It came out of a two-man summit meeting in the northern Italian city of Milan in January 313. The two men were the Roman emperors—Constantine ruling the West and Licinius the East. They met “under happy auspices,” as their joint communiqué put it. After years of power struggles for the imperial purple, the Roman world enjoyed a degree of peace. And after the failure of the Great Persecution (initiated by the emperors Diocletian and Galerius in 303–304), the Christian church had begun to recover its stability. Constantine and Licinius turned their minds to matters affecting the general welfare of the Empire.

They determined first of all to attend to “the reverence paid to the Divinity.” This required a guarantee of full religious freedom to the Christians, setting them on a par with those who followed other religions. The so-called Edict of Milan provided for this. It marks the Roman Empire’s final abandonment of the policies of persecution of Christians. The age of the martyrs was at an end. The transition to the era of the “Christian Empire” had begun.

Provisions of the “Edict”

The conference at Milan undoubtedly resulted in a concordat. But its terms are known to us only from a rescript issued six months later by Licinius.

(This rescript was sent from his capital in Nicomedia—now Izmit in Turkey, just east of the Bosporus—to the governor of the nearby province of Bithynia. The Christian writer Lactantius has preserved its original Latin, while the church historian Eusebius gives it in Greek. )

Here are the rescript’s main provisions:

“Our purpose is to grant both to the Christians and to all others full authority to follow whatever ...
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