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the Church had just enjoyed, produced the most deplorable effect in the Christian fold. Multitudes presented themselves to the magistrates to express their compliance with the imperial edict, and to these apostates, tickets were issued attesting the fact that they had offered sacrifice (sacrificati), or burned incense (thurificati), while others without actually performing these rites, availed themselves of the venality of the magistrates to purchase certificates attesting their renunciation (libellatici). ... The Decian persecution was the severest trial to which the Church at large had been subjected up to that time and the loss suffered by the Church in consequence of apostasy was almost as great as the loss by martyrdom ” (Decius).
There is a direct reference to Apostasy in the Apocalyptic vision of Christian persecutions. “And the stars from heaven fell upon the earth, as the fig tree casteth its green figs when it is shaken by a great wind" (R. vi. 13). The Decian persecution was followed by a severe pestilence which devastated the empire. It is described by Dionysius of Alexandria.
The Goths invaded the Empire twice in the reign of Decius, inflicting great losses. On the second invasion the camp of the Romans was surprised, and pillaged, and the Emperor fled in disorder. Later in the same war the Roman army was manæuvred into a bog. “In this morass the Roman army, after an ineffectual struggle, was irrecoverably lost, nor could the body of the Emperor [Decius] ever be found ” (D. and F., I. x.). Decius perished A.D. 251.
“This is the first considerable occasion in which history mentions that great people who afterwards broke the Roman power, sacked the capital and reigned in Gaul, Spain, and Italy” (Gibbon, op. cit.).
Gallus who succeeded Decius, continued the persecution. He perished miserably after a reign of eighteen months. Æmilian who followed reigned only four months. Then came Valerian (253-260 A.D.) author of the eighth persecution. At first Bishops of the Church were banished. St. Cyprian, who was banished to Curubis wrote to nine other bishops who were working in the mines of Noumedia, and sent them money. Dionysius of Alexandria was banished to Kephro in Libya Nomos. As illustrating the conditions of banishment at that time, we may relate what happened to him.
« Æmilianus the prefect said, I perceive that you are at the same time ungrateful and insensible to the clemency of our Cæsars. Therefore you shall not remain in this city, but you shall be sent to the parts of Libya, to a place called Kephro. For this place I have selected according to the orders of our Cæsars. But neither you,
nor any others, shall in any wise be permitted either to hold conventions or to enter what you call your cemeteries'”
"" (Euseb. H. E. vii. II).
Dionysius goes on to say that when he reached his place of banishment,
“But neither did we keep aloof from assembling ourselves by divine assistance. ... But in Kephro a large congregation collected with us, partly of the brethren that accompanied us from the city, partly of those that joined us from Egypt, and thus God opened a door for the word likewise there. And at first, indeed, we were persecuted, we were stoned; but, at last, not a few of the heathen, abandoning their idols, turned to God, for the word was then first sown among them, as they had never before heard it ” (Euseb. H. E. vii. II).
From Kephro, Dionysius was moved on to Colluthion, in the Mareotis in lower Egypt. He did not like the change at first, but consoled himself with the thought that as it was nearer to Alexandria "we should more frequently enjoy the sight of those that were really beloved and most dear to us. For they would come and would tarry, and as if in the more remote suburbs, there would be still meetings in parts. And so it was (Euseb. H. E. vii. 11).
By Valerian's orders, Æmelianus prohibited the use of “what you call your cemeteries.” In the sure hope and belief in the Resurrection, Christians called their burial places, koluntopia, the Greek word for dormitory, signifying “ sleeping places. The metaphor of “the open door” for the Church, will engage our attention in the Commentary on Philadelphia (R. iii. 8).
In the year 258 a sharper edict was issued by Valerian condemning bishops, priests, and deacons to death by the sword; senators and knights were to forfeit their property, and the rank and file, if still obstinate, were to be condemned to death. Women of rank were banished. St. Cyprian and St. Lawrence perished in this persecution, S. Cyprian by the sword. It appears from the acts of the martyrs that they were implored to change their religion, and could have saved their lives by doing so. Valerian was defeated and taken prisoner by the Persians, whose king, Sapor, used him as a footstool in mounting his horse, and forced him to run by his side in chains. When Valerian died his body was flayed, and his skin, stuffed and painted red, was hung up in a Persian temple, to the lasting disgrace of the Roman Empire.
Gallianus succeeded his father as emperor. He published edicts of toleration of Christianity, and restored their cemeteries to the Christians (Euseb. H, E. vii. 13). Persians and Goths
invaded and devastated the Roman empire in his day, and earthquakes, famine and pestilence added to the misery of the Roman people. In Rome alone, the plague for a time carried off 5,000 persons a day. Gallianus was killed by his officers, A.D. 268. .
Claudius who followed was occupied during his short reign268-270 A.D.-repelling an army of 320,000 Goths, who invaded Macedonia. There were persecutions during his reign, of a sporadic kind. Claudius died of the plague.
Aurelian, a great general, then came to the throne, A.D. 270. He was the author of the ninth persecution, At first he protected the Christians. He decided that the Church buildings at Antioch should belong to those Christians who were in union with the bishops of Italy and of the city of Rome. Towards the end of his reign A.D. 275, he issued persecuting edicts. Lactantius says that these edicts had not reached the remoter provinces before his death, which took place the same year. “ Tradition refers to his reign a large number of Acta Martyrum, none of which is considered to be authentic (Dom Butler, “ Journal of Theological Studies," 1906, vii., 306).”
Tacitus (275-276), and Probus (276-282) followed Aurelian. There was no persecution in their reigns. They were both killed by their own troops.
Diocletian came to the throne, A.D. 284, and associated with himself as Cæsar and Governor of the East, Galerius, a man intensely prejudiced against Christianity. In the year 303, at the instigation of Galerius, persecution was decreed. Maximian, Governor of the West, joined heartily in this persecution, which was almost universal in extent and as cruel as Nero's in severity. Churches were pulled down, the Holy Scriptures were sought out and burnt, and men and women put to death by torture. Lactantius says, “all the earth, from East to West, was drenched in blood.” S. Alban, a citizen of Verulam, perished at this time. The persecutors boasted that they had abolished Christianity. But in the year 305, both Diocletian and Maximian were dethroned by Galerius. They both died miserably. Galerius repealed the persecuting edicts in April 311, and died a few days afterwards of a gangrenous ulcer of the abdomen. Eusebius, who witnessed the tenth persecution, says,
« But when by reason of excessive liberty we sank into negligence and sloth, one envying and reviling another in different ways, and were almost as it were on the point of taking up arms against each other, and were assailing each other with words as with darts and spears, prelates inveighing against prelates, and people rising up against people, and hypocrisy and dissimulation had arisen to the
greatest height of malignity, then the divine judgment which usually proceeds with a lenient hand, whilst the multitudes were yet crowding into the church, with gentle and mild visitation began to afflict the episcopate. ... But some that appeared to be our pastors, deserting the law of piety, were inflamed against each other with mutual strifes, only accumulating quarrels and threats, rivalship hostility and hatred to each other, only anxious to assert the government as a kind of sovereignty for themselves" (H. E. viii. 1).
Stripped of its paraphrase Eusebius says that hierarchical pride brought the Church to grief. He gives a long account of the tenth persecution in his “ Ecclesiastical History.” “Vast numbers, however,” he says, “ broken and relaxed in spirit by timidity before the contest, voluntarily yielded at the first onset" (H. E. viii. 3).
When Constantius Chlorus died at York in the year 306, his son, Constantine the Great, was proclaimed Cæsar by the northern troops.
At this time the Empire was divided into three parts, the better to defend it against the constant incursions of the barbarians (R. xvi. 19). Licinius reigned in the East, Maxentius at Rome and Italy, and Constantine in the West. Maxentius declared war on Constantine. In this war (A.D. 312) Constantine is said to have invoked the aid of Christ, and to have carried His emblem, the cross, at the head of his troops. Gibbon says:
“The learned Eusebius has ascribed the faith of Constantine to the miraculous sign which was displayed in the heavens whilst he meditated and prepared the Italian expedition.”
“ The same symbols sanctified the arms of the soldiers of Constantine; the cross glittered on their helmet, was engraved on their shields, was interwoven into their banners. . .
“But the principal standard, which displayed the triumph of the cross, was styled the Labarum. It is described as a long pike intersected by a transverse beam. The silken veil which hung down from the beam was curiously enwrought with the images of the reigning monarch and his children. The summit of the pike supported a crown of gold, which enclosed the mysterious monogram, at once expressive of the figure of the cross, and the initial letters of the name of Christ" (D. and F., cap. xx.-- from Eusebius in Vit. Constantine, and Baronius' Eccles. Annals).
There is still extant a medal of the Emperor Constantius, whereon the standard of the labarum is accompanied by these memorable words: “By this sign thou shalt conquer.
Constantine defeated Maxentius, with great slaughter of the Italian legions, in the Roman province. Finally, in the attack on Rome itself, “the dismayed troops of Maxentius, pursued by an implacable enemy, rushed by thousands into the deep and
rapid stream of the Tiber. The Emperor Maxentius himself was forced into the river and drowned by the weight of his armour”-A.D. 312—(Gib. op. cit. xiii.).
Constantine immediately suspended or repealed the edicts of persecution, and granted the free exercise of their religious ceremonies to all professed members of the Christian Church. (The Edict of Milan.) The Roman world was now divided between Constantine in the West and Licinius in the East; and in a few months they were fighting many bloody battles for supremacy, in which Constantine was the gainer. Constantine founded a new Rome on the Bosphorus. He gave it his own name, Constantinople, and removed the seat of government there in 330. This was a great blow to pagan Rome and the Senate.
It would be a mistake to suppose that by the Edict of Milan, published jointly by Constantine and Licinius in the year 313, the old forms of paganism were disestablished and disendowed. Much more so to conclude that Christianity was compulsorily imposed upon the Roman people. The edict itself, an edict of tolerance, refers to the deity enthroned in heaven. Constantine aimed at monotheism ; but identified the deity with the SunGod. He abolished all forms of divination and magic, but retained the office of Pontifex Maximus, and shortly before his death confirmed the privileges of the priests of the ancient gods. He allowed such expressions as “the divine emperor," * the altar of the emperor,” and “the sacred chamber," although he withdrew his statue from the temples. The Hierarchy, the Senate, and the Roman people, clung to paganism for another hundred years. In the year 394 Theodosius closed the gates of the Temple of Vesta and extinguished the sacred fire, thus ending the worship of Vesta. S. Leo the Great, who turned aside the wrath of Attila A.D. 451, says that it was the custom of many Christians in his day to worship the sun by obeisance and prayers from the steps of S. Peter's at Rome (Leo I., Serm. xxvi.).
At the death of Constantine his three sons, Constantine, Constantius, and Constans, divided the kingdom into three parts. Constantine attacked Constans, and was slain. Constans was assassinated by Magnentius, who in his turn was defeated by Constantius.
Constantius defeated the Germans at the battle of Mursa. In this Pyrrhic victory the Romans lost the equivalent of a whole army—50,000 men-A.D. 353.
Constantius was succeeded by his cousin, Julian, known to history as the Apostate. He reopened the pagan temples, and even attempted to restore the Temple of Jerusalem. But it is