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model the constitution of the Christian church, under the auspices of Constantine, and whom, as a matter of courtesy, they condescended to make its earthly head. But to proceed.
Thus restored to the full exercise of their liberty, their churches rebuilt, and the imperial edicts every where published in their favour, these new bishops immediately began to discover what spirit they were of. As their several revenues increased, they grew more ambitious, less capable of contradiction, more haughty and arrogant in their behaviour, more quarrelsome in their tempers, and more regardless of the simplicity and gravity of their profession and character. Constantine's letters afford abundant proof of the jealousies and animosities that reigned among them. Adverting to a violent quarrel which had taken place between Miltiades, bishop of Rome, and Coecilianus, bishop of Carthage, in which the principals had enlisted a host of their colleagues as their respective auxiliaries, he states to them, that it was a very grievous thing to him to see so great a number of persons divided into parties, and the bishops disagreeing among themselves. He earnestly wishes to compose their differences, but in spite of all his efforts, they persisted in their quarrels-which drew from him a pathetic complaint, that those who ought to have been the foremost in maintaining a brotherly affection and peaceable disposition towards each other, were the first to separate from one another in a scandalous and detestable manner, giving occasion to the common enemies of Christianity to scoff and deride them.
To put an end to such factious and disgraceful proceedings, he summoned a council to meet at Arles in France, in order, if it were possible, to bring to a friendly and Christian compromise this long pending altercation. He himself condescended to be present on the occasion,
and exerted all his influence to restore peace and harmony among them, but with little effect. He had unfortunately sown the seeds of strife and contention, by his liberal endowment of churches, and by the riches and honours that he had conferred upon the bishops, and he was now reaping the fruit of his folly.
Had this first of the Christian emperors, rested satisfied with the primary edict which he published in favour of the Christians, he had acted the part of a wise, good, and impartial governor. That decree, without particularising any sects or parties, gave full liberty to all of them, both Christians and Pagans, to follow whatever religious profession seemed to them most eligible. But that liberty was of no long duration, and was soon abridged in reference to both Christians and heathens. For although in that edict he had commanded that the places of worship and other effects should be restored to Christians in general, it was soon followed by another, which restricts this grant to “THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.” After this, in a letter to Miltiades, bishop of Rome, complaining of the differences fomented by the African bishops, he tells him, that he had so great a reverence for “the catholic church," that he would not have him suffer, in any place, any schism or difference whatsoever to exist. There are in his letters many things which savour of the same spirit, and which can leave us in no doubt, that, by “the catholic faith and church” we are to understand that which was approved by those bishops who had the greatest interest in his favour.
And with regard to his treatment of the Pagans, it was in flagrant violation of the first principle of Christianity, as well as of the excellent edict which he had formerly issued. He prohibited by law* the worship of idols in cities and country-commanded that no statutes of the gods should be erected, nor any sacrifices offered upon their altars, and sent into all the provinces Christian presidents, forbidding the pagan priests to offer sacrifice, and confirming to the former the honours due to their characters and stations; thus endeavouring to support the kingdom of Christ, which is not of this world, by means altogether worldly, viz. the prospects and rewards of worldly honour and preferment.
* Eusebius, b. 10. cb. 5, 6. VOL. I.
It can excite no surprise, that those persons who could advise the issuing of these edicts, to suppress the ancient religion of the empire, should be against tolerating any sects among themselves that should presume to differ from them on any articles of the Christian faith or discipline. For nothing can be more evident than that, if the civil magistrate is vested with authority to prohibit religious opinions, or punish the abettors of them, merely because in his view they are erroneous, it must necessarily follow, that he has an equal right to punish a professing Christian whose sentiments or practices differ from his own, as he would have to punish those of a Pagan or Mahommedan. If the magistrate's jurisdiction extend to his exercising a control over the human mind in one instance, it will be impossible consistently to deny it to him in any other; and as his own judgment is, in all cases, the authorized standard of what is truth and error, in religion, he bears the sword, on this principle, to punish every deviation from that standard which he has erected, whether found in Christian, Jew, or Pagan. Thus, if Constantine and his bishops were justified in abolishing heathenism by the civil power, because they believed it erroneous, Diocletian and Gallienus with their priests, were equally right in prohibiting Christianity by civil laws, because they believed it to be not only false and impious, but blasphemy against their gods, and even as bordering upon atheism itself.
It has been well remarked by a sensible writer, that “men have been very long in discovering, and even yet seem scarcely to have discovered, that true religion is of too delicate a nature to be compelled, by the coarse implements of human authority and worldly sanctions. Let the law of the land restrain vice and injustice of every kind, as ruinous to the peace and order of society; for this is its proper province: but let it not tamper with religion, by attempting to enforce its exercises and duties. These, unless they be free-will offerings, are nothing; they are worse [than nothing.) By such an unnatural alliance, and ill-judged aid, hypocrisy and superstition may, indeed, be greatly promoted; but genuine piety never fails to suffer.” *
The sentiments of the primitive Christians for the first three centuries, in reference to the divinity of the Saviour, were, generally speaking, pretty uniform, nor do there appear to have been any public controversies regarding this leading article of the Christian faith. But a dispute now arose which may be said to have involved all Christendom in a flame. It originated in the church of Alexandria, in Egypt, between Alexander and Arius, two of the pastors of that church, and soon spread itself into other churches, inflaming bishops against bishops, who under the pretext of supporting divine truth, excited tumults, and fomented the most deadly strifes and hatreds towards each other. These divisions of the prelates set the people together by the ears, and the dispute was managed with such violence, that it involved the whole Christian world, and gave occasion to the heathens to ridicule the Christian religion upon their public theatres.t
The occasion of this dispute, which is well-known by the name of “THE ARIAN CONTROVERSY," seems to
Campbell's Lectures on Eccles. Hist. vol. i. p. 73.
+ Socrates's Eccles. Hist. b. i. ch. 6.
have been simply this. Alexander, one of the prelates of that church, speaking upon the subject of the Trinity, had affirmed that there was “an unity in the Trinity, and particularly that the Son was co-eternal, and consubstantial, and of the same dignity with the Father." Arius objected to this language, and argued that “ If the Father begat the Son, he who was begotten must have a beginning of his existence; and from hence, says he, 'tis manifest that there was a time when he (the Son) was not," &c.
It is wholly incompatible with the object of this history to discuss points of Christian doctrine; but the reader will, probably, excuse a few remarks on this extraordinary controversy. It is scarcely possible for any one who entertains a reverential regard for the great God, not to be struck with the presumption of poor, finite, erring mortals, daring to investigate, in the rash and inconsiderate manner that was now done, a subject of such awful import as the modus of the divine existence. We no sooner turn our thoughts to this question than our feeble capacities are overwhelmed with the immensity of the subject. Reason, in its most improved state, can carry us but a little way in our discoveries of God; and, if we are wise, we shall receive in simplicity of mind, every information which the great First Cause hath been pleased to afford us concerning himself in his holy word. There, indeed, we learn with certainty, what may be also inferred from the works of creation and providence, that there is a God, who at first called the universe into being, and who still upholds and governs all things. But the works of creation and providence could never teach us, what the scriptures make abundantly plain,—that there is in this one immense being, a distinction of Father, Word, and Spirit-a distinction which lies at the foundation of the whole economy of our redemption. Med