The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great

By Henry Chadwick | Go to book overview
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27 Diocletian and the Great Persecution; Rise of Constantine

Eusebius of Caesarea prefaces his account of Diocletian by describing the Church's prosperity in the decades before the coming of sharp persecution. Even in the time of Origen there were individual governors and highly placed officials who, though not believers, did everything in their power to help the Christians, and Christians believed that there could be mercy hereafter for them (Origen, In Matt. ser. 120). Eusebius records that more recently there had been provincial governors who were Christians and had even been allowed by authority not to participate in pagan sacrifices; moreover, bishops had been treated with honour by governors. Since the emperor Gallienus had enacted that Christians could legitimately own and assemble for worship in their church buildings and could have their cemeteries (Eus. HE 7. 13), the numbers of Christians had swelled, and larger buildings had to be erected to contain the overflowing congregations. Prosperity and success weakened the morale of believers, and there were some painful contentions between bishops (8. 1. 8). To Eusebius this justified a divine judgement.


Diocletian's Reorganization

In November 284 the empire acquired an energetic new emperor, Valerius Diocles who expanded his name to Diocletianus. He eliminated rivals and set about reorganizing the empire better to defend frontiers, improve administration, check inflation by (vainly) controlling prices by edict. His legislation was remarkably successful, much of it surviving to be included in Justinian's Code more than two hundred years later. In 293 to make civil wars less likely many provinces were divided. This increased the cost of bureaucracy and therefore raised taxes, bankrupting farmers, but smaller provinces made it harder for a military commander to revolt. Estate duty on the dead helped funding. High officials were given grand titles with distinctions in the epithets applying to their rank, the grades being distinguished by the number of curtains one passed before being admitted to an audience. (There would be a succession of guarded rooms through which a petitioner would move, a

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