Amazing articles on just about every subject...

What Things Are of Caesar

( Originally Published 1912 )

IT would be impossible in such a work as this to treat the relationship of church and state exhaustively, to follow the thread through the tangled skein from the beginning up to the present hour. And it is not necessary. If we test a stream at various points and find the water sweet at every point tested, we can very safely assume that all the stream is sweet. If, therefore, wherever we touch the history of the church we find an insistence upon a certain policy, we may as safely, assume that that policy was fundamental in the church institution, in accord with the spirit of the Redeemer when he talked to the apostles. That insistence we do find, running through entire ecclesiastical history. It breaks out at the very beginning in the answer of Christ to the Pharisees : there are things that belong to Caesar and things that belong to God. There is a distinction between the church and the state. The state has to do with the comfort and convenience of man in this world; the church has to do with his eternal salvation. The state concerns itself with man in his social organization, the church with his individual soul. The law of the state rests justly upon the welfare of the community; the laws of the church upon the mandates of the Creator.

This was a novel idea in the Roman world when first Christianity attracted the attention of men. In all the pagan world religion had been a function of the state. The gods of Rome were officially the gods of Rome. Their priests were government officials, the Roman emperor was pontifex maximus of the Roman religion. It had always been so in the world the Romans knew. Deities were national; the Greeks had their gods, and the Carthaginians. It was the political aspect that first made Christianity odious in the eyes of the Roman rulers. The offense of the Christians was that they were obstinately disobedient to the laws and disrespectful to the gods of Rome. Their sin was sedition. That was why they were hated, that was why they were persecuted.

In the days of the early Christians, and for generations before that, there was no spirit of religious bigotry among the Romans. The masters of the world were broad in their worship ; they admitted the gods of all nations to their temples. But they were intensely patriotic. They were devoted to the Roman laws. And the offense of the Christians was not that they worshiped a strange God, but that they refused to bend before the Roman law. As yet the people of Rome could not understand the distinction between church and state; they were all one in the Roman mind.

It took centuries to get the new idea into the mind of the public. Indeed, there is doubt as to whether the work has yet been done. But the idea has been al-ways in the church. It taught it to the Romans them-selves, to the slave and the freeman, the beggar in the market-place, the tradesman in the bazaar, the smith in his forge, the soldier in the field. That was why, toward the end of the pagan dispensation, Roman generals found Christians among the bravest and most faithful of their officers and legionaries. The soldiers of Rome were attracted by the high courage of the Christians; in the spirit of men and maidens who could die smiling for a faith there was something akin to their own dauntless spirit.

Indeed, long before Constantine the Christian faith had won its place in the world. Constantine plucked the ripened fruit. That was the reason the Roman world became Christian in his day; that was the reason that within a single generation a proscribed and treasonable faith became the faith of the Roman government.

The fruit had been ripening for more than three centuries. The pagan gods had become too numerous to be respectable. The human heart knew the difference between good things and bad things : a proof more conclusive than many of the premises of so-called scientific philosophy that good and evil are facts. Under the gay worship of Saturn and Bacchus, and the libidinous devotion to Venus, there was among the pagan peoples a strong moral sense that made it difficult to adore such divinities. Greek and Roman had felt this: the Greek because his intellectual nature demanded virtue and justice in a god as a matter of logic; and the Roman because he was at heart a sober, continent being. In other words, before the revelation came to either, the mind of the Greek and the heart of the Roman knew what a God was like. They had pieced together, after a fashion, the necessary attributes of divinity until they had the outline of the Portrait.

They had got beyond the stage at which philosophy hails worldly happiness as the sum of good. In the upward march their philosophy had accepted the necessity of suffering and sacrifice; had grasped the truth that indulgence cannot be ennobling. Our Rationalists, and particularly our Socialistic Rationalists, are going in the other direction; their trend is toward that barbarism from which the old philosophy was then emerging to meet the Truth.

In the East humanity groped with speculative hands for something solid in a fluid universe; something fixed in a world of motion; something stable in a world of change; something that would endure while all else was disintegrating. The mind of the Roman, less given to speculative exercises, still sought something which would make men strong in body and in soul. The message of the Christian apostles met the need of both; it fulfilled the Greek's speculative yearning; it gave the food for soul and body that the Roman demanded. And it gave more than either demanded. For the first time these peoples felt the glow of a religion that was on fire. For the first time a living force that was not of the earth touched them and stiffened their moral muscles for the work that was to be done. They were lifted up and driven forward; high courage emboldened their hearts and a divine effulgence lighted their minds. First in the hidden places underneath the ground, then in private houses, and at last in their own temples, they gathered in increasing numbers to worship Jesus Christ.

With a little thought and a little knowledge we can get the spirit of that time and understand the sentiment of the pagan world with regard to the new faith. It was known that it had been born in Judea, and the first impression was that it was Jewish in its entirety. Then there was some confusion because the recognized leaders of the Jewish world became the most bit-ter of its foes and the most cruel of its persecutors. It found its first converts—Gentile converts—where the need of justice is always the greatest : among the poor and the lowly. The essential democracy of it made it strong among the common people; it was an inspiring thought for the despised laborer and the down-trodden slave that in the eye of God he was the equal of emperor or master. We are all the children of God, of whom he loveth one not more than another.

Among the great and influential it was still regarded as not only a foreign, but a vulgar, superstition. The philosophers of the time, the men whose comments give us the light we have on the thought and manners of their day, were amazed, as was Pliny, at the obstinacy of the new teachers in their refusal to obey the Roman law with regard to the worship of the Roman gods.

But little by little the Roman world was being won, trusted slaves were telling their virtuous masters the story of Bethlehem and Calvary, scholars were beginning to read the letters of Paul, soldiers were hearing around the camp-fire of the devotion and the courage of the new sectaries. By channels multifarious and devious the new faith was working its way in the Roman body politic. The rude hostility of the mob, and the philosophic contempt of the wealthy and the educated, were gradually being overcome. Men great in the sanctity of their lives had been leaders of the church from the first, but soon they became great also in other respects—great in courage, great in mental as well as moral strength. No longer the Christians worshiped underground. They began to build churches on the surface, and the churches were crowded. Their organization followed the Roman eagles over the world; there was the church in Rome, the church in Asia, the church in Alexandria. Their priests preached the gospel of Christ to the veteran warriors who held the Caledonian wall in far-off Britain, as well as to those who faced the Parthians in the East and those others who watched the Germanic barbarians in the long marches beyond the Rhine. Great orators spoke from the Christian pulpits and marched boldly into the courts of the Caesars to plead the church's cause to the emperors themselves. The cry of the mob was no longer, "To the lions !" "God and the Mother of God !" became a well-known street cry in Rome and the Roman dependencies. Persecutions were periodical, not constant; in the periods of non-molestation the church developed its organization and builded its great temples. Half the population of Alexandria filled the streets in protest against the persecution of their bishop.

It has long been a matter of controversy as to whether the conversion of Constantine was a real conversion, or merely the far-sighted move of a consummate politician. We Protestants have been wont to upbraid our Catholic brethren for the honor in which they have held the name of Constantine. It has been charged that his glorification by the church was due very largely to the material benefits he conferred upon the bishops. Quite enthusiastically we have gone about the work of showing him to be not a great saint, but a great sinner. In the meantime we have quite overlooked the fact that a considerable number of us Protestants, who are not Mormons either, have overlooked the peccadilloes of Henry VIII, because of his services to the Protestant cause. What matters it now, save perhaps to Constantine himself, whether he was a great saint or a great sinner? He was probably both ; the sins and the virtues of his time were extreme.

The truth, in all likelihood, is that Constantine was influenced by both political and religious motives in accepting the new faith. His inclination from child-hood had been in that direction. Constantius, his father, was a friend of the Christians, and the favorite officers of that beloved general professed the new faith. When he died and the British legions elevated his son and invested him with the purple at York, many of the sober, disciplined veterans who raised him aloft and saluted him as Caesar were worshipers of Christ. Looking across the wide reach of Roman dominion, he could see dangers ahead, and the mind of so shrewd a student of men, so able a politician, could hardly overlook the advantage of an alliance with a church whose organization threaded every part of the Roman world, whose followers were among the bravest and the best in every Roman legion. Side by side with this was his temperamental inclination. His was a great mind, and it revelled in the glory of the Christian faith. His intellect and his heart were attracted, his interest was engaged; all things worked together to make him a Christian.

But there had been bred in the bone the old Roman tradition that the state was supreme; that the church was its servant. The new conception maintained it-self in his mind with difficulty; his lips gave support to it, but time and again the impulse to control the organization of the church, to bend it to compliance with his own will, manifested itself ; and this was responsible for the beginning of that long contest between church and state which has never ceased. This was the occasion for the first conspicuous assertion by the church of the doctrine that there are things that are of Caesar and things that are of God; that between the functions of the state and those of the church there is a real distinction.

It is not difficult to understand the mental attitude of the first of the Christian emperors. His father had been a soldier of the old Roman type, strong in mind and body and austere in habit and thought. The Greeks were marble, the Romans granite, men. Constantius had all the Roman's lofty and stern contempt for the softer things of life; the indulgences of the stay-at-homes had no charm for the stalwart soldier of the empire, whose business it was to keep unbroken the outer line of the Roman domain. The traditions of old Rome were dear to him, and the ideals to which he held himself he set up for his son. For him the old, gods were respectable because they were the national gods; for him religion was part of the business of the state. Indeed, the state he served was his whole life; a glory greater than the national glory he could not understand, a power greater than the civic power was not conceivable.

Constantine grew up under his father's eye and under his father's tutelage. He inherited the traditional conception of the supremacy of the state. It was bred into his being, and it outcropped many times in those later days when he had become the sole and supreme ruler of the Roman world and the imperial patron of the Christian church. In his repeated expressions that he was a priest of the church, that he was its soldier and its guard, we can see the effort he was making to bring his mind into consonance with the doctrine of the church; but in his attempt to govern the bishops, in his letters upon matters of doctrine to the warring African ecclesiastics, is observable the old tradition, the hereditary temper, against which the church made its early protest. Again and again it was pointed out to the imperial convert that in matters of policy and organization his advice and assistance were welcome and his commands enforceable; but that in matters of doctrine he must abide by the law as revealed.

Constantine's conversion was proclaimed on his march from Gaul to Rome in the year 312. He was then one of the three Caesars who governed the Roman world. But a year before the last of the great persecutions had been officially closed by an edict issued in his name and that of his senior colleagues, Galerius and Licinius. In fact, it had closed before that; there had not been for some years any attack upon the Christians by the government, but nevertheless the Roman law was affirmatively a hostile law, and the Christians lived in peace only because it was a sleeping statute within twelve months of the public announcement of the young emperor's conversion. It is strange to read the name of Galerius at the foot of the edict of toleration that killed the sleeping statute, for it was Galerius who inspired the persecution of Diocletian, and it was the same rude graduate of the camp who sullenly yielded to the logic of the changing hour and was forced to acknowledge that the obstinate adherents of the new faith could not be brought back to the gods of old Rome : but, on the other hand, had so far extended their influence that continued persecution had no other significance than the proscription of perhaps a majority of the Roman people. Tormented by disease, perplexed by the ever-increasing might of the religion he could neither understand nor destroy, the beaten Roman bowed his obstinate head to what he had come to recognize as the inevitable, and in substance said what Julian was to say later, "The Galilean has conquered." For the strong arm that had been Rome's boast, the sword that had been a staff that never failed her, were unavailing against Christianity, and Galerius knew of no other weapon.

Following upon the first edict of toleration came a second, signed at Milan by the Christian Constantine and the pagan Licinius, and the accelerated transition from the old order to the new is illustrated in the warmer tone of the Milan decree. No longer is it a precarious privilege which the Christians are to enjoy, but a free and unconditional right.

There was more than the edict itself might indicate. A Christian emperor was now well on the road to supreme power in the state, and his zeal for the religion he professed influenced in growing degree the policy of the government.

The immediate effect upon the church organization was profound. Hitherto the ecclesiastical office had been one of labor and of danger. The bishop occupied a perilous eminence; his breast was the target of the arrows of the enemies of the church. Upon his head the state visited its punishment of the church. The rewards of his office were not measured in the wealth of the world. Now, there was a precipitous change : no longer was there danger from the agencies of the state, but, on the other hand, the whole power of the state was exercised in the protection of the bishop. No longer was he without influence in the civil tribunals : his words were potent in the ears of the mighty ones of earth. No longer was he the persecuted priest, but a powerful prelate in whose anterooms waited a constantly increasing crowd of clients, as the greed and the ambition of the Roman world turned to face the rising sun. The lustre of the pagan temples was dimmed, the secular glory of the Christian church grew constantly more effulgent.

Inevitably came the evils inseparable from such a condition. The flood of worldly honor and material wealth swept from their feet some of the churchmen, and the episcopal office became vastly important from a political standpoint. If the church were the road to the affections of a prince whose favor was so productive of earthly riches, then be sure that those who sought the riches of earth took the road that led thereto.

Not always, then, did the bishops draw clearly the line between what Constantine might legitimately do and what he might not do. These old priests were human, they were grateful to the prince who had left the old national belief to bow his head before the true God, and some of them turned to him for advice on subjects which lay without his domain. But although some of them did this, not all of them did, and the church itself never conceded to him the right to pass upon questions of doctrine. It was always the schismatic who appealed from the synod to the emperor; the orthodox church held always to the unchanging truth of the doctrine deposited with it.

Constantine understood this attitude of the church, but his zeal to prevent strife among Christians upon points which seemed to him immaterial, coupled with the imperious temper, led him from time to time to overstep the boundary line between his legitimate sphere of influence and that of the church. "I am in a sense a bishop," he said once, "but a bishop of the external." Again, when the Donatist schismatics appealed to him from the decision of the Synod of Arles, he exclaimed : "They demand judgment of me—of me who await the judgment of Christ ! But I say the judgment of priests ought to be regarded as if the Lord himself sat in the tribunal. What, then, do these wicked men, truly instruments of the devil, mean? They institute an appeal in this as in a purely civil case."

This Donatist controversy was one of the first political troubles that vexed the early church. Caecilian had been elected bishop of Carthage, and his enemies, of whom he seems to have had quite a number, conspired to oust him from the place. Their zeal seems to have increased as the office became more important politically, and there was intervention on the part of outside forces who deposed the bishop and elected one Donatus in his place. Throughout the Christian world this proceeding was regarded as illegal; on the question of the legitimacy of Caecilian and his innocence of the charges brought against him by the Donatists, the church authorities were all in concord. This was proven when the Gallic bishops concurred with the Roman pontiff in the Lateran Council, convoked at the request of the emperor, who explained in a letter to Pope Miltiades that his purpose was to prevent a schism in the church. Its ruling did not satisfy the Donatists, and in response to their importunities the emperor had a second synod convoked—the Synod of Arles. It assembled in 314 and made short work of the Donatist case. Once more the defeated party appealed from the ecclesiastical to the civil power, and it was this appeal that drew from Constantine the indignant exclamation quoted above. But the habit of command was strong in his blood; notwithstanding his Christian abhorrence of an appeal to the secular power in ecclesiastical matters, he did give a hearing to the pertinacious Donatists—a hearing which resulted in a civic confirmation of the ecclesiastical decrees condemning the enemies of the Carthaginian bishop. Although his decision was with the orthodox, it is none the less true that he assumed against the doctrine of the church the right of review.

If, in the first instance, the imperial power backed up the orthodox church, however, it did not do so in the second instance; that is, ultimately Constantine was opposed to the church, although he may have been—and indeed the evidence is that he was—unconscious of that opposition.

Arius, a priest of Alexandria, began during the second decade of the fourth century to preach a doctrine upon which was based the first considerable division in the Christian church. It was in effect that Christ was not coordinate with God the Father, but was merely the first-born of his creatures. This was declared by the church a denial of the divinity of its Founder, and Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, took steps at once to silence the heretical expounder. The eloquence of Arius, however, and the eagerness of the public for novelty in an age of great and rapid vicissitudes of belief, gave to the preacher of the new doctrine a popular following not inconsiderable, and he refused to retract at the command of his bishop. Two bishops, Secundus of Ptolemais and Theonas of Marmarica, took up cudgels for the disobedient priest and defended his cause in the synod of the bishops of Egypt and Libya, convoked by Alexander to consider the case. This synod, held in Alexandria about 321, condemned the doctrines of Arius and excommunicated him and the two bishops who espoused his cause.

Complaining that he was suffering from the persecution of his bishop, Arius fled to the eastern provinces. Here he sought the protection of the favorites of Licinius, the rival and the colleague of Constantine. Among the converts he made was Eusebius, bishop of Nicodemia and powerful in the court of the Eastern emperor. The influence of Eusebius gave Arius a welcome among the Eastern bishops, and he soon numbered many of them among his supporters. Al-ready there had broken out that disagreement between Constantine and Licinius which was to progress so swiftly to a civil war; and as the eastern and western sections of the empire took up arms for the political contest, so did the Roman world divide on the question raised by the preaching of Arius. The bishops of the East held a synod in Bithynia, and sent forth a request to "all the bishops" to hold communion with the Arians. Armed with the letter of his friends of the East, Arius returned to Alexandria, but the bishop of the African metropolis refused to receive him into the communion of the church.

Meanwhile the war had broken out and terminated, and Constantine, victorious over Licinius, and now supreme ruler of the whole Roman world, learned of the division in the Alexandrian church. His preoccupation in military affairs had prevented him either from knowing or from understanding the point in dispute, and, annoyed that the politically unified empire should be ecclesiastically divided, he addressed a letter to Alexander and to Arius, urging them to con-ciliation since the cause of their quarrel was not of importance, as he understood the matter.

But here was a question more serious by far than the Donatist matter. The former controversy had been mainly of church organization; this was doctrinal. Alexander refused to accede to the imperial wish; there could be no communion with an Arian in the orthodox church. One can imagine the surprise of the emperor when word of this was brought to him. It was one thing to advance the theory that the church was free in matters of faith; it was quite an-other thing for any subject to reject the plea of his ruler. The Christian patron of the church and the Roman ruler were brought face to face suddenly, like the images in and before a mirror. But it was the Christian theorist who was in the looking-glass; it was the Roman ruler who stood in flesh and blood and thought and felt. And it was in the breast of the Roman emperor that there was born a very human and altogether unchristian dislike of the Alexandrian church, which was to have its consequences later.

The alert mind of Constantine doubtless ran over the measures possible under the circumstances. He could use violence, the old weapon of the state, against Alexander, but this might mean warfare with the church he had so recently joined and a reversal of the whole policy which had elevated him to the greatest of worldly eminences. He decided against that. He must, even if his motives were wholly worldly and selfish (and in strict justice to him let us admit that they may have been—indeed, in all probability were—unselfish and religious), find a means of accomplishing his purpose without destroying the alliance between himself and the church, whose roots were shooting deeper and deeper into the hearts of men. He was surrounded by clerical counsellors, and their pleadings and his own desire to save the face in the looking-glass ran together; he convoked a general council of the bishops of Christendom to pass upon the Arian doctrines and other matters suggested largely by the ecclesiastics of the church in the East. For it was in the East that contentions arose in greatest measure; it was the bishops of the Eastern church who seemed to have yielded to the new influence introduced by the change in the relationship of the state toward the church; it was there that the courtier-prelates clustered thickest and the reverence for worldly power and the love of worldly emolument were most strongly mingled with the ancient spirit of the church.

It is significant of the rising influence of the East-ern as distinguished from the Western church in the court of the emperor that the first general council was held in Nice in Bithynia. The letter in which the ruler invited the bishops to assemble was full of expressions of esteem for them and their sacred office. In response to it there was an ecclesiastical migration toward Nice from all parts of the extensive Roman dominion. From the far provinces of the East and West, along the military roads and across the blue Mediterranean from the African provinces, came the shepherds of the flocks. Men who lived and prayed and preached in the remote parts of the empire, whose flocks were made up of the barbarians but recently conquered by the Roman legions, men whose fare was simple and whose purses were empty, found them-selves provided with transportation, guarded by the soldiers of the empire, honored as princes by the state which only a few years ago sought them out for martyrdom with the keen edge of its sword. Simple of life and thought, they came hurrying toward Nice, eager to see this great emperor who had bowed the knee before the true God. May of 325 found them assembling in the city of Nice. The system of correspondence that had kept the church together had made even the most remotely placed members of the episcopate familiar with the names and actions of their colleagues, but we can fancy the wonder with which the bishops from the wilderness looked upon the splendidly garbed courtiers who shepherded the flocks near the heart of the empire. The emperor had not yet arrived, the strangers were received and entertained by the Oriental bishops; there were preliminary assemblages and private and public banquets; there was animated discussion of the great questions soon to come before the assembled council. The name of Constantine was on every tongue; what was he like? the strangers asked, and what he was like his familiars told them. Was it any wonder that the three hundred and eighteen bishops held their great assemblage back in order that they might elucidate Christian truth in the very presence of the mighty champion of the church? It was not that he had given them security and many of them wealth : he had given power and honor to the church, to the glorious faith to which most of them had proven their devotion by lives of privation and danger, and for which some of them had joyously endured the torture and seen their red blood flow.

When at last he came to Nice the council was solemnly opened. The bishops assembled, and Eusebius, himself an Eastern bishop and a church historian, tells us of the breathless silence in which they waited the coming of the emperor.

Constantine himself neglected nothing which might indicate his appreciation of the solemnity of the occasion and the feeling of honor he held for the church. He came, as that same ecclesiastical historian described it, "like a messenger of God, clothed in raiment which glittered as it were with rays of light; reflecting the flowing radiance of a purple robe, and adorned with the brilliant splendor of gold and precious stones." His speech no less than his appearance was likely to increase the favor in which the Christian priesthood already held him. It was full of devotion to the church, a division in which he regarded as more dangerous than any kind of war or conflict. To prevent such division he had called them together; ministers of God as they were and faithful servants of Christ, the Lord and Saviour, the spirit of peace and concord should prevail among them. He was their fellow-servant of God; he desired, above all things, that all cause of disunion among God's servants should be removed.

During the debates that followed the opening speech, Constantine carefully abstained from interference, except to counsel moderation in speech when some of the disputants became too fiery. Frequently an eager debater would turn with appeal to the splendid and mighty figure who sat among them, but the emperor let the current of opinion flow on without attempt to direct it. The conclusion he accepted without question. It was the codification of what was Christian truth according to those most competent to judge—the Nicene Creed. Three hundred of the bishops gave assent to that creed; five only dissented. Of these five three were of the Eastern church; two were the old friends of Arius—Theonas of Marmarica and Secundus of Ptolemais, who had defended him in the Alexandrian synod.

The council having determined the theological question, Constantine used the civil power to banish Arius and those who still adhered to his doctrine. He wrote to the Alexandrian church declaring that all should abandon the error of Arius.

The three Eastern bishops who had joined Theonas and Secundus in dissent from the Nicene Creed, could not, when the test came, bear to part with the offices they held. They were too much in the habit of bending before the secular power, and they reluctantly, and not very honestly, as future events were to show, subscribed to the conclusion of the majority of their colleagues. This reduced the number of dissenting bishops to two.

Constantine celebrated the close of the council with a great banquet, given to the bishops on the twentieth anniversary of his elevation to the throne. He exhorted the bishops from whom he was about to part to maintain peace in the church. Many believe it was at this banquet that he described himself as being in one sense a bishop : "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."

The Eastern bishops had been defeated in the council, but they by no means abandoned their hope of winning the mind of the emperor away from the orthodox church. They were not without powerful allies close to the imperial presence; Eusebius of Nicomedia possessed great influence over Constantia, the widow of Licinius and sister of Constantine. But a few months after the Council of Nice he and Theognis were charged with giving communion to the Arians, and that banishment they had escaped by subscribing to the creed was inflicted upon them.

Constantia exerted all the influence she possessed to bring about their recall and to incline the mind of the emperor toward the Arians. On her death-bed she requested Constantine to take into his service a priest who quickly won favor with him and who prevailed upon him to reopen the case of Arius. Eusebius and Theognis were recalled about this time, and by imperial edict their bishoprics were restored to them. Before the emperor, Arius made a profession of faith which Constantine accepted as in accordance with the Nicene Creed, and Eusebius immediately wrote to Athanasius, who had succeeded to the see of Alexandria upon the death of Alexander, urging him to restore Arius to the priesthood. But the profession of Arius was by no means satisfactory to the Alexandrian bishop, and he flatly refused to admit Arius to communion: refused not only when urged to do so by Eusebius, but also when commanded to do so by Constantine. And so for a second time the Christian votary and the Roman ruler faced each other. This time the situation was more serious; whereas Alexander had rejected his counsel, Athanasius had boldly disobeyed his command.

Under the influence of Eusebius, an influence which had been growing ever stronger in Constantine's court, orthodox bishops had been forcibly ousted by the emperor from sees in the East, and Arians had been appointed to succeed them. These new bishops united now to destroy the Alexandrian prelate. Charges were made against him which reached the emperor finally. It is notable that the charge upon which he acted was political altogether : Athanasius was accused of threatening to stop the shipments of corn from Alexandria. This meant the starvation of the capital, which drew its supplies of food from the Egyptian granaries, and the angry emperor banished Athanasius as a fomenter of discord in the church and an enemy of the state.

From that time on until the death of Constantine, an odd condition existed in the empire. Professing always his adherence to the Nicene Creed, Constantine yielded more and more to the influences that op-posed it. He still maintained a friendship with the great lights of the orthodox church, but his policy toward the church was shaped and bent by the subtle bishop of Nicomedia, and by imperial edict priests who believed in the Arian doctrine were raised to the episcopate. The churchmen of the East became more and more fawners upon the imperial power ; they planned to have Arius himself publicly and with splendid ceremony reinstated in the priestly office in the great church of Constantinople. Only the death of the arch-schismatic as the procession of his triumphant supporters marched to the church prevented them from carrying out this plan, and, by its effect upon the mind of the emperor at that time and in that place, checked for a while the Arian influence in the imperial court. It is said that as Constantine approached his end his dislike of Athanasius began to yield under the arguments of St. Anthony, but he died with the chief bulwark of the orthodox church still in that exile from which the second Constantine at last re-called him.

Briefly, then, this is the story of the relationship of Constantine to the Christian church. It was a tremendous period; its effect upon human history makes it stand out monumentally, but it is very far back on the road, and none too bright are the lights that glimmer fitfully upon it, illuminating it in spots. In such lights as we have, however, there are some things clearly discernible. We can see the influences of the old conceptions still at work, the old order endeavoring to maintain itself against the new. The nationality of religion was a habit of human thought, no less of the pagan Greek than of the monotheistic Hebrew.

"The independence enjoyed by these communities," says Ranke, "was not merely political : an independent religion also had been established by each; the ideas of God and of divine things had received a character strictly local; deities of the most diversified attributes divided the worship of the world, and the law by which their votaries were governed became inseparably united with that of the state." It was, to use the great German historian's own term, "an intimate union of church and state."

This conception carried itself into the Roman scheme of government as the conquering city, binding the conquered nations into her empire, gathered their gods together and gave them place in her Pantheon; it developed in its logical process until above the gods of all the nations it set the deified emperor, exalting above all the divinities the head of the Roman state.

It was this conception that Christianity had to fight. The battle was easier for the church when the state was hostile than when the state was friendly. Dimly, but unmistakably, the lines of the conflict disclose themselves in the Constantine period. We see the early divergence of the bishops of the East, who fawned at the feet of the emperor, from those of the West, who, with headquarters in abandoned Rome, had to work out the future of the church far from the seat of worldly power. The orthodox church was already insisting upon its spiritual freedom; the schismatics appealed from the ecclesiastical to the civil power. Well may we close this chapter with the words of Ranke : "The emperor united church and state: Christianity separated, before all things, that which is Caesar's from that which belongs to God."

Home | More Articles | Email: