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A New Epoch in the Paganizing of Christianity—Paganism Seeking a New God, Strong enough to Save the Empire—Constantine not a “Christian Emperor,” but Superstitious, Time-Serving, and Ambitious—Murdering his Kindred while Promoting Christianity as a rising Political Influence—Seeking Christianity mainly for Ambitious Ends—Professing Christianity only on his Death-Bed—Making the Most of Both Worlds—Constantine Corrupted and Perverted Christianity More than he Aided it.

The opening of the fourth century marks a new era in the process by which paganism poisoned Christianity, by applying to it the pagan theory set forth in the last chapter. Though sadly weakened and corrupted by these influences, Christianity was a growing power in the empire. On the other hand, paganism was declining, and the fortunes of the disintegrating empire seemed to be going down with the national religious cult. Pagan superstition looked upon all the fortunes of the empire as the direct work of the gods, and as misfortunes piled up around the empire, it was natural to think that the old gods were deserting it, and that new gods must be sought. When the[204] empire became subdivided under different rulers, the rivalry between them, and the varying success which attended the efforts of each, naturally associated success and failure with the gods to whom each was devoted. The firmness of the Christians under persecution was looked upon by the pagans as evidence that the Christian’s God had great power to help those who worshipped him. In this way many were brought to consider the idea of adding this God to the catalogue of those whom they already worshipped.

The severe edicts of Diocletian against the Christians, issued in 303 A.D., spread desolation far and wide. In Gaul, Britain, and Spain, where Constantius Chlorus and Constantine his son reigned, the edict was tamely enforced, they preferring to favor the Christians. The bitterness of the persecutions in other parts of the empire inflamed the zeal of Christians, and martyrdom was sought by many, not so much from calm faith as from fanatical zeal.[184] This cruel persecution was the last direct effort of paganism to destroy Christianity by the sword. The fortunes which befell the leaders in the persecution increased superstitious regard for the God of the martyrs, who was thought to be like the gods of the pagans, only more powerful.


Galerius, who was the leader in the horrid work, being stricken by a terrible disease, was overcome with fear, and, in connection with Constantine and Licinius, ordered the persecutions to cease, by an edict in 311 A.D. This edict was to the effect that since punishment had not reclaimed the Christians, they might now hold their assemblies, providing they did not disturb the order of the state. The real animus of the edict is seen in its closing words, in which Galerius suggested that “after this manifestation of grace, Christians ought to pray to their God for the welfare of the Emperors and of the State.” Constantine attributed the military success which finally made him sole ruler in 323 A.D. to the help of the Christians’ God. All parties looked upon the issue as a political struggle between Jupiter and Jehovah, in which the latter was victorious.

Boissier, a late, learned French writer, says:

“Constantine recalled that of all the princes that he had known, the only one who had lived prosperously, without eclipse, was his father Constance, who had protected the Christians; while nearly all those who had persecuted them had ended their lives miserably.”[185]

Character of Constantine.

Constantine has been called the “first Christian Emperor”; how unjustly will be seen in what follows. In a certain sense, Christianity ascended the throne of the C?sars with Constantine. It was a political triumph, but a spiritual defeat. That we may the better understand the case, the reader needs to look carefully into the character of this first representative of the pagan state-church policy, and of the subordinating of Christianity to the political power. The reader will be permitted to make this survey mainly through the eyes of other writers, which I think will be more satisfactory than any picture that I might draw.

Killen thus summarizes the character of Constantine:

“The personal conduct of Constantine in advanced life did not exhibit Christianity as a religion fitted to effect a marked improvement in the spirit and character. In A.D. 326, he put to death his son Crispus, a youth of the highest promise, who had in some way disturbed his suspicious temper. His nephew Licinius and his own wife Fausta shared the same fate. His growing passion for gaudy dress betrayed pitiable vanity in an old man of sixty; and towards the end of his reign, the general extravagance of his expenditure led to an increase of taxation of which his subjects complained. He desired to be a dictator of the Church, rather than a disciple; and with a view to share its privileges without submitting to[207] its discipline, deferred his baptism until the near approach of death. He then received the ordinance from the Arian bishop of Nicomedia.

“The defects in the religious character of Constantine greatly impaired his moral influence. Though he did much to promote the extension of the visible Church, his reign forms an era in the history of ecclesiastical corruption. His own Christianity was so loose and accommodating that it seemed to consist chiefly in the admiration of a new ritual; and the courtiers who surrounded him and who complimented him by the adoption of his creed, seldom seemed to feel that it taught the necessity of personal reformation. All at once, the profession of the Gospel became fashionable; crowds of merely nominal converts presented themselves at the baptismal font; and many even entered the clerical office who had no higher object in view than an honorable or a lucrative position. Ecclesiastical discipline was relaxed; and that the heathen might be induced to conform to the religion of the emperor, many of their ceremonies were introduced into the worship of the Church. The manner in which Constantine intermeddled with ecclesiastical affairs was extremely objectionable. He undertook not only to preach, but also to dictate to aged and learned ministers. Had any other individual who had never been baptized appeared in the Nicene synod, and ventured to give counsel to the assembled fathers, he would have been speedily rebuked for his presumption; but all were so delighted to see a great prince among them, that there was a general unwillingness to challenge his intrusion. He sometimes indeed declared, that he left spiritual matters to Church courts; but his conduct demonstrated[208] how little he observed such an arrangement. He convened synods by his own authority; took a personal share in their discussions; required their members to appear before him, and submit their proceedings to his review; and inflicted on them civil penalties when their official acts did not meet his approval. Had Constantine given his sanction and encouragement to the Church, and yet permitted her to pursue her noble mission in the full enjoyment of the right of self government, he might have contributed greatly to promote her safe and vigorous development; but by usurping the place of her chief ruler, and bearing down with the weight of the civil power on all who refused to do his pleasure, he secularized her spirit, robbed her of her freedom, and converted her divine framework into a piece of political machinery.”[186]

Rev. E. Edwin Hall, who was for many years chaplain of the American Legation at Rome, Italy, also chaplain of the American Church at Florence, made a careful study of the early history and of the modern characteristics of Roman Catholicism. In July, 1889, a paper from his pen was published in the Outlook, a Sabbath quarterly from which the following is taken:

“Soon after the so-called conversion of Constantine, when he became sole emperor, the Church entered on its apostasy from the primitive simplicity and purity which marked its earlier history. Pagans in vast multitudes pressed into the Christian fold, bringing with them old[209] practices and customs, and filling the places of Christian worship with the pageantry and the ornaments which characterized the worship of the gods in heathen temples. These unconverted millions became only nominally Christian, impressing their character together with the doctrines, rites and forms of pagan religion upon the Christian Church. Gibbon, speaking of these innovations, shows that: ‘Rites and ceremonies were introduced which seemed most powerfully to affect the senses of the people. If in the beginning of the 5th century Tertullian or Lactantius had been suddenly raised from the dead, to assist at the festival of some popular saint or martyr, they would have gazed with astonishment and indignation on the profane spectacle which had succeeded the pure and spiritual worship of a Christian congregation. As soon as the doors of the church were thrown open, they must have been offended at the smoke of incense, the perfume of flowers, the glare of lamps and tapers which diffused at noonday, in their opinions, a gaudy, superfluous, and sacrilegious light. They would see a prostrate crowd of worshipers devoutly kissing the walls and pavement of the sacred edifice, their fervent prayers directed to the bones, the blood, or ashes of the saints, the walls covered with votive offerings, representing the favors received from saints in answer to their prayers and illustrating the abuse of indiscreet or idolatrous devotion, in recognition of the image, the attributes, and the miracles of the tutelar saint, which had the same value to their mind as a local divinity in the pagan religion. The ministers of various names in the Catholic Church imitated the profane model which they should have been impatient to destroy. So the religion of Constantine achieved, in less than a century, the[210] final conquest of the Roman Empire, but the victors themselves were insensibly subdued by the acts of their vanquished rivals.’[187]

“From that time the worship of the Roman Catholic Church, in its forms and ceremonies, has been more clearly identified with the paganism of ancient Rome than with the religion of the New Testament. The customs of pagan religion were only baptized with Christian names. Gregory the Great in the latter part of the 6th century, ignoring t............
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