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.: Section 4
§4. Mental Characteristics.
According to his biographer-friend, Constantine was even more conspicuous for the excellence of his psychical qualities than his physical (V. C. 1. 19). Among these qualities are natural intelligence (V. C. 1. 19), sound judgment (V. C. 1. 19), well-disciplined power of thought (Theoph. p. 29), and peculiarly, as might be expected from his eye and general energy, penetration (Theoph. p. 29). In respect of Education, it is said on the one hand that he “reaped the advantages of a liberal education” (V. C. 1. 19), and particularly that he was thoroughly trained in the art of reasoning (V. C.); but according to Anonymous Vales. (p. 471), and also Cedrenus (p. 473), his literary education was scanty. If there was early lack, he made up for it afterwards with characteristic energy, for he attained very considerable erudition (of a sort) for an emperor, as is shown in his Oration. According to Eutropius he was devoted to liberal studies. According to Lydus he was skilled both in the science of letters and the science of arms; for “if he had not excelled in both sciences, he would not have been made emperor of the Romans” (Lydus, de Magist. 3. 33),—a somewhat subjective ground. Such was his devotion to study that, according to Eusebius (V. C. 4. 29), “he sometimes passed sleepless nights in furnishing his mind with divine knowledge.” The measure of his thoroughness may be gathered from the fact that his knowledge of Greek even, does not seem to have been very extensive—“with which he was not altogether unacquainted” (V. C. 3. 13). His learning, as shown in his orations, is the learning of a man of affairs, and has many elements of crudity and p. 423 consequent pretentiousness; but he is no worse than many authors—much better than most royal authors.
His learning had at least the excellent quality that it was radiated with reference to expression, as all sound learning must be. According to Eusebius, much of his time was spent in composing discourses, many of which he delivered in public (V. C. 4. 29), and he continued to the last to compose discourses and to deliver frequent orations in public.
The description by Eusebius of the character of his orations (V. C. 4. 24) seems to forbid any assumption of pure vanity as his motive. It is the most natural thing in the world that an emperor should make speeches, and that he should speak on scholastic or religious themes, and with the use of classical philosophy, mythology, and literature, should be no surprise in the days of President Harrison, Mr. Gladstone, and the Emperor William. There is no doubt he wrote and spoke vigorously and effectively to his soldiers, and on political and judicial matters (witness his laws), and his learned literary production is very fair amateur work, considering. In the Delivery of his speeches he seems to have had self-possession and modesty of manner, as e.g. at the Council of Nicæa, where “he looked serenely around on the assembly with a cheerful aspect, and having collected his thoughts in a calm and gentle tone…proceeded to speak” (V. C. 3. 11). His Literary style was somewhat inflated and verbose, but for this, compare Special Prolegomena. His Patronage of learning showed his interest in it. Following his fathers example and continuing his work, he encouraged the schools in Gaul (cf. above). Hosius and Eusebius were his friends and counselors. He made Lactantius tutor to Crispus (Hieron. Chron.). He had copies of the Scriptures made and distributed (V. C. 3. 1). In short, he especially “encouraged the study of letters” (Vict. Epit. 51) in every way.
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