1. For whereas we are composed of two distinct natures, I mean of body and spirit, of which the one is visible to all, the other invisible, against both these natures two kinds of barbarous and savage enemies, the one invisibly, the other openly, are constantly arrayed. p. 590 The one oppose our bodies with bodily force: the other with incorporeal assaults besiege the naked soul itself.
2. Again, the visible barbarians, like the wild nomad tribes, no better than savage beasts, assail the nations of civilized men, ravage their country, and enslave their cities, rushing on those who inhabit them like ruthless wolves of the desert, and destroying all who fall under their power. But those unseen foes, more cruel far than barbarians, I mean the soul-destroying demons whose course is through the regions of the air, had succeeded, through the snares of vile polytheism, in enslaving the entire human race, insomuch that they no longer recognized the true God, but wandered in the mazes of atheistic error. For they procured, I know not whence, gods who never anywhere existed, and set him aside who is the only and the true God, as though he were not.
3. Accordingly the generation of bodies was esteemed by them a deity, and so the opposite principle to this, their dissolution and destruction, was also deified. The first, as the author of generative power, was honored with rites under the name of Venus: 3525 the second, as rich, and mighty in dominion over the human race, received the names of Pluto, and Death. For men in those ages, knowing no other than naturally generated life, declared the cause and origin of that life to be divine: and again, believing in no existence after death, they proclaimed Death himself a universal conqueror and a mighty god. Hence, unconscious of responsibility, as destined to be annihilated by death, they lived a life unworthy of the name, in the practice of actions deserving a thousand deaths. No thought of God could enter their minds, no expectation of Divine judgment, no recollection of, no reflection on, their spiritual existence: acknowledging one dread superior, Death, and persuaded that the dissolution of their bodies by his power was final annihilation, they bestowed on Death the title of a mighty, a wealthy god, and hence the name of Pluto. 3526 Thus, then, Death became to them a god; nor only so, but whatever else they accounted precious in comparison with death, whatever contributed to the luxuries of life.
4. Hence animal pleasure became to them a god; nutrition, and its production, a god; the fruit of trees, a god; drunken riot, a god; carnal desire and pleasure, a god. Hence the mysteries of Ceres and Proserpine, the rape of the latter, and her subsequent restoration, by Pluto: hence the orgies of Bacchus, and Hercules overcome by drunkenness as by a mightier god: hence the adulterous rites of Cupid and of Venus: hence Jupiter himself infatuated with the love of women, and of Ganymede: 3527 hence the licentious legends of deities abandoned to effeminacy and pleasure.
5. Such were the weapons of superstition whereby these cruel barbarians and enemies of the Supreme God afflicted, and indeed entirely subdued, the human race; erecting everywhere the monuments of impiety, and rearing in every corner the shrines and temples of their false religion.
6. Nay, so far were the ruling powers of those times enslaved by the force of error, as to appease their gods with the blood of their own countrymen and kindred; to whet their swords against those who stood forward to defend the truth; to maintain a ruthless war and raise unholy hands, not against foreign or barbarian foes, but against men bound to them by the ties of family and affection, against brethren, and kinsmen, and dearest friends, who had resolved, in the practice of virtue and true piety, to honor and worship God.
7. Such was the spirit of madness with which these princes sacrificed to their demon deities men consecrated to the service of the King of kings. On the other hand their victims, as noble martyrs in the cause of true godliness, resolved to welcome a glorious death in preference to life itself, and utterly despised these cruelties. Strengthened, as soldiers of God, with patient fortitude, they mocked at death in all its forms; at fire, and sword, and the torment of crucifixion; at exposure to savage beasts, and drowning in the depths of the sea; at the cutting off and searing of limbs, the digging out of eyes, the mutilation of the whole body; lastly, at famine, the labor of the mines, and captivity: nay, all these sufferings they counted better than any earthly good or pleasure, for the love they bore their heavenly King. In like manner women also evinced a spirit of constancy and courage not inferior to that of men.
8. Some endured the same conflicts with them, and obtained a like reward of their virtue: others, forcibly carried off to be the victims of violence and pollution, welcomed death rather than dishonor; while many, very many more, endured not even to hear the same threats wherewith they were assailed by the provincial governors, but boldly sustained every variety of torture, and sentence of death in every form. 3528 Thus did these valiant soldiers of the Almighty Sovereign maintain the conflict with steadfast fortitude of soul against the hostile forces of polytheism: and thus did these enemies of God and adversaries of mans salvation, more cruel far than the ferocious savage, delight in libations of human blood: thus did p. 591 their ministers drain as it were the cup of unrighteous slaughter in honor of the demons whom they served, and prepare for them this dread and impious banquet, to the ruin of the human race.
9. In these sad circumstances, what course should the God and King of these afflicted ones pursue? Could he be careless of the safety of his dearest friends or abandon his servants in this great extremity? Surely none could deem him a wary pilot, who, without an effort to save his fellow-mariners should suffer his vessel to sink with all her crew: surely no general could be found so reckless as to yield his own allies, without resistance, to the mercy of the foe: nor can a faithful shepherd regard with unconcern the straying of a single sheep from his flock, but will rather leave the rest in safety, and dare all things for the wanderers sake, even, if need be, to contend with savage beasts.
10. The zeal, however, of the great Sovereign of all was for no unconscious 3529 sheep: his care was exercised for his own faithful host, for those who sustained the battle for his sake: whose conflicts in the cause of godliness he himself approved, and honored those who had returned to his presence with the prize of victory which he only can bestow, uniting them to the angelic choirs. Others he still preserved on earth, to communicate the living seeds of piety to future generations; to be at once eye-witnesses of his vengeance on the ungodly, and narrators of the events.
11. After this he outstretched his arm in judgment on the adversaries, and utterly destroyed them with the stroke of Divine wrath, compelling them, how reluctant soever to confess with their own lips and recant their wickedness, but raising from the ground and exalting gloriously those who had long been oppressed and disclaimed by all.
12. Such were the dealings of the Supreme Sovereign, who ordained an invincible champion to be the minister of his heaven-sent vengeance (for our emperors surpassing piety delights in the title of Servant of God), and him he has proved victorious over all that opposed him, having raised him up, an individual against many foes. For they were indeed numberless, being the friends of many evil spirits (though in reality they were nothing, and hence are now no more); but our emperor is one, appointed by, and the representative of, the one Almighty Sovereign. And they, in the very spirit of impiety, destroyed the righteous with cruel slaughter: but he, in imitation of his Saviour, and knowing only how to save mens lives, has spared and instructed in godliness the impious themselves.
13. And so, as truly worthy the name of Victor, he has subdued the twofold race of barbarians; soothing the savage tribes of men by prudent embassies, compelling them to know and acknowledge their superiors, and reclaiming them from a lawless and brutal life to the governance of reason and humanity; at the same time that he proved by the facts themselves that the fierce and ruthless race of unseen spirits had long ago been vanquished by a higher power. For he who is the preserver of the universe had punished these invisible spirits by an invisible judgment: and our emperor, as the delegate of the Supreme Sovereign, has followed up the victory, bearing away the spoils of those who have long since died and mouldered into dust, and distributing the plunder with lavish hand among the soldiers of his victorious Lord. 3530
[Μέγαν θεὸν καὶ πλούσιον, παρα καὶ Πλούτωνα, τὸν θ€νατον ἀνηγόρευον.—Bag.]590:3527
On these various names, compare Smith, Dict. of Gr. and Rom. Biog.590:3528
For account of the various details of persecution mentioned, compare the Church History.591:3529
[That is, stripping the images of those whose temples he destroyed, and apportioning the spoils among his Christian followers: See the next chapter, which is mostly a transcript of the 54th and 55th chapters of the Third Book of the Life of Constantine.—Bag.]