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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

AS many nations and cities throughout the Empire retained a feeling of veneration and fear towards their vain idols, which led them to disregard the doctrines of the Christians, and to cling to their ancient customs, and the manners and feasts of their fathers, it appeared necessary to the emperor to teach the governors to suppress their superstitious rites of worship. He thought that this would be easily accomplished if he could get them to despise their temples and the images contained therein. To carry this project into execution, he did not require military aid; for Christian men belonging to the palace went from city to city, bearing letters from the emperor commanding obedience to the decrees. The people were induced to remain passive from the fear that, if they resisted these edicts, they, their wives, and their children, would be exposed to evil. The priests and those who had the charge of the temples, being unsupported by the multitude, brought out from the most secret places of concealment their most precious treasures, and the idols called διοπετῆ, while recesses known only to the priests, and wherein the people were never admitted, were thrown open to all who desired to enter. Such of the images as were constructed of the precious metals, and whatever else was valuable, were purified by fire, and became public property. The brazen images which were skilfully wrought were carried to the city named after the emperor, and placed there as objects of embellishment, where they may still be seen in public places, as in the Forum, the Hippodrome, and the palace. Amongst them was the statue of Apollo by which the Pythoness divined, and likewise the statues of the Muses from Helicon, the tripods from Delphos, and the much-extolled Pan, which Pausanias the Lacedæmonian and the Grecian cities erected after the war against the Medes. As to the temples, some were stripped of their doors, others of their roofs, and others were neglected, allowed to fall into ruin, or destroyed. The temple of Æsculapius in Ægis, a city of Cilicia, and that of Venus at Aphaca, near Mount Lebanon and the river Adonis, were uprooted from their foundations. Both of these temples were most highly honoured and reverenced by the ancients; in the former, it was said, the demon manifested himself by night, and healed the diseases of the sick. And at Aphaca, it was believed that on a certain prayer being uttered on a given day, a fire like a star descended from the top of Lebanon, and sunk into the neighbouring river; this phenomenon they sometimes called Urania, and sometimes Venus. The efforts of the emperor succeeded to the utmost of his anticipations; for, on beholding the objects of their former reverence and fear boldly cast down and stuffed with straw and hay, the people were led to despise what they had previously venerated, and to blame the erroneous opinion of their ancestors. Others, envious at the honour in which Christians were held by the emperor, deemed it necessary to conform to the imperial institutions. Others devoted themselves to an examination of Christianity, and by means of signs, of dreams, or of conferences with monks and bishops, were led to a conviction of its truth. From this period, nations and citizens spontaneously renounced their former superstitions. A port of Gaza, called Majuna, wherein idolatry and ancient ceremonies had been hitherto upheld, was now distinguished by the alacrity with which its inhabitants suddenly and universally embraced Christianity; the emperor, in honour of their piety, raised their town to the rank of a city, a distinction which it had not formerly enjoyed, and, because of its godliness, bestowed upon it the name of Constantia, after one of his children who was more beloved by him than the others. On the same account, also, Constantine in Phœnicia is known to have received its name from the emperor. But it would not be convenient to record every instance of this kind, as the inhabitants of many cities about this time embraced Christianity spontaneously, without any edict being issued to that effect by the emperor, overturned the adjacent temples and statues, and erected houses of prayer.








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