Constantine enacts a Law in favor of Celibates and of the Clergy.
There was an ancient Roman law, by which those who were unmarried at the age of twenty-five were not admitted to the same privileges as the married. [The Lex Papia Poppæa. For its origin under Augustus, see Tacit. Ann. iii. 25; Eus. V. C. iv. 26.] Amongst other clauses in this law, it was specified that those who were not the very nearest kinsmen could gain nothing from a will; and also, that those who were childless were to be deprived of half of any property that might be bequeathed to them. The object of this ancient Roman law was to increase the population of Rome and the subject people, which had been much reduced in numbers by the civil wars, not a long while before this law. The emperor, perceiving that this enactment militated against the interests of those who continued in a state of celibacy and remained childless for the sake of God, and deeming it absurd to attempt the multiplication of the human species by the care and zeal of man (since nature is always receiving increase or decrease according to the fiat from on high), made a law enjoining that the unmarried and childless should have the same advantages as the married.
He even bestowed peculiar privileges on those who embraced a life of continence and virginity, and permitted them, contrary to the usage which prevailed throughout the Roman empire, to make a will before they attained the age of puberty; for he believed that those who devoted themselves to the service of God and the cultivation of philosophy would, in all cases, judge aright. For a similar reason the ancient Romans permitted the vestal virgins to make a will as soon as they attained the age of six years. That was the greatest proof of the superior reverence for religion.
Constantine exempted the clergy everywhere from taxation, and permitted litigants to appeal to the decision of the bishops if they preferred them to the state rulers. [Constantine makes mention of this law in his Epistle to the bishops of Numidia, in Baronius, A. E. a.d. 316; n. lxiv.; Eus. H. E. x. 7; Cod. Theod. i. 27, de episcopali definitione, 1; xvi. 2, de episcopes ecclesiis et clericis, 2.] He enacted that their decree should be valid, and as far superior to that of other judges as if pronounced by the emperor himself; that the governors and subordinate military officers should see to the execution of these decrees: and that the definitions made by synods should be irreversible.
Having arrived at this point of my history, it would not be right to omit all mention of the laws passed in favor of those individuals in the churches who had received their freedom. Owing to the strictness of the laws and the unwillingness of masters, there were many difficulties in the way of the acquisition of this better freedom; that is to say, of the freedom of the city of Rome. Constantine therefore made three laws, enacting that all those individuals in the churches, whose freedom should be attested by the priests, should receive the freedom of Rome. [Cod. Theod. iv. 7, de manumissionibus inecclesia, 1.] The records of these pious regulations are still extant, it having been the custom to engrave on tablets all laws relating to manumission.
Such were the enactments of Constantine; in everything he sought to promote the honor of religion; and religion was valued, not only for its own sake, but also on account of the virtue of those who then participated in it.
Have mercy, O Lord, upon Thy servants the translator Chester, Bryce, and Susan.