1. Thus when Constantine, whom we have already mentioned as an emperor, born of an emperor, a pious son of a most pious and prudent father, and Licinius, second to him, -- two God-beloved emperors, honored alike for their intelligence and their piety, -- being stirred up against the two most impious tyrants by God, the absolute Ruler and Saviour of all, engaged in formal war against them, with God as their ally, Maxentius was defeated at Rome by Constantine in a remarkable manner, and the tyrant of the East did not long survive him, but met a most shameful death at the hand of Licinius, who had not yet become insane.
2. Constantine, who was the superior both in dignity and imperial rank, first took compassion upon those who were oppressed at Rome, and having invoked in prayer the God of heaven, and his Word, and Jesus Christ himself, the Saviour of all, as his aid, advanced with his whole army, proposing to restore to the Romans their ancestral liberty.
3. But Maxentius, putting confidence rather in the arts of sorcery than in the devotion of his subjects, did not dare to go forth beyond the gates of the city, but fortified every place and district and town which was enslaved by him, in the neighborhood of Rome and in all Italy, with an immense multitude of troops and with innumerable bands of soldiers. But the emperor, relying upon the assistance of God, attacked the first, second, and third army of the tyrant, and conquered them all; and having advanced through the greater part of Italy, was already very near Rome.
4. Then, that he might not be compelled to wage war with the Romans for the sake of the tyrant, God himself drew the latter, as if bound in chains, some distance without the gates, and confirmed those threats against the impious which had been anciently inscribed in sacred books, -- disbelieved, indeed, by most as a myth, but believed by the faithful, -- confirmed them, in a word, by the deed itself to all, both believers and unbelievers, that saw the wonder with their eyes.
5. Thus, as in the time of Moses himself and of the ancient God-beloved race of Hebrews, |he cast Pharaoh's chariots and host into the sea, and overwhelmed his chosen charioteers in the Red Sea, and covered them with the flood,| in the same way Maxentius also with his soldiers and body-guards |went down into the depths like a stone,| when he fled before the power of God which was with Constantine, and passed through the river which lay in his way, over which he had formed a bridge with boats, and thus prepared the means of his own destruction.
6. In regard to him one might say, |he digged a pit and opened it and fell into the hole which he had made; his labor shall turn upon his own head, and his unrighteousness shall fall upon his own crown.|
7. Thus, then, the bridge over the river being broken, the passageway settled down, and immediately the boats with the men disappeared in the depths, and that most impious one himself first of all, then the shield-bearers who were with him, as the divine oracles foretold, |sank like lead in the mighty waters|; so that those who obtained the victory from God, if not in words, at least in deeds, like Moses, the great servant of God, and those who were with him, fittingly sang as they had sung against the impious tyrant of old, saying, |Let us sing unto the Lord, for he hath gloriously glorified himself; horse and rider hath he thrown into the sea; a helper and a protector hath he become for my salvation;| and |Who is like unto thee, O Lord; among the gods, who is like unto thee glorious in holiness, marvelous in glory, doing wonders.|
8. These and the like praises Constantine, by his very deeds, sang to God, the universal Ruler, and Author of his victory, as he entered Rome in triumph.
9. Immediately all the members of the senate and the other most celebrated men, with the whole Roman people, together with children and women, received him as their deliverer, their saviour, and their benefactor, with shining eyes and with their whole souls, with shouts of gladness and unbounded joy.
10. But he, as one possessed of inborn piety toward God, did not exult in the shouts, nor was he elated by the praises; but perceiving that his aid was from God, he immediately commanded that a trophy of the Saviour's passion be put in the hand of his own statue.
11. And when he had placed it, with the saving sign of the cross in its right hand, in the most public place in Rome, he commanded that the following inscription should be engraved upon it in the Roman tongue: |By this salutary sign, the true proof of bravery, I have saved and freed your city from the yoke of the tyrant and moreover, having set at liberty both the senate and the people of Rome, I have restored them to their ancient distinction and splendor.|
12. And after this both Constantine himself and with him the Emperor Licinius, who had not yet been seized by that madness into which he later fell, praising God as the author of all their blessings, with one will and mind drew up a full and most complete decree in behalf of the Christians, and sent an account of the wonderful things done for them by God, and of the victory over the tyrant, together with a copy of the decree itself, to Maximinus, who still ruled over the nations of the East and pretended friendship toward them.
13. But he, like a tyrant, was greatly pained by what he learned; but not wishing to seem to yield to others, nor, on the other hand, to suppress that which was commanded, for fear of those who enjoined it, as if on his own authority, he addressed, under compulsion, to the governors under him this first communication in behalf of the Christians, falsely inventing things against himself which had never been done by him.
Copy of a translation of the epistle of the tyrant Maximinus.
14. |Jovius Maximinus Augustus to Sabinus. I am confident that it is manifest both to thy firmness and to all men that our masters Diocletian and Maximianus, our fathers, when they saw almost all men abandoning the worship of the gods and attaching themselves to the party of the Christians, rightly decreed that all who gave up the worship of those same immortal gods should be recalled by open chastisement and punishment to the worship of the gods.
15. But when I first came to the East under favorable auspices and learned that in some places a great many men who were able to render public service had been banished by the judges for the above-mentioned cause, I gave command to each of the judges that henceforth none of them should treat the provincials with severity, but that they should rather recall them to the worship of the gods by flattery and exhortations.
16. Then when, in accordance with my command, these orders were obeyed by the judges, it came to pass that none of those who lived in the districts of the East were banished or insulted, but that they were rather brought back to the worship of the gods by the fact that no severity was employed toward them.
17. But afterwards, when I went up last year under good auspices to Nicomedia and sojourned there, citizens of the same city came to me with the images of the gods, earnestly entreating that such a people should by no means be permitted to dwell in their country.
18. But when I learned that many men of the same religion dwelt in those regions, I replied that I gladly thanked them for their request, but that I perceived that it was not proffered by all, and that if, therefore, there were any that persevered in the same superstition, each one had the privilege of doing as he pleased, even if he wished to recognize the worship of the gods.
19. Nevertheless, I considered it necessary to give a friendly answer to the inhabitants of Nicomedia and to the other cities which had so earnestly presented to me the same petition, namely, that no Christians should dwell in their cities, -- both because this same course had been pursued by all the ancient emperors, and also because it was pleasing to the gods, through whom all men and the government of the state itself endure, -- and to confirm the request which they presented in behalf of the worship of their deity.
20. Therefore, although before this time, special letters have been sent to thy devotedness, and commands have likewise been given that no harsh measures should be taken against those provincials who desire to follow such a course, but that they should be treated mildly and moderately, -- nevertheless, in order that they may not suffer insults or extortions from the beneficiaries, or from any others, I have thought meet to remind thy firmness in this epistle also that thou shouldst lead our provincials rather by flatteries and exhortations to recognize the care of the gods.
21. Hence, if any one of his own choice should decide to adopt the worship of the gods, it is fitting that he should be welcomed, but if any should wish to follow their own religion, do thou leave it in their power.
22. Wherefore it behooves thy devotedness to observe that which is committed to thee, and to see that power is given to no one to oppress our provincials with insults and extortions, since, as already written, it is fitting to recall our provincials to the worship of the gods rather by exhortations and flatteries. But, in order that this command of ours may come to the knowledge of all our provincials, it is incumbent upon thee to proclaim that which has been enjoined, in an edict issued by thyself.|
23. Since he was forced to do this by necessity and did not give the command by his own will, he was not regarded by any one as sincere or trustworthy, because he had already shown his unstable and deceitful disposition after his former similar concession.
24. None of our people, therefore, ventured to hold meetings or even to appear in public, because his communication did not cover this, but only commanded to guard against doing us any injury, and did not give orders that we should hold meetings or build churches or perform any of our customary acts.
25. And yet Constantine and Licinius, the advocates of peace and piety, had written him to permit this, and had granted it to all their subjects by edicts and ordinances. But this most impious man did not choose to yield in this matter until, being driven by the divine judgment, he was at last compelled to do it against his will.