Constantine The Great, And The Downfall Of Paganism In The Roman Empire -- By: Philip Schaff

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 020:80 (Oct 1863)
Article: Constantine The Great, And The Downfall Of Paganism In The Roman Empire
Author: Philip Schaff


Constantine The Great, And The Downfall Of Paganism In
The Roman Empire1

Dr. Philip Schaff

It is agreed on all hands that Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, the founder of Constantinople and the Byzantine empire, marks one of the most important epochs in the history of Christianity and the world. He was the chief instrument, in the hands of Providence, by which the church was delivered from oppression and persecution, and elevated to a position of honor and power in the proud empire of Rome; from him dates the union of church and state; his reign sealed the doom of Graeco-Roman paganism, and secured the triumph of Christianity. But opinions are not yet quite harmonized as to his personal character and the motives which induced him to favor the Christian religion

above the religion of his fathers and predecessors on the throne of the Caesars. The Greek church has gone so far as to enroll him among her saints, and, in strange perversion of the term, to honor him with the title of the “equal of the apostles” (Isapostolos). The Latin and the Protestant church are contented to call him the Great, and to assign him a similar position in history as that occupied by Charlemagne. Some modern writers, especially those of the rationalistic school, represent him as a political and military genius, without moral principle and without sincere interest in the Christian or any other religion. He was great undoubtedly, though not in the first, but in the second order; and more by what he did than by what he was; more by the favor of circumstances and position than by personal character and merit. He was one of the most gifted, energetic, and successful among the Roman emperors, and the first friend and patron of Christianity. He had a naturally strong, clear, and shrewd mind, a tolerable, though by no means thorough, cultivation, a good knowledge of human nature, administrative energy and tact, and military and political genius. His prominent trait as a ruler was practical good sense. He had the sagacity and policy of a genuine statesman in discerning the signs of the times and placing himself at the head of true progress; while his equally gifted and more learned, but far less practical, nephew Julian mistook the true character of the age, vainly endeavored to stem or divert the current of history, and incurred the fate of a fruitless reactionist and the disgrace of an apostate. As to his moral character, he was neither as bad as the later heathen historian Zosimus, nor as pure as his Christian friend and eulogist Eusebius, the famous church historian, endeavored to represent him: the one by direct and malignant perversions; the other, from pi...

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