Century IV, Chapter XII



Chap. Let us turn our eyes to a more cheerful prospect . in the West; in the East the only comfortable circumstance has been, that God left not himself without witness, but marked his real church by a number of faithful sufferers. Valentinian, the elder brother of Valens, made a law in the beginning of his reign, that no man should be compelled in * Theodoret, end of B. IV.

religion*. He restrained, however, this general licence soon after, partly by seizing the revenues of the heathen temples, which the emperors annexed to their own patrimony, and partly by the prohibition of divinations and enchantments. On a representation of the governor of Greece, Achaia was allowed still to practise her heathenish follies. Other laws in favour of Christians followed f. One of the supposed oracles of Greece had declared that Christianity should last only 365 years in the world. This period was now expired, and the event had falsified the prediction. In other instances this emperor was very indulgent to the Pagans, who might see themselves, both in the East and West, treated with far more lenity and favour than the Church of Christ was in the East during the whole reign of the two brothers. Themistius, the Pagan philosopher, was struck with the cruelty of Valens ; and while he insinuated that perhaps God was delighted with the diversity of sentiments in the world concerning him, he entreated the emperor not to persecute any longer. This is one instance of the illegitimate charity now so common in the world, which founds the principles of moderation on scepticism, instead of that divine love which is the glory of the Christian religion.

Auxentius, the Arian bishop of Milan, being opposed by Eusebius of Vercella:, and by Hilary of Poictiers ^, imposed on Valentinian by a dexterous use of those ambiguities of speech, in which the Arians all along excelled. Nor is it to be wondered

* Though the laws of Valentinian run both in his name and that of his brother, I speak of them as his laws exclusively, because it may fairly be presumed, that he was the principal agent.

f See Cave's Introduction, Sect. IV.

j I purposely avoid entering into details of the acts of this great man, as well as of some others, because their lives deserve to be considered as distinct articles.

at, that Valentinian should be deceived, since even to this day the patrons of Arianism, by largely dwelling on the perfections of the Son of God, with a cautious omission of the term consubstantial, in a similar way frequently prevail on many, who do not or will not understand the true grounds of the controversy, to suppose that the difference of opinion is merely verbal. Hilar}' contended, that if this were really the case, the Arians could have no reason to avoid an explicit acknowledgment of the whole truth. To this it may justly be added, that their constant support of those who were undoubted opposers of the divinity of Jesus, and their constant enmity against its explicit defenders, evince the difference to be real, not imaginary ; and so it will be felt by every one who feels the worth of his soul, and is forced to see the difference between committing its salvation to the Creator and the creature. With equal justice Hilary complained of the Arian method of supporting their Creed by military and imperial power. But he complained in vain ; the duplicity of Auxentius prevailed, and he was suffered to continue at Milan in the practice of undermining the faith without openly attacking it; the constant method of heresy in all ages. Whereas divine truth speaks directly and plainly, and must do so whatever be the consequence. And in this sincerity the church must continue to the end, supported not by political arts, but by divine influence. In the year 36G, died Liberius of Rome. How far he really recovered from his fall under Constantius, is not very apparent. He was succeeded by Damasus, who however was not established in his see without a contest with Ursinus, which cost a number of lives. So much were Christian bishops degenerated. But it should be observed, that there was a material difference in these times between pastors of great cities and

those of smaller. What I mean, is well illustrated by Ammianus *. " When I consider," says he, " the magnificence and grandeur of Rome, I do not deny, but that those who are ambitious of this dignity, ought to use all their endeavours to arrive at it; since they by this means procure a certain settler ment, where they are enriched by the offerings of the ladies: they ride in chariots richly clothed ; and feast so splendidly, that their tables surpass even those of kings. They might be truly happy, if contemning the splendour of Rome, they lived like some bishops of the provinces, who by the plainness of their diet, their mean apparel, and the modesty of their looks, which are turned towards the ground, make themselves acceptable to the eternal God and his true worshippers."

Thus far this sensible and candid Pagan, who by the concluding part of the passage appears to have imbibed some Christian notions, and to support that mongrel character, which I have elsewhere attributed to him. While we lament how full history is of these splendid and] opulent bishops, and how scanty our materials are concerning the humble and obscure ones, it behoves us to be on our guard against the malignant intimations of profane historians, who represent the church in these times as altogether corrupt. It was very much so at Rome, at Antioch, at Constantinople, and other large cities, especially among the great and the rich. In the story of these, we see continually what an enemy riches are to the divine life. But among the lower orders, and in obscure places, by the confession of Ammianus, upright and exemplary pastors were not wanting; and if we had an historical view of their labours and success, I doubt not but the Church of Christ, even in the fourth century, would be seen with other eyes than it is by many.

I am endeavouring to catch the features of this • Fleury.B. XVI. 8.

Church, wherever I can find them in this obscure region. I have distinguished formerly three species of dissenters ; the Novatians, the Meletians and the Donatists. The first are by far the most respectable : of the second little is known, and that little is not to their credit: the third are flagitious, by the confession of all writers. A fourth appears, the Luciferians, who, if they imbibed the spirit of Lucifer, must have been firm and sincere in the love of the truth. In the year 374, the emperor ordered all who held unlawful assemblies to be banished an hundred miles from Rome. In prosecution of this edict, Damasus seems to have caused a Luciferian presbyter to be apprehended, who held a congregation by night in a private house ; and he and some of the same class were banished. Notwithstanding this severity, Damasus could not prevent these dissenters from having a bishop of their own at Rome, called Aurelius, who was succeeded by Ephesus, who also kept his station at Rome, notwithstanding the endeavours of Damasus to remove him. Gregory of Elvira in Spain was another of their bishops, a man whose firmness was extolled by Eusebius of Vercellae. The Donatists had likewise a bishop at Rome, and another in Spain. Cut violence and ferocity still mark this people*.

I have represented as fairly as I could the lights of history. The reader may judge for himself, whether in the general church, we do not seem to behold the firstand most dignified rulers degenerated. Damasus, orthodox and violent in the support of orthodoxy, without humility and piety, is as strong a contrast to the primitive bishops, as Sharp, archbishop of St . Andrew's, in the time of Charles II. is to our first reformers. The persecuted Luciferians may seem to resemble the Puritans of the same period ; while such men as Eusebius of Vercellae, and Hilary of Poicticrs, may be likened to archbishop Leigh ton. • ricury.B. XVI. 37.

But though the spirit of the Gospel probably prevailed most among the Luciferians, yet, as I have already observed, this spirit was still in a degree preserved among the inferior and obscure pastors of the general church. But a new star is going to appear in the Western world, and it behoves us to attend to its lustre.

Ambrose succeeded the A rian Auxentius at Milan, Auxemiui, who died in the year 374. He was born about ^op^

I o 1 -1 1_ . V' 1 1 » Milan, rill

the year 338, while his lather was the emperors lieutenant in France. He was the youngest of 374 three children, Marcellina and Satyrus being born before him. After his father's decease*, his mother with the family returned to Rome, where he made himself master of all the learning that Greece and Latium could afford; at the same time his sister Marcellina, who had devoted herself to a state of virginity, instructed him with much success in the principles of godliness. Being grown to maturity, he pleaded causes with so much dexterity, that he was soon taken notice of by Anicius Probus, pretorian prefect of Italy, who made choice of him to be of his council: and having authority to appoint governors to several provinces, when he gave a commission to him, he said, " Go, and govern more like a bishop than a judge." Ambrose in this office resided at Milan for five years, and was renowned for prudence and justice; when one of those sudden turns of providence, which are so conspicuous in the lives of many persons of eminent godliness, threw him into a course of life extremely different from his former.

Auxentius, by artifice and dexterity had, as we have seen, imposed on Valentinian, and preserved his seat to his death in the year 374. Immediately the bishops of the province met together concerning the election of a successor. The emperor sent for

* See Paulinus's Life of Ambrose, prefixed to the works of that Saint. Clave ; Fleury.

Chap- them, and told them, that they, as men best acv XiL . quainted with the sacred volume, ought to understand better than he the qualifications necessary for so important a station. *' Choose a man," said he, f< fit to instruct by life as well as by doctrine, and we ourselves will readily submit our sceptres to his counsels and direction, and, as men obnoxious to human frailty, will receive his reproofs and admonitions as wholesome physic." The bishops besought him to nominate the person, but Valentinian was resolute in referring the determination to them, as fitter than himself to decide *. In the mean time factions were strong, and the Arian party vigorously laboured to provide a successor worthy of Auxentius. The city was divided, every thing tended toward a tumult, the bishops were consulting, and Ambrose, hearing of these things, hastened to the church of Milan, and exhorted the people to peace and submission to the laws. His speech being finished, an infant's voice was heard in the crowd, " Ambrose is bishop !" The hint was taken at once, the whole assembly cried out, " Ambrose shall be the man!" The factions agreed immediately f, and he whom secular pursuits had seemed to preclude from the notice of either party, was suddenly elected by universal consent. Ambrose Ambrose was astonished, and peremptorily re"lop'of' fused; nor was any person ever more desirous to Milan. obtain the office of a bishop than he was to avoid it. He even used methods which sound strange in our ears, and are by no means justifiable. By exercising severity on malefactors, and by encouraging

* Those who have learnt from modern politics to exclude men of the sacred office from any regard in the councils of princes, will despise the weakness of Valentinian. Those who remember how useful the advice of Jehoiada was to Joash, and who believe that piety and the fear of God are of some consequence in the conduct of human affairs, will commend his conscientiousness and his modesty.

f Soc. B. IV. 30. Soz. B. VI. 24.

harlots to come into his house,' he took pains to convince them, that he was not that character of mildness and chastity, which he undoubtedly was, and which all believed him to be. This extraordinary hypocrisy was, however, easily detected. Finding it was vain to stem the torrent, he stole out of Milan at midnight, but missing his way, and wandering all night, he found himself in the morning at the gate of Milan. A guard was placed about his person, till the emperor's pleasure should be known, because his consent was necessary to part with a subject in office. Valentinian sincerely consented ; and the consent of Ambrose himself alone was wanting. It is pleasing to see the testimony which the human mind, when left to itself, in all ages, gives in favour of modesty and integrity, in consequence of the law written on the heart, which all the corruption of nature and the artifice of Satan cannot easily efface. Ambrose again made his escape, and hid himself in the country-house of a friend. A menacing edict of the emperor brought him again to Milan, because he dared not expose his friend to the resentment of the emperor. Ambrose yielded at length, and Valentinian gave thanks to God and our Saviour, that it had pleased him to make choice of the very person to take care of men's souls, whom he had himself before appointed to preside over their temporal concerns. Valentinian received his general admonitions with reverence ; and in particular, hearing him represent the faults of some in authority with great plainness : " I knew," said the emperor, " the honesty of your character before this time, yet I consented to your ordination; follow the divine rules, and cure the maladies into which we are prone to fall."

Ambrose was then about thirty-six years old. Immediately he gave to the church and to the poor all the gold and silver which he had. He gave also his lands to the church, reserving the annual income

Chap- of them for the use of his sister Marcelliua. His XI1, . family he committed to the care of his brother Satyrus. Thus disengaged from temporal concerns, he gave up himself wholly to the ministry. Having read little else than profane authors, he first applied himself to the study of the Scriptures. Whatever time he could spare from business he devoted to reading: and this he continued to do after he had attained a good degree of knowledge *. I wish Origen had been less the object of his study. But the renown of that Father was great, and this was not an age of evangelical perspicuity. His public labours went hand in hand with his studies. He preached every Lord's day. Arianism through his labours was expelled from Italy.

There was a presbyter of Rome, named Simplician, a man of eminent learning and piety, whom he drew over to Milan, and under whose tuition he improved in theology. For his knowledge must have been very confined when he entered upon his office, and what is very rare, he knew it to be so. Simplician he ever loved and reverenced. We shall hear again of this presbyter, when we come to the conversion of Augustine. It pleased God to make him a useful instrument for the instruction of both these luminaries of the Western church, and as he out-lived Ambrose, though very old, he was appointed his successor in the church of Milan. From Simplician, as an instrument, it pleased God successively to convey both to Ambrose and to Augustine that fire of divine love and genuine simplicity in religion, which had very much decayed since the days of Cyprian: and in this slow, but effectual method, the Lord was preparing the way for another great effusion of his Spirit. Ambrose now gave' himself wholly to the work of the Lord, and restored purity of doctrine and discipline.

A council of bishops held about this time at: * Aug. Confess. B. VI. c. 3.

Valence, may deserve to be mentioned, on account of one of its rules, which throws some light on the religious state of the times. One Acceptus having been demanded as bishop by the church of Frejus, and having falsely accused himself of some great crime to prevent his ordination, the fathers of the council say, that to cut off occasions of scandal from the profane, they had determined, that the testimony which every one gives of himself shall be treated as true, though they were not ignorant that many had acted in this manner, in order to avoid the priesthood. The deceit of Ambrose, in endeavouring to appear what he was not, seems then to have been no singular case. Modesty,tinged with superstition, was a characteristic of the best characters of this age. Evangelical light being dim, the spirit of bondage much prevailed among real saints. Let us be thankful for the clearer light of divine truth, which now shines in the church, and that a good man may enter into holy orders without that excess of fear, which prevailed over Ambrose and Acceptus. But while we wonder that men'could use such marvellous arts of falsehood, through modesty and conscientious awe, let us not forget that a future age may be as much astonished at the fearless spirit, with which such numbers can, in our days, rush into the Church of Christ, with no other views than those of this world; and let us bewail their intrepid audacity,while we smile at the superstitious simplicity of the age which we are now reviewing.

Valentinian died in the year 375, after a reign of eleven years; survived by his brother Valens about three years. Violent anger had ever been his predominant evil, and a fit of passion at length cost him his life. Of some men we must say with the Apostle, that their sins follow after, while others evidence in this life what they are. Of the former dubious sort seems to have been the emperor


Chap. Valentinian. Fierce and savage by nature, though of excellent understanding, and when cool, of the soundest judgment, we have seen him modestly submitting himself to the judgment of bishops in divine things, and also zealous in religion, so far as his knowledge would permit, which seems to have been very small. We are astonished to behold the imperious lion turned into a gentle lamb; and the best use to be made of his character is, to prove how extremely beneficial it is to human society, that princes should be men of some religion. Without this check, Valentinian might have been one of the worst of tyrants ; but by the sole means of religion he passes for one of the better sort of princes.