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At the death of Maximinus Daia in 313, Licinius remained master in the east. Constantine, who had reigned for some years as emperor in the west, being a Christian, or disposing himself to be so, prevailed upon Licinius to join with him in publishing an edict, which superseded all persecution, and granted full liberty and peace to Christians. This happy time lasted till the year 319, when Licinius altering his conduct, commenced a new persecution, and in 323 renewed the war 'he had before waged with Constantine. Licinius was vanquished both by sea and land, and upon his submission was allowed to retire to Thessalonica; but as he still meditated new disturbance, he was put to death by Constantine's orders in the year 324.
Thus then at last a period was put to the troubles of the Christians. Religion triumphed over every obstruction, which the idolatrous powers had opposed to it. The Christian Constantine reigned sole emperor: and here is dated the remarkable epocha of the peace and triumph of the Church of Christ.
What has been said seems to show sufficiently the accomplishment of the text under consideration, that is, the severe judgments that fell upon the Roman emperors and the people of the empire, for their supporting idolatry, and persecuting the true worship of God. However, the hand of God did not stop here, nor was it satisfied with the slaughter of the great victims we have seen, nor with the large measure of calamities we have described. We shall see in the sequel the most astonishing stroke, by which the divine vengeance was at last completed. This was the subversion of the great Roman empire, and total destruction of Pagan Rome itself.
Notwithstanding the preceding explanation of the text, we shall beg leave, in order to elucidate it the more, to add something further, particularly the cessation of the pagan oracles, which chiefly happened in this first age. Christ came into the world not only to subdue all earthly powers by bringing them under the yoke of his doctrine, but also to conquer the devil, and to break down the dominion he had usurped over mankind. This we learn from our Saviour himself, who said: "Now is the judgmeut of the world; now shall the prince of this world, the devil, be cast out." John xii. 31. It is well known that the devil had long deluded mankind by the oracles which he pretended to deliver by the mouths of the idols, or their priests. Many of the answers thus pronounced as oracles, were undoubtedly mere inventions of the pagan priests themselves who by such artifices imposed upon the ignorant. But the holy fathers and ancient ecclesiastical writers agree, that the demons themselves often spoke through the idols, and uttered predictions, which, whether true or false, could always, on account of their obscurity and ambiguity, be interpreted conformable to the events. All these oracular powers, even the most celebrated, were observed to decline after our Saviour's coming into the world and the preaching of the gospel, and by degrees entirely ceased giving any more answers. Thus speaks the historian Eusebius, who flourished in the reign of Constantine the Great: "A great proof of the imbecility of the demons is, that their oracles are extinct, and give no more answers as formerly, and that this happened about the time of the coming of our Saviour; for as soon as his doctrine was preached throughout the world, the oracles then ceased." Dem. Evang. lib. 5. The pagan writers themselves universally complain, that their gods had forsaken their temples, and that their votaries did in vain solicit their counsels. Julian the apostate owns, "that the gods now a days seldom inspire any of their ministers, nor can any one scarce obtain that inspiration; but oracles, like other things, seem to alter with the revolution of times." Apud S. Cyrill. lib. 6. contra Julian. Even the most celebrated oracle of Apollo at Delphos, some time before our Saviour's birth, had lost much of its credit, and after his appearance it entirely sunk away. Thus speaks Juvenal of it at the beginning of the second century, Sat. 6.
Delpbis oracula cessant.
Now the Delphian oracles are dumb.
Thus also wrote the poet Lucan, a little after the middle of the first century, lib. 5.
. Non ullo saecula dono
Nostra carent majore Deum, quam Delphica sedes quod filuit.
Plutarch wrote an express treatise to account for the silence of oracles. He employs arguments founded on natural, moral, and political causes, but all his philosophy proved insufficient to give a satisfactory reason. That this silence was solely owing to the dominion of Christ, and the establishment of his religion, is avowed even by some of the pagans themselves. Porphyry, an inveterate enemy to Christianity, who lived towards the end of the third century, says: "It is no wonder if the city for so many years has been aflicted with sickness, iEaculapius, and the rest of the gods, having withdrawn their former commerce with mankind; for since Jesus has begun to be worshipped, no one has received any public help from the gods." Euseb. Praep. Evang. lib. 5. On this subject see also Cave and others. The holy fathers are unanimous in their opinion, that the superior power of the Christian religion imposed silence on the devil, shut up the mouths of his priests and priestesses, and greatly abridged his influence in seducing mankind. Visible examples are not wanting in confirmation of this truth. St. Gregory of Nyssa relates, that St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, having entered a heathenish temple famous for oracles, purified it by the sign of the cross and prayer, and compelled the demon that resided there to leave the place. This the demon himself confessed to his votaries. We also learn from St. Chrysostom, Theodoret, Sozomen, and others, that at Dunhue, in the neighbourhood of Antioch, there was a temple dedicated to Apollo, much celebrated for its oracles; but that the body of the holy martyr, St. Babylas, being brought and laid in a church near the place, Apollo was instantly struck dumb. Thus was the devil compelled to yield to a force he had not felt before. It was certainly fit, that, when the Son of God, appeared on the earth, then Satan should be obliged to withdraw, and his impostures give place to the light of truth.
But it ought to be here observed, that this silencing of Satan was only a small part of the victory which Christ claimed over him. The whole system of idolatry, which that enemy of God had introduced into the world, was now by the propagation of the Christian faith shaken to the very foundation, and in a little time tumbled wholly to pieces. It was what the Almighty had long before anuounced by his prophets. Thus speaks Isaias: "In that day the Lord shall be exalted alone, and the idols shall be utterly destroyed." Isai. ii. 17, 18. "The Lord shall consume all the gods of the earth," says another prophet, Sophon. ii. 11. In proportion as the Christian religion was made known, the absurdity and impiety of idolatrous worship became manifest, the idols were thrown down, the fictitious deities they represented were scoffed at and ridiculed, and their ministers treated with the utmost contempt. In the same measure that He, who is the " Light of the world," spread his influence, with the same speed the "Spirit of darkness" fled away, and retired into obscurity.
By degrees the devil's power was so weakened, that the meanest Christian could by a word expel him from those miserable creatures he tyrannically possessed, and force him to acknowledge with confusion, that he was a rebel angel, an enemy to God. This practice is fully attested by St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, Tcrtullian, St. Cyprian, and all the primitive fathers, and was common in tne three first centuries of the church. Nor was this power of the Christians over the devil to be wondered at, as it was founded on Christ, who had given his word for it. "These signs," says he, "shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils." Mark xvi. 17.
Facts similar to those above related are seen at this day in the idolatrous nations of the East Indies, where the devil has maintained for a long time a settled worship and dominion. It is common there to see persons possessed, which he manages according to his will, and through their mouths delivers his oracles, and answers the questions put to him by his votaries. It is indeed no matter of surprise that the devil enjoys so much power in places where he is personally worshipped. But at the same time there is seen the same virtue and efficacy residing in the Christian and Catholic religion, as in the primitive ages. The persons possessed are delivered from the evil spirit by the prayers or command of the Christians, and his influence is observed to decline as the gospel gains ground. These facts are certified by unquestionable testimonies of the Catholic missionaries residing in those countries, who are daily eye-witnesses of them. See Lettres Curieuses et Edifiantes.
A FURTHER ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST AGE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
The first seal, trumpet, and vial, have exhibited a general descriptions of the first preaching of the Christian religion, the persecution that attended it, and the divine vengeance on the authors of these persecutions. But as the history of the church is highly interesting during this first age, or first three centuries, in which it took its birth and obtained its establishment, Christ is pleased to disclose to us, in chap. xii. of the Apocalypse, more circumstances belonging to this period, and unfolds the origin of all obstructions put to the propagation of the Christian religion, the agents employed for that purpose with the progress of their machinations and efforts for the support of idolatry, and for suppressing the worship of God and Christ.
Apoc. chap. xii. I. "And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
V. 2. "And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered."
Here is a "great sign" or a noble figurative representation of the Christian Church. She appears "in heaven," as drawing her origin from heaven, by her Author, the son of God: and she is represented under the form of a " woman, clothed with the sun, moon and stars," the most splendid raiment the whole compass of nature can furnish. She is clothed with the sun, as shining with the brightness of her sanctity, and with the glory of her spouse, Jesus Christ, who is the "Sun of Justice." Mai. iv. 2 She holds the " moon under her feet," as victorious over all sublunary beings, over all earthly powers, and worldly charms. She bears on her head "a crown of twelve stars," denoting the twelve apostles, who, after Christ her " Sun," make her principal ornament. She appears in labour, and suffering the excruciating pangs of child-bed in her first bringing forth children to Christ: such are the struggles, and such are the difficulties, that obstruct the birth of Christianity, or the first propagation of the Christian faith. On one side human laws, human passions, the general depravity of mankind, the pleasures of life: on the other side, the Jews, the Pagans, all conspire to fight against her. But particularly:
V. 3. "And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns, and on his head seven diadems.
V. 4. "And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered; that when she should be delivered, he might devour her son."
Here the woman, or the Christian Church, sees her chief enemy, the great red or cruel dragon, which is the arch-devil Satan, as St. John explains it below, verse 9th; and it appears