Peace of the Church

The "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 liberty to practise their religion without state interference.


In the public religion of ancient Rome, men and women of the social elite served as priests of the state cultus. Most priesthoods for men allowed the officeholder to lead an active political and military life as well; a few of the most archaic offices, such as that of the Flamen Dialis or high priest of Jupiter, served under strict religious prohibitions. Through interpretatio graeca and romana, the religions of other peoples incorporated into the Roman Empire coexisted within the Roman theological hierarchy. The cult of the Phrygian goddess Cybele, for instance, was imported from Galatia and integrated into Roman state religion as a result of the Second Punic War, at the end of the 3rd century BC. Six centuries later, as the Empire was becoming Christianized, the Calendar of Filocalus records the official observance of other international deities such as Isis. Individuals also might choose to undergo initiation into mystery religions such as the rites of Mithras, as a matter of private devotion. These forms of religious observance were not considered mutually incompatible.

But just as pharaoh Akhenaten's monotheistic cult of Aten collided with the polytheistic traditions of Egypt, the Judeo-Christian insistence on Yahweh being the only God, believing all other gods were false gods, could not be fitted into the system. The spread of Christians, first looked on merely as Jewish schismatics, over most provinces and Rome itself, and most of all their scruples in refraining from the loyalty oaths directed at the emperor's divinity and their refusal to pay the Jewish tax,[1][2] was perceived as a threat not just to the state cult, but to the state itself, leading to various forms of persecution.

In the third century, the Church as such was made the object of attack. The emperor Decius (249 - 251) issued edicts that imposed hard restrictions on Christians, a policy continued by his successor Valerian. The accession of Gallienus (r. 253–268), however, ushered in a period of nearly 40 years with no official sanctions against Christians, which Eusebius described as the "little" peace of the Church.

The TetrarchyEdit

In 293 Constantius Chlorus, former Praetorian prefect, was appointed Caesar to Maximian. After his Mauretanian campaign, Maximian, in 299, returned to the north of Italy, living a life of leisure in palaces in Mediolanum (modern-day Milan) and Aquileia, and leaving warfare to his subordinate Constantius.[3] In 303, Diocletian (284-305) and the tetrarchy launched the last and bloodiest persecution, the enforcement of religious conformity being part of his program to restore stability and unity in the wake of the Crisis of the Third Century. The campaign was avidly pursued by Galerius, who noticed that Constantius was well-disposed towards the Christians, and who saw it as a method of advancing his career prospects with the aging Diocletian. Of the four Tetrarchs, Constantius made the least effort to implement the decrees in the western provinces that were under his direct authority,[4] limiting himself to knocking down a handful of churches. In May 305, Valerius Severus was appointed Caesar to Constantius, now Augustus of the western half of empire. According to Donald Spence Jones, Severus, under the direction of Constantius, gave up persecuting Christians in Italy and North Africa.[5] As Constantius was dying in July 306, he recommended his son to the army as his successor;[6] consequently Constantine was declared emperor by the legions at York.

In 311, Galerius published an edict from Nicomedia officially ending the persecutions.

Constantine's EdictEdit

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.

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).

Other usesEdit

The term "Peace of the Church" is also applied in England and Ireland to the end of persecution that followed the Acts of Catholic Emancipation (1778-1926); in Germany, after the Kulturkampf.

See alsoEdit


According to James Carrol's Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews,[7] Constantine's interest in legalizing Christianity was essentially political and represented the beginning of a state-sanctioned religious affiliation that grew with time to encapsulate what is now known as Europe. That religion-state relationship across Europe's various kingdoms eventually fractured with the Protestant Reformation or Revolt led by Martin Luther, John Calvin and Henry VIII's defiance of the Vatican and establishment of the Church of England.


  1. ^ Historians debate whether or not the Roman government distinguished between Christians and Jews prior to Nerva's modification of the Fiscus Judaicus in 96. From then on, practising Jews paid the tax, Christians did not. Dunn, James D.G., Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (1999), ISBN 0-8028-4498-7, Pp 33-34.; Boatwright, Mary Taliaferro & Gargola, Daniel J & Talbert, Richard John Alexander, The Romans: From Village to Empire, Oxford University Press (2004), ISBN 0-19-511875-8, p. 426.;
  2. ^ Wylen, Stephen M., The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction, Paulist Press (1995), ISBN 0-8091-3610-4, Pp 190-192.
  3. ^ Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 16; Barnes, New Empire, 56.
  4. ^ Southern, Pat. The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, Routledge, 2001, p. 168
  5. ^ Spence Jones, Henry Donald. Early Christianity and Paganism, A.D. 64 to the Peace of the Church in the Fourth Century, Cassell, limited, 1902, p. 440
  6. ^ Potter, David Stone, The Roman Empire at Bay, AD 180-395, Routledge, 2004, p. 346
  7. ^ Sullivan, Andrew (Jan 14, 2001). "Christianity's Original Sin". According to the author, the relationship with the Jews is the central issue in the history of the church