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Fate of the Three Bishops.
297 succumbing to a perpetually diminishing number of their compeers. In the period we are now considering, the minor The fate of episcopates, such as those of Jerusalem, Antioch, Carthage, great
bishops. had virtually lost their pristine force, everything having converged into the three great sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Rome. The history of the time is a record of the desperate struggles of the three chief bishops for supremacy. In this conflict Rome possessed many
the two others were more immediately under the control of the Imperial government, the clashing of interests between them more frequent, their rivalry more bitter. The control of ecclesiastical power was hence perpetual in Rome, though she was, both politically and intellectually, inferior to her competitors. As of old, there was a triumvirate in the world destined to concentrate into a despotism. And, as if to remind men that the principles involved in the movements of the Church are of the same nature as those involved in the movements of the state, the resemblances here pointed out are sometimes singularly illustrated in triling details. The Bishop of Alexandria was not the first triumvir who came to an untimely end on the banks of the Nile; the Roman pontiff was not the first who consolidated his power by the aid of Gallic legions.
THE EUROPEAN AGE OF FAITH.
AGE OF FAITH IN THE EAST.
The age of
THE policy of Constantine the Great inevitably tended to Faith.
the paganization of Christianity. An incorporation of its pure doctrines with decaying pagan ideas was the necessary consequence of the control that had been attained by unscrupulous politicians and placemen. The faith, thus contaminated, gained a more general and ready popular acceptance, but at the cost of a new lease of life to those ideas. So thorough was the adulteration, that it was not until the Reformation, a period of more than a thousand years, that a separa
tion of the true from the false could be accomplished. Subdivision
Considering how many nations were involved in these events, of the subject. and the length of time over which they extend, a clear treat
ment of the subject requires its subdivision. I shall therefore speak, 1st, of the Age of Faith in the East; 2nd, of the Age of Faith in the West. The former was closed prematurely by the Mohammedan conquest; the latter, after undergoing slow metamorphosis, passed into the European Age of Reason during the pontificate of Nicholas V.
In this and the following chapter I shall therefore treat of the Age of Faith in the East, and of the catastrophe that closed it. I shall then turn to the Age of Faith in the West, -a long but an instructive story,
The paganization of religion was in no small degree assisted by the influence of the females of the court of Constantinople.
The Discovery of the Cross.
299 It soon manifested all the essential features of a true mythology and hero-worship. Helena, the empress-mother, superintended the building of monumental churches over the reputed places of interest in the history of our Saviour,—those of his birth, his burial, his ascension. A vast and ever-increasing crowd of converts from paganism, who had become such from worldly considerations, and still hankered after wonders like those in which their forefathers had from time immemorial believed, lent a ready ear to assertions which, to more hesitating or better-instructed minds, would have seemed to carry imposture on their very face. A temple of Venus, formerly Discovery
of the true erected on the site of the Holy Sepulchre, being torn down, cross and there were discovered, in a cavern beneath, three crosses, and also the inscription written by Pilate. The Saviour's cross, being by miracle distinguished from those of the thieves, was divided, a part being kept at Jerusalem and part sent to Constantinople, together with the nails used in the crucifixion, which were also fortunately found. These were destined to adorn the head of the emperor's statue on the top of the porphyry pillar. The wood of the cross, moreover, displayed a property of growth, and hence furnished an abundant supply for the demands of pilgrims, and an unfailing source of pecuniary profit to its possessors. In the course of subsequent years there was accumulated in the various churches of Europe, from this particular relic, a sufficiency to have constructed many hundred crosses. The age that could accept such a prodigy, of course found no difficulty in the vision of Constantine and the story of the Labarum.
Such was the tendency of the times to adulterate Christi- Political anity with the spirit of paganism, partly to conciliate the pre- paganizajudices of worldly converts, partly in the hope of securing its tion. more rapid spread. There is a solemnity in the truthful accusation which Faustus makes to Augustine: “You have substituted your agapæ for the sacrifices of the pagans; for their idols your martyrs, whom you serve with the very same honours. You appease the shades of the dead with wine and feasts; you celebrate the solemn festivals of the Gentiles, their calends and their solstices; and as to their manners, those
Paganization of Christianity. you have retained without any alteration. Nothing distinguishes you from the pagans except that you hold your assem
blies apart from them.” Relative ac As we have seen in the last Chapter, the course of political faith and affairs had detached the power of the state from the philosophilosophy.
phical and polytheistic parties. Joined to the new movement, it was not long before it gave significant proofs of the sincerity of its friendship by commencing an active persecution of the remnant of philosophy. It is to be borne in mind that the direction of the proselytism, which was thus leading to important results, was from below upward through society. As to philosophy, its action had been in the other direction; its depository in the few enlightened, in the few educated; its course, socially, from above downward. Under these circumstances, it was obvious enough that the prejudices of the ignorant populace would find, in the end, a full expression; that learning would have no consideration shown to it, or be denounced as mere magic; that philosophy would be looked npon as a vain, and therefore sinful pursuit. When once a political aspirant has bidden with the multitude for power, and still depends on their pleasure for effective support, it is no easy
thing to refuse their wishes or hold back from their demands. The empe. Even Constantine himself felt the pressure of the influence their eccle- to which he was allied, and was compelled to surrender his
friend Sopater, the philosopher, who was accused of binding the winds in an adverse quarter by the influence of magic, so that the corn-ships could not reach Constantinople ; and the Emperor was obliged to give orders for his decapitation, to satisfy the clamours in the theatre. Not that such requisitions were submitted to without a struggle, or that succeeding sovereigns were willing to make their dignity tacitly subordinate to ecclesiastical domination. It was the aim of Constantine to make theology a branch of politics : it was the hope of every bishop in the empire to make politics a branch of theology. Already, however, it was apparent that the ecclesiastical party would, in the end, get the upper hand, and that the reluctance of some of the emperors to obey its behests was merely the revolt of individual minds, and therefore epheme
ral in its nature, and that the popular wishes would be abundantly gratified as soon as emperors arose who not merely, like Constantine, availed themselves of Christianity, but absolutely and sincerely adopted it.
Julian, by his brief but ineffectual attempt at the restora- The Em. tion of paganism, scarcely restrained for a moment the course lian. of the new doctrines now strengthening themselves continually in public estimation by incorporating ideas borrowed from paganism. Through the reign of Valentinian, who was a Nicenist, and Valens, who was an Arian, things went on almost as if the episode of Julian had never occurred. T'he ancient gods, whose existence no one seems ever to have denied, were now thoroughly identified with demons; their worship was stigmatized as the practice of magic. Against this crime, re- Persecu. garded by the laws as equal to treason, a violent persecution successors.
Persons resorting to Rome for the purposes of study were forbidden to remain there after they were twenty-one years of age. The force of this persecution fell practically upon the old religion, though nominally directed against the black art, for the primary function of paganism was to foretell future events in this world, and hence its connection with divination and its punishment as magic.
But the persecution, though directed at paganism, struck Necessity also at what remained of philosophy. A great party had
of learning attained to power under circumstances which compelled it bishops. to enforce the principle on which it was originally founded. That principle was the exaction of unhesitating belief, which, though it will answer for the humbler and more numerous class of men, is unsuited for those of a higher intellectual grade. The policy of Constantine had opened a career in the state, through the Church, for men of the lowest rank. Many of such had already attained to the highest dignities. A burning zeal rather than the possession of profound learning animated them. But eminent position once attained, none stood more in need of the appearance of wisdom. Under such circumstances, they were tempted to set up their own notions as final and unimpeachable truth, and to denounce as magic, or the sinful pursuit of vain trifling, all the learning that stood