This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 8, chapter 16-17 & Appendix to book 8.
Notes and Commentary:
Chapter 16 describes how the great Diocletian persecution began to lessen by the eighth year and came to an end in the tenth year.
This change did not come about due to “human agency” or “pity” or from the “humanity of the rulers.” Instead it came about by divine providence.
One sign of this was that Galerius, the cruel emperor and “chief author” of the persecution, was stricken by an illness which began an an ulcer and wasted his inward parts, bringing forth worms and a terrible stench. The suffering described here is reminiscent of Herod’s illness in Acts 12:23.
Chapter 17 describes how Galerius became conscience-stricken for his cruel deeds and decided to command the persecution against Christians to cease. It includes a copy of this decree, translated from Latin to Greek allowing, “that the Christians may exist again and build the houses in which they assemble, always provided they do nothing contrary to order.”
In the Appendix found in the AER manuscript tradition, more information is added as to the fate of the four men who served as the Tetrarchy and under whom the persecution had begun.
It is noted that Galerius, who held last place among the four tetrarchs, died from his illness and that he had been the chief villain in the persecutions.
Diocletian had held the chief honor in the tetrarchy [thus we call it the Diocletian persecution] but retired from public life and eventually fell under painful bodily infirmity.
The one who held second place was Maximian whose life ended by strangling.
The tetrarch in third place had been Constantius [father of Constantine] and he is praised as the only who lived a noble life and who did not persecute Christians or tear down their churches.
One begins to see this as a bit of Constantinian propaganda.
These chapter describes the welcomed end of the Diocletian persecution and stresses the divine providential care for the church in ending the suffering.