Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter VIII
p. 384 Chapter VIII.—The Subsequent Wickedness of Licinius, and his Death.
1. Such blessings did divine and heavenly grace confer upon us through the appearance of our Saviour, and such was the abundance of benefits which prevailed among all men in consequence of the peace which we enjoyed. And thus were our affairs crowned with rejoicings and festivities.
2. But malignant envy, and the demon who loves that which is evil, were not able to bear the sight of these things; and moreover the events that befell the tyrants whom we have already mentioned were not sufficient to bring Licinius to sound reason.
3. For the latter, although his government was prosperous and he was honored with the second rank after the great Emperor Constantine, and was connected with him by the closest ties of marriage, abandoned the imitation of good deeds, and emulated the wickedness of the impious tyrants whose end he had seen with his own eyes, and chose rather to follow their principles than to continue in friendly relations with him who was better than they. Being envious of the common benefactor he waged an impious and most terrible war against him, paying regard neither to laws of nature, nor treaties, nor blood, and giving no thought to covenants. 2970
4. For Constantine, like an all-gracious emperor, giving him evidences of true favor, did not refuse alliance with him, and did not refuse him the illustrious marriage with his sister, but honored him by making him a partaker of the ancestral nobility and the ancient imperial blood, 2971 and granted him the right of sharing in the dominion over all as a brother-in-law and co-regent, conferring upon him the government and administration of no less a portion of the Roman provinces than he himself possessed. 2972
5. But Licinius, on the contrary, pursued a course directly opposite to this; forming daily all kinds of plots against his superior, and devising all sorts of mischief, that he might repay his benefactor with evils. At first he attempted to conceal his preparations, and pretended to be a friend, and practiced frequently fraud and deceit, in the hope that he might easily accomplish the desired end. 2973
6. But God was the friend, protector, and guardian of Constantine, and bringing the plots which had been formed in secrecy and darkness to the light, he foiled them. So much virtue does the great armor of piety possess for the warding off of enemies and for the preservation of our own safety. Protected by this, our most divinely favored emperor escaped the multitudinous plots of the abominable man.
7. But when Licinius perceived that his secret preparations by no means progressed according to his mind,—for God revealed every plot and wickedness to the God-favored emperor,—being no longer able to conceal himself, he undertook an open war. 2974
8. And at the same time that he determined to wage war with Constantine, he also proceeded to join battle with the God of the universe, whom he knew that Constantine worshiped, and began, gently for a time and quietly, to attack his pious subjects, who had never done his government any harm. 2975 This he did under p. 385 the compulsion of his innate wickedness which drove him into terrible blindness.
9. He did not therefore keep before his eyes the memory of those who had persecuted the Christians before him, nor of those whose destroyer and executioner he had been appointed, on account of the impieties which they had committed. But departing from sound reason, being seized, in a word, with insanity, he determined to war against God himself as the ally of Constantine, instead of against the one who was assisted by him.
10. And in the first place, he drove from his house every Christian, thus depriving himself, wretched man, of the prayers which they offered to God in his behalf, which they are accustomed, according to the teaching of their fathers, to offer for all men. Then he commanded that the soldiers in the cities should be cashiered and stripped of their rank unless they chose to sacrifice to the demons. And yet these were small matters when compared with the greater things that followed.
11. Why is it necessary to relate minutely and in detail all that was done by the hater of God, and to recount how this most lawless man invented unlawful laws? 2976 He passed an ordinance that no one should exercise humanity toward the sufferers in prison by giving them food, and that none should show mercy to those that were perishing of hunger in bonds; that no one should in any way be kind, or do any good act, even though moved by Nature herself to sympathize with ones neighbors. And this was indeed an openly shameful and most cruel law, calculated to expel all natural kindliness. And in addition to this it was also decreed, as a punishment, that those who showed compassion should suffer the same things with those whom they compassionated; and that those who kindly ministered to the suffering should be thrown into bonds and into prison, and should endure the same punishment with the sufferers. Such were the decrees of Licinius.
12. Why should we recount his innovations in regard to marriage or in regard to the dying—innovations by which he ventured to annul the ancient laws of the Romans which had been well and wisely formed, and to introduce certain barbarous and cruel laws, which were truly unlawful and lawless? 2977 He invented, to the detriment of the provinces which were subject to him, innumerable prosecutions, 2978 and all sorts of methods of extorting gold and silver, new measurements of land 2979 and injurious exactions from men in the country, who were no longer living, but long since dead.
13. Why is it necessary to speak at length of the banishments which, in addition to these things, this enemy of mankind inflicted upon those who had done no wrong, the expatriations of men of noble birth and high reputation whose young wives he snatched from them and consigned to certain baser fellows of his own, to be shamefully abused by them, and the many married women and virgins upon whom he gratified his passions, although he was in advanced age 2980 —why, I say, is it necessary to speak at length of these things, when the excessive wickedness of his last deeds makes the first appear small and of no account?
14. For, finally, he reached such a pitch of madness that he attacked the bishops, supposing that they—as servants of the God over all—would be hostile to his measures. He did not yet proceed against them openly, on account of his fear of his superior, but as before, secretly and craftily, employing the treachery of the governors for the destruction of the most distinguished of them. And the manner of their murder was strange, and such as had never before been heard of.
15. The deeds which he performed p. 386 at Amaseia 2981 and in the other cities of Pontus surpassed every excess of cruelty. Some of the churches of God were again razed to the ground, others were closed, so that none of those accustomed to frequent them could enter them and render the worship due to God.
16. For his evil conscience led him to suppose that prayers were not offered in his behalf; but he was persuaded that we did everything in the interest of the God-beloved emperor, and that we supplicated God for him. 2982 Therefore he hastened to turn his fury against us.
17. And then those among the governors who wished to flatter him, perceiving that in doing such things they pleased the impious tyrant, 2983 made some of the bishops suffer the penalties customarily inflicted upon criminals, and led away and without any pretext punished like murderers those who had done no wrong. Some now endured a new form of death: having their bodies cut into many pieces with the sword, and after this savage and most horrible spectacle, being thrown into the depths of the sea as food for fishes.
18. Thereupon the worshipers of God again fled, and fields and deserts, forests and mountains, again received the servants of Christ. And when the impious tyrant had thus met with success in these measures, he finally planned to renew the persecution against all.
19. And he would have succeeded in his design, and there would have been nothing to hinder him in the work, had not God, the defender of the lives of his own people, most quickly anticipated that which was about to happen, and caused a great light to shine forth as in the midst of a dark and gloomy night, and raised up a deliverer for all, leading into those regions with a lofty arm, his servant, Constantine.
To speak of Licinius as alone responsible for the civil war between himself and Constantine, which ended in his own downfall, is quite unjustifiable; indeed, this entire chapter is a painful example of the way in which prejudice distorts facts. The positions of the two emperors was such that a final struggle between them for the sole supremacy was inevitable. Already, in 314, a war broke out, which seems to have resulted from Licinius refusal to deliver up a relative of his own, who had in some way been concerned in a conspiracy against Constantine. The occasion of the war is not perfectly plain, but it is certain that Constantine, not Licinius, was the aggressor. Constantine came off victorious, but was not able to overthrow his rival, and a treaty was concluded by which Illyricum, one of Licinius most important provinces, was ceded to Constantine. The two emperors remained at peace, each waiting for a time when he could with advantage attack the other, until 323, when a second and greater war broke out, to which Eusebius, who omits all reference to the former, refers in these two chapters. The immediate occasion of this war, as of the former, is obscure, but it was certainly not due to Constantines pity for the oppressed Christian subjects of Licinius, and his pious desire to avenge their sufferings, as Eusebius, who in his Vita Const. II. 3, in contradiction to this present passage, claims for his prince the honor of beginning the war without any other provocation, would have us believe. Doubtless the fact that Licinius was persecuting his Christian subjects had much to do with the outbreak of the war; for Constantine saw clearly that Licinius had weakened his hold upon his subjects by his conduct, and that therefore a good time had arrived to strike the decisive blow. A pretext—for of course Constantine could not go to war without some more material and plausible pretext than sympathy with oppressed Christian brethren—was furnished by some sort of a misunderstanding in regard to the respective rights of the two sovereigns in the border territory along the Danube frontier, and the war began by Constantine taking the initiative, and invading his rivals territory. Two battles were fought,—one at Adrianople in July, and the other at Chrysopolis in September, 323,—in both of which Constantine was victorious, and the latter of which resulted in the surrender of Licinius, and the accession of Constantine to the supreme sovereignty of both East and West. Cf. Gibbon, Harpers ed., I. p. 490 sq., and Burckhardts Zeit Constantins, 2d ed., p. 328 sq.384:2971
See below, p. 400.384:2972
A more flagrant misrepresentation of facts could hardly be imagined. Licinius received his appointment directly from Galerius and owed nothing whatever to Constantine; in fact, was an Augustus before the latter was, and held his half of the empire quite independently of the latter, and indeed by a far clearer title than Constantine held his. See above, Bk. VIII. chap. 13, notes 18 and 21.384:2973
There is no reason to suppose that Licinius was any more guilty than Constantine in these respects.384:2974
This is in direct contradiction to Eusebius own statement in his Vita Const. II. 3 (see above, note 1), and is almost certainly incorrect.384:2975
Licinius, as Görres has shown in his able essay Die Licinianische Christenverfolgung, p. 5 sq., did not begin to persecute the Christians until the year 319 (the persecution was formerly commonly supposed to have begun some three or four years earlier). The causes of his change of policy in this matter it is impossible to state with certainty, but the exceedingly foolish step seems to have been chiefly due to his growing hatred and suspicion of the Christians as the friends of Constantine. Though he had not hitherto been hostile to them, he had yet never taken any pains to win their friendship and to secure their enthusiastic support as Constantine had, and as a consequence they naturally looked with envy upon their brethren in the west, who were enjoying such signal marks of imperial favor. Licinius could not but be conscious of this; and as the relations between himself and Constantine became more and more strained, it was not unnatural for him to acquire a peculiar enmity toward them, and finally to suspect them of a conspiracy in favor of his rival. Whether he had any grounds for such a suspicion we do not know, but at any rate he began to show his changed attitude in 319 by clearing his palace of Christians (see § 10). No more foolish step can be imagined than the opening of a persecution at this critical juncture. Just at a time when he needed the most loyal support of all his subjects, he wantonly alienated the affections of a large and influential portion of them, and in the very act gave them good reason to become devoted adherents of his enemy. The persecution of Licinius, as Görres has clearly shown (ibid. p. 29 sq.) was limited in its extent and mild in its character. It began, as Eusebius informs us, with the expulsion of Christians from the palace, but even here it was not universal; at least, Eusebius of Nicomedia and other prominent clergymen still remained Licinius friends, and were treated as such by him. In fact, he evidently punished only those whom he thought to be his enemies and to be interested in the success of Constantine, if not directly conspiring in his behalf. No general edicts of persecution were issued by him, and the sufferings of the Christians seem to have been confined almost wholly to occasional loss of property or banishment, or, still less frequently, imprisonment. A few bishops appear to have been put to death, but there is no reason to suppose that they suffered at the command of Licinius himself. Of course, when it was known that he was hostile to the Christians, fanatical heathen officials might venture, occasionally at least, to violate the existing laws and bring hated bishops to death on one pretext or another. But such cases were certainly rare, and there seem to have been no instances of execution on the simple ground of Christianity, as indeed there could not be while the Edict of Milan remained unrepealed. Eusebius statement that Licinius was about to proceed to severer measures, when the war with Constantine broke out and put a stop to his plans, is very likely true; but otherwise his report is rather highly colored, as many other sources fully warrant us in saying. For a careful and very satisfactory discussion of this whole subject, see Görres, ibid. p. 32 sq.385:2976
Note the play on the word νόμος. νόμους ἀνόμους ὁ πανανομώτατος385:2977
Another play upon the same word: νόμους, ἀνόμους ὡς ἀληθῶς καὶ παρανόμους385:2978
ἐπισκήψεις. The same word is used in connection with Maximinus in Bk. VIII. chap. 14, § 10, above. Valesius cites passages from Aurelius Victor, and Libanius, in which it is said that Licinius was very kindly disposed toward the rural population of his realm, and that the cities flourished greatly under him. Moreover, Zosimus gives just such an account of Constantine as Eusebius gives of Licinius. Allowance must undoubtedly be made on the one side for Eusebius prejudice against Licinius, as on the other for Zosimus well-known hatred of Constantine. Doubtless both accounts are greatly exaggerated, though they probably contain considerable truth, for there were few Roman emperors that did not practice severe exactions upon their subjects, at times at least, if not continually, and it is always easy in a case of this kind to notice the dark and to overlook the bright features of a reign. Licinius was certainly a cruel man in many respects, and one hardly cares to enter the lists in his defense, but it should be observed that, until he became the enemy of Constantine and the persecutor of the Christians, Eusebius uniformly spoke of him in the highest terms. Compare Stroths note ad locum (quoted also by Closs).385:2979
i.e. for the purpose of making new assessments, which is always apt to be looked upon as an oppressive act, whether unjust or not.385:2980
ἐσχατόγηρως. Valesius remarks that, according to the epitomist of Victor, Licinius died in the sixtieth year of his age, so that at the time of which Eusebius was speaking he was little more than fifty years of age.386:2981
Amaseia, or Amasia, as it is more commonly called, was an important city of Pontus, situated on the river Iris.386:2982
Eusebius makes it clear enough in this sentence that Licinius suspected a treasonable conspiracy on the part of the Christians. See above, note 1.386:2983
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