Note: This episode concludes this series. It is Episode 126 of 126. The series began on 2/19/19.
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 10, chapter 8-9.
Notes and Commentary:
These final two chapters in the EH describe the Emperor Constantine’s final victory over his rival Licinius to unite the Roman empire and to ensure peace and security for the Christians.
Chapter 8 describes the intrigues of Licinius against Constantine and the Christian community. Eusebius notes that although Constantine acted graciously toward Licinius, who stood second in rank to him, even giving his sister in marriage to Licinius, he rejected this good will and rebelled against Constantine. In the end, however, God proved to be Constantine’s “Friend and Protector and Guardian.”
In his rebellion, the ire of Licinius was not just aimed at Constantine but also against the Christians. Eusebius notes that Licinius first drove Christians from his palace and then deprived Christian soldiers in his army of their rank.
He also passed various unjust ordinances, including a law that forbade the humane distribution of food to those who were imprisoned. He banished or arrested various men of nobility and high-esteem. Eusebius also accuses Licinius of immorality in his abuse of many married women and unwedded girls to satisfy his “unbridled lust,” calling him a “drunken old dotard.”
In the final stages of his “madness” Licinius struck against the bishops, putting some to death, and against the churches, throwing them down “from top to bottom” or shutting them up. Some of those put to death had their bodies cut to pieces with the sword and the pieces of their body were cast in the sea as “food for fishes.” Many of the men of God fled again to the fields, deserts, glens, and mountains to escape this persecution.
Chapter 9 notes how Constantine defeated Licinius. The “humane” Emperor and his son, Crispus, stretched out “the right hand of salvation” by going into battle against “the haters of God” and quickly won the victory.
Oulton explains in a footnote: “Licinius was defeated first at Adrianople, 3 July and secondly, when he had fled to Byzantium and had been forced to cross the Straits at Chrysopolis (Scutari), September 18 or 20, 324. Shortly afterwards, Constantine had him put to death” (476-477, n. 1).
The “pictures and honours” of Licinius were disgraced, and he was “cast down prostrate.”
Constantine, the “most mighty Victor,” “recovered the East” and “formed the Roman Empire, as in the days of old, into a single, united whole.” The populace had all fear taken away and celebrated the victory with “brilliant festivals,” as “all things were filled with light.” Praise was given first to God and then to Constantine and his sons.
Eusebius ends the EH with this narrative of the triumph of Constantine over Licinius and with the peace of the Christians in the Roman Empire established. By AD 380, Christianity will be made the official religion of the Empire by the Edict of Thessalonica issued by the Emperor Theodosius. It continues to be debated today whether Constantine’s embrace and protection of the church was a blessing or detriment to the Christian movement.