Chapter XXIV.—Letter written by the Emperor Constantine to Sapor 419 , the King of Persia, respecting the Christians.
“In protecting the holy faith I enjoy the light of truth, and by following the light of truth I attain to fuller knowledge of the faith. Therefore, as facts prove, I recognize that most holy worship as teaching the knowledge of the most holy God. This service I profess. With the Power of this God for my ally, beginning at the furthest boundaries of the ocean, I have, one after another, quickened every part of the world with hope. Now all the peoples once enslaved by many tyrants, worn by their daily miseries, and almost extinct, have been kindled to fresh life by receiving the protection of the State.
“The God I reverence is He whose emblem my dedicated troops bear on their shoulders, marching whithersoever the cause of justice leads them, and rewarding me by their splendid victories. I confess that I reverence this God with eternal remembrance. Him, who dwelleth in the highest heavens, I contemplate with pure and unpolluted mind. On Him I call on bended knees, shunning all abominable blood, all unseemly and ill-omened odours, all fire of incantation 420 , and all pollution by which unlawful and shameful error has destroyed whole nations and hurled them down to hell.
“God does not permit those gifts which, in His beneficent Providence, He has bestowed p. 60 upon men for the supply of their wants to be perverted according to every mans desire. He only requires of men a pure mind and a spotless soul, and by these He weighs their deeds of virtue and piety. He is pleased with gentleness 421 and modesty; He loves the meek 422 , and hates those who excite contentions; He loves faith, chastises unbelief; He breaks all power of boasting 423 , and punishes the insolence of the proud 424 . Men exalted with pride He utterly overthrows, and rewards the humble 425 and the patient 426 according to their deserts. Of a just sovereignty He maketh much, strengthens it by His aid, and guards the counsels of Princes with the blessing of peace.
“I know that I am not in error, my brother, when I confess that this God is the Ruler and the Father of all men, a truth which many who preceded me upon the imperial throne were so deluded by error as to attempt to deny. But their end was so dreadful that they have become a fearful warning to all mankind, to deter others from similar iniquity 427 . Of these I count that man one whom the wrath of God, like a thunderbolt, drove hence into your country, and who made notorious the memorial of his shame which exists in your own land 428 . Indeed it appears to have been well ordered that the age in which we live should be distinguished by the open and manifest punishments inflicted on such persons. I myself have witnessed the end of those who have persecuted the people of God by unlawful edicts. Hence it is that I more especially thank God for having now, by His special Providence, restored peace to those who observe His law, in which they exalt and rejoice.
“I am led to expect future happiness and security whenever God in His goodness unites all men in the exercise of the one pure and true religion. You may therefore well understand how exceedingly I rejoice to hear that the finest provinces of Persia are adorned abundantly with men of this class; I mean Christians; for it is of them I am speaking. All then is well with you and with them, for you will have the Lord of all merciful and beneficent to you. Since then you are so mighty and so pious, I commend the Christians to your care, and leave them in your protection. Treat them, I beseech you, with the affection that befits your goodness. Your fidelity in this respect will confer on yourself and on us inexpressible benefits.”
This excellent emperor felt so much solicitude for all who had embraced the true religion, that he not only watched over those who were his own subjects, but also over the subjects of other sovereigns. For this reason he was blessed with the special protection of God, so that although he held the reins of the whole of Europe and of Africa, and the greater part of Asia, his subjects were all well disposed to his rule, and obedient to his government. Foreign nations submitted to his sway, some by voluntary submission, others overcome in war. Trophies were everywhere erected, and the emperor was styled Victorious.
The praises of Constantine have, however, been proclaimed by many other writers. We must resume the thread of our history. This emperor, who deserves the highest fame, devoted his whole mind to matters worthy of the apostles, while men who had been admitted to the sacerdotal dignity not only neglected to edify the church, but endeavoured to uproot it from the very foundations. They invented all manner of false accusations against those who governed the church in accordance with the doctrines taught by the apostles, and did their best to depose and banish them. Their envy was not satisfied by the infamous falsehood which they had invented against Eustathius, but they had recourse to every artifice to effect the overthrow of another great bulwark of religion. These tragic occurrences I shall now relate as concisely as possible.
Sapor II. (Shapur) Postumus, the son of Hormisdas II., was one of the greatest of the Sassanidæ. He reigned from a.d. 310 to 381, and fought with success against Constantius II. and Julian, “augendi regni cupiditate supra homines flagrans.” Amm. Marc xviii. 4.59:420
The reading of Basil. Gr. and Lat., and Pini Codex, ἐπῳδῆ for γεώδη, is approved by Schulze, and may indicate a side-hit at the Magian fire-worship. But the adjectival form ἐπῳδής for ἐπῳδός is doubtful.60:421
Cf. 2 Cor. x. i60:422
Cf. Matt xi. 2960:423
Cf. Jas. iv. 1660:424
Cf. Luke i. 5160:425
Cf. Luke i. 5260:426
Cf. 2 Tim. ii. 2460:427
The imperial writer may have had in his mind Tiberius, whose miserable old age was probably ended by murder; Caius, stabbed by his own guard; Claudius, poisoned by his wife; Nero, driven to shameful suicide; Vitellius, beaten to death by a brutal mob; Domitian, assassinated by his wife and freedmen; Commodus, murdered by his courtiers, and Pertinax by his guards; Caracalla, murdered; Heliogabalus, murdered; Alexander Severus, Maximinus, Gordianus, murdered; Decius, killed in war; Gallus, Æmilianus, Gallienus, all murdered; Aurelianus, Probus, Carus, murdered. On the other hand Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, and Diocletian, who persecuted the Church with less or more severity, died peaceful deaths.60:428
Valerianus, proclaimed Emperor in Rhœtia, a.d. 254, was defeated in his campaign against the Persians, and treated with indignity alive and dead. After being made to crouch as a footstool for his conqueror to tread on when mounting on horseback, he was flayed alive, a.d. 260, and his tanned skin nailed in a Persian temple as a “memorial of his shame.” Cf. Const. Orat. xxiv. Gibbons catholic scepticism includes the humiliation of Valerianus. “The tale,” he says, “is moral and pathetic, but the truth of it may very fairly be called in question.” (Decline and Fall, Chap. X.). But the passage in the text, in which the allusion has not always been perceived, and the parallel reference in the Emperors oration, indicate the belief of a time little more than half a century after the event. Lactantius (de Morte Persecutorum V.), was probably about ten years old when Valerianus was defeated, and, if so, gives the testimony of a contemporary. Orosius (vii. 22) and Agathias (iv. p. 133) would only copy earlier writers, but the latter states that for the fact of Sapors thus treating Valerianus there is “abundant historical testimony.” Cf. Tillemont, Hist. Emp. iii. pp. 314, 315.
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