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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

AS soon as the sole government of the Roman Empire was vested in Constantine, he issued a decree commanding all the people of the East to honour the Christian religion, to worship the Divine Being, and to recognise, as God alone, the one true God whose power endureth for ever and ever: for He delighteth to give all good things abundantly to those who zealously embrace the truth; He prospers their undertakings and fulfils their desires, while misfortunes, whether in peace or in war, whether in public or in private life, befall transgressors. Constantine then added, but without vain boasting, that, God having accounted him meet and worthy to reign, he had been led from the British Seas to the Eastern Provinces in order that the Christian religion might be extended, and that the worshippers of God who had confessed His name and had remained faithful under sufferings, might be advanced to public honours. After making these statements, he entered upon other details connected with the interests of religion. He decreed that all acts and judgments passed by the persecutors of the Church against Christianity should be revoked; and commanded that all those who, on account of their confession of Christ, had been sent to banishment—(either to the isles or elsewhere, contrary to their own inclination)—and all those who had been condemned to labour in the mines, the public works, the manufactures, or had been enrolled as public functionaries, should be restored to liberty. He removed the stigma of dishonour from those upon whom it had been cast, and permitted those who had been deprived of high appointments in the army, either to re-assume the command, or to remain in privacy, according to their own choice; and when he recalled them to the enjoyment of their former liberties and honours he likewise restored their possessions. In the case of those who had been slain, and whose property had been confiscated, he enacted that the inheritance should be transferred to the next of kin, or, in default of heirs, to the church belonging to the locality where the estate was situated: and when the inheritance had passed into other hands, and had become either private or national property, he commanded it to be restored. He likewise promised to resort to the fittest and best possible arrangements when the property had been purchased by the Exchequer, or had been received therefrom by gift. These measures, as it has been said, having been enacted by the emperor, and ratified by law, were forthwith carried into execution. Christians were thus placed in almost all the principal posts of the Roman government; the worship of false gods was universally prohibited; and the arts of divination, the dedication of statues, and the celebration of Grecian festivals were interdicted. Many of the most ancient customs observed in the cities fell into disuse; and, among the Egyptians, the measure used to indicate the increase of the waters of the Nile, was no longer borne into Grecian temples, but into churches. The combats of gladiators were then prohibited among the Romans, and the custom which prevailed among the Phœnicians of Lebanon and Heliopolis, of prostituting virgins before marriage, was abolished. As to the houses of prayer, the emperor repaired those which were of sufficient magnitude, enlarged and beautified others, and erected new edifices in places in which no building of the kind had existed previously. He furnished the requisite supplies from the imperial treasury, and wrote to the bishops of the cities and the governors of the provinces, desiring them to contribute whatever they wished, and enjoining submission and obedience to the hierarchy.

The prosperity of religion kept pace with the increased prosperity of the empire. After the war with Licinius, the emperor was successful in battle against foreign nations; he conquered the Sarmatians and the people called Goths, and concluded an advantageous treaty with them. These people dwelt beyond the Danube; and, as they were warlike, strong in numbers, and possessed of a large standing army, they kept the other tribes of barbarians in awe, and found antagonists in the Romans alone. It is said that, during this war, Constantine perceived clearly, by means of signs and visions, that the special protection of Divine Providence had been extended to him. Hence, when he had vanquished all those who rose up in battle against him, he evinced his thankfulness to Christ by zealous attention to the concerns of religion, and exhorted the governors to recognise the one true faith and way of salvation. He enacted that part of the funds levied from tributary countries should be forwarded by the various cities to the bishops and clergy, wherever they might be domiciled, and commanded that the law enjoining this gift should be a statute for ever. In order to accustom the soldiers to worship God as he did, he had their weapons marked with the symbol of the cross, and he erected a house of prayer in the palace. When he engaged in war, he caused a tent to be borne before him constructed in the shape of a church, so that in case he or his army might be led into the desert, they might have a sacred edifice in which to praise and worship God, and participate in the mysteries. Priests and deacons followed the tent for the purpose of officiating therein, according to the law and regulations of the Church. From that period the Roman legions, which now were called by their number, provided each its own tent, with attendant priests and deacons. He also enjoined the observance of the day termed the Lord’s day, which the Jews call the first day of the week, and which the Greeks dedicate to the sun, as likewise the day before the seventh, and commanded that no judicial or other business should be transacted on those days, but that God should be served with prayers and supplications. He honoured the Lord’s day, because on it Christ arose from the dead, and the day above mentioned, because on it He was crucified. He regarded the cross with peculiar reverence, on account both of the power which it conveyed to him in war, and also of the divine manner in which the symbol had appeared to him. He abolished the law which had prevailed among the Romans of putting criminals to death by crucifixion. He commanded that this divine symbol should be affixed to his image on coins and pictures; and this fact is evidenced by the relics of this kind which are still in existence. And indeed he strove in every thing, particularly in the enactment of laws, to serve God. It appears, too, that he prohibited many flagitious and licentious connexions, which till that period had not been forbidden, and, in fact, made so many laws of this kind, that it would, it appears to me, be tedious to recount them, so that I shall now bring this subject to a close. I consider it necessary, however, to mention the laws enacted for the honour and consolidation of religion, as they constitute a considerable portion of Ecclesiastical History. I shall therefore proceed to the recital.








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