Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/22

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population sheltering under the ægis of the Emperors. During those three centuries the Mediterranean was a peaceful avenue of imperial administration, of trade, of civilizing intercourse. Its great ports teemed with a medley of people in whom the blood of all races from the Sahara to the German forests, and from Gibraltar to the valley of the Euphrates, was transfused. The little clans of high-bred men who had laid the foundations of this huge international empire had practically disappeared. The machine carried itself on by its own momentum, while wars remained on distant frontiers, the work of mercenaries, insufficient to stimulate military virtues in the heart of the Empire. It was, in fact, the economic vices that prevailed, materialism, irreligion, and cowardice.

The feeble constitution of the Empire was too slight a framework to support the vast edifice. Emperor succeeded emperor, good, bad, and indifferent, with now and again a monster, and now and again a saint. But the elements of decay were always present, and made steady progress. The army had to be recruited from the barbarians; the emperor's crown became the chief reward of the universal struggle for spoils; the Empire became so unwieldy that it tended to fall apart, and many competitors sprang up to win it by force of arms.


In 312 such a struggle was proceeding, and Constantine, one of the competitors, casting about for some means to fortify his cause against his opponents, turned to Christianity and placed himself under the protection of the Cross. Whatever his actual religious convictions may have been, there can be no doubt that Constantine's step was politic. While the pagan cults still retained the mass of the people through habit and the sensuous appeal, Christianity had now drawn to itself, especially in the western parts of the Empire, the serious minded and better class. Administrators, merchants, men of position and influence were Christian. Constantine needed their aid, and fulfilled the one condition on which he could obtain it by adopting their faith.

Thus suddenly Christianity, after its long struggle and many persecutions, became the official religion of the Empire. But Christianity