Page 0974

974 UNIVERSAL HISTORYTHE ANCIENT WORLD.

ambition to avail himself of the forces new

and old which, playing on the minds and consciences of men, were about to transform the

world. As yet the Christians were in the

minority, but they had zeal and enthusiasm.

The enthusiasm of paganism, on the contrary,

had yielded to a cold and formal assent quite

unlike the pristine fervor which had fired to

human action in the time

"When the world was new and the gods were

young."

So, for policy, the Emperor began to favor

the Christians. There was now an ecclesia, a

Church, compact, well organized, having definite purposes, ready for universal persuasion

and almost ready for universal battle. Against

this were opposed the warring philosophic sects

of paganism. While biding his time, watching

the turns of the Imperial wheel, and awaiting

the opportunity which should make him supreme, he was careful to lay hold of the sentiments and sympathies of budding Christendom

by favoring and protecting the sect in Gaul.

The fragment of the old Senate had in the

mean time convened, and with the enthusiasm

of second childishness had conferred the title

of Augustus on Maxentius, son of the late

joint-emperor Maximian. The latter, who,

like Diocletian, was living in retirement, now

issued forth and attempted to uphold the cause

of his son. He also invoked the aid of Constantine, to whom he gave his daughter in

marriage. But Maxentius proved to be an

ingrate; for no sooner did he feel the afflatus

of power than he proceeded to expel his father

from Italy. The ex-emperor fled to Constantine, in Gaul, and that superb son-in-law received him on condition of a second abdication in his own favor! In A. D. 310 the Imperial Ishmaelite engaged in a conspiracy

against Constantine, and the latter, when the

plot was broken up and Maximian captured,

mercifully consented that his father-in-law

might save himself from a worse fate by committing suicide!

In the following year Galerius, who, in

305, had returned from the East, died from a

loathsome infection; nor did the Christians

fail to perceive in the fact and manner of his

death the hand of offended heaven. Severus,

the Western Caesar whom he had nominated,

was already dead, and his successor, Licinius,

held command in Illyria. The Empire was

thus again left to the sway of four menMaximin, Constantine, Maxentius, and Licinius;

but such had been the nature of their elevation to power that none would acknowledge

another as superior. All claimed the title

of Augustusnone would accept the modest

name of Caesar.

Licinius soon made a league with Constantine against Galerius, but held aloof from the

conflict which now ensued between the Augusti

of Italy and Gaul. Crossing the Alps, Constantine bore down on his enemy, defeated

him in three battles, and in 312 entered the

capital. The intense dislike of the people for

Galerius turned into praise of Constantine.

Already two parts of the divided Empire were

reunited.

In the same year of his triumph the Emperor issued from Milan his famous decree in

favor of the Christian religion. The proclamation was in the nature of a license to those

professing the new faith to worship as they

would under the Imperial sanction and favor.

Soon afterwards he announced to the world

that the reason for his recognition of Christianity was a vision which he had seen while

marching from Gaul against Galerius. Gazing into heaven he had seen a tremendous and

shining cross with this inscription: IN HOC

SIGNO VINCES"Under this Sign Conquer."

The fiction subserved the purpose for which it

was invented. As a matter of fact, the double-dealing moral nature of Constantine was incapable of any high devotion to a faith either

old or new. His insincerity was at once developed in his course respecting the Roman

Senate. That body was the stronghold of

paganism. Any strong purpose to extinguish

heathenism would have led Constantine into

irreconcilable antagonism with whatever of

senatorial power still survived. Instead of

hostility, however, he began to restore the

ancient body to as much influence in the state

as was consistent with the unrestricted exercise

of his own authority. In order further to

placate the perturbed spirits of paganism he

himself assumed the office of Pontifex

Enter your footer here