Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter IX
Chapter IX.—The Victory of the God-Beloved Emperors. 2748
1. Thus when Constantine, whom we have already mentioned 2749 as an emperor, born of an emperor, a pious son of a most pious and prudent father, and Licinius, second to him, 2750 —two God-beloved emperors, honored alike for their intelligence and their piety,—being stirred up against the two most impious tyrants by God, the absolute Ruler and Saviour of all, engaged in formal war against them, with God as their ally, Maxentius 2751 was defeated at Rome by Constantine in a remarkable manner, and the tyrant of the East 2752 did not long survive him, but met a most shameful death at the hand of Licinius, who had not yet become insane. 2753
2. Constantine, who was the superior both in dignity and imperial rank, 2754 first took compassion upon those who were oppressed at Rome, and having invoked in prayer the God of heaven, and his Word, and Jesus Christ himself, the Saviour of all, as his aid, advanced with his whole army, 2755 proposing to restore to the Romans their ancestral liberty.
3. But Maxentius, putting confidence rather in the arts of sorcery than in the devotion of his subjects, did not dare to go forth beyond the gates of the city, but fortified every place and district and town which was enslaved by him, in the neighborhood of Rome and in all Italy, with an immense multitude of troops and with innumerable bands of soldiers. But the emperor, relying upon the assistance of God, attacked the first, second, and third army of the tyrant, and conquered them all; and having advanced through the greater part of Italy, was already very near Rome.
4. Then, that he might not be compelled to wage war with the Romans for the sake of the tyrant, God himself drew the latter, as if bound in chains, some distance without the gates, and confirmed those threats against the impious which had been anciently inscribed in sacred books,—disbelieved, indeed, by most as a myth, but believed by the faithful,—confirmed them, in a word, by the deed itself to all, both believers and unbelievers, that saw the wonder with their eyes.
5. Thus, as in the time of Moses himself and of the ancient God-beloved race of Hebrews, “he cast Pharaohs chariots and host into the sea, and overwhelmed his chosen charioteers in the Red Sea, and covered them with the flood,” 2756 in the same way Maxentius also with his soldiers and body-guards “went down into the depths like a stone,” 2757 when he fled before the power of God which was with Constantine, and passed through the river which lay in his way, over which he had formed a p. 364 bridge with boats, and thus prepared the means of his own destruction.
6. In regard to him one might say, “he digged a pit and opened it and fell into the hole which he had made; his labor shall turn upon his own head, and his unrighteousness shall fall upon his own crown.” 2758
7. Thus, then, the bridge over the river being broken, the passageway settled down, and immediately the boats with the men disappeared in the depths, and that most impious one himself first of all, then the shield-bearers who were with him, as the divine oracles foretold, “sank like lead in the mighty waters”; 2759 so that those who obtained the victory from God, if not in words, at least in deeds, like Moses, the great servant of God, and those who were with him, fittingly sang as they had sung against the impious tyrant of old, saying, “Let us sing unto the Lord, for he hath gloriously glorified himself; horse and rider hath he thrown into the sea; a helper and a protector hath he become for my salvation;” 2760 and “Who is like unto thee, O Lord; among the gods, who is like unto thee glorious in holiness, 2761 marvelous in glory, doing wonders.” 2762
8. These and the like praises Constantine, by his very deeds, sang to God, the universal Ruler, and Author of his victory, as he entered Rome in triumph.
9. Immediately all the members of the senate and the other most celebrated men, with the whole Roman people, together with children and women, received him as their deliverer, their saviour, and their benefactor, with shining eyes and with their whole souls, with shouts of gladness and unbounded joy.
10. But he, as one possessed of inborn piety toward God, did not exult in the shouts, nor was he elated by the praises; but perceiving that his aid was from God, he immediately commanded that a trophy of the Saviours passion be put in the hand of his own statue.
11. And when he had placed it, with the saving sign of the cross in its right hand, in the most public place in Rome, he commanded that the following inscription should be engraved upon it in the Roman tongue: “By this salutary sign, the true proof of bravery, I have saved and freed your city from the yoke of the tyrant and moreover, having set at liberty both the senate and the people of Rome, I have restored them to their ancient distinction and splendor.” 2763
12. And after this both Constantine himself and with him the Emperor Licinius, who had not yet been seized by that madness into which he later fell, 2764 praising God as the author of all their blessings, with one will and mind drew up a full and most complete decree in behalf of the Christians, 2765 and sent an account of the wonderful things done for them by God, and of the victory over the tyrant, together with a copy of the decree itself, to Maximinus, who still ruled over the nations of the East and pretended friendship toward them.
13. But he, like a tyrant, was greatly pained by what he learned; but not wishing to seem to yield to others, nor, on the other hand, to suppress that which was commanded, for fear of those who enjoined it, as if on his own authority, he addressed, under compulsion, to the governors under him this first communication in behalf of the Christians, 2766 falsely inventing things against himself which had never been done by him.
Copy of a translation of the epistle of the tyrant Maximinus.
14. “Jovius Maximinus Augustus to Sabinus. 2767 I am confident that it is manifest both to thy firmness and to all men that our masters Diocletian and Maximianus, our fathers, when they saw almost all men abandoning the worship of the gods and attaching themselves to the party of the Christians, rightly decreed that all who gave up the worship of those same immortal gods should be recalled by open chastisement and punishment to the worship of the gods.
15. But when I first came to the p. 365 East under favorable auspices and learned that in some places a great many men who were able to render public service had been banished by the judges for the above-mentioned cause, I gave command to each of the judges that henceforth none of them should treat the provincials with severity, but that they should rather recall them to the worship of the gods by flattery and exhortations. 2768
16. Then when, in accordance with my command, these orders were obeyed by the judges, it came to pass that none of those who lived in the districts of the East were banished or insulted, but that they were rather brought back to the worship of the gods by the fact that no severity was employed toward them.
17. But afterwards, when I went up last year 2769 under good auspices to Nicomedia and sojourned there, citizens of the same city came to me with the images of the gods, earnestly entreating that such a people should by no means be permitted to dwell in their country. 2770
18. But when I learned that many men of the same religion dwelt in those regions, I replied that I gladly thanked them for their request, but that I perceived that it was not proffered by all, and that if, therefore, there were any that persevered in the same superstition, each one had the privilege of doing as he pleased, even if he wished to recognize the worship of the gods. 2771
19. Nevertheless, I considered it necessary to give a friendly answer to the inhabitants of Nicomedia and to the other cities which had so earnestly presented to me the same petition, namely, that no Christians should dwell in their cities,—both because this same course had been pursued by all the ancient emperors, and also because it was pleasing to the gods, through whom all men and the government of the state itself endure,—and to confirm the request which they presented in behalf of the worship of their deity.
20. Therefore, although before this time, special letters have been sent to thy devotedness, and commands have likewise been given that no harsh measures should be taken against those provincials who desire to follow such a course, but that they should be treated mildly and moderately,—nevertheless, in order that they may not suffer insults or extortions 2772 from the beneficiaries, 2773 or from any others, I have thought meet to remind thy firmness in this epistle 2774 also that thou shouldst lead our provincials rather by flatteries and exhortations to recognize the care of the gods.
21. Hence, if any one of his own choice should decide to adopt the worship of the gods, it is fitting that he should be welcomed, but if any should wish to follow their own religion, do thou leave it in their power.
22. Wherefore it behooves thy devotedness to observe that which is committed to thee, and to see that power is given to no one to oppress our provincials with insults and extortions, 2775 since, as already written, it is fitting to recall our provincials to the worship of the gods rather by exhortations and flatteries. But, in order that this command of ours may come to the knowledge of all our provincials, it is incumbent upon thee to proclaim that which has been enjoined, in an edict issued by thyself.”
23. Since he was forced to do this by necessity and did not give the command by his own will, he was not regarded by any one as sincere or trustworthy, because he had already shown his unstable and deceitful disposition after his former similar concession.
24. None of our people, therefore, ventured to hold meetings or even to appear in public, because his communication did not cover this, but only commanded to guard against doing us any injury, and did not give orders that we should hold meetings or build churches or perform any of our customary acts.
25. And yet Constantine and Licinius, the advocates of peace and piety, had written him to permit this, and had granted it to all their subjects by edicts and ordinances. 2776 But this most impious man did not choose to yield in this matter until, being driven by the divine judgment, he was at last compelled to do it against his will.
All the mss., followed by Valesius and Crusè, give this as the title of the next chapter, and give as the title of this chapter the one which I have placed at the head of chapter 10. It is plain enough from the contents of the two chapters that the titles have in some way become transposed in the mss., and so they are restored to their proper position by the majority of the editors, whom I have followed.363:2749
See above, Bk. VIII. chap. 13.363:2750
On Licinius, see ibid. note 21. Constantine and Licinius were both Augusti, and thus nominally of equal rank. Nevertheless, both in the edict of Galerius, quoted in Bk. VIII. chap. 17, and in the edict of Milan, given in full in the De Mort. pers. chap. 48, Constantines name precedes that of Licinius, showing that he was regarded as in some sense the latters senior, and thus confirming Eusebius statement, the truth of which Closs unnecessarily denies. It seems a little peculiar that Constantine should thus be recognized as Licinius senior, especially in the edict of Galerius; for although it is true that he had been a Cæsar some time before Licinius had been admitted to the imperial college, yet, on the other hand, Licinius was made Augustus by Galerius before Constantine was, and enjoyed his confidence and favor much more fully than the latter.363:2751
On Maxentius, see above, Bk. VIII. chap. 14, note 1.363:2752
i.e. Maximinus. For an account of his defeat by Licinius and his death, see below, chap. 10.363:2753
οὔπω μανέντος τότε. This refers to Licinius hostility to the Christians, which made its appearance some years later, and resulted in a persecution (see below, Bk. X. chap. 8). The clause, if a part of the original, obliges us to suppose that the ninth book was composed after Licinius had begun to persecute, but there are strong reasons for thinking that the first nine books were completed before 314 (see above, p. 45); indeed, we cannot explain Eusebius eulogistic words in speaking of Licinius here and elsewhere in this book on any other ground. It seems necessary, therefore, to regard this clause and the similar clause in §12, below, as later insertions, made possibly at the time of the addition of the tenth book (see p. 45).363:2754
See above, note 2.363:2755
Constantines battle with Maxentius, described in this chapter, took place on the sixth anniversary of the latters accession, Oct. 27, 312 (see Lactantius, De Mort. pers. 44 and 46). For particulars respecting Constantine himself and his campaign against Maxentius, see Dr. Richardsons prolegomena to his translation of the Life of Constantine, p. 416. sq. of this volume.363:2756
Exod. 15:4, 5. The phrase translated “charioteers” is ἀναβ€τας τριστ€τας, which is employed in the LXX to translate the Hebrew שָׁלִישָׁיו. The word שָׁלִישׁ,
which means literally a “third,” and hence a “third man” (Greek τριστ€της, is used, according to Gesenius, to denote a chariot warrior, who was so called because “three always stood upon one chariot, one of whom fought, while the second protected him with the shield, and the third drove.”363:2757
Ex. xv. 5.364:2758
Ps. 7:15, 16.364:2759
Ex. xv. 10.364:2760
Exod. 15.1. Eusebius, in this and the next passage, follows the LXX, which differs considerably from the Hebrew.364:2761
The LXX, followed by Eusebius, reads δεδοξασμένος ἐν ἁγίοις to translate the Hebrew נֶאְדָּר בַּקֹּדֶשׁ. It seems probable both from the Hebrew original and from the use of the plural δόξαις in the next clause, that the LXX translator used the plural ἁγίοις, not to denote “saints,” as Closs renders (“durch die Heiligen”), which would in strictness require the article, but “holiness.” I have therefore ventured to render the word thus in the text, although quite conscious that the translation does not accurately reproduce the Greek phrase as it stands.364:2762
Ex. xv. 11.364:2763
Upon Constantines conversion, see Dr. Richardsons prolegomena, p. 431, below. On the famous tale of the flaming cross with its inscription τούτῳ νίκα, related in the Life of Constantine, I. 28, see his note on that passage, p. 490, below.364:2764
Σεε αβόε, νοτε 5.364:2765
This is the famous edict of Milan, which was issued late in the year 312, and which is given in the Latin original in Lactantius De Mort. pers. 48, and in a Greek translation in Eusebius History, Bk. X. chap. 5, below. For a discussion of its date and significance, see the notes upon that chapter.364:2766
This epistle or rescript (Eusebius calls it here a γρ€μμα, just below an ἐπιστολή) of Maximins was written before the end of the year 312, as can be seen from the fact that in §17, below, his visit to Nicomedia is spoken of as having taken place in the previous year. But that visit, as we learn from the De Mort. pers. chap. 36, occurred in 311 (cf. chap. 2, note 1, above). It must therefore have been issued immediately upon the receipt of the edict of Constantine and Licinius. As Mason remarks, his reasons for writing this epistle can hardly have been fear of Constantine and Licinius, as Eusebius states, for he was bent upon war against them, and attacked Licinius at the earliest possible moment. He cannot have cared, therefore, to take any special pains to conciliate them. He was probably moved by a desire to conciliate, just at this crisis, the numerous and influential body of his subjects whom he had persecuted, in order that he might not have to contend with disaffection and disloyalty within his own dominions during his impending conflict with Licinius. The document itself is a most peculiar one, full of false statements and contradictions. Mason well says: “In this curious letter Maximin contradicts himself often enough to make his Christian subjects dizzy. First he justifies bloody persecution, then plumes himself upon having stopped it, next apologizes for having set it again on foot, then denies that it was going on, and lastly orders it to cease. We cannot wonder at what Eusebius relates, that the people whose wrongs the letter applauded and forbade, neither built church nor held meeting in public on the strength of it; they did not know where to have it.”364:2767
On Sabinus, see above, chap. 1, note 3.365:2768
Νοτηινγ χουλδ βε φαρτηερ φρομ τηε τρυτη τηαν τηισ ανδ τηε φολλοωινγ στατεμεντ.365:2769
That is, after the death of Galerius in the year 311. “Maximinus, on receiving this news (i.e. of the death of Galerius), hasted with relays of horses from the East that he might seize the provinces, and, while Licinius delayed, might arrogate to himself the Chalcedonian straits. On his entry into Bithynia, with the view of acquiring immediate popularity, he abolished the tax to the great joy of all. Dissension arose between the two emperors, and almost war. They stood on the opposite shores with their armies. But peace and friendship were established under certain conditions; a treaty was concluded on the narrow sea, and they joined hands” (Lactantius, De mort. pers. 36). See above, chap. 2, note 1.365:2770
On these embassies, see ibid. note 3.365:2771
There is no sign of such consideration in Maximins rescript, quoted in chap. 7, above. The sentences which follow are quite contradictory. Certainly no one could gain from them any idea as to what the emperor had done in the matter.365:2772
σεισμούς, literally, “shakings,” or “shocks.” The word is doubtless used to translate the Latin concussio, which in legal language meant the extortion of money by threats or other similar means. The words concussio, concussor, concutit, are used very frequently by Tertullian in this sense; e.g. in his De fuga in persecutione, chap. 12, ad Scap. chaps. 4 and 5, Apol. chap. 7. See especially Oehlers note on the word in his edition of Tertullians works, I. p. 484.365:2773
βενεφικιαλίων, a simple reproduction of the Latin beneficiarii. These beneficiarii were “free or privileged soldiers, who through the favor of their commander were exempt from menial offices” (Andrews Lexicon). We are nowhere told, so far as I am aware, that these beneficiarii were especially active in thus practicing extortions upon the Christians; but we can gather from Tertullians words in the various passages referred to that the Christians had to suffer particularly from the soldiers in this respect, and doubtless from the beneficiarii most of all; for they possessed more leisure than the common soldiers, and at the same time greater opportunity, because of their more intimate relations with the authorities, of bringing the Christians into difficulty by entering accusations against them.365:2774
τοῖς γρ€μμασι. On the use of the plural in speaking of a single epistle, see above, Bk. IV. chap. 8, note 12.365:2775
Σεε νοτε 24.365:2776
See above, note 17, and below, Bk. X. chap. 5.
Next: Chapter X
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