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Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3, by Edward Gibbon, [1781], at

Chapter XXXVII: Conversion Of The Barbarians To Christianity. Part V.

The Catholics, oppressed by royal and military force, were far superior to their adversaries in numbers and learning. With the same weapons which the Greek  112 and Latin fathers had already provided for the Arian controversy, they repeatedly silenced, or vanquished, the fierce and illiterate successors of Ulphilas. The consciousness of their own superiority might have raised them above the arts and passions of religious warfare. Yet, instead of assuming such honorable pride, the orthodox theologians were tempted, by the assurance of impunity, to compose fictions, which must be stigmatized with the epithets of fraud and forgery. They ascribed their own polemical works to the most venerable names of Christian antiquity; the characters of Athanasius and Augustin were awkwardly personated by Vigilius and his disciples;  113 and the famous creed, which so clearly expounds the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation, is deduced, with strong probability, from this African school.  114 Even the Scriptures themselves were profaned by their rash and sacrilegious hands. The memorable text, which asserts the unity of the three who bear witness in heaven,  115 is condemned by the universal silence of the orthodox fathers, ancient versions, and authentic manuscripts.  116 It was first alleged by the Catholic bishops whom Hunneric summoned to the conference of Carthage.  117 An allegorical interpretation, in the form, perhaps, of a marginal note, invaded the text of the Latin Bibles, which were renewed and corrected in a dark period of ten centuries.  118 After the invention of printing,  119 the editors of the Greek Testament yielded to their own prejudices, or those of the times;  120 and the pious fraud, which was embraced with equal zeal at Rome and at Geneva, has been infinitely multiplied in every country and every language of modern Europe.

The example of fraud must excite suspicion: and the specious miracles by which the African Catholics have defended the truth and justice of their cause, may be ascribed, with more reason, to their own industry, than to the visible protection of Heaven. Yet the historian, who views this religious conflict with an impartial eye, may condescend to mention one preternatural event, which will edify the devout, and surprise the incredulous. Tipasa,  121 a maritime colony of Mauritania, sixteen miles to the east of Caesarea, had been distinguished, in every age, by the orthodox zeal of its inhabitants. They had braved the fury of the Donatists;  122 they resisted, or eluded, the tyranny of the Arians. The town was deserted on the approach of an heretical bishop: most of the inhabitants who could procure ships passed over to the coast of Spain; and the unhappy remnant, refusing all communion with the usurper, still presumed to hold their pious, but illegal, assemblies. Their disobedience exasperated the cruelty of Hunneric. A military count was despatched from Carthage to Tipasa: he collected the Catholics in the Forum, and, in the presence of the whole province, deprived the guilty of their right hands and their tongues. But the holy confessors continued to speak without tongues; and this miracle is attested by Victor, an African bishop, who published a history of the persecution within two years after the event.  123 "If any one," says Victor, "should doubt of the truth, let him repair to Constantinople, and listen to the clear and perfect language of Restitutus, the sub-deacon, one of these glorious sufferers, who is now lodged in the palace of the emperor Zeno, and is respected by the devout empress." At Constantinople we are astonished to find a cool, a learned, and unexceptionable witness, without interest, and without passion. Aeneas of Gaza, a Platonic philosopher, has accurately described his own observations on these African sufferers. "I saw them myself: I heard them speak: I diligently inquired by what means such an articulate voice could be formed without any organ of speech: I used my eyes to examine the report of my ears; I opened their mouth, and saw that the whole tongue had been completely torn away by the roots; an operation which the physicians generally suppose to be mortal."  124 The testimony of Aeneas of Gaza might be confirmed by the superfluous evidence of the emperor Justinian, in a perpetual edict; of Count Marcellinus, in his Chronicle of the times; and of Pope Gregory the First, who had resided at Constantinople, as the minister of the Roman pontiff.  125 They all lived within the compass of a century; and they all appeal to their personal knowledge, or the public notoriety, for the truth of a miracle, which was repeated in several instances, displayed on the greatest theatre of the world, and submitted, during a series of years, to the calm examination of the senses. This supernatural gift of the African confessors, who spoke without tongues, will command the assent of those, and of those only, who already believe, that their language was pure and orthodox. But the stubborn mind of an infidel, is guarded by secret, incurable suspicion; and the Arian, or Socinian, who has seriously rejected the doctrine of a Trinity, will not be shaken by the most plausible evidence of an Athanasian miracle.

The Vandals and the Ostrogoths persevered in the profession of Arianism till the final ruin of the kingdoms which they had founded in Africa and Italy. The Barbarians of Gaul submitted to the orthodox dominion of the Franks; and Spain was restored to the Catholic church by the voluntary conversion of the Visigoths. This salutary revolution  126 was hastened by the example of a royal martyr, whom our calmer reason may style an ungrateful rebel. Leovigild, the Gothic monarch of Spain, deserved the respect of his enemies, and the love of his subjects; the Catholics enjoyed a free toleration, and his Arian synods attempted, without much success, to reconcile their scruples by abolishing the unpopular rite of a second baptism. His eldest son Hermenegild, who was invested by his father with the royal diadem, and the fair principality of Boetica, contracted an honorable and orthodox alliance with a Merovingian princess, the daughter of Sigebert, king of Austrasia, and of the famous Brunechild. The beauteous Ingundis, who was no more than thirteen years of age, was received, beloved, and persecuted, in the Arian court of Toledo; and her religious constancy was alternately assaulted with blandishments and violence by Goisvintha, the Gothic queen, who abused the double claim of maternal authority.  127 Incensed by her resistance, Goisvintha seized the Catholic princess by her long hair, inhumanly dashed her against the ground, kicked her till she was covered with blood, and at last gave orders that she should be stripped, and thrown into a basin, or fish-pond.  128 Love and honor might excite Hermenegild to resent this injurious treatment of his bride; and he was gradually persuaded that Ingundis suffered for the cause of divine truth. Her tender complaints, and the weighty arguments of Le ander, archbishop of Seville, accomplished his conversion and the heir of the Gothic monarchy was initiated in the Nicene faith by the solemn rites of confirmation.  129 The rash youth, inflamed by zeal, and perhaps by ambition, was tempted to violate the duties of a son and a subject; and the Catholics of Spain, although they could not complain of persecution, applauded his pious rebellion against an heretical father. The civil war was protracted by the long and obstinate sieges of Merida, Cordova, and Seville, which had strenuously espoused the party of Hermenegild He invited the orthodox Barbarians, the Seuvi, and the Franks, to the destruction of his native land; he solicited the dangerous aid of the Romans, who possessed Africa, and a part of the Spanish coast; and his holy ambassador, the archbishop Leander, effectually negotiated in person with the Byzantine court. But the hopes of the Catholics were crushed by the active diligence of the monarch who commanded the troops and treasures of Spain; and the guilty Hermenegild, after his vain attempts to resist or to escape, was compelled to surrender himself into the hands of an incensed father. Leovigild was still mindful of that sacred character; and the rebel, despoiled of the regal ornaments, was still permitted, in a decent exile, to profess the Catholic religion. His repeated and unsuccessful treasons at length provoked the indignation of the Gothic king; and the sentence of death, which he pronounced with apparent reluctance, was privately executed in the tower of Seville. The inflexible constancy with which he refused to accept the Arian communion, as the price of his safety, may excuse the honors that have been paid to the memory of St. Hermenegild. His wife and infant son were detained by the Romans in ignominious captivity; and this domestic misfortune tarnished the glories of Leovigild, and imbittered the last moments of his life.

His son and successor, Recared, the first Catholic king of Spain, had imbibed the faith of his unfortunate brother, which he supported with more prudence and success. Instead of revolting against his father, Recared patiently expected the hour of his death. Instead of condemning his memory, he piously supposed, that the dying monarch had abjured the errors of Arianism, and recommended to his son the conversion of the Gothic nation. To accomplish that salutary end, Recared convened an assembly of the Arian clergy and nobles, declared himself a Catholic, and exhorted them to imitate the example of their prince. The laborious interpretation of doubtful texts, or the curious pursuit of metaphysical arguments, would have excited an endless controversy; and the monarch discreetly proposed to his illiterate audience two substantial and visible arguments, - the testimony of Earth, and of Heaven. The Earth had submitted to the Nicene synod: the Romans, the Barbarians, and the inhabitants of Spain, unanimously professed the same orthodox creed; and the Visigoths resisted, almost alone, the consent of the Christian world. A superstitious age was prepared to reverence, as the testimony of Heaven, the preternatural cures, which were performed by the skill or virtue of the Catholic clergy; the baptismal fonts of Osset in Boetica,  130 which were spontaneously replenished every year, on the vigil of Easter;  131 and the miraculous shrine of St. Martin of Tours, which had already converted the Suevic prince and people of Gallicia.  132 The Catholic king encountered some difficulties on this important change of the national religion. A conspiracy, secretly fomented by the queen-dowager, was formed against his life; and two counts excited a dangerous revolt in the Narbonnese Gaul. But Recared disarmed the conspirators, defeated the rebels, and executed severe justice; which the Arians, in their turn, might brand with the reproach of persecution. Eight bishops, whose names betray their Barbaric origin, abjured their errors; and all the books of Arian theology were reduced to ashes, with the house in which they had been purposely collected. The whole body of the Visigoths and Suevi were allured or driven into the pale of the Catholic communion; the faith, at least of the rising generation, was fervent and sincere: and the devout liberality of the Barbarians enriched the churches and monasteries of Spain. Seventy bishops, assembled in the council of Toledo, received the submission of their conquerors; and the zeal of the Spaniards improved the Nicene creed, by declaring the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son, as well as from the Father; a weighty point of doctrine, which produced, long afterwards, the schism of the Greek and Latin churches.  133 The royal proselyte immediately saluted and consulted Pope Gregory, surnamed the Great, a learned and holy prelate, whose reign was distinguished by the conversion of heretics and infidels. The ambassadors of Recared respectfully offered on the threshold of the Vatican his rich presents of gold and gems; they accepted, as a lucrative exchange, the hairs of St. John the Baptist; a cross, which enclosed a small piece of the true wood; and a key, that contained some particles of iron which had been scraped from the chains of St. Peter.  134

The same Gregory, the spiritual conqueror of Britain, encouraged the pious Theodelinda, queen of the Lombards, to propagate the Nicene faith among the victorious savages, whose recent Christianity was polluted by the Arian heresy. Her devout labors still left room for the industry and success of future missionaries; and many cities of Italy were still disputed by hostile bishops. But the cause of Arianism was gradually suppressed by the weight of truth, of interest, and of example; and the controversy, which Egypt had derived from the Platonic school, was terminated, after a war of three hundred years, by the final conversion of the Lombards of Italy.  135

The first missionaries who preached the gospel to the Barbarians, appealed to the evidence of reason, and claimed the benefit of toleration.  136 But no sooner had they established their spiritual dominion, than they exhorted the Christian kings to extirpate, without mercy, the remains of Roman or Barbaric superstition. The successors of Clovis inflicted one hundred lashes on the peasants who refused to destroy their idols; the crime of sacrificing to the demons was punished by the Anglo-Saxon laws with the heavier penalties of imprisonment and confiscation; and even the wise Alfred adopted, as an indispensable duty, the extreme rigor of the Mosaic institutions.  137 But the punishment and the crime were gradually abolished among a Christian people; the theological disputes of the schools were suspended by propitious ignorance; and the intolerant spirit which could find neither idolaters nor heretics, was reduced to the persecution of the Jews. That exiled nation had founded some synagogues in the cities of Gaul; but Spain, since the time of Hadrian, was filled with their numerous colonies.  138 The wealth which they accumulated by trade, and the management of the finances, invited the pious avarice of their masters; and they might be oppressed without danger, as they had lost the use, and even the remembrance, of arms. Sisebut, a Gothic king, who reigned in the beginning of the seventh century, proceeded at once to the last extremes of persecution.  139 Ninety thousand Jews were compelled to receive the sacrament of baptism; the fortunes of the obstinate infidels were confiscated, their bodies were tortured; and it seems doubtful whether they were permitted to abandon their native country. The excessive zeal of the Catholic king was moderated, even by the clergy of Spain, who solemnly pronounced an inconsistent sentence: that the sacraments should not be forcibly imposed; but that the Jews who had been baptized should be constrained, for the honor of the church, to persevere in the external practice of a religion which they disbelieved and detested. Their frequent relapses provoked one of the successors of Sisebut to banish the whole nation from his dominions; and a council of Toledo published a decree, that every Gothic king should swear to maintain this salutary edict. But the tyrants were unwilling to dismiss the victims, whom they delighted to torture, or to deprive themselves of the industrious slaves, over whom they might exercise a lucrative oppression. The Jews still continued in Spain, under the weight of the civil and ecclesiastical laws, which in the same country have been faithfully transcribed in the Code of the Inquisition. The Gothic kings and bishops at length discovered, that injuries will produce hatred, and that hatred will find the opportunity of revenge. A nation, the secret or professed enemies of Christianity, still multiplied in servitude and distress; and the intrigues of the Jews promoted the rapid success of the Arabian conquerors.  140

As soon as the Barbarians withdrew their powerful support, the unpopular heresy of Arius sunk into contempt and oblivion. But the Greeks still retained their subtle and loquacious disposition: the establishment of an obscure doctrine suggested new questions, and new disputes; and it was always in the power of an ambitious prelate, or a fanatic monk, to violate the peace of the church, and, perhaps, of the empire. The historian of the empire may overlook those disputes which were confined to the obscurity of schools and synods. The Manichaeans, who labored to reconcile the religions of Christ and of Zoroaster, had secretly introduced themselves into the provinces: but these foreign sectaries were involved in the common disgrace of the Gnostics, and the Imperial laws were executed by the public hatred. The rational opinions of the Pelagians were propagated from Britain to Rome, Africa, and Palestine, and silently expired in a superstitious age. But the East was distracted by the Nestorian and Eutychian controversies; which attempted to explain the mystery of the incarnation, and hastened the ruin of Christianity in her native land. These controversies were first agitated under the reign of the younger Theodosius: but their important consequences extend far beyond the limits of the present volume. The metaphysical chain of argument, the contests of ecclesiastical ambition, and their political influence on the decline of the Byzantine empire, may afford an interesting and instructive series of history, from the general councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, to the conquest of the East by the successors of Mahomet.


112 Fulgentius, bishop of Ruspae, in the Byzacene province, was of a senatorial family, and had received a liberal education. He could repeat all Homer and Menander before he was allowed to study Latin his native tongue, (Vit. Fulgent. c. l.) Many African bishops might understand Greek, and many Greek theologians were translated into Latin.

113 Compare the two prefaces to the Dialogue of Vigilius of Thapsus, (p. 118, 119, edit. Chiflet.) He might amuse his learned reader with an innocent fiction; but the subject was too grave, and the Africans were too ignorant.

114 The P. Quesnel started this opinion, which has been favorably received. But the three following truths, however surprising they may seem, are now universally acknowledged, (Gerard Vossius, tom. vi. p. 516 - 522. Tillemont, Mem. Eccles. tom. viii. p. 667 - 671.) 1. St. Athanasius is not the author of the creed which is so frequently read in our churches. 2. It does not appear to have existed within a century after his death. 3. It was originally composed in the Latin tongue, and, consequently in the Western provinces. Gennadius patriarch of Constantinople, was so much amazed by this extraordinary composition, that he frankly pronounced it to be the work of a drunken man. Petav. Dogmat. Theologica, tom. ii. l. vii. c. 8, p. 687.

115 1 John, v. 7. See Simon, Hist. Critique du Nouveau Testament, part i. c. xviii. p. 203 - 218; and part ii. c. ix. p. 99 - 121; and the elaborate Prolegomena and Annotations of Dr. Mill and Wetstein to their editions of the Greek Testament. In 1689, the papist Simon strove to be free; in 1707, the Protestant Mill wished to be a slave; in 1751, the Armenian Wetstein used the liberty of his times, and of his sect.

Note: This controversy has continued to be agitated, but with declining interest even in the more religious part of the community; and may now be considered to have terminated in an almost general acquiescence of the learned to the conclusions of Porson in his Letters to Travis. See the pamphlets of the late Bishop of Salisbury and of Crito Cantabrigiensis, Dr. Turton of Cambridge. - M.

116 Of all the Mss. now extant, above fourscore in number, some of which are more than 1200 years old, (Wetstein ad loc.) The orthodox copies of the Vatican, of the Complutensian editors, of Robert Stephens, are become invisible; and the two Mss. of Dublin and Berlin are unworthy to form an exception. See Emlyn's Works, vol. ii. p 227 - 255, 269 - 299; and M. de Missy's four ingenious letters, in tom. viii. and ix. of the Journal Britannique.

117 Or, more properly, by the four bishops who composed and published the profession of faith in the name of their brethren. They styled this text, luce clarius, (Victor Vitensis de Persecut. Vandal. l. iii. c. 11, p. 54.) It is quoted soon afterwards by the African polemics, Vigilius and Fulgentius.

118 In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Bibles were corrected by Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, and by Nicholas, cardinal and librarian of the Roman church, secundum orthodoxam fidem, (Wetstein, Prolegom. p. 84, 85.) Notwithstanding these corrections, the passage is still wanting in twenty-five Latin Mss., (Wetstein ad loc.,) the oldest and the fairest; two qualities seldom united, except in manuscripts.

119 The art which the Germans had invented was applied in Italy to the profane writers of Rome and Greece. The original Greek of the New Testament was published about the same time (A.D. 1514, 1516, 1520,) by the industry of Erasmus, and the munificence of Cardinal Ximenes. The Complutensian Polyglot cost the cardinal 50,000 ducats. See Mattaire, Annal. Typograph. tom. ii. p. 2 - 8, 125 - 133; and Wetstein, Prolegomena, p. 116 - 127.

120 The three witnesses have been established in our Greek Testaments by the prudence of Erasmus; the honest bigotry of the Complutensian editors; the typographical fraud, or error, of Robert Stephens, in the placing a crotchet; and the deliberate falsehood, or strange misapprehension, of Theodore Beza.

121 Plin. Hist. Natural. v. 1. Itinerar. Wesseling, p. 15. Cellanius, Geograph. Antiq. tom. ii. part ii. p. 127. This Tipasa (which must not be confounded with another in Numidia) was a town of some note since Vespasian endowed it with the right of Latium.

122 Optatus Milevitanus de Schism. Donatist. l. ii. p. 38.

123 Victor Vitensis, v. 6, p. 76. Ruinart, p. 483 - 487.

124 Aeneas Gazaeus in Theophrasto, in Biblioth. Patrum, tom. viii. p. 664, 665. He was a Christian, and composed this Dialogue (the Theophrastus) on the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection of the body; besides twenty-five Epistles, still extant. See Cave, (Hist. Litteraria, p. 297,) and Fabricius, (Biblioth. Graec. tom. i. p. 422.)

125 Justinian. Codex. l. i. tit. xxvii. Marcellin. in Chron. p. 45, in Thesaur. Temporum Scaliger. Procopius, de Bell. Vandal. l. i. c. 7. p. 196. Gregor. Magnus, Dialog. iii. 32. None of these witnesses have specified the number of the confessors, which is fixed at sixty in an old menology, (apud Ruinart. p. 486.) Two of them lost their speech by fornication; but the miracle is enhanced by the singular instance of a boy who had never spoken before his tongue was cut out.

126 See the two general historians of Spain, Mariana (Hist. de Rebus Hispaniae, tom. i. l. v. c. 12 - 15, p. 182 - 194) and Ferreras, (French translation, tom. ii. p. 206 - 247.) Mariana almost forgets that he is a Jesuit, to assume the style and spirit of a Roman classic. Ferreras, an industrious compiler, reviews his facts, and rectifies his chronology.

127 Goisvintha successively married two kings of the Visigoths: Athanigild, to whom she bore Brunechild, the mother of Ingundis; and Leovigild, whose two sons, Hermenegild and Recared, were the issue of a former marriage.

128 Iracundiae furore succensa, adprehensam per comam capitis puellam in terram conlidit, et diu calcibus verberatam, ac sanguins cruentatam, jussit exspoliari, et piscinae immergi. Greg. Turon. l. v. c. 39. in tom. ii. p. 255. Gregory is one of our best originals for this portion of history.

129 The Catholics who admitted the baptism of heretics repeated the rite, or, as it was afterwards styled, the sacrament, of confirmation, to which they ascribed many mystic and marvellous prerogatives both visible and invisible. See Chardon. Hist. des Sacremens, tom. 1. p. 405 - 552.

130 Osset, or Julia Constantia, was opposite to Seville, on the northern side of the Boetis, (Plin. Hist. Natur. iii. 3:) and the authentic reference of Gregory of Tours (Hist. Francor. l. vi. c. 43, p. 288) deserves more credit than the name of Lusitania, (de Gloria Martyr. c. 24,) which has been eagerly embraced by the vain and superstitious Portuguese, (Ferreras, Hist. d'Espagne, tom. ii. p. 166.)

131 This miracle was skilfully performed. An Arian king sealed the doors, and dug a deep trench round the church, without being able to intercept the Easter supply of baptismal water.

132 Ferreras (tom. ii. p. 168 - 175, A.D. 550) has illustrated the difficulties which regard the time and circumstances of the conversion of the Suevi. They had been recently united by Leovigild to the Gothic monarchy of Spain.

133 This addition to the Nicene, or rather the Constantinopolitan creed, was first made in the eighth council of Toledo, A.D. 653; but it was expressive of the popular doctrine, (Gerard Vossius, tom. vi. p. 527, de tribus Symbolis.)

134 See Gregor. Magn. l. vii. epist. 126, apud Baronium, Annal. Eccles. A.D. 559, No. 25, 26.

135 Paul Warnefrid (de Gestis Langobard. l. iv. c. 44, p. 153, edit Grot.) allows that Arianism still prevailed under the reign of Rotharis, (A.D. 636 - 652.) The pious deacon does not attempt to mark the precise era of the national conversion, which was accomplished, however, before the end of the seventh century.

136 Quorum fidei et conversioni ita congratulatus esse rex perhibetur, ut nullum tamen cogeret ad Christianismum. ... Didiceret enim a doctoribus auctoribusque suae salutis, servitium Christi voluntarium non coactitium esse debere. Bedae Hist. Ecclesiastic. l. i. c. 26, p. 62, edit. Smith.

137 See the Historians of France, tom. iv. p. 114; and Wilkins, Leges Anglo-Saxonicae, p. 11, 31. Siquis sacrificium immolaverit praeter Deo soli morte moriatur.

138 The Jews pretend that they were introduced into Spain by the fleets of Solomon, and the arms of Nebuchadnezzar; that Hadrian transported forty thousand families of the tribe of Judah, and ten thousand of the tribe of Benjamin, &c. Basnage, Hist. des Juifs, tom. vii. c. 9, p. 240 - 256.

139 Isidore, at that time archbishop of Seville, mentions, disapproves and congratulates, the zeal of Sisebut (Chron. Goth. p. 728.) Barosins (A.D. 614, No. 41) assigns the number of the evidence of Almoin, (l. iv. c. 22;) but the evidence is weak, and I have not been able to verify the quotation, (Historians of France, tom. iii. p. 127.)

140 Basnage (tom. viii. c. 13, p. 388 - 400) faithfully represents the state of the Jews; but he might have added from the canons of the Spanish councils, and the laws of the Visigoths, many curious circumstances, essential to his subject, though they are foreign to mine.

Note: Compare Milman, Hist. of Jews iii. 256 - M

Next: Chapter XXXVIII: Reign Of Clovis. Part I.