Edward Gibbon.

History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 online

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by Macarius, patriarch of Antioch, who declared before the synod of
Constantinople, that sooner than subscribe the _two wills_ of Christ, he
would submit to be hewn piecemeal and cast into the sea. A similar or a
less cruel mode of persecution soon converted the unresisting subjects
of the plain, while the glorious title of _Mardaites_, or rebels, was
bravely maintained by the hardy natives of Mount Libanus. John Maron,
one of the most learned and popular of the monks, assumed the character
of patriarch of Antioch; his nephew, Abraham, at the head of the
Maronites, defended their civil and religious freedom against the
tyrants of the East. The son of the orthodox Constantine pursued with
pious hatred a people of soldiers, who might have stood the bulwark of
his empire against the common foes of Christ and of Rome. An army of
Greeks invaded Syria; the monastery of St. Maron was destroyed with
fire; the bravest chieftains were betrayed and murdered, and twelve
thousand of their followers were transplanted to the distant frontiers
of Armenia and Thrace. Yet the humble nation of the Maronites had
survived the empire of Constantinople, and they still enjoy, under
their Turkish masters, a free religion and a mitigated servitude. Their
domestic governors are chosen among the ancient nobility: the patriarch,
in his monastery of Canobin, still fancies himself on the throne of
Antioch: nine bishops compose his synod, and one hundred and fifty
priests, who retain the liberty of marriage, are intrusted with the care
of one hundred thousand souls. Their country extends from the ridge of
Mount Libanus to the shores of Tripoli; and the gradual descent affords,
in a narrow space, each variety of soil and climate, from the Holy
Cedars, erect under the weight of snow, to the vine, the mulberry, and
the olive-trees of the fruitful valley. In the twelfth century, the
Maronites, abjuring the Monothelite error were reconciled to the Latin
churches of Antioch and Rome, and the same alliance has been frequently
renewed by the ambition of the popes and the distress of the Syrians.
But it may reasonably be questioned, whether their union has ever been
perfect or sincere; and the learned Maronites of the college of Rome
have vainly labored to absolve their ancestors from the guilt of heresy
and schism.

IV. Since the age of Constantine, the Armenians had signalized their
attachment to the religion and empire of the Christians. The disorders
of their country, and their ignorance of the Greek tongue, prevented
their clergy from assisting at the synod of Chalcedon, and they floated
eighty-four years in a state of indifference or suspense, till their
vacant faith was finally occupied by the missionaries of Julian of
Halicarnassus, who in Egypt, their common exile, had been vanquished
by the arguments or the influence of his rival Severus, the Monophysite
patriarch of Antioch. The Armenians alone are the pure disciples of
Eutyches, an unfortunate parent, who has been renounced by the greater
part of his spiritual progeny. They alone persevere in the opinion, that
the manhood of Christ was created, or existed without creation, of a
divine and incorruptible substance. Their adversaries reproach them with
the adoration of a phantom; and they retort the accusation, by deriding
or execrating the blasphemy of the Jacobites, who impute to the Godhead
the vile infirmities of the flesh, even the natural effects of nutrition
and digestion. The religion of Armenia could not derive much glory from
the learning or the power of its inhabitants. The royalty expired with
the origin of their schism; and their Christian kings, who arose and
fell in the thirteenth century on the confines of Cilicia, were the
clients of the Latins and the vassals of the Turkish sultan of Iconium.
The helpless nation has seldom been permitted to enjoy the tranquillity
of servitude. From the earliest period to the present hour, Armenia has
been the theatre of perpetual war: the lands between Tauris and Erivan
were dispeopled by the cruel policy of the Sophis; and myriads of
Christian families were transplanted, to perish or to propagate in the
distant provinces of Persia. Under the rod of oppression, the zeal of
the Armenians is fervent and intrepid; they have often preferred the
crown of martyrdom to the white turban of Mahomet; they devoutly hate
the error and idolatry of the Greeks; and their transient union with
the Latins is not less devoid of truth, than the thousand bishops,
whom their patriarch offered at the feet of the Roman pontiff. The
_catholic_, or patriarch, of the Armenians resides in the monastery of
Ekmiasin, three leagues from Erivan. Forty-seven archbishops, each of
whom may claim the obedience of four or five suffragans, are consecrated
by his hand; but the far greater part are only titular prelates, who
dignify with their presence and service the simplicity of his court. As
soon as they have performed the liturgy, they cultivate the garden; and
our bishops will hear with surprise, that the austerity of their life
increases in just proportion to the elevation of their rank. In the
fourscore thousand towns or villages of his spiritual empire, the
patriarch receives a small and voluntary tax from each person above the
age of fifteen; but the annual amount of six hundred thousand crowns
is insufficient to supply the incessant demands of charity and tribute.
Since the beginning of the last century, the Armenians have obtained a
large and lucrative share of the commerce of the East: in their return
from Europe, the caravan usually halts in the neighborhood of Erivan,
the altars are enriched with the fruits of their patient industry;
and the faith of Eutyches is preached in their recent congregations of
Barbary and Poland.

V. In the rest of the Roman empire, the despotism of the prince might
eradicate or silence the sectaries of an obnoxious creed. But the
stubborn temper of the Egyptians maintained their opposition to the
synod of Chalcedon, and the policy of Justinian condescended to expect
and to seize the opportunity of discord. The Monophysite church
of Alexandria was torn by the disputes of the _corruptibles_ and
_incorruptibles_, and on the death of the patriarch, the two factions
upheld their respective candidates. Gaian was the disciple of Julian,
Theodosius had been the pupil of Severus: the claims of the former were
supported by the consent of the monks and senators, the city and the
province; the latter depended on the priority of his ordination, the
favor of the empress Theodora, and the arms of the eunuch Narses, which
might have been used in more honorable warfare. The exile of the popular
candidate to Carthage and Sardinia inflamed the ferment of Alexandria;
and after a schism of one hundred and seventy years, the _Gaianites_
still revered the memory and doctrine of their founder. The strength of
numbers and of discipline was tried in a desperate and bloody conflict;
the streets were filled with the dead bodies of citizens and soldiers;
the pious women, ascending the roofs of their houses, showered down
every sharp or ponderous utensil on the heads of the enemy; and the
final victory of Narses was owing to the flames, with which he wasted
the third capital of the Roman world. But the lieutenant of Justinian
had not conquered in the cause of a heretic; Theodosius himself was
speedily, though gently, removed; and Paul of Tanis, an orthodox monk,
was raised to the throne of Athanasius. The powers of government were
strained in his support; he might appoint or displace the dukes and
tribunes of Egypt; the allowance of bread, which Diocletian had granted,
was suppressed, the churches were shut, and a nation of schismatics was
deprived at once of their spiritual and carnal food. In his turn, the
tyrant was excommunicated by the zeal and revenge of the people:
and none except his servile Melchites would salute him as a man, a
Christian, or a bishop. Yet such is the blindness of ambition, that,
when Paul was expelled on a charge of murder, he solicited, with a bribe
of seven hundred pounds of gold, his restoration to the same station of
hatred and ignominy. His successor Apollinaris entered the hostile city
in military array, alike qualified for prayer or for battle. His troops,
under arms, were distributed through the streets; the gates of the
cathedral were guarded, and a chosen band was stationed in the choir,
to defend the person of their chief. He stood erect on his throne, and,
throwing aside the upper garment of a warrior, suddenly appeared before
the eyes of the multitude in the robes of patriarch of Alexandria.
Astonishment held them mute; but no sooner had Apollinaris begun to
read the tome of St. Leo, than a volley of curses, and invectives, and
stones, assaulted the odious minister of the emperor and the synod.
A charge was instantly sounded by the successor of the apostles;
the soldiers waded to their knees in blood; and two hundred thousand
Christians are said to have fallen by the sword: an incredible account,
even if it be extended from the slaughter of a day to the eighteen years
of the reign of Apollinaris. Two succeeding patriarchs, Eulogius and
John, labored in the conversion of heretics, with arms and arguments
more worthy of their evangelical profession. The theological knowledge
of Eulogius was displayed in many a volume, which magnified the errors
of Eutyches and Severus, and attempted to reconcile the ambiguous
language of St. Cyril with the orthodox creed of Pope Leo and the
fathers of Chalcedon. The bounteous alms of John the eleemosynary were
dictated by superstition, or benevolence, or policy. Seven thousand five
hundred poor were maintained at his expense; on his accession he
found eight thousand pounds of gold in the treasury of the church; he
collected ten thousand from the liberality of the faithful; yet the
primate could boast in his testament, that he left behind him no more
than the third part of the smallest of the silver coins. The churches
of Alexandria were delivered to the Catholics, the religion of the
Monophysites was proscribed in Egypt, and a law was revived which
excluded the natives from the honors and emoluments of the state.

Chapter XLVII: Ecclesiastical Discord. - Part VI.

A more important conquest still remained, of the patriarch, the oracle
and leader of the Egyptian church. Theodosius had resisted the
threats and promises of Justinian with the spirit of an apostle or
an enthusiast. "Such," replied the patriarch, "were the offers of the
tempter when he showed the kingdoms of the earth. But my soul is far
dearer to me than life or dominion. The churches attain the hands of a
prince who can kill the body; but my conscience is my own; and in exile,
poverty, or chains, I will steadfastly adhere to the faith of my holy
predecessors, Athanasius, Cyril, and Dioscorus. Anathema to the tome of
Leo and the synod of Chalcedon! Anathema to all who embrace their creed!
Anathema to them now and forevermore! Naked came I out of my mother's
womb, naked shall I descend into the grave. Let those who love God
follow me and seek their salvation." After comforting his brethren,
he embarked for Constantinople, and sustained, in six successive
interviews, the almost irresistible weight of the royal presence. His
opinions were favorably entertained in the palace and the city;
the influence of Theodora assured him a safe conduct and honorable
dismission; and he ended his days, though not on the throne, yet in
the bosom, of his native country. On the news of his death, Apollinaris
indecently feasted the nobles and the clergy; but his joy was checked by
the intelligence of a new election; and while he enjoyed the wealth of
Alexandria, his rivals reigned in the monasteries of Thebais, and
were maintained by the voluntary oblations of the people. A perpetual
succession of patriarchs arose from the ashes of Theodosius; and the
Monophysite churches of Syria and Egypt were united by the name of
Jacobites and the communion of the faith. But the same faith, which has
been confined to a narrow sect of the Syrians, was diffused over the
mass of the Egyptian or Coptic nation; who, almost unanimously, rejected
the decrees of the synod of Chalcedon. A thousand years were now elapsed
since Egypt had ceased to be a kingdom, since the conquerors of Asia and
Europe had trampled on the ready necks of a people, whose ancient wisdom
and power ascend beyond the records of history. The conflict of zeal
and persecution rekindled some sparks of their national spirit. They
abjured, with a foreign heresy, the manners and language of the Greeks:
every Melchite, in their eyes, was a stranger, every Jacobite a citizen;
the alliance of marriage, the offices of humanity, were condemned as a
deadly sin the natives renounced all allegiance to the emperor; and
his orders, at a distance from Alexandria, were obeyed only under the
pressure of military force. A generous effort might have redeemed the
religion and liberty of Egypt, and her six hundred monasteries might
have poured forth their myriads of holy warriors, for whom death should
have no terrors, since life had no comfort or delight. But experience
has proved the distinction of active and passive courage; the fanatic
who endures without a groan the torture of the rack or the stake, would
tremble and fly before the face of an armed enemy. The pusillanimous
temper of the Egyptians could only hope for a change of masters; the
arms of Chosroes depopulated the land, yet under his reign the Jacobites
enjoyed a short and precarious respite. The victory of Heraclius renewed
and aggravated the persecution, and the patriarch again escaped from
Alexandria to the desert. In his flight, Benjamin was encouraged by
a voice, which bade him expect, at the end of ten years, the aid of a
foreign nation, marked, like the Egyptians themselves, with the ancient
rite of circumcision. The character of these deliverers, and the nature
of the deliverance, will be hereafter explained; and I shall step over
the interval of eleven centuries to observe the present misery of the
Jacobites of Egypt. The populous city of Cairo affords a residence, or
rather a shelter, for their indigent patriarch, and a remnant of ten
bishops; forty monasteries have survived the inroads of the Arabs; and
the progress of servitude and apostasy has reduced the Coptic nation to
the despicable number of twenty-five or thirty thousand families; a
race of illiterate beggars, whose only consolation is derived from
the superior wretchedness of the Greek patriarch and his diminutive

VI. The Coptic patriarch, a rebel to the Cæsars, or a slave to the
khalifs, still gloried in the filial obedience of the kings of Nubia and
Æthiopia. He repaid their homage by magnifying their greatness; and
it was boldly asserted that they could bring into the field a hundred
thousand horse, with an equal number of camels; that their hand could
pour out or restrain the waters of the Nile; and the peace and plenty
of Egypt was obtained, even in this world, by the intercession of the
patriarch. In exile at Constantinople, Theodosius recommended to his
patroness the conversion of the black nations of Nubia, from the tropic
of Cancer to the confines of Abyssinia. Her design was suspected
and emulated by the more orthodox emperor. The rival missionaries, a
Melchite and a Jacobite, embarked at the same time; but the empress,
from a motive of love or fear, was more effectually obeyed; and the
Catholic priest was detained by the president of Thebais, while the king
of Nubia and his court were hastily baptized in the faith of Dioscorus.
The tardy envoy of Justinian was received and dismissed with honor:
but when he accused the heresy and treason of the Egyptians, the
negro convert was instructed to reply that he would never abandon his
brethren, the true believers, to the persecuting ministers of the synod
of Chalcedon. During several ages, the bishops of Nubia were named and
consecrated by the Jacobite patriarch of Alexandria: as late as the
twelfth century, Christianity prevailed; and some rites, some ruins,
are still visible in the savage towns of Sennaar and Dongola. But the
Nubians at length executed their threats of returning to the worship of
idols; the climate required the indulgence of polygamy, and they have
finally preferred the triumph of the Koran to the abasement of the
Cross. A metaphysical religion may appear too refined for the capacity
of the negro race: yet a black or a parrot might be taught to repeat the
_words_ of the Chalcedonian or Monophysite creed.

Christianity was more deeply rooted in the Abyssinian empire; and,
although the correspondence has been sometimes interrupted above seventy
or a hundred years, the mother-church of Alexandria retains her colony
in a state of perpetual pupilage. Seven bishops once composed the
Æthiopic synod: had their number amounted to ten, they might have
elected an independent primate; and one of their kings was ambitious of
promoting his brother to the ecclesiastical throne. But the event
was foreseen, the increase was denied: the episcopal office has been
gradually confined to the _abuna_, the head and author of the Abyssinian
priesthood; the patriarch supplies each vacancy with an Egyptian monk;
and the character of a stranger appears more venerable in the eyes
of the people, less dangerous in those of the monarch. In the sixth
century, when the schism of Egypt was confirmed, the rival chiefs, with
their patrons, Justinian and Theodora, strove to outstrip each other in
the conquest of a remote and independent province. The industry of the
empress was again victorious, and the pious Theodora has established
in that sequestered church the faith and discipline of the Jacobites.
Encompassed on all sides by the enemies of their religion, the
Æthiopians slept near a thousand years, forgetful of the world, by whom
they were forgotten. They were awakened by the Portuguese, who, turning
the southern promontory of Africa, appeared in India and the Red Sea,
as if they had descended through the air from a distant planet. In the
first moments of their interview, the subjects of Rome and Alexandria
observed the resemblance, rather than the difference, of their faith;
and each nation expected the most important benefits from an alliance
with their Christian brethren. In their lonely situation, the Æthiopians
had almost relapsed into the savage life. Their vessels, which had
traded to Ceylon, scarcely presumed to navigate the rivers of Africa;
the ruins of Axume were deserted, the nation was scattered in villages,
and the emperor, a pompous name, was content, both in peace and
war, with the immovable residence of a camp. Conscious of their own
indigence, the Abyssinians had formed the rational project of importing
the arts and ingenuity of Europe; and their ambassadors at Rome and
Lisbon were instructed to solicit a colony of smiths, carpenters,
tilers, masons, printers, surgeons, and physicians, for the use of their
country. But the public danger soon called for the instant and effectual
aid of arms and soldiers, to defend an unwarlike people from the
Barbarians who ravaged the inland country and the Turks and Arabs who
advanced from the sea-coast in more formidable array. Æthiopia was saved
by four hundred and fifty Portuguese, who displayed in the field the
native valor of Europeans, and the artificial power of the musket and
cannon. In a moment of terror, the emperor had promised to reconcile
himself and his subjects to the Catholic faith; a Latin patriarch
represented the supremacy of the pope: the empire, enlarged in a tenfold
proportion, was supposed to contain more gold than the mines of America;
and the wildest hopes of avarice and zeal were built on the willing
submission of the Christians of Africa.

But the vows which pain had extorted were forsworn on the return of
health. The Abyssinians still adhered with unshaken constancy to the
Monophysite faith; their languid belief was inflamed by the exercise
of dispute; they branded the Latins with the names of Arians and
Nestorians, and imputed the adoration of _four_ gods to those who
separated the two natures of Christ. Fremona, a place of worship, or
rather of exile, was assigned to the Jesuit missionaries. Their skill
in the liberal and mechanic arts, their theological learning, and the
decency of their manners, inspired a barren esteem; but they were
not endowed with the gift of miracles, and they vainly solicited a
reënforcement of European troops. The patience and dexterity of forty
years at length obtained a more favorable audience, and two emperors
of Abyssinia were persuaded that Rome could insure the temporal and
everlasting happiness of her votaries. The first of these royal converts
lost his crown and his life; and the rebel army was sanctified by
the _abuna_, who hurled an anathema at the apostate, and absolved his
subjects from their oath of fidelity. The fate of Zadenghel was revenged
by the courage and fortune of Susneus, who ascended the throne under the
name of Segued, and more vigorously prosecuted the pious enterprise of
his kinsman. After the amusement of some unequal combats between the
Jesuits and his illiterate priests, the emperor declared himself a
proselyte to the synod of Chalcedon, presuming that his clergy and
people would embrace without delay the religion of their prince. The
liberty of choice was succeeded by a law, which imposed, under pain of
death, the belief of the two natures of Christ: the Abyssinians were
enjoined to work and to play on the Sabbath; and Segued, in the face of
Europe and Africa, renounced his connection with the Alexandrian church.
A Jesuit, Alphonso Mendez, the Catholic patriarch of Æthiopia, accepted,
in the name of Urban VIII., the homage and abjuration of the penitent.
"I confess," said the emperor on his knees, "I confess that the pope is
the vicar of Christ, the successor of St. Peter, and the sovereign of
the world. To him I swear true obedience, and at his feet I offer
my person and kingdom." A similar oath was repeated by his son, his
brother, the clergy, the nobles, and even the ladies of the court:
the Latin patriarch was invested with honors and wealth; and his
missionaries erected their churches or citadels in the most convenient
stations of the empire. The Jesuits themselves deplore the fatal
indiscretion of their chief, who forgot the mildness of the gospel and
the policy of his order, to introduce with hasty violence the liturgy of
Rome and the inquisition of Portugal. He condemned the ancient practice
of circumcision, which health, rather than superstition, had first
invented in the climate of Æthiopia. A new baptism, a new ordination,
was inflicted on the natives; and they trembled with horror when
the most holy of the dead were torn from their graves, when the most
illustrious of the living were excommunicated by a foreign priest. In
the defense of their religion and liberty, the Abyssinians rose in arms,
with desperate but unsuccessful zeal. Five rebellions were extinguished
in the blood of the insurgents: two abunas were slain in battle, whole
legions were slaughtered in the field, or suffocated in their caverns;
and neither merit, nor rank, nor sex, could save from an ignominious
death the enemies of Rome. But the victorious monarch was finally
subdued by the constancy of the nation, of his mother, of his son, and
of his most faithful friends. Segued listened to the voice of pity,
of reason, perhaps of fear: and his edict of liberty of conscience
instantly revealed the tyranny and weakness of the Jesuits. On the death
of his father, Basilides expelled the Latin patriarch, and restored
to the wishes of the nation the faith and the discipline of Egypt. The
Monophysite churches resounded with a song of triumph, "that the sheep
of Æthiopia were now delivered from the hyænas of the West;" and the
gates of that solitary realm were forever shut against the arts, the
science, and the fanaticism of Europe.

Chapter XLVIII: Succession And Characters Of The Greek Emperors. - Part I.

Plan Of The Two Last Volumes. - Succession And Characters Of
The Greek Emperors Of Constantinople, From The Time Of
Heraclius To The Latin Conquest.

I have now deduced from Trajan to Constantine, from Constantine to
Heraclius, the regular series of the Roman emperors; and faithfully
exposed the prosperous and adverse fortunes of their reigns. Five
centuries of the decline and fall of the empire have already elapsed;
but a period of more than eight hundred years still separates me from

Online LibraryEdward GibbonHistory of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 → online text (page 41 of 49)