Peace of the Church

Peace of the Church

Peace of the Church is a designation usually applied to the condition of the Church after the publication of the Edict of Milan in 313 by the two "Augusti", Western Roman Emperor Constantine I and his eastern colleague Licinius, an edict of toleration by which the Christians were accorded complete liberty to practise their religion without molestation.


The Roman state had always granted its Pagan polytheistic cult the status of state religion, and the same social elite (originally mainly Patricians) provided its major priests as well as its politicians and generals. For centuries this was easily compatible with the Pagan religions of conquered peoples, whose divinities were generally equated to Roman ones or adopted into the Roman Pantheon. But just as pharaoh Echnaton's monotheistic cult of Aton proved incompatible with Egypt's traditional polytheism, the Judeo-Christian instistence on Yahweh being the "only" God, believing all other gods are false gods, could not be fitted into the system that had allowed religious peace throughout the empire. The massive spread of Christians, first looked on merely as Jewish schismatics, over most provinces and Rome itself, and most of all their refusal of the state-imposed emperor cult, was logically perceived as a threat not just to the state cult, but to the state itself, leading to systematical persecution. A new stage was reached when, in the middle of the third century, the Church as such was made the object of attack. This attitude, inaugurated by Emperor Decius (249 - 251), made the issue at stake clear and well-defined. The imperial authorities convinced themselves that the Christian Church and the Pagan Roman State could not co-exist; henceforth but one solution was possible, the destruction of Christianity or the conversion of Rome. For half a century the result was in doubt. The failure of Diocletian (284-305) and his Tetrarchy colleagues in the last and bloodiest persecution to shake the resolution of the Christians or to annihilate the Church left no course open to prudent statesmen but to recognize the inevitable and to abandon the old concept of government, the union of civil power and Paganism.

The first decisive step in this direction was taken by the beaten and implacable Galerius, who published from Nicomedia in 311 an edict of toleration in which he confessed that the efforts to "reclaim the Christians" had failed. This edict was the result of utter impotency to prolong the contest.

Constantine's Edict

Complete amnesty and freedom were attained two years later when Emperor Constantine, after defeating Maxentius, published early in 313 with his colleague Licinius the famous Edict of Milan by which Christians were guaranteed the fullest liberty in the practice of their religion.

The absolute independence of religion from state interference, which formed the keynote of this famous document, produced (much later) a new concept of society, and may be looked on as the first official expression of what afterwards came to be the medieval idea of the State. It was in Western Europe the first declaration on the part of any one vested with civil authority that the State should not interfere with the rights of conscience and religion. In addition to removing the ban from the Christians, Constantine ordered that the property of which they had been deprived during the persecutions by seizure or confiscation should be returned to them at the expense of the State. For the Christians the immunities and guaranties contained in this act had most important results. Then for the first time it became possible to observe publicly the liturgy in its fullness, and seriously and earnestly to attempt to mould the life of the empire according to Christian ideals and standards. The joy of the Christians at this change in their public status is admirably expressed by Eusebius in his "Church History" (X, ii).

ee also

*Peace of God

External links

*CathEncy|title=Peace of the Church|url=

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