Roman emperor (337-361), b. in Illyria, Aug. 7, 317; d. at the Springs of Mopsus (Mopsokrene near Tarsus), Nov. 3, 361
Constantius, FLAVIUS Julius, Roman emperor (337-361), b. in Illyria, August 7, 317; d. at the Springs of Mopsus (Mopsokrene near Tarsus), November 3, 361. He was the son of Constantine the Great and his first wife Fausta. On November 8, 324, he was made Caesar. After the death of the father (337) he received the Provinces of Egypt, Oriens, Asia, and Pontus, and became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire after the death of his brothers Constantine II (340) and Constans I (350) and of Magnentius (353). He was not successful in his wars, in which the Persians were his chief foe. As regards his religious policy he commanded in 353 the closing of the heathen temples and the abolishment of sacrifices under penalty of death, but these edicts were not rigidly executed. Even less logical were his actions in leaving the higher schools and the instruction of the higher classes of society in the hands of the pagan philosophers, and in continuing to fill the positions in the priesthood in the ancient manner. Won over to Arianism by the Eusebians, he acted as its protector, persecuted the orthodox Catholic bishops, and used violence against the synods. He showed especial hatred towards St. Athanasius. For a time, however, he assumed a friendly manner towards the saint, because after the murder of his brother Constans by the usurper Magnentius he had to exercise caution in order to maintain his position, and he was glad to make use of the influence of Athanasius over the common people. But, after the overthrow of Magnentius the emperor at once altered his conduct, and listened willingly to the accusation of the Eusebians against Athanasius. Pope Liberius called the Synod of Arles (353) to adjust the matter, but Constantius terrified the bishops, so that Athanasius was declared guilty and deposed.
At another synod held at Milan in 355 the emperor was present behind a curtain and finally rushed into the assembly with drawn sword. Consequently this synod also passed such decrees as he desired. Whoever was not compliant was exiled or thrown into prison. Pope Liberius, however, had not confirmed these decrees, and as he resolutely refused to give his approval he was banished to Bereea in Thrace; several Italian bishops, as well as Hosius of Cordova and Hilary of Poitiers, were also exiled. Athanasius fled into the wilderness. From this time Constantius deposed bishops according to his whims, and appointed in their stead others who were his tools. He was a mouthpiece for the most contradictory dogmas and formulae; for example, he favored both the Anomceans and the Semi-Arians. It is true that at the Synod of Constantinople (360) he avoided showing himself an open partisan of the strict Arians, but soon after, when Meletius of Antioch was deposed, he openly accepted their confession of faith. He seemed to have clearly in mind only one aim: the destruction of Catholic doctrine.
Hilary of Poitiers is not unjust when he describes Constantius ("Contra Constantium imperatorem", P.L., X, 578 sqq.) as excessively presumptuous, ruthless towards God and the Church, and, although apparently a Christian, yet an enemy of Jesus Christ; one who drew up confessions of faith yet who lived contrary to the faith, like an "impious person who does not know what is sacred, who drives the good from the dioceses in order to give these to the wicked, who by intrigues encourages discord, who hates yet wishes to avoid suspicion, who lies but wishes no one to see it, who is outwardly friendly but within lacks all kindness of heart, who in reality does only what he wishes yet wishes to conceal from everyone what it is that he wishes". Constantius died of an illness while engaged in a campaign against his nephew Julian; shortly before his death he had been baptized by the Arian Bishop Euzoios.