Conny wins and marches into Rome, with the head of Maxentius carried on a spike.
Just like Jesus would have done.
Another thing Conny does to emulate his lord and saviour, is to have Maxentius’ family all killed.
Including his wife and youngest son.
Praise the lord.
One of the first things he does after his victory is disband the Praetorian Guard.
They had raised Maxentius to the throne when Galerius tried to disband them in 306.
They are sent out to guard the frontiers of the empire, the Rhine and the Danube.
Then in February 313 Conny and Licinius met in Milan where Licinius married Constantine’s sister.
And they issued their famous Edict of Milan.
“We have decided, therefore, to grant both to the Christians and to all others perfect freedom to practise the religion which each has thought best for himself, that so whatever Divinity resides in heaven may be placated, and rendered propitious to us and to all who have been placed under our authority. Consequently, we have thought this to be the policy demanded alike by healthy and sound reason — that no one, on any pretext whatever, should be denied freedom to choose his religion, whether he prefers the Christian religion or any other that seems most suited to him, in order that the Supreme Divinity, whose observance we obey with free minds, may in all things vouchsafe to us its usual favours and benevolences.”
This wasn’t entirely new – they had both signed the edict of toleration issued by Galerius two years earlier.
But now they are giving Christianity not only toleration but legal status.
Constatine might have been a Christian at this point – although I’m not convinced – but Licinius certainly wasn’t.
He was still a traditionalist.
I think it’s likely that both them were just trying to make sure the Christian god wasn’t going to intervene against them, just like they tried to keep ALL of the Roman pantheon of gods happy.
But also they wanted to keep the Christians happy.
Persecution hadn’t really accomplished anything.
On the contrary, it lead a bunch of Christians to demand torture and death.
Con referred to it as a civil war that had torn the empire apart.
Constantine and Licinius are trying to heal the empire.
It’s been through the crisis of the third century, where there were 26 Emperors in 50 years.
Then Diocletian brings stability but has to deal with the Christians.
Remember, they were 10% of the empire.
Roughly the same percentage as African American’s in the United States (12%).
You don’t want 10% of the population causing trouble.
He could have done what America does and just try to put all of them in prison, but he didn’t have the infrastructure.
So the next best thing is just to bring them into the fold.
But while the document provides amnesty for Christians, states they should have all of their property returned to them, along with other financial benefits, it isn’t making Christianity the state religion.
That doesn’t happen for another year 70-odd years.
But it’s a huge turning point for Christians.
The document is found in Lactantius’ De Mortibus Persecutorum (OF THE MANNER IN WHICH THE PERSECUTORS DIED) and in Eusebius of Caesarea’s History of the Church.
But there are pretty huge differences between the two versions.
Whether or not there was a formal ‘Edict of Milan’ is debatable.
It might have just consisted of letters Licinius and Conny wrote to their governors.
That’s certainly the way it’s presented in Lactantius.
BTW, Lactantius’ letter was itself a big discovery of the late Renaissance.
It only exists in a single copy which was rediscovered in the early 17th century.
But whatever the case, the Christians now have an open door to the heart of power in the Roman empire.
They’ve come a long way in few short years.
And it was a pretty rare situation in Greco-Roman history.
Even Plato, who was pretty broad-minded, said there was no place in his idealized republic for those who disbelieved in the gods of their fatherland and of the city of their birth.
Even if they kept their opinions to themselves and did not seek to disturb the faith of others, Plato insisted upon their being placed in a House of Correction — or what he calls a Sophronisterion, or House of Wisdom — for five years, where they were to listen to a sermon every day;
and if they were zealous propagandists of their pernicious doctrines, he proposed to keep them all their lives in horrible dungeons and deny their bodies after death the right of sepulture.
throughout antiquity, every lawgiver took the same view, that a good citizen must accept without question the gods of his native place who had been the gods of his fathers
And What was the theory of the State religion in Rome?
As I quoted in an earlier episode, Cicero tells us in his book On the Laws, the ancient formula, “Let no man have separate gods of his own: nor let people privately worship new gods or alien gods, unless they have been publicly admitted.”
but of course practice was different from theory
Armies and merchants who had been out in the remote provinces always came back with new wacky ideas and gods
People then were like people today
Looking for the latest crazy idea to build their identity around
“hey look at me, I’m different”
And Rome let them get away with it as long as they didn’t disturb shit
As long as they paid their taxes and sacrificied at the altars of the official gods, Rome didn’t care what the fuck you believed in private
This is of course how the Christians had pissed everyone off.
But now they are suddenly free to worship as they please.
As we’ll see, almost immediately, they don’t extend this same kind of courtesy to others
They have the power.
“I HAVE THE POWER!”
Around 313 Licinius defeats Maximinus, Galerius’ nephew, which means there are now only two emperors.
And of course that didn’t last long.
By 316, they are facing off on the battlefield, we don’t really know why, there is some talk about intrigue.
But after several battles they made peace.
And decided to make their sons Caesars.
Conny chose Crispus, his son by his first wife, Minervina.
Not a bad choice, he was over 18, had already won a few battles.
But Licinius chose his son Licinianus, an infant no more than twenty months old.
Obviously the system set up by Diocletian, where the empire was divided between four competent rulers, had completely broken down.
Not only are they just appointing their own sons, but even infants.
Not just Licinius either.
A few years later, when Conny has a few sons to his new wife Fausta, the eldest baby, also called Constantine, is made a Caesar.
But the final break between the two emperors doesn’t come until 323.
Again we have differing accounts about the cause, but it was probably Constantine who was the instigator.
He was in his prime at 50 and Licinius was ten years older.
Of course the Christian sources make out Constantine was a complete saint, but we know what wasn’t the case.
So the two Augustuses fight it out for a couple of years until Constantine finally is the victor.
He spares Licinius’ life on the request of his wife, Constantine’s sister, and he’s interred at Thessalonica.
But Constantine has him hanged the following year on trumped up charges of an attempted insurrection.
Of course Eusebius, the Chrisitan historian and friend to Constantine, writes:
“Then Constantine, dealing with the accursed of GOD and his associates according to the rules of war, handed them over to fitting punishment”!
A pretty euphemism for an act of assassination!
So now there is only Constantine and his son, Crispus.
The Roman Empire was united once more.
Unfortunately for Constantine, the Christians were NOT united.
He immediately finds out that there are lots of different factions.
And despite his edict saying everyone could choose their own religion, he quickly decides that there can only be one official flavour of Christianity.
In fact he found out back in 313, immediately after the Edict of Milan, that the hatred between the various Christian factions was almost as bad as the hatred between the pagans and the Christians.
As the historian Ammianus Marcellinus wrote 50 years later: “no wild beasts are so deadly to humans as most Christians are to each other.”
first issue he had to deal with was the Donatist schism.
The Donatists are named after Donatus, Bishop of Carthage and Primate of North Africa, even though he was not the founding leader, but rather followed the founding leader Majorinus.
As we saw in earlier episodes, During the persecution of Diocletian and Maximian many of the African Christians had ostentatiously courted martyrdom.
They refused to give in to the demands to give up their holy books and participate in the traditional sacrifices.
And they demanded to be tortured and killed.
But many other Christians said “fuck that” and just did what they had to do to survive.
During the persecutions, the Roman governor of North Africa, who was lenient to the large Christian minority under his rule, was satisfied when Christians handed over their scriptures as a token repudiation of faith.
When the persecution ended, Christians who did so were called traditors—”those who handed (the holy things) over”—by their critics.
One of these “traditors”, named Caecilian, had returned to the fold of the Church once the persecutions ended, and was consecrated Bishop of Carthage and Primate of North Africa.
Now some of the African bishops were pretty adamant that nobody who caved in to the persecutions should be allowed back into the church.
Majorinus said that the clergy had to be faultless.
But he died early on and it fell to Donatus to lead the movement.
The Roman church, on the other hand, felt that it was okay to let the traditors back into the fold.
Constantine held a series of councils to try to resolve the issue.
He ended up siding with the Roman church and told Donatus to back down.
Donatus just ignored him and went home.
He built the Donatist Church into the dominant Christian Church in North Africa.
They weren’t heretics – they were purists.
Constantine, during the remainder of his reign, practically ignored the African Church.
He had done what he could and he wiped his hands of it.
Although he did write nasty things about them.
In one letter he wrote:
“They are adherents of the Devil, who is their father; they are insane, traitors, irreligious, profane, ranged against God and enemies of the Holy Church. Would to Heaven that these heretics or schismatics might have regard even now for their own salvation, and, brushing aside the darkness, turn their eyes to see the true light, leaving the Devil, and flying for refuge, late though it be, to the one and true God, who is the judge of all! But since they are set upon remaining in their wickedness and wish to die in their iniquities, our warning and our previous long continued exhortations must suffice. For if they had been willing to obey our commandments, they would now be free from all evil.”
But in 347 Donatus was finally exiled by Constantine II to Gaul where he died.
but the movement continued
The Donatists at this stage were asking what an Emperor has to do with the Church?
At the Council of Carthage in 410 the decision was reached that all bishops who, after three appeals to them to return to the Church, still refused submission, should be brought back to the Catholic fold by force.
The point is that from day one, the Christians under Constantine were adamant that there couldn’t be any freedom in how the church was run.
There was no room for freedom of thinking.
And Constantine used his power as the effective leader of the church to enforce obedience.
Constantine reveals himself not merely as a Christian, but as a Catholic Christian.
And this is where it all starts.
It’s My Way or the Highway.
Also in these early years There arose an extravagant sect which took the name of Circumcelliones, from their practice of begging food from cell to cell, or cottage to cottage.
They renounced the ordinary routine of daily life.
Forming themselves into bands, and styling themselves the Champions of the Lord, they roamed through the countryside, which they kept in a state of abject terror.
St. Augustine declares that when their shout of “Praise be to God!” was heard, it was more dreaded than the roar of a lion.
They were armed with wooden clubs, which they named “Israels,” and these they did not scruple to use upon the Catholics, whose churches they entered and plundered, committing the most violent excesses, though they were pledged to celibacy.
Something like the Jewish Sicarii of Palestine during the first century of the Christian era.
The other major schism Constantine had to deal with during his reign was the Arian controversy.
Unlike the Donatists, Arianism was considered a heresy, which, unlike the Donatist schism, wasn’t confined to a single province of the Empire, but spread like a flood over the Eastern Church, raising issues of tremendous importance, vital to the very existence of Christianity.
The term heresy is from Greek αἵρεσις originally meant “choice” or “thing chosen”.
In early Christianity, as early as the 2nd century, it was used to define any ideas that were contrary to the “orthodox” church.
But who was orthodox and who was a heretic?
Who got to decide which was the orthodox belief?
All of the early factions in Christianity could equally claim their ideas came from the original apostles or from the bible itself.
It’s a pretty remarkable idea.
Again it’s the idea that only one line of thinking is appropriate.
No dissension is allowed.
The idea didn’t exist before Christianity.
People in ancient Greece and Rome were allowed to think for themselves.
In fact, Christianity itself started out as a heresy!
The very idea that Jesus was the messiah was heretical, if such an idea existed, to most of the Jews in the first century.
St Paul would have been a heretic.
If Jesus actually existed, he was an observant Jew and he would have considered Paul a heretic.