Today’s installment concludes Roman Emperor Constantine Converted to Christianity,
our selection from An Ecclesiastical History, From The Birth of Christ to the Beginning of the Eighteenth Century by Johann L. Von Mosheim published in 1842. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
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Previously in Roman Emperor Constantine Converted to Christianity.
Place: Milvian Ridge
Rhetoricians and philosophers, whose schools were supposed to be so profitable to the community, exhausted all their ingenuity, both before the days of Constantine the Great and afterward, to arrest the progress of Christianity. In the beginning of this century Hierocles, the great ornament of the Platonic school, composed two books against the Christians, in which he had the audacity to compare our Saviour with Apollonius TyanÃ¦us, and for which he was chastised by Eusebius in a tract written expressly against him. Lactantius speaks of another philosopher who endeavored to convince the Christians they were in error; but his name is not mentioned. After the reign of Constantine the Great, Julian wrote a large volume against the Christians, and Himerius and Libanius in their public declamations, and Eunapius in his lives of the philosophers, zealously decried the Christian religion. Yet no one of these persons was punished at all for the licentiousness of his tongue or of his pen.
How much harm these sophists or philosophers, who were full of the pride of imaginary knowledge and of hatred to the Christian name, did to the cause of Christianity in this century appears from many examples, and especially from the apostasy of Julian, who was seduced by men of this stamp. Among those who wished to appear wise, and to take moderate ground, many were induced by the arguments and explanations of these men to devise a kind of reconciling religion, intermediate between the old superstition and Christianity, and to imagine that Christ had enjoined the very same thing which had long been represented by the pagan priests under the envelope of their ceremonies and fables. Of these views were Ammianus Marcellinus, a very prudent and discreet man; Chalcidius, a philosopher; Themistius, a very celebrated orator, and others, who conceived that both religions were in unison, as to all the more important points, if they were rightly understood, and therefore held that Christ was neither to be contemned nor to be honored to the exclusion of the pagan deities.
As Constantine the Great and his sons and successors took much pains to enlarge the Christian Church, it is not strange that many nations, before barbarous and uncivilized, became subject to Christ. Many circumstances make it probable that the light of Christianity cast some of its rays into both Armenias, the Greater and the Less, soon after the establishment of the Christian Church. But the Armenian Church first received due organization and firm establishment in this century; in the beginning of which Gregory, the son of Anax, commonly called “the Illuminator,” because he dispelled the mists of superstition which beclouded the minds of the Athenians, first persuaded some private individuals, and afterward Tiridates, the king of the Armenians, as well as his nobles, to embrace and observe the Christian religion. He was therefore ordained the first bishop of Armenia, by Leontius, bishop of Cappadocia, and gradually diffused the principles of Christianity throughout that country.
In the European provinces of the Roman Empire there still remained a vast number of idolaters; and though the Christian bishops endeavored to convert them to Christ, the business went on but slowly. In Gaul, the great Martin, bishop of Tours, was not unsuccessful in this work; but travelling through the provinces of Gaul, he everywhere persuaded many to renounce their idols and embrace Christ, and he destroyed their temples and threw down their statues. He therefore merited the title “Apostle of the Gauls.”
It is very evident that the victories of Constantine the Great, and both the fear of punishment and the desire of pleasing the Roman emperors, were cogent reasons, in the view of whole nations as well as of individuals, for embracing the Christian religion. Yet no person well informed in the history of this period will ascribe the extension of Christianity wholly to these causes. For it is manifest that the untiring zeal of the bishops and other holy men, the pure and devout lives which many of the Christians exhibited, the translations of the sacred volume, and the excellence of the Christian religion were as efficient motives with many persons as the arguments from worldly advantage and disadvantage were with some others.
Although the Christian Church within the Roman Empire was involved in no severe calamities from the times of Constantine the Great onward, except during the commotion of Licinius and the short reign of Julian, yet slight tempests sometimes beat upon them in certain places. Athanaric, for instance, a king of the Goths, fiercely assailed for a time that portion of the Gothic nation which had embraced Christianity. In the more remote provinces, also, the adherents to idolatry often defended their hereditary superstitions with the sword, and murdered the Christians, who in propagating their religion were not always as gentle or as prudent as they ought to have been. Beyond the limits of the Roman Empire, Sapor II, the king of Persia, waged three bloody wars against the Christians in his dominions. The first was in the eighteenth year of his reign; the second was in the thirtieth year; and the third, which was the most cruel and destroyed an immense number of Christians, commenced in his thirty-first year, A.D. 330, and lasted forty years, or till A.D. 370. Yet religion was not the ostensible cause of this dreadful persecution, but a suspicion of treasonable practices among the Christians; for the Magi and the Jews persuaded the King to believe that all Christians were in the interests of the Roman Empire.
This ends our series of passages on Roman Emperor Constantine Converted to Christianity by Johann L. Von Mosheim from his book An Ecclesiastical History, From The Birth of Christ to the Beginning of the Eighteenth Century published in 1842. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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