Chapter LXI.—His Sickness at Helenopolis, and Prayers respecting his Baptism.
At first he experienced some slight bodily indisposition, which was soon followed by positive disease. In consequence of this he visited the hot baths of his own city; and thence proceeded to that which bore the name of his mother. Here he passed some time in the church of the p. 556 martyrs, and offered up supplications and prayers to God. Being at length convinced that his life was drawing to a close, he felt the time was come at which he should seek purification from sins of his past career, firmly believing that whatever errors he had committed as a mortal man, his soul would be purified from them through the efficacy of the mystical words and the salutary waters of baptism. 3357 Impressed with these thoughts, he poured forth his supplications and confessions to God, kneeling on the pavement in the church itself, in which he also now for the first time received the imposition of hands with prayer. 3358 After this he proceeded as far as the suburbs of Nicomedia, and there, having summoned the bishops to meet him, addressed them in the following words.
Literally “salutary word of cleansing,” but the paraphrase of Bag. will stand well whichever of the readings, “salutary cleansing,” or “salutary word of cleansing,” is adopted.556:3358
[These words seem to prove that the emperor now first became a catechumen. His postponement of baptism until his last illness (after having stood forward so long as the public advocate and protector of the Christian religion), and the superstitious reliance which he was encouraged to place on the late performance of this “mysterious” rite, afford an evidence of the melancholy obscuration of Christian truth at the very time when Christianity was ostensibly becoming the religion of the Roman Empire. There is probably too much truth in the following remarks of Gibbon: “The pride of Constantine, who refused the privileges of a catechumen, cannot easily be explained or excused: but the delay of his baptism maybe justified by the maxims and practice of ecclesiastical antiquity. The sacrament of baptism was supposed to contain a full and absolute expiation of sin; and the soul was instantly restored to its original purity, and entitled to the promise of eternal salvation. Among the proselytes of Christianity, there were many who judged it imprudent to precipitate a salutary rite, which could not be repeated; to throw away an inestimable privilege, which could never be recovered,” &c. (Decline and Fall, ch. 20).—Bag.] On the forms of admission to the catechumenate, compare Marriott, Baptism, in Smith and Cheetham, Dict.