Reading: The Oration of Constantine
When Constantine called the Council of Nicea, he did so as an emperor who was convinced of his own insights into God’s Word. As the bishops gathered, he presented a speech which Eusebius has preserved for us in his historical works. See http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iv.vii.i.html for the entire Oration of Constantine. Here I have just two chapters of the oration.
Chapter 15.—Of the Savior’s Doctrines and Miracles; and the Benefits he confers on those who own Subjection to him.
The Son of God invites all men to the practice of virtue, and presents himself to all who have understanding hearts, as the teacher of his saving precepts. Unless, indeed, we will deceive ourselves; and remain in wretched ignorance of the fact, that for our advantage, that is, to secure the blessing of the human race, he went about upon earth; and, having called around him the best men of their age, committed to them instructions full of profit, and of power to preserve them in the path of a virtuous life; teaching them the faith and righteousness which are the true remedy against the adverse power of that malignant spirit whose delight it is to ensnare and delude the inexperienced. Accordingly he visited the sick, relieved the infirm from the ills which afflicted them, and consoled those who felt the extremity of penury and want. He commended also sound and rational sobriety of character, enjoining his followers to endure, with dignity and patience, every kind of injury and contempt: teaching them to regard such as visitations permitted by their Father, and the victory is ever theirs who nobly bear the evils which befall them. For he assured them that the highest strength of all consisted in this steadfastness of soul, combined with that philosophy which is nothing else than the knowledge of truth and goodness, producing in men the generous habit of sharing with their poorer brethren those riches which they have themselves acquired by honorable means. At the same time he utterly forbade all proud oppression, declaring that, as he had come to associate with the lowly, so those who despised the lowly would be excluded from his favor. Such and so great was the test whereby he proved the faith of those who owned allegiance to his authority, and thus he not only prepared them for the contempt of danger and terror, but taught them at the same time the most genuine confidence in himself. Once, too, his rebuke was uttered to restrain the zeal of one of his companions, who yielded too easily to the impulse of passion, when he assaulted with the sword, and, eager to protect his Savior’s life, exposed his own. Then it was that he bade him desist, and returned his sword to its sheath, reproving him for his distrust of refuge and safety in himself, and declaring solemnly that all who should essay to retaliate an injury by like aggression, or use the sword, should perish by a violent death. This is indeed heavenly wisdom, to choose rather to endure than to inflict injury, and to be ready, should necessity so require, to suffer, but not to do, wrong. For since injurious conduct is in itself a most serious evil, it is not the injured party, but the injuring, on whom the heaviest punishment must fall. It is indeed possible for one who is subject to the will of God to avoid the evil both of committing and of suffering injury, provided his confidence be firm in the protection of that God whose aid is ever present to shield his servants from harm. For how should that man who trusts in God attempt to seek for resources in himself? In such a case he must abide the conflict with uncertainty of victory: and no man of understanding could prefer a doubtful to a certain issue. Again, how can that man doubt the presence and aid of God, who has had experience of manifold dangers, and has at all times been easily delivered, at his simple nod, from all terrors: who has passed, as it were, through the sea which was leveled by the Savior’s word, and afforded a solid road for the passage of the people? This is, I believe, the sure basis of faith, the true foundation of confidence, that we find such miracles as these performed and perfected at the command of the God of Providence. Hence it is that even in the midst of trial we find no cause to repent of our faith, but retain an unshaken hope in God; and when this habit of confidence is established in the soul, God himself dwells in the inmost thoughts. But he is of invincible power: the soul, therefore, which has within it him who is thus invincible, will not be overcome by the perils which may surround it. Likewise, we learn this truth from the victory of God himself, who, while intent on providing for the blessing of mankind, though grievously insulted by the malice of the ungodly, yet passed unharmed through the sufferings of his passion, and gained a mighty conquest, an everlasting crown of triumph, over all iniquity; thus accomplishing the purpose of his own providence and love as regards the just, and destroying the cruelty of the impious and unjust.
Chapter 16.—The Coming of Christ was predicted by the Prophets; and was ordained to be the Overthrow of Idols and Idolatrous Cities.
Long since had his passion, as well as his advent in the flesh, been predicted by the prophets. The time, too, of his incarnation had been foretold, and the manner in which the fruits of iniquity and profligacy, so ruinous to the works and ways of righteousness, should be destroyed, and the whole world partake of the virtues of wisdom and sound discretion, through the almost universal prevalence of those principles of conduct which the Savior should promulgate, over the minds of men; whereby the worship of God should be confirmed, and the rites of superstition utterly abolished. By these not the slaughter of animals alone, but the sacrifice of human victims, and the pollutions of an accursed worship, had been devised: as, for example, by the laws of Assyria and Egypt, the lives of innocent men were offered up in images of brass or earth. Therefore have these nations received a recompense worthy so foul a worship. Memphis and Babylon [it was declared] shall be wasted, and left desolate with their fathers’ gods. Now these things I speak not from the report of others, but having myself been present, and actually seen the most wretched of these cities, the unfortunate Memphis. Moses desolated, at the Divine command, the land of the once mighty Pharaoh, whose arrogance was his destruction,3448 and destroyed his army (which had proved victorious over numerous and mighty nations, an army strong in defenses and in arms), not by the flight of arrows or the hurling of hostile weapons, but by holy prayer alone, and quiet supplication.