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Roman Empire Volume 3

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Corrected EDITIONS of our etexts get a new NUMBER, dfre311.txt.
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Scanned, proofed and converted to HTML by David Reed. Dale R.
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This is volume three of the six volumes of Edward Gibbon's History Of
The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. If you find any errors
please feel free to notify me of them. I want to make this the best
etext edition possible for both scholars and the general public.
Especially Dale R. Fredrickson who has hand entered the Greek
characters in the footnotes and who has suggested retaining the
conjoined ae character in the text. Haradda@aol.com and
davidr@inconnect.com are my email addresses for now. Please feel free
to send me your comments and I hope you enjoy this.

David Reed

History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

Edward Gibbon, Esq.

With notes by the Rev. H. H. Milman

Vol. 3

1782 (Written), 1845 (Revised)

Chapter XXVII: Civil Wars, Reign Of Theodosius.

Part I.

Death Of Gratian. -- Ruin Of Arianism. -- St. Ambrose. -- First Civil
War, Against Maximus. -- Character, Administration, And Penance Of
Theodosius. -- Death Of Valentinian II. -- Second Civil War, Against
Eugenius. -- Death Of Theodosius.

The fame of Gratian, before he had accomplished the twentieth year of
his age, was equal to that of the most celebrated princes. His gentle
and amiable disposition endeared him to his private friends, the
graceful affability of his manners engaged the affection of the
people: the men of letters, who enjoyed the liberality, acknowledged
the taste and eloquence, of their sovereign; his valor and dexterity
in arms were equally applauded by the soldiers; and the clergy
considered the humble piety of Gratian as the first and most useful of
his virtues. The victory of Colmar had delivered the West from a
formidable invasion; and the grateful provinces of the East ascribed
the merits of Theodosius to the author of his greatness, and of the
public safety. Gratian survived those memorable events only four or
five years; but he survived his reputation; and, before he fell a
victim to rebellion, he had lost, in a great measure, the respect and
confidence of the Roman world.

The remarkable alteration of his character or conduct may not be
imputed to the arts of flattery, which had besieged the son of
Valentinian from his infancy; nor to the headstrong passions which the
that gentle youth appears to have escaped. A more attentive view of
the life of Gratian may perhaps suggest the true cause of the
disappointment of the public hopes. His apparent virtues, instead of
being the hardy productions of experience and adversity, were the
premature and artificial fruits of a royal education. The anxious
tenderness of his father was continually employed to bestow on him
those advantages, which he might perhaps esteem the more highly, as he
himself had been deprived of them; and the most skilful masters of
every science, and of every art, had labored to form the mind and body
of the young prince. The knowledge which they painfully communicated
was displayed with ostentation, and celebrated with lavish praise. His
soft and tractable disposition received the fair impression of their
judicious precepts, and the absence of passion might easily be
mistaken for the strength of reason. His preceptors gradually rose to
the rank and consequence of ministers of state: and, as they wisely
dissembled their secret authority, he seemed to act with firmness,
with propriety, and with judgment, on the most important occasions of
his life and reign. But the influence of this elaborate instruction
did not penetrate beyond the surface; and the skilful preceptors, who
so accurately guided the steps of their royal pupil, could not infuse
into his feeble and indolent character the vigorous and independent
principle of action which renders the laborious pursuit of glory
essentially necessary to the happiness, and almost to the existence,
of the hero. As soon as time and accident had removed those faithful
counsellors from the throne, the emperor of the West insensibly
descended to the level of his natural genius; abandoned the reins of
government to the ambitious hands which were stretched forwards to
grasp them; and amused his leisure with the most frivolous
gratifications. A public sale of favor and injustice was instituted,
both in the court and in the provinces, by the worthless delegates of
his power, whose merit it was made sacrilege
to question. The conscience of the credulous prince was directed by
saints and bishops; who procured an Imperial edict to punish, as a
capital offence, the violation, the neglect, or even the ignorance, of
the divine law. Among the various arts which had exercised the youth
of Gratian, he had applied himself, with singular inclination and
success, to manage the horse, to draw the bow, and to dart the
javelin; and these qualifications, which might be useful to a soldier,
were prostituted to the viler purposes of hunting. Large parks were
enclosed for the Imperial pleasures, and plentifully stocked with
every species of wild beasts; and Gratian neglected the duties, and
even the dignity, of his rank, to consume whole days in the vain
display of his dexterity and boldness in the chase. The pride and wish
of the Roman emperor to excel in an art, in which he might be
surpassed by the meanest of his slaves, reminded the numerous
spectators of the examples of Nero and Commodus, but the chaste and
temperate Gratian was a stranger to their monstrous vices; and his
hands were stained only with the blood of animals. The behavior of
Gratian, which degraded his character in the eyes of mankind, could
not have disturbed the security of his reign, if the army had not been
provoked to resent their peculiar injuries. As long as the young
emperor was guided by the instructions of his masters, he professed
himself the friend and pupil of the soldiers; many of his hours were
spent in the familiar conversation of the camp; and the health, the
comforts, the rewards, the honors, of his faithful troops, appeared to
be the objects of his attentive concern. But, after Gratian more
freely indulged his prevailing taste for hunting and shooting, he
naturally connected himself with the most dexterous ministers of his
favorite amusement. A body of the Alani was received into the military
and domestic service of the palace; and the admirable skill, which
they were accustomed to display in the unbounded plains of Scythia,
was exercised, on a more narrow theatre, in the parks and enclosures
of Gaul. Gratian admired the talents and customs of these favorite
guards, to whom alone he intrusted the defence of his person; and, as
if he meant to insult the public opinion, he frequently showed himself
to the soldiers and people, with the dress and arms, the long bow, the
sounding quiver, and the fur garments of a Scythian warrior. The
unworthy spectacle of a Roman prince, who had renounced the dress and
manners of his country, filled the minds of the legions with grief and
indignation. Even the Germans, so strong and formidable in the armies
of the empire, affected to disdain the strange and horrid appearance
of the savages of the North, who, in the space of a few years, had
wandered from the banks of the Volga to those of the Seine. A loud and
licentious murmur was echoed through the camps and garrisons of the
West; and as the mild indolence of Gratian neglected to extinguish the
first symptoms of discontent, the want of love and respect was not
supplied by the influence of fear. But the subversion of an
established government is always a work of some real, and of much
apparent, difficulty; and the throne of Gratian was protected by the
sanctions of custom, law, religion, and the nice balance of the civil
and military powers, which had been established by the policy of
Constantine. It is not very important to inquire from what cause the
revolt of Britain was produced. Accident is commonly the parent of
disorder; the seeds of rebellion happened to fall on a soil which was
supposed to be more fruitful than any other in tyrants and usurpers;
the legions of that sequestered island had been long famous for a
spirit of presumption and arrogance; and the name of Maximus was
proclaimed, by the tumultuary, but unanimous voice, both of the
soldiers and of the provincials. The emperor, or the rebel, -- for
this title was not yet ascertained by fortune, -- was a native of
Spain, the countryman, the fellow-soldier, and the rival of Theodosius
whose elevation he had not seen without some emotions of envy and
resentment: the events of his life had long since fixed him in
Britain; and I should not be unwilling to find some evidence for the
marriage, which he is said to have contracted with the daughter of a
wealthy lord of Caernarvonshire. But this provincial rank might justly
be considered as a state of exile and obscurity; and if Maximus had
obtained any civil or military office, he was not invested with the
authority either of governor or general. His abilities, and even his
integrity, are acknowledged by the partial writers of the age; and the
merit must indeed have been conspicuous that could extort such a
confession in favor of the vanquished enemy of Theodosius. The
discontent of Maximus might incline him to censure the conduct of his
sovereign, and to encourage, perhaps, without any views of ambition,
the murmurs of the troops. But in the midst of the tumult, he
artfully, or modestly, refused to ascend the throne; and some credit
appears to have been given to his own positive declaration, that he
was compelled to accept the dangerous present of the Imperial purple.

But there was danger likewise in refusing the empire; and from the
moment that Maximus had violated his allegiance to his lawful
sovereign, he could not hope to reign, or even to live, if he confined
his moderate ambition within the narrow limits of Britain. He boldly
and wisely resolved to prevent the designs of Gratian; the youth of
the island crowded to his standard, and he invaded Gaul with a fleet
and army, which were long afterwards remembered, as the emigration of
a considerable part of the British nation. The emperor, in his
peaceful residence of Paris, was alarmed by their hostile approach;
and the darts which he idly wasted on lions and bears, might have been
employed more honorably against the rebels. But his feeble efforts
announced his degenerate spirit and desperate situation; and deprived
him of the resources, which he still might have found, in the support
of his subjects and allies. The armies of Gaul, instead of opposing
the march of Maximus, received him with joyful and loyal acclamations;
and the shame of the desertion was transferred from the people to the
prince. The troops, whose station more immediately attached them to
the service of the palace, abandoned the standard of Gratian the first
time that it was displayed in the neighborhood of Paris. The emperor
of the West fled towards Lyons, with a train of only three hundred
horse; and, in the cities along the road, where he hoped to find
refuge, or at least a passage, he was taught, by cruel experience,
that every gate is shut against the unfortunate. Yet he might still
have reached, in safety, the dominions of his brother; and soon have
returned with the forces of Italy and the East; if he had not suffered
himself to be fatally deceived by the perfidious governor of the
Lyonnese province. Gratian was amused by protestations of doubtful
fidelity, and the hopes of a support, which could not be effectual;
till the arrival of Andragathius, the general of the cavalry of
Maximus, put an end to his suspense. That resolute officer executed,
without remorse, the orders or the intention of the usurper. Gratian,
as he rose from supper, was delivered into the hands of the assassin:
and his body was denied to the pious and pressing entreaties of his
brother Valentinian. The death of the emperor was followed by that of
his powerful general Mellobaudes, the king of the Franks; who
maintained, to the last moment of his life, the ambiguous reputation,
which is the just recompense of obscure and subtle policy. These
executions might be necessary to the public safety: but the successful
usurper, whose power was acknowledged by all the provinces of the
West, had the merit, and the satisfaction, of boasting, that, except
those who had perished by the chance of war, his triumph was not
stained by the blood of the Romans.

The events of this revolution had passed in such rapid succession,
that it would have been impossible for Theodosius to march to the
relief of his benefactor, before he received the intelligence of his
defeat and death. During the season of sincere grief, or ostentatious
mourning, the Eastern emperor was interrupted by the arrival of the
principal chamberlain of Maximus; and the choice of a venerable old
man, for an office which was usually exercised by eunuchs, announced
to the court of Constantinople the gravity and temperance of the
British usurper. The ambassador condescended to justify, or excuse,
the conduct of his master; and to protest, in specious language, that
the murder of Gratian had been perpetrated, without his knowledge or
consent, by the precipitate zeal of the soldiers. But he proceeded, in
a firm and equal tone, to offer Theodosius the alternative of peace,
or war. The speech of the ambassador concluded with a spirited
declaration, that although Maximus, as a Roman, and as the father of
his people, would choose rather to employ his forces in the common
defence of the republic, he was armed and prepared, if his friendship
should be rejected, to dispute, in a field of battle, the empire of
the world. An immediate and peremptory answer was required; but it was
extremely difficult for Theodosius to satisfy, on this important
occasion, either the feelings of his own mind, or the expectations of
the public. The imperious voice of honor and gratitude called aloud
for revenge. From the liberality of Gratian, he had received the
Imperial diadem; his patience would encourage the odious suspicion,
that he was more deeply sensible of former injuries, than of recent
obligations; and if he accepted the friendship, he must seem to share
the guilt, of the assassin. Even the principles of justice, and the
interest of society, would receive a fatal blow from the impunity of
Maximus; and the example of successful usurpation would tend to
dissolve the artificial fabric of government, and once more to
replunge the empire in the crimes and calamities of the preceding age.
But, as the sentiments of gratitude and honor should invariably
regulate the conduct of an individual, they may be overbalanced in the
mind of a sovereign, by the sense of superior duties; and the maxims
both of justice and humanity must permit the escape of an atrocious
criminal, if an innocent people would be involved in the consequences
of his punishment. The assassin of Gratian had usurped, but he
actually possessed, the most warlike provinces of the empire: the East
was exhausted by the misfortunes, and even by the success, of the
Gothic war; and it was seriously to be apprehended, that, after the
vital strength of the republic had been wasted in a doubtful and
destructive contest, the feeble conqueror would remain an easy prey to
the Barbarians of the North. These weighty considerations engaged
Theodosius to dissemble his resentment, and to accept the alliance of
the tyrant. But he stipulated, that Maximus should content himself
with the possession of the countries beyond the Alps. The brother of
Gratian was confirmed and secured in the sovereignty of Italy, Africa,
and the Western Illyricum; and some honorable conditions were inserted
in the treaty, to protect the memory, and the laws, of the deceased
emperor. According to the custom of the age, the images of the three
Imperial colleagues were exhibited to the veneration of the people;
nor should it be lightly supposed, that, in the moment of a solemn
reconciliation, Theodosius secretly cherished the intention of perfidy
and revenge.

The contempt of Gratian for the Roman soldiers had exposed him to the
fatal effects of their resentment. His profound veneration for the
Christian clergy was rewarded by the applause and gratitude of a
powerful order, which has claimed, in every age, the privilege of
dispensing honors, both on earth and in heaven. The orthodox bishops
bewailed his death, and their own irreparable loss; but they were soon
comforted by the discovery, that Gratian had committed the sceptre of
the East to the hands of a prince, whose humble faith and fervent
zeal, were supported by the spirit and abilities of a more vigorous
character. Among the benefactors of the church, the fame of
Constantine has been rivalled by the glory of Theodosius. If
Constantine had the advantage of erecting the standard of the cross,
the emulation of his successor assumed the merit of subduing the Arian
heresy, and of abolishing the worship of idols in the Roman world.
Theodosius was the first of the emperors baptized in the true faith of
the Trinity. Although he was born of a Christian family, the maxims,
or at least the practice, of the age, encouraged him to delay the
ceremony of his initiation; till he was admonished of the danger of
delay, by the serious illness which threatened his life, towards the
end of the first year of his reign. Before he again took the field
against the Goths, he received the sacrament of baptism from Acholius,
the orthodox bishop of Thessalonica: and, as the emperor ascended from
the holy font, still glowing with the warm feelings of regeneration,
he dictated a solemn edict, which proclaimed his own faith, and
prescribed the religion of his subjects. "It is our pleasure (such is
the Imperial style) that all the nations, which are governed by our
clemency and moderation, should steadfastly adhere to the religion
which was taught by St. Peter to the Romans; which faithful tradition
has preserved; and which is now professed by the pontiff Damasus, and
by Peter, bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According
to the discipline of the apostles, and the doctrine of the gospel, let
us believe the sole deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost;
under an equal majesty, and a pious Trinity. We authorize the
followers of this doctrine to assume the title of Catholic Christians;
and as we judge, that all others are extravagant madmen, we brand them
with the infamous name of Heretics; and declare that their
conventicles shall no longer usurp the respectable appellation of
churches. Besides the condemnation of divine justice, they must expect
to suffer the severe penalties, which our authority, guided by
heavenly wisdom, shall think proper to inflict upon them." The faith
of a soldier is commonly the fruit of instruction, rather than of
inquiry; but as the emperor always fixed his eyes on the visible
landmarks of orthodoxy, which he had so prudently constituted, his
religious opinions were never affected by the specious texts, the
subtle arguments, and the ambiguous creeds of the Arian doctors. Once
indeed he expressed a faint inclination to converse with the eloquent
and learned Eunomius, who lived in retirement at a small distance from
Constantinople. But the dangerous interview was prevented by the
prayers of the empress Flaccilla, who trembled for the salvation of
her husband; and the mind of Theodosius was confirmed by a theological
argument, adapted to the rudest capacity. He had lately bestowed on
his eldest son, Arcadius, the name and honors of Augustus, and the two
princes were seated on a stately throne to receive the homage of their
subjects. A bishop, Amphilochius of Iconium, approached the throne,
and after saluting, with due reverence, the person of his sovereign,
he accosted the royal youth with the same familiar tenderness which he
might have used towards a plebeian child. Provoked by this insolent
behavior, the monarch gave orders, that the rustic priest should be
instantly driven from his presence. But while the guards were forcing
him to the door, the dexterous polemic had time to execute his design,
by exclaiming, with a loud voice, "Such is the treatment, O emperor!
which the King of heaven has prepared for those impious men, who
affect to worship the Father, but refuse to acknowledge the equal
majesty of his divine Son." Theodosius immediately embraced the bishop
of Iconium, and never forgot the important lesson, which he had
received from this dramatic parable.

Chapter XXVII: Civil Wars, Reign Of Theodosius. -- Part II.

Constantinople was the principal seat and fortress of Arianism; and,
in a long interval of forty years, the faith of the princes and
prelates, who reigned in the capital of the East, was rejected in the
purer schools of Rome and Alexandria. The archiepiscopal throne of
Macedonius, which had been polluted with so much Christian blood, was
successively filled by Eudoxus and Damophilus. Their diocese enjoyed a
free importation of vice and error from every province of the empire;
the eager pursuit of religious controversy afforded a new occupation
to the busy idleness of the metropolis; and we may credit the
assertion of an intelligent observer, who describes, with some
pleasantry, the effects of their loquacious zeal. "This city," says
he, "is full of mechanics and slaves, who are all of them profound
theologians; and preach in the shops, and in the streets. If you
desire a man to change a piece of silver, he informs you, wherein the
Son differs from the Father; if you ask the price of a loaf, you are
told by way of reply, that the Son is inferior to the Father; and if
you inquire, whether the bath is ready, the answer is, that the Son
was made out of nothing." The heretics, of various denominations,
subsisted in peace under the protection of the Arians of
Constantinople; who endeavored to secure the attachment of those
obscure sectaries, while they abused, with unrelenting severity, the
victory which they had obtained over the followers of the council of
Nice. During the partial reigns of Constantius and Valens, the feeble
remnant of the Homoousians was deprived of the public and private
exercise of their religion; and it has been observed, in pathetic
language, that the scattered flock was left without a shepherd to
wander on the mountains, or to be devoured by rapacious wolves. But,
as their zeal, instead of being subdued, derived strength and vigor
from oppression, they seized the first moments of imperfect freedom,
which they had acquired by the death of Valens, to form themselves
into a regular congregation, under the conduct of an episcopal pastor.
Two natives of Cappadocia, Basil, and Gregory Nazianzen, were
distinguished above all their contemporaries, by the rare union of
profane eloquence and of orthodox piety. These orators, who might
sometimes be compared, by themselves, and by the public, to the most
celebrated of the ancient Greeks, were united by the ties of the
strictest friendship. They had cultivated, with equal ardor, the same
liberal studies in the schools of Athens; they had retired, with equal
devotion, to the same solitude in the deserts of Pontus; and every
spark of emulation, or envy, appeared to be totally extinguished in
the holy and ingenuous breasts of Gregory and Basil. But the
exaltation of Basil, from a private life to the archiepiscopal throne
of Cæsarea, discovered to the world, and perhaps to himself, the pride
of his character; and the first favor which he condescended to bestow
on his friend, was received, and perhaps was intended, as a cruel
insult. Instead of employing the superior talents of Gregory in some
useful and conspicuous station, the haughty prelate selected, among
the fifty bishoprics of his extensive province, the wretched village
of Sasima, without water, without verdure, without society, situate at
the junction of three highways, and frequented only by the incessant
passage of rude and clamorous wagoners. Gregory submitted with
reluctance to this humiliating exile; he was ordained bishop of
Sasima; but he solemnly protests, that he never consummated his
spiritual marriage with this disgusting bride. He afterwards consented
to undertake the government of his native church of Nazianzus, of
which his father had been bishop above five-and-forty years. But as he
was still conscious that he deserved another audience, and another
theatre, he accepted, with no unworthy ambition, the honorable
invitation, which was addressed to him from the orthodox party of
Constantinople. On his arrival in the capital, Gregory was entertained
in the house of a pious and charitable kinsman; the most spacious room
was consecrated to the uses of religious worship; and the name of
Anastasia
was chosen to express the resurrection of the Nicene faith. This
private conventicle was afterwards converted into a magnificent
church; and the credulity of the succeeding age was prepared to
believe the miracles and visions, which attested the presence, or at
least the protection, of the Mother of God. The pulpit of the
Anastasia was the scene of the labors and triumphs of Gregory
Nazianzen; and, in the space of two years, he experienced all the
spiritual adventures which constitute the prosperous or adverse
fortunes of a missionary. The Arians, who were provoked by the
boldness of his enterprise, represented his doctrine, as if he had
preached three distinct and equal Deities; and the devout populace was
excited to suppress, by violence and tumult, the irregular assemblies
of the Athanasian heretics. From the cathedral of St. Sophia there
issued a motley crowd "of common beggars, who had forfeited their
claim to pity; of monks, who had the appearance of goats or satyrs;
and of women, more terrible than so many Jezebels." The doors of the
Anastasia were broke open; much mischief was perpetrated, or
attempted, with sticks, stones, and firebrands; and as a man lost his
life in the affray, Gregory, who was summoned the next morning before
the magistrate, had the satisfaction of supposing, that he publicly
confessed the name of Christ. After he was delivered from the fear and
danger of a foreign enemy, his infant church was disgraced and
distracted by intestine faction. A stranger who assumed the name of
Maximus, and the cloak of a Cynic philosopher, insinuated himself into
the confidence of Gregory; deceived and abused his favorable opinion;
and forming a secret connection with some bishops of Egypt, attempted,
by a clandestine ordination, to supplant his patron in the episcopal
seat of Constantinople. These mortifications might sometimes tempt the
Cappadocian missionary to regret his obscure solitude. But his
fatigues were rewarded by the daily increase of his fame and his
congregation; and he enjoyed the pleasure of observing, that the
greater part of his numerous audience retired from his sermons
satisfied with the eloquence of the preacher, or dissatisfied with the
manifold imperfections of their faith and practice.

The Catholics of Constantinople were animated with joyful confidence
by the baptism and edict of Theodosius; and they impatiently waited
the effects of his gracious promise. Their hopes were speedily
accomplished; and the emperor, as soon as he had finished the
operations of the campaign, made his public entry into the capital at
the head of a victorious army. The next day after his arrival, he
summoned Damophilus to his presence, and offered that Arian prelate
the hard alternative of subscribing the Nicene creed, or of instantly
resigning, to the orthodox believers, the use and possession of the
episcopal palace, the cathedral of St. Sophia, and all the churches of
Constantinople. The zeal of Damophilus, which in a Catholic saint
would have been justly applauded, embraced, without hesitation, a life
of poverty and exile, and his removal was immediately followed by the
purification of the Imperial city. The Arians might complain, with
some appearance of justice, that an inconsiderable congregation of
sectaries should usurp the hundred churches, which they were
insufficient to fill; whilst the far greater part of the people was
cruelly excluded from every place of religious worship. Theodosius was
still inexorable; but as the angels who protected the Catholic cause
were only visible to the eyes of faith, he prudently reënforced those
heavenly legions with the more effectual aid of temporal and carnal
weapons; and the church of St. Sophia was occupied by a large body of
the Imperial guards. If the mind of Gregory was susceptible of pride,
he must have felt a very lively satisfaction, when the emperor
conducted him through the streets in solemn triumph; and, with his own
hand, respectfully placed him on the archiepiscopal throne of
Constantinople. But the saint (who had not subdued the imperfections
of human virtue) was deeply affected by the mortifying consideration,
that his entrance into the fold was that of a wolf, rather than of a
shepherd; that the glittering arms which surrounded his person, were
necessary for his safety; and that he alone was the object of the
imprecations of a great party, whom, as men and citizens, it was
impossible for him to despise. He beheld the innumerable multitude of
either sex, and of every age, who crowded the streets, the windows,
and the roofs of the houses; he heard the tumultuous voice of rage,
grief, astonishment, and despair; and Gregory fairly confesses, that
on the memorable day of his installation, the capital of the East wore
the appearance of a city taken by storm, and in the hands of a
Barbarian conqueror. About six weeks afterwards, Theodosius declared
his resolution of expelling from all the churches of his dominions the
bishops and their clergy who should obstinately refuse to believe, or
at least to profess, the doctrine of the council of Nice. His
lieutenant, Sapor, was armed with the ample powers of a general law, a
special commission, and a military force; and this ecclesiastical
revolution was conducted with so much discretion and vigor, that the
religion of the emperor was established, without tumult or bloodshed,
in all the provinces of the East. The writings of the Arians, if they
had been permitted to exist, would perhaps contain the lamentable
story of the persecution, which afflicted the church under the reign
of the impious Theodosius; and the sufferings of their
holy confessors might claim the pity of the disinterested reader. Yet
there is reason to imagine, that the violence of zeal and revenge was,
in some measure, eluded by the want of resistance; and that, in their
adversity, the Arians displayed much less firmness than had been
exerted by the orthodox party under the reigns of Constantius and
Valens. The moral character and conduct of the hostile sects appear to
have been governed by the same common principles of nature and
religion: but a very material circumstance may be discovered, which
tended to distinguish the degrees of their theological faith. Both
parties, in the schools, as well as in the temples, acknowledged and
worshipped the divine majesty of Christ; and, as we are always prone
to impute our own sentiments and passions to the Deity, it would be
deemed more prudent and respectful to exaggerate, than to
circumscribe, the adorable perfections of the Son of God. The disciple
of Athanasius exulted in the proud confidence, that he had entitled
himself to the divine favor; while the follower of Arius must have
been tormented by the secret apprehension, that he was guilty,
perhaps, of an unpardonable offence, by the scanty praise, and
parsimonious honors, which he bestowed on the Judge of the World. The
opinions of Arianism might satisfy a cold and speculative mind: but
the doctrine of the Nicene creed, most powerfully recommended by the
merits of faith and devotion, was much better adapted to become
popular and successful in a believing age.

The hope, that truth and wisdom would be found in the assemblies of
the orthodox clergy, induced the emperor to convene, at
Constantinople, a synod of one hundred and fifty bishops, who
proceeded, without much difficulty or delay, to complete the
theological system which had been established in the council of Nice.
The vehement disputes of the fourth century had been chiefly employed
on the nature of the Son of God; and the various opinions which were
embraced, concerning the Second
, were extended and transferred, by a natural analogy, to the Third
person of the Trinity. Yet it was found, or it was thought, necessary,
by the victorious adversaries of Arianism, to explain the ambiguous
language of some respectable doctors; to confirm the faith of the
Catholics; and to condemn an unpopular and inconsistent sect of
Macedonians; who freely admitted that the Son was consubstantial to
the Father, while they were fearful of seeming to acknowledge the
existence of Three Gods. A final and unanimous sentence was pronounced
to ratify the equal Deity of the Holy Ghost: the mysterious doctrine
has been received by all the nations, and all the churches of the
Christian world; and their grateful reverence has assigned to the
bishops of Theodosius the second rank among the general councils.
Their knowledge of religious truth may have been preserved by
tradition, or it may have been communicated by inspiration; but the
sober evidence of history will not allow much weight to the personal
authority of the Fathers of Constantinople. In an age when the
ecclesiastics had scandalously degenerated from the model of apostolic
purity, the most worthless and corrupt were always the most eager to
frequent, and disturb, the episcopal assemblies. The conflict and
fermentation of so many opposite interests and tempers inflamed the
passions of the bishops: and their ruling passions were, the love of
gold, and the love of dispute. Many of the same prelates who now
applauded the orthodox piety of Theodosius, had repeatedly changed,
with prudent flexibility, their creeds and opinions; and in the
various revolutions of the church and state, the religion of their
sovereign was the rule of their obsequious faith. When the emperor
suspended his prevailing influence, the turbulent synod was blindly
impelled by the absurd or selfish motives of pride, hatred, or
resentment. The death of Meletius, which happened at the council of
Constantinople, presented the most favorable opportunity of
terminating the schism of Antioch, by suffering his aged rival,
Paulinus, peaceably to end his days in the episcopal chair. The faith
and virtues of Paulinus were unblemished. But his cause was supported
by the Western churches; and the bishops of the synod resolved to
perpetuate the mischiefs of discord, by the hasty ordination of a
perjured candidate, rather than to betray the imagined dignity of the
East, which had been illustrated by the birth and death of the Son of
God. Such unjust and disorderly proceedings forced the gravest members
of the assembly to dissent and to secede; and the clamorous majority
which remained masters of the field of battle, could be compared only
to wasps or magpies, to a flight of cranes, or to a flock of geese.

A suspicion may possibly arise, that so unfavorable a picture of
ecclesiastical synods has been drawn by the partial hand of some
obstinate heretic, or some malicious infidel. But the name of the
sincere historian who has conveyed this instructive lesson to the
knowledge of posterity, must silence the impotent murmurs of
superstition and bigotry. He was one of the most pious and eloquent
bishops of the age; a saint, and a doctor of the church; the scourge
of Arianism, and the pillar of the orthodox faith; a distinguished
member of the council of Constantinople, in which, after the death of
Meletius, he exercised the functions of president; in a word --
Gregory Nazianzen himself. The harsh and ungenerous treatment which he
experienced, instead of derogating from the truth of his evidence,
affords an additional proof of the spirit which actuated the
deliberations of the synod. Their unanimous suffrage had confirmed the
pretensions which the bishop of Constantinople derived from the choice
of the people, and the approbation of the emperor. But Gregory soon
became the victim of malice and envy. The bishops of the East, his
strenuous adherents, provoked by his moderation in the affairs of
Antioch, abandoned him, without support, to the adverse faction of the
Egyptians; who disputed the validity of his election, and rigorously
asserted the obsolete canon, that prohibited the licentious practice
of episcopal translations. The pride, or the humility, of Gregory
prompted him to decline a contest which might have been imputed to
ambition and avarice; and he publicly offered, not without some
mixture of indignation, to renounce the government of a church which
had been restored, and almost created, by his labors. His resignation
was accepted by the synod, and by the emperor, with more readiness
than he seems to have expected. At the time when he might have hoped
to enjoy the fruits of his victory, his episcopal throne was filled by
the senator Nectarius; and the new archbishop, accidentally
recommended by his easy temper and venerable aspect, was obliged to
delay the ceremony of his consecration, till he had previously
despatched the rites of his baptism. After this remarkable experience
of the ingratitude of princes and prelates, Gregory retired once more
to his obscure solitude of Cappadocia; where he employed the remainder
of his life, about eight years, in the exercises of poetry and
devotion. The title of Saint has been added to his name: but the
tenderness of his heart, and the elegance of his genius, reflect a
more pleasing lustre on the memory of Gregory Nazianzen.

It was not enough that Theodosius had suppressed the insolent reign of
Arianism, or that he had abundantly revenged the injuries which the
Catholics sustained from the zeal of Constantius and Valens. The
orthodox emperor considered every heretic as a rebel against the
supreme powers of heaven and of earth; and each of those powers might
exercise their peculiar jurisdiction over the soul and body of the
guilty. The decrees of the council of Constantinople had ascertained
the true standard of the faith; and the ecclesiastics, who governed
the conscience of Theodosius, suggested the most effectual methods of
persecution. In the space of fifteen years, he promulgated at least
fifteen severe edicts against the heretics; more especially against
those who rejected the doctrine of the Trinity; and to deprive them of
every hope of escape, he sternly enacted, that if any laws or
rescripts should be alleged in their favor, the judges should consider
them as the illegal productions either of fraud or forgery. The penal
statutes were directed against the ministers, the assemblies, and the
persons of the heretics; and the passions of the legislator were
expressed in the language of declamation and invective. I. The
heretical teachers, who usurped the sacred titles of Bishops, or
Presbyters, were not only excluded from the privileges and emoluments
so liberally granted to the orthodox clergy, but they were exposed to
the heavy penalties of exile and confiscation, if they presumed to
preach the doctrine, or to practise the rites, of their accursed
sects. A fine of ten pounds of gold (above four hundred pounds
sterling) was imposed on every person who should dare to confer, or
receive, or promote, an heretical ordination: and it was reasonably
expected, that if the race of pastors could be extinguished, their
helpless flocks would be compelled, by ignorance and hunger, to return
within the pale of the Catholic church. II. The rigorous prohibition
of conventicles was carefully extended to every possible circumstance,
in which the heretics could assemble with the intention of worshipping
God and Christ according to the dictates of their conscience. Their
religious meetings, whether public or secret, by day or by night, in
cities or in the country, were equally proscribed by the edicts of
Theodosius; and the building, or ground, which had been used for that
illegal purpose, was forfeited to the Imperial domain. III. It was
supposed, that the error of the heretics could proceed only from the
obstinate temper of their minds; and that such a temper was a fit
object of censure and punishment. The anathemas of the church were
fortified by a sort of civil excommunication; which separated them
from their fellow- citizens, by a peculiar brand of infamy; and this
declaration of the supreme magistrate tended to justify, or at least
to excuse, the insults of a fanatic populace. The sectaries were
gradually disqualified from the possession of honorable or lucrative
employments; and Theodosius was satisfied with his own justice, when
he decreed, that, as the Eunomians distinguished the nature of the Son
from that of the Father, they should be incapable of making their
wills or of receiving any advantage from testamentary donations. The
guilt of the Manichæan heresy was esteemed of such magnitude, that it
could be expiated only by the death of the offender; and the same
capital punishment was inflicted on the Audians, or Quartodecimans,
who should dare to perpetrate the atrocious crime of celebrating on an
improper day the festival of Easter. Every Roman might exercise the
right of public accusation; but the office of Inquisitors of the
Faith, a name so deservedly abhorred, was first instituted under the
reign of Theodosius. Yet we are assured, that the execution of his
penal edicts was seldom enforced; and that the pious emperor appeared
less desirous to punish, than to reclaim, or terrify, his refractory
subjects.

The theory of persecution was established by Theodosius, whose justice
and piety have been applauded by the saints: but the practice of it,
in the fullest extent, was reserved for his rival and colleague,
Maximus, the first, among the Christian princes, who shed the blood of
his Christian subjects on account of their religious opinions. The
cause of the Priscillianists, a recent sect of heretics, who disturbed
the provinces of Spain, was transferred, by appeal, from the synod of
Bordeaux to the Imperial consistory of Treves; and by the sentence of
the Prætorian præfect, seven persons were tortured, condemned, and
executed. The first of these was Priscillian himself, bishop of Avila,
in Spain; who adorned the advantages of birth and fortune, by the
accomplishments of eloquence and learning. Two presbyters, and two
deacons, accompanied their beloved master in his death, which they
esteemed as a glorious martyrdom; and the number of religious victims
was completed by the execution of Latronian, a poet, who rivalled the
fame of the ancients; and of Euchrocia, a noble matron of Bordeaux,
the widow of the orator Delphidius. Two bishops who had embraced the
sentiments of Priscillian, were condemned to a distant and dreary
exile; and some indulgence was shown to the meaner criminals, who
assumed the merit of an early repentance. If any credit could be
allowed to confessions extorted by fear or pain, and to vague reports,
the offspring of malice and credulity, the heresy of the
Priscillianists would be found to include the various abominations of
magic, of impiety, and of lewdness. Priscillian, who wandered about
the world in the company of his spiritual sisters, was accused of
praying stark naked in the midst of the congregation; and it was
confidently asserted, that the effects of his criminal intercourse
with the daughter of Euchrocia had been suppressed, by means still
more odious and criminal. But an accurate, or rather a candid, inquiry
will discover, that if the Priscillianists violated the laws of
nature, it was not by the licentiousness, but by the austerity, of
their lives. They absolutely condemned the use of the marriage-bed;
and the peace of families was often disturbed by indiscreet
separations. They enjoyed, or recommended, a total abstinence from all
anima food; and their continual prayers, fasts, and vigils, inculcated
a rule of strict and perfect devotion. The speculative tenets of the
sect, concerning the person of Christ, and the nature of the human
soul, were derived from the Gnostic and Manichæan system; and this
vain philosophy, which had been transported from Egypt to Spain, was
ill adapted to the grosser spirits of the West. The obscure disciples
of Priscillian suffered languished, and gradually disappeared: his
tenets were rejected by the clergy and people, but his death was the
subject of a long and vehement controversy; while some arraigned, and
others applauded, the justice of his sentence. It is with pleasure
that we can observe the humane inconsistency of the most illustrious
saints and bishops, Ambrose of Milan, and Martin of Tours, who, on
this occasion, asserted the cause of toleration. They pitied the
unhappy men, who had been executed at Treves; they refused to hold
communion with their episcopal murderers; and if Martin deviated from
that generous resolution, his motives were laudable, and his
repentance was exemplary. The bishops of Tours and Milan pronounced,
without hesitation, the eternal damnation of heretics; but they were
surprised, and shocked, by the bloody image of their temporal death,
and the honest feelings of nature resisted the artificial prejudices
of theology. The humanity of Ambrose and Martin was confirmed by the
scandalous irregularity of the proceedings against Priscillian and his
adherents. The civil and ecclesiastical ministers had transgressed the
limits of their respective provinces. The secular judge had presumed
to receive an appeal, and to pronounce a definitive sentence, in a
matter of faith, and episcopal jurisdiction. The bishops had disgraced
themselves, by exercising the functions of accusers in a criminal
prosecution. The cruelty of Ithacius, who beheld the tortures, and
solicited the death, of the heretics, provoked the just indignation of
mankind; and the vices of that profligate bishop were admitted as a
proof, that his zeal was instigated by the sordid motives of interest.
Since the death of Priscillian, the rude attempts of persecution have
been refined and methodized in the holy office, which assigns their
distinct parts to the ecclesiastical and secular powers. The devoted
victim is regularly delivered by the priest to the magistrate, and by
the magistrate to the executioner; and the inexorable sentence of the
church, which declares the spiritual guilt of the offender, is
expressed in the mild language of pity and intercession.

Chapter XXVII: Civil Wars, Reign Of Theodosius. -- Part III.

Among the ecclesiastics, who illustrated the reign of Theodosius,
Gregory Nazianzen was distinguished by the talents of an eloquent
preacher; the reputation of miraculous gifts added weight and dignity
to the monastic virtues of Martin of Tours; but the palm of episcopal
vigor and ability was justly claimed by the intrepid Ambrose. He was
descended from a noble family of Romans; his father had exercised the
important office of Prætorian præfect of Gaul; and the son, after
passing through the studies of a liberal education, attained, in the
regular gradation of civil honors, the station of consular of Liguria,
a province which included the Imperial residence of Milan. At the age
of thirty-four, and before he had received the sacrament of baptism,
Ambrose, to his own surprise, and to that of the world, was suddenly
transformed from a governor to an archbishop. Without the least
mixture, as it is said, of art or intrigue, the whole body of the
people unanimously saluted him with the episcopal title; the concord
and perseverance of their acclamations were ascribed to a
præternatural impulse; and the reluctant magistrate was compelled to
undertake a spiritual office, for which he was not prepared by the
habits and occupations of his former life. But the active force of his
genius soon qualified him to exercise, with zeal and prudence, the
duties of his ecclesiastical jurisdiction; and while he cheerfully
renounced the vain and splendid trappings of temporal greatness, he
condescended, for the good of the church, to direct the conscience of
the emperors, and to control the administration of the empire. Gratian
loved and revered him as a father; and the elaborate treatise on the
faith of the Trinity was designed for the instruction of the young
prince. After his tragic death, at a time when the empress Justina
trembled for her own safety, and for that of her son Valentinian, the
archbishop of Milan was despatched, on two different embassies, to the
court of Treves. He exercised, with equal firmness and dexterity, the
powers of his spiritual and political characters; and perhaps
contributed, by his authority and eloquence, to check the ambition of
Maximus, and to protect the peace of Italy. Ambrose had devoted his
life, and his abilities, to the service of the church. Wealth was the
object of his contempt; he had renounced his private patrimony; and he
sold, without hesitation, the consecrated plate, for the redemption of
captives. The clergy and people of Milan were attached to their
archbishop; and he deserved the esteem, without soliciting the favor,
or apprehending the displeasure, of his feeble sovereigns.

The government of Italy, and of the young emperor, naturally devolved
to his mother Justina, a woman of beauty and spirit, but who, in the
midst of an orthodox people, had the misfortune of professing the
Arian heresy, which she endeavored to instil into the mind of her son.
Justina was persuaded, that a Roman emperor might claim, in his own
dominions, the public exercise of his religion; and she proposed to
the archbishop, as a moderate and reasonable concession, that he
should resign the use of a single church, either in the city or the
suburbs of Milan. But the conduct of Ambrose was governed by very
different principles. The palaces of the earth might indeed belong to
Cæsar; but the churches were the houses of God; and, within the limits
of his diocese, he himself, as the lawful successor of the apostles,
was the only minister of God. The privileges of Christianity, temporal
as well as spiritual, were confined to the true believers; and the
mind of Ambrose was satisfied, that his own theological opinions were
the standard of truth and orthodoxy. The archbishop, who refused to
hold any conference, or negotiation, with the instruments of Satan,
declared, with modest firmness, his resolution to die a martyr, rather
than to yield to the impious sacrilege; and Justina, who resented the
refusal as an act of insolence and rebellion, hastily determined to
exert the Imperial prerogative of her son. As she desired to perform
her public devotions on the approaching festival of Easter, Ambrose
was ordered to appear before the council. He obeyed the summons with
the respect of a faithful subject, but he was followed, without his
consent, by an innumerable people they pressed, with impetuous zeal,
against the gates of the palace; and the affrighted ministers of
Valentinian, instead of pronouncing a sentence of exile on the
archbishop of Milan, humbly requested that he would interpose his
authority, to protect the person of the emperor, and to restore the
tranquility of the capital. But the promises which Ambrose received
and communicated were soon violated by a perfidious court; and, during
six of the most solemn days, which Christian piety had set apart for
the exercise of religion, the city was agitated by the irregular
convulsions of tumult and fanaticism. The officers of the household
were directed to prepare, first, the Portian, and afterwards, the new,
Basilica, for the immediate reception of the emperor and his mother.
The splendid canopy and hangings of the royal seat were arranged in
the customary manner; but it was found necessary to defend them. by a
strong guard, from the insults of the populace. The Arian
ecclesiastics, who ventured to show themselves in the streets, were
exposed to the most imminent danger of their lives; and Ambrose
enjoyed the merit and reputation of rescuing his personal enemies from
the hands of the enraged multitude.

But while he labored to restrain the effects of their zeal, the
pathetic vehemence of his sermons continually inflamed the angry and
seditious temper of the people of Milan. The characters of Eve, of the
wife of Job, of Jezebel, of Herodias, were indecently applied to the
mother of the emperor; and her desire to obtain a church for the
Arians was compared to the most cruel persecutions which Christianity
had endured under the reign of Paganism. The measures of the court
served only to expose the magnitude of the evil. A fine of two hundred
pounds of gold was imposed on the corporate body of merchants and
manufacturers: an order was signified, in the name of the emperor, to
all the officers, and inferior servants, of the courts of justice,
that, during the continuance of the public disorders, they should
strictly confine themselves to their houses; and the ministers of
Valentinian imprudently confessed, that the most respectable part of
the citizens of Milan was attached to the cause of their archbishop.
He was again solicited to restore peace to his country, by timely
compliance with the will of his sovereign. The reply of Ambrose was
couched in the most humble and respectful terms, which might, however,
be interpreted as a serious declaration of civil war. "His life and
fortune were in the hands of the emperor; but he would never betray
the church of Christ, or degrade the dignity of the episcopal
character. In such a cause he was prepared to suffer whatever the
malice of the dæmon could inflict; and he only wished to die in the
presence of his faithful flock, and at the foot of the altar; he had
not contributed to excite, but it was in the power of God alone to
appease, the rage of the people: he deprecated the scenes of blood and
confusion which were likely to ensue; and it was his fervent prayer,
that he might not survive to behold the ruin of a flourishing city,
and perhaps the desolation of all Italy." The obstinate bigotry of
Justina would have endangered the empire of her son, if, in this
contest with the church and people of Milan, she could have depended
on the active obedience of the troops of the palace. A large body of
Goths had marched to occupy the Basilica
, which was the object of the dispute: and it might be expected from
the Arian principles, and barbarous manners, of these foreign
mercenaries, that they would not entertain any scruples in the
execution of the most sanguinary orders. They were encountered, on the
sacred threshold, by the archbishop, who, thundering against them a
sentence of excommunication, asked them, in the tone of a father and a
master, whether it was to invade the house of God, that they had
implored the hospitable protection of the republic. The suspense of
the Barbarians allowed some hours for a more effectual negotiation;
and the empress was persuaded, by the advice of her wisest
counsellors, to leave the Catholics in possession of all the churches
of Milan; and to dissemble, till a more convenient season, her
intentions of revenge. The mother of Valentinian could never forgive
the triumph of Ambrose; and the royal youth uttered a passionate
exclamation, that his own servants were ready to betray him into the
hands of an insolent priest.

The laws of the empire, some of which were inscribed with the name of
Valentinian, still condemned the Arian heresy, and seemed to excuse
the resistance of the Catholics. By the influence of Justina, an edict
of toleration was promulgated in all the provinces which were subject
to the court of Milan; the free exercise of their religion was granted
to those who professed the faith of Rimini; and the emperor declared,
that all persons who should infringe this sacred and salutary
constitution, should be capitally punished, as the enemies of the
public peace. The character and language of the archbishop of Milan
may justify the suspicion, that his conduct soon afforded a reasonable
ground, or at least a specious pretence, to the Arian ministers; who
watched the opportunity of surprising him in some act of disobedience
to a law which he strangely represents as a law of blood and tyranny.
A sentence of easy and honorable banishment was pronounced, which
enjoined Ambrose to depart from Milan without delay; whilst it
permitted him to choose the place of his exile, and the number of his
companions. But the authority of the saints, who have preached and
practised the maxims of passive loyalty, appeared to Ambrose of less
moment than the extreme and pressing danger of the church. He boldly
refused to obey; and his refusal was supported by the unanimous
consent of his faithful people. They guarded by turns the person of
their archbishop; the gates of the cathedral and the episcopal palace
were strongly secured; and the Imperial troops, who had formed the
blockade, were unwilling to risk the attack, of that impregnable
fortress. The numerous poor, who had been relieved by the liberality
of Ambrose, embraced the fair occasion of signalizing their zeal and
gratitude; and as the patience of the multitude might have been
exhausted by the length and uniformity of nocturnal vigils, he
prudently introduced into the church of Milan the useful institution
of a loud and regular psalmody. While he maintained this arduous
contest, he was instructed, by a dream, to open the earth in a place
where the remains of two martyrs, Gervasius and Protasius, had been
deposited above three hundred years. Immediately under the pavement of
the church two perfect skeletons were found, with the heads separated
from their bodies, and a plentiful effusion of blood. The holy relics
were presented, in solemn pomp, to the veneration of the people; and
every circumstance of this fortunate discovery was admirably adapted
to promote the designs of Ambrose. The bones of the martyrs, their
blood, their garments, were supposed to contain a healing power; and
the præternatural influence was communicated to the most distant
objects, without losing any part of its original virtue. The
extraordinary cure of a blind man, and the reluctant confessions of
several dæmoniacs, appeared to justify the faith and sanctity of
Ambrose; and the truth of those miracles is attested by Ambrose
himself, by his secretary Paulinus, and by his proselyte, the
celebrated Augustin, who, at that time, professed the art of rhetoric
in Milan. The reason of the present age may possibly approve the
incredulity of Justina and her Arian court; who derided the theatrical
representations which were exhibited by the contrivance, and at the
expense, of the archbishop. Their effect, however, on the minds of the
people, was rapid and irresistible; and the feeble sovereign of Italy
found himself unable to contend with the favorite of Heaven. The
powers likewise of the earth interposed in the defence of Ambrose: the
disinterested advice of Theodosius was the genuine result of piety and
friendship; and the mask of religious zeal concealed the hostile and
ambitious designs of the tyrant of Gaul.

The reign of Maximus might have ended in peace and prosperity, could
he have contented himself with the possession of three ample
countries, which now constitute the three most flourishing kingdoms of
modern Europe. But the aspiring usurper, whose sordid ambition was not
dignified by the love of glory and of arms, considered his actual
forces as the instruments only of his future greatness, and his
success was the immediate cause of his destruction. The wealth which
he extorted from the oppressed provinces of Gaul, Spain, and Britain,
was employed in levying and maintaining a formidable army of
Barbarians, collected, for the most part, from the fiercest nations of
Germany. The conquest of Italy was the object of his hopes and
preparations: and he secretly meditated the ruin of an innocent youth,
whose government was abhorred and despised by his Catholic subjects.
But as Maximus wished to occupy, without resistance, the passes of the
Alps, he received, with perfidious smiles, Domninus of Syria, the
ambassador of Valentinian, and pressed him to accept the aid of a
considerable body of troops, for the service of a Pannonian war. The
penetration of Ambrose had discovered the snares of an enemy under the
professions of friendship; but the Syrian Domninus was corrupted, or
deceived, by the liberal favor of the court of Treves; and the council
of Milan obstinately rejected the suspicion of danger, with a blind
confidence, which was the effect, not of courage, but of fear. The
march of the auxiliaries was guided by the ambassador; and they were
admitted, without distrust, into the fortresses of the Alps. But the
crafty tyrant followed, with hasty and silent footsteps, in the rear;
and, as he diligently intercepted all intelligence of his motions, the
gleam of armor, and the dust excited by the troops of cavalry, first
announced the hostile approach of a stranger to the gates of Milan. In
this extremity, Justina and her son might accuse their own imprudence,
and the perfidious arts of Maximus; but they wanted time, and force,
and resolution, to stand against the Gauls and Germans, either in the
field, or within the walls of a large and disaffected city. Flight was
their only hope, Aquileia their only refuge; and as Maximus now
displayed his genuine character, the brother of Gratian might expect
the same fate from the hands of the same assassin. Maximus entered
Milan in triumph; and if the wise archbishop refused a dangerous and
criminal connection with the usurper, he might indirectly contribute
to the success of his arms, by inculcating, from the pulpit, the duty
of resignation, rather than that of resistance. The unfortunate
Justina reached Aquileia in safety; but she distrusted the strength of
the fortifications: she dreaded the event of a siege; and she resolved
to implore the protection of the great Theodosius, whose power and
virtue were celebrated in all the countries of the West. A vessel was
secretly provided to transport the Imperial family; they embarked with
precipitation in one of the obscure harbors of Venetia, or Istria;
traversed the whole extent of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas; turned the
extreme promontory of Peloponnesus; and, after a long, but successful
navigation, reposed themselves in the port of Thessalonica. All the
subjects of Valentinian deserted the cause of a prince, who, by his
abdication, had absolved them from the duty of allegiance; and if the
little city of Æmona, on the verge of Italy, had not presumed to stop
the career of his inglorious victory, Maximus would have obtained,
without a struggle, the sole possession of the Western empire.

Instead of inviting his royal guests to take the palace of
Constantinople, Theodosius had some unknown reasons to fix their
residence at Thessalonica; but these reasons did not proceed from
contempt or indifference, as he speedily made a visit to that city,
accompanied by the greatest part of his court and senate. After the
first tender expressions of friendship and sympathy, the pious emperor
of the East gently admonished Justina, that the guilt of heresy was
sometimes punished in this world, as well as in the next; and that the
public profession of the Nicene faith would be the most efficacious
step to promote the restoration of her son, by the satisfaction which
it must occasion both on earth and in heaven. The momentous question
of peace or war was referred, by Theodosius, to the deliberation of
his council; and the arguments which might be alleged on the side of
honor and justice, had acquired, since the death of Gratian, a
considerable degree of additional weight. The persecution of the
Imperial family, to which Theodosius himself had been indebted for his
fortune, was now aggravated by recent and repeated injuries. Neither
oaths nor treaties could restrain the boundless ambition of Maximus;
and the delay of vigorous and decisive measures, instead of prolonging
the blessings of peace, would expose the Eastern empire to the danger
of a hostile invasion. The Barbarians, who had passed the Danube, had
lately assumed the character of soldiers and subjects, but their
native fierceness was yet untamed: and the operations of a war, which
would exercise their valor, and diminish their numbers, might tend to
relieve the provinces from an intolerable oppression. Notwithstanding
these specious and solid reasons, which were approved by a majority of
the council, Theodosius still hesitated whether he should draw the
sword in a contest which could no longer admit any terms of
reconciliation; and his magnanimous character was not disgraced by the
apprehensions which he felt for the safety of his infant sons, and the
welfare of his exhausted people. In this moment of anxious doubt,
while the fate of the Roman world depended on the resolution of a
single man, the charms of the princess Galla most powerfully pleaded
the cause of her brother Valentinian. The heart of Theodosius was
softened by the tears of beauty; his affections were insensibly
engaged by the graces of youth and innocence: the art of Justina
managed and directed the impulse of passion; and the celebration of
the royal nuptials was the assurance and signal of the civil war. The
unfeeling critics, who consider every amorous weakness as an indelible
stain on the memory of a great and orthodox emperor, are inclined, on
this occasion, to dispute the suspicious evidence of the historian
Zosimus. For my own part, I shall frankly confess, that I am willing
to find, or even to seek, in the revolutions of the world, some traces
of the mild and tender sentiments of domestic life; and amidst the
crowd of fierce and ambitious conquerors, I can distinguish, with
peculiar complacency, a gentle hero, who may be supposed to receive
his armor from the hands of love. The alliance of the Persian king was
secured by the faith of treaties; the martial Barbarians were
persuaded to follow the standard, or to respect the frontiers, of an
active and liberal monarch; and the dominions of Theodosius, from the
Euphrates to the Adriatic, resounded with the preparations of war both
by land and sea. The skilful disposition of the forces of the East
seemed to multiply their numbers, and distracted the attention of
Maximus. He had reason to fear, that a chosen body of troops, under
the command of the intrepid Arbogastes, would direct their march along
the banks of the Danube, and boldly penetrate through the Rhætian
provinces into the centre of Gaul. A powerful fleet was equipped in
the harbors of Greece and Epirus, with an apparent design, that, as
soon as the passage had been opened by a naval victory, Valentinian
and his mother should land in Italy, proceed, without delay, to Rome,
and occupy the majestic seat of religion and empire. In the mean
while, Theodosius himself advanced at the head of a brave and
disciplined army, to encounter his unworthy rival, who, after the
siege of Æmona, * had fixed his camp in the neighborhood of Siscia, a
city of Pannonia, strongly fortified by the broad and rapid stream of
the Save.

Chapter XXVII: Civil Wars, Reign Of Theodosius. -- Part IV.

The veterans, who still remembered the long resistance, and successive
resources, of the tyrant Magnentius, might prepare themselves for the
labors of three bloody campaigns. But the contest with his successor,
who, like him, had usurped the throne of the West, was easily decided
in the term of two months, and within the space of two hundred miles.
The superior genius of the emperor of the East might prevail over the
feeble Maximus, who, in this important crisis, showed himself
destitute of military skill, or personal courage; but the abilities of
Theodosius were seconded by the advantage which he possessed of a
numerous and active cavalry. The Huns, the Alani, and, after their
example, the Goths themselves, were formed into squadrons of archers;
who fought on horseback, and confounded the steady valor of the Gauls
and Germans, by the rapid motions of a Tartar war. After the fatigue
of a long march, in the heat of summer, they spurred their foaming
horses into the waters of the Save, swam the river in the presence of
the enemy, and instantly charged and routed the troops who guarded the
high ground on the opposite side. Marcellinus, the tyrant's brother,
advanced to support them with the select cohorts, which were
considered as the hope and strength of the army. The action, which had
been interrupted by the approach of night, was renewed in the morning;
and, after a sharp conflict, the surviving remnant of the bravest
soldiers of Maximus threw down their arms at the feet of the
conqueror. Without suspending his march, to receive the loyal
acclamations of the citizens of Æmona, Theodosius pressed forwards to
terminate the war by the death or captivity of his rival, who fled
before him with the diligence of fear. From the summit of the Julian
Alps, he descended with such incredible speed into the plain of Italy,
that he reached Aquileia on the evening of the first day; and Maximus,
who found himself encompassed on all sides, had scarcely time to shut
the gates of the city. But the gates could not long resist the effort
of a victorious enemy; and the despair, the disaffection, the
indifference of the soldiers and people, hastened the downfall of the
wretched Maximus. He was dragged from his throne, rudely stripped of
the Imperial ornaments, the robe, the diadem, and the purple slippers;
and conducted, like a malefactor, to the camp and presence of
Theodosius, at a place about three miles from Aquileia. The behavior
of the emperor was not intended to insult, and he showed disposition
to pity and forgive, the tyrant of the West, who had never been his
personal enemy, and was now become the object of his contempt. Our
sympathy is the most forcibly excited by the misfortunes to which we
are exposed; and the spectacle of a proud competitor, now prostrate at
his feet, could not fail of producing very serious and solemn thoughts
in the mind of the victorious emperor. But the feeble emotion of
involuntary pity was checked by his regard for public justice, and the
memory of Gratian; and he abandoned the victim to the pious zeal of
the soldiers, who drew him out of the Imperial presence, and instantly
separated his head from his body. The intelligence of his defeat and
death was received with sincere or well-dissembled joy: his son
Victor, on whom he had conferred the title of Augustus, died by the
order, perhaps by the hand, of the bold Arbogastes; and all the
military plans of Theodosius were successfully executed. When he had
thus terminated the civil war, with less difficulty and bloodshed than
he might naturally expect, he employed the winter months of his
residence at Milan, to restore the state of the afflicted provinces;
and early in the spring he made, after the example of Constantine and
Constantius, his triumphal entry into the ancient capital of the Roman
empire.

The orator, who may be silent without danger, may praise without
difficulty, and without reluctance; and posterity will confess, that
the character of Theodosius might furnish the subject of a sincere and
ample panegyric. The wisdom of his laws, and the success of his arms,
rendered his administration respectable in the eyes both of his
subjects and of his enemies. He loved and practised the virtues of
domestic life, which seldom hold their residence in the palaces of
kings. Theodosius was chaste and temperate; he enjoyed, without
excess, the sensual and social pleasures of the table; and the warmth
of his amorous passions was never diverted from their lawful objects.
The proud titles of Imperial greatness were adorned by the tender
names of a faithful husband, an indulgent father; his uncle was
raised, by his affectionate esteem, to the rank of a second parent:
Theodosius embraced, as his own, the children of his brother and
sister; and the expressions of his regard were extended to the most
distant and obscure branches of his numerous kindred. His familiar
friends were judiciously selected from among those persons, who, in
the equal intercourse of private life, had appeared before his eyes
without a mask; the consciousness of personal and superior merit
enabled him to despise the accidental distinction of the purple; and
he proved by his conduct, that he had forgotten all the injuries,
while he most gratefully remembered all the favors and services, which
he had received before he ascended the throne of the Roman empire. The
serious or lively tone of his conversation was adapted to the age, the
rank, or the character of his subjects, whom he admitted into his
society; and the affability of his manners displayed the image of his
mind. Theodosius respected the simplicity of the good and virtuous:
every art, every talent, of a useful, or even of an innocent nature,
was rewarded by his judicious liberality; and, except the heretics,
whom he persecuted with implacable hatred, the diffusive circle of his
benevolence was circumscribed only by the limits of the human race.
The government of a mighty empire may assuredly suffice to occupy the
time, and the abilities, of a mortal: yet the diligent prince, without
aspiring to the unsuitable reputation of profound learning, always
reserved some moments of his leisure for the instructive amusement of
reading. History, which enlarged his experience, was his favorite
study. The annals of Rome, in the long period of eleven hundred years,
presented him with a various and splendid picture of human life: and
it has been particularly observed, that whenever he perused the cruel
acts of Cinna, of Marius, or of Sylla, he warmly expressed his
generous detestation of those enemies of humanity and freedom. His
disinterested opinion of past events was usefully applied as the rule
of his own actions; and Theodosius has deserved the singular
commendation, that his virtues always seemed to expand with his
fortune: the season of his prosperity was that of his moderation; and
his clemency appeared the most conspicuous after the danger and
success of a civil war. The Moorish guards of the tyrant had been
massacred in the first heat of the victory, and a small number of the
most obnoxious criminals suffered the punishment of the law. But the
emperor showed himself much more attentive to relieve the innocent
than to chastise the guilty. The oppressed subjects of the West, who
would have deemed themselves happy in the restoration of their lands,
were astonished to receive a sum of money equivalent to their losses;
and the liberality of the conqueror supported the aged mother, and
educated the orphan daughters, of Maximus. A character thus
accomplished might almost excuse the extravagant supposition of the
orator Pacatus; that, if the elder Brutus could be permitted to
revisit the earth, the stern republican would abjure, at the feet of
Theodosius, his hatred of kings; and ingenuously confess, that such a
monarch was the most faithful guardian of the happiness and dignity of
the Roman people.

Yet the piercing eye of the founder of the republic must have
discerned two essential imperfections, which might, perhaps, have
abated his recent love of despotism. The virtuous mind of Theodosius
was often relaxed by indolence, and it was sometimes inflamed by
passion. In the pursuit of an important object, his active courage was
capable of the most vigorous exertions; but, as soon as the design was
accomplished, or the danger was surmounted, the hero sunk into
inglorious repose; and, forgetful that the time of a prince is the
property of his people, resigned himself to the enjoyment of the
innocent, but trifling, pleasures of a luxurious court. The natural
disposition of Theodosius was hasty and choleric; and, in a station
where none could resist, and few would dissuade, the fatal consequence
of his resentment, the humane monarch was justly alarmed by the
consciousness of his infirmity and of his power. It was the constant
study of his life to suppress, or regulate, the intemperate sallies of
passion and the success of his efforts enhanced the merit of his
clemency. But the painful virtue which claims the merit of victory, is
exposed to the danger of defeat; and the reign of a wise and merciful
prince was polluted by an act of cruelty which would stain the annals
of Nero or Domitian. Within the space of three years, the inconsistent
historian of Theodosius must relate the generous pardon of the
citizens of Antioch, and the inhuman massacre of the people of
Thessalonica.

The lively impatience of the inhabitants of Antioch was never
satisfied with their own situation, or with the character and conduct
of their successive sovereigns. The Arian subjects of Theodosius
deplored the loss of their churches; and as three rival bishops
disputed the throne of Antioch, the sentence which decided their
pretensions excited the murmurs of the two unsuccessful congregations.
The exigencies of the Gothic war, and the inevitable expense that
accompanied the conclusion of the peace, had constrained the emperor
to aggravate the weight of the public impositions; and the provinces
of Asia, as they had not been involved in the distress were the less
inclined to contribute to the relief, of Europe. The auspicious period
now approached of the tenth year of his reign; a festival more
grateful to the soldiers, who received a liberal donative, than to the
subjects, whose voluntary offerings had been long since converted into
an extraordinary and oppressive burden. The edicts of taxation
interrupted the repose, and pleasures, of Antioch; and the tribunal of
the magistrate was besieged by a suppliant crowd; who, in pathetic,
but, at first, in respectful language, solicited the redress of their
grievances. They were gradually incensed by the pride of their haughty
rulers, who treated their complaints as a criminal resistance; their
satirical wit degenerated into sharp and angry invectives; and, from
the subordinate powers of government, the invectives of the people
insensibly rose to attack the sacred character of the emperor himself.
Their fury, provoked by a feeble opposition, discharged itself on the
images of the Imperial family, which were erected, as objects of
public veneration, in the most conspicuous places of the city. The
statues of Theodosius, of his father, of his wife Flaccilla, of his
two sons, Arcadius and Honorius, were insolently thrown down from
their pedestals, broken in pieces, or dragged with contempt through
the streets; and the indignities which were offered to the
representations of Imperial majesty, sufficiently declared the impious
and treasonable wishes of the populace. The tumult was almost
immediately suppressed by the arrival of a body of archers: and
Antioch had leisure to reflect on the nature and consequences of her
crime. According to the duty of his office, the governor of the
province despatched a faithful narrative of the whole transaction:
while the trembling citizens intrusted the confession of their crime,
and the assurances of their repentance, to the zeal of Flavian, their
bishop, and to the eloquence of the senator Hilarius, the friend, and
most probably the disciple, of Libanius; whose genius, on this
melancholy occasion, was not useless to his country. But the two
capitals, Antioch and Constantinople, were separated by the distance
of eight hundred miles; and, notwithstanding the diligence of the
Imperial posts, the guilty city was severely punished by a long and
dreadful interval of suspense. Every rumor agitated the hopes and
fears of the Antiochians, and they heard with terror, that their
sovereign, exasperated by the insult which had been offered to his own
statues, and more especially, to those of his beloved wife, had
resolved to level with the ground the offending city; and to massacre,
without distinction of age or sex, the criminal inhabitants; many of
whom were actually driven, by their apprehensions, to seek a refuge in
the mountains of Syria, and the adjacent desert. At length,
twenty-four days after the sedition, the general Hellebicus and
Cæsarius, master of the offices, declared the will of the emperor, and
the sentence of Antioch. That proud capital was degraded from the rank
of a city; and the metropolis of the East, stripped of its lands, its
privileges, and its revenues, was subjected, under the humiliating
denomination of a village, to the jurisdiction of Laodicea. The baths,
the Circus, and the theatres were shut: and, that every source of
plenty and pleasure might at the same time be intercepted, the
distribution of corn was abolished, by the severe instructions of
Theodosius. His commissioners then proceeded to inquire into the guilt
of individuals; of those who had perpetrated, and of those who had not
prevented, the destruction of the sacred statues. The tribunal of
Hellebicus and Cæsarius, encompassed with armed soldiers, was erected
in the midst of the Forum. The noblest, and most wealthy, of the
citizens of Antioch appeared before them in chains; the examination
was assisted by the use of torture, and their sentence was pronounced
or suspended, according to the judgment of these extraordinary
magistrates. The houses of the criminals were exposed to sale, their
wives and children were suddenly reduced, from affluence and luxury,
to the most abject distress; and a bloody execution was expected to
conclude the horrors of the day, which the preacher of Antioch, the
eloquent Chrysostom, has represented as a lively image of the last and
universal judgment of the world. But the ministers of Theodosius
performed, with reluctance, the cruel task which had been assigned
them; they dropped a gentle tear over the calamities of the people;
and they listened with reverence to the pressing solicitations of the
monks and hermits, who descended in swarms from the mountains.
Hellebicus and Cæsarius were persuaded to suspend the execution of
their sentence; and it was agreed that the former should remain at
Antioch, while the latter returned, with all possible speed, to
Constantinople; and presumed once more to consult the will of his
sovereign. The resentment of Theodosius had already subsided; the
deputies of the people, both the bishop and the orator, had obtained a
favorable audience; and the reproaches of the emperor were the
complaints of injured friendship, rather than the stern menaces of
pride and power. A free and general pardon was granted to the city and
citizens of Antioch; the prison doors were thrown open; the senators,
who despaired of their lives, recovered the possession of their houses
and estates; and the capital of the East was restored to the enjoyment
of her ancient dignity and splendor. Theodosius condescended to praise
the senate of Constantinople, who had generously interceded for their
distressed brethren: he rewarded the eloquence of Hilarius with the
government of Palestine; and dismissed the bishop of Antioch with the
warmest expressions of his respect and gratitude. A thousand new
statues arose to the clemency of Theodosius; the applause of his
subjects was ratified by the approbation of his own heart; and the
emperor confessed, that, if the exercise of justice is the most
important duty, the indulgence of mercy is the most exquisite
pleasure, of a sovereign.

The sedition of Thessalonica is ascribed to a more shameful cause, and
was productive of much more dreadful consequences. That great city,
the metropolis of all the Illyrian provinces, had been protected from
the dangers of the Gothic war by strong fortifications and a numerous
garrison. Botheric, the general of those troops, and, as it should
seem from his name, a Barbarian, had among his slaves a beautiful boy,
who excited the impure desires of one of the charioteers of the
Circus. The insolent and brutal lover was thrown into prison by the
order of Botheric; and he sternly rejected the importunate clamors of
the multitude, who, on the day of the public games, lamented the
absence of their favorite; and considered the skill of a charioteer as
an object of more importance than his virtue. The resentment of the
people was imbittered by some previous disputes; and, as the strength
of the garrison had been drawn away for the service of the Italian
war, the feeble remnant, whose numbers were reduced by desertion,
could not save the unhappy general from their licentious fury.
Botheric, and several of his principal officers, were inhumanly
murdered; their mangled bodies were dragged about the streets; and the
emperor, who then resided at Milan, was surprised by the intelligence
of the audacious and wanton cruelty of the people of Thessalonica. The
sentence of a dispassionate judge would have inflicted a severe
punishment on the authors of the crime; and the merit of Botheric
might contribute to exasperate the grief and indignation of his
master. The fiery and choleric temper of Theodosius was impatient of
the dilatory forms of a judicial inquiry; and he hastily resolved,
that the blood of his lieutenant should be expiated by the blood of
the guilty people. Yet his mind still fluctuated between the counsels
of clemency and of revenge; the zeal of the bishops had almost
extorted from the reluctant emperor the promise of a general pardon;
his passion was again inflamed by the flattering suggestions of his
minister Rufinus; and, after Theodosius had despatched the messengers
of death, he attempted, when it was too late, to prevent the execution
of his orders. The punishment of a Roman city was blindly committed to
the undistinguishing sword of the Barbarians; and the hostile
preparations were concerted with the dark and perfidious artifice of
an illegal conspiracy. The people of Thessalonica were treacherously
invited, in the name of their sovereign, to the games of the Circus;
and such was their insatiate avidity for those amusements, that every
consideration of fear, or suspicion, was disregarded by the numerous
spectators. As soon as the assembly was complete, the soldiers, who
had secretly been posted round the Circus, received the signal, not of
the races, but of a general massacre. The promiscuous carnage
continued three hours, without discrimination of strangers or natives,
of age or sex, of innocence or guilt; the most moderate accounts state
the number of the slain at seven thousand; and it is affirmed by some
writers that more than fifteen thousand victims were sacrificed to the
names of Botheric. A foreign merchant, who had probably no concern in
his murder, offered his own life, and all his wealth, to supply the
place of one of his two sons; but, while the father hesitated with
equal tenderness, while he was doubtful to choose, and unwilling to
condemn, the soldiers determined his suspense, by plunging their
daggers at the same moment into the breasts of the defenceless youths.
The apology of the assassins, that they were obliged to produce the
prescribed number of heads, serves only to increase, by an appearance
of order and design, the horrors of the massacre, which was executed
by the commands of Theodosius. The guilt of the emperor is aggravated
by his long and frequent residence at Thessalonica. The situation of
the unfortunate city, the aspect of the streets and buildings, the
dress and faces of the inhabitants, were familiar, and even present,
to his imagination; and Theodosius possessed a quick and lively sense
of the existence of the people whom he destroyed.

The respectful attachment of the emperor for the orthodox clergy, had
disposed him to love and admire the character of Ambrose; who united
all the episcopal virtues in the most eminent degree. The friends and
ministers of Theodosius imitated the example of their sovereign; and
he observed, with more surprise than displeasure, that all his secret
counsels were immediately communicated to the archbishop; who acted
from the laudable persuasion, that every measure of civil government
may have some connection with the glory of God, and the interest of
the true religion. The monks and populace of Callinicum, * an obscure
town on the frontier of Persia, excited by their own fanaticism, and
by that of their bishop, had tumultuously burnt a conventicle of the
Valentinians, and a synagogue of the Jews. The seditious prelate was
condemned, by the magistrate of the province, either to rebuild the
synagogue, or to repay the damage; and this moderate sentence was
confirmed by the emperor. But it was not confirmed by the archbishop
of Milan. He dictated an epistle of censure and reproach, more
suitable, perhaps, if the emperor had received the mark of
circumcision, and renounced the faith of his baptism. Ambrose
considers the toleration of the Jewish, as the persecution of the
Christian, religion; boldly declares that he himself, and every true
believer, would eagerly dispute with the bishop of Callinicum the
merit of the deed, and the crown of martyrdom; and laments, in the
most pathetic terms, that the execution of the sentence would be fatal
to the fame and salvation of Theodosius. As this private admonition
did not produce an immediate effect, the archbishop, from his pulpit,
publicly addressed the emperor on his throne; nor would he consent to
offer the oblation of the altar, till he had obtained from Theodosius
a solemn and positive declaration, which secured the impunity of the
bishop and monks of Callinicum. The recantation of Theodosius was
sincere; and, during the term of his residence at Milan, his affection
for Ambrose was continually increased by the habits of pious and
familiar conversation.

When Ambrose was informed of the massacre of Thessalonica, his mind
was filled with horror and anguish. He retired into the country to
indulge his grief, and to avoid the presence of Theodosius. But as the
archbishop was satisfied that a timid silence would render him the
accomplice of his guilt, he represented, in a private letter, the
enormity of the crime; which could only be effaced by the tears of
penitence. The episcopal vigor of Ambrose was tempered by prudence;
and he contented himself with signifying an indirect sort of
excommunication, by the assurance, that he had been warned in a vision
not to offer the oblation in the name, or in the presence, of
Theodosius; and by the advice, that he would confine himself to the
use of prayer, without presuming to approach the altar of Christ, or
to receive the holy eucharist with those hands that were still
polluted with the blood of an innocent people. The emperor was deeply
affected by his own reproaches, and by those of his spiritual father;
and after he had bewailed the mischievous and irreparable consequences
of his rash fury, he proceeded, in the accustomed manner, to perform
his devotions in the great church of Milan. He was stopped in the
porch by the archbishop; who, in the tone and language of an
ambassador of Heaven, declared to his sovereign, that private
contrition was not sufficient to atone for a public fault, or to
appease the justice of the offended Deity. Theodosius humbly
represented, that if he had contracted the guilt of homicide, David,
the man after God's own heart, had been guilty, not only of murder,
but of adultery. "You have imitated David in his crime, imitate then
his repentance," was the reply of the undaunted Ambrose. The rigorous
conditions of peace and pardon were accepted; and the public penance
of the emperor Theodosius has been recorded as one of the most
honorable events in the annals of the church. According to the mildest
rules of ecclesiastical discipline, which were established in the
fourth century, the crime of homicide was expiated by the penitence of
twenty years: and as it was impossible, in the period of human life,
to purge the accumulated guilt of the massacre of Thessalonica, the
murderer should have been excluded from the holy communion till the
hour of his death. But the archbishop, consulting the maxims of
religious policy, granted some indulgence to the rank of his
illustrious penitent, who humbled in the dust the pride of the diadem;
and the public edification might be admitted as a weighty reason to
abridge the duration of his punishment. It was sufficient, that the
emperor of the Romans, stripped of the ensigns of royalty, should
appear in a mournful and suppliant posture; and that, in the midst of
the church of Milan, he should humbly solicit, with sighs and tears,
the pardon of his sins. In this spiritual cure, Ambrose employed the
various methods of mildness and severity. After a delay of about eight
months, Theodosius was restored to the communion of the faithful; and
the edict which interposes a salutary interval of thirty days between
the sentence and the execution, may be accepted as the worthy fruits
of his repentance. Posterity has applauded the virtuous firmness of
the archbishop; and the example of Theodosius may prove the beneficial
influence of those principles, which could force a monarch, exalted
above the apprehension of human punishment, to respect the laws, and
ministers, of an invisible Judge. "The prince," says Montesquieu, "who
is actuated by the hopes and fears of religion, may be compared to a
lion, docile only to the voice, and tractable to the hand, of his
keeper." The motions of the royal animal will therefore depend on the
inclination, and interest, of the man who has acquired such dangerous
authority over him; and the priest, who holds in his hands the
conscience of a king, may inflame, or moderate, his sanguinary
passions. The cause of humanity, and that of persecution, have been
asserted, by the same Ambrose, with equal energy, and with equal
success.

Chapter XXVII: Civil Wars, Reign Of Theodosius. -- Part V.

After the defeat and death of the tyrant of Gaul, the Roman world was
in the possession of Theodosius. He derived from the choice of Gratian
his honorable title to the provinces of the East: he had acquired the
West by the right of conquest; and the three years which he spent in
Italy were usefully employed to restore the authority of the laws, and
to correct the abuses which had prevailed with impunity under the
usurpation of Maximus, and the minority of Valentinian. The name of
Valentinian was regularly inserted in the public acts: but the tender
age, and doubtful faith, of the son of Justina, appeared to require
the prudent care of an orthodox guardian; and his specious ambition
might have excluded the unfortunate youth, without a struggle, and
almost without a murmur, from the administration, and even from the
inheritance, of the empire. If Theodosius had consulted the rigid
maxims of interest and policy, his conduct would have been justified
by his friends; but the generosity of his behavior on this memorable
occasion has extorted the applause of his most inveterate enemies. He
seated Valentinian on the throne of Milan; and, without stipulating
any present or future advantages, restored him to the absolute
dominion of all the provinces, from which he had been driven by the
arms of Maximus. To the restitution of his ample patrimony, Theodosius
added the free and generous gift of the countries beyond the Alps,
which his successful valor had recovered from the assassin of Gratian.
Satisfied with the glory which he had acquired, by revenging the death
of his benefactor, and delivering the West from the yoke of tyranny,
the emperor returned from Milan to Constantinople; and, in the
peaceful possession of the East, insensibly relapsed into his former
habits of luxury and indolence. Theodosius discharged his obligation
to the brother, he indulged his conjugal tenderness to the sister, of
Valentinian; and posterity, which admires the pure and singular glory
of his elevation, must applaud his unrivalled generosity in the use of
victory.

The empress Justina did not long survive her return to Italy; and,
though she beheld the triumph of Theodosius, she was not allowed to
influence the government of her son. The pernicious attachment to the
Arian sect, which Valentinian had imbibed from her example and
instructions, was soon erased by the lessons of a more orthodox
education. His growing zeal for the faith of Nice, and his filial
reverence for the character and authority of Ambrose, disposed the
Catholics to entertain the most favorable opinion of the virtues of
the young emperor of the West. They applauded his chastity and
temperance, his contempt of pleasure, his application to business, and
his tender affection for his two sisters; which could not, however,
seduce his impartial equity to pronounce an unjust sentence against
the meanest of his subjects. But this amiable youth, before he had
accomplished the twentieth year of his age, was oppressed by domestic
treason; and the empire was again involved in the horrors of a civil
war. Arbogastes, a gallant soldier of the nation of the Franks, held
the second rank in the service of Gratian. On the death of his master
he joined the standard of Theodosius; contributed, by his valor and
military conduct, to the destruction of the tyrant; and was appointed,
after the victory, master-general of the armies of Gaul. His real
merit, and apparent fidelity, had gained the confidence both of the
prince and people; his boundless liberality corrupted the allegiance
of the troops; and, whilst he was universally esteemed as the pillar
of the state, the bold and crafty Barbarian was secretly determined
either to rule, or to ruin, the empire of the West. The important
commands of the army were distributed among the Franks; the creatures
of Arbogastes were promoted to all the honors and offices of the civil
government; the progress of the conspiracy removed every faithful
servant from the presence of Valentinian; and the emperor, without
power and without intelligence, insensibly sunk into the precarious
and dependent condition of a captive. The indignation which he
expressed, though it might arise only from the rash and impatient
temper of youth, may be candidly ascribed to the generous spirit of a
prince, who felt that he was not unworthy to reign. He secretly
invited the archbishop of Milan to undertake the office of a mediator;
as the pledge of his sincerity, and the guardian of his safety. He
contrived to apprise the emperor of the East of his helpless
situation, and he declared, that, unless Theodosius could speedily
march to his assistance, he must attempt to escape from the palace, or
rather prison, of Vienna in Gaul, where he had imprudently fixed his
residence in the midst of the hostile faction. But the hopes of relief
were distant, and doubtful: and, as every day furnished some new
provocation, the emperor, without strength or counsel, too hastily
resolved to risk an immediate contest with his powerful general. He
received Arbogastes on the throne; and, as the count approached with
some appearance of respect, delivered to him a paper, which dismissed
him from all his employments. "My authority," replied Arbogastes, with
insulting coolness, "does not depend on the smile or the frown of a
monarch;" and he contemptuously threw the paper on the ground. The
indignant monarch snatched at the sword of one of the guards, which he
struggled to draw from its scabbard; and it was not without some
degree of violence that he was prevented from using the deadly weapon
against his enemy, or against himself. A few days after this
extraordinary quarrel, in which he had exposed his resentment and his
weakness, the unfortunate Valentinian was found strangled in his
apartment; and some pains were employed to disguise the manifest guilt
of Arbogastes, and to persuade the world, that the death of the young
emperor had been the voluntary effect of his own despair. His body was
conducted with decent pomp to the sepulchre of Milan; and the
archbishop pronounced a funeral oration to commemorate his virtues and
his misfortunes. On this occasion the humanity of Ambrose tempted him
to make a singular breach in his theological system; and to comfort
the weeping sisters of Valentinian, by the firm assurance, that their
pious brother, though he had not received the sacrament of baptism,
was introduced, without difficulty, into the mansions of eternal
bliss.

The prudence of Arbogastes had prepared the success of his ambitious
designs: and the provincials, in whose breast every sentiment of
patriotism or loyalty was extinguished, expected, with tame
resignation, the unknown master, whom the choice of a Frank might
place on the Imperial throne. But some remains of pride and prejudice
still opposed the elevation of Arbogastes himself; and the judicious
Barbarian thought it more advisable to reign under the name of some
dependent Roman. He bestowed the purple on the rhetorician Eugenius;
whom he had already raised from the place of his domestic secretary to
the rank of master of the offices. In the course, both of his private
and public service, the count had always approved the attachment and
abilities of Eugenius; his learning and eloquence, supported by the
gravity of his manners, recommended him to the esteem of the people;
and the reluctance with which he seemed to ascend the throne, may
inspire a favorable prejudice of his virtue and moderation. The
ambassadors of the new emperor were immediately despatched to the
court of Theodosius, to communicate, with affected grief, the
unfortunate accident of the death of Valentinian; and, without
mentioning the name of Arbogastes, to request, that the monarch of the
East would embrace, as his lawful colleague, the respectable citizen,
who had obtained the unanimous suffrage of the armies and provinces of
the West. Theodosius was justly provoked, that the perfidy of a
Barbarian, should have destroyed, in a moment, the labors, and the
fruit, of his former victory; and he was excited by the tears of his
beloved wife, to revenge the fate of her unhappy brother, and once
more to assert by arms the violated majesty of the throne. But as the
second conquest of the West was a task of difficulty and danger, he
dismissed, with splendid presents, and an ambiguous answer, the
ambassadors of Eugenius; and almost two years were consumed in the
preparations of the civil war. Before he formed any decisive
resolution, the pious emperor was anxious to discover the will of
Heaven; and as the progress of Christianity had silenced the oracles
of Delphi and Dodona, he consulted an Egyptian monk, who possessed, in
the opinion of the age, the gift of miracles, and the knowledge of
futurity. Eutropius, one of the favorite eunuchs of the palace of
Constantinople, embarked for Alexandria, from whence he sailed up the
Nile, as far as the city of Lycopolis, or of Wolves, in the remote
province of Thebais. In the neighborhood of that city, and on the
summit of a lofty mountain, the holy John had constructed, with his
own hands, an humble cell, in which he had dwelt above fifty years,
without opening his door, without seeing the face of a woman, and
without tasting any food that had been prepared by fire, or any human
art. Five days of the week he spent in prayer and meditation; but on
Saturdays and Sundays he regularly opened a small window, and gave
audience to the crowd of suppliants who successively flowed from every
part of the Christian world. The eunuch of Theodosius approached the
window with respectful steps, proposed his questions concerning the
event of the civil war, and soon returned with a favorable oracle,
which animated the courage of the emperor by the assurance of a
bloody, but infallible victory. The accomplishment of the prediction
was forwarded by all the means that human prudence could supply. The
industry of the two master-generals, Stilicho and Timasius, was
directed to recruit the numbers, and to revive the discipline of the
Roman legions. The formidable troops of Barbarians marched under the
ensigns of their national chieftains. The Iberian, the Arab, and the
Goth, who gazed on each other with mutual astonishment, were enlisted
in the service of the same prince; * and the renowned Alaric acquired,
in the school of Theodosius, the knowledge of the art of war, which he
afterwards so fatally exerted for the destruction of Rome.

The emperor of the West, or, to speak more properly, his general
Arbogastes, was instructed by the misconduct and misfortune of
Maximus, how dangerous it might prove to extend the line of defence
against a skilful antagonist, who was free to press, or to suspend, to
contract, or to multiply, his various methods of attack. Arbogastes
fixed his station on the confines of Italy; the troops of Theodosius
were permitted to occupy, without resistance, the provinces of
Pannonia, as far as the foot of the Julian Alps; and even the passes
of the mountains were negligently, or perhaps artfully, abandoned to
the bold invader. He descended from the hills, and beheld, with some
astonishment, the formidable camp of the Gauls and Germans, that
covered with arms and tents the open country which extends to the
walls of Aquileia, and the banks of the Frigidus, or Cold River. This
narrow theatre of the war, circumscribed by the Alps and the Adriatic,
did not allow much room for the operations of military skill; the
spirit of Arbogastes would have disdained a pardon; his guilt
extinguished the hope of a negotiation; and Theodosius was impatient
to satisfy his glory and revenge, by the chastisement of the assassins
of Valentinian. Without weighing the natural and artificial obstacles
that opposed his efforts, the emperor of the East immediately attacked
the fortifications of his rivals, assigned the post of honorable
danger to the Goths, and cherished a secret wish, that the bloody
conflict might diminish the pride and numbers of the conquerors. Ten
thousand of those auxiliaries, and Bacurius, general of the Iberians,
died bravely on the field of battle. But the victory was not purchased
by their blood; the Gauls maintained their advantage; and the approach
of night protected the disorderly flight, or retreat, of the troops of
Theodosius. The emperor retired to the adjacent hills; where he passed
a disconsolate night, without sleep, without provisions, and without
hopes; except that strong assurance, which, under the most desperate
circumstances, the independent mind may derive from the contempt of
fortune and of life. The triumph of Eugenius was celebrated by the
insolent and dissolute joy of his camp; whilst the active and vigilant
Arbogastes secretly detached a considerable body of troops to occupy
the passes of the mountains, and to encompass the rear of the Eastern
army. The dawn of day discovered to the eyes of Theodosius the extent
and the extremity of his danger; but his apprehensions were soon
dispelled, by a friendly message from the leaders of those troops who
expressed their inclination to desert the standard of the tyrant. The
honorable and lucrative rewards, which they stipulated as the price of
their perfidy, were granted without hesitation; and as ink and paper
could not easily be procured, the emperor subscribed, on his own
tablets, the ratification of the treaty. The spirit of his soldiers
was revived by this seasonable reenforcement; and they again marched,
with confidence, to surprise the camp of a tyrant, whose principal
officers appeared to distrust, either the justice or the success of
his arms. In the heat of the battle, a violent tempest, such as is
often felt among the Alps, suddenly arose from the East. The army of
Theodosius was sheltered by their position from the impetuosity of the
wind, which blew a cloud of dust in the faces of the enemy, disordered
their ranks, wrested their weapons from their hands, and diverted, or
repelled, their ineffectual javelins. This accidental advantage was
skilfully improved, the violence of the storm was magnified by the
superstitious terrors of the Gauls; and they yielded without shame to
the invisible powers of heaven, who seemed to militate on the side of
the pious emperor. His victory was decisive; and the deaths of his two
rivals were distinguished only by the difference of their characters.
The rhetorician Eugenius, who had almost acquired the dominion of the
world, was reduced to implore the mercy of the conqueror; and the
unrelenting soldiers separated his head from his body as he lay
prostrate at the feet of Theodosius. Arbogastes, after the loss of a
battle, in which he had discharged the duties of a soldier and a
general, wandered several days among the mountains. But when he was
convinced that his cause was desperate, and his escape impracticable,
the intrepid Barbarian imitated the example of the ancient Romans, and
turned his sword against his own breast. The fate of the empire was
determined in a narrow corner of Italy; and the legitimate successor
of the house of Valentinian embraced the archbishop of Milan, and
graciously received the submission of the provinces of the West. Those
provinces were involved in the guilt of rebellion; while the
inflexible courage of Ambrose alone had resisted the claims of
successful usurpation. With a manly freedom, which might have been
fatal to any other subject, the archbishop rejected the gifts of
Eugenius, * declined his correspondence, and withdrew himself from
Milan, to avoid the odious presence of a tyrant, whose downfall he
predicted in discreet and ambiguous language. The merit of Ambrose was
applauded by the conqueror, who secured the attachment of the people
by his alliance with the church; and the clemency of Theodosius is
ascribed to the humane intercession of the archbishop of Milan.

After the defeat of Eugenius, the merit, as well as the authority, of
Theodosius was cheerfully acknowledged by all the inhabitants of the
Roman world. The experience of his past conduct encouraged the most
pleasing expectations of his future reign; and the age of the emperor,
which did not exceed fifty years, seemed to extend the prospect of the
public felicity. His death, only four months after his victory, was
considered by the people as an unforeseen and fatal event, which
destroyed, in a moment, the hopes of the rising generation. But the
indulgence of ease and luxury had secretly nourished the principles of
disease. The strength of Theodosius was unable to support the sudden
and violent transition from the palace to the camp; and the increasing
symptoms of a dropsy announced the speedy dissolution of the emperor.
The opinion, and perhaps the interest, of the public had confirmed the
division of the Eastern and Western empires; and the two royal youths,
Arcadius and Honorius, who had already obtained, from the tenderness
of their father, the title of Augustus, were destined to fill the
thrones of Constantinople and of Rome. Those princes were not
permitted to share the danger and glory of the civil war; but as soon
as Theodosius had triumphed over his unworthy rivals, he called his
younger son, Honorius, to enjoy the fruits of the victory, and to
receive the sceptre of the West from the hands of his dying father.
The arrival of Honorius at Milan was welcomed by a splendid exhibition
of the games of the Circus; and the emperor, though he was oppressed
by the weight of his disorder, contributed by his presence to the
public joy. But the remains of his strength were exhausted by the
painful effort which he made to assist at the spectacles of the
morning. Honorius supplied, during the rest of the day, the place of
his father; and the great Theodosius expired in the ensuing night.
Notwithstanding the recent animosities of a civil war, his death was
universally lamented. The Barbarians, whom he had vanquished and the
churchmen, by whom he had been subdued, celebrated, with loud and
sincere applause, the qualities of the deceased emperor, which
appeared the most valuable in their eyes. The Romans were terrified by
the impending dangers of a feeble and divided administration, and
every disgraceful moment of the unfortunate reigns of Arcadius and
Honorius revived the memory of their irreparable loss.

In the faithful picture of the virtues of Theodosius, his
imperfections have not been dissembled; the act of cruelty, and the
habits of indolence, which tarnished the glory of one of the greatest
of the Roman princes. An historian, perpetually adverse to the fame of
Theodosius, has exaggerated his vices, and their pernicious effects;
he boldly asserts, that every rank of subjects imitated the effeminate
manners of their sovereign; and that every species of corruption
polluted the course of public and private life; and that the feeble
restraints of order and decency were insufficient to resist the
progress of that degenerate spirit, which sacrifices, without a blush,
the consideration of duty and interest to the base indulgence of sloth
and appetite. The complaints of contemporary writers, who deplore the
increase of luxury, and depravation of manners, are commonly
expressive of their peculiar temper and situation. There are few
observers, who possess a clear and comprehensive view of the
revolutions of society; and who are capable of discovering the nice
and secret springs of action, which impel, in the same uniform
direction, the blind and capricious passions of a multitude of
individuals. If it can be affirmed, with any degree of truth, that the
luxury of the Romans was more shameless and dissolute in the reign of
Theodosius than in the age of Constantine, perhaps, or of Augustus,
the alteration cannot be ascribed to any beneficial improvements,
which had gradually increased the stock of national riches. A long
period of calamity or decay must have checked the industry, and
diminished the wealth, of the people; and their profuse luxury must
have been the result of that indolent despair, which enjoys the
present hour, and declines the thoughts of futurity. The uncertain
condition of their property discouraged the subjects of Theodosius
from engaging in those useful and laborious undertakings which require
an immediate expense, and promise a slow and distant advantage. The
frequent examples of ruin and desolation tempted them not to spare the
remains of a patrimony, which might, every hour, become the prey of
the rapacious Goth. And the mad prodigality which prevails in the
confusion of a shipwreck, or a siege, may serve to explain the
progress of luxury amidst the misfortunes and terrors of a sinking
nation.

The effeminate luxury, which infected the manners of courts and
cities, had instilled a secret and destructive poison into the camps
of the legions; and their degeneracy has been marked by the pen of a
military writer, who had accurately studied the genuine and ancient
principles of Roman discipline. It is the just and important
observation of Vegetius, that the infantry was invariably covered with
defensive armor, from the foundation of the city, to the reign of the
emperor Gratian. The relaxation of discipline, and the disuse of
exercise, rendered the soldiers less able, and less willing, to
support the fatigues of the service; they complained of the weight of
the armor, which they seldom wore; and they successively obtained the
permission of laying aside both their cuirasses and their helmets. The
heavy weapons of their ancestors, the short sword, and the formidable
pilum
, which had subdued the world, insensibly dropped from their feeble
hands. As the use of the shield is incompatible with that of the bow,
they reluctantly marched into the field; condemned to suffer either
the pain of wounds, or the ignominy of flight, and always disposed to
prefer the more shameful alternative. The cavalry of the Goths, the
Huns, and the Alani, had felt the benefits, and adopted the use, of
defensive armor; and, as they excelled in the management of missile
weapons, they easily overwhelmed the naked and trembling legions,
whose heads and breasts were exposed, without defence, to the arrows
of the Barbarians. The loss of armies, the destruction of cities, and
the dishonor of the Roman name, ineffectually solicited the successors
of Gratian to restore the helmets and the cuirasses of the infantry.
The enervated soldiers abandoned their own and the public defence; and
their pusillanimous indolence may be considered as the immediate cause
of the downfall of the empire.

Chapter XXVIII: Destruction Of Paganism.

Part I.

Final Destruction Of Paganism. -- Introduction Of The Worship Of
Saints, And Relics, Among The Christians.

The ruin of Paganism, in the age of Theodosius, is perhaps the only
example of the total extirpation of any ancient and popular
superstition; and may therefore deserve to be considered as a singular
event in the history of the human mind. The Christians, more
especially the clergy, had impatiently supported the prudent delays of
Constantine, and the equal toleration of the elder Valentinian; nor
could they deem their conquest perfect or secure, as long as their
adversaries were permitted to exist. The influence which Ambrose and
his brethren had acquired over the youth of Gratian, and the piety of
Theodosius, was employed to infuse the maxims of persecution into the
breasts of their Imperial proselytes. Two specious principles of
religious jurisprudence were established, from whence they deduced a
direct and rigorous conclusion, against the subjects of the empire who
still adhered to the ceremonies of their ancestors: that
the magistrate is, in some measure, guilty of the crimes which he
neglects to prohibit, or to punish; and, that the idolatrous worship
of fabulous deities, and real dæmons, is the most abominable crime
against the supreme majesty of the Creator. The laws of Moses, and the
examples of Jewish history, were hastily, perhaps erroneously,
applied, by the clergy, to the mild and universal reign of
Christianity. The zeal of the emperors was excited to vindicate their
own honor, and that of the Deity: and the temples of the Roman world
were subverted, about sixty years after the conversion of Constantine.

From the age of Numa to the reign of Gratian, the Romans preserved the
regular succession of the several colleges of the sacerdotal order.
Fifteen Pontiffs exercised their supreme jurisdiction over all things,
and persons, that were consecrated to the service of the gods; and the
various questions which perpetually arose in a loose and traditionary
system, were submitted to the judgment of their holy tribunal Fifteen
grave and learned Augurs observed the face of the heavens, and
prescribed the actions of heroes, according to the flight of birds.
Fifteen keepers of the Sibylline books (their name of Quindecemvirs
was derived from their number) occasionally consulted the history of
future, and, as it should seem, of contingent, events. Six Vestals
devoted their virginity to the guard of the sacred fire, and of the
unknown pledges of the duration of Rome; which no mortal had been
suffered to behold with impunity. Seven Epulos prepared the table of
the gods, conducted the solemn procession, and regulated the
ceremonies of the annual festival. The three Flamens of Jupiter, of
Mars, and of Quirinus, were considered as the peculiar ministers of
the three most powerful deities, who watched over the fate of Rome and
of the universe. The King of the Sacrifices represented the person of
Numa, and of his successors, in the religious functions, which could
be performed only by royal hands. The confraternities of the Salians,
the Lupercals, &c., practised such rites as might extort a smile of
contempt from every reasonable man, with a lively confidence of
recommending themselves to the favor of the immortal gods. The
authority, which the Roman priests had formerly obtained in the
counsels of the republic, was gradually abolished by the establishment
of monarchy, and the removal of the seat of empire. But the dignity of
their sacred character was still protected by the laws, and manners of
their country; and they still continued, more especially the college
of pontiffs, to exercise in the capital, and sometimes in the
provinces, the rights of their ecclesiastical and civil jurisdiction.
Their robes of purple, chariots of state, and sumptuous
entertainments, attracted the admiration of the people; and they
received, from the consecrated lands, and the public revenue, an ample
stipend, which liberally supported the splendor of the priesthood, and
all the expenses of the religious worship of the state. As the service
of the altar was not incompatible with the command of armies, the
Romans, after their consulships and triumphs, aspired to the place of
pontiff, or of augur; the seats of Cicero and Pompey were filled, in
the fourth century, by the most illustrious members of the senate; and
the dignity of their birth reflected additional splendor on their
sacerdotal character. The fifteen priests, who composed the college of
pontiffs, enjoyed a more distinguished rank as the companions of their
sovereign; and the Christian emperors condescended to accept the robe
and ensigns, which were appropriated to the office of supreme pontiff.
But when Gratian ascended the throne, more scrupulous or more
enlightened, he sternly rejected those profane symbols; applied to the
service of the state, or of the church, the revenues of the priests
and vestals; abolished their honors and immunities; and dissolved the
ancient fabric of Roman superstition, which was supported by the
opinions and habits of eleven hundred years. Paganism was still the
constitutional religion of the senate. The hall, or temple, in which
they assembled, was adorned by the statue and altar of Victory; a
majestic female standing on a globe, with flowing garments, expanded
wings, and a crown of laurel in her outstretched hand. The senators
were sworn on the altar of the goddess to observe the laws of the
emperor and of the empire: and a solemn offering of wine and incense
was the ordinary prelude of their public deliberations. The removal of
this ancient monument was the only injury which Constantius had
offered to the superstition of the Romans. The altar of Victory was
again restored by Julian, tolerated by Valentinian, and once more
banished from the senate by the zeal of Gratian. But the emperor yet
spared the statues of the gods which were exposed to the public
veneration: four hundred and twenty-four temples, or chapels, still
remained to satisfy the devotion of the people; and in every quarter
of Rome the delicacy of the Christians was offended by the fumes of
idolatrous sacrifice.

But the Christians formed the least numerous party in the senate of
Rome: and it was only by their absence, that they could express their
dissent from the legal, though profane, acts of a Pagan majority. In
that assembly, the dying embers of freedom were, for a moment, revived
and inflamed by the breath of fanaticism. Four respectable deputations
were successively voted to the Imperial court, to represent the
grievances of the priesthood and the senate, and to solicit the
restoration of the altar of Victory. The conduct of this important
business was intrusted to the eloquent Symmachus, a wealthy and noble
senator, who united the sacred characters of pontiff and augur with
the civil dignities of proconsul of Africa and præfect of the city.
The breast of Symmachus was animated by the warmest zeal for the cause
of expiring Paganism; and his religious antagonists lamented the abuse
of his genius, and the inefficacy of his moral virtues. The orator,
whose petition is extant to the emperor Valentinian, was conscious of
the difficulty and danger of the office which he had assumed. He
cautiously avoids every topic which might appear to reflect on the
religion of his sovereign; humbly declares, that prayers and
entreaties are his only arms; and artfully draws his arguments from
the schools of rhetoric, rather than from those of philosophy.
Symmachus endeavors to seduce the imagination of a young prince, by
displaying the attributes of the goddess of victory; he insinuates,
that the confiscation of the revenues, which were consecrated to the
service of the gods, was a measure unworthy of his liberal and
disinterested character; and he maintains, that the Roman sacrifices
would be deprived of their force and energy, if they were no longer
celebrated at the expense, as well as in the name, of the republic.
Even scepticism is made to supply an apology for superstition. The
great and incomprehensible secret
of the universe eludes the inquiry of man. Where reason cannot
instruct, custom may be permitted to guide; and every nation seems to
consult the dictates of prudence, by a faithful attachment to those
rites and opinions, which have received the sanction of ages. If those
ages have been crowned with glory and prosperity, if the devout people
have frequently obtained the blessings which they have solicited at
the altars of the gods, it must appear still more advisable to persist
in the same salutary practice; and not to risk the unknown perils that
may attend any rash innovations. The test of antiquity and success was
applied with singular advantage to the religion of Numa; and Rome
herself, the celestial genius that presided over the fates of the
city, is introduced by the orator to plead her own cause before the
tribunal of the emperors. "Most excellent princes," says the venerable
matron, "fathers of your country! pity and respect my age, which has
hitherto flowed in an uninterrupted course of piety. Since I do not
repent, permit me to continue in the practice of my ancient rites.
Since I am born free, allow me to enjoy my domestic institutions. This
religion has reduced the world under my laws. These rites have
repelled Hannibal from the city, and the Gauls from the Capitol. Were
my gray hairs reserved for such intolerable disgrace? I am ignorant of
the new system that I am required to adopt; but I am well assured,
that the correction of old age is always an ungrateful and ignominious
office." The fears of the people supplied what the discretion of the
orator had suppressed; and the calamities, which afflicted, or
threatened, the declining empire, were unanimously imputed, by the
Pagans, to the new religion of Christ and of Constantine.

But the hopes of Symmachus were repeatedly baffled by the firm and
dexterous opposition of the archbishop of Milan, who fortified the
emperors against the fallacious eloquence of the advocate of Rome. In
this controversy, Ambrose condescends to speak the language of a
philosopher, and to ask, with some contempt, why it should be thought
necessary to introduce an imaginary and invisible power, as the cause
of those victories, which were sufficiently explained by the valor and
discipline of the legions. He justly derides the absurd reverence for
antiquity, which could only tend to discourage the improvements of
art, and to replunge the human race into their original barbarism.
From thence, gradually rising to a more lofty and theological tone, he
pronounces, that Christianity alone is the doctrine of truth and
salvation; and that every mode of Polytheism conducts its deluded
votaries, through the paths of error, to the abyss of eternal
perdition. Arguments like these, when they were suggested by a
favorite bishop, had power to prevent the restoration of the altar of
Victory; but the same arguments fell, with much more energy and
effect, from the mouth of a conqueror; and the gods of antiquity were
dragged in triumph at the chariot-wheels of Theodosius. In a full
meeting of the senate, the emperor proposed, according to the forms of
the republic, the important question, Whether the worship of Jupiter,
or that of Christ, should be the religion of the Romans. * The liberty
of suffrages, which he affected to allow, was destroyed by the hopes
and fears that his presence inspired; and the arbitrary exile of
Symmachus was a recent admonition, that it might be dangerous to
oppose the wishes of the monarch. On a regular division of the senate,
Jupiter was condemned and degraded by the sense of a very large
majority; and it is rather surprising, that any members should be
found bold enough to declare, by their speeches and votes, that they
were still attached to the interest of an abdicated deity. The hasty
conversion of the senate must be attributed either to supernatural or
to sordid motives; and many of these reluctant proselytes betrayed, on
every favorable occasion, their secret disposition to throw aside the
mask of odious dissimulation. But they were gradually fixed in the new
religion, as the cause of the ancient became more hopeless; they
yielded to the authority of the emperor, to the fashion of the times,
and to the entreaties of their wives and children, who were instigated
and governed by the clergy of Rome and the monks of the East. The
edifying example of the Anician family was soon imitated by the rest
of the nobility: the Bassi, the Paullini, the Gracchi, embraced the
Christian religion; and "the luminaries of the world, the venerable
assembly of Catos (such are the high-flown expressions of Prudentius)
were impatient to strip themselves of their pontifical garment; to
cast the skin of the old serpent; to assume the snowy robes of
baptismal innocence, and to humble the pride of the consular fasces
before tombs of the martyrs." The citizens, who subsisted by their own

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