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AGCOUNT OF CHRISTIANITY FROM CONSTANTINE TO THE
AT the end of the three centuries, we find Cbris. tianity, advanced by all these means, become a formidable party in the Roman empire. The sovereign power acknowledged the impossibility of stifling it; and Christians, scattered in great numbers through all the provinces, formed an imposing combination *. Ambitious chiefs incessantly wrested from one another the right of reigning over the wrecks of an enslaved republic: each sought to encrease his own' strength, and acquire an advantage over his rivals. It was in these circumstances that Constantine, to strengthen himself first against Maxentius, and thereafter against Licinius, thought it his interest, by a stroke of policy, to draw over all the Christians to his party. For this purpose he openly favoured them, and thereby reinforced his with all the soldiers of that numerous sect. In gratitude for the advantages they procured him, he concluded with embracing their religion, now become so powerful. He honoured, distinguished, and enriched the Christian bishops, well assured of attaching them to himself by his liberality to their pastors, and the favour he shewed them. Aided by their succours, he flattered himself with the disposal of the flock.
* We are, said Tertullian, but of yesterday, and yet the world is filled with us your cities, your houses, your gar. risons, your villages, your colonies, your very camps, your tribes, your palaces, your senate, your courts of justice. Apol. c. 27.
By this political revolution, so favourable to the clergy, the bashful chiefs of the Christians, who hitherto had reigned only in secret and without eclat, sprung out of the dust, and became men of importance. Seconded by a very despotical emperor, whose interests were linked with theirs, they very soon employed their credit to avenge their injuries, and return to their enemies, with usury, the evils which they had received. The unexpected change in the fortune of the Christians made them soou forget the mild and tolerating maxims of their legislator. They conceived, that these maxims, made for wretches destitute of power, could no longer suit men supported by sove. reigns; they attacked the temples and gods of paganism; their worshippers were excluded from places of trust, and the master lavished his favours on those only who consented to think like him, and justify his change by imitating itt. Thus, without any miracie,
* It is evident that Constantine, notwithstanding the eulogiums the Christians have bestowed on him, was an abominable prince, stained with the murder of his wife, his son, and his colleague. He sought in vain for expiation in the heathen religion, but found it only in the Christian. If he was really a Christian, his example will serve, like many others, to prove, that a person may be at once very devout and very wicked.
+ It is well established, that Constantine, his children,
the court became Christian, or at least feigned to be so, and the descendants of hypocritical courtiers were Christians in reality*.
Even before the time of Constantine, Christianity had been rent by disputes, heresies, schisms, and ani. mosities between the Christian chiefst. The adherents of the different doctors had reviled, anathematised, and maltreated each other without their quarrels making a noise in the world. The subtilties of Gre. cian metaphysics, introduced into the Christian religion, had hatched an infinity of disputes, which had not hitherto been attended with any remarkable consequences. All these quarrels burst forth in the reign of Constantine. The bishops and champions of different parties caballed to draw over the emperor to their side, and thus aid them in crushing their adversaries. At the same time a very
considerable party of Christians, under the banner of the priest Arius,
and especially Theodosius, used unheard-of violences in order to annihilate paganism. To be convinced of this, we have only to read the Theodosian code, xvi. tit. x. de Paganis, Sacrificiis, et Templis.
* 'Tis true, says Fleury, the barbarians were converted; the Francs turned Christians; and the Goths and Loinbards became good Catholics; but they remained barbarians still.
+ St. Epiphany, who wrote in the fourth century of the Christian
that in his time there were already fourscore heresies or sects, into which Christians were di. vided. St. Irenæus, who lived in the second century, had, before him, already refuted a great number. Since then, we have beheld heresies multiplying in the church without end ; but this is not surprising : -in works so contradictory, so obscure, and so absurd, as those of which the Bible is com. posed, every one may find whatever he is in want of to prop up systems the most opposite and extravagant.
denied the divinity of Jesus. Too little versed in the principles of the religion that party bad embraced, but wishing to decide the question, the emperor referred it to the judgment of the bishops. He convened them in the city of Nice, and the plurality of suffrages regulated definitively the symbol of faith. Jesus became a God consubstantial with his father ; the Holy Ghost was likewise a God proceeding from the two others; finally, these three Gods combined made only one God.
Tumultous clamours made this unintelligible decision pass, and converted it into a sacred dogma, notwithstanding the reclamations of opponents, who were silenced by treating them as blasphemers and heretics. The priests who hail the strongest lungs, declared themselves orthodox. The emperor, little acquainted with the ground of the quarrel, ranged himself for the time on their side, and quitted it afterwards, according as he thought proper to lend an ear sometimes to the bishops of one party, and sometimes to those of another. The history of the church informs us, that Constantine, whom we here see adhering to the deci. sion of the council of Nice, made the orthodox and the heretics alternatively experience his severities.
Nevertheless, after many years, and even ages of disputes, the bishops of Christendom have agreed in regarding Jesus as a true God. They felt in the end that it was important for them to have a God for their founder a tenet which could not fail to render their own authority more respected. They maintained that this authority was derived from the apostles, who held theirs directly from Christ, that is, from God himself. It would now-a-days be criminal to doubt the truth of
this opinion, though many Christians are not yet con: vinced of it, and venture to appeal to the decision of the universal church*.
The bishops assembled at Nice, decided also, as we have elsewhere related, on the authenticity of the gospels and books ordained to serve for a rule to Christians. It is then to these doctors, as has been already remarked, that Christians owe their faith, which however was afterwards frequently shaken by disputes, heresies, and wars, and even by assemblies of bishops, who often annulled what other assemblies of bishops had decreed in the most solemn manner. 'To reckon from Constantine to our time, the interest of the heads of the church dictated every decree, and formed the rule, by which dogmas were established, often wholly unknown to the founders of their religion. The universe became the arena of the passions, disputes, intrigues, and cruelties of these holy gladiators, who
* Except the English, all Protestant Christians reject Episcopacy, and regard it as an usurped power. Among the Catholics, the Jansenists think the same, which is the true cause of the enmity the Pope and bishops display against them. It appears St. Jerome was, on this point, of the opinion of the Jansenists. Yet we see St. Paul at first much occupied in advancing the Episcopal dignity. St. Ignatius of Antioch. disciple of the apostles, insinuates in his epistles, the high opinion which the Christians ought to have of a bishop ; and the very antient author of the Apostolic Constitutions, 1. 1. c. 2, openly declares, that a bishop is a god on eurth, destined to rule over all men, priests, kings, and magistrates. Though these Constitutions are reputed Apocryphal, the bishops have conformed their conduct to them more than to the canonical gospel, wherein Jesus, far from assigning prerogatives to bishops, declares, that in his kingdom there will be neither first nor last.