Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Life of Constantine with Orations of Constantine and Eusebius.: Chapter XX
Chapter XX.—A Farther Quotation from Virgilius Maro respecting Christ, with its Interpretation, showing that the Mystery was indicated therein darkly, as might be expected from a Poet.
A life immortal he shall lead, and be
By heroes seen, himself shall heroes see;
evidently meaning the righteous.
The jarring nations he in peace shall bind,
And with paternal virtues rule mankind.
Unbidden earth her earliest fruits shall bring,
And fragrant herbs, to greet her infant king.
Well indeed was this admirably wise and accomplished man acquainted with the cruel character of the times. He proceeds:
The goats, uncalld, full udders home shall bear;
The lowing herds no more fierce lions fear.
Truly said: for faith will not stand in awe of the mighty in the imperial palace.
His cradle shall with rising flowers be crownd:
The serpents brood shall die; the sacred ground
Shall weeds and poisonous plants refuse to bear;
Each common bush th Assyrian rose 3468 shall wear.
Nothing could be said more true or more consistent with the Saviours excellency than this. For the power of the Divine Spirit presents the very cradle of God, like fragrant flowers, to the new-born race. 3469 The serpent, too, and the venom of that serpent, perishes, who originally beguiled our first parents, and drew their thoughts from their native innocence 3470 to the enjoyment of pleasures, that they might experience 3471 that threatened death. For before the Saviours advent, the serpents power was shown in subverting the souls of those who were sustained by no well-grounded hope, and ignorant of that immortality which awaits the righteous. But after that he had suffered, and was separated for a season from the body which he had assumed, the power of the resurrection was revealed to man through the communication of the Holy Spirit: and whatever stain of human guilt might yet remain was removed by the washing of sacred lustrations.
Then indeed could the Saviour bid his followers be of good cheer, and, remembering his adorable and glorious resurrection, expect the like for themselves. Truly, then, the poisonous race may be said to be extinct. Death himself is extinct, and the truth of the resurrection sealed. Again, the Assyrian race is gone, which first led the way to faith in God. 3472 But when he speaks of the growth of amomum every where, he alludes to the multitude of the true worshipers of God. 3473 For it is as though a multitude of branches, crowned with fragrant flowers, and fitly watered, sprung from the self-same root. Most justly said, Maro, thou wisest of poets! and with this all that follows is consistent.
But when heroic worth his youth shall hear,
And learn his fathers virtues to revere.
By the praises of heroes, he indicates the works of righteous men: by the virtues of his Father he speaks of the creation and everlasting structure of the world: and, it may be, of those laws by which Gods beloved Church is guided, and ordered in a course of righteousness and virtue. Admirable, again, is the advance to higher p. 577 things of that state of life which is intermediate, as it were, between good and evil, and which seldom admits a sudden change:
Unlabored harvests shall the fields adorn, 3474
that is, the fruit of the Divine law springs up for the service of men.
And clustered gropes shall blush on every thorn.
Far otherwise has it been during the corrupt and lawless period of human life.
The knotted oaks shall showers of honey weep. 3475
He here describes the folly and obduracy of the men of that age; and perhaps he also intimates that they who suffer hardships in the cause of God, shall reap sweet fruits of their own endurance.
Yet, of old fraud some footsteps shall remain;
The merchant still shall plough the deep for gain:
Great cities shall with walls be compassed round,
And sharpened shares shall vex the fruitful ground:
Another Tiphys shall new seas explore;
Another Argo land the chiefs upon the Iberian shore;
Another Helen other wars create,
And great Achilles urge the Trojan fate.
Well said, wisest of bards! Thou hast carried the license of a poet precisely to the proper point. For it was not thy purpose to assume the functions of a prophet, to which thou hadst no claim. I suppose also he was restrained by a sense of the danger which threatened one who should assail the credit of ancient religious practice. Cautiously, therefore, and securely, as far as possible, he presents the truth to those who have faculties to understand it; and while he denounces the munitions and conflicts of war 3476 (which indeed are still to be found in the course of human life), he describes our Saviour as proceeding to the war against Troy, understanding by Troy the world itself. 3477 And surely he did maintain the struggle against the opposing powers of evil, sent on that mission both by the designs of his own providence and the commandment of his Almighty Father. How, then, does the poet proceed?
But when to ripend manhood he shall grow,
that is, when, having arrived at the age of manhood, he shall utterly remove the evils which encompass the path of human life, and tranquilize the world by the blessings of peace:
The greedy sailor shall the seas forego;
No keel shall cut the waves for foreign ware,
For every soil shall every product bear.
The laboring hind his oxen shall disjoin;
No plough shall hurt the glebe, no pruning-hook the vine;
Nor wool shall in dissembled colors shine:
But the luxurious father of the fold,
With native purple, and unborrowd gold,
Beneath his pompous fleece shall proudly sweat;
And under Tyrian robes the lamb shall bleat.
Mature in years, to ready honors move,
O of celestial seed, O foster son of Jove!
See, laboring nature calls thee to sustain
The nodding flame of heaven, and earth, and main!
See to their base restored, earth, seas, and air;
And joyful ages, from behind, in crowing ranks appear.
To sing thy praise, would heaven my breath prolong.
Infusing spirits worthy such a song,
Not Thracian Orpheus should transcend my lays,
Nor Linus, crownd with never-fading bays;
Though each his heavenly parent should inspire;
The Muse instruct the voice, and Phœbus tune the lyre.
Should Pan contend in verse, and thou my theme,
Arcadian judges should their God condemn. 3478
Behold (says he) how the mighty world and the elements together manifest their joy.
[Amomum.—Bag.] “Assyrian cinnamon,” Kennedy, p. 28; “the cardamons spice shall grow, That from Assyrias gardens,” Wilstach, 1, p. 157; “Syrian spices,” Trapp, 1, p. 92; “Assyrias rich perfume,” Warton, 1, p. 78; “Assyrian roses,” Ogilby, p. 42.576:3469
[i.e. the Christians.—Bag.]576:3470
“Might not experience,” according to some, including Heinichen, who rejects in first, but accepts in text of his second edition.576:3472
[Referring, apparently, to Abraham. This passage is founded on a misconstruction of Virgils line by Constantine. which is followed by the Greek verse itself according to one edition.—Bag.]576:3473
[By a kind of play on the word amomum, he alludes to the Christians as ἄμωμοι, or blameless persons.—Bag.]577:3474
“The fields shall mellow wax with golden grain.”577:3475
“And through the matted grass the liquid gold shall creep.”
“And th hardened oaks with dewy honey sweat.”
While Molz. has
“Forth from the hard oak stems the lovely honey flows.”
These all approach Virgil closer than they do Constantine. With all allowance for poetic license, “pine” should hardly be translated “oak.”577:3476
Literally, “times and wars.”—1709.577:3477
This, bad as it is, is hardly worse than the subjective interpretation of scripture by modern allegorizers, and certainly no worse than some of the Scripture interpretations of Eusebius.577:3478
[The reader will perceive that the foregoing verses, with but little exception, and very slight alteration, are taken from Drydens translation of the fourth eclogue of Virgil.—Bag.]
Next: Chapter XXI
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