GreatPersecution. 325-303=22 years before the The original Nicene Creed of 325.
On February 23, 303, Diocletian- (The then Roman Emperor) ordered that the newly-built Christian church at Nicomedia be razed, its scriptures set to flame, and the treasures of the church collected as treasure. February 23 was the feast of the Termnialia, for Terminus, the god of boundaries. The emperors must have thought it appropriate: It was the day they would terminate Christianity. The next day, Diocletian's first "Edict against the Christians" was published. This ordered the destruction of Christian scriptures, liturgical books, and places of worship across the empire, and prohibited Christians from assembling for worship. Christians were also deprived of the right to petition the courts, making them potential subjects for judicial torture; Christians could not respond to actions brought against them in court; Christian senators, equestrians, decurions, veterans, and soldiers were deprived of their ranks; and imperial freedmen were reduced to the status of slaves.
Diocletian had requested that the edict be pursued "without bloodshed", in spite of Galerius' demands that all those refusing to sacrifice should be burned alive. The practice nevertheless became quite widespread in the East. In spite of Diocletian's request, the death penalty was widely used, following the discretion of local judges. After it was posted, a man on the street named Eutius tore it down and ripped it up, mocking the edict's references to victories over the Goths and Sarmatians. He was arrested for treason, tortured, and burned alive soon after, thus becoming the edict's first martyr.
The edict might not actually have been an "edict" in the technical sense; Eusebius does not refer to it as such, and when the Passio Felicis states "exiit edictum imperatorum et Caesarum super omnem faciem terrae", it may simply be as an echo of Luke's Gospel 2:1: "exiit edictum a Caesare Augusto ut profiteretur universus orbis terrae". Elsewhere in the passion, the text is called a programma. The text of the edict itself does not actually survive. Whatever the case, the provisions of the edict were known and enforced in Palestine by March or April, and was in use by local officials in North Africa by May or June. The earliest martyr at Caesarea was executed on June 7; the edict was in force at Cirta from May 19.
Its enforcement was inconsistent: In Constantius' realm
(Britain and Gaul), Lactantius asserts that, at most, church buildings were
destroyed; Eusebius denies even that. The martyrdom of Saint Alban
was once attbiuted to this period, but has more recently been assigned to the
reign of Septimius Severus. In Maximian's realm, however, its provisions were
firmly enforced: The bishop of Rome, Marcellinus,
was a traditor, and martyrdoms are recorded in Sicily (at Catania on
Africa's political elite were insistent that the persecution be fulfilled. Anullinus, proconsul of Africa, expanded on the edict, deciding that, in addition to the destruction the Christians' scriptures and churches, the government should compel Christians to sacrifice to the gods. Governor Valerius Florus enforced the same policy in Numidia during the summer or autumn of 303, where he created "days of incense burning"; Christians would sacrifice or they would lose their lives.
Coercion existed lower down on the administrative scale as well. The curator of one African town arrested a host of church administrators—their priest, two lectors, and church elders—and demanded their scriptures. The administrators told the curator that their bishop held the books. The curator kept the churchmen imprisoned until their bishop returned. When the bishop appeared, admitting ownership of the books but refusing to hand them over, the curator sent the bishop to Carthage, where he was sentenced to death. At Cirta, the curator appeared in church, and confronted its bishop. The bishop protested that he had no scriptures, but could offer the curator some of the church's plate. The curator accepted the plate, but continued the search, eventually discovering that several lectors had hied off with the scriptures. He tracked down these persons, searched their homes, and seized their sacred codices.
Before the end of February, a fire destroyed part of the
imperial palace. Galerius convinced Diocletian that the culprits were Christian
conspirators who had plotted with palace eunuchs. An
investigation into the act was commissioned, but no responsible party was
found. Executions followed. The palace eunuchs Dorotheus and Gorgonius
were eliminated. One individual, a Peter, was stripped, raised high, and
scourged. Salt and vinegar were poured in his wounds, and he was slowly
boiled over an open flame. The executions continued until at least
 Second, Third, and Fourth Edicts
The First Edict was the sole legally binding edict in the West. In the East, however, progressively harsher legislation was devised. In the spring or summer of 303, following a series of rebellions in Melitene (Malatya, Turkey) and Syria, a Second Edict was published, ordering the arrest and imprisonment of all bishops and priests. The prisons began to fill—they underdeveloped prison system of the time could not handle the deacons, lectors, priests, bishops, and exorcists forced upon them. Eusebius writes that the edict netted so many priests that ordinary criminals were crowded out, and had to be released.
In anticipation of the upcoming twentieth anniversary of
his reign on
In 304, the Fourth Edict ordered all persons, men, women, and children, to gather in a public space and offer a collective sacrifice. If they refused, they were to be executed. The Fourth Edict was probably issued in either January or February 304, and was still being applied in the Balkans in March. This last edict was not enforced at all in the domains of Maximian and Constantius. In the East, it remained applicable until the issue of the Edict of Milan by Constantine and Licinius in 313.
According to one estimate, a total of 3,000–3,500 Christians were killed in the persecution, while many others suffered torture or imprisonment. Among the recorded martyrs, there are Pope Marcellinus, Philomena, Sebastian, Afra, Lucy, Erasmus of Formiae, Florian, George, Agnes, Cessianus, Saint Dujam (bishop of Salona),  Abundius of Umbria and others ending with Peter of Alexandria (311).
That said, nowhere were Christians martyred systematically, and evasion was an ever-present threat to the edict's effectiveness. Lactantius' complaint that Christians were deprived of all their legal rights because of this edict is exaggerated, but not substantially incorrect. Some Christians refused official requirements to sacrifice before judicial proceedings. Some avoided them: In a papyrus from Oxyrhynchus, the Christian Copres writes to his wife that he'd visited a court to do business, but, having seen that "those who present themselves in court are being made to sacrifice", decided to give his brother power of attorney, who would then sacrifice on his behalf.
Others bribed their way out of trouble (Imperial edicts always gave cause to much profiterring). Peter, bishop of Alexandria, issued rules for the lapsed in 306. The rules were much more liberal than those issued in the third century: Where penance had once been extended until death, now the greatest penalty was a mere three or four years' penance. Lesser offenders, such as those who escaped punishment through bribery, could return to the church without penalty; those who had sent slaves or pagans to sacrifice on their behalf were given only minor punishments.
The handing over of sacred scriptures (traditio)
was viewed in the West as a terrible sin, and led to post-persecution rigorist
reaction and the Donatist schism. The lengthy recriminations of that dispute
have preserved many details of the first edict's implementation in Africa. The Acts of the Council of Cirta demonstrate the
lengths many clergymen would go to to preserve their scriptures: Donatus of Calama surrendered medical codices in
place of scripture, Victor of Rustica did the same with four unreadable
gospels, Marinus of Aquae Tibilitanae fobbed investigators off with a random
selection of papers. Mensurinus claimed he surrendered only heretical works
to authorities. Some, of course, refused to do even this: Bishop Felix
of Tibiuca was decapitated on
 Official end
The persecution was officially ended in 311 by Galerius, in connection with Constantine and Licinius (Diocletian had abdicated and retired, according to the tetrarchy system), through an Edict of Tolerance where he admitted to have failed in eradicating Christianity, adding that "for this our indulgence, they ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the republic may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes". 
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 that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion. — Constantine I and Licinius, Edict of Milan.
Diocletian's empire-wide persecution has been considered to be one of the bloodiest and most ruthless persecutions in the history of the Roman Empire. The persecution made such an impression on Christians that the Alexandrian church used the start of Diocletian's reign (284) as the epoch for their Era of Martyrs. Another effect of the persecution was the flight of Marinus the Dalmatian to Mount Titano, forming what eventually became the Republic of San Marino. It was also the last time that Christians were systematically persecuted in the Roman Empire, as after Diocletian's retirement most emperors would be Christian, with the notable exception of the pagan Julian the Apostate who made but a small amount of Christian Martryrs in contrast to Diocletian (i.e. see John and Paul).
 See also
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The main altar at St. Raphael's Cathedral, Dubuque, Iowa. Contained within the altar is a box containing the alleged remains of Cessianus, a young boy who was martyred during the Diocletianic Persecution.
The Diocletianic Persecution was the last, and most severe, episode of persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. It took place under the Emperor Diocletian, and lasted eight years. It peaked in 303. Manichaeans were also targeted by the Roman authorities in this period.
 Persecution and Tetrarchic ideology
Diocletian, acclaimed emperor on
Diocletian styled himself a "restorer"; he wished the public to see his reign as a renewal of traditional Roman values after the anarchy of the third century. The Diocletianic regime's activist stance, however, and Diocletian's belief in the power of central government to effect major change in morals and society, make him peculiar: most earlier emperors had been far more cautious, preferring to work within existing structures rather than overhauling them. Diocletian, by contrast, was willing to reform every aspect of public life to satisfy his goals: coinage, taxation, architecture, law, and history were all radically reconstructed to reflect his authoritarian and conservative ideology. The reformation of the empire's "moral fabric"—and the elimination of religious minorities—was simply the final step in that process.
Persecution was not the only outlet of the Tetrarchy's moral fervor. In 295, either Diocletian or his Caesar, Galerius, issued an edict from Damascus proscribing incestuous marriages, and affirming the supremacy of Roman law over local law. (The edict illegalized sibling marriage, which had long been customary in the East.) Its preamble insists that it is every emperor's duty to enforce the sacred precepts of Roman law, for "the immortal gods themselves will favour and be at peace with the Roman name...if we have seen to it that all subject to our rule entirely lead a pious, religious, peaceable and chaste life in every respect". These principles, if given their full extension, would logically require Roman emperors to enforce conformity in religion.
 Public support
Christian denominations had been growing quickly in many parts of the empire (and especially in the East) since 260, when Gallienus had brought peace to the Church. The data to calculate the figures is nearly non-existent, but the historian and sociologist Keith Hopkins has given crude and tentative estimates for Christian population in the third century: from a 250 population of 1.1 million, to 6 million by 300, or about 10% of the empire's total population. Churches in the later third century were no longer as inconspicuous as they had been in the first and second: large churches were prominent in certain major cities throughout the empire, and the church in Nicomedia even sat on a hill overlooking the imperial palace. These new churches might have represented not only the absolute growth in Christian communities, but also an increasing proportion of upper-class citizens in the congregation.
It is uncertain exactly how much support there was for policies of persecution within the aristocracy. Christians reached high ranks in Roman government—indeed, Diocletian appointed several Christians to those positions himself, and his wife and daughter may have been sympathetic to the church. There were many individuals willing to be martyrs, and many provincials willing to ignore any persecutionary edicts from the emperors as well. Even the emperor Constantius was known to have disapproved of the policy. The lower classes demonstrated little of the same enthusiastic support they had for earlier persecutions. The long-established Church had simply become another accepted part of the peoples' lives, no longer as alien as it had once been.
Within the highest ranks of the imperial administration, however, there were men like the philosopher Porphyry of Tyre and Sossianus Hierocles, governor of Bithynia, men who would eagerly promulgate an anti-Christian message. Hierocles thought Christian beliefs absurd: if Christians applied their principles consistently, he argued, they would pray to Apollonius of Tyana instead of Jesus. Apollonius' miracles had been far more impressive, and Apollonius never had the temerity to call himself "God". In the early 300s, an unidentified philosopher published a pamphlet attacking the Chrisitans. This philosopher, who might have been a pupil of the Neoplatonist Iamblichus, dined repeatedly at the imperial court. Porphyry held that Christians blasphemed by worshipping a human being rather than the Supreme God, and behaved treasonously in forsaking the traditional Roman cult. "To what sort of penalties might we not justly subject people," Porphyry asked, "who are fugitives from their fathers' customs?" Pagan intolerance had become socially acceptable once more.
Pagan priests, too, were interested in suppressing any threat to traditional religion. The Christian Arnobius, writing during Diocletian's reign, attributes financial concerns to provisioners of pagan services: "The augurs, the dream interpreters, the soothsayers, the prophets, and the priestlings, ever vain...fearing that their own arts be brought to nought, and that they may extort but scanty contributions from the devotees, now few and infrequent, cry aloud, 'The gods are neglected, and in the temples there is now a very thin attendance. Former ceremonies are exposed to derision, and the time-honoured rites of institutions once sacred have sunk before the superstitions of new religions.'" They believed their ceremonies were hindered by the presence of Christians, who were thought to cloud the sight of oracles and stall the gods' recognition of their sacrifices.
 Early persecutions
 Christians in the army
At the conclusion of the Persian wars in 299, co-emperors Diocletian and Galerius returned Syrian to Antioch from peace negotiations with Persia. The Christian rhetor Lactantius records that, at Antioch some time in 299, the emperors were engaged in sacrifice and divination in an attempt to predict the future. The haruspices were unable to read the sacrificed animals, and failed to do so after repeated trials. The master haruspex eventually declared that this failure was the result of interruptions in the process caused by profane men: certain Christians in the imperial household were seen to have made the sign of the cross in an attempt to create a defense against the demons called into service in the pagan ceremonies. Diocletian, enraged by this turn of events, declared that all members of the court need perform their own sacrifice. They sent letters to the military command as well, demanding that the entire army perform the sacrifices or else face discharge.
Eusebius of Caesarea tells a similar story: commanders were told to give their troops the choice of sacrifice or loss of rank. These terms were strong—a soldier would lose his career in the military, his state pension and his personal savings—but not fatal. According to Eusebius, the purge was broadly successful, but Eusebius is confused about the technicalities of the event and his characterization of the overall size of the apostasy is ambiguous. Eusebius also attributes the initiative for the purge to Galerius, rather than Diocletian. Peter Davies surmises that Eusebius heard of the event through public rumors, and knew nothing of the privileged discussion at the emperor's private religion ceremony that Lactantius had access to. Since it was Galerius' army that would have been purged—Diocletian had left his in Egypt to quell continuing unrest—Antiochenes would understandably have believed Galerius to be its instigator.
Eusebius, Lactantius and Constantine each state that Galerius was the prime impetus for the military purge, and its prime beneficiary. Diocletian was conservative in matters of religion, faithful to the traditional Roman pantheon, but still had tendencies towards religious tolerance. Galerius, by contrast, was a devoted and passionate pagan. According to Christian sources, he was consistently the main advocate of such persecution. He was also eager to exploit this position to his own political advantage. Newly prestigious and influential after his victories in the Persian war, Galerius perhaps still smarted at the thought of his humiliating appearance at Antioch, when Diocletian had forced him to walk at the front of the imperial caravan, rather than inside. His resentment fed his discontent with official policies of tolerance; from 302 on, he probably urged Diocletian to enact a general law against the Christians. Since Diocletian was already surrounded by an anti-Christian clique of counsellors, these suggestions must have carried great force.
 Manichean persecution
Affairs quieted after the initial persecution. Diocletian
remained in Antioch for the following three years. He visited Egypt once, over
the winter of 301–2, where he began the grain dole in Alexandria. In Egypt, some Manicheans,
followers of the prophet Mani, were decried in the presence of the proconsul
of Africa. On
Diocletian believed quite firmly in these policies, and his religious passion motivated him to use violent and hateful language in their expression. He found much to be offended by in Manichean religion. The proconsul of Africa forwarded Diocletian an anxious inquiry on the Manichees. In late March 302, Diocletian responded: the Manicheans "have set up new and hitherto unheard of sects in opposition to the older creeds so that they might cast out the doctrines vouchsafed to us in the past by divine favour, for the benefit of their own depraved doctrine". He continued: "..our fear is that with the passage of time, they will endeavour...to infect...our whole empire...as with the poison of a malignant serpent". "Ancient religion ought not to be criticized by a new-fangled one", he wrote. The Christians of the empire were vulnerable to the same line of thinking.
 Diocletian and Galerius, 302–303
Diocletian was in Antioch in the autumn of 302, when the
next instance of persecution occurred. The deacon Romanus had come to the city from Caesarea
Maritima, in Syria Palaestina (near modern Caesarea, Israel). Romanus
saw many in the city visiting the pagan temples, and was angered. In protest,
he visited a court while preliminary sacrifices were taking place and
interrupted the ceremonies, decrying the act in a loud voice. He was arrested
and sentenced to be set aflame, but Diocletian overruled the decision, and
decided that Romanus should have his tongue removed instead. This being done,
Romanus was sent to prison, where he would be executed on
Throughout these years the moral and religious didacticism of the emperors was reaching a fevered pitch; now, at the behest of an oracle, it was to hit its peak. According to Lactantius, Diocletian and Galerius entered into an argument over what imperial policy towards Christians should be while wintering at Nicomedia in 302. Diocletian argued that forbidding Christians from the bureaucracy and military would be sufficient to appease the gods, while Galerius pushed for their extermination. The two men sought to resolve their dispute by sending a messenger to consult the oracle of Apollo at Didyma. Upon returning, the messenger told the court that "the just on earth" hindered Apollo's ability to speak. Constantine recalled a similar scene, about twenty-three years later: how the voice of the "god" had sounded from a "vast cavern", complaining that these "just on earth" hindered his ability to speak. These "just", Diocletian was informed by members of the court, could only refer to the Christians of the empire. At the behest of his court, Diocletian acceded to demands for a universal persecution.
 See also
 Primary sources
 Secondary sources
 Further reading
 External links
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