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The Policy Of The Sons Of Consta





Under the sons of Constantine a harsher policy toward heathenism was
adopted. Laws were passed forbidding heathen sacrifices (a, b), and
although these were not carried out vigorously in the West, where there
were many heathen members of the leading families, they were more
generally enforced in the East, and heathenism was thereby much reduced,
at least in outward manifestations. As to heresy, the action of the
emperors and especially Constantius in his constant endeavor to set aside
the Nicene faith involved harsh measures against all who differed from the
approved theology of the court. Donatism called for special treatment. A
policy of conciliation was attempted, but on account of the failure to win
over the Donatists and their alliance with fierce revolutionary fanatics,
the Circumcellions, violent measures were taken against them which nearly
extirpated the sect.


(a) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 10, 2; A. D. 341.


This edict of Constantius is of importance here as it seems to
imply that Constantine did more toward repressing heathen
sacrifices than to forbid those celebrated in private. It is,
however, the only evidence of his prohibiting sacrifice, and it
might have been due to misunderstanding that his example is here
cited.


Let superstition cease; let the madness of sacrifices be abolished. For
whoever, against the law of the divine prince, our parent [Constantine]
and this command of our clemency, shall celebrate sacrifices, let a
punishment appropriate to him and this present decision be issued.


(b) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 10, 3; A. D. 342.


In the West Constans did not enforce the law against sacrifices
with great severity, but tolerated the existence and even use of
certain temples without the walls.


Although all superstition is to be entirely destroyed, yet we will that
the temple buildings, which are situated without the walls, remain intact
and uninjured. For since from some have arisen various sports, races, and
contests, it is not proper that they should be destroyed, from which the
solemnity of ancient enjoyments are furnished to the Roman people.


(c) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 10, 4; A. D. 346.


It is our pleasure that in all places and in all cities the temples be
henceforth closed, and access having been forbidden to all, freedom to sin
be denied the wicked. We will that all abstain from sacrifices; that if
any one should commit any such act, let him fall before the vengeance of
the sword. Their goods, we decree, shall be taken away entirely and
recovered to the fisc, and likewise rectors of provinces are to be
punished if they neglect to punish for these crimes.


(d) Optatus, De schismate Donatistarum, III, 3, 4. (MSL, 11:999.)


The principal historical writer treating the schism of the
Donatists is Optatus, Bishop of Mileve. His work on this sect was
written about 370 and revised and enlarged in 385. It is of
primary importance not merely for the history but for the dogmatic
discussions on the doctrine of the Church, Bk. II, the doctrine of
the sacraments, the idea of opus operatum as applied to them,
Bk. V; in all of which he laid the foundation upon which Augustine
built. In addition to the passage from Optatus given here,
Epistles 88 and 185 by Augustine are accessible in translations
and will be found of assistance in filling in the account of the
Circumcellions. The latter is known as De correctione
Donatistarum and is published in the anti-Donatist writings of
Augustine in PNF, ser. I, vol. IV; the most important passages are
15 and 25. It is probable that the party of the Circumcellions
was originally due to a revolt against intolerable agrarian
conditions and that their association with the Donatists was at
first slight.


3. The Emperor Constans did not send Paulus and Macarius primarily to
bring about unity, but with alms, that, assisted by them, the poor of the
various churches might be relieved, clothed, and fed. When they came to
Donatus, your father, and showed him why they had come, he was seized with
his accustomed furious anger and broke forth with these words: "What has
the Emperor to do with the Church."

4. If anything, therefore, has been done harshly in bringing about
unity,(106) you see, brother Parmenianus, to whom it ought to be
attributed. Do you say that the military was sought by us Catholics; if
so, then why did no one see the military in arms in the proconsular
province? Paulus and Macarius came, everywhere to consider the poor and to
exhort individuals to unity; and when they approached Bagaja, then another
Donatus, bishop of that city, desiring to place an obstacle in the way of
unity and hinder the work of those coming, whom we have mentioned, sent
messengers throughout the neighboring places and all markets, and summoned
the Circumcellions, calling them Agonistici, to come to the said place.
And at that time the gathering of these was desired, whose madness a
little before had been seen by the bishops themselves to have been
impiously inspired. For when men of this sort before the unity(107)
wandered through various places, when Axido and Fasir were called by the
same mad ones the leaders of the saints, no one could be secure in his
possessions; written evidences of indebtedness lost their force; no
creditor was at liberty at that time to demand anything. All were
terrified by the letters of those who boasted that they were the leaders
of the saints, and if there was any delay in fulfilling their commands,
suddenly a furious multitude hurried up and, terror going on before,
creditors were surrounded with a wall of dangers, so that those who ought
to have been asked for their protection were by fear of death compelled to
use humble prayers. Each one hastened to abandon his most important
duties; and profit was thought to have come from these outrages. Even the
roads were no longer at all safe, because masters, turned out of their
carriages, ran humbly before their slaves sitting in the places of their
masters. By the judgment and rule of these the order of rank between
masters and servants was changed. Therefore when there arose complaint
against the bishops of your party, they are said to have written to Count
Taurinus, that such men could not be corrected in the Church, and they
demanded that they should receive discipline from the said count. Then
Taurinus, in response to their letters, commanded an armed body of
soldiers to go through the markets where the Circumcellions were
accustomed to wander. In Octavum very many were killed, many were beheaded
and their bodies, even to the present day, can be counted by the white
altars or tables.(108) When first some of their number were buried in the
basilicas, Clarus, a presbyter in Subbulum, was compelled by his bishop to
disinter those buried. Whence it is reported that what was done had been
commanded to be done, when it is admitted that sepulture in the house of
God is not granted. Afterward the multitude of these people increased. In
this way Donatus of Bagaja found whence he might lead against Macarius a
raging mob. Of that sort were those who were to their own ruin murderers
of themselves in their desire for a false martyrdom. Of these, also, were
those who rushed headlong and threw themselves down from the summits of
lofty mountains. Behold from what numbers the second Bishop Donatus formed
his cohorts! Those who were bearing treasure which they had obtained for
the poor were held back by fear. They decided in so great a predicament to
demand from Count Sylvester armed soldiery, not that by these they should
do violence to any one, but that they might stop the force drawn up by the
aforesaid Bishop Donatus. Thus it happened that an armed soldiery was
seen. Now, as to what followed, see to whom it ought or can be ascribed.
They had there an infinite number of those summoned, and it is certain
that a supply of provisions for a year had been provided. Of the basilicas
they made a sort of public granary, and awaited the coming of those
against whom they might expend their fury, if the presence of armed
soldiery had not prevented them. For when, before the soldiers came, the
metatores,(109) as was the custom, were sent, they were not properly
received, contrary to the apostolic precept, "honor to whom honor, custom
to whom custom, tribute to whom tribute, owe no man anything." For those
who had been sent with their horses were smitten by those whose names you
have made public with malicious intent. They were the authors of their own
wrong; and what they could suffer they themselves taught by these
outrages. The soldiers who had been maltreated returned to their fellows,
and for what two or three suffered, all grieved. All were roused, and
their officers could not restrain the angered soldiers.





Next: Julian The Apostate

Previous: Collapse Of The Anti-nicene Midd



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