This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 10, chapter 5.
Notes and Commentary:
This chapter contains four important ordinances and letters, translated from the original Latin into Greek, from the emperors Constantine and Licinius relating to the Christians.
The first is known as “The Edict of Milan” (313). It grants freedom of worship not only to Christians but to all Romans. It explicitly states, “we have granted to these same Christians free and unrestricted authority to observe their own form of worship.”
It also stipulates that any property (like churches) taken from the Christians without compensation should be freely restored to them.
The second is an ordinance addressed to Anulinus, proconsul of Africa. It stipulates that property taken from the churches be restored to them, “whether gardens or building or whatsoever belonged to these churches by right.”
The third is an imperial letter from Constantine to Miltiades, bishop of Rome, and to one named Mark. It calls for a synod or meeting of bishops in Rome to address controversy relating to Caecilian, bishop of Carthage, and to assure that there is no schism in the church. Oulton explains that this referred to the so-called Donatist controversy that was arising in Africa: “The Donatists (so called from a bishop of theirs, Donatus) alleged that Caecilian had been consecrated by a bishop (Felix) who in the Diocletian persecution had proved himself a traditor, i.e., had surrendered up Scriptures to the pagan authorities. Hence they held that Caecilian’s consecration was invalid; and by appointing a bishop of their own in his stead began what is known as the Donatist schism” (454-455, n. 1).
The fourth is an imperial letter from Constantine to Chrestus, bishop of Syracuse, relating to the Council of Arles (314). It calls for a synod of bishops to meet in Arles by the Kalends of August (the first day of August). The purpose of the meeting was to continue to address problems relating to the Donatus schism.
This chapter provides an important historical record of the religious freedom that came to the Christians (and pagans also) under Constantine with the Edict of Milan. It also gives insight into the rise of the Donatist controversy and of imperial intervention into the life of the church to address schism. The Council of Arles (314) will be a forerunner to the Council of Nicea (325).