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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Life of Constantine with Orations of Constantine and Eusebius.: Section 5

Early Church Fathers  Index     

§5. Moral Characteristics.

(a) In relations with events, things, or persons. First of all, Constantine excelled in Energy, that fundamental of all developed character. He was pre-eminent for masculine strength of character (Theoph. p. 29), a man of energy (vir ingens, Eutrop. 10. 1). This was manifested at every turn, in his successful military activity under Diocletian, in the decisive acts at the time of leaving him, in the prosecution of campaigns against Maximian, Maxentius, Licinius, in the wholesale way in which he pushed internal improvements, the building of Constantinople, the multiplication of Christian houses of worship, in his studies, in his law-making; in short, in everything he touched there was the same teeming, resistless energy of the man. His Determination was “bent on effecting whatever he had settled in his mind” (Eutrop. 10. 5). His Rapidity of action when he rejoined his father is described by Lactantius as incredible (Lact. c. 24). He showed the same alacrity in his quick return and surprise of Maximian, in his first entry into Italy, and in his campaign against Licinius. This energy and activity rose to positive Impetuosity, which led him at Verona, before Rome, and at Cibalis to plunge into the midst of battle, communicating his own resistless, indomitable, alert will to do, to his soldiers. Closely linked with these qualities was that personal Courage and Valor, inherited from his father (Paneg. 307, c. 3), mentioned by Eusebius (V. C. 1. 11), and explicitly or implicitly by almost every one. This most indubitable of all his qualities was witnessed to even by the scoffing Julian as “inexpressibly” great (Orat. p. 13), and mentioned even in the work whose chief aim seems, almost, to detract from Constantine (Cæs. p. 23). United with all these characteristics of greatness was a far-reaching Ambition. This on the one hand is represented to be an ambition for power and glory. He was “exceedingly ambitious of military glory” (Eutrop. 10. 7); “aspiring to the sovereignty of the whole world” (Eutrop. 10. 5). According to Zosimus, at the time of the appointment of Severus and Maximin, already having his mind set on attaining royalty he was roused to a greater desire by the honor conferred on Severus and Maximin, and this eager desire of power was already well known to many. On the other hand, this ambition is represented to be a burning zeal for righting wrongs; his p. 424 wars against Maxentius and Licinius real crusades, and his actual objective in all things the reform to be effected. If the fruit proves the motive, this was so; for he consistently used or tried to use his power for what he thought public good. This he did in Gaul, after his victories, in his legislation, and in his internal improvements.

In view of all this powerfulness of personality, it may be said of all successes of this “man of power” (Eutrop. 10. 5) what Eutropius says of his success in war, that it was great, “but not more than proportioned to his exertions” (Eutrop.). With all this energy of personality, however, he was far from being headstrong. On the contrary, he showed marked Prudence, resembling his father in this also (Paneg. 307, c. 3). Sustaining so long the delicate position at the court of Diocletian, all his provision for guarding the frontiers, his long-suffering in waiting to be confirmed Cæsar, in waiting his opportunity to meet Maxentius, in waiting and getting everything in hand before meeting Licinius, his wise moderation in demand on the conquered, and the not pressing forward until he had everything well arranged, show this, and a high degree of Patience withal. This latter virtue was peculiarly characteristic whether exercised in respect of things or plans or people, and his great patience in listening to complaints (Naz. c. 24) is only a part of the whole. As he was patient, so he was distinguished for Perseverance, and “firm and unshaken” (Theoph. p. 29) Steadfastness. So great energy united with these other qualities barely needs testimony to suggest great Faithfulness to his tasks in hand, as in that “strict attention to his military duties” which Lactantius says (c. 18) characterized him as a young man. In brief, his whole personality was a marked example of that balance of power and the measuring of remote ends which is included under the word Self-control, in the use of the philosophy of which he, as well as his father, was a disciple. In this exercise of his great energy towards himself he was recognized to be remarkable. This self-control was manifested especially in his unusual Chastity. As a young man he was marked by correct moral habits (probis moribus, Lact. c. 18). The specific testimony of Eusebius to this (V. C.) would have comparatively little weight on a point like this, and the same might be said, in a measure, of the testimony of the Panegyrists (Naz. c. 24; 307, c. 4; 313, c. 4), who mention this virtue. But panegyrical art would forbid the laudation of what was conspicuously lacking; rather it would not be mentioned, and the general testimony goes to show at least a contemporary reputation for extraordinary continence, considering his time and environment. His relationship with Minervina hardly touches this reputation, whether she was wife or only legitimate concubine. The accusations and innuendoes of Julian, Cæsars, have, in any fairly critical estimate, hardly more than the weight of some malignant gossip whose backbiting is from his own heart. “Honi soit qui mat y pense.” Like Licinius, he seems to have been unable to understand that purity of heart which permitted the free companionship of women in social or religious life. Julian’s general charge of luxuriousness and sensuousness (p. 43, 306, 25, 38, 42, &c.) must be regarded largely in the same light; for this delight in soft garments, precious gems, games, and festivities was, if we can judge aright, in no sense “enervating pleasure and voluptuous indulgence”: for he was indefatigable in studies and works of all sorts, although it is perhaps to be referred to the vanity and love of display of which he is accused, and of which more later.

(b) In relations with people. In general he was Amiable,—popular with the soldiers, popular even with his subdued enemies (Eutrop. 10. 7). Diocletian reminded Galerius (Lact. c. 18) that he was “amiable,” and he must have been so; for he was “loved by soldiers” (Eumen. c. 16), and so “endeared to the troops” that in the appointment of Cæsar he was “the choice of every individual” (Lact. c. 18). This popularity he indeed “sought by every kind of liberality and obligingness” (Eutr. 10. 7.), but what he sought he found.

A very large element in this popularity was the universal Mildness, Mercifulness, and Forbearance which he showed. In these is found a class of characteristics which stand alongside his energy of character as peculiarly characteristic and great. “He whose familiar habit it was to save men’s lives” (V. C. 4. 6), as a young man promised, in the opinion of Diocletian p. 425 (Lact. c. 18), to be “milder and more merciful than his father.” Even in the opinion of Julian he was “far more humane (πραότερον), and in very many other respects superior to others, as I would demonstrate if there were opportunity” (Julian, Orat. p. 15); and he again (p. 96) speaks of him in laudatory terms as contrasted with the other emperors. Eusebius, as might be expected, is still stronger in expression, and sets Constantine “in contrast with tyrants who were stained with blood of countless numbers,” saying that in Constantine’s reign “the sword of justice lay idle,” and men were “rather constrained by a paternal authority than governed by the stringent power of the laws” (V. C. 3. 1). This mercifulness he manifested on every occasion. “When Sigusium was on fire,” he directed greater effort towards saving it than he had to capturing it (Naz. Paneg. c. 21). At the taking of Rome he punished a certain few only of those most intimate with Maxentius (Zos.), and even Zosimus notes the great joy and relief of people at the exchange of Constantine for Maxentius. It is noticeable that in the inscriptions the epithet “clementissimus,” most rare of other emperors, is found a considerable number of times of him. So great was this mildness of conduct that he was “generally blamed for his clemency” (V. C. 4. 31), on the ground that crimes were not visited with their proper penalties. The testimony to this humaneness of character is almost unlimited and conclusive, but there is more or less evidence which is urged in qualification or contradiction. It is rather a common thing to say that he was at first mild, but later pride of prosperity caused him greatly to depart from this former agreeable mildness of temper (Eutrop.). Then the execution of the various members of his own family (cf. discussion below), the exposure of prisoners to the wild beasts (Eumen. Paneg. c. 12), his severe decree against those who should conceal copies of the works of Arius (Socr. 1. 9), his treatment of the Jews (Greg. Niceph., or at least his laws), and the severe penalties of some of his laws are among the points brought against him. But the remark of Eutropius is to be interpreted by the “former agreeable mildness of temper,” to which he himself witnesses, and the fact that this latter period was that where the points of view of the two men had widely diverged. The exposure of prisoners to wild beasts was no evidence of cruelty in itself; for under the customs then prevailing it might have been cruelty to his subjects not to have done this, and his treatment of the barbarian enemies is rather to be interpreted in the light of the testimony of Eutropius that he “left on the minds of the barbarians [Goths] a strong remembrance of his kindness” (10. 7). His treatment of his family is discussed elsewhere, but whatever its bearings may be, there is no just historico-psychological ground whatever for the use of the word which is so freely bandied,—cruelty. Cruel he was not in any sense. Even the extreme of the Panegyrist who says to him, “you are such by inheritance and destiny that you cannot be cruel” (Eumen. Paneg. c. 14), is nearer the truth. The penalties of his laws lay him open in a degree to a charge of growing severity; but it was great, if sometimes mistaken and overzealous, regard for what he deemed the public welfare, and on quite a different plane from anything which we express as cruelty. Though with the growing conservatism of a man who finds his purposes of mercy continually perverted and his indulgences abused, he yet remained to the end of his life most merciful and mild compared with those who went before and who followed.

This fact becomes more clear in seeing how he excelled in kindred virtues. The Patience already mentioned, distinguished forbearance, and undoubted benevolence, or at least generosity, are traits which group with mercy and have no fellowship with cruelty. And these he had. He showed distinguished Forbearance, and that oftentimes, as in a disturbance at Antioch, where he “applied with much forbearance the remedy of persuasion” (V. C. 3. 59). The outrageous conduct of those who, in the Arian disturbances, dared “even to insult the statues of the emperor…had little power to excite his anger, but rather caused in him sorrow of spirit” (V. C. 3. 4), “and he endured with patience men who were exasperated against himself.” These words are by Eusebius, to be sure; but his conduct with Donatists, Arians, Maximinianus, and Licinius, in individual and on the whole, show that in fact he did habitually exercise great forbearance. To this was added much activity of positive Kindness. On first accession he “visited with much p. 426 considerate kindness all those provinces” (V. C. p. 23). This kindness was shown throughout his reign, and brightly illustrated in his treatment of the persecuted Christians from the beginning,—in his acts in Gaul, in his famous toleration edict, in his letter to Maximin, and in his acts throughout. After his victory over Maxentius came the edict that those wrongfully deprived of their estates should be permitted to enjoy them again,…unjustly exiled were recalled and freed from imprisonment (Euseb. V. C. 1. 41). After the victory over Licinius he recalled Christian exiles, ordered restitution of property, released from labor in mines, from the solitude of islands, from toil in public works, &c., those who had been oppressed in these ways (V. C. p. 70–71). There is strong concensus of testimony to a very lovable habitual exercise of this trait in his “readiness to grant hearing,” “patience in listening,” and “kindness of response” to those whose complaints he had patiently listened to (Naz. 24). He was most excellent (commodissimus) to hear embassies and complaints of provinces (Vict. Epit. p. 51),—a testimony which is borne out by the facts. His Generosity is equally undoubted. His magnificent gifts and largesses to the army were still remembered in the time of Julian (Orat. p. 13). His constant and lavish giving to the Christians is Eusebius’ unending theme: but it was not to the churches alone; for we read of his munificence to heathen tribes (V. C. 2. 22), his liberality to the poor (V. C. 1. 43) in giving money for clothing, provision for orphans and widows, marriage portions for virgins, compensation to losers in law suits (V. C. 4. 4). It was “scarcely possible to be near him without benefit” (V. C. 1. 43; cf. V. C. 3. 16; 3. 22; 4. 44).

Though slow to serve some friends through suspicion (i.e. dubius thus explained), he was “exceedingly generous towards others, neglecting no opportunity to add to their riches and honors” (Eutrop. 10. 7). “With royal magnificence he unlocked all his treasures and distributed his gifts with rich and high-souled liberality” (V. C. 3. 1). He seems to have carried it rather to excess, even on the showing of Eusebius. “No one could request a favor of the emperor, and fail of obtaining what he sought.…He devised new dignities, that he might invest a larger number with the tokens of his favor” (V. C. 4. 2). It is worth giving the account by Eusebius of this conduct in full here. He says (V. C. 4. 54) that this “was a virtue, however, which subjected him to censure from many, in consequence of the baseness of wicked men, who ascribed their own crimes to the emperor’s forbearance. In truth, I can myself bear testimony to the grievous evils which prevailed during those times: I mean the violence of rapacious and unprincipled men, who preyed on all classes of society alike, and the scandalous hypocrisy of those who crept into the church.…His own benevolence and goodness of heart, the genuineness of his own faith, and his truthfulness of character induced the emperor to credit the professions of those reputed Christians who craftily preserved the semblance of sincere affection for his person. The confidence he reposed in such men sometimes forced him into conduct unworthy of himself, of which envy took advantage to cloud in this respect the luster of his character.” There seems, therefore, some ground for the charge of Prodigality, that he “wasted public money in many useless buildings, some of which he shortly after destroyed because they were not built to stand” (Zos.), and (Zos. p. 104) “gave great largesses to ill-deserving persons, mistaking profusion for munificence” (τὴν γὰρ ἀσωτίαν ἡγεῖτο φιλοτιμίαν). Zosimus adds that to do this, he “imposed severe taxes on all, so severe that fathers were obliged to prostitute their daughters to raise the money, that tortures were employed, and in consequence whole villages depopulated.” This testimony is, however, by one bitterly prejudiced, who regarded money spent on Christian houses of worship as worse than wasted, and indicates only what appears from Eusebius as well, that expenditures for cities, schools, and churches built, and for other matters, must have been enormous. But so, too, they were enormous under other emperors, and Constantine, at least, instead of spending on debauchery, seems to have had something to show for it. As to taxes, Zosimus would undoubtedly sympathize with the Kentucky moonshiners in their “oppression” by revenue officers, if he were here now and Constantine were President, and would fulminate in the daily papers against the wicked party which by its wicked tariff compels men to marry p. 427 their daughters to rich husbands in order to get their taxes paid,—and incidental luxuries supplied. But that does not say that an exorbitant tariff, to supply “jobs” which shall furnish rich “spoils” for those who have “pulls” out of the pockets of the many, is good; yet this, in modern phrase, is about what Constantine did. Constantine’s trust in his friends and generosity to the unworthy, with its consequences on the tax-payers, reminds strikingly of some of our own soldier-presidents, whom we love and admire without approving all their acts. And yet, on the other hand, much of the expenditure was for solid improvement, and could only be criticised by those who now oppose expenditures for navy, for improved postal service, public buildings, subsidies, &c.; though yet, again, his wholesale way of doing things also reminds one of the large generosity of some modern politicians in their race for popularity, with their Pension, Education, River and Harbor, and what not liberalities out of the pockets of the people. But whatever unwisdom may have been mingled, all this profusion shows in him a generosity of character which was at least amiable, and in the main genuine. His generosity took also the form of Hospitality, as shown by his entertainings at the Council of Nicæa (V. C. 4. 49). With all these qualities of amiable popularity there seems to have been joined a yet more fundamental element, of permanent influence among men, in a spirit of Justice so marked that the claim of the Panegyrist is hardly too sweeping when he says that “all who took refuge with him for whatever cause he treated justly and liberally” (Paneg. 307. 5)—if there is added “up to his light and ability.” Closely linked with this again is that “Unbending righteousness” of which Theophanes (p. 29) speaks. And to all these qualities was added that synthesis of qualities,—a remarkable Tact in his intercourse with men, a trait typically exemplified in his conduct at the Council of Nicæa, where “the emperor gave patient audience to all alike, and reviewed every proposition with steadfast attention, and by occasionally assisting the arguments of each party in turn, he gradually disposed even the most vehement disputants to a reconciliation,…persuading some, convincing others by his reasonings, praising those who spoke well, and urging all to unity of sentiment, until at last he succeeded in bringing them to one mind and judgment respecting every disputed question” (V. C. 3. 13).

But success with men and popularity seem to have opened that pitfall of success,—Vanity,—and it is charged that he fell thereinto, although there is testimony to the exact contrary. According to Victor (Epit. p. 51) he was “immeasurably greedy of praise.” This agrees with, and is at the same time modified by Eutropius’ testimony to his ambition for glory and for honorable popularity (10. 7), and his apparently complacent reception of the outrageous flattery of Optatian (cf. his letter), seems at least to show some weakness in this direction. So again his tendency toward Magnificence, as shown in his assuming the diadem and his dress in general (cf. above), in the splendor of banquets as witnessed by his approving friend (V. C. 3. 15), his desire to do on a large scale whatever he did, whether in the building of cities or splendid houses of worship, or in book-binding ornamentations of pearls and gems. And yet again it is shown in what seems at this distance his Conceit, sublime in its unconsciousness in reckoning himself a sort of thirteenth, but, it would seem, a facile princeps apostle, in the disposition for his burial, “anticipating with extraordinary fervor of faith that his body would share their title with the apostles themselves.…He accordingly caused twelve coffins to be set up in this church, like sacred pillars, in honor and memory of the apostolic number, in the centre of which his own was placed, having six of theirs on either side of it” (V. C. 4. 60). One can seem to read in this a whole history of unblushing flattery, and it reminds that Eunapius (Vic. ædes. p. 41) has spoken of his pleasure in the stimulant of “intoxicating flattery.” Still it is not to be supposed that this was a peculiarly weak vanity or an absorbing one. The testimony to his Modesty (V. C. 3. 10), though by Eusebius, is too circumstantial to be wholly unreal, and the testimony to his Humility in his “indignation at excessive praise” (V. C. 4. 48), and the records of Eusebius that he “was not rendered arrogant by these plaudits nor uplifted by the praises” (Euseb. V. C. 1. 39), and of the Chronicon Paschale (p. 521) that “he was not at all puffed up by the acclamations,” evidently represent a p. 428 genuine thing. This mixed character is too frequently met with to be incomprehensible. Real power, recognizing its own success, glad of the recognition of others, not at bottom because of cold vanity, but from warm appreciation of human friendliness, became through success in carrying out what seemed to him, and were, divine plans, fired with the thought that he was the especial and necessary minister of God, that his thoughts and will were directly touched by the Divine Will and thus that whatever he thought or willed was infallible. He is not unlike some modern rulers. The spirit, though one of real vanity, or egotism at least, has an element of nobleness in it, and in most of its manifestations commands respect along with the smile. The accusation of Zosimus of Arrogance “when he had attained to the sole authority,” and that he “gave himself up to the unrestrained exercise of his power,” must be interpreted like those of other un-Christian witnesses, in the light of the fact that his actions worked relative hardships to the non-Christians, and that very justice to the Christians would seem injustice to them, and if Constantine was more than just, his generosity was at some one’s expense. His energy of execution and constant success, with his dominating idea of a Divine mission, would naturally engender this faith in his own infallibility; for what is arrogance but this vanity joined with power? His action toward schismatics—Donatists, Arians, or orthodox troublers of his peace—was such as to suggest some degree of this vice. Yet his success in keeping the followers of the old religion fairly mollified, and his generally successful tact, showed that this was in no sense a dominating and unrelieved characteristic. Two other weaknesses closely allied with these are also imputed to Constantine: Jealousy, as illustrated by the statement that “wishing to minimize the deeds of his predecessors, he took pains to tarnish their virtues by giving them jocose epithets” (Dion. Cont. 2 [Müller, p. 199]; cf. Vict. Epit. p. 51), and Suspiciousness (Eutrop. 10. 7); for which latter, a man who had survived as many plots as he had, might well be excused. Again and again and again he trusted men, and they deceived him. His conduct with Maximian shows that at least in the beginning, before he had had so much experience of untrustworthiness, he was remarkably free from this. A much more serious charge is that of Faithlessness preferred by Zosimus, who says (2. 28), “in violation of his oaths (for this was customary with him)” and twice repeats the charge. Eusebius, on the other hand, tells what great pains Constantine took not to be the one to break peace with Licinius (V. C.). One is worth as little as the other. The charge seems to rest mainly or wholly on his conduct towards Licinius, in beginning war and in putting him to death. A small boy once held a smaller boy in a firm grip, but agreed to spare him the cuffing he deserved because he was smaller. The smaller small boy promptly set his teeth in the leg of the larger small boy, and was properly cuffed for it. Thereupon the smaller small boy’s big brother was filled with indignation, which he manifested by seeking and finding the same fate. The indignation in behalf of Licinius seems to be in large measure big brother indignation—indignation with the wrong party. He appears to have been one of those who held a compact to be binding on the other party only. It wasn’t in the bargain that he should persecute the Christians, or in the other bargain that he should plot his benefactor’s overthrow. That king in Scripture who took back his promise to forgive a debt of ten thousand talents was not faithless.

(c) In relations with his family. He was a filial Son, having the confidence of his father, as shown in his wish of succession, and showing his mother all honors when he came to power (cf. coins showing her position as empress, and V.C.). “And well may his character be styled blessed for his filial piety as well as on other grounds” (V. C. 3. 47).

It is in this relation to his family, however, that the most serious attacks on the character of Constantine have been made. Eutropius says: “But the pride of prosperity caused Constantine greatly to depart from his former agreeable mildness of temper. Falling first upon his own relatives, he put to death his son, an excellent man; his sister’s son, a youth of amiable disposition; soon afterwards his wife; and subsequently many of his friends.” This has been a battle-ground of accusation or excusation in all the centuries. The testimony is very meagre and uncertain, but this much may be said: 1. That any jury would regard the fact of deaths as evidenced. It is p. 429 witnessed by Eutrop. (10. 6), Zos., Vict., Hieron., &c. 2. That he was unjustifiable is not proven. In respect to the death of Fausta, at least, there was probably just cause; whether love intrigue or other intrigue, there seems to have been some real occasion. The death of Crispus, too, was from no mere suspicions, but on apparently definite grounds of distrust. It is historical assumption to say that he had no good grounds, whatever these may have been—illicit relationship with Fausta or more probably political intrigue. At the worst, he was put to death on false but, at the time, apparently true accusation: what has been done by judges and juries of the best intention. 3041 Of Licinius, his sister’s son, it can hardly be said that he had the same reason, as he was still a boy. But remembering the inherited character of Licinius, and noticing the curious fact that the cordiality between Constantia and Constantine was peculiarly great to the end, it seems as if there must have been some mitigating circumstance. 3042 In all historical candor it looks as if there had been some general intrigue against Constantine which had been met in this way; but the fairest verdict to enter is “causes unknown.”

In estimating the characteristic value of the acts it must be noted, 1. That it has in no sense the character of private execution. The emperor was judge. Even if he mistook evidence and put to death an innocent man, it was as when a judge does the same. 2. That the relative moral character of punishments inflicted is conditioned by the custom of punishment. An English judge of the past was not as cruel in hanging a man for theft, as a modern one in applying the extreme penalty of the law to an offense with mitigating circumstances, would be. 3. That all law of evidence, all rhyme and reason, says that any man’s any act is to be interpreted in the light of his general character. Where evidence is lacking or doubtful, such evidence of general character has actual weight, and may be conclusive. In application to these acts note (a) The peculiar forbearance which Constantine exercised toward Maximian. (b) The conclusive universal testimony to the general mildness of his character and his habitual mercifulness. In view of this, it is to be judged that there was some real, or appearing, great ground of judicial wrath. 4. That Constantine had suffered from plots on the part of his own relatives over and over again, and spared, and been plotted against again, as in the cases of Maximian, Bassianus, and Licinius. 5. That they were not put to death “in a gust of passion” at once, but in successive acts. In view of these things it is fair and just to say that they were put to death on grounds which seemed just and for the welfare of society, and their deaths in no sense indicate cruelty or unnaturalness on the part of Constantine. Even the death of Licinius must be interpreted by the political ethics of the times and its circumstances. So long as sentimentalists continue to send bouquets to murderers and erect monuments to anarchists, they will regard execution, even legal execution, as prima facie evidence of cruelty, and the killing of a murderer in self-defense, or the hanging of a traitor, as crime. Constantine’s whole character ensures that if he thought he could have spared them, or any one, with safety, he would have done so. 3043

In general he was a faithful husband as respects marital virtue, and a good father. He took care that his children should be well educated. Crispus was under Lactantius (Hieron.), and the others perhaps under Arborius (“Auson. de Prof. Burdig. 16”); at all events, he had the most accomplished teachers of secular learning to instruct in the art of war, and in political and legal science (V. C. 4. 51), and both by his own instruction and that of men of approved piety, took special pains with their religious training. He early appointed them to offices of authority, and distributed the empire among them.

p. 430 (d) In relations with friends. His general conduct toward his friends was marked by very great liberality (cf. above). Eutropius speaks emphatically of this even while he uses the expression which has been such a puzzle to all, that “toward some of his friends he was double” (or dangerous), a phrase which is interpreted by Johannes Ant. as meaning “to some of friends false (unsound, πούλως) and unsafe (unwholesome, οὐχ ὑγιῶς)” (ed. Müller 4. p. 602–3). His uniform effort to please his friends has been discussed above.

(e) In relations with society. 1. As General he seems to have been popular with his own soldiers (cf. above), inspiring them with enthusiasm and energy. Toward hostile soldiers he was merciful (cf. above), not following up an advantage further than was necessary, and toward conquered enemies unusually forbearing; e.g. at Sigusium, at Rome, with Maximian, with Licinius, and with the Goths (cf. above). His generalship is characterized by careful provision for the guarding of his rear, and by rapidity of movement and dash in actual conflict. 2. As Legislator he “enacted many laws, some good, but most of them superfluous, and some severe” (Eutrop. 10. 8). He seems to have had a weakness for law-making which, at all events, shows a characteristic respect for law little shared by his early contemporaries. Of course Eutropius would consider all laws in favor of Christians superfluous. Laws for the abolition of idolatrous practices, for the erection of Christian houses of worship, observance of the Lord’s Day (V. C. 4. 23), permitting cases to be tried before bishops (Soz. 1. 9; Euseb. H. E. 10. 7; Cod. Theod. Tit. de episc. 2) &c., would surely seem so. But even in other laws Constantine seems to have had at times an abnormal zeal for law-making, when his energies were not occupied in war or church-building. The laws were generally wise and, at the least, benevolently or righteously meant. Such were the abolition of crucifixion (Vict. Cæs.) and of gladiatorial shows (V. C. 4. 25; Socr. 1. 8; C. Theod. 15. 12. 1), the law that the families of slaves were not to be separated (C. Theod. 2.25), that forbidding the scourging of debtors (C. Theod. 7. 3), and that repressing calumny (Vict. Epit. 51). Among the “severe” laws were such as punished certain forms of illicit intercourse with death. 3. As Statesman his policy was broad and far-reaching. He fully organized and carefully established one section of his territory before he enlarged. He changed the whole constitution of the empire, both civil and military (cf. Wordsworth, in Smith & W.). He inaugurated reforms in finance, and especially was most assiduous in the matter of internal improvements, restoring and building from one end of the empire to the other. The great characteristic consummation of his reign was the union of Church and State, over which men are still divided as to whether it was a tremendous blessing or a tremendous curse. Tremendous it surely was in its shaping power on world history. (Compare numerous titles under Literature.) The general statement of Eutropius that “in the beginning of his reign he might have been compared to the best princes, in the latter part only to those of a middling character,” must be interpreted by the fact that during the latter part of his reign he was so associated with Christianity, in itself a falling away in the eyes of the old religionists. His reign was one of order and justice such as few were, and an order out of chaos, a reign in which it could be peculiarly said that “chastity was safe and marriage protected” (Naz. c. 38), where a man’s life and property were secure as under few of the Roman emperors. It is idle to refuse the title of Great to a man who, from the beginning, followed a consistent, though developing policy, organized the interior, and securely guarded the frontier of his empire at each enlargement, and finally unified the whole on such a basis as to secure large internal prosperity and development.



It is hardly necessary to say that the various tales of the remorse of Constantine for the death of Crispus are mythical. The tale of Sopater has been mentioned. That of Codinus (De signo Cp. p. 62–63), also that, “in regret for death of Crispus, he erected a statue of pure silver with the inscription, ‘My unjustly treated son,’ and did penance besides,” falls into the same category.


Seeck (Ztschr. f. wiss. Theol. 1890, p. 73) maintains that it is established (“urkundlich fest”) that Licinius was still living in 336, in which case he would have been more than twenty years old. He maintains also that he was not the son of Constantine, but the illegitimate son of Licinius by a slave woman.


On this question compare especially monographs of Görres and Seeck. See under Literature, where other titles, e.g. Hug and Wegnerus, will also be found. In general, the remark of Ludermann (Lipsius, Theol. Jahrb. 1886, p. 108) is valid, “The arguments against Constantine’s Christianity, which are drawn from his moral character, have ever been the weakest.”

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