« Prev The Overthrow of the Tyrants and the Words which… Next »

366Chapter X.—The Overthrow of the Tyrants and the Words which they uttered before their Death.27772777    On the transposition of the titles of chaps. 9 and 10, see the previous chapter, note 1.

1. The circumstances which drove him to this course were the following. Being no longer able to sustain the magnitude of the government which had been undeservedly committed to him, in consequence of his want of prudence and imperial understanding, he managed affairs in a base manner, and with his mind unreasonably exalted in all things with boastful pride, even toward his colleagues in the empire who were in every respect his superiors, in birth, in training, in education, in worth and intelligence, and, greatest of all, in temperance and piety toward the true God, he began to venture to act audaciously and to arrogate to himself the first rank.27782778    That Maximin should arrogate to himself, as Eusebius says, the highest rank is not very surprising, when we realize that that position, in so far as any difference in rank between the different rulers was acknowledged, belonged to him by right, inasmuch as he was Constantine’s senior (having been first Cæsar when the latter was only second), while Constantine (see above, chap. 9, note 2) was regarded as the senior of Licinius.

2. Becoming mad in his folly, he broke the treaties which he had made with Licinius27792779    The treaty made in 311, just after the death of Galerius (see De mort. pers. 36). and undertook an implacable war. Then in a brief time he threw all things into confusion, and stirred up every city, and having collected his entire force, comprising an immense number of soldiers, he went forth to battle with him, elated by his hopes in demons, whom he supposed to be gods, and by the number of his soldiers.

3. And when he joined battle27802780    This battle between Licinius and Maximin was fought on April 30, 313, at Adrianople, in Thrace. For a more detailed but somewhat imaginative account of the battle, see De mort. pers. chap. 45 sq. Lactantius is considerate enough to accord Licinius the honor of a divine vision, that he may not be behind his imperial colleague Constantine; and he is pious enough to ascribe the victory wholly to the divine aid vouchsafed in response to the prayers of Licinius and his soldiers. he was deprived of the oversight of God, and the victory was given to Licinius,27812781    The word Licinius is omitted by Laemmer and Heinichen, but without sufficient warrant, for it is found in nearly all the mss. who was then ruling, by the one and only God of all.

4. First, the army in which he trusted was destroyed, and as all his guards abandoned him and left him alone, and fled to the victor, he secretly divested himself as quickly as possible of the imperial garments, which did not fitly belong to him, and in a cowardly and ignoble and unmanly way mingled with the crowd, and then fled, concealing himself in fields and villages.27822782    Lactantius (ibid. chap. 47) informs us that Maximin’s flight was so rapid that he reached Nicomedia, which was 160 miles from Adrianople, on the evening of the day following the battle. As Gibbon remarks, “The incredible speed which Maximin exerted in his flight is much more celebrated than his prowess in battle.” But though he was so careful for his safety, he scarcely escaped the hands of his enemies, revealing by his deeds that the divine oracles are faithful and true, in which it is said, “A king is not saved by a great force, and a giant shall not be saved by the greatness of his strength; a horse is a vain thing for safety, nor shall he be delivered by the greatness of his power.

5. Behold, the eyes of the Lord are upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy, to deliver their souls from death.”27832783    Psa. xxxiii. 16–19

6. Thus the tyrant, covered with shame, went to his own country. And first, in frantic rage, he slew many priests and prophets of the gods whom he had formerly admired, and whose oracles had incited him to undertake the war, as sorcerers and impostors, and besides all as betrayers of his safety. Then having given glory to the God of the Christians and enacted a most full and complete ordinance in behalf of their liberty,27842784    The final toleration edict of Maximin must have been issued very soon after his defeat, and its occasion is plain enough. If he were to oppose Licinius successfully, he must secure the loyalty of all his subjects, and this could be done only by granting the Christians full toleration. He could see plainly enough that Licinius’ religious policy was a success in securing the allegiance of his subjects, and he found himself compelled in self-defense to pursue a similar course, distasteful as it was to him. There is no sign that he had any other motive in taking this step. Religious considerations seem to have had nothing to do with it; he was doubtless as much of a pagan as ever. The edict itself is composed in an admirable vein. As Mason remarks, “Maximin made the concession with so much dignity and grace, that it is impossible to help wishing that his language were truer.” As in the previous decree, he indulges his passion for lying without restraint; but, unlike that one, the present edict is straightforward and consistent throughout, and grants the Christians full liberty in the most unequivocal terms. he was immediately seized with a mortal disease, and no respite being granted him, departed this life.27852785    Maximin’s death took place at Tarsus (according to De mort. pers. chap. 49), and apparently within a few weeks after his defeat at Adrianople and the publication of his edict of toleration. The reports of his death are somewhat conflicting. Zosimus and the epitomist of Victor say merely that he died a natural death; Lactantius tells us that he took poison; while Eusebius in § 14 sq. gives us a horrible account of his last sickness which, according to him, was marked, to say the least, with some rather remarkable symptoms. Mason facetiously remarks that Eusebius seems to be thinking of a spontaneous combustion. It was quite the fashion in the early Church to tell dreadful tales in connection with the deaths of the persecutors, but in the present case exaggeration is hardly necessary, for it would seem from Lactantius’ account, that he died not of poison, as he states, but of delirium tremens. As Mason remarks, “It is probable that Maximin died of nothing worse than a natural death. But the death which was natural to him was the most dreadful perhaps that men can die. Maximin was known as an habitual drunkard; and in his dying delirium he is said to have cried out that he saw God, with assessors, all in white robes, judging him.” The law enacted by him was as follows:

Copy of the edict of the tyrant in behalf of the Christians, translated from the Roman tongue.

7. “The Emperor Cæsar Caius Valerius Maximinus, Germanicus, Sarmaticus, Pius, Felix, Invictus, Augustus. We believe it manifest that no one is ignorant, but that every man who looks back over the past knows and is conscious that in every way we care continually for the good of our provincials, and wish to furnish them with those things which are of especial advantage to all, and for the common benefit and profit, and whatever contributes to the public welfare and is agreeable to the views of each.

8. When, therefore, before this, it became clear to our mind that under pretext of the command of our parents, the most divine Diocletian and Maximianus, which enjoined that the meetings of the 367Christians should be abolished, many extortions27862786    See chap. 9, note 24. and spoliations had been practiced by officials; and that those evils were continually increasing, to the detriment of our provincials toward whom we are especially anxious to exercise proper care, and that their possessions were in consequence perishing, letters were sent last year27872787    i.e. the epistle addressed to Sabinus, and quoted in the previous chapter, which was written toward the end of 312 (see that chapter, note 18). to the governors of each province, in which we decreed that, if any one wished to follow such a practice or to observe this same religion, he should be permitted without hindrance to pursue his purpose and should be impeded and prevented by no one, and that all should have liberty to do without any fear or suspicion that which each preferred.

9. But even now we cannot help perceiving that some of the judges have mistaken our commands, and have given our people reason to doubt the meaning of our ordinances, and have caused them to proceed too reluctantly to the observance of those religious rites which are pleasing to them.

10. In order, therefore, that in the future every suspicion of fearful doubt may be taken away, we have commanded that this decree be published, so that it may be clear to all that whoever wishes to embrace this sect and religion is permitted to do so by virtue of this grant of ours; and that each one, as he wishes or as is pleasing to him, is permitted to practice this religion which he has chosen to observe according to his custom. It is also granted them to build Lord’s houses.

11. But that this grant of ours may be the greater, we have thought good to decree also that if any houses and lands before this time rightfully belonged to the Christians, and by the command of our parents fell into the treasury, or were confiscated by any city,—whether they have been sold or presented to any one as a gift,—that all these should be restored to their original possessors, the Christians, in order that in this also every one may have knowledge of our piety and care.”

12. These are the words of the tyrant which were published not quite a year after the decrees against the Christians engraved by him on pillars.27882788    See above, chap. 7. And by him to whom a little before we seemed impious wretches and atheists and destroyers of all life, so that we were not permitted to dwell in any city nor even in country or desert,—by him decrees and ordinances were issued in behalf of the Christians, and they who recently had been destroyed by fire and sword, by wild beasts and birds of prey, in the presence of the tyrant himself, and had suffered every species of torture and punishment, and most miserable deaths as atheists and impious wretches, were now acknowledged by him as possessors of religion and were permitted to build churches; and the tyrant himself bore witness and confessed that they had some rights.

13. And having made such confessions, as if he had received some benefit on account of them, he suffered perhaps less than he ought to have suffered, and being smitten by a sudden scourge of God, he perished in the second campaign of the war.

14. But his end was not like that of military chieftains who, while fighting bravely in battle for virtue and friends, often boldly encounter a glorious death; for like an impious enemy of God, while his army was still drawn up in the field, remaining at home and concealing himself, he suffered the punishment which he deserved. For he was smitten with a sudden scourge of God in his whole body, and harassed by terrible pains and torments, he fell prostrate on the ground, wasted by hunger, while all his flesh was dissolved by an invisible and God-sent fire, so that the whole appearance of his frame was changed, and there was left only a kind of image wasted away by length of time to a skeleton of dry bones; so that those who were present could think of his body as nothing else than the tomb of his soul, which was buried in a body already dead and completely melted away.

15. And as the heat still more violently consumed him in the depths of his marrow, his eyes burst forth, and falling from their sockets left him blind. Thereupon still breathing and making free confession to the Lord, he invoked death, and at last, after acknowledging that he justly suffered these things on account of his violence against Christ, he gave up the ghost.

« Prev The Overthrow of the Tyrants and the Words which… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection