Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. II: The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen.: List of the Benefits which Constantine conferred in the Freedom of the Christians and Building of Churches; and other Deeds for the Public Welfare.Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Chapter VIII.—List of the Benefits which Constantine conferred in the Freedom of the Christians and Building of Churches; and other Deeds for the Public Welfare.
As soon as the sole government of the Roman empire was vested in Constantine, he issued a public decree 1082 commanding all his subjects in the East to honor the Christian religion, carefully to worship the Divine Being, and to recognize that only as Divine which is also essentially so, and which has the power that endures for ever and ever: for he delights to give all good things ungrudgingly to those who zealously embrace the truth; he meets their undertakings with the best hopes, while misfortunes, whether in peace or in war, whether in public or in private life, befall transgressors. Constantine then added, but without vain boasting, that, God having accounted him as a fitting servant, worthy to reign, he had been led from the British sea to the Eastern provinces in order that the Christian religion might be extended, and that those who, on account of the worship of God had remained steadfast in confessions or martyrdoms, might be advanced to public honors. After making these statements, he entered upon a myriad other details by which he thought his subjects might be drawn to religion. He decreed that all acts and judgments passed by the persecutors of the church against Christianity should be revoked; and commanded that all those who, on account of their confession of Christ, had been sent to banishment—either to the isles or elsewhere, contrary to their own inclination—and all those who had been condemned to labor in the mines, the public works, the harems, the linen factories, or had been enrolled as public functionaries, should be restored to liberty. He removed the stigma of dishonor from those upon whom it had been cast, and permitted those who had been deprived of high appointments in the army, either to reassume their former place, or with an honorable discharge, to enjoy a liberal ease according to their own choice; and when he had recalled all to the enjoyment of their former liberties and customary honors, he likewise restored their possessions. In the case of those who had been slain, and whose property had been confiscated, he enacted that the inheritance should be transferred to the next of kin, or, in default of heirs, to the church belonging to the locality where the estate was situated; and when the inheritance had passed into other hands, and had become either private or national property, he commanded it to be restored. He likewise promised to resort to the fittest and best possible arrangements when the property had been purchased by the exchequer, or had been received therefrom by gift. These measures, as it had been said, having been enacted by the emperor, and ratified by law, were forthwith carried into execution. Christians were thus placed in almost all the principal posts of the Roman government; the worship of false gods was universally prohibited; and the arts of divination, the dedication of statues, and the celebration of pagan festivals were interdicted. Many of the most ancient customs observed in the cities fell into disuse: and among the Egyptians the measure used to indicate the increase of the waters of the Nile was no longer borne into pagan temples, but into churches. The p. 245 spectacle of gladiators was then prohibited among the Romans; and the custom which prevailed among the Phœnicians of Lebanon and Heliopolis of prostituting virgins before marriage, who were accustomed to cohabit in lawful marriage after the first trial of an illicit intercourse, was abolished. Of the houses of prayer, the emperor repaired some which were of sufficient magnitude; others were brilliantly restored by additional length and breadth, and he erected new edifices in places where no building of the kind had existed previously. He furnished the requisite supplies from the imperial treasury, and wrote to the bishops of the cities and the governors of the provinces, desiring them to contribute whatever might be wished, and enjoining submission and zealous obedience to the priests.
The prosperity of religion kept pace with the increased prosperity of the empire. After the war with Licinius, the emperor was successful in battle against foreign nations; he conquered the Sarmatians and the people called Goths, and concluded an advantageous treaty with them. These people dwelt upon the Ister; and as they were very warlike, and always ready in arms both by the multitude and magnitude of their bodies, they kept the other tribes of barbarians in awe, and found antagonists in the Romans alone. It is said that, during this war, Constantine perceived clearly, by means of signs and dreams, that the special protection of Divine Providence had been extended to him. Hence when he had vanquished all those who rose up in battle against him he evinced his thankfulness to Christ by zealous attention to the concerns of religion, and exhorted the governors to recognize the one true faith and way of salvation. He enacted that part of the funds levied from tributary countries should be forwarded by the various cities to the bishops and clergy, wherever they might be domiciled, and commanded that the law enjoining this gift should be a statute forever. In order to accustom the soldiers to worship God as he did, he had their weapons marked with the symbol of the cross, and he erected a house of prayer in the palace. When he engaged in war, he caused a tent to be borne before him, constructed in the shape of a church, so that in case he or his army might be led into the desert, they might have a sacred edifice in which to praise and worship God, and participate in the mysteries. 1083 Priests and deacons followed the tent, who fulfilled the orders about these matters, according to the law of the church. From that period the Roman legions, which now were called by their number, provided each its own tent, with attendant priests and deacons. He also enjoined the observance of the day termed the Lords day, 1084 which the Jews call the first day of the week, and which the pagans dedicate to the sun, as likewise the day before the seventh, and commanded that no judicial or other business should be transacted on those days, but that God should be served with prayers and supplications. He honored the Lords day, because on it Christ arose from the dead, and the day above mentioned, because on it he was crucified. He regarded the cross with peculiar reverence, on account both of the power which it conveyed to him in the battles against his enemies, and also of the divine manner in which the symbol had appeared to him. He took away by law the crucifixion customary among the Romans, from the usage of the courts. He commanded that this divine symbol should always be inscribed and stamped whenever coins and images should be struck, and his images, which exist in this very form, still testify to this order. And indeed he strove in everything, particularly in the enactment of laws, to serve God. It appears, too, that he prohibited many flagitious and licentious connections, 1085 which till that period had not been forbidden; as one, who cares about it, may see at a glance from these few instances what the laws were, which he established about these points; it appears to me unreasonable now to treat them exhaustively. I consider it necessary, however, to mention the laws enacted for the honor and consolidation of religion, as they constitute a considerable portion of ecclesiastical history. I shall therefore proceed to the recital.
γράμμα δημόσιον. The decree is given at full length in Eus. V. C. ii. 24–42; and the other legislative chapters of Bks. ii. and iv. Cf. Eus. H. E. x. 5–7; Soc. i. 18.245:1083
Μυστηρίων , that is to say, the sacraments of the church.245:1084
Eus. V. C. iv. 18, 19.245:1085
He probably alludes to the law of Constantine, “de raptu virginum vel viduarum.” See Codex Theodos. ix. 24.
Next: Constantine enacts a Law in favor of Celibates and of the Clergy.
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