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Chapter VII.—The Exemption of the Clergy.

Copy of an Epistle in which the emperor commands that the rulers of the churches be exempted from all political duties.29662966    Municipal offices and magistracies were a great burden under the later Roman empire. They entailed heavy expenses for those who filled them, and consequently, unless a man’s wealth was large, and his desire for distinction very great, he was glad to be exempted, if possible, from the necessity of supporting such expensive honors, which he was not at liberty to refuse. The same was true of almost all the offices, municipal and provincial offices, high and low. Discharging the duties of an office was in fact practically paying a heavy tax to government, and of course the fewer there were that were compelled to pay this tax, the greater the burden upon the few. As a consequence, the exemption of any class of persons always aroused opposition from those who were not exempted. In granting this immunity to the clergy, however, Constantine was granting them only what had long been enjoyed by the heathen priesthood, and also by some of the learned professions. The privilege bestowed here upon the African clergy was afterward extended to those of other provinces, as we learn from the Theodosian Code, 16. 2. 2 (a.d. 319). The direct result of the exemption was that many persons of means secured admission to the ranks of the clergy, in order to escape the burden of office-holding; and this practice increased so rapidly that within a few years the emperor was obliged to enact various laws restricting the privilege. See Hatch’s Constitution of the Early Christ. Churches, p. 144 sq.

1. “Greeting to thee, our most esteemed Anulinus. Since it appears from many circumstances that when that religion is despised, in which is preserved the chief reverence for the most holy celestial Power, great dangers are brought upon public affairs; but that when legally adopted and observed29672967    ἐνθέσμως ἀναληφθεῖσαν καὶ φυλαττομενην it affords the most signal prosperity to the Roman name and remarkable felicity to all the affairs of men, through the divine beneficence,—it has seemed good to me, most esteemed Anulinus, that those men who give their services with due sanctity and with constant observance of this law, to the worship of the divine religion, should receive recompense for their labors.

2. Wherefore it is my will that those within the province entrusted to thee,29682968    i.e. the proconsular province of Africa (see above, chap. 5, § 18). in the catholic Church, over which Cæcilianus presides,29692969    i.e. the Church of the entire province; for the bishop of Carthage was the metropolitan of the province, and indeed was the leading bishop of North Africa, and thus recognized as in some sense at the head of the church of that entire section of country. who give their services to this holy religion, and who are commonly called clergymen, be entirely exempted from all public duties, that they may not by any error or sacrilegious negligence be drawn away from the service due to the Deity, but may devote themselves without any hindrance to their own law. For it seems that when they show greatest reverence to the Deity, the greatest benefits accrue to the state. Farewell, our most esteemed and beloved Anulinus.”

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