Constantine: Public Reforms


Constantine: Reforms


CHAPTER 24.

THAT HE DESCRIBED HIMSELF TO BE A BISHOP, IN CHARGE OF AFFAIRS EXTERNAL TO THE CHURCH.

HENCE it was not without reason that once, on the occasion of his entertaining a company of bishops, he let fall the expression, that he himself too was a bishop, addressing them in my heating in the following words: You are bishops whose jurisdiction is within the Church: I also am a bishop, ordained by God to overlook whatever is external to the Church. And truly his measures corresponded with his words; for he watched over his subjects with an episcopal care, and exhorted them as far as in him lay to follow a godly life..788

CHAPTER 25.

PROHIBITION OF SACRIFICES, OF MYSTIC RITES, COMBATS OF GLADIATORS, ALSO THE LICENTIOUS WORSHIP OF THE NILE.


CONSISTENTLY with this zeal he issued successive laws and ordinances, forbidding any to offer sacrifice to idols, to consult diviners, to erect images, or to pollute the cities with the sanguinary combats of gladiators. And inasmuch as the Egyptians, especially those of Alexandria, had been accustomed to honor their river through a priesthood composed of effeminate men, a further law was passed commanding the extermination of the whole class as vicious, that no one might thenceforward be found tainted with the like impurity. And whereas the superstitious inhabitants apprehended that the river would in consequence withhold its customary flood, God himself showed his approval of the emperor's law by ordering all things in a manner quite contrary to their expectation. For those who had defiled the cities by their vicious conduct were indeed seen no more; but the river, as if the country through which it flowed had been purified to receive it,rose higher than ever before, and completely overflowed the country with its fertilizing streams: thus effectually admonishing the deluded people to turn from impure men, and ascribe their prosperity to him alone who is the Giver of all good.

CHAPTER 27.

AMONG OTHER ENACTMENTS, HE DECREES THAT NO CHRISTIAN SHALL SLAVE TO A JEW, AND AFFIRMS THE VALIDITY OF THE DECISIONS OF COUNCILS.


HE also passed a law to the effect that no Christian should remain in servitude to a Jewish master, on the ground that it could not be right that..790 those whom the Savior had ransomed should be subjected to the yoke of slavery by a people who had slain the prophets and the Lord himself. If any were found hereafter in these circumstances, the slave was to be set at liberty, and the master punished by a fine. He likewise added the sanction of his authority to the decisions of bishops passed at their synods, and forbade the provincial governors to annul any of their decrees: for he rated the priests of God at a higher value than any judge whatever. These and a thousand similar provisions did he enact for the benefit of his subjects; but there is not time now to give a special description of them, such as might convey an accurate idea of his imperial wisdom in these respects: nor need I now relate at length, how, as a devoted servant of the Supreme God, he employed himself from morning until night in seeking objects for his beneficence, and how equally and universally kind he was to all.

CHAPTER 28.


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HIS GIFTS TO THE CHURCHES, AND BOUNTIES TO VIRGINS AND TO THE POOR.


HIS liberality, however, was most especially exercised on behalf of the churches of God. In some cases he granted lands, in others he issued supplies of food for the support of the poor, of orphan children, and widows; besides which, he evinced much care and forethought in fully providing the naked and destitute with clothing. He distinguished, however, with most special honor those who had devoted their lives to the practice of Divine philosophy. Hence his respect, little short of veneration, for God's most holy and ever virgin choir: for he felt assured that the God to whom such persons devoted themselves was himself an inmate of their souls.

CHAPTER 34.

THAT HE WROTE TO EUSEBIUS RESPECTING EASTER, AND RESPECTING COPIES OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.


EVER careful for the welfare of the churches of God, the emperor addressed me personally in a letter on the means of providing copies of the inspired oracles, and also on the subject of the most holy feast of Easter. For I had myself dedicated to him an exposition of the mystical import of that feast; and the manner in which he honored me with a reply may be understood by any one who reads the following letter.

CHAPTER 35.

CONSTANTINE'S LETTER TO EUSEBIUS, IN PRAISE OF HIS DISCOURSE CONCERNING EASTER.


VICTOR CONSTANTINUS, MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS, to Eusebius. It is indeed an arduous task, and beyond the power of language itself, worthily to treat of the mysteries of Christ, and to explain in a fitting manner the controversy respecting the feast of Easter, its origin as well as its precious and toilsome accomplishment. For it is not in the power even of those who are able to apprehend them, adequately to describe the things of God. I am, notwithstanding, filled with admiration of your learning and zeal, and have not only myself read your work with pleasure, but have given directions, according to your own desire, that it be communicated to many sincere followers of our holy religion. Seeing, then, with what pleasure we receive favors of this kind from your Sagacity, be pleased to gladden us more frequently with those compositions, to the practice of which, indeed, you confess yourself to have been trained from an early period, so that I am urging a willing man, as they say, in exhorting you to your customary pursuits. And certainly the high and confident judgment we entertain is a proof that the person who has translated your writings into the Latin tongue is in no respect incompetent to the task, impossible though it be that such version should fully equal the excellence of the works themselves. God preserve you, beloved brother. Such was his.795 letter on this subject: and that which related to the providing of copies of the Scriptures for reading in the churches was to the following purport.

CHAPTER 36.

CONSTANTINE'S LETTER TO EUSEBIUS ON THE PREPARATION OF COPIES OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.


VICTOR CONSTANTINUS, MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS, to Eusebius. It happens, through the favoring providence of God our Savior, that great numbers have united themselves to the most holy church in the city which is called by my name. It seems, therefore, highly requisite, since that city is rapidly advancing in prosperity in all other respects, that the number of churches should also he increased. Do you, therefore, receive with all readiness my determination on this behalf. I have thought it expedient to instruct your Prudence to order fifty copies of the sacred Scriptures, the provision and use of which you know to be most needful for the instruction of the Church, to be written on prepared parchment in a legible manner, and in a convenient, portable form, by professional transcribers thoroughly practiced in their art. The catholicus of the diocese has also received instructions by letter from our Clemency to be careful to furnish all things necessary for the preparation of such copies; and it will be for you to take special care that they be completed with as little delay as possible. You have authority also, in virtue of this letter, to use two of the public carriages for their conveyance, by which arrangement the copies when fairly written will most easily be forwarded for my personal inspection; and one of the deacons of your church may be intrusted with this service, who, on his arrival here, shall experience my liberality. God preserve you, beloved brother!...796

CHAPTER 37.

HOW THE COPIES WERE PROVIDED.


SUCH were the emperor's commands, which were followed by the immediate execution of the work itself, which we sent him in magnificent and elaborately bound volumes of a threefold and fourfold form. This fact is attested by another letter, which the emperor wrote in acknowledgment, in which, having heard that the city Constantia in our country, the inhabitants of which had been more than commonly devoted to superstition, had been impelled by a sense of religion to abandon their past idolatry, he testified his joy, and approval of their conduct.