Armenia and Pontus, with the extraordinary name of king. The evidence of coins would lead us to see in this measure a reconciliation of the two branches of the family. The end of Constantine's eventful life was now at hand, and as some of his first military services had been against the Persians, so now he was obliged at its close to prepare for war against that people, though he never actually engaged in it (V. C. iv. 57). The labarum had now been for many years the recognized standard of the empire, wherever the emperor was present; and as in the time of the war with Licinius, the monogram of Christ was in these last years largely stamped upon its coins (see § VI.). Constantine made also other preparations for the use of religious service in war, especially of a tent for his own chapel (V. C. iv. 56; Socr. i. 18), and he had some time before taught his soldiers, heathen as well as Christian, a common daily prayer, and ordered Sunday to be kept as a holy day (V. C. iv. 19 and 20; L. C. ix. 10; cf. Cod. Th. II. 8, 1, in 321). At Easter 337 he completed and dedicated his great church of the Holy Apostles, in which he desired to be buried. In the week that followed, his health, hitherto extremely good, gave way, and he sought relief in the warm baths at Helenopolis. Feeling his death approaching, he confessed his sins in the church of the martyrs (of the martyr Lucianus?), and now first received imposition of hands as a catechumen. Then he moved back to the villa Ancyrona, a suburb of Nicomedia (Eutrop. x. 8; Vict. Caes. 41), and desired Baptism of the bishops whom he there assembled (V. C. iv. 61). He had wished once, he said, to be baptized in Jordan, but God had decided otherwise. He felt that now the blessing he had so long hoped for was offered him. "Let there be no doubt about it," he added, "I have determined once for all, if the Disposer of life and death sees fit to raise me up again to fellowship with His people, to impose upon myself rules of life such as He would approve" (V. C. iv. 62, see Heinichen's note). Baptism was administered to him by the Arian predate Eusebius of Nicomedia (Hieron. Chron. ann. 2353). From that moment he laid aside the purple robe, and wore only the white garment of a neophyte. He died on Whitsunday 337, in the 31st year of his reign, dating from July 25, 306.
III. Religious Policy.—The great change which makes the reign of Constantine an epoch in church history is the union between church and state, and the introduction of the personal interference of the emperor. The proximate cause of his great influence was the reaction of feeling which took place, when the civil governor, from being a persecutor or an instrument of persecution, became a promoter of Christianity. Something, no doubt, was owing to the teaching of Christian moralists as to submission to the powers that be, and to the general tendency towards a system of official subordination, of which the political constitution of Constantine is the great example. His success in establishing that constitution, without any serious opposition, seems to shew the temper of men's minds at the time, and the absence of individual prominence or independence of thought amongst either followers or opponents. This was true as well of the church as of the state. The great men who have left their mark on church organization and policy had either passed away, like St. Cyprian, or had not yet attained their full powers. The two seeming exceptions are Hosius bp. of Cordova and St. Athanasius. The first had great influence over the emperor, but probably lacked genius, and is but obscurely known to us. Athanasius, though he might have sympathized with some of the wide conceptions of Constantine, never came sufficiently into contact with him to overcome the prejudices raised against him by the courtiers; and the emperor could not really comprehend the importance of the points for which Athanasius was contending. The period, too, ofgreatest activity was in the succeeding reign.
Constantine, therefore, was left very much to make his own way, and to be guided by his own principles or impulses. With regard to his religious policy we have an expression of his own, in his letter to Alexander and Arius, which may help us in our judgment of its merits (Eus. V. C. ii. 65). Two principles, he said, had guided his actions; the first to unify the belief of all nations with regard to the Divinity into one consistent form, the second to set in order the body of the world which was labouring as it were under a grievous sickness. Such, no doubt, were the real desires of Constantine, but he was too impulsive, too rude in intellect, too credulous of his own strength, to carry them out with patience, wisdom, and justice. We shall arrange the details of this policy under three heads:
(1) Acts of Toleration.—During the first period of his reign it is probable that Constantine as well as Constantius Chlorus prevented any violent persecution. His first public act of toleration, of which we have any certain record, was to join together with Licinius in the edict issued by Galerius in 311 (given in de M. P. 34 and more diffusely by Eus. H. E. viii. 17). The edict acknowledged that persecution had failed, and gave permission to Christians to worship their own God and rebuild their places of meeting, provided they did nothing contrary to good order (contra disciplinam, misrendered ἐπιστήμη in Eus.). The death of Galerius followed almost directly, and in the spring or summer of 312 Constantine and Licinius promulgated another edict perhaps not very different from that of Galerius. The text of it is lost. It allowed liberty of worship, but specified certain hard conditions; amongst others that no converts should be made from heathenism; that no sect outside "the body of Christians, the Catholic Church," should be tolerated; that confiscated property should not be restored, except, perhaps, the sites of churches. This edict, issued before the conflict with Maxentius, contrasts strikingly with the much more liberal edict of Milan issued in the spring of 313, which gave free toleration to every religious body. The purport of this edict may be summed up thus: "We have sometime perceived that liberty of worship must not be denied to Christians and to all other men, but whereas in our former edict divers conditions were added, which perhaps have been the cause of the defection of many from that observance, we Constantine and Licinius, Augusti, meeting in Milan, decree that both Christians and all other men soever should have free liberty to choose that form of worship which they consider most suitable to themselves in order that the Divinity may be able to give us and our subjects His accustomed goodwill and favour. We abolish all those conditions entirely. Further for the body of the Christians in particular, all places of meeting which belonged to them, and have since been bought by or granted to others, are to be restored; and an indemnity may be claimed by the buyers or grantees from our treasury; and the same we decree concerning the other corporate property of the Christians. The execution of the law is committed to the civil magistrates, and it is everywhere to be made public." The change of feeling here evinced was more strongly marked in other documents that followed, which more peculiarly expressed the mind of Constantine. The first in order is a letter to Anulinus, proconsul of Africa, giving directions for the execution of the edict, in which the term "Catholic Church" is substituted for that of "body of Christians" (Eus. H. E. x. 5, 15). Then follows another addressed to the same official liberating the clergy "in the Catholic church of which Caecilian is president" from the pressure of public burdens. This concession, at first apparently made to Africa alone, was extended to the whole church in 319 (C. Th. xvi. 2, 2). The description of Christianity in the privilege granted to the African church is remarkable "as the religion in which the crowning reverence is observed towards the holiest powers of heaven" (H. E. x. 7). The mention of Caecilian and this definition of the Catholic church in the same document was not allowed to pass unchallenged by the Donatists. They presented to Anulinus an appeal, Libellus Ecclesiae Catholicae criminum Caeciliani, and a request for a commission of inquiry, both of which he forwarded to the emperor (Aug. Ep. 88 (68), 2; Migne, Const. Mag. col. 479).
(2) The Donatist Schism.—The appeal of the Donatists brought Constantine directly into the heart of church controversies, and was the first occasion of his gradually growing interference. Though his relations with this schism form only an episode in its history, their consequences were important. [ Donatists.] The results were such a mixture of good and evil as seems inseparable from the union of church and state. The church profited by the development of her system of councils, and a general growth in organization and polity; the emperor gained a nearer insight into the feeling of the church; and the state obtained a most important support. On the other hand must be set the identification of the Catholic with the dominant and worldly church, and the precedent allowed of imperial interference in questions of schism. From the banishment of the Donatists for schism it was no great step to the persecutions of Arians and Catholics for heresy, and not much further to the execution of the Priscillianists by Magnus Maximus.
(3) The Arian Controversy.—The relation of the emperor to this great controversy was the result of his last achievement of power. His complete victory over Licinius in 323 brought him into contact with the controversies of his new dominions in the East, just as his victory over Maxentius had led to the Donatist appeals in the West. The first document which connects him with this controversy is a letter to Alexander and Arius (Eus. V. C. ii. 64‒72; Socr. i. 7 gives only the latter half of it). He expresses his longing for "calm days and careless nights," and exhorts the opponents to reconciliation. The whole had arisen from an unpractical question stirred by Alexander, and from an inconsiderate opinion expressed by Arius. Again and again he insists on the insignificance of the dispute (ὑπὲρ μικρῶν καὶ λίαν ἐλαχίστων φιλονεικούντον—ὑπὲρ τῶν ἐλαχίστων τούτων ζητήσεων ἀκριβολογεῖσθε, etc.), shewing in a remarkable manner his own ignorance and self-confidence. This letter was sent by Hosius, but naturally had no effect: though we are ignorant of his proceedings at Alexandria, except that he combated Sabellianism (Socr. iii. 8, p. 394 Migne; Hefele, § 22). Arius seems to have now written a letter of remonstrance, to which Constantine, who was under other influences or in a different mood, replied in an extraordinary letter of violent invective. The detailed history of this time is involved in difficulty, but the expedient of a general council was a natural one both to the emperor and to the church at large. The Meletian schism in Egypt and the Paschal controversy required settlement, and in Constantine's mind the latter was equally important with Arianism. The idea and its execution are ascribed to Constantine without any mention of suggestions from others, except perhaps from Hosius (Sulpic. Sever. Chron. ii. 40, "S. Nicaena Synodus auctore illo confecta habebatur"). He sent complimentary letters in every direction, and gave the use of public carriages and litters to the bishops. The year of the council is allowed to be 325, but the day is much debated. Hefele discusses the various dates, and places the solemn opening on June 14. (Councils, § 26). The bishops were arranged round a great hall in the middle of the palace, when Constantine entered to open the proceedings, dressed magnificently, and making a great impression by his stately presence, lofty stature, and gentle and even modest demeanour. This is not the place to trace the course of the discussions that followed. [ Arius.] Two points are deserving of note—first, the story of his burning the memorials and recriminations of the different parties addressed to him; secondly, his relation to the ὁμοούσιον. As to the first, it is said that Constantine brought them into the synod in a sealed packet and threw them into the fire, saying to the bishops: "You cannot be judged by a man like myself: such things as these must wait till the great day of God's judgment," adding, according to Socrates, "Christ has advised us to pardon our brother if we wish to obtain pardon ourselves" (Socr. i. 8, p. 63 Migne; Soz. i. 17). His relation to the ὁμοούσιον rests on the Ep. of Eusebius to his own church, in which he gives an account of the synod to his own advantage (Socr. i. 8; Theod. i. 12; Athan. Decret. Synod. Nic. 4). He gives the text of the creed which he proposed to the council; and tells us that after it was read no one got up to speak against it, but, on the contrary, the emperor praised it very highly and exhorted everyone to embrace it with the addition only of one word—"consubstantial." He then proceeded to comment on it, declaring that the word implied neither a corporeal substance nor a division of the divine substance between the Father and the Son, but was to be understood in a divine and mysterious sense. Though it is pretty clear that the word ὁμοούσιος was in the minds of the orthodox party throughout, they may have hesitated to propose it at first, as its association with Paul of Samosata was provocative of much disputation. Hosius, it may be, suggested to the emperor that the proposition should come from his lips. He must have had some tuition in theological language from an orthodox theologian before he could give the interpretation with which Eusebius credits him. When the creed was finally drawn up, the emperor accepted it as inspired, and with his usual vehemence in the cause of peace proceeded to inflict penalties upon the few who still refused to sign it. He wished even to abolish the name of Arians and to change it into Porphyrians (Ep. ad Ecclesias, Migne, p. 506; Socr. i. 9). Later Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis of Nicaea were deposed and banished, as they had not recognized the deposition of Arius, though they had been brought to sign the creed. Constantine indulged particularly in invectives against Eusebius of Nicomedia, accusing him of having stirred up persecution under Licinius, and of deceiving himself at Nicaea (Ep. ad Nicomedienses c. Eus. et Theognium, Migne, pp. 519 f., from Gelasius, iii. 2, and the collections of councils). Constantine expressed an immoderate joy at the success of the council, considering it a personal triumph. Eusebius has preserved the letter the emperor then wrote to all the churches (V. C. iii. 17‒20).
Constantine in his relations to Arianism was obviously the instrument for good as well as for evil. On the one hand, he acted with good intentions, and was able by the superiority of his position to take a wide view of the needs of the church; on the other he was very ignorant, self-confident, credulous, and violent. We know too little of the influences by which he was swayed: how, for instance, Hosius acquired and lost his ascendancy; what Eusebius of Caesarea really did; how Eusebius of Nicomedia obtained influence with the emperor in the last period of his life. We only know that the emperor, in his anxiety above all things for peace, was led to do violent acts of an inconsistent character that made peace impossible; but we must remember that he was living in an age of violent men.
For details of Constantine's relations with heathenism see especially: A. Beugnot, Hist. de la destruction du Paganisme en Occident, 2 vols. (Paris, 1835), an important and thoughtful book, unfortunately scarce; and E. Chastel, Hist. de la destruction du Paganisme dans l’Empire d’Orient (Paris, 1850)—both crowned by the Academy. Less important is Der Untergang des Hellenismus und die Entziehung seiner Tempelgüter durch die Christlichen Kaiser, by Ernst von Lasaulx (München, 1854).
IV. Character.—Constantine deserves the name of Great, whether we consider the political or the religious change that he effected, but he belongs to the second, rather than the first, order of great men. Notwithstanding his wide successes, and his tenacious grasp over the empire in which he worked such revolutions, notwithstanding his high sense of his own vocation and the grandeur of some of his conceptions, his personal character does not inspire us with admiration. With many of the impulses of greatness it remained to the last unformed and uncertain, and never lost a tinge of barbarism. He was wanting in the best heathen and Christian virtues; he had little of dignity, cultivation, depth, or tenderness. If we compared him with any great man of modern times it would rather be with Peter of Russia than with Napoleon.V. Vision of the
Eusebius nowhere states exactly where or when this took place; his vague expressions seem to place it near the beginning of the campaign. The senate acknowledged an instinctus divinitatis and the contemporary panegyrist refers to divina praecepta in the campaign with Maxentius.
Another sort of divine encouragement is recorded later by the heathen panegyrist Nazarius in 321, c. 14. "All Gaul," he says, "speaks of the heavenly armies who proclaimed that they were sent to succour the emperor against Maxentius." "Flagrabant verendum nescio quid umbone corusci et caelestium armorum lux terribilis ardebat . . . Haec ipsorum sermocinatio, hoc inter audientes ferebant 'Constantinum petimus, Constantino imus auxilio.' " A distinct incident is added by the late and antagonistic Zosimus, but he tells us nothing of what happened to Constantine, only of a prodigious number of owls which flocked to the walls of Rome when Maxentius crossed the Tiber (ii. 16).
On the Christian side the only independent account of later date seems to be that of Sozomen, i. 3, who afterwards gives the account of Eusebius. "Having determined to make an expedition against Maxentius, he was naturally doubtful of the event of the conflict and of the assistance he should have. While he was in this anxiety he saw in a dream the sign of the cross flashing in the sky, and as he was amazed at the sight, angels of God stood by him and said, 'O Constantine, in this conquer!' It is said too that Christ appeared to him and shewed him the symbol of the cross, and ordered him to make one like it, and to use it in his wars as a mainstay and pledge of victory. Eusebius Pamphili, however," etc. Rufinus also gives both accounts. Later writers repeat one or other of these narratives, adding details of time and place, for which there is no warrant.
That something took place during the campaign with Maxentius which fixed Constantine's mind upon Christ as his protector and upon the cross as his standard, no unprejudiced person can deny. It is equally certain that he believed he had received this intimation by divine favour and as a divine call. Those who give him credit for inventing the whole story out of political considerations totally misapprehend his character. But two questions obviously remain to be discussed: (1) Which account is to be preferred, that of Eusebius or Sozomen? (2) Can we speak of the circumstance as a miracle?
(1) Eusebius's account, being the most striking and resting on the authority of the emperor, has been most popularly received. It is open to obvious difficulties, arising from the silence of contemporaries and the lateness of the testimony. Dr. J. H. Newman, in his Essay on Ecclesiastical Miracles, has said perhaps all that can be said for Eusebius. He thinks it probable that the panegyrist of 313 refers to this vision as the adverse omen which he will pass over and not raise unpleasant recollections by repeating (cap. 2)—for the cross would be to Romans generally a sign of dismay, and Constantine (says Eusebius) was at first much distressed in mind with regard to it. The panegyrist also praises Constantine for proceeding "contra haruspicum monita," and asserts "habes profecto aliquod cum ills mente divina, Constantine, secretum, quae, delegate nostri diis minoribus cura, uni se tibi dignetur ostendere?" Optatian also, writing c. 326, though he does not mention the vision, speaks of the cross as "caeleste signum." Those modern writers too, who think of a solar halo or parhelion as an explanation, prefer the account of Eusebius. J. A. Fabricius was perhaps the first to offer this explanation (Exercitatao Critica de Cruce Const. Mag. in his Bibliotheca Graeca, vol. vi.), which is followed by Manso, Milman, Stanley, Heinichen, and others. The latter in his 24th Meletema gives a useful résumé of the literature of the subject. Few historians adopt the alternative, which Schaff accepts, of a providential dream (§ 134). It is difficult in fact to resist the impression that there was some objective sign visible in daylight, such as Eusebius describes, notwithstanding the omission of it by Lactantius.
(2) Can this sign be considered a miracle? The arguments for this conclusion are well put by Newman. He shews that little or nothing is gained by explaining the circumstances as a natural phenomenon or a subjective vision, if once we allow it to be providential; and that a priori this seems a fitting juncture for a miracle to have been worked. "It was first a fitting rite of inauguration when Christianity was about to take its place among the powers to whom God has given rule over the earth; next it was an encouragement and direction to Constantine himself and to the Christians who marched with him; but it neither seems to have been intended nor to have operated as a display of divine power to the confusion of infidelity or error" (§ 155). Newman seems to be right in arguing that nothing is gained—in regard to difficulties like this—by transferring the event from the category of miracle to that of special Providence.
- For a careful judgment of Eusebius's Life of Constantine, Heinichen's 23rd Meletema may be consulted (vol. iii. p. 754). Cf. also de Broglie, L’Eglise et l’Empire, vol, iii, p. 39.
- Mr. Whymper has given a good picture of such a phenomenon observed by him after the fatal accident on the first ascent of the Matterhorn (Scrambles amongst the Alps, London, 1871, p. 399).