THE CHURCH OF CHRIST UNDER GRATIAN
AND THEODOSIUS, TILL THE DEATH OF THE
Chap. Gratian, the elder son of Valentinian, succeeded ^ - him in Gaul, Spain, and Britain. His younger son, an infant, succeeded in Italy, and the rest of the Western world. And some time after Gratian chose Theodosius as his colleague, who reigned in the East.
From his early years there appear unquestionable marks of real godliness in Gratian, to a degree beyond any thing that has yet been seen in any Roman emperor. One of his first actions demonstrates it. The title of high-priest always belonged to the Roman princes. He justly observed, that as its whole nature was idolatrous, it become not a Christian to assume it. He therefore refused the habit, though the Pagans still gave him the title.
As he was destitute of that ambition which Roman pride had ever indulged, he chose a colleague, for the East, of great abilities, purely for the good of the states, and managed the concerns of his infant brother at Rome with the affection of afather. There, from the beginning of his reign, Gracchus* the prefect, as yet only a catechumen, laboured earnestly to subdue idolatry. The mind of this young prince being strongly fixed on divine things, and being conscious of ignorance, he wrote to Ambrose of Milan to this effect'f*: " Gratian Augustus to Ambrose the religious priest of Almighty God. I much desire to be present in body with him whom I remember absent, and with whom I am united in mind. Come to me immediately, holy priest, that you may teach the doctrine of salvation to one who truly believes; not that he may study for contention, or seek to embrace God rather verbally than mentally, but that the revelation of the Divinity may dwell more intimately in my breast. For He whom I do not deny, whom I own as my Lord and my God, will not fail to teach me. I would not conceive so meanly of him as to make him a mere creature like myself, who own that I can add nothing to Christ . And yet while I seek to please the Father in celebrating the Son, I do not fear lest the Father should envy the honours ascribed to his Son; nor do I think so highly of my powers of commendation, as to suppose that I can increase the Divinity by my words. I am weak and frail, I extol him as I can, not as the Divinity deserves. With respect to that treatise which you gave me, I beg you would make additions to it by scriptural arguments, to prove the proper Deity of the Holy Ghost." Ambrose, delighted with the vein of serious attention to divine subjects, which appears in this letter, answered him in an ecstacy of satisfaction.—" Most Christian prince," says he, " modesty, not want of affection, has hitherto prevented me from waiting upon you. If, however, I was not with you personally, I have been present * Fleury, B. XVIII. 24. f Ambrose"* Kpistles, B. V. 35,26
with my prayers, in which consists still more the duty of a pastor. I use no flattery : you need it not; and moreover it is quite foreign to my office. Our Judge, whom you confess, and in whom you piously believe, knows that my bowels are refreshed with your faith, your salvation, and your glory; and that I pray for you not only as in public duty bound, but even with personal affection.—He alone hath taught you, who said, He that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father." Toward the close, he reminds him, that his own arguments for the divinity of the Son, expressed in his letter, are equally conclusive for the divinity of the Holy Ghost, whom we ought not to think the Father to envy, nor ourselves to be on an equal footing with him, who are mere creatures. Some writings of Ambrose remain to us as the conquence of Gratian's request.
The errors of good men have in some instances proved prejudicial to the church. This was unhappily the case with Ambrose. All the world bore testimony to his sincerity, charity, and piety : but he had not strength to withstand the torrent of superstition, which for some time had been growing. He even augmented it by his immoderate encomiums on virginity. The little acquaintance he had with the Scriptures before his ordination, and the influence of his sister Marcellina, a zealous devotee, will account for this. He wrote treatises on the subject: he reduced the rules of it to a sort of system, and exposed himself to the ill-will of parents, by inducing a considerable number of young women to follow them. It must be confessed, however, that he taught the essentials of Christian faith and love, and built his Wood, Hay, And Stubble* on the true foundation. He had no other arms but those of persuasion, and his great success showed the piety, as well as superstition of many of the female sexf.
Another part of his conduct was more worthy of * i Cor. iii. 12. f Paulinus's Life of Ambrose.
his understanding. The ravages of the Goths gave him an opportunity to exercise his liberality. He scrupled not to apply the vessels of the church to the redemption of captives, and vindicated himself against those who censured his conduct*. In the instruction of catechumens he employed so much pains, that five bishops could scarcely go through so much labour as he alone. At Sirmium in Illyricum, the Arian bishop Photinus had caused a wide departure from the faith : and there being a vacancy in the year 379, Ambrose was sent for to attend the election of anew bishop. The empress Justina, mother of young Valentinian, resided there at that time f- She had conceived a predilection for Arianism, and endeavoured by her authority and influence to expel Ambrose from the church. He continued, however, in his tribunal though insulted and harassed by the mob. An Arian woman, particularly, had the impudence to lay hold of his habit, and attempt to draw him among the women, who intended to drag him out of the church. " Though I am unworthy of the priesthood," said he, " it does not become you to lay hands on a pastor; you ought to fear the judgment of God." It is remarkable, that she died the next day. The minds of men were struck with awe,and Artemius, an orthodox minister, was elected without molestation. Another story of the same kind deserves to be mentioned here. Two courtiers of the emperor Gratian, being Arians,came to Ambrose, and desired him to preach on our Lord s Incarnation, promising that they would come to hear him the next day. But they, meaning nothing except ridicule and scorn, took their horses, and rode out of town. It is remarkable, that they were both thrown from their horses, and perished. The congregation in the mean time growing impatient under the delay, Ambrose went up into the
• Ambrose de Virgin. 3 books. 11 Offic. Amb.
pulpit, and told them that he was come to pay his debt, but found not his yesterday's creditors to receive it; and then preached on the subject*. Those, with whom one sort of doctrine is as valuable as another, will feel themselves little disposed to relish or believe stories of this kind. But the laws of history require that, where such remarkable facts seem unquestionable, they should not be suppressed, whatever inferences men may choose to draw from them. The humility and piety connected with the Scripture doctrine of the Trinity are well understood by every Christian. But the foundation was here laid for the enmity of Justina, which afterwards brake out against Ambrose in a remarkable manner. At Antioch Meletius was now restored, and the churches which had long1 been afflicted, recovered breath. Constantinople for forty years had been in subjection to Arian impiety and tyranny. By this time few remained in this great city who knew any thing scriptural; truth and godliness had fled ; the times were, however, now favourable for the recovery of the profession of the Gospel, and Gregory of Nazianzum was appointed for this purpose. He found the city in a state little removed from heathenism.
In the year 380, Theodosius, desirous of co-operating with Gregory and other zealous pastors in the revival of Christianity in the East, published a law, by which he reprobated the heresy of Arius, and expressed his warm approbation of the Nicene faith. He gave notice to Demophilus, the Arian bishop of Constantinople, to embrace the Nicene creed, to unite the people, and to live in peace. Demophilus rejecting his proposal, the emperor ordered him to give up the churches. " If they persecute us in one city," said the heresiarch to the people of his communion, " our Master orders us to flee to another. To-morrow, therefore, I purpose to * Paulinus's Life of Ambrose.
hold our assemblies without the city." He found, Cent. however, little encouragement to proceed, and after- > TM~ . wards retired to Berae, where he died six years after. Thus within forty years from the time that Eusebius of Nicomedia was violently intruded into Constantinople in the room of Paul, the sacred places were restored to the Church of Christ. For so I shall venture to call the Trinitarians, however low and reduced the spirit of godliness was, especially in the East; not only because they held the doctrine of truth, but because whatever of the true spirit of the Gospel was found any where, rested with them. If the reader recollect the barbarities exercised on Paul, and the cruel conduct of the Arians, while in power, he will be struck with the difference between Theodosius and Gregory on one side, and Constantius and Eusebius on the other. I am far from undertaking to vindicate all the proceedings of the patrons of the Nicene faith ; but undoubtedly their conduct was full of patience and meekness, compared with that of their opponents. Constantinople was not now made a scene of carnage and violence. Men who fear God will exercise their secular prosperity in religion only to defend the truth, not to persecute its foes. And this is another instance, to be added to the many, which have appeared, of the connexion between Christian principles and holy practice.
Gregory being now confirmed in the see of Con- the second stantinople, the emperor called a council in that £ener*i
iii- i /*li-i Council
city, to settle the distracted state ot the Eastern held at church. There came thither three hundred and fifty c°n*,,nbishops, out it was found much easier to expel A DArianism and corruption externally than internally. 281. The council was very confused and disorderly, greatly inferior in piety and wisdom to that of Nice, though it be called the second general council. One of the holiest men there was Meletius of Antioch, who died at Constantinople. Gregory justly ob
Chap- served, that as Paulinus was sound in the faith, and , xin- , of unexceptionable character, there could now be no reason why the unhappy breach, so long continued in that church, should not at once be healed by confirming him in the succession. But faction was high, and charity was low at this time ; he was overruled by the immoderate; and Flavian was constituted the successor of Meletius, as if they took pleasure in lengthening the reign of schism a little: for Paulinus was far advanced in years. In this affair the younger bishops had influenced the elder, though they could assign no better reason, than that finding the bishops of the West ready to support Gregory's opinion, they thought those of the East ought to prevail, because Jesus Christ in the days of his flesh had appeared in Asia, not in Europe. So easy is it in the decline of piety for Christian formalities to be preserved, while human depravity reigns in the temper and spirit. Gregory in disgust soon after gave up his see.
This council very accurately defined the doctrine of the Trinity, and enlarging a little the Nicene creed, they delivered it, as we now have it in our Communion Service. The Macedonian heresy, which blasphemed the Holy Ghost, gave occasion to a more explicit representation of the third Person in the Trinity, which, it must be owned, is there expressed with scriptural precision and clearness. Two Arian About the same time Palladius and Secundianus, deposed at tw0 ^r'an hishops, and the chief supporters of that Aquiieia. heresy in the West, were condemned, in a council held at Aquileia, by the bishop of Milan, and were formally deposed. It is astonishing with what artificial dexterity Palladius evaded the plain and direct interrogatories of Ambrose*, and while he seemed to honour the Son of God in the same manner as others, and to reduce the contest to a verbal dispute, he still reserved the distinguishing ' Fleury, B. XV1I1. 10.
point of Arius. A subtilty ever practised by these Cent. heretics! > JJ' .
Theodosius, earnestly desirous to reduce all who professed the Christian name to an uniformity, once more attempted to unite them by a conference at Constantinople. But where the heart was not the same, it appeared that outward conformity produced only hypocrisy. The Novatians alone agreed cordially with the general church in sentiment. And Nectarius, the new created bishop of Constantinople, lived on a friendly footing with Agelius their bishop, a man of piety and of the first character*. In consequence of this, these dissenters obtained from the emperor as ample a toleration as could reasonably be desired. Heavy and tyrannical penalties were denounced in edicts against the rest,which, however, do not appear to have been executed. The denunciation of them itself was however wrong; though it must be owned, it proceeded from the best intentions on the side of Theodosius, who actually put none of his penal laws against sectaries into execution, and meant only to induce all men to speak alike in the church. How much better, to have taken pains in promoting the propagation of the Gospel itself by the encouragement of zealous pastors, and to have given up the zeal for a chimera of no value, a pretended union without the reality!
In the year 383, Amphilocus, bishop of Iconium, The bishop coming to court with other bishops, paid the usual j£J"?0uTM'* respects to the emperor, but took no notice of his at the'eL son Arcadius, about six years old, who was near the P^-'* father. Theodosius bad him salute his son. Amphi- A D lochus drew near, and stroking him, said," God save ^83. you, my child." The emperor in anger ordered the old man to be driven from court; who with a loud voice declared, You cannot bear to have your son contemned; be assured, that God in like manner is offended with those who honour not his Son as * Socrates, B. V. c. 10.
Chap, himself*. The emperor was struck with the just, XU1- , ness of the remark, and immediately made a law to
prohibit the assemblies of the heretics. Death of In the same year the emperor Gratian lost his life Grauan, rebellion of Maximus, who commanded in
A. D. ]3ritain. Deserted by his troops, Gratian fled towards 3°3- Italy. He found the usual lot of the calamitous, a perfect want of friends j yet he might have escaped to the court of Milan, where his younger brother Valentinian reigned, if he had not been betrayed at Lyons. Adragathius invited him to a feast, and swore to him upon the Gospel. The sincere mind of Gratian, measuring others by himself, and as yet not knowing the world (for he was but twenty-four years of age) fell into the snare, and his murder was the consequence. All writers agree, that he was of the best disposition, and well skilled both in religious and secular learning. Ambrose had a peculiar affection for him, and on his account wrote a treatise concerning the Deity of the Holy Ghost. He tells us (and every thing that we know of him confirms the account) that he was godly from his tender years. Chaste, temperate, benevolent, conscientious, he shines in the Church of Christ; but talents for government he seems not to have possessed, and his indolence gave advantage to those who abused both himself and the public. Divine Providence in him hath given us a lesson, that Christ's kingdom is not of this world ; even a prince unquestionably pious is denied the common advantage of a natural deatht. When he was dying, he bemoaned the absence of Ambrose, and often spake of him J.
* John v. 23. f Fleury, B. XVIII. 27.
J A charitable action of Ambrose, though in opposition to Gratian's views, tended no doubt to raise his character in the eyes of that emperor. A pagan of some rank had spoken contemptuously of Gratian, had been arraigned, und condemned to die. Ambrose, compassionating his case, went to court, to intercede for his life. It was with great difficulty that he could procure admission into the royal presence, where he prevailed at length,
Those who have received benefit from a pastor in Cent. divine things, have often an affection for him, of . TM~ . which the world has no idea. The last movements of a saint are absorbed in divine things, compared with which, the loss of empire weighed as nothing in the mind of Gratian.