The first Christian emperor built many churches in Rome, probably including the original form of San Lorenzo outside the Walls. To celebrate his victory at the Mulvian Bridge he raised in 315 the arch that still towers over the Via dei Trionfi. It is one of the best preserved of Rome’s remains; and its majesty is not visibly injured by the diverse pilferage of its parts. Four finely proportioned shafts, rising from sculptured bases, divide the three arches, and support an ornate entablature. The attic story bears reliefs and statues taken from monuments of Trajan and Aurelius; while the medallions between the columns are from some building of Hadrian’s reign. Two of the reliefs appear to be the work of Constantine’s artists. The crude squat figures, the awkward quarrel of profile faces with frontal legs, the rude piling of heads upon heads as a substitute for perspective, betray a coarsening of technique and taste; but the deep drilling produces, in the play of light and shade, an impressive effect of depth and space; and the episodes are presented with a rough vitality as if Italian art had resolved to return to its source. The colossal figure of Constantine in the Palazzo dei Conservatori carries this primitiveness to a repellent extreme; it seems incredible that the man who presided so graciously over the Council of Nicaea should have resembled this dour barbarian- unless the artist had a mind to illustrate in advance the cynical summary of Gibbon: “I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion.” Early in this fourth century a new art took form- the “illumination” of manuscripts with miniature paintings. Literature itself was now predominantly Christian. Lucius Firmianus Lactantius expounded Christianity eloquently in Divinae Institutiones (307), and in De Mortibus Persecutorum (314) described the final agonies of the persecuting emperors with Ciceronian elegance and venom. “Religion,” wrote Lactantius, “must by its very nature be untrammeled, unforced, free”- a heresy which he did not live to expiate. More famous was Eusebius Pamphili, bishop of Caesarea. He began his literary career as a priestly scribe and librarian for his episcopal predecessor, Pamphilus, whom he loved so well that he adopted his name. Pamphilus had acquired Origen’s library, and had built around it the largest Christian collection of books yet known. Living among these volumes, Eusebius became the most erudite cleric of his time. Pamphilus lost his life in the Galerian persecution (310), and Eusebius was much plagued by later queries as to how he himself had survived. He made diverse enemies by taking a middle position between Arius and Alexander; nevertheless, he became the Bossuet of Constantine’s court, and was commissioned to write the imperial biography. Part of his scholastic harvest was gathered into a Universal History- the most complete of ancient chronologies. Eusebius arranged sacred and profane history in parallel columns divided by a synchronizing row of dates, and tried to fix the time of every important event from Abraham to Constantine. All later chronologies rested on this “canon.”

Putting flesh upon these bones, Eusebius issued in 325 an Ecclesiastical History describing the development of the Church from its beginnings to the Council of Nicaea. Here in the first chapter, again serving as a model for Bossuet, was the earliest philosophy of history- portraying time as the battleground of God and Satan, and all events as advancing the triumph of Christ. The book was poorly arranged but well written. The sources were critically and conscientiously examined, the statements are as accurate as in any ancient work of history; and at every turn Eusebius put posterity in his debt by quoting important documents that would otherwise have been lost. The bishop’s learning is enormous, his style is warmed with feeling and rises to eloquence in moments of theological odium. He frankly excludes such matters as might not edify his Christian readers or support his philosophy, and he manages to write a history of the great Council without mentioning either Arius or Athanasius. The same honest dishonesty makes his Life of Constantine a panegyric rather than a biography. It begins with eight inspiring chapters on the Emperor’s piety and good works, and tells how he “governed his empire in a godly manner for more than thirty years.” One would never guess from this book that Constantine had killed his son, his nephew, and his wife.