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instances of the introduction, by means of the heads of the Church, of a more perfect moral code into the Roman world.
Another means, perhaps yet more satisfactory, by which we may form an estimate of the effect produced on the ethical sentiments of the entire Roman Empire by the elevation of the Christian clergy to a new authority, is presented by the edicts of the Theodosian code; and lest it should be supposed irrelevant to look for traces of Christian influence in the works of Roman legislation, it must be remembered that, both under Constantine and under his successors, the prelates of the Church occupied no insignificant position in the Imperial Councils, and that it is scarcely likely that decrees in which the principles of their faith were involved should have been promulgated unprompted or unsupported by them.
As a remarkable instance of the manner in which the Christian morality was incorporated, by means of the action of the priestly body, with the ancient system of Roman legislation, we may turn to the edict of Constantine “De manumissionibus in Ecclesia," included in the Theodosian Code*. We find there the Church placed in
* Lib. iv. tit. 7. [The following are the terms of the edict : “Qui religiosa mente in Ecclesiæ gremio servulis suis meritam concesserit libertatem, eandem eodem jure donasse videatur, quo civitas Romana solennitatibus decursis dare consuevit. Sed hoc duntaxat iis, qui sub aspectu antistitum dederint, placuit relaxari. Clericis autem amplius concedimus, ut, cum suis famulis tribuunt libertatem, non solum in conspectu Ecclesiæ ac religiosi populi, plenum fructum libertatis concessisse dicantur, verum etiam cum
a novel relation to slavery; for the clergy, though as yet far from taking upon themselves to proclaim liberty to the captives, are nevertheless in a certain degree identified with the principles of humanity and freedom. That portion of the prætor's functions, by which, under the ancient law of Rome, he bestowed freedom and civil rights on the slave, was now transferred to the Christian minister; and the newly acquired liberty, which was formerly derived from the touch of the prætorian wand, now flowed from the holy precincts of the Church, and was accompanied by the sacerdotal benediction?
In other instances, again, we can trace in the Imperial edicts the more direct results of clerical instructions. And
postremo judicio libertates dederint seu quibuscunque verbis dari præceperint: ita ut, ex die publicatæ voluntatis, sine aliquo juris teste vel interprete competat directa libertas. Dat. XIII Kal. Mai. Crispo II. et Constantino II. Coss. (321.)”
See the authorities cited by Gothofred in the notes.]
i Ducange (s. v. Manumissio in Ecclesia, t. iv. p. 256 a, ed. 1845) refers to Sozomen, H. E. 1. 9 : [ÚTÒ yap depißeias vouwv kai ακόντων των κεκτημένων, πολλής δυσχερείας ούσης περί την κτησιν της αμείνoνος ελευθερίας, ην πολιτείαν Ρωμαίων καλούσι, τρείς έθετο νόμους [ο Κωνσταντίνος], ψηφισάμενος πάντας τους εν ταις εκκλησίαις ελευθερουμένους υπό μάρτυσι τοις ιερεύσι πολιτείας Ρωμαικής τυγχά. velv.] and Augustine [Serm. 21. tom. v. col. 113 c.] “Servum tuum manumittendum manu ducis in ecclesiam. Fit silentium, libellus tuus recitatur, aut fit desiderii tui prosecutio. Dicis te servum manumittere, quod tibi in omnibus servaverit fidem.” And again, (p. 256 c) Serm. 50 De div.' (356, t. v. col. 1386 q. ed. Ben.“ Diaconus Hipponensis homo pauper est: quid alicui conferat non habet : tamen de laboribus suis antequam esset clericus emerat aliquos servulos: hodie illos in conspectu vestro manumissurus est episcopalibus gestis.”]
in none more strikingly than in the law of Constantine “ De Alimentis," one of those most immediately subsequent to his conversion, by which provision is made against the crime of infanticide*. This evil had risen to a fearful pitch during the distresses of the civil strife which ended in the undisturbed accession of Constantine to the throne. It had called forth the expostulations of Lactantius, tutor to the Cæsar Crispus, who in his Divine Institutionst inveighs bitterly against the parricidal violence which was every day increasing with the increasing poverty of the people. Very shortly after the publication of the work of Lactantius appeared the decree above alluded to, by which such parents as are prevented by extreme penury from rearing their children are empowered to claim support from the Imperial treasury. Here, then, we may fairly conjecture we have the record of one of the earliest consequences of Christian education on the mind of the princely convert. This, though perhaps the most remarkable instance of the kind, is but one out of many, from which we might trace the moral improvement of the Roman law, and the successive steps by which it approximated to the lofty standard of the Gospel, as far as in so rapidly degenerating an age the true injunctions of Scripture could be discerned through the mass of accumulating tradition and the mists of theological prejudice.
• Lib. xi. tit. 27.
Lactant. Inst. Div. I. vI. c. 20; and see Tertullian, Ad Nationes, 1. 1. c. 15.
The indirect influence of the priesthood on the people, through the medium of Roman legislation, will appear all the more worthy of notice when we remember that the edicts emanating from the shores of the Bosphorus were destined to act, not only on the millions who then owned the Imperial sway, but on the yet more numerous Teutonic hordes of subsequent centuries. The citizens of Rome, dispersed among barbarian tribes in the remotest European lands, rejoiced for generations in the institutions of Theodosius, and the Burgundian and Visigothic chiefs, who aimed at something superior to the rude constitutions of their progenitors, drew largely from the same prolific source.
But however much clerical action might tend to improve legislation, and however much the civilizing power of the true faith might continue to make itself known throughout the world, the history of the period can never permit us to forget the too evident reciprocal action of the world upon the Church, or to ignore the general debasement of the clerical spirit from the age of the A postolic Fathers and their more immediate successors.
It would, indeed, have been strange had it been otherwise, had discussions, too often tinged with theological bitterness during the period when orthodoxy gave merely a priority of martyrdom, been softened down when it became the passport to Imperial patronage and political sway. The narrow-mindedness and intolerance characteristic of the religious controversies of the East were nothing more than the carrying out on a larger scale of that rising spirit of discord which had so often incurred the rebuke of St Paul. Ecclesiastical history attests too well the truth of Gibbon's sneer, that from Constantine the clergy received “Security, wealth, honours, and revenge;" for although it would not be difficult to point out prelates not a few who had more truly learnt the doctrines of the God of love, and who knew how to pity and spare the heretic while they uncompromisingly attacked the heresy', yet the arbitrary edicts of Constantine, Valentinian, Gratian, and Theodosius, may convince us that the majority in the Church inculcated very different counsels upon the piety of the Imperial zealots.
A mere glance at the chronology of the fourth century is enough to remind us how closely the accession of the orthodox party to power was followed by the persecutions of the Donatists in Africa?, and the yet more tragical fate
i See August. Epp. 33 (“Quid nos solus Christus offendit, cujus membra laniamus ? &c.), 44, 61, 73.
* Compare Augustine's letter (Ep. 9:3) to Vincentius the Donatist, rejoicing in the interference of the civil power in certain cases, as having brought back wavering schismatics to the Catholic Church. “De multorum jam correctione gaudemus, qui tam veraciter unitatem Catholicam tenent atque defendunt, et a pristino errore se liberatos esse lætantur, ut eos cum magna gratulatione miremur. Qui tamen nescio qua vi consuetudinis nullo modo mutari melius cogitarent, nisi hoc terrore perculsi sollicitam mentem ad considerationem veritatis intenderent, ne forte si non pro justitia sed pro perversitate et præsumtione hominum ipsas temporales molestias infructuosa et vana tolerantia paterentur, apud Deum postea non invenirent nisi debitas pænas impiorum, qui ejus tam lenem admonitionem et paterna flagella contemserint." “Si enim quisquam inimicum suum periculosis febribus phrene