Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XVII
p. 339 Chapter XVII.—The Revocation of the Rulers.
1. Wrestling with so many evils, he thought of the cruelties which he had committed against the pious. Turning, therefore, his thoughts toward himself, he first openly confessed to the God of the universe, and then summoning his attendants, he commanded that without delay they should stop the persecution of the Christians, and should by law and royal decree, urge them forward to build their churches and to perform their customary worship, offering prayers in behalf of the emperor. Immediately the deed followed the word.
2. The imperial decrees were published in the cities, containing the revocation of the acts against us in the following form:
3. “The Emperor Cæsar Galerius Valerius Maximinus, Invictus, Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, conqueror of the Germans, conqueror of the Egyptians, conqueror of the Thebans, five times conqueror of the Sarmatians, conqueror of the Persians, twice conqueror of the Carpathians, six times conqueror of the Armenians, conqueror of the Medes, conqueror of the Adiabeni, Tribune of the people the twentieth time, Emperor the nineteenth time, Consul the eighth time, Father of his country, Proconsul;
4. and the Emperor Cæsar Flavius Valerius Constantinus, Pius, Felix, Invictus, Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, Tribune of the people, Emperor the fifth time, Consul, Father of his country, Proconsul;
5. and the Emperor Cæsar Valerius Licinius, Pius, Felix, Invictus, Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, Tribune of the people the fourth time, Emperor the third time, Consul, Father of his country, Proconsul; to the people of their provinces, greeting: 2592
6. “Among the other things which we have ordained for the public advantage and profit, we formerly wished to restore everything to conformity with the ancient laws and public discipline 2593 of the Romans, and to provide that the Christians also, who have forsaken the religion of their ancestors, 2594 should return to a good p. 340 disposition.
7. For in some way such arrogance had seized them and such stupidity had overtaken them, that they did not follow the ancient institutions which possibly their own ancestors had formerly established, but made for themselves laws according to their own purpose, as each one desired, and observed them, and thus assembled as separate congregations in various places.
8. When we had issued this decree that they should return to the institutions established by the ancients, 2595 a great many 2596 submitted under danger, but a great many being harassed endured all kinds of death. 2597
9. And since many continue in the same folly, 2598 and we perceive that they neither offer to the heavenly gods the worship which is due, nor pay regard to the God of the Christians, in consideration of our philanthropy and our invariable custom, by which we are wont to extend pardon to all, we have determined that we ought most cheerfully to extend our indulgence in this matter also; that they may again be Christians, and may rebuild the conventicles in which they were accustomed to assemble, 2599 on condition that nothing be done by them contrary to discipline. 2600 In another letter we shall indicate to the magistrates what they have to observe.
10. Wherefore, on account of this indulgence of ours, they ought to supplicate their God for our safety, and that of the people, and their own, that the public welfare may be preserved in every place, 2601 and that they may live securely in their several homes.”
11. Such is the tenor of this edict, translated, as well as possible, from the Roman tongue into the Greek. 2602 It is time to consider what took place after these events.
That which follows is found in Some Copies in the Eighth Book. 2603
1. The author of the edict very shortly after this confession was released from his pains and died. He is reported to have been the original author of the misery of the persecution, having endeavored, long before the movement of the other emperors, to turn from the faith the Christians in the army, and first of all those in his own house, degrading some from the military rank, and abusing others most shamefully, and threatening still others with death, and finally inciting his partners in the empire to the general persecution. It is not proper to pass over the death of these emperors in silence.
2. As four of them held the supreme authority, those who were advanced in age and honor, after the persecution had continued not quite two years, abdicated the government, as we have already stated, 2604 and passed the remainder of their lives in a common and private station.
3. The end of their lives was as follows. He who was first in honor and age perished through a long and most grievous physical infirmity. 2605 He who held the second place ended his life by strangling, 2606 suffering p. 341 thus according to a certain demoniacal prediction, on account of his many daring crimes.
4. Of those after them, the last, 2607 of whom we have spoken as the originator of the entire persecution, suffered such things as we have related. But he who preceded him, the most merciful and kindly emperor Constantius, 2608 passed all the time of his government in a manner worthy of his office. 2609 Moreover, he conducted himself towards all most favorably and beneficently. He took not the smallest part in the war against us, and preserved the pious that were under him unharmed and unabused. Neither did he throw down the church buildings, nor devise anything else against us. The end of his life was happy and thrice blessed. He alone at death left his empire happily and gloriously to his own son 2610 as his successor, one who was in all respects most prudent and pious. He entered on the government at once, being proclaimed supreme emperor and Augustus by the soldiers;
5. and he showed himself an emulator of his fathers piety toward our doctrine. Such were the deaths of the four of whom we have written, which took place at different times.
6. Of these, moreover, only the one referred to a little above by us, 2611 with those who afterward shared in the government, finally 2612 published openly to all the above-mentioned confession, in the written edict which he issued.
This edict was issued in April, 311 (see the previous chapter, note 1). There has been considerable discussion as to the reason for the omission of Maximins name from the heading of the edict. The simplest explanation is that he did not wish to have his name appear in a document which was utterly distasteful to him and which he never fully sanctioned, as we learn from Bk. IX. chaps. 1 and 2, below. It is possible, as Mason suggests, that in the copies of the edict which were designed for other parts of the empire than his own the names of all four emperors appeared. Eusebius gives a Greek translation of the edict. The original Latin is found in Lactantius De mort. pers. chap. 34. The translation in the present case is in the main accurate though somewhat free. The edict is an acknowledgment of defeat on Galerius part, and was undoubtedly caused in large part by a superstitious desire, brought on by his sickness, to propitiate the God of the Christians whom he had been unable to conquer. And yet, in my opinion, it is not as Mason calls it, “one of the most bizarre state documents ever penned,” “couched in language treacherous, contradictory, and sown with the most virulent hatred”; neither does it “lay the blame upon the Christians because they had forsaken Christ,” nor aim to “dupe and outwit the angry Christ, by pretending to be not a persecutor, but a reformer.” As will be seen from note 3, below, I interpret the document in quite another way, and regard it as a not inconsistent statement of the whole matter from Galerius own point of view.339:2593
τὴν δημοσίαν ἐπιστήμην. Latin: publicam disciplinam.339:2594
τῶν γονέων τῶν ἑαυτῶν τὴν αἵρεσιν. Latin: parentum suorum sectam. There has been some discussion as to whether Galerius here refers to primitive Christianity or to paganism, but the almost unanimous opinion of scholars (so far as I am aware) is that he means the former (cf. among others, Mason, p. 298 sq.). I confess myself, however, unable, after careful study of the document, to accept this interpretation. Not that I think it impossible that Galerius should pretend that the cause of the persecution had been the departure of the Christians from primitive Christianity, and its object the reform of the Church, because, although that was certainly not his object, he may nevertheless, when conquered, have wished to make it appear so to the Christians at least (see Mason, p. 302 sq.). My reason for not accepting the interpretation is that I cannot see that the language of the edict warrants it; and certainly, inasmuch as it is not what we should a priori expect Galerius to say, we are hardly justified in adopting it except upon very clear grounds. But in my opinion such grounds do not exist, and in fact the interpretation seems to me to do violence to at least a part of the decree. In the present sentence it is certainly not necessarily implied that the ancestors of the Christians held a different religion from the ancestors of the heathen; in fact, it seems on the face of it more natural to suppose that Galerius is referring to the earlier ancestors of both Christians and heathen, who were alike pagans. This is confirmed by the last clause of the sentence: ad bonas mentes redirent (εἰς ἀγαθήν πρόθεσιν ἐπανέλθοιεν), which in the mouth of Galerius, and indeed of any heathen, would naturally mean “return to the worship of our gods.” This in itself, however, proves nothing, for Galerius may, as is claimed, have used the words hypocritically; but in the next sentence, which is looked upon as the main support of the interpretation which I am combating, it is not said that they have deserted their ancient institutions in distinction from the institutions of the rest of the world, but illa veterum instituta (a term which he could hardly employ in this unqualified way to indicate the originators of Christianity without gross and gratuitous insult to his heathen subjects) quæ forsitan primum parentes eorumdem constituerant, “those institutions of the ancients which perchance their own fathers had first established” (the Greek is not quite accurate, omitting the demonstrative, and reading πρότερον for primum). There can hardly have been a “perchance” about the fact that the Christians ancestors had first established Christian institutions, whatever they were—certainly Galerius would never have thought of implying that his ancestors, or the ancestors of his brother-pagans, had established them. His aim seems to be to suggest, as food for reflection, not only that the ancestors of the Christians had certainly, with the ancestors of the heathen, originally observed pagan institutions, but that perhaps they had themselves been the very ones to establish those institutions, which would make the guilt of the Christians in departing from them all the worse. In the next clause, the reference to the Christians as making laws for themselves and assembling in various places may as easily be a rebuke to the Christians for their separation from their heathen fellow-citizens in matters of life and worship as a rebuke to them for their departure from the original unity of the Christian Church. Again, in the next sentence the “institutions of the ancients” (veterum instituta) are referred to in the most general way, without any such qualification as could possibly lead the Christians or any one else to think that the institutions of the Christian religion were meant. Conformity to “the ancient laws and public discipline of the Romans” is announced in the beginning of the edict as the object which Galerius had in view. Could he admit, even for the sake of propitiating his Christian subjects, that those laws and that discipline were Christian? Veterum instituta in fact could mean to the reader nothing else, as thus absolutely used, than the institutions of the old Romans.
Still further it is to be noticed that in §9 Galerius does not say “but although many persevere in their purpose…nevertheless, in consideration of our philanthropy, we have determined that we ought to extend our indulgence,” &c., but rather “and since (atque cum) many persevere in their purpose,” &c. The significance of this has apparently been hitherto quite overlooked. Does he mean to say that he feels that he ought to extend indulgence just because they do exactly what they did before—worship neither the gods of the heathen nor the God of the Christians? I can hardly think so. He seems to me to say rather, “Since many, in spite of my severe measures, still persevere in their purpose (in proposito perseverarent) and refuse to worship our gods, while at the same time they cease under the pressure to worship their own God as they have been accustomed to do, I have decided to permit them to return to their own worship, thinking it better that they worship the God of the Christians than that they worship no God; provided in worshiping him they do nothing contrary to discipline (contra disciplinam), i.e. contrary to Roman law.” Thus interpreted, the entire edict seems to me consistent and at the same time perfectly natural. It is intended to propitiate the Christians and to have them pray for the good of the emperor to their own God, rather than refuse to pray for him altogether. It is not an acknowledgment even to the Christians that their God is the supreme and only true God, but it is an acknowledgment that their God is probably better than no god, and that the empire will be better off if they become loyal, peaceable, prayerful citizens again (even if their prayers are not directed to the highest gods), than if they continue disaffected and disloyal and serve and worship no superior being. That the edict becomes, when thus interpreted, much more dignified and much more worthy of an emperor cannot be denied; and, little respect as we may have for Galerius, we should not accuse him of playing the hypocrite and the fool in this matter, except on better grounds than are offered by the extant text of this edict.340:2595
ἐπὶ τὰ ὑπὸ τῶν ἀρχαὶων καταστ€θεντα. Latin: ad veterum instituta.340:2596
πλεῖστοι. Latin: multi.340:2597
παντοίους θαν€τους ὑπέφερον. Latin: deturbati sunt.340:2598
τῇ αὐτῇ ἀπονοί& 139· διαμενόντων. Latin: in proposito perseverarent.340:2599
τοὺς οἰκοὺς, ἐν οἷς συνήγοντο, συνθῶσιν. Latin: conventicula sua componant.340:2600
contra disciplinam, i.e. “against the discipline or laws of the Romans.” Galerius does not tell us just what this indefinite phrase is meant to cover, and the letter to the magistrates, in which he doubtless explained himself and laid down the conditions, is unfortunately lost. The edict of Milan, as Mason conclusively shows, refers to this edict of Galerius and to these accompanying conditions; and from that edict some light is thrown upon the nature of these conditions imposed by Galerius. It has been conjectured that in Galerius edict, Christianity was forbidden to all but certain classes: “that if a man chose to declare himself a Christian, he would incur no danger, but might no longer take his seat as a decurion in his native town, or the like”; that Galerius had endeavored to make money out of the transaction whereby Christians received their church property back again; that proselytizing was forbidden; that possibly the toleration of Christianity was made a matter of local option, and that any town or district by a majority vote could prohibit its exercise within its own limits (see Mason p. 330 sq.). These conjectures are plausible, though of course precarious.340:2601
The Greek reads, in all our mss., κατὰ π€ντα τρόπον, “in every manner.” The Latin original, however, reads undique versum. In view of that fact, I feel confident that the Greek translator must have written τόπον instead of τρόπον. If, therefore, that translator was Eusebius, we must suppose that the change to τρόπον is due to the error of some scribe. If, on the other hand, Eusebius simply copied the Greek translation from some one else, he may himself have carelessly written τρόπον. In either case, however, τόπον must have been the original translation, and I have therefore substituted it for τρόπον, and have rendered accordingly. I find that Crusè has done likewise, whether for the same reason I do not know.340:2602
Eusebius does not say whether the translating was done by himself or by some one else. The epistle of Hadrian to Minucius Fundanus, quoted in Bk. IV. chap. 9, above, was translated by himself, as he directly informs us (see ibid. chap. 8, note 17). This might lead us to suppose him the translator in the present case; but, on the other hand, in that case he directly says that the translation was his work, in the present he does not. It is possible that Greek copies of the edict were in common circulation, and that Eusebius used one of them. At the same time, the words “translated as well as possible” (κατὰ τὸ δυνατόν) would seem to indicate that Eusebius had supervised the present translation, if he had not made it himself. Upon his knowledge of Latin, see the note just referred to.340:2603
The words of this title, together with the section which follows, are found in the majority of our mss. at the close of the eighth book, and are given by all the editors. The existence of the passage would seem to imply that the work in only eight books came into the hands of some scribe, who added the appendix to make the work more complete. (Cf. chap. 13, note 15, above.) Whoever he was, he was not venturesome in his additions, for, except the notice of Diocletians death and the statement of the manner of the death of Maximinus, he adds nothing that has not been already said in substance by Eusebius himself. The appendix must have been added in any case as late as 313, for Diocletian died in that year.340:2604
See above, chap. 13, §11.340:2605
Diocletian died in 313, at the age of sixty-seven. The final ruin of all his great plans for the permanent prosperity of the empire, the terrible misfortunes of his daughter, and the indignities heaped upon him by Maximin, Licinius, and Constantine, wore him out and at length drove the spirit from the shattered body. According to Lactantius (De mort. pers. 42), “having been treated in the most contumelious manner, and compelled to abhor life, he became incapable of receiving nourishment, and, worn out with anguish of mind, expired.”340:2606
Upon the death of Maximian, see above, chap. 13, note 23.341:2607
ὁμὲν ὕστατος, i.e. Galerius, who was the second Cæsar and therefore the last, or lowest, of the four rulers. Upon his illness and death, see chap. 16, above.341:2608
Constantius was first Cæsar, and thus held third rank in the government. The following passage in regard to him is found also in chap. 13, §12–14, above.341:2609
Constantius was first Cæsar, and thus held third rank in the government. The following passage in regard to him is found also in chap. 13, §12–14, above.341:2610
I read λοιπόν which is found in some mss. and is adopted by Stephanus and Burton. Valesius, Schwegler, Laemmer and Heinichen follow other mss. in reading λιπών, and this is adopted by Stroth, Closs and Crusè in their translations. The last, however, makes it govern “the above-mentioned confession,” which is quite ungrammatical, while Stroth and Closs (apparently approved by Heinichen) take it to mean “still alive” or “still remaining” (“Der unter diesen allein noch Ueberlebende”; “Der unter diesen noch allein uebrige”), a meaning which belongs to the middle but not properly to the active voice of λείπω. The latter translation, moreover, makes the writer involve himself in a mistake, for Diocletian did not die until nearly two years after the publication of Galerius edict. In view of these considerations I feel compelled to adopt the reading λοιπόν which is nearly, if not quite, as well supported by ms. authority as λιπών.
Next: Martyrs of Palestine.
Like & share St-Takla.org
© Saint Takla Haymanout Website: Coptic Orthodox Church - Alexandria, Egypt / URL: http://St-Takla.org / Contact us at