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A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography
Constantius II, Son of Constantius
Constantius II., son of Constantius the Great, was the second of the sons of Fausta, born at Sirmium Aug. 6, 317, and emperor 337â€“361. De Broglie remarks of him (iii. pp. 7, 8), "of the sons of Constantine he was the one who seemed best to reproduce the qualities of his father. Although very small in stature, and rendered almost deformed by his short and crooked legs, he had the same address as his father in military exercises, the same patience under fatigue, the same sobriety in diet, the same exemplary severity in all that had regard to continence. He put forward also, with the same love for uncontrolled preeminence, the same literary and theological pretensions: he loved to shew off his eloquence and to harangue his courtiers." Victor, Caes. 42, speaks well of Constantius: the writer of the Epitome credits him with some virtues but speaks of the eunuchs, etc., who surrounded him, and of the adverse influence of his wife Eusebia. Ammianus (xxi. 16) gives an elaborate and balanced character of Constantius which seems to be fair. The Christian writers were naturally not partial to an emperor who leaned so constantly towards Arianism and was such a bitter persecutor of the Nicene faith, and did not scruple to call him Ahab, Pilate, and Judas. St. Athanasius nevertheless addressed him in very complimentary terms in the apology which he composed as late as 356. Constantius was not baptized till his last year, yet interfered in church matters with the most arrogant pretensions.
Period i., 337â€“350.â€” Constantine II., Constans, Constantius II., Augusti .â€”On the death of Constantine, Constantius hurried to Constantinople for the funeral of his father. The armies, says Eusebius, declared unanimously that they would have none but his sons to succeed him (V. C. iv. 68)â€”to the exclusion, therefore, of his nephews Dalmatius and Hannibalian. There followed shortly after a general massacre of the family of Constantius Chlorus and Theodora. Many writers, and those of such distinct views as St. Athanasius, Ammianus, and Zosimus as well as Julian, openly charge Constantius with being the author of this great crime, others imply only that he allowed it. Constantine and Constans are in no way implicated in it. A new division of empire followed; for which purpose the brothers met at Sirmium. Speaking generally, Constantine had the west, Constans the centre, and Constantius the East.
From the division of empire between Constans and Constantius we must date the beginnings of separation of the churches. The Eastern church recovered indeed at length from Arian and semi-Arian influences, but the habit of division had been formed and varieties of theological conception became accentuated; then the Roman church grew rapidly in power and independence, having no rival of any pretensions in the West, while in the East the older apostolic sees were gradually subordinated to that of Constantinople, and the whole church was constantly distracted by imperial interference.
Constantius was especially ready to intervene. In 341, in deference to the Dedication Council of Antioch, he forcibly intruded one Gregorius into the see of Alexandria; in 342 he sent his magister equitum, Hermogenes, to drive Paulus from Constantinople, but he did not confirm Macedonius, the rival claimant (Socr. ii. 13). These events took place while St. Athanasius was received with honour at the court of Constans, for whose use he had prepared some books of Holy Scripture (Athan. Apolog. ad Const. 4). Constans determined to convoke another oecumenical council, and obtained his brother's concurrence. The place fixed upon was Sardica, on the frontier of the Eastern and Western empires, where about 170 bishops met in 343. Then occurred the first great open rupture between East and West, the minority consisting of Western bishops siding with St. Athanasius, while the Eastern or Eusebian faction seceded to Philippopolis across the border. After the dissolution of the council Constans still attempted to enforce the decrees of Sardica, by requiring of his brother the restoration of Athanasius and Paulus, threatening force if it was refused (Socr. ii. 22; Soz. iii. 20). The shameful plots of the Arian bp. of Antioch, Stephen, against the messengers of Constans were happily discovered, and the faith of Constantius in the party was somewhat shaken (St. Athan. Hist. Arian. ad mon. 20; Theod. ii. 9, 10). The pressure of the war with Persia no doubt inclined him to avoid anything like a civil war, and be put a stop to some of the Arian persecutions. Ten months laterâ€”after the death of the intruded Gregoryâ€”he invited St. Athanasius to return to his see, which Athanasius did in 346, after a curious interview with the emperor at Antioch (see the letters in Socr. ii. 23 from Athan. Apol. c. Arianos, 54 f.). Other exiled bishops were likewise restored. In the West, meanwhile, Constans was occupied with the Donatists, whose case had been one of the elements of division at Sardica. He sent a conciliatory mission to Africa, but his bounty was rudely refused by that Donatus who was now at the head of the sectâ€”himself a secret Arian as well as a violent schismaticâ€”with the famous phrase, "Quid est imperatori cum ecclesiÃ¢?" The turbulence of the Circumcellions provoked the so-called "Macarian Persecution"; some of the schismatics were put to death, others committed suicide, others were exiled, and so for a time union seemed to be produced. (Bright, pp. 58â€“60; Hefele, Â§ 70, Synod of Carthage. The history is in Optatus Milev. iii. 1, 2.) Early in the year 350 Constans was put to death, or rather forced to commit suicide, by the partisans of the usurper Magnentius. His death was a great loss to the orthodox party, whose sufferings during the next ten years were most intense.
Period ii., 350â€“361. Constantius sole Augustus .â€”The usurpation of Magnentius in Gaul seems to have been largely a movement of paganism against Christianity and of the provincial army against the court. It was closely followed by another, that of Vetranio in Illyria. We need not follow the strange history of these civil wars, nor recount in detail how Vetranio was overcome by the eloquence of Constantius in 350, and Magnentius beaten in the bloody battle of Mursa, Sept. 351, that cost the Roman empire 50,000 men. Between these two events Constantius named his cousin, Gallus, Caesar and attended the first council of Sirmium. Some time before the battle he must have received the letter from St. Cyril of Jerusalem, describing a cross of light which appeared "on May 7, about the third hour," "above the holy Golgotha and stretching as far as the holy mount of Olives," and seen by the whole city. St. Cyril praises Constantius and reports this marvel as an encouragement to him in his campaign. The genuineness of the letter has however been doubted, especially from the word "consubstantial" appearing in the doxology at the end. At the time of the battle of Mursa Constantius came much under the influence of Valens, the temporizing bishop of the place, who pretended that the victory was revealed to him by an angel, and from this time he appears more distinctly as a persecutor of the Nicene faith, which he endeavoured to crush in the West. His general character also underwent a change for the worse after the unexpected suicide of Magnentius, which put him in sole possession of the empire. It is difficult to say whether he appears to least advantage in the pages of Ammianus or of St. Athanasius. It would take too long to recount the disgraceful proceedings at the council of Arles in 353, where the legates of the new Pope Liberius were misled, or at Milan in 355, when Constantius declared that his own will should serve the Westerns for a canon as it had served the Syrian bishops, and proceeded to banish and imprison no less than 147 of the chief orthodox clergy and laity (Hist. Ar. ad Mon. 33, etc.; see De Broglie, iii. p. 263). The most important sufferers were Eusebius of Vercelli, Lucifer of Cagliari, and Dionysius of Milan. Soon after followed the exile of Liberius, and in 355 that of Hosius. All this was intended to lead up to the final overthrow of Athanasius. Early in 356, Syrianus, the duke of Egypt, began the open persecution of the Catholics at Alexandria, and Constantius, when appealed to, confirmed his actions and sent Heraclius to hand over all the churches to the Arians, which was done with great violence and cruelty ( Hist. Ar. 54.). George of Cappadocia was intruded into the see, and Athanasius was forced to hide in the desert. In the same year Hilary of Poictiers was banished to Phrygia.
Meanwhile Constantius had been carrying on a persecution of even greater rigour against the adherents of Magnentius, which is described by Ammianus (xiv. 5), whose history begins at this period. His suspicions were also aroused against his cousin Gallus, whose violence and misgovernment in the East, especially in Antioch, were notorious. The means by which Constantius lured him into his power and then beheaded him are very characteristic (Amm. xiv. 11). At the end of the same year, 355, he determined to make his younger brother, Julian, Caesar in his place, putting him over the provinces of Gaul, and marrying him to his sister Helena.
In the church worse things were yet to come: the fall of Hosius, who accepted the creed of the second council of Sirmium, then that of Liberius, the first after torture and severe imprisonment, the second after two years of melancholy exile, both in 357. Of the numerous councils and synods at this time, the most famous and important was that of Rimini in 359, in conjunction with one in the East at Seleucia, when the political bishops succeeded in carrying an equivocal creed approved by the emperor, and omitting the homoousion. Constantius, tired of the long controversy, attempted to enforce unity by imposing the formula of Rimini everywhere, and a number of bishops of various parties were deposed (Soz. iv. 23, 24). In 360 Julian was proclaimed Augustus by his army, and proposed a division of the empire, which Constantius did not accept (Amm, xx. 8). A civil war was impending: Constantius was at first contemptuous, but ere long began to be haunted with fears of death, and caused himself to be baptized by Euzoius, the Arian bp. of Antioch. He expired, after a painful illness, at Mopsucrene at the foot of mount Taurus, Nov. 4., 361 (Socr. ii. 47; Amm. xxi. 15). He was at least three times married: in 352 or 353, after the successful issue of the civil war, to Aurelia Eusebia, a very beautiful, accomplished, and gentle lady, but an Arian, who had great influence with him. She died some time before the usurpation of Julian. Besides his wives, on whom he was accustomed to lean, his chief adviser was the eunuch Eusebius, of whom Ammianus says so sarcastically, "apud quem, si vere dici debet, multum Constantius potuit." He also trusted much to a detestable man the notary Paulus, nicknamed Catena. Another of the same class was Mercurius, called Comes Somniorum. These men, with an army of spies (curiosi ), organized a reign of terror for three years after the overthrow of Magnentius, especially in Britain, acting particularly on the laws against sacrifice and magic (cf. Liban. pro Aristophane , i. p. 430).
Laws in Favour of Christianity .â€”These will be found chiefly in the second title of book xvi. of the Theodosian code, headed de episcopis ecclesiis et clericis. In 357 the emperor confirmed all the privileges granted to the church of Rome, at that time under the emperor's nominee, Felix, whilst Liberius was in exile. Another rescript of the same year is addressed to Felix, more explicitly guaranteeing the immunity from taxation and forced service. The next law (a.d. 360) refers to the synod of Rimini, and the opinion expressed by various bishops from different parts of Italy, and from Spain and Africa. The last law in the series (in 361) is remarkable, as the heading gives Julian the title of Augustus.
Relations to Heathenism .â€”The state of things that we have seen in the last years of Constantine continued during his son's reign. There was the same disposition on the part of the empire to put down paganism and the same elements of reaction. In the West, especially in Rome, real heathenism still retained much of its vitality and still swayed the minds of the aristocracy and the populace; in the East the supporters of the old religion were the philosophers and rhetoricians, men more attached to its literary and artistic associations than prepared to defend polytheism as a creed. They were mixed up with another class, the theurgists, practisers of a higher kind of magic which was particularly attractive to Julian. The following laws from the tenth title of book xvi. of the Theodosian code relate distinctly to heathen sacrifice. Sec. 2, in 341, issued by Constantius, says: "Cesset superstitio, sacrificiorum aboleatur insania," and refers to the law of Constantine noticed above. A year or two later (the date is uncertain and wrongly given in the code), Constantius and Constans ordered the temples in Roman territory to be kept intact for the pleasure of the Roman people, though all "superstition" is to be eradicated; almost at the same time they issued a law to the praetorian prefect inflicting death and confiscation on persons sacrificing. In 353 Constantius forbade the "nocturna sacrificia" permitted by Magnentius: in 356 he and Julian made it capital to sacrifice or worship images.
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Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Constantius II, Son of Constantius'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hwd/c/constantius-ii-son-of-constantius.html. 1911.
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