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The Edict of Milan

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Constantine Augustus and Licinius Augustus
The persecution of Christians ended in 313 when Constantine of the West and Licinius of the East proclaimed the Edict of Milan, which established a policy of religious freedom for all. This is an English translation of the edict.

When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I, Licinius Augustus, fortunately met near Mediolanurn (Milan), and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule. And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts) may show in all things His usual favor and benevolence. Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation. We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.
Moreover, in the case of the Christians especially we esteemed it best to order that if it happens anyone heretofore has bought from our treasury from anyone whatsoever, those places where they were previously accustomed to assemble, concerning which a certain decree had been made and a letter sent to you officially, the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception, Those, moreover, who have obtained the same by gift, are likewise to return them at once to the Christians. Besides, both those who have purchased and those who have secured them by gift, are to appeal to the vicar if they seek any recompense from our bounty, that they may be cared for through our clemency. All this property ought to be delivered at once to the community of the Christians through your intercession, and without delay. And since these Christians are known to have possessed not only those places in which they were accustomed to assemble, but also other property, namely the churches, belonging to them as a corporation and not as individuals, all these things which we have included under the above law, you will order to be restored, without any hesitation or controversy at all, to these Christians, that is to say to the corporations and their conventicles: providing, of course, that the above arrangements be followed so that those who return the same without payment, as we have said, may hope for an indemnity from our bounty. In all these circumstances you ought to tender your most efficacious intervention to the community of the Christians, that our command may be carried into effect as quickly as possible, whereby, moreover, through our clemency, public order may be secured. Let this be done so that, as we have said above, Divine favor towards us, which, under the most important circumstances we have already experienced, may, for all time, preserve and prosper our successes together with the good of the state. Moreover, in order that the statement of this decree of our good will may come to the notice of all, this rescript, published by your decree, shall be announced everywhere and brought to the knowledge of all, so that the decree of this, our benevolence, cannot be concealed.
From Lactantius, De Mort. Pers., ch. 48. opera, ed. 0. F. Fritzsche, II, p 288 sq. (Bibl Patr. Ecc. Lat. XI).
Translated in University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]), Vol 4:, 1, pp. 28-30. This text is in the public domain.
From this document it is clear that in 313.A.D. Constantine was not a Christian. This document is merely an edict from the emperor allowing Christians places where they could assemble to worship their God as they so desired. Constantine also specifies in this document that this decision was made with Licinio’s agreement. What we learn from this is that their reason for allowing Christians this freedom of worship was more for the public welfare and security of his empire than anything else. In other words, this was a political decision, not a religious one

But we have to keep in mind that the edict of Milan was not a surprise. Eusebius explains in his book “Ecclesiastical History,” book five, “30 April, suddenly the main event and other little ones contributed to modify the big history, with facts already announced and already unavoided. In a short time all of these came together. Galerius, the man who did the most useless and stupid persecution against the Christians became ill in the early months of that year. Lattanzius (298) had already written his idea about the death of the persecutors, in this he described the chastisements that where given to the persecutors of the Christians.”

Galerius was aware that he was going to be added to this list unless he repented. Perhaps thinking that he would be healed from his illness he ordered the edict that Christians had been waiting for for nearly 311 years. What this edict did once and for all was to end the persecutions and acknowledged the right of Christians to worship as they chose. More importantly, this edict of tolerance was directed by both Licinius and Constantine, the rulers of the empire.

The edict of Milan helps us understand why Constantine became so popular with his new science in politics and why he did not follow the rationality of his predecessors. Constantine was not satisfied merely to win a war because that alone did not create public peace nor did it gain the trust of the people he ruled over. In fact, a conquered people usually behaves just the opposite. He understood this and therefore used every opportunity to form things to advance his own purposes. Here Eusebius give us a reading of the edict of Milan, which was only the copy and not the real edict of Milan.

“ When I, Constantine and Licinius met we discussed for the benefit and the safety of the Empire. We got the conclusion to adopt this politics: That everybody has the right to profess his religious beliefs, therefore we need to erase all the edicts against the Christians and we won’t bother them anymore. This is convenient for the peace in our territory and doing so we do not think to honor or dishonor any religion.”

When Constantine went to Rome there were no Christians to protect against being persecuted but that wasn’t his motive in issuing the edict of Milan. What Constantine and Licinius really wanted was to ride into Rome and rule over a peaceful city. The edict of Milan wasn’t written for religious reason but because it made good politics.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 May 2010 08:04  

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