16. CONSTANTINE THE GREAT
It may peradventure be marvelled of some, reading the history of these so terrible persecutions above specified, why God the Almighty, Director of all things, would suffer his own people and faithful servants, believing in his own and only begotten Son Jesus, so cruelly to be handled, so wrongfully to be vexed, so extremely to be tormented and put to death, and that the space of so many years together, as in these foresaid persecutions may appear. To the which admiration I have nothing to answer, but to say with the words of Hierom, We ought not to be moved with this iniquity of things, to see the wicked to prevail against the body; forsomuch as in the beginning of the world we see Abel the just to be killed of wicked Cain, and afterward Jacob being thrust out, Esau to reign in his father's house: in like case the Egyptians with brick and tile afflicted the sons of Israel; yea, and the Lord himself, was he not crucified of the Jews, Barabbas the thief being let go? Time would not suffice me to recite and reckon up how the godly in this world go to wreck, the wicked flourishing and prevailing. Briefly, howsoever the cause hereof proceedeth, whether for our sins here in this life, or how else soever; yet this is to us, and may be to all men, a sufficient stay, that we are sure these afflictions and persecutions of God's people in this world not to come by any chance or blind fortune, but by the provident appointment and forewarning of God. For so in the old law, by the affliction of the children of Israel, he hath prefigured these persecutions of his Christians. So by the words of Christ's own mouth in the gospel he did forewarn his church of these troubles to come. Again, neither did he suffer these so great afflictions to fall upon his servants before that he had premonished them suffi ciently by special revelation in the Apocalypse of John his servant; in the which Apocalypse he declared unto his church before, not only what troubles were coming at hand towards them, where and by whom they should come, but also in plain number, if the words of the prophecy be well understood, assigneth the true time, how long the said persecutions should continue, and when they should cease.
Thus having at large discoursed these horrible persecutions past, and heavy afflictions of Christian martyrs; now, by the grace of God, coming out of this Red Sea of bloody persecution, leaving Pharaoh and his host behind, let us sing gloriously to the worthy name of our God, who, through the blood of the Lamb, after long and tedious afflictions, at length hath visited his people with comfort, hath tied up Satan short, hath sent his meek Moses, (gentle Constantine I mean,) by whom it hath so pleased the Lord to work deliverance to his captive people, to set his servants at liberty, to turn their mourning into joy, to magnify the church of his Son, to destroy the idols of all the world, to grant life and liberty (and would God also not so much riches) unto them which before were the abjects of all the world; and all by the means of godly Constantine, the meek and most Christian emperor, of whose divine victories against so many tyrants and emperors, persecutors of Christ's people, and, lastly, against Licinius, in the year of our Lord three hundred twenty and four, of whose other noble acts and prowesses, of whose blessed virtues and his happy birth and progeny, part we have comprehended before, part now remaineth (Christ willing) to be declared.
This Constantine was the son of Constantius the emperor, a good and virtuous child of a good and virtuous father, born in Britain, (as saith Eutro pius,) whose mother was named Helena, daughter indeed of King Coilus; although Ambrosius, in his funeral oration of the death of Theodosius, saith she was an inn-holder's daughter. He was a most bountiful and gracious prince, having a desire to nourish learning and good arts, and did oftentimes use to read, write, and study himself. He had marvellous good success and prosperous achieving of all things he took in hand, which then was (and truly) supposed to proceed of this, for that he was so great a favourer of the Christian faith; which faith, when he had once embraced, he did ever after most devoutly and religiously reverence, and commanded by especial commission and proclamation, that every man should profess the same religion throughout all the Roman monarchy. The worshipping of idols, (whereunto he was addict by the allurement of Fausta his wife, insomuch that he did sacrifice to them,) after the discomfiture of Maxentius in battle, he utterly abjured; but his baptism he deferred even unto his old age, because he had determined a journey into Persia, and thought in Jordan to have been baptized.
As touching his natural disposition and wit, he
was very eloquent, a good philosopher, and in disputation sharp andingenious. He was accustomed to say, That an emperor ought to refuse no labour for the utility of the commonwealth; yea, and to adventure the mangling of his body for the remedy thereof; but if otherwise it may be holpen, to cherish the same. This do Aurelius, Victor, Pomponius Letus, and Ignatius write of him. And Ælius Lampridius saith, writing upon the life of Heliogabalus, that Constantine was wont to say, that an empire was given by the determinate purpose of God, that he to whom it was given should so employ his diligence, as he might be thought worthy of the same at the hands of the Giver; which same saying also Augustine noteth in his third book against Cresconius.
He first entered into the empire by the mercifulness of God, minding, after long waves of doleful persecution, to restore unto his church peace and tranquillity, in the year of our Lord three hundred and eleven, as Eusebius accounteth in his chronicle. His reign continued, as Eutropius affirmeth, thirty years, Letus saith thirty and two years, lacking two months. Great peace and tranquillity enjoyed the church under the reign of this good emperor, which took great pain and travail for the preservation thereof. First, yea, and that before he had subdued Licinius, he set forth many edicts for the restitution of the goods of the church, for the revoking of the Christians out of exile, for taking away the dissension of the doctors out of the church, for the setting of them free from public charges, and such like, even as the copy of his constitutions hereunder declareth, which Eusebius in his tenth book and fifth chapter repeateth in this wise.
"Victor Constantinus Maximus Augustus, to our loving subjects inhabiting throughout the east parts, sendeth greeting. The thing itself, which in the sure and most firm law of nature is contained, doth give unto all men (even as God hath ordained the same) sufficient perceivance and understanding, both of such things as man ought to foresee, as also what things presently he ought to meditate. Neither is there any thing therein to be doubted of such as have their minds directed to the scope or mark of perfect understanding; so that the perfect comprehending of sound reason, and the perceivance there of, be compared with the knowledge of God, being the true and perfect virtue. Wherefore let no wise man be troubled, although he sees divers men of divers dispositions; for wisdom, which springeth of virtue, cannot abide or acquaint herself with fond idiots, unless that (on the other side) the malice of perverse filthiness prolong her days, and cause the same idiocy to survive. Wherefore assuredly the crown and price of virtue lieth open unto all men, and the most mighty God ordereth the judgment of the same. I undoubtedly (as manifestly as possible is) will endeavour myself to testify and confess unto you all the hope which is in me. I think verily that the emperors which before this time have lately been, even for their tyranny had the empire taken from them; and my father, only exercising and using all meekness and lenity in his affairs, calling upon God the Father with great devotion and humility, hath been exalted to the same; and all the rest, as men wanting their wits, and in comparison as savage beasts, rather did give themselves to like cruelty, than to any lenity and gentleness towards their subjects: which tyranny, every one for his time being muzzled, utterly subverted the true and infallible doctrine; and so great malice was there kindled in their breasts, that when all things were in peaceable tranquillity, they made and raised most cruel and bloody intestine or civil wars. It is credibly informed us, that in those days Apollo gave answers, but not by any man's month, but out of a certain cave and dark place, (saying,) that he was much disquieted by those that were the just men and livers upon the earth, so that he could or would not for them declare the truth of such things as others demanded. And hereby it came to pass that such false divinations were given from the golden tables in Apollo's temple. And this thing did his prophetical priest complain of, when he took up again the hair of his head, that other had contemptuously cast down; and said, that the neglecting of his divination was the cause of so many evils amongst men. But let us see what was the end hereof. We now boldly, and without all fear, invocate and worship the omnipotent God. When I was a child, I heard that he which then was chief emperor of Rome, unhappy, yea, most unhappy man, being seduced and brought into error by his soldiers, curiously inquired who were those just men upon the earth that Apollo meant. And one of his priests, which was near about him, made answer that they were the Christians. This answer unto him, being as delectable as honey unto the mouth, drew the sword (given unto him to be a re venger of evil-doers and malefactors) against the professors of the irreprehensible sanctimony and religion; and straightway he gave forth a commission, (to bloody homicides, as I may well call them,) and gave commandment to all the judges that they should endeavour themselves, with all the cunning they had, to the devising of more grievous and sharper punishments against the poor Christians. Then, then I say, a man might have seen how greatly the honest professors of that religion were molested with cruelty, and daily suffered no small injuries and contumelies, and that also they suffered and sustained the same with such temperance, as though they had had no injuries at all done unto them; which temperance and patience of theirs was the cause why the furious citizens were the more mad and raging against them. What fires, what tortures, what kind of torments were there, but they, without respect either of age or sex, were enforced to feel them?
Then did the earth, without doubt, herself bewail her children, and the round world, which containeth all things, being sprinkled and imbrued with their blood, made doleful lamentation for them, and the day itself, provoked to mourn, was made amazed for them. But what is this to purpose? Now the very barbarous nations rejoice for their sakes which received and harboured them, when they were afraid and fled from us, keeping them, as it were, in most loving and amiable captivity; and they saved not only their lives, but also were a defence for their religion. And now also the Roman nation remembereth and hath before their eyes this blame and spot, which the Christians that were of that time worthily gave unto them, when they by them were banished (as unfit members of their commonwealth) amongst the barbarous people. What needeth to make further rehearsal of the mourning lamentation which the heathen people themselves throughout the world made for the pitiful murder and slaughter of them? After this it came to pass that they which were authors of all these mischiefs died also, and were committed for their reward to the most filthy and horrible dungeon of hell. They being so entangled with intestine and civil wars, left alive neither name nor kinsman of their own; which thing undoubtedly had not chanced unless the wicked divinations of Apollo's oracles had deceived and bewitched them. To thee therefore now I pray, o most mighty God, that thou wilt vouchsafe to be merciful, and pardon all the east parts and in habitants of the same, being oppressed with calamity; and that by me thy servant thou wilt of thy goodness help and relieve the same. And these things rashly crave I not at thy hands, O Lord, most mighty and holiest God of all. For I being persuaded by the only oracles, have both begun and also finished wholesome and profitable things; and further, by the bearing and showing of thine ensign, have overcome a mighty and strong host; and when any necessity of the commonwealth (to my charge committed) requireth thereunto, (following those signs and tokens of thy virtues,) I boldly go forth and fight against mine enemies: and for this cause have I sacrificed my soul unto thee, purified and cleansed both with thy love and fear. Yea, truly, thy name do I sincerely love, and thy power do I reverence, which by many tokens and wonders hast showed and confirmed thereby my belief and faith. Therefore will I do my endeavour, and bend myself thereunto, that I may re-edify thy most holy house, which those wicked and ungodly emperors have with so great ruin laid waste; thy people do I desire to bring and establish in firm peace and tranquillity, and that for the public utility of all the inhabitants of the earth. Those which yet err, and are out of the way, enjoy the benefit of peace and quietness with and amongst the number of the faithful sort; for I trust the restitution of the like society and participation may be a means to bring them also that err into the perfect way of verity. Let none therefore be grievous one unto another, but what every man thinkest best, that let him do; for such as are wise ought thoroughly to be persuaded that they only mean to live holily, and as they should do, whom the Spirit of God moveth to take their delight and recreation in reading his holy will; and if others wilfully will go out of the way, cleaving to the synagogues of false doctrine, they may at their own peril. As for us, we have the most worthy house or congregation of God's verity, which he according to his own goodness and nature hath given us. And this also we wish unto them, that with like participation and common consent they may feel with us the same delectation of mind. For this our religion is neither new, nor newly invented, but it is as old as we believe the creation of the world to be, and which God hath commanded to be celebrated with such worship as both seemed and pleased him; but all living men are liars, and are deceived with divers and sundry illusions, Thou, O God, for Christ thy Son's sake, suffer not this wickedness again to root: thou hast set up a clear burning light, that thereby as many as thou hast chosen may come unto thee; these thy miracles approve the same. It is thy power that keepeth us in innocency and fidelity. The sun and the moon run their appointed course. Neither yet in ranging-wise wander the stars to what place of the world they list themselves. The days, years, months, and times keep their appointed turns. The earth abideth firm and unmovable at thy word; and the wind at the time (by thee directed) stormeth and bloweth. The streaming watery floods ebb in time according as they flow. The raging sea abideth within her bounded limits: and for that the ocean sea stretcheth out herself in equal length and breadth with the whole earth, this must needs be wrought with some marvellous workmanship of thine own hand. Which thing, unless it were at thy will made and
disposed, without all doubt so great difference and partition between would ere this time have brought utter ruin and destruction, both to the life of man, and to all that belongeth to man beside. Which for that they have such great and huge conflicts amongst themselves, as also the invisible spirits have, we give thanks, O Lord most mighty, God of all gods, that all mankind hath not been destroyed thereby. Surely even as greatly as thy benignity and gentleness is manifested by divers and sundry benefits bestowed upon us, so much also is the same set forth and declared in the discipline of thy eternal word to those that be heavenly wise, and apply themselves to the attainment of sincere and true virtue. But if any such there be that little regard or have but small respect unto the consideration thereof, let them not blame or lay a fault in others that do the same; for that physic whereby health is obtained is manifestly offered unto all men. Now therefore let no man go about to subvert that which experience itself doth show (of necessity) to be pure and good. Let us therefore altogether use the participation of this benefit bestowed upon us, that is to say, the benefit of peace and tranquillity, seting apart all controversy. And let no man hurt or be prejudicial to his fellow for that thing wherein he thinketh himself to have done well. If by that which any man knoweth and hath experience of he thinketh he may profit his neighbour, let him do the same; if not, let him give over and remit it till another time: for there is a great diversity betwixt the willing and voluntary embracing of religion, and that when a man is thereunto enforced and coacted. Of these things have I made a more large discourse than indeed the scope of mediocrity requireth; especially because I would not have my faith (touching the verity) to be hid; for that I hear there be some which complain that the old accustomed haunting of their temples, and that the power of such darkness is cut off and taken away. Which thing surely I would take in better part, were it not that the violent rebellion of flagitious error were so fixed in many men's hearts, whereby they thirst after the utter subversion of the commonwealth and empire."
Such was the goodness of this emperor Constantine, or rather such was the providence of Almighty God toward his church in stirring him up, that all his care and study of mind was set upon nothing else but only how to benefit and enlarge the commodities of the same. Neither was it to him enough to deliver the church and people of God from outward vexation of foreign tyrants and persecutors. No less beneficial was his godly care also in quieting the inward dissensions and disturbance within the church, among the Christian bishops themselves; according as we read of Moses, the deliverer of the Israelites, in agreeing the brethren together when he saw them at variance, Exod. ii. No less also did his vigilant study extend in erecting, restoring, and enriching the churches of God in all cities, and in providing for the ministers of the same. And therefore, writing to Anilinus his chief captain, declareth his will and mind to him in letters concerning the goods which did appertain to the churches of the Christians, that he should procure vigilantly for the same, that all such goods, houses, and gardens, belonging before to the right of churches, should again be restored in all speedy wise, and that he therein might be certified with speed, &c.
Moreover, he, writing to the said Anilinus in another letter, signifieth unto him in this effect: that forsomuch as the contempt of God's reverend religion is and hath been ever the greatest decay to the name and people of Rome, as contrarily the maintaining and reverencing the same hath ever brought prosperity to all commonwealths; therefore he in consideration thereof hath taken that order, and giveth to him in charge, that through that province where he hath to do, which was in Africa, where Cecilianus was bishop, he should there see and provide that all such ministers and clerks, whose vocation was to serve in the church, should be freed and exempted from all public duties and burdens, whereby they being so privileged, and all impediments removed which should hinder their di vine ministration, thereby the common utility of the people might the better flourish, &c.
Furthermore, the said Constantine in another letter, writing to Miltiades, bishop of Rome, and to Marcus, declareth in his letters to them how Cecilianus, bishop of Carthage, hath been accused unto him by divers of his colleagues and fellow bishops. Wherefore his will is, that the said Cecilianus, with ten bishops his accusers, with ten other his defendants, should repair up to him at Rome; where, in the present assistance of the foresaid Miltiades, Rheticus, Maternus, Marinus, and of other their fellow colleagues, the cause of Cecilianus might be heard and rightly examined, so that all schism and division might be cut off from among them, where in the fervent desire of Constantine to peace and unity may well appear.
Upon the like cause and argument also he writeth to Chrestus, bishop of Syracusa; being so desirous to nourish peace and concord in the church, that he offereth to him, with his under ministers and three servants, his free carriage to come up to him unto the council of other bishops, for the agreeing of certain matters belonging to the church.
He writeth also another letter to the forenamed Cecifianus, bishop of Carthage.
To the provinces likewise of Palestina and those parts about he directeth his edict in the behalf of the Christians, for the releasing of such as were in captivity, and for the restoring again of them which had sustained any loss in the former persecution before, and for the refreshing of such as heretofore had been oppressed with any ignominy or molestation for their confession sake; declaring in the said edict how that this whole body, life, and soul, and whatsoever is in him, he oweth to God and to the service of him, &c.
Moreover, another letter he writeth to Eusebius, for the edifying of new Christian churches, and restoring of them which had been wasted before by foreign enemies. And after he had collected the synod of Nice for the study of peace and unity of the church, he writeth upon the same to Alexander and Arius. In which his letters he most lamentably uttered the great grief of his heart, to see and hear of their contention and division, whereby the peace and common harmony of the church was broken, the synod provoked and resisted, the holy people of the Lord divided into parts and tumults, contrary to the office of good and circumspect men, whose duty were rather to nourish concord and to seek tranquillity. And though in some small points and light trifles they did disagree from others; yet the example of philosophers might teach them, who, although in some parts of a sentence or piece of a question some might dissent from others, yet in the unity of their profession they did all join as fellows together. In like case were it their duty in such fruitless questions (or rather pieces of questions) to keep them in the conceptions of their minds in silence unto themselves, and not to bring them forth into public synods, to break therefore from the communion of the reverend council; declaring, moreover, in the said epistle, the first origin and occasion of this their contentious dissension to rise upon vain and trifling terms, vile causes, and light questions, and pieces rather of questions; about such matters as neither are to be moved, nor to be answered unto being moved; more curious to be searched, and perilous to be expressed, than necessary to be inquired. Wherefore, by all manner of means, he doth labour them, doth entreat them, and persuade them, not only with reasons, but also with tears and sighing sobs, that they would restore peace again unto the church, and quietness to the rest of his life, (which otherwise would not be sweet unto him,) and they would return again to the communion of the reverend councii; who, in so doing, should open his way and purposed journey into the east parts, which otherwise, hearing of their discord and dissension, wou]d be sorry to see with his eyes that which grieveth him now to hear with his ears: with much more in the same epistle contained, but this is the effect of the whole. Thus much I thought summarily to comprehend, whereby the divine disposition and singular gentle nature of this meek and religious Constantine might more notoriously appear to all princes, for them to learn by his example what zeal and care they ought to bear toward the church of Christ, and how gently to govern, and how to be beneficial to the same.
Many other edicts and epistles, written to other places and parties, be expressed at large in the second book of Eusebius, De Vita Constantini, wherein the zealous care and princely beneficence of this noble emperor toward the church of Christ may appear; whereof in a brief recapitulation such specialties we have collected as here followeth
First, he commanded all them to be set free whosoever, for the confession of Christ, had been condemned to banishment, or to the mines of metal, or to any public or private labour to them inflicted. Such as were put to any infamy or shame among the multitude, he willed them to be discharged from all such blemish of ignominy. Soldiers, which before were deprived either of their place, or put out of their wages, were put to their liberty, either to serve again in their place, or quietly to live at home. Whatsoever honour, place, or dignity had been taken away from any man should be restored to them again. The goods and possessions of them that had suffered death for Christ, howsoever they were alienated, should return to their heirs or next of kin, or, for lack of them, should be given to the church. He commanded, moreover, that only Christians should bear office; the other he charged and restrained, that neither they should sacrifice, nor exercise any more divinations and ceremonies of the Gentiles, nor set up any images, nor keep any feasts of the heathen idolaters. He corrected, moreover, and abolished all such unlawful manners and dishonest usages in the cities as might be hurtful any ways to the church; as the custom that the Egyptians had in the flowing of Nilus, at what time the people used to run together like brute beasts, both men and women, and with all kind of filthiness and sodomitery to pollute their cities in celebrating the increase of that river. This abomination Constantine extinguished, causing that wicked order called Androgyne to be killed; by reason whereof the river afterward (through the benefit of God) yielded more increase in his flowing, to the greater fertility of the ground, than it did before.
Among the Romans was an old law, that such as were barren, having no fruit of children, should be amerced of half their goods. Also, that such as being above the years of twenty and five unmarried, should not be numbered in the same privileges with them that were married, neither should be heirs to them, to whom, notwithstanding, they were next in kin. These laws, because they seemed unreasonable, (to punish the defect of nature or gift of virginity by man's law,) he abrogated and took away. Another order was among the Romans, that they which made their wills, being sick, had certain prescribed and conceived words appointed to them to use, which, unless they followed, their wills stood in no effect. This law also Constantine repealed, permitting to every man in making his testament to use what words or what witnesses he would. Likewise, among the Romans, he restrained and took away the cruel and bloody spectacles and sights, where men were wont with swords one to kill another. Of the barbarous and filthy fashion of the Arethusians in Ph?nicia I have mentioned before, where they used to expose and set forth their virgins to open fornication before they should be married; which custom also Constantine removed away. Where no churches were, there he commanded new to be made; where any were decayed, he commanded them to be repaired; where any were too little, he caused them to be enlarged, giving to the same great gifts and revenues, not only of such tributes and taxes coming to him from certain sundry cities, which he transferred unto the churches, but also out of his own treasures. When any bishops required any council to be had, he satisfied their petitions; and what in their councils and synods they established, being godly and honest, he was ready to confirm the same.
The armour of his soldiers which were newly come from the Gentiles he garnished with the arms of the cross, whereby they might learn the sooner to forget their old superstitious idolatry. Moreover, like a worthy emperor, he prescribed a certain form of prayer, instead of a catechism, for every man to have, and to learn how to pray and to invocate God. The which form of prayer is recited in the fourth book of Eusebius.
"We acknowledge thee only to be our God, we confess thee to be our King, we invocate and call upon thee, our only helper; by thee we obtain our victories, by thee we vanquish and subdue our enemies, to thee we attribute whatsoever present commodities we enjoy, and by thee we hope for good things to come: unto thee we direct all our suits and petitions, most humbly beseeching thee to conserve Constantine our emperor and his noble children in long life to continue, and to give them victory over all their enemies, through Christ our Lord. Amen."
In his own palace he set up a house peculiar for prayer and doctrine, using also to pray and sing with his people. Also in his wars he went not without his tabernacle appointed for the same. The Sunday he commanded to be kept holy of all men, and free from all judiciary causes, from markets, marts, fairs, and all other manual labours, only husbandry excepted; especially charging that no images or monuments of idolatry should be set up.
Men of the clergy and of the ministry in all places he endued with special privileges and immunities; so that if any were brought before the civil magistrate, and listed to appeal to the sentence of his bishop, it should be lawful for him so to do, and that the sentence of the bishop should stand in as great force as if the magistrate or the emperor himself had pronounced it.
But here is to be observed and noted, by the way, that the clerks and ministers, then newly creeping out of persecution, were in those days neither in number so great, nor in order of life of the like disposition to these in our days now living.
No less care and provision the said Constantine also had for the maintenance of schools pertaining to the church, and to the nourishing of good arts and liberal sciences, especially of divinity; not only with stipends and subsidies furnishing them, but also with large privileges and exemptions defending the same, as by the words of his own law is to be seen and read as followeth: "Physicians, grammarians, and other professors of liberal arts, and doctors of the law, with their wives and children, and all other their possessions which they have in cities, we command to be freed from all civil charges and functions, neither to receive foreign strangers in provinces, nor to be burdened with any public administration, nor to be cited up to civil judgment, nor to be drawn out or oppressed with any injury. And if any man shall vex them, he shall incur such punishment as the judge at his discretion shall award him. Their stipends moreover and salaries we command truly to be paid them, whereby they may more freely instruct others in arts and sciences," &c.
Over and besides this, so far did his godly zeal and princely care and provision extend to the church of Christ, that he commanded and provided books and volumes of the Scripture diligently and plainly to be written and copied out, to remain in public churches to the use of posterity. Whereupon, writing to Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, in a special letter, he willeth him with all diligence to procure fifty volumes of parchment well bound and compacted, wherein he should cause to be written out of the Scripture, in a fair legible hand, such things as he thought necessary and profitable for the instruction of the church, and alloweth him for that business two public ministers: he also writeth concerning the same to the general of his army, to support and further him with such necessaries as thereunto should appertain, &c.
In viewing, perusing, and writing this story, and in considering the Christian zeal of this emperor, I wish that either this our printing and plenty of books had been in his days, or that this so heroical heart toward Christian religion, as was in this so excellent monarch, might something appear in inferior princes reigning in these our printing days, &c.
The liberal hand of this emperor, born to do all men good, was no less also open and ready toward the needy poverty of such which either by loss of parents or other occasions were not able to help themselves; to whom he commanded and provided due supplies both of corn and raiment to be ministered out if his own coffers, to the necessary relief of the poor men, women, children, orphans, and widows.
Finally, among all the other monuments of his singular clemency and munificence, this is not to be pretermitted; that through all the empire of Rome, and provinces belonging to the same, not only he diminished such taxes, revenues, and impost as publicly were coming to him, but also clearly remitted and released to the contributors the fourth part of the same.
This present place would require something to be said of the donation of Constantine, whereupon, as upon their chiefest anchor-hold, the bishops of Rome do ground their supreme dominion and right over all the political government of the west parts, and the spiritual government of all the other seas and parts of the world. Which donation to be falsely feigned and forged, and not to proceed from Constantine, many arguments might here be inferred, if leisure from other matters would suffer me.
For that no ancient history, nor yet doctor, maketh any mention thereof.
Nauclerus reporteth it to be affirmed in the history of Isidorus. But in the old copies of Isidorus no such thing is to be found.
Gratianus, the compiler of the decrees, reciteth that decree, not upon any ancient authority, but only under the title of Palea.
Gelasius is said to give some testimony thereof, in Dist. 15. Sancta Romana. But that clause of the said distinction touching that matter in the old ancient books is not extant.
Otho Phrysingensis, who was about the time of Gratian, after he hath declared the opinion of the favourers of the papacy, affirming this donation to be given of Constantine to Silvester the pope, induceth consequently the opinion of them that favour the empire, affirming the contrary.
How doth this agree, that Constantine did yield up to Silvester all the political dominion over the west, whenas the said Constantine at his death, dividing the empire to his three sons, gave the west part of the empire to one, the east part to the second, the middle part to the third?
How is it like that Theodosius after them, being a just and a religious prince, would or could have occupied the city of Rome, if it had not been his right, but had belonged to the pope, and so did many other emperors after him?
The phrase of this decree, being conferred with the phrase and style of Constantine in his other edicts and letters above specified, doth nothing agree.
Seeing the papists themselves confess that the decree of this donation was written in Greek, how agreeth that with truth, whenas both it was written, not to the Grecians, but to the Romans, and also Constantine himself, for lack of the Greek tongue, was fain to use the Latin tongue in the Council of Nice?
The contents of this donation (whosoever was the forger thereof) doth bewray itself: for if it be true which there is confessed, that he was baptized at Rome of Silvester, and the fourth day after his bap tism this patrimony was given, (which was before his battle against Maximinus or Licinius, in the year of our Lord three hundred and seventeen, as Nicephorus recordeth,) how then accordeth this with that which followeth in the donation, for him to have jurisdiction given over the other four principal sees of Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Jerusalem? whenas the city of Constantinople was not yet begun before the death of Maximinus or Licinius, and was not finished before the eight and twentieth year of the reign of Constantine, in the year of our Lord three hundred thirty and nine; or if it be true as Hierom counteth, it was finished the three and twentieth year of his reign, which was the year of our Lord three hundred thirty and four, long after this donation by their own account.
Furthermore, where in the said constitution it is said that Constantine was baptized at Rome of Silvester, and thereby was purged of leprosy, the fable thereof agreeth not with the truth of history, for so much as Eusebius, Hieronymus, Socrates, Theodorus, Sozomenus, do all together consent that he was baptized not at Rome, but at Nicomedia; and that moreover, as by their testimony doth appear, not of Silvester, but of Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia; not before his battle against Maximinus or Licinius, but in the thirty-first year of his reign, a little before his death.
Again, whereas Constantine in this donation appointed him to have the principality over the other four patriarchal sees, that maketh Constantine contrary to himself; who in the Council of Nice afterward agreed with other bishops, that all the four patriarchal sees should have equal jurisdiction, every one over his own territory and precinct.
And thus hast thou (beloved reader) briefly collected the narration of the noble acts and heavenly virtues of this most famous emperor Constantine the Great; a singular spectacle for all Christian princes to behold and imitate, and worthy of perpetual memory in all congregations of Christian saints; whose fervent zeal and piety in general to all congregations, and to all the servants of Christ, was notable, but especially the affection and reverence of his heart toward them was admirable, which had suffered any thing for the confession of Christ in the persecutions before; them had he principally in price and veneration, insomuch that he embraced and kissed their wounds and stripes, and their eyes, being put out. And if any such bishops or any other ministers brought to him any complaints one against another,(as many times they did,) he would take their bills of complaint and burn them before their faces; so studious and zealous was his mind to have them agree, whose discord was to him more grief than it was to themselves. All the virtuous acts and memorable doings of this divine and renowned emperor to comprehend or commit to history, it were the matter alone of a great volume; wherefore, contented with these above premised, because nothing of him can be said enough, I cease to discourse of him any further.
And here an end of these lamentable and doleful persecutions of the primitive church, during the space of three hundred years, from the passion of our Saviour Christ, till the coming of this Constantine; by whom, as by the elect instrument of God, it hath so pleased his Almighty Majesty, by his determinate purpose, to give rest after long trouble to his church, according to that St. Cyprian declareth before to be revealed of God unto his church, that after darkness and stormy tempest should come peaceable, calm, and stable quietness to his church, meaning this time of Constantine now present. At which time it so pleased the Almighty, that the murdering malice of Satan should at length be restrained, and himself tied up, through his great mercy in Christ, to whom therefore be thanks and praise now and for ever. Amen.