Church History Tuesday: The Great Persecution before the Peace Part 2

If you need a recap you can find it here.

So Diocletian’s edicts against the Christians were some of the harshest and restricting the Christians had seen.  His first edict was that all churches and Sciptures be burned.  The second edict was leaders of churches should be arrested.  The third edict was a reprieve and allowed the clergy to be released if they were willing to sacrifice to the gods.  However, most clergy members were not willing to and had to be tortured into sacrificing or literally had their hands forced into it.  The fourth edit was a devastating decree, mostly because of the relative ease of several decades the Christians enjoyed.  The edict ordered all persons to gather in a public space and offer a collective sacrifice.  If they refused they were to be executed.  A case was made for the Christians to abandon their faith, which many did.  Others who stayed strong in their faith were put to death in a variety of ways.  Some Christians fled, taking the Scriptures with them.  Some Christians even left the Empire escaping into Persia, thus reinforcing the idea Christians lacked loyalty to the Empire.

Soon after Diocletian’s last edict he fell ill and Galerius tried to seize power from him.  Galerius also gave Maximian the choice of abdicating or face invasion by Galerius’ superior army.  So soon after Galerius and Constantius Cholrus ascended to the rank of augustus, with Severus and Maximinus Daia, as (puppet) caesars under them.  However, things did not go well for long.  Galerius took Constantius Cholrus’ son, Constantine hostage and kept in his court to insure Constantius’ loyalty.  Constantine escaped and joined his father, when his father died the troops disobeyed Galerius and proclaimed Constantine as their augustus.  There are also a lot of other power struggles and Galerius tried to invade the West, but his troops started to turn on him, so he had to retreat.  Finally he asked Diocletian to come out of retirement and establish order, however, Diocletian refused stating he was quite happy growing cabbages in his retirement, although he was willing to lead negotiations among the rivals.  All this ended in an unstable arrangement, and a new appointment of Licinius as an augustus.

Unfortunately in the midst of the political chaos, the persecution of Christians continued.  Thankfully the impact of the persecution was set by each emperor in the regions.  So in the West where Constantine and Maxenitus reigned, the policies were not enforced.  Unfortunately in the East where Galerius and Maximinus Daia reigned the persecution continued.  Maximinus even sought to perfect the policies of Galerius, by maiming Christians and sending them to work in stone quarries.  This plan backfired when Christians started planting churches in their work places.  So Maximiuns had some of the Christians killed and other deported again.  All the while the list of martyrs grew longer and longer.

However, help was about to come from an unexpected source.  In 311 Galerius became ill with a painful disease.  Possibly convinced by the Christians who said this was a punishment for the persecution of Christians; he decided to change his policy.  In an edict he issued in 311, Galerius states he is moved by mercy to allow Christians to once again worship their God and gather in their assemblies, as long as they do not interfere with the public order.  In return for the Empire’s tolerance, Christians were required to pray to their God for the Empire, the public good, and for themselves, so the state might enjoy prosperity and peace.

This is where I will end it today and next time I will continue with the peace following the persecution.

Also just general note, sorry for not posting Thursday or Friday of last week or yesterday; I went to the doctor on Thursday afternoon and found out I need to have a routine diagnostic procedure.  I, however, was not expecting that and needed some time with my family to process.  I spent the time I would have written a blog yesterday, setting up the time for the procedure.  I will have it done next Monday, so there will not be a blog post on Monday and depending on what they find maybe the days following.  I will also hopefully be out of town March 7th and 8th for a Company of Jesus retreat, if I can get the time off work and there is no bad news on the health front.  I think that is all for now.  So I would ask for your prayers Monday for good health.

About Jesse

I am a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary with a Masters of Arts in Theology focusing on Church History. I am a Third Order Benedictine monk, in the Company of Jesus. I am married to a wonderful woman, we just had a baby Michaela Rose. You can follow me and be alerted of new blog post by following me on Twitter @jtalexanderiv. Or following this blog.
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