Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. II: The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus.: The Emperor Constantine abolishes Paganism and erects many Churches in Different Places.Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Chapter XVIII.—The Emperor Constantine abolishes Paganism and erects many Churches in Different Places.
After this the emperor became increasingly attentive to the interests of the Christians, and abandoned the heathen superstitions. He abolished the combats of the gladiators, and set up his own statues in the temples. And as the heathens affirmed that it was Serapis who brought up the Nile for the purpose of irrigating Egypt, because a cubit was usually carried into his temple, he directed Alexander to transfer the cubit to the church. And although they predicted that the Nile would not overflow because of the displeasure of Serapis, nevertheless there was an inundation in the following year and afterwards, taking place regularly: thus it was proved by fact that the rising of the Nile was not in consequence of their superstition, but by reason of the decrees of Providence. About the same time those barbarians the Sarmatians and Goths made incursions on the Roman territory; yet the emperors earnestness respecting the churches was by no means abated, but he made suitable provision for both these matters. Placing his confidence in the Christian banner, 218 he completely vanquished his enemies, so as even to cast off the tribute of gold which preceding emperors were accustomed to pay the barbarians: while they themselves, being terror-struck at the unexpectedness of their defeat, then for the first time embraced the Christian religion, by means of which Constantine had been protected. Again he built other churches, one of which was erected near the Oak of Mamre, under which the Sacred Oracles declare that Abraham entertained angels. For the emperor having been informed that altars had been reared under that oak, and that pagan sacrifices were offered upon them, censured by letter Eusebius bishop of Cæsarea, and ordered that the altars should be demolished, and a house of prayer erected beside the oak. He also directed that another church should be constructed in Heliopolis in Phœnicia, for this reason. Who originally legislated for the inhabitants of Heliopolis I am unable to state, but his character and morals may be judged of from the [practice of that] city; for the laws of the country ordered the women among them to be common, and therefore the children born there were of doubtful descent, so that there was no distinction of fathers and their offspring. Their virgins also were presented for prostitution to the strangers who resorted thither. The emperor hastened to correct this evil which had long prevailed among them. And passing a solemn law of chastity, he removed the shameful evil and provided for the mutual recognition of families. And having built churches there, he took care that a bishop and sacred clergy should be ordained. Thus he reformed the corrupt manners of the people of Heliopolis. He likewise demolished the temple of Venus at Aphaca on Mount Libanus, and abolished the infamous deeds which were there celebrated. Why need I describe his expulsion of the Pythonic demon from Cilicia, by commanding the mansion in which he was lurking to be razed from its foundations? So great indeed was the emperors devotion to Christianity, that when he was about to enter on a war with Persia, he prepared a tabernacle formed of embroidered linen on the model of a church, just as Moses had done in the wilderness; 219 and this so constructed as to be adapted to conveyance from place to place, in order that he might have a house of prayer even in the most desert regions. But the war was not at that time carried on, being prevented through dread of the emperor. It would, I conceive, be out of place here to describe the emperors diligence in rebuilding cities and converting many villages into cities; as for example Drepanum, to which he gave his mothers name, and Constantia in Palestine, so called from his sister. For my task is not to enumerate of the emperors actions, but simply such as are connected with Christianity, and especially those which relate to the churches. Wherefore I leave to others more competent to detail such matters, the emperors glorious achievements, inasmuch as they belong to a different subject, and require a distinct treatise. But I myself should have been silent, if the Church had remained undisturbed by divisions: for where the subject does not supply matter for relation, there is no necessity for a narrator. Since however subtle and vain disputation has confused and at the same time scattered the apostolic faith of Christianity, I thought it desirable to record these things, in order that the p. 23 transactions of the churches might not be lost in obscurity. For accurate information on these points procures celebrity among the many, and at the same time renders him who is acquainted with them more secure from error, and instructs him not to be carried away by any empty sound of sophistical argumentation which he may chance to hear.
τροπαί& 251·: see above, chap. 2.22:219
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