Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XVI
Chapter XVI.—The Change of Affairs for the Better.
1. Such was the state of affairs during the entire persecution. But in the tenth year, through the grace of God, it ceased altogether, having begun to decrease after the eighth year. 2587 For when the divine and heavenly grace showed us favorable and propitious oversight, then truly our rulers, and the very persons 2588 by whom the war against us had been earnestly prosecuted, most remarkably changed their minds, and issued a revocation, and quenched the great fire of persecution which had been kindled, by merciful proclamations and ordinances concerning us.
2. But this was not due to any human agency; nor was it the result, as one might say, of the compassion or philanthropy of our rulers;—far from it, for daily from the beginning until that time they were devising more and more severe measures against us, and continually inventing outrages by a greater variety of instruments;—but it was manifestly due to the oversight of Divine Providence, on the one hand becoming reconciled to his people, and on the other, attacking him 2589 who instigated these evils, and showing anger toward him as the author of the cruelties of the entire persecution.
3. For though it was necessary that these things should take place, according to the divine judgment, yet the Word saith, “Woe to him through whom the offense cometh.” 2590 Therefore punishment from God came upon him, beginning with his flesh, and proceeding to his soul. 2591
4. For an abscess suddenly appeared in the midst of the secret parts of his body, and from it a deeply perforated sore, which spread irresistibly into his inmost bowels. An indescribable multitude of worms sprang from them, and a deathly odor arose, as the entire bulk of his body had, through his gluttony, been changed, before his sickness, into an excessive mass of soft fat, which became putrid, and thus presented an awful and intolerable sight to those who came near.
5. Some of the physicians, being wholly unable to endure the exceeding offensiveness of the odor, were slain; others, as the entire mass had swollen and passed beyond hope of restoration, and they were unable to render any help, were put to death without mercy.
The edict of Milan, issued by Constantine and Licinius toward the close of the year 312 (upon the date, see Mason, p. 333, note) put an end to the persecution in its tenth year, though complete toleration was not proclaimed by Maximin until the following spring. Very soon after the close of the eighth year, in April, 311, Galerius issued his edict of toleration which is given in the next chapter. It is, therefore, to the publication of this edict that Eusebius refers when he says that the persecution had begun to decrease after the eighth year. Maximin yielded reluctant and partial consent to this edict for a few months, but before the end of the year he began to persecute again; and during the year 312 the Christians suffered severely in his dominions (see Bk. IX. chap. 2 sq.).338:2588
The plural here seems a little peculiar, for the edict was issued only in the name of Galerius, Constantine, and Licinius, not in the name of Maximin. We have no record of Licinius as a persecutor before this time, and Eusebius words of praise in the ninth book would seem to imply that he had not shown himself at all hostile to the Church. And in fact Licinius seems ruled out by §2, below, where “they” are spoken of as having “from the beginning devised more and more severe measures against us.” And yet, since Constantine did not persecute, we must suppose either that Licinius is included in Eusebius plural, or what is perhaps more probable, that Eusebius thinks of the edict as proceeding from all four emperors though bearing the names of only three of them. It is true that the latter is rather a violent supposition in view of Eusebius own words in the first chapter of Bk. IX. I confess that I find no satisfactory explanation of the apparent inconsistency.338:2589
Matt. xviii. 7.338:2591
Galerius seems to have been smitten with the terrible disease, which Eusebius here refers to, and which is described by Lactantius at considerable length (De mort. pers. chap. 33) and with many imaginative touches (e.g. the stench of his disease pervades “not only the palace, but even the whole city”!), before the end of the year 310, and his death took place in May of the following year.
Next: Chapter XVII
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